Category Archives: Album Reviews

Nutshell Album Review: MGMT – MGMT

MGMTIt still strikes me as odd that there are plenty of “MGMT fans” out there that are totally unaware of the fact that the album Congratulations exists. Whether it be that they’re naive, are ignoring the fact that the band came out with songs that aren’t “Kids”, or just stopped listening to music in 2009, the follow-up to Oracular Spectacular has been consistently hailed as the group’s lesser-known, weirder, and even less-liked successor. The most exciting part about album number three, the self-titled MGMT, is that it boldly shows that the band doesn’t care about the negative press at all. They’ve even gone as far as striking Oracular tracks like “Kids” from their live set to make room for the album that frontman Andrew VanWyngarden has referred to simply as (I’m paraphrasing here) music that the band actually likes. What that means isn’t up to me to decide, but what I can decide is how I try to make you feel about this album. As always, my attempts to be unbiased will quickly implode and you will totally see through my “reporting” right into my opinion. SO HERE WE GO.

For fans that have been waiting for this album for three years, the opening to “Alien Days” is like a very exciting prologue. A slow-building key part, VanWyngarden’s pitch-bent vocals that eventually morph into his identifiable sound, and lengthy additions of percussion eventually burst into the trancey, “Metanoia”-like track. The song, which was also the album’s first single, is the perfect medium between weirdness and consonance until it, in wonderful MGMT fashion, abruptly falls apart at the end before fading out. The second song is “Cool Song No. 2”, a tribal and deep-sounding track that has an almost Animal Collective-like element. Full of ambient noises and sound effects, this one surely does prove to be a new sound for the band. “Mystery Disease” is extraordinarily jammy, which is a direction the band was very vocal about pursuing. Perfect for some on-stage improvisation, this track has the same feel that radiates throughout the rest of MGMT. Up next is a cover of Faine Jade’s “Introspection”, which ends up being one of the most attractive songs on the album. After this the album explodes into single “Your Life Is A Lie”, which is both purely MGMT and strangely goofy. This song was the spark of my personal excitement for the album, bringing a rarely-seen sense of power from the psychedelic duo.

“A Good Sadness” is the next track, providing another track that is trancey and jammy, with VanWyngarden’s vocals being soaked in reverb and pushed towards the back. This song seems to take a lot of influence from MGMT’s fellow experimental bands in today’s indie scene, and it works out to their advantage. That flows into “Astro-Mancy”, which is a very percussion-driven song. It’s also another one on the album that is heavily layered with sound effects and ambient noises. “I Love You Too, Death” is a very unique track, with VanWyngarden’s vocals being performed in a way that makes this sound like a Yo La Tengo song, and it is definitely one of the highlights of this album. MGMT then closes with “Plenty Of Girls In The Sea”, which is led by a ripping and echoing drum beat with an acoustic guitar underneath almost swing-style vocals, and “An Orphan Of Fortune”, which has a drone-style rock feel that is totally unexpected, yet it leaves you very excited for the future of MGMT.

These guys have been given a lot of flack over the years for not continuing to make chart-dominating pop hits. They’re a really strange situation where they had a chance to become a musical super power, but chose to instead make the music they want to make. That is nothing short of commendable. For an album that’s been called “confusing” (along with being put in the flat-out rude “Worst New Music” section in Spin) MGMT seems to be the exact opposite of that. The duo is focused on having fun and enjoying themselves, which is always the most important thing. And if that isn’t worth it to you, then at least this is a solid album anyways. MGMT gets a 90/100 and is available now.

MGMT Tracklisting:

  1. Alien Days
  2. Cool Song No. 2
  3. Mystery Disease
  4. Introspection
  5. Your Life Is A Lie
  6. A Good Sadness
  7. Astro-Mancy
  8. I Love You Too, Death
  9. Plenty Of Girls In The Sea
  10. An Orphan Of Fortune

Nutshell Album Review: Arctic Monkeys – AM

AMArctic Monkeys, who’ve been hanging around the indie rock scene since their record-breaking 2006 debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, are the kings of mixing it up. Many see it as something to praise, and others use it as a point of criticism, but the Sheffield quartet has spent the last seven years putting out albums of all shapes and sizes, whether it be the jittery, guitar and riff-based sound of their debut, or the pseudo-darkness of 2009’s Humbug. The fact of the matter is that the always surprising and impressive group has done it again, this time trading in the heartsick loveliness of 2011’s Suck it and See for what is shaping up to be a purely raw rock and roll album. With a handful of dominant singles and a climbing acclaim of critics and fans alike, AM is slated to be one of the best things we’ve heard from these guys to date.

The album opens up with the smash-hit “Do I Wanna Know?”, with an overly addicting opening riff, reverb-coated stomps and claps, and a newly found technique of harmonizing over frontman Alex Turner’s vocals. This track is also one of the first of many on the album that are just gritty; there is a clear shift heard in this song that changes from the band’s usual sound to a much more powerful wave of energy. The next song continues this, and is nothing new to Arctic Monkeys fans. It’s “R U Mine?”, which came up last November when the band was tearing through the US on an arena tour with The Black Keys, and the song is just as strong now as it was 10 months ago. The song that Turner has stated was the basis of AM is just forceful, with strong riffs, heavy drums, and an epic sense of instrumental and vocal layering. “One For The Road” has much more of a groove to it, with a sound and guitar effects that are very reminiscent of Humbug and Suck it and See. The song feels revamped, however, with the same vocal harmonies and sense of maturity that is quickly established on this album. The groove and moodiness is carried over into “Arabella”, an almost dreary track that quickly turns into a distortion-driven jam session that seems to pay a loose homage to Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”. “I Want It All” pulls the claps back in and has layered vocals throughout the entire song, along with an addicting ascending riff. My personal favorite aspect of the song is the inclusion of the guitar effect made famous on the “Library Pictures” solo.

At this point, the dynamic of the album shifts dramatically with “No. 1 Party Anthem”. First off, this song should get the award for “Most Misleading Song Title Ever”, because it is not at all a song you would hear at a party. This brings a small influence from Turner’s solo Submarine EP  into play with the slow, ballady sound. It also is a prime example of Turner’s ever-awaited lyrical wit, featuring gems like “It’s not like I’m falling in love I just want you to do me no good/And you look like you could”. It then goes into the similarly slowed-down “Mad Sounds”, a track that has prompted Turner to joke in live performances that audience members should “cuddle or something like that”. It’s a truly beautiful song that, again, has the Arctic Monkeys love song wit that shines through in lines like “Out of nowhere, somebody comes and hits you with an/ooh la la la”. Next up is “Fireside”, which starts to pick the energy of the album back up. A heavily rhythm section-driven song, the bass and drum beats shine through along with a synth-like altered backup vocal that runs throughout. It’s followed by another album single, “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”, which is one of the album’s highlights that features a walking-pace groove and the same gritty rock feel established earlier on. The difference here is that, despite the power and acidic solo, AM‘s third single tends to stay more relaxed than its two predecessors. The album is then closed out with the Britpoppy, Noel Gallagher-like “Snap Out Of It”, the heavy, dreary and melody-driven “Knee Socks”, and the John Cooper Clarke poem-turned-song “I Wanna Be Yours”, which turns into an almost psychedelic album ending performance.

Despite the fact that I’ve kept my ranting about them pretty tame up until this point, it isn’t a secret that the Arctic Monkeys top the list of one of my favorite and most-respected bands of our time. All of that bias aside, even the biggest of fans has to sit down and decide whether or not a band’s most recent effort is worth while. I alluded earlier to the quartet’s constantly changing sound, but they seem to be honing in on what they want to do for the rest of their careers. AM has been hailed as mature-sounding, and some are even calling it the band’s best effort to date. As both a fan and an attempting-to-be-non-biased writer, I can agree with both of these. Even though the critical acclaim was still at an all time high for these guys 7 years ago when they first made it into the music scene, this is the direction that is sure to get them there again. In case you haven’t noticed, Spin, Pitchfork, NME, Rolling Stone, and Entertainment Weekly have all jumped on the train of talking about how great these guys are, and I have no problem doing the same. Arctic Monkeys get a 95/100 for their fifth effort, AM. They seem to be running out of room to get better, but hey. They can always try?

AM Tracklisting:

  1. Do I Wanna Know?
  2. R U Mine?
  3. One For The Road
  4. Arabella
  5. I Want It All
  6. No. 1 Party Anthem
  7. Mad Sounds
  8. Fireside
  9. Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?
  10. Snap Out Of It
  11. Knee Socks
  12. I Wanna Be Yours

Nutshell Album Review: Wildcat! Wildcat! – Wildcat! Wildcat! EP

wildcatwildcatFact: I have been sick a lot recently, and as a result I haven’t left the 12′ X 12′ room that contains my entire life for anything more than a box of tissues and a cup of handheld soup. You’d think that’s a good time to write a lot, I’d argue otherwise. Side note, I now love the TV show Dexter.

Fact-er: Due to my short recent history of being cooped up, I desire an adventure. I now have my soundtrack.

Wildcat! Wildcat! is a band that I very recently introduced on this sight as a Feed The Beat band that hit it big this past Spring opening for Passion Pit at SXSW (as seen in the hour-long documentary “Hello Everywhere“). I feel as if a more appropriate introduction is necessary, so here goes nothing. The group is a Los Angeles indie rock/awesome trio made up of Jesse Taylor, Michael Wilson, and Jesse Carmichael. The band, up until a few days ago, had a career based totally on the mass circulation of two Soundcloud links that rocketed them into the minds of the music blogiverse (a word I just made up. Here I come, Oxford!). The mumblings around the industry of “hmm, maybe these guys are something pretty cool” quickly turned into “wow, these guys are something really cool”, and now we have a four-track EP that breeds not so many new things from the group besides making these songs come out on an official release, in the form of the Wildcat! Wildcat! EP. These songs have either been released or performed in bulk by the band the last few months but hey, let’s talk about it anyway.

The EP starts off with “Please And Thank You”, a slow starting electric organ and claps number that is polished with glowing synths and the band’s soon-to-be recognizable, disgustingly beautiful vocal harmonies. After moving through some simply dazzling chorus (with packed on basses, bells, and extra synths), the track passes through an amazing sense of dynamic and explosion, while still keeping the same almost epic and ballad-like sound. Quite frankly, I would be impressed with just this song. The next track is “The Chief”, which is much more drum heavy and groovy. The backing beat is reverb-soaked and hefty, and the bass and keys drive through until slipping into a soft interlude,  and onto an impressive build up/bridge section that leads into a freaking saxophone solo. It is so awesome I actually laughed. That’s where we are at so far. The third song is “Mr. Quiche”, which, goofy name aside, is another strangely captivating one from these guys. This is the type of song that has a big heap of things you wouldn’t expect to go together smashed together in a way that somehow…well go together. The end result really is magical, and the vocal performance here is exceptional. The EP then closes out with “Garden Grays”, which is probably the most dancey of the EP’s songs. It also features some solid call and response vocals that close out the EP on a really great note, not that it hit a bad one…

My hope of this review is to get the people who’ve read my last piece about Wildcat! Wildcat! to understand something important. They are not “the band that opened for Passion Pit for SXSW”. I don’t want to be confusing, because factually that actually did happened. But my point is they should be known as “that awesome band that just came out with an awesome 4 track EP”, because they’ve proven that they are a band that deserves to have their name stand on its own. The Wildcat! Wildcat! EP gets an astounding 97/100, and I hope that they come out with an album soon.

Wildcat! Wildcat! Tracklisting:

  1. Please And Thank You
  2. The Chief
  3. Mr. Quiche
  4. Garden Grays

Nutshell Album Review: The Orwells – Who Needs You EP

orwells_newepRemember yesterday when I said EPs take less work to review? Well here we are! Trying to reap the maximum amount of benefits from the most minimal amount of time and listening! But in all honesty, read this because it’s a legitimate EP. Come on now.

The Orwells, a wonderful group of would-be-college-kids from small town Elmhurst, Illinois have been rattling the diminishing world of legitimate rock and roll for about the last year, driven by highly successful appearances at big-named festivals like SXSW and Lollapalooza, future dates at Austin City Limits and the Weezer Cruise, and a recent appearance on NPR. The craze seems to stem from early single “Mallrats (La La La)”, a rambunctious and almost playful garage-punk track that seemed too good to be true. After a hilarious music video that looks like a group of skater kids that had just stumbled out of a Bad Brains show started to wreak havoc on the local mall (I still can’t see a Wetzel’s Pretzels without thinking about this song), a debut album, a follow-up EP, and not that many haircuts, this five-piece garage outfit is proving that they deserve to be known as more than the kids from Elmhurst who tried to start a band. And with mixed signals about whether or not a second album is in the works, the Who Needs You EP will be enough (hopefully) to hold us over until we all get a glimpse of it.

The EP starts off with title track “Who Needs You”, which is bordering on the line of being one of the most solid protest songs that’s come out of recent history. Complete with a simple, but well-done music video reminiscent of The Strokes’ “Last Nite” video, the song is a great combination of being appealing and rough around the edges, and is a great track to start off the EP with. The second song is “Open Your Eyes (A Misfits Rip-off)” which, to give The Orwells credit, isn’t too much of rip-off of any Misfits song I could point to. With an amplified rhythm section and some vocal harmonies backing him, frontman Mario Cuomo delivers an impressive vocal performance on a song that is hooky and just generally fun to listen to. “Salvation Is A Parking Lot (A Black Lips Rip-off)”  has a more spot-on comparison with the use of Black Lips techniques like group vocals and almost chant-like talk singing at points. But The Orwells, again, deserve some credit here for doing something you don’t see very often: paying homage to bands you like without totally copying one of their specific songs. They even made it sound like they wrote the song (which they did). So bravo! The EP then ends with an Audiotree live take of Remember When track “Halloween All Year”, which is a nice close to an even nicer collection of songs.

The Orwells are a band that, for whatever reason, I missed out on reviewing not once but twice. After finally seeing them do a live show (I’m already planning on going to another one) and hearing about the Who Needs You EP, I knew I had to get them up on the site. I’m glad that I did, and I’m even more glad I got something that can be high on the priority list of past reviews. 94/100 for The Orwells for their newest release, which you can get your hands on starting September 10th.

Who Needs You EP Tracklisting

  1. Who Needs You
  2. Open Your Eyes (A Misfits Rip-off)
  3. Salvation Is A Parking Lot (A Black Lips Rip-off)
  4. Halloween All Year (Audiotree Live Session)

Nutshell Album Review: Baby Kid – Bruce Malmsteen Reverend Johnson (Download Link)

coverSo despite the fun/stress/business that goes into the first week or so of being a college student, I’ve decided to continue to take time out of my day to ramble aimlessly and endlessly about music. The reason is two fold. Fold one: I’m a music major, so isn’t this studying? Fold two: HA. STUDYING. But since my mom reads this, I’m sort of obligated to say I’m hitting the books. I even went to the library today (no joke)!

The strange thing is the first thing I’m doing for this site as a college student is reviewing an album by a local band from back home that I became quite fond of over the years. Their name is Baby Kid (named creatively after a kid that went to high school with the band that looked an uncanny amount like a baby), and their blend of noise rock and a lot of reverb has rocked too many house shows and parking garage roof shows (see the second paragraph) to count. Having the pleasure to play many shows with the trio, made up of Peter Gajewski, Gus Dieter, and Jeremy Walleck, their unparalleled goofiness goes hand-in-hand with the raw awesomeness of their songs, including this singles collection and even a “party mix”. And now we have an album to talk about.

Bruce Malmsteen Reverend Johnson starts off with lead single “Bein’ a Big D∞Bag to the Away High School Chess Team at Regional Competition”, one of the all-star song titles of the album. The track starts off with a wall of feedback noise before busting in and out of powerful hooks and quiet interludes backed by ripping screams and soft vocals, respectively. Up next is “Your Friend Who Eats Bugs”, with a chord-based opening riff and solid harmonizing of vocals packed between instrumental refrains. The song ends with an intoxicating and pretty freakin’ awesome instrumental outro. “Dominatrix Under the Glasses Store”, which was another single on the album that has a pretty great music video, is one of the most attractive songs on this record. I may even go so far to say this is one of my favorite songs the group has ever written. It’s one of the most impressive uses of dynamics I’ve heard in all of music and it features yet another awesome instrumental outro complete with some audio samples built in near the end. Definitely one to check out.

The next song is “Gas’line Lettuce Tomato”, with an intro that sounds like it is pulled right out of a Pixies album. It starts off super dreamy and…well…trippy before breaking into a short-lived explosion of distortion and cymbals. The progression then repeats, turning into another one of the album’s highlights. “Toni Kukoč Slow Motion Fadeaway” is what follows, and it is very reminiscent of the band’s early garage rock sound while still injecting fresh-sounding melodies and riffs. “My Plans to Fall Asleep” is put together a lot like a Sonic Youth track, with quick transitions between fast-paced riffs and slower, more drawn out breaks. It even features Dieter providing a Thurston Moore-like, reverb-soaked vocal performance. “$4.00 Lottery Ticket, ’13” is another song on the album that is very garagey, with fast chord strummings, screams from Gajewski, and an almost-hectic drum beat. There’s also a fun surprise in the middle, with the sound shifting to a much more relaxed feel, at some points even seeming calm enough to be an isolated vocal track. “Thumblr Famous Dave” comes up next, and it opens with an audio sample of none other than Moe from “The Simpsons” before breaking into a song that can’t be described much further than a solid rock song. It has a very attractive chord progression, and it is nicely driven by the rhythm section and small inserted riffs throughout. “Serif Like Times New Roman” is the longest track of the album (ending on the 7-minute mark), and it feels as close to a “Baby Kid” medley as you’ll ever get. It features all of the aspects of their music that you could ever pinpoint. Whether it be the quiet, toned-down vocal breaks, the quick and riff-driven jam-session like grooves, the extended build-ups, or anything else, this song has got it. It even manages to bring in a synth lead in the middle section where Gajewski hypnotizes you with the repetition of the line “I don’t feel a thing”.

“÷” starts off the tail end, and heavily electronic end, of the album, with a minute-long instrumental featuring audio takes of the band just having a good time. “Kevin James Gave My Dad an iPod Once”, my favorite of this album’s song titles, is all synths and drum machines packed underneath Dieter’s vocals about being an alien. “Freedom Fries” also follows the same musical style, except with vocals that are entirely in French. The album is then closed with “Wesołych Świąt, Guy on the Football Team!” a 90 second song chock-full of saw-leads and high hats, and the eponymous “Baby Kid”, an evolving-synth-riddled backdrop to drummer Walleck’s only…ahem…”vocal performance” (billed as “The J-Man”) which constitutes him reading a letter to his mother, only to point out every word that could somehow be related to erections.

It’s been a while since I reviewed a full album like this one. Part of it is because EPs take less work and concerts are a lot of fun, but a large factor is also that there hasn’t been a lot of music that’s recently grasped my attention. I don’t know if it was my unbiased love of Baby Kid, or my much-more-biased love of the part of my musical career that they took part in, but something pulled me into reviewing this album. This record is a coffeehouse dweller’s dream, and it also attracted the attention of the football players down the hall from my dorm at a Big 10 university. This says a lot, mainly that they must be doing something pretty special. And guess what! You can scoop up all the specialness for free (and legally!) here, and find their Facebook page here.

Oh and the whole rating thing? This low-fi masterpiece snags a 92/100. Handshakes all around.

Bruce Malmsteen Reverend Johnson Tracklisting:

  1. Bein’ a Big D∞Bag to the Away High School Chess Team at Regional Competition
  2. Your Friend Who Eats Bugs
  3. Dominatrix Under the Glasses Store
  4. Gas’line Lettuce Tomato
  5. Toni Kukoč Slow Motion Fadeaway
  6. My Plans to Fall Asleep
  7. $4.00 Lottery Ticket, ’13
  8. Thumblr Famous Dave
  9. Serif Like Times New Roman
  10. ÷
  11. Kevin James Gave My Dad an iPod Once
  12. Freedom Fries
  13. Wesołych Świąt, Guy on the Football Team!
  14. Baby Kid

Nutshell Album Review: Team Spirit – Team Spirit EP

teamspiritEPAyad Al Adhamy is a brilliant, brilliant man. Not only did he grace our ears as the former synthesizer player in Passion Pit, produce many remixes under the same band, and start an absolutely awesome independent record label that’s released material from bands like The Joy Formidable, Dom, and Stepdad, but now he’s doing another thing in the music industry (shocker!). Now Al Adhamy is back in the music-making game with his new Brookyln-based garage rock group Team Spirit, which most recently has garnered the attention of Rolling Stone who called them a “Band to Watch”. This raunchy and in-your-face quartet have gained a lot of attention so far following the release of their debut Team Spirit EP, and Rolling Stone is correct; you definitely want to keep an eye on them.

The EP opens up with “Jesus, He’s Alright!”, which opens up with your standard feedback and noise before breaking into a fast-paced and riff-based pop punk track. Once Al Adhamy’s vocals get layered over the screeching guitars, exceptionally catchy bass groove, and inhumanly fast drum beat, this song transforms into an all out garage anthem. After that comes “MRDR it’s ok”, with a very listener-friendly opening hook, a beautifully double-tracked solo, and solid vocal layering to turn this into a masterpiece of a song. This track has all things necessary for you to headbang, dance like a goofy indie kid, or do anything in between. The next song is “Fuck the Beach” (thus the use of the word “raunchy” earlier), which is a hilarious and angsty song about someone who just really doesn’t want to go to the beach. The song also creates a solid Wavves-like beach punk feel, with harmonies and “woo”s being provided throughout the song as it cuts back and forth between a very civil-sounding chorus and a wall of distortion. Then comes “Teenage Love”, which includes another impressive combination of riffs, dynamics, and vocals from Al Adhamy (plus a great performance from the rhythm section), and album closer “Phenomenon”, which sounds like The Orwells doing an intense rendition of a Doolittle-era Pixies song. If you need a translation, it’s beachy, garagey, and just a good note to end the EP on.

It isn’t a secret that I love Passion Pit. It also isn’t a secret that I love things that come from Black Bell Records. Through a storm of reviews and articles about Team Spirit that, just as I did, talk endlessly about Passion Pit, Black Bell, and everything that Ayad Al Adhamy put his hands on that aren’t this band, I fear that people will lose sight of the important things: we have stumbled upon what could truly become an influential part on today’s garage/punk/beach rock scene. Kudos to Team Spirit for putting together a truly awesome debut EP, and for grabbing an 89/100 in the process.

Team Spirit EP Tracklisting:

  1. Jesus, He’s Alright!
  2. MRDR it’s ok
  3. Fuck the Beach
  4. Teenage Love
  5. Phenomenon

Lollapalooza Lineup Leak?

As is the case almost every year, Twitter accounts have erupted claiming to be music festival insiders who are aware of what the lineup for that respective festival will be that Summer, months before there’s any itching of a clue of the actual lineups. This has happened again for Lollapalooza, with a star-studded top half of the lineup leaked on Twitter, along with none other than @TheLollaLeaker himself being called out on it. After someone being kind enough to un-blur the cryptic photos that were posted, this is what the lineup is (allegedly) set to be.

Lollapalooza festival goers may be seeing the following acts this Summer:
The Flaming Lips, The Cure, Jay-Z, Blur, Mumford & Sons, Skrillex, Vampire Weekend, How to Destroy Angels, MGMT, and many others.


Nutshell Album Review: DRGN KING – Paragraph Nights

drgn_adv_cd_insert.inddA funny thing happens that if we don’t post something for over a week, the site blows up with emails and comments. That makes us happy, so KEEP DOING THAT. But never fear! We are back, and this is a record that you should be excited for because it is something special.

DRGN KING (pronounced “Dragon King”, which apparently has to be specified according to certain radio DJs) hails from Philadelphia, and they specialize in pumping out powerful and just generally awesome songs. On debut LP Paragraph Nights, the band jams out, gets you moving and singing, and just tears apart your brain because you wish you could write music like this. This group comes out with a genre similar to that of a mega-indie/electronic Dr. Dog; one that it pains me to say is not nearly as popular as it should be. But who knows, with an album like this nay-sayers may be eating their words in a month’s time to make way for a new generation of kick-ass bands who do just that: kick ass.

Paragraph Nights opens up with the title track, a piano and synthy sound collage with beautiful vocals and a relaxing vibe. “Wild Night” is what gets the contagious movement started, with a catchy rhythm and an overpowering beat. The synth and saw basses take over half way through and give this song an upbeat AWOLNATION feel. The best part? The song is all about just going out and having a blast. Isn’t that something? Up next is “Holy Ghost”, which is a song that you should not be surprised if it just blows you away. This track has festival jam band written all over it, and it has group vocals and an irreplaceable beat that are impossible to not dance along with. It’s no surprise why this is one of the album’s singles. “Menswear” has a bigger rock influence, and goes back and forth between quiet with slightly distorted vocals and loud, noisy, powerful rock n’ roll. “The Cardy Boys” then takes it down a notch, going to a beautiful, Oasis-style acoustic track. It features a solo on an instrument I embarrassingly can’t identify, but it puts a very solid interlude in the center of the song that adds to it immensely.

“Barbarians” features claps and a huge emphasis on the bass line. This song is more experimental than the others on the album, and features a lot of sound effects and whispered vocals. “Warriors” has a more electronic feel, with synth loops and a very melodic chorus. The vocals at points come out more as a rap, and it’s done very impressively. This song tones down the energy and speed, but it is still a strong track and it is definitely one to check out. After that is “Altamont Sunrise”, which opens up with a groovy guitar and bass riff and dreamy vocals. This is another one that is sure to be a live-hit, with a great beat to bop to and catchy vocal melodies. “Black Gold” is an instrumental, trancey song that uses a lot of dream-like instruments and unique percussion. This one comes out sounding somewhat like Explosions in the Sky, except it doesn’t exceed 3 minutes. The album gets closed out with “Caught Down”, which has a jammy sound crossed with Arcade Fire-style dynamic changes and Noel Gallagher-like vocals, and “Looking At You”, an upbeat and indie-poppy song that is an energetic and quick way to bring the record to an end.

DRGN KING is one of those duos that has it working for them musically. Paragraph Nights does not stay within the constraints of one specific genre, nor should it. With the help of various collaborators, the two members of this Philadelphia group hit a wide range of indie rock sub genres and put it all together into a sort of  hipster kid free-for-all. No musical genre was left unscathed by this album and believe me, you’ll be hearing about it from websites not unlike this one in the months to come. Paragraph Nights takes over a 93/100 and you can grab it now. So do that.

Paragraph Nights Tracklisting:

  1. Paragraph Nights
  2. Wild Night
  3. Holy Ghost
  4. Menswear
  5. The Cardy Boys
  6. Barbarians
  7. Warriors
  8. Altamont Sunrise
  9. Black Gold
  10. Caught Down
  11. Looking At You

Nutshell Album Review: Ra Ra Riot – Beta Love

Beta LoveRa Ra Riot has garnered a fair amount of attention since their 2010 release of The Orchard, which was the most recent full-length to date from the Syracuse indie rockers. But the five-piece has kept busy, releasing a handful of singles and EPs (along with being one half of the greatest indie band friendship ever with Vampire Weekend) before finally hammering out The Orchard‘s follow-up and their third LP, Beta Love. The first thing on everyone’s mind is the synthesizers. Yes, it’s no secret that the sound of this album is new. There, however, seems to be no consensus on whether or not that sound is accepted. I wouldn’t be wrong to say that it may be shocking to some fans of the group, but then again I sort of would. It wouldn’t be far off for me to say most modernized rock and indie bands try their hand at a more electronic feel (ahem…Muse?), and Ra Ra Riot is another group that has succumbed to the inevitable. But, don’t get me wrong. The inevitable doesn’t always mean it’s a bad thing, does it?

Beta Love opens with “Dance With Me”, along with Wesley Miles’ smile-inducing voice tumbling over admitting that, well, he just is having a pretty damn good time. The song seems like it will only be a small taste of electronic influence until around the two-minute mark, where we come across a short but fantastic breakdown. After that comes “Binary Mind”, a fast-paced and energetic, beat driven-track with a poppy and saw-filled chorus. It also brings out a dancefloor electric drumkit with claps overdubbing snare hits, which makes it just that much cooler. Title track “Beta Love” is one of the moments that made it clear that this record is special. It hits the combination of the new indie sound and the vibe heard from the group’s first two albums right on the head, and it would be a gift from the music gods if this was a sign of what’s to come from Ra Ra Riot. “Is It Too Much” starts off with elevator music bells (creatively paired with opening lyric “Elevator down…”) and keeps a subtle and low-key sound. This track comes out sounding very similar to frontman Miles’ side project Discover with Vampire Weekend keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij. “For Once” is another exceptional track, with Miles showing off his vocal range while the rest of the group plays coffeehouse-style melodies completed with a string solo. The song has an up-tempo and indie pop feel, and it’s definitely one to check out.

“Angel, Please” is another great example of the quintet’s abilities, opening up in a similar manner as Miniature Tigers’ “Sex on the Regular”, and then breaking into another quality track. The cowbell is broken out on this one, and the beat is just contagious. “What I Do for U” features heavy 808 bass beats with short keyboard interjections. This is a mainly rhythm section dominated song, with synths interjecting near the end. Following that is “When I Dream”, a very passionate seeming track that again sticks to low-key synths and a large emphasis on drums, bass, and strings. This song hits a more melancholy side of the group, but still maintains the album’s energy and sound. “That Much” is closer to the sound of The Orchard and The Rhumb Line, with a more rock-style refrain than what’s heard on the rest of the record (other than the Talking Heads-style solo type…thing at the end). The band’s third LP is then closed out with “Wilderness”, an almost R&B song with a “lift up your lighters” style beat and apparent Dirty Projectors influences, and “I Shut Off”, an outlet of all the album’s leftover energy that hits the electro indie pop sound from earlier on the album and a phenomenal way to close out such a great album.

People will be upset about this album. People will be upset about every album, especially when a band dramatically shifts its sound like Ra Ra Riot did for Beta Love. But, from the totally non-biased opinion of a melody and hook loving indie fanatic, this change was bold and should be well received. There’s no telling which sound of Ra Ra Riot is “better”, but both are very good. It wouldn’t be challenging to find a large population of people who would be absolutely content with the group carrying out the sound they did on this record, and this writer in particular would be standing in that crowd. Beta Love takes a 95/100, and it is hitting shelves on January 22nd.

Beta Love Tracklisting:

  1. Dance With Me
  2. Binary Mind
  3. Beta Love
  4. Is It Too Much
  5. For Once
  6. Angel, Please
  7. What I Do for U
  8. When I Dream
  9. That Much
  10. Wilderness
  11. I Shut Off

Nutshell Album Review: Free Energy – Love Sign

free-energy-love-signThere are some bands and musicians in this world that have a special songwriting gift. This gift allows these artists to consistently write music that you simply cannot listen to without dancing. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I sincerely apologize for the hole in your life, and I also suggest you check out Free Energy. This Philadelphia quintet made a name for themselves in 2010 with their debut album Stuck on Nothing, which spurred hits like “Bang Pop”. The group is now back in action with sophomore LP Love Sign, and the indie-power pop output of the band makes them appear to be in top shape. With a handful of catchy, dancefloor rock songs and their own special blend of arena-style indie pop, Free Energy shows the music world that they deserve to grab the attention of the industry, and this LP might just be the thing they need to do so.

Love Sign opens with the album’s lead single “Electric Fever”, which erupts out of a feedback riddled and opens up into a perfect example of what this album is all about; cowbell, group chants with “ooo’s” and “ahh’s”, and the perfect amount of subtle wah pedals. At this point next year, it’s already easy to say it won’t be surprising to see this track end up on some “best of 2013” lists. Up next is “Girls Want Rock”, which brings back the group harmonies and is accented with claps and melodic keyboard riffs. The song also features the band’s notable rhythm section-dominated verses, breaking down to just drums, bass, and vocals. Good individual performances by all band members are able to combine into a really solid song that gets you into the album early on. “Dance All Night” is the next track, which slows it down and comes out sounding like a modernized version of an 80’s love ballad. This is the type of song that makes a listener realize how well a group of people can mesh together creatively. “Hey Tonight” continues that trend, with a vibe similar to that of Walk The Moon. This song is just purely Free Energy, and this is something that fans of the group were hoping to find on the new album.

The fifth song on Love Sign is “Hold You Close”, which defines cheesy and adorable songs. It is a short and upbeat track that keeps the energy flowing. After that is “Backscratcher”, which brings back the cowbell for an almost KISS-style opening. With chord-based guitar riffs, a phenomenal guitar solo and an emphasis on drums, the band once again hits the modernized arena rock sound with this one, and it’s definitely one to check out. “Hangin” has one of the best song openings heard since this site was created, and it has a solid call and response, back and forth vocal style working throughout. This track has a great groove, and it’s one of the album’s highlights. “Street Survivor” is what follows, and it brings a beach sound to the normal Free Energy aura. This song is yet another reason to geek out about the bass and drums combination that the quintet puts together so well. The album closes out with “True Love”, a song that opens with a wobbling bass and turns into a low key ballad-type song with exceptional vocals, and “Time Rolls On”, which pulls out every last thing in the band’s repertoire to close out the already-spectacular record.

Free Energy is a band you need to check out. There is not a simpler way of putting it, and if you don’t take our word, then try taking the word of Spin (calling the band ‘excellent’) or Rolling Stone (rating them one of the ‘Best New Bands of 2010’). Their unique blend of 80’s arena and anthem rock with today’s indie pop gives you the will to dance, sing, and express your love of the ‘indie’ music scene without popping lenses out of your 3D glasses. The group has their own take of today’s rock scene, and there a subtleties stemming from a wide range of musical genres. Free Energy won over a dedicated fan base with their debut, and Love Sign has the determination and content needed to push the majority over the edge. They were able to put something amazing together in proving that they’re all vastly talented musicians who can come together as a group, and who can also shoot out an album this good. Love Sign takes an outstanding 97/100, and it’ll be hitting stores on January 15th. You should buy it on January 15th.

Love Sign Tracklisting:

  1. Electric Fever
  2. Girls Want Rock
  3. Dance All Night
  4. Hey Tonight
  5. Hold You Close
  6. Backscratcher
  7. Hangin
  8. Street Survivor
  9. True Love
  10. Time Rolls On
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