There’s a fine line to walk for me when it comes to any kind of country music. While I thoroughly enjoy bands like My Morning Jacket and Band Of Horses who blend a little Americana into their alternative sound, I find it difficult to take traditional country music very seriously. Yet The Grizzly Owls manage to walk this line even though their country influences are much stronger than what I’m used to.

I first stumbled upon this husband and wife duo last year when I heard the lovely song “What’s A Girl To Do”. Back then I didn’t really consider their sound all that country but that influence seem to have grown since the release of their debut album Night On My Bed. It makes sense though since their latest EP The People Have All Gone was much inspired by the movie The Last Picture Show, in which country legend Hand Williams’ songs can be heard. The Grizzly Owls wanted their music to be able to accompany his, as well as tie in with personal history of family photos hailing from the Korean war.

Since I haven’t seen The Last Picture Show I can’t really tell if The Grizzly Owls fulfill their intentions of matching its soundtrack. I am however sure that The People Have All Gone is very much enjoyable either way. Their somewhat dark Americana mixed with soft melodies, twangy sweet vocals and equally twangy guitars makes a gorgeous combination from start to finish.

~ “On A Paper Moon” ~

When I heard the self-titled debut EP of Those Dancing Days last year, it was pretty much love at first listen. Their cheerful pop mixed with soul had a fresh sound to it, and I couldn’t wait until they completed their first album. Now the wait is over, as In Our Space Hero Suits sees the light of day.

So, just what can you expect from these five Swedish high school girls? Quite a lot actually. Out of the five tracks on their EP, the best ones are included on the album: “Hitten” (which cheekily means “The Hit” in Swedish) and the band’s very own self-titled anthem. Also featured is the latest single, “Run Run”. While a good song, it’s not quite as enthralling as “Hitten” and I have to say this goes for several of the other songs on the album. But that doesn’t mean that it’s bad – far from it!

In Our Space Hero Suits is a solid intoxicating pop record, with TDD’s signature hammond organ thumping through each song and singer Linnea’s soulful vocals that go well beyond her mere 18 years of age. The tempo is up-beat and energetic from start to finish, even if some songs are more memorable than some. All in all it’s a sweet and colorful album with an exotic flavor to it, making one wonder if these girls don’t hail from some tropical island rather than dreary old Sweden.

Besides the already mentioned tracks, I highly recommend “Falling In Fall”, “Shuffle”, “Home Sweet Home” and “Kids”. But they’re all worth a listen. Or several.

~ “Hitten”, “Home Sweet Home” ~

City Of Satellites

November 25, 2008

Australian label Hidden Shoal have revealed yet another stunning piece of work in the form of City Of Satellites‘ debut EP “The Spook”. Though very ethereal and dreamy, City of Satellites are also quite melodic which I find to be a nice change amongst the sometimes far too abstract post-rock available these days.

The opening track and single “Moon In The Sea” is the highlight but the two remaining songs, “Sleeping in Disgrace” and “The Spook” are just as gorgeous. Consisting of an eerie dreamscape of spooky synths, weeping guitars and singer Jarrod’s frail but beautiful voice, this is definitely worthy of your attention.

“The Spook” EP is available for purchase here where you also can preview all three tracks.

~ “Moon In The Sea” ~

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Christmas came early for me this year in the form of eas/Svart Bröllop. Though Sweden’s been blessed with several great new bands who sing in their native tongue lately (Hästpojken, Pascal for instance) my heart beat a little faster when I first heard Kärlek Gjord Av Hat, the debut album of eas/Svart Bröllop. Could the reign of Kent, Sweden’s probably only contemporary super group be – perhaps not over – but at least challenged?

Comparing them to Kent isn’t completely fair though. Firstly, eas/Svart Bröllop are more adventurous in their sound, mixing pop, punk, rock, electro and even reggae. Secondly they remind me more of the great Swedish bands of the 80’s – Imperiet, Ebba Grön – along with more internationally known bands as Depeche Mode and The Clash thanks to the rhythmic guitars and dark synthesisers. So yes, their sound is very retro but not with going overboard.

The first single of the album, “Ung och Döende” was released earlier this year and had the highest rotation on several radio stations. Hopefully the second single “Två” will make an even bigger splash.

eas/Svart Bröllop – “Två” (one of the songs of the album that most sounds like a hybrid between The Clash and The Smiths):

Needless to say, this album has nestled it’s way firmly into my heart. 2008 is nearing its end but I sincerely hope that 2009 will be the year for eas/Svart Bröllop as Kärlek Gjord Av Hat doesn’t have one single dud on it. “Stationer” and “(Pasamos Por La) Diagonal” are my current highlights but the whole album is a gem. The only thing I can think to complain about are the female vocals featured on a few tracks. They’re too weak and anonymous and don’t reach the effect they would if sung by someone with a fuller voice. Other than that, this is pretty damn close to perfection.

Order your copy here!

~ “Ung och Döende” ~

Translations:
Svart Bröllop = Black Wedding
Kärlek Gjord Av Hat = Love Made From Hate
Ung och Döende = Young and Dying
Två = Two

Swedish duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums have made an eclectic album to say the least. Once you think you’ve got their sound figured out, they make a u-turn and throw you almost completely off track. It’s an enjoyable ride though as “Heartcore” is an experimental flurry of styles and genres. There’s pop, blues, and folk just to name a few.

What really makes the album though is Mariam Wallentin’s unique voice and Andreas Werliin’s unconventional drumming. As they switch between styles, so does the mood of their main instruments. On the more upbeat, quirky songs Miriam’s voice is strong, deep and sometimes even downright funny which is accompanied by Andreas going full out on the percussion. During the softer moments though her voice is suddenly soft and fragile, and the drumming is barely a simple beat.

As much as I appreciate the experimental part of it all, I have to admit that some songs are bit too unstructured and therefor not as memorable as others. So if you’re expecting easy listening and catchy hooks I would advice you to stay clear of this album. Those who enjoy a bit of a challenge though will surely love it.

Stand-out tracks: “Pony”, “The Way Things Go”, “I Can’t Tell In His Eyes”, “Doubt/Hope” and “Window”.

~ “I Can’t Tell In His Eyes” ~

As he’s shown on his previous records, 2004’s Infiniheart and 2006’s Skelliconnection, Chad VanGaalen knows how to create intricate pop songs, whether soft and simple, or distorted and experimental. Now, that contradicting sound is nicely summed up in the title of his latest – and perhaps best – effort, Soft Airplane.

Death has been a central theme on all of VanGaalen’s records so far, and Soft Airplane is no exception. On the album-opener, the gentle “Willow Tree”, VanGaalen frailly sings:

When I die
I hang my head beside the willow tree
When I’m dead
Is when I’ll be free

Somber to say the least, but also one of the best tracks I’ve heard all year. And the rest certainly don’t disappoint – Soft Airplane is by far VanGaalen’s most consistent album yet, with well crafted tunes from start to finish. Because while his first two records had plenty of solid songs on them, there were also some that easily could have been weeded out. This time, it seems like VanGaalen has done just that and only included the top of the crops, creating one of the best albums of 2008.

~ “Willow Tree” ~

Little Teeth

August 14, 2008

At first impression one might want discard of Little Teeth as just some crazy kids making crazy music. You can probably leave it at that and just enjoy the craziness. Personally, I think it’s brilliant.

Consisting of three rather erratic souls, Little Teeth’s music isn’t for everyone. (But then what is?)Lead singer Dannie Murrie growls, shrieks and snarls more than she actually sings at times, which combined with their quirky melodramatic indie-pop might be a bit too much for some. But if music isn’t for channeling your inner turmoil, then what is it for? Because turmoil is something that seem to be in the center of Little Teeth’s sound, whether it’s about raw pain pure energy.

Besides Dannie Murrie, Little Teeth consists of Ammo Eisu and Andy Tisdall, all of which contribute with a range of multi-talents to the band (bass, guitar, keys, banjo, accordian, synth, vox, violin, cello, you name it). Combine that with their list of influences (Sparklehorse, Xiu Xiu, Animal Collective, Múm, Joanna Newsom, Mountain Goats) and you might get an idea of what they sound like.

Their debut album Child Bearing Man (out Sept. 9th, on Absolute Kosher) is the result of 14 months of doing all the tracking, mixing and production themselves to stay true to their unique outlook on the world. The final product is an erratic, energetic and compelling record to sink your own little teeth into.

~ “Japanese Candy”, “Between My Ears” ~

 

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Before anything else, let’s get the whole “I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-a-girl-singing” issue out of the way. Because despite the very feminine-sounding vocals, Azeda Booth‘s lineup is solely an XY constellation.

Originally a duo when formed in 2004 by Morgan Greenwood and Jordon Hossack, Azeda Booth became five-piece when additional members Chris Reimer, Marc Rimmer & Mike Wallace joined the band in 2006. Their first EP, Mysterious Body was released last year although recorded while Greenwood and Hossack were still a duo. Their latest effort however, the full-length In Flesh Tones (Absolutely Kosher, 2008) showcases the current Azeda Booth.

If the vocals weren’t enough to throw people off when trying to define what they are, the music of Azeda Booth is no exception:

“They twist and flutter, too skittish for space rock, too hot for IDM, too concise and charming for glitch-core… The arrivals and departures are hazy and blurred, the tone both tense and delicate, the fuel potent and clean, the direction most definitely UP.” (from the official website)

The above quote is a good description of their sound – it is quite scattered and at times abstract, yet somehow the pieces fit together nicely. Broken down into components you can find bits of shoegaze, experimental, ambient electronica and pure pop.

While I’ve only just started to acquaint myself with Azeda Booth, and therefor perhaps still a bit lost in their mist, there are tracks on the album that speak to me immediately (“Ran”, “In Red”, “Big Fists”) and others which I am still happily discovering (“First Little Britches”, “Lobster Quadrille”, “Well”). Although the hazy moments may drag down the overall impression at times, In Flesh Tones is definitely worth to explore and discover in its fullest.

~ Azeda Booth – “Ran” ~

Katie Stelmanis

Armed with a classically trained voice and a spooky electronic sound, 23-year-old Katie Stelmanis makes me think of what Kate Bush might sound like if she collaborated with a robot and a ghost.

Yes, weird description but that’s what comes to mind when listening to Katie’s debut album, Join Us, right from the brilliant opening track “In My Favour” all the way through to the closing (and rather surprising) cover of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”.

Because this album is far from natural or organic in its sound: it’s rather harsh and metallic, and might challenge those who simply want to enjoy Katie’s beautiful, strong voice with its intensity. Sure, Join Us has some softer moments, but don’t be fooled: “You’ll Fall” starts off rather innocently only to turn out containing an ear shattering noise that could very well be used in torture.

Still, Join Us is nothing short of amazing. I’m glad that Katie took this route with her music, rather than the soft singer/songwriter sound which some might feel would showcase her voice better (and to a broader audience). The contrast between the computerized sound and Katie’s skilled vocals only enhance one another.

That, combined with a gallery of great songs makes Katie Stelmanis one of the most interesting and exciting debutantes of 2008. Or as it says on her MySpace: “STELMANIA!!”

~ “Join Us” ~

The blues may still be blue, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that one should ignore any of the brighter colors.

Ndidi Onukwulu evokes quite a lot of encouragement on her sophomore album The Contradictor which is a fitting title to say the least. With uplifting and introspective lyrics combined with rich jazz-infused blues, Onukwulu’s music (and voice) is warm and inviting in way that might surprise some. Although, it’s not a happy-go-round all the way through.

There’s plenty of heartbreak in various forms, but the underlying tone is still hopeful. Just in the upbeat opening track “SK Final”, Ndidi sings how she refuses hurt over her departed lover again, while a blazing horn orchestra plays in the background as to root her on.

If you’re anything like me and usually avoid blues, then The Contradictor this is a great place to start. There are many other styles woven into the music without creating a cluster: rock, jazz, country, folk, and even a little bit of reggae. I wouldn’t call it a light-weight introduction to blues, but perhaps a good way to ease in those with an untrained ear or preconceptions about the genre. And Nididi’s rich voice is difficult to resist.

The Contradictor is set to be released June 17.

~“SK Final”~