September 7, 2012 1 Comment
Listening – Ben Taylor
Ben Taylor is an incredibly talented songwriter, and it kind of figures: his parents are James Taylor and Carly Simon. Pretty good pedigree. He tried to avoid music for a while, but eventually found himself drawn to it, and the results have been impressive. He’s been one of my favorite artists ever since I discovered his album with the Ben Taylor Band, Famous Among the Barns, back in high school, and since he’s gone solo (well, more solo I guess), his work has been even better. Another Run Around the Sun is one of my all-time favorites (check out “You Must’ve Fallen”, “Someday Soon”, “I’ll Be Fine”, and everything else on there), and the goofily-titled The Legend of Kung Folk, Part 1 (The Killing Bite) (I guess there’s no part 2?) was excellent as well. Another Run was more acoustic and organic-sounding, while The Legend of Kung Folk leaned more towards R&B in its instrumentation and arrangements. Considering the somewhat dramatic shift between albums, it was going to be interesting to see which direction he went on Listening. The answer is mostly still in the more electric, sultry vein of The Legend of Kung Folk, but this time around, especially towards the end of the album, he throws in some busy electronica, not dissimilar to what Sufjan Stevens did on The Age of Adz. (Although certainly to a lesser degree, practically by default. Sufjan went cray-cray on that one.) Unfortunately, much like Stevens’s effort, these songs tend to get bogged down under the weight of all that’s going on. However, the first half of the album is less cluttered and shines like his previous work. The title track is a contemplative slow burner, and then “Oh Brother” picks things up with a bouncy ode to his twin stepbrothers (and an appearance from his famous dad). “Not Alone” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on The Legend of Kung Folk, save for some tastefully scattered synths in the chorus that foreshadow the greater electronic involvement on the record. Despite its weaker second half (which is not to say every song is bad – “You Could Be Mine” is a fun, reggae-tinged number), Listening is still certainly worth your time.
Start with: “Oh Brother”, “Not Alone”, “Giulia”
A Thing Called Divine Fits – Divine Fits
Ok, I’ll admit that I was severely predisposed to like this album because one of the guys in this indie supergroup is Britt Daniel, the genius behind Spoon, probably my favorite non-Beatles band. (Come on, the Beatles are in a league of their own. It’s not really fair to put anyone else up against them, so I don’t try.) I had high hopes for this project, and A Thing Called Divine Fits does not disappoint. The only way to describe this album is cool – it makes the Barry Manilow tracks in your library feel very insecure. Divine Fits’ sound definitely bears the mark of Daniel’s influence – sharp, precise beats; well-behaved guitars that flame out in walls of distortion – but also reflects the contributions of Dan Boeckner, formerly of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs, and Sam Brown of the New Bomb Turks. The most notable example of this is Boeckner’s voice, heard in half the songs on here. It’s very different from Daniel’s but is awesome too, with a sound that is roughed-up and desperate in a good way. Divine Fits also use synthy bass lines where Spoon never does, and this calls to mind the Cars (as does the cover, in my opinion). Divine Fits sound like the outstanding musicians they have proven themselves to be in other endeavors, and it’s awesome to hear them meld their styles together into something great.
Start with: “My Love Is Real”, “Flaggin a Ride”, “Would That Not Be Nice”
Fragrant World – Yeasayer
Historically, I’ve never really been able to get into Yeasayer. I could tell that they were talented musicians writing good songs, but I don’t know, their sound was always just a little too world-beat-kooky for my taste. But hey, lots of people love them, so what do I know. However, they went in a new direction with Fragrant World, one that dips into the darker sounds of the electronic realm, and I love it. The songs are more focused, with fewer stylistic deviations within each, making for a more cohesive, powerful attack. The apocalyptic synths and nervous beats that drive songs like “Longevity” and “Devil and the Deed” are awesome, and it’s impressive that Yeasayer can utilize this sonic palette so expertly. If you’re already a Yeasayer fan, don’t worry, they didn’t completely eradicate their old sound: its influence can be heard in places like the extended outro to “Henrietta” and the intro to “Demon Road”, among others. And to top it all off, their label is called Secretly Canadian, which is hilarious. Definitely check out this album.
Start with: “Longevity”, “Henrietta”, “Devil and the Deed”