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album reviews

Syd Arthur

Sound Mirror Harvest
6

These psychedelic rockers build up the sparse folk experiments of their 2012 debut, On an On, into lavish odysseys on their follow-up. Now with trippier violin filigrees, they sound even more like the offspring of groups like Soft Machine and Caravan – the similarly minded rock alchemists who populated their native Canterbury, England, in the late Sixties. On catchy standouts like "Autograph" and "Chariots," the band settles into entrancing, sometimes repetitive grooves. Not even modfat... | More »

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Only Run CYHSY
6

"As Always," the first song on Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's fourth album, is an enormous-sounding rush of ambient noise, thunderclap snare shots, iridescent guitar beauty and singer Alec Ounsworth guardedly assuring, "Sooner or later I will change/And we will be all right." The mix of rich ambition and shaky optimism defines a band that's traded clattery low-fi post-punk for music that's high-drama and hook-hearty. "Beyond Illusion" sets dazed-angel vocals atop tense dance r... | More »

Rich Robinson

The Ceaseless Sight The End
7

As a solo artist, Rich Robinson, the guitar-playing brother in the Black Crowes, has been a gathering storm, closing in on a lyrically spiritual, musically earthy balance of electric-blues bravado, psychedelic-country exploration and almost courtly vocal cool. The Ceaseless Sight, his third effort, is the bull's-eye, so rich in textures and assured in the writing that it sounds like a true debut. As the sole guitarist, Robinson scores the layered grind of "I Know You" and "The Unfortunat... | More »

Nils Lofgren

Face the Music Fantasy
8

There are "musician's musicians," and there's Nils Lofgren, whom Neil Young drafted at 18 to play piano on After the Gold Rush, and who's been the E Street Band's hottest guitarist since the mid-1980s. This 10-disc anthology reprises an unsung singer-songwriter career, beginning with his Seventies band Grin (the sweet Cali-style soul of "Like Rain") through sharp, solo semihits ("Back It Up," "I Came to Dance") and beyond. You also get 132 pages of liner-notes-cum-memoir t... | More »

Hundred Waters

The Moon Rang Like a Bell OWSLA
7

When a loop of the words "I wish you" enters the song "Murmurs," it's completely out of sync. But the delicious moment when the song comes together is Hundred Waters at their best: a band that truly makes music feel like magic. The L.A. group's second album for Skrillex's OWSLA label swaps the cosmic folk of its debut for a more electronic palette, with increased groove, vocal soul and psychedelic potency. Words function more as texture than as linguistic tools, so getting a be... | More »

June 10, 2014

White Lung

Deep Fantasy Domino
7

Vancouver's White Lung barreled into punk fans' hearts with 2010's It's the Evil, followed by 2012's venomous Sorry. They're as furiously formidable as ever on their third LP. Mish Way's damning yowls offer profound ruminations on sex and body image, while guitarist Kenneth William's swift, discordant lashes resurrect the finer aspects of 2000s-era post-hardcore; drummer Anne-Marie Vassiliou holds down a steady velocity, pelting listeners... | More »

First Aid Kit

Stay Gold Columbia
7

Seven years ago, when Swedish sister duo Johanna and Klara Söderberg appeared on YouTube singing a Fleet Foxes song in a forest, they seemed like an adorable one-view wonder. Instead, they've blossomed into an excellent indie-country act, like the Carter Family if they'd grown up on Lee Hazlewood's Cowboy in Sweden and Emmylou Harris. Like 2012's The Lion's Roar, Stay Gold was recorded in Omaha with Bright Eyes producer Mike Mogis, whose Big Sky echo and orc... | More »

Chrissie Hynde

Stockholm Will Travel/Caroline
7

Thirty-plus years into her career and finally dispensing with the Pretenders name, Chrissie Hynde still finds herself warning haters not to "fuck with this heart of mine" in that elastic voice. On her delicate and sexy solo debut – actually a joint effort with new writing partner Björn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John, plus guests including Neil Young and, oddly, tennis great John McEnroe – she does decompress: "In a Miracle" sounds like Aimee Mann after a warm bath. But ... | More »

The Fresh and Onlys

House of Spirits Mexican Summer
6

San Francisco's Fresh and Onlys have been pumping out melancholy garage rock since 2008. On their fifth LP, they explore noisier tendencies: "Bells of Paonia," a wistful highlight, is laden with shoegaze-y distortion. Lead singer Tim Cohen's voice has a tunelessness that can distract from the band's music at times, but when it works, it's just right. "Ballerina" drifts in languid sentiment like a twinkling boat through a summer night, with Cohen's elegant lyrics on fu... | More »

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Song Stories

“Vans”

The Pack | 2006

Berkeley, California rappers the Pack made their footwear choice clear in 2006 with the song "Vans." The track caught the attention of Too $hort, who signed them to his imprint. MTV refused to play the video for the song, though, claiming it was essentially a commercial for the product. Rapper Lil' B disagreed. "I didn’t know nobody [at] Vans," he said. "I was just a rapper who wore Vans." Even without MTV's support, Lil' B recognized the impact of the track. "God blessed me with such a revolutionary song… People around my age know who really started a lot of the dressing people are into now."

More Song Stories entries »
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