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Music Reviews

Twin Brother

Twin Brother

Swallow The Anchor

It’s so much fun to be intense when you’re 20. The world hasn’t beat you down completely, and you still might, just might make the ozone hole go away if you can sing sincerely enough. Not that Twin Brother is about ozone or anything political, they just sound like they should be. The core of the band is vocalist/guitarist Sean Raasch and drummer Tyler Nelson: Raasch has a dramatic and intimidating vocal style that makes the real topic of the band’s music soul. Like all that is good in indie pop rock folk alt bands, love is the real question at hand, and love has not been kind to this man. The playlist rolls by, each tune more depressing than the last, and it’s a good example of blues for Midwestern white people. While the vocals are sad, the backing swells, and there’s a symphonic aura in “Fire Fire Fire” that recalls early Moody Blues. “Way To Be” almost sounds hopeful, Mr. Raasch is hoping to just have a chance to bleed into her shoes. It’s a creepy way to be romantic, but memorable. The title track “Swallow the Anchor” vaporizes that cheerful thought; here he bemoans and contemplates shadows and secret affairs. Is someone not sleeping where they shouldn’t, or is it all a paranoid conspiracy? “Heart and Soul” provides little in the way of an answer, the depression and heartbreak continue and if you ignore the lyrics, this is a relaxing collection of tracks. Technically superior, emotionally wrenching, “Swallow The Anchor” is a platter of broken dreams and lost promise. I need to go cry for a while…

Twin Brother: twinbrothermke.bandcamp.com

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Music Reviews

Hawthorne Heights

Hawthorne Heights

The Silence In Black And White (Acoustic)

In Vogue Records

Some times its good to look back and events ending in a zero are as good as any other milestone. Hawthorne Heights has been cranking out solid American rock and roll since 2001 in one form or another, and here they’ve revisited their 2004 debut studio release The Silence in Black and White. I admit I have not heard the original, but this effort emphasizes the acoustic elements in the collection.

It’s a dark and introspective set, the titles include “Life on Standby,” “Dissolve and Decay,” and “Screenwriting an Apology.” These songs bring you down and down in gradual steps until you’re convinced even your stuff animals are ready to abandon you. ‘There’s nothing left for me” moans Mr. Woodruff, “There’s nothing left to say” and at that point he’s said it all. While this is technically an acoustic album (no electric guitars or fuzz boxes) it doesn’t take soft rock track I associate with acoustic sets, the notes and arraignments are sharp and edgy, the harmonies may cheat a bit but this is no dreamy John Denver snooze fest. These guys are angry, alone and itching to kick out another gold album. I think this collection might just have the back-bone to do just that. And it’s not like they got a hot date tonight. ‎

www.hawthorneheights.com/; www.invoguerecords.com

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Music Reviews

The CO

The CO

Keep It Together

Sorted Noise

What has happened to county and western music? Some bands still sound like Glen Campbell circa 1966, other aim for the Y2k Randy Travis sound, and then you have these young whippersnappers, all emoed out with their head in the clouds and there feet in a Brooklyn hipster bar where the beer is unpronounceable, the women all have blogs, and no one can afford a pickup truck because parking is so tight. That’s where The CO originates, at least spiritually. Without some guidance form their publicist, I place these guys in the melodic pop sound, maybe with a minor in folk music or emo.

There’s a slather of introspection in this extensive 15 track project, “Crazy” is a gut wrenching love song about a lost lover, it’s just a piano and lead singer Collin Brace and a lost feeling that anyone can identify. On “Frequency” we start with an urgent synth line straight from the skinny ties days of new wave, then slide up to a more modern arrangement that still holds lost love as the motivation, but the music is fast and if you tune out a bit you’d not even notice the sadness. “I will Be Strong” might tie up a wedding, he’ll be strong and catch her, be there forever on solid ground, and swear his heart to her. But somehow, I sense just the slightest hint of doubt in his voice, like he knows things will go wrong long before the ground has even solidified. And that’s how I like it: music is at its best when it looks happy until you focus the microscope and get blinded by the tears.

www.thecomusic.com; www.sortednoise.com

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Music Reviews

Summer Aviation

Summer Aviation

Elevator EP

This little Seattle-produced EP takes me back to the AM radio power pop of the Beach Boys and all those Phil Spector bands.

“I Believe in Sunshine” takes a catchy hook and a bright, bubbly male vocal (Kevin Kelly) and threads them together to make the most positive happy hit single vibe of the season. “Magic Night” feels like your first trip to Disneyland and meeting the girl of your dreams all in one evening, right there in the line of “Small, Small World.” Lee Kelly leads off “Love So Fine,” opening with a smooth and slickly arranged early Sixties potpourri of violins, drums, and dancers in sequins and head feathers. “Trust” is a bit more rocking; a Lynyrd Skynyrd chord tries to escape but doesn’t get far, and we are bound and determined to keep this little collection centered on the London sound of the first British invasion.

A fine effort by some fine-sounding people.

Summer Aviation

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Music Reviews

The Luyas

The Luyas

Too Beautiful To Work

Dead Oceans

Never quite warmed up to the Montreal scene as much as I should have, still getting into arguments about Arcade Fire, but the fellow denizens, The Luyas, let me tell you, I’m enjoying their juju. Reminiscent of Slowdive and the Cranes, but infused with a Warp-esque electronic sense of wonder and weirdness, The Luyas are on just the right side of “new music” (modern without pandering, etc.). Sweaty, organic, electro rave-ups (“Too Beautiful to Work”) hold hands with utterly enchanted ether-sniffing idylls (“Seeing Things”), eerie lullabies (“Canary”), manic chamber music (“Moodslayer”), and musique concrete wonderment (“Worth Mentioning”). The album speeds by, a burst of generally three-minute-and-below audio collages and sumptuous vocal swoons, and a moonlit, wintry idyll overlays the whole affair.

Dead Oceans: www.deadoceans.com

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Music Reviews

Manitoba Music

Manitoba Music

Various Artists

Manitoba Music

There’s something about being stuck in the snow and dark that makes some pretty cool sounds, and today we’ll take a look at the northern side of the Mild West scene documented on Manitoba Music. A sweet power pop ballad opens the collection — “Humming Bird” from Imaginary Cities could be a Go Go’s number about innocent love and innocent loss. Hook and chorus, a gentle build and drop, and they sing “Come on, come on, come on.” I translate that as “Stop waiting you foolish boy, I’m ready to breed!” Ash Koley has seen some traditional chart success. Her style is just as pop-influenced, but it’s got a bit of a military march backing “Apple of My Eye.” We slow down to a more pensive, perhaps even emo feeling “Night Window” by the Weakerthans, and then hit the sweetly sung “Never Said Goodbye” by JP Hope. Slick and painful, this could be a cabaret second-to-the-last number, complete with a piano and violin accompaniment.

There are 20 cuts here, all noteworthy and spanning genres from ’60s girls group (Chic Gamine, “Closer”) to blue eyed indie pop rockers (Hope Atlantic, “Lost at Sea”) to smoky bar crooners (Greg MacPherson, “Smoke Ring”) to progressive rock revival (Les Jupes, “Myth #3”), and even some street smart urban hip hop from the mean streets of Winnipeg (Wab Kinew, “Give It Up”). I can’t say there’s a bad cut here, and the experience of listening to the album all the way through is similar to hearing a drive time college radio music show. You never know what’s coming, but it never disappoints. There’s even a classic shit kicking, line dancin’ cowboy tune from Ridley Dent to close things out. After all, this is the beginning of the Canadian prairie, and you’ll need a big hat and a bigger truck to cross it all.

Manitoba Music: manitobamusic.com

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Music Reviews

Ian Moore and the Lossy Coils

Ian Moore and the Lossy Coils

El Sonido Nuevo

Spark and Shine

When this guy skips the emo-pop, he can really set a CD player on fire. A fixture of the Austin scene for over a decade, Ian Moore and his highly praised cheekbones have bounced around, nosing for commercial success but always missing it by “just that much.” Now he mixes the upbeat pop sensibility with a finger-picked guitar sound and takes us back to the days of Dave Edmunds and the punk melting pot of 1977.

Starting strong, “Secondhand Store” blasts out of the gate with a rollicking beat and the thought “everybody’s looking for a cheap thrill.” When that’s not an option, “Tap the Till” offers introspection and unhappiness with seven girls trying to help him through the darkness. That’s insufficient — he pushes on to “Birds of Prey,” which might be the soulful, almost country hit we seek as we stumble down 6th Street in search of love, or at least that perfect mix of hipster cool and Baptist morality. Proto-hits ebb and flow: slow dance “Hillary Step” and Monkees-influenced “New Found Station” delight, and by the end of the collection, it’s clear this guy writes and performs gem-like pop songs, and knows how to rip your heart out when his life drifts off the rails. It’s country, but without the stupid hats and chaps.

Spark and Shine: www.sparkandshine.com”>www.sparkandshine.com • Ianmore: www.ianmore.com • Myspace: www.myspace.com/ianmoore

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Music Reviews

Bridges and Blinking Lights

Bridges & Blinking Lights

Heroes, Guns & Snakes

Look out, here comes another semi-innovative power pop band! Bridges & Blinking Lights crawls out of the Dallas- Fort Worth metroplex with a decently urgent set of modern pop sensibilities and scratchy, screechy vocals from Jake Wilganowski. The topics are of alienation and failed romance, the arrangements chunky and spare with occasional flashes of guitar fire. Songs like “Solo American” take that walking at midnight feeling from Dylan’s Time Out of Mind and turn it into a small scale Leonard Bernstein street fight minus the dancing. Touches of Old Mexico lurk here, and as with any great Tejas band, we find cross-border love in “Consuela” and a bit of terminal gloom permeates “Death Bed.” I would compare this band favorably to any other indie band on the scene today — they seem to have more heart in their song writing and more restraint in their playing than most, and they seem to grasp the operatic concept of building to a climax when so many other bands start at 11 and work their way down. I’d drop by and see them if they ever played SXSW or my local hangout.

Bridges & Blinking Lights: myspace.com/bridgesandblinkinglightsbridgesandblinkinglights.com

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Music Reviews

Lightning Love

Lightning Love

November Birthday

Quite Scientific

I once interviewed a musician who told me that the strength of a song is best determined by how it sounds at its most stripped-down. Weaker songs can get a boost with overdubbing, tweaking in production, and through any number of other bells and whistles, but quality songs don’t need much beyond the melody and rhythm to fully engage. Ypsilanti, Michigan’s Lightning Love, over the course of the 11 songs on their debut November Birthday, turn out some of the best minimal pop in recent memory.

Keys, guitar, and drums — with momentary support from cello and accordion — are all that the trio uses in creating their bouncy electro-pop sonic palette. Singer/keyboardist Leah Diehl has a great sense of melody and composition; her melodies are simple and time-tested. The intricacies come from the arrangements, from each group member’s ability to know when best to step in and out of the spotlight.

“Girls Are Always Wrong” and “Good Time” are staccato bursts of pitch-perfect nervy pop. The former boasts a bouncy digitized beat and burbling synth leads that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Missing Persons album. On the latter, the keys have perfect textures, the drums have a great ’80s snap to their production, all of which provide a joyous release for Diehl’s plea: “I can’t help having a good time.” No one can begrudge a band for that sentiment, especially when it yields music as good as this.

Quite Scientific: www.quitescientific.com

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Music Reviews

Parlour Steps

Parlour Steps

The Hidden Names

Nine Mile Records

Relaxed Canadians make the best indie pop; it’s some mixture of politeness, self-effacing humor, and national health care. Parlour Steps is smack in the middle of the pack — their soaring harmonies and crispy bright guitar work are intriguing, radio-friendly, and complexly listenable. Lead singer Caleb Stull works on guitars as well, his voice reminding me of early XTC. The songs each stand alone; the lyrics are clear and accessible, if a bit forgettable. Topics range from the typical love gone awry (“Miraculous”) to love recovered (“Sleeping City”) to world destruction (“The Catastrophists”). Songs build and reach a clear pinnacle then fade away like a good novel. The only problem I see here is Parlour Steps has some stiff competition from the Rosie Thomas’s and Mark Mallman’s of the world, and while there is nothing to dislike on this nicely mixed album, there’s not a lot that makes these clean cut musicians jump out either. Still, they might pop out a hit one day, and it might even lurk here. But I’m just not hearing it today.

Parlour Steps: parloursteps.comMySpace/parlourstepssonicbids.com/parlour steps