New This Week: Passion Pit, Family Band, Strand of Oaks & More

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 07.24.12 in Spotlights

New week, new albums! Here’s what we’ve got:

Passion Pit, Gossamer: Arguably the day’s most anticipated release. Passion Pit return with another album that pairs bleak subject matter to deceptively upbeat music. As you might guess, this one is Highly Recommended — especially the lithe R&B jam that is “Constant Conversations.” Here’s what Annie Zaleski thinks:

Gossamer isn’t quite as playful as its predecessor, but that’s a good thing: The album’s forays into slinky R&B (“Constant Conversations”), sleek Swedish indiepop (“Cry Like A Ghost”), neon new wave (“Carried Away”) and Disney-movie whimsy (“On My Way”) evince more depth. The songs themselves are also rich with detail, from the music-box-gone-mad twinkles at the start of “Love Is Greed” to the warm background coos from Swedish a cappella group Erato that are sprinkled throughout.

The Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten: Pardon me, sirs, but you seem to have a bit of heart on your sleeve. Everyone’s favorite ragged bar-rockers serve up another batch of deeply-felt blue collar rock & roll. Or, as Bill Murphy puts it:

The New Jersey rockers have been primed for their shot at stardom since 2009, when a pair of well-timed U.K. appearances at Glastonbury and Hyde Park with surprise guest Bruce Springsteen helped elevate them from relative obscurity.Handwritten continues the narrative, with an emphasis on anthems that feel ready-made for the arena. The shift might raise some eyebrows among the band’s hardcore base, but Brian Fallon still drives the party with his cultivated rasp, from the amped-up single “45″ to the emo-meets-Rod Stewart boogie of “Mulholland Drive.”

Eternal Summers, Correct Behavior: Man oh man do I love this record. Bright, fizzy, off-the-chain guitar-pop with battling boy/girl vocals and big, sugary choruses. It’s Highly Recommended. Here’s what Ryan Reed had to say:

Eternal Summers (now a trio with the addition of bassist Jonathan Woods) understand the power of brevity and focus, striking a balance between the naïve, home-spun charm of early gems like “Running High” and “Safe at Home” and the more expansive style they’ve branded “dream-punk.” “Millions” is a hell of a re-introduction. With its jangly guitar lines and see-sawing chorus melody, the track sounds like New Pornographers stuck in the garage, with Yun channeling her inner Neko Case.

Strand of Oaks, Dark Shores: This guy! You remember this guy! eMusic Selects album Strand of Oaks — aka Tim Showalter — returns with another batch of shadowy alt-Americana. On his last album, Pope Killdragon, he laced synthesizers through his spooky folk songs. Those are mostly gone on Dark Shores. Instead, the album summons the kind of record the ghosts of Neil Young & Crazy Horse might make 20 years after death. It’s haunted, forlorn, tender and riveting and it’s also Highly Recommended

Family Band, Grace & Lies: Two years ago, Strand of Oaks and Family Band released an album on the same day as part of our eMusic Selects program. So, whether by accident or design, two years later, those same bands have released the follow-ups to their Selects records…on the same day. I love it! I also love this record. Family Band have come into their own, mastering the kind of chilly out-in-the-woods-at-night goth-folk feel that used to power early Cat Power. This one is Highly Recommended. But don’t just take my word for it. Amanda Petrusich says:

Krans and her guitarist husband Jonny Ollsin, formerly of the metal bands Children and S.T.R.E.E.T.S., make aching, languorous goth-folk, vaguely reminiscent of the Handsome Family and Beach House, but slower, stranger, more hollow-eyed. Grace and Lies, their second full-length, isn’t a record for the nights you have people coming over, or for a midday stroll through the park — Ollsin’s stark, velvety guitar and Krans’s disconcertingly affect-less vocals are better suited to those very-early-morning, there’s-the-sun slumps, the moments when you catch yourself reconsidering every last decision you’ve ever made.

Rodriguez, Searching for Sugarman: Soundtrack to the documentary about shoulda-been legend Rodriguez is full of the man’s once-lost now-found sparkling ’60s folk, much of which appeared on his first two records. Here’s what Dan Hyman has to say about this Recommended record:

Sugar Man‘s soundtrack succeeds at washing away any dull spots in Rodriguez’s discography. The arrangements, courtesy of Motown vets Mike Theodore and Dennis Coffey, are spare, yet highly effective. “Crucify My Mind” and “Inner City Blues” walk with a cool-headed strut; “Cause,” is a lilting acoustic sewer hymn. But it’s the now-70-year-old’s ability to relate to his listener that keeps his low-burning flame alive during decade-long blackouts.

Slug Guts, Playin’ in Time With the Deadbeat: YES. The thunder from Down Under returns with another batch of menacing, grimy trash rock. They hate this comparison, but it’s hard not to hear echoes of The Birthday Party and the Jesus Lizard in their hammering filthcore. This is Highly Recommended.

Fang Island, Major: Big, brash, sparkling, hooky new record from indie rock band with some arena leanings. Everything here is writ large and burnished like bronze — hook city, perfect for the summer. Arye Dworken says:

Major showcases a band comparatively matured — as if the mission statement this time around was to instead have everyone handshaking. Opening with the piano-driven “Kindergarten” (“All I know/ I learned in kindergarten”) and later on, with Bic-conjuring power ballad “Chime Out,” Fang Island trades macho for tender, conjuring a fantasy scenario in which Journey collaborates with Steely Dan.

Young Moon, Navigated Like the Swan: Churning, moody and kind of ominous indie from one Trevor Montgomery. There’s a kind of psych haze cast across these bare-tree rock songs. It reminds me of Kid Silver, which is a reference that will do absolutely no one any good.

The Antlers, Undersea: More new songs from the Antlers on this brief EP. Ashley Melzer says:

Clocking in at just over 22 minutes, Undersea is four tracks of lush sonic exploration. It’s a dreamscape of slide guitars, bending horns, drowsy vocals and glitchy samples. Album opener “Drift Dive” offers a lazy, percussive groove. “Endless Ladder” hints at oceanic depths, with a billow of keys and robotic whines. Fizzy electronics and percussion cozy up to jazzy horn swells on “Crest.” Closer “Zelda” traps the listener between dreams, swimming through deadpan vocals, trancy synths, muted horns and the rock steady crackle of a snare.

Matthew Friedberger, The Diabolical Principle: New experimental offering from one half of the Fiery Furnaces — you can tell by the length of the songs that this ain’t no easy listening. The songs mostly consist of some strange organ bleats, percussion, and Friedberger huffing and reciting his lyrics. This is one for the more adventurous.

Gasoline Heart, Thanks for Everything: This is a nice surprise! Ragged, rollicking power-pop inspired Americana not too wildly far from, say, Old 97s with a dash of Sugar. This one is Highly Recommended

Guardian Alien, See the World Given to a One Love Entity: New project from onetime Liturgy drummer Greg Fox sounds kinda like a psychier Liturgy. One powerful 37-minute track that hammers and hammers and hammers, featuring Fox’s my-arms-are-faster-than-your-eyes drumming beneath sheets and sheets of guitar.

Golden Retriever, Occupied With the Unspoken: More great stuff from Thrill Jockey — this one sounds like the kind of computers and electronics that might be found on a submarine in the 1960s. Lots of weird theremin-like bleeps and whooshes, strange squelches and other odd noises. Fascinating!

Shawn Lee, Synthesizers in Space: FAR OUT! This is aptly-names — Shawn Lee discovered a cache of old synths and goes all sci-fi with them, making a record that wouldn’t sound out of place on that spacecraft from 2001, before the computer killed everyone. Let’s call it lunar lounge music. Bonus points for the “Jungle Boogie” appropriation in “Galactica.”

Foxygen, Take the Kids Off Broadway: Kinda flamboyant, grandoise, Bobby Conn-y rock from new band on Jagjaguwar. Forget what the title says — the theatricality here is situated directly on the Great White Way, the week that new David Bowie musical opens.

Andrew Jackson Jihad, Rompilation: Fantastically-titled roundup of charming, marauding, occasionally folky outfit.

Jazz Picks, by Dave Sumner

A week that definitely showcases just how diverse the sound of Jazz has become. Even the albums with a straight-ahead sound have some wrinkle to their approach that has it inching off the path. Let’s begin…

Jessica Lurie Ensemble, Megaphone Heart: Multi-reedist Lurie has developed a unique voice for her music. Meshing Jazz, Klezmer, indie-rock, and Greek folk music, Lurie creates a sound that is both complex and catchy as hell. Backed by a super-group of Allison Miller (drums), Brandon Seabrook (guitar & banjo), Todd Sickafoose (bass), and Erik Deutsch (piano & organ), as well as guests on violin, cello, and bari sax. Tunes that are emotionally charged and blissful as the day is long. No doubt this album is my Pick of the Week.

Claudio Scolari, Synthesis: Percussionist and composer Scolari finds a way to make avant-garde music out of the same ingredients that many ECM artist create atmospheric soundscapes from. On Synthesis, Scolari’s trio uses a variety of percussion instruments, piano, melodica, trumpet, vibes, flute, and electronic effects for an album that is both challenging and mesmerizing. A nice release, especially following on the heels of his excellent last release Colors of Red Island. Highly Recommended.

Carol Robbins, Moraga: Harpist leads a sextet in an alluring set of tunes. Some ballads and some swing, and the natural elegance of the harp fits right in with the beauty of the former and the exuberance of the latter. Billy Childs on piano, in a group which also includes guitar, sax/clarinet, drums, and bass. This album’s flavor is way more straight-ahead than, say, another recent jazz harp release like Iro Haarlas’s Vespers, which was more into the soaring ambiance of the instrument.

Heliocentric Counterblast, A Tribute to Sun Ra: This German octet does a nifty rundown of Sun Ra, capturing Ra’s compositional eccentricities as well as his abundance of joyful music. Fun album, and glad I ran into it. Find of the Week.

Mark Lockett, Sneaking Out After Midnight: Australian drummer Lockett teams up with Joel Frahm (sax) and Orlando Le Fleming (bass) for a set of straight-ahead tunes. Nothing fancy, just solid jazz. Understated, but not afraid to throw a punch now and then. Good stuff.

Makaya McCraven, Split Decision: Debut album for Chicago drummer McCraven. Joined by pianist Andrew Toombs and Tim Seisser on bass. A straight-ahead set of tunes, a little modern and a little old-school. McCraven has a pleasantly chatty style on drums, which worked especially well on his contribution to Bobby Broom’s recent release Upper West Side Story.

Dan Rufolo Trio + 2, Laughter: Young pianist expands his trio to include trumpet and tenor sax for a set of modern jazz compositions. Nice mix of moodiness and sunlight. Not groundbreaking, but also not exactly conventional. Track “Zelig’s Dance,” illustrates the personal lyricism Rufolo has to offer the scene. Promising album.

Greg Spero, Acoustic: Spirited recording from the dynamic pianist. Spero leads a trio that included Matt Ulery on bass and Makaya McCraven on drums. Spero has plenty of flash, but as this album illustrates, he’s got the substance to back it up. Ulery and McCraven, both, have been making repeat appearances in the Jazz Picks column in 2012, both as sidemen and session leaders. Recommended.

Lars Erstrand, Jazz at the Pawnshop (30th Anniversary edition): Recorded in 1976 at the famed Stockholm jazz club The Pawnshop, this album has something of a cult following. With Lars Erstrand on vibes, alto saxophone player Arne Domnérus, pianist Bengt Hallberg, bass player Georg Riedel, and drummer Egil Johansen. Some original tunes, some standars, and all of it classic jazz. An intimate performance of live jazz.

Steve Davis, Playground: Veteran jazz drummer, who’s played with a hall-of-fame wing of jazz artists, plays a set of straight-ahead jazz tunes based on children songs. There’s an undeniable innocence to this abundantly cheerful album. Just wanted to get a quick mention in for it.

Leon Foster Thomas, Brand New Mischief: Thomas brings his steel pan to jazz compositions and creates an intriguing blend of Jazz and Caribbean musics. While steel pan’s inherently hypnotic effects is one I’d have preferred get spotlighted, it was no less interesting to hear this group spend more time developing a groove and swing.

Tim Kuhl, St. Helena: Not even sure this should be filed under jazz, though the ensemble member definitely have ties to the jazz community. This chamber-electro-classical-jazz-pop-drone recording experiments with sound with the intention of creating a cinematic experience. A variety of instruments create a variety of sounds for something pretty different from everything else. This will appeal to fans of Chris Schlarb and Peter Broderick as much as jazz-drone fans. Too interesting not to mention.