Posts Tagged ‘2013’

jew-damageLet’s be honest with ourselves here—there will never be another Clarity or Bleed American, simply because those records are modern classics, and Jimmy Eat World got older, and so did we. These days, I’m not expecting JEW to put out the next Clarity, because it’s not 1999 anymore, it’s 2013.

That being said, I don’t want them to abandon what made them excellent in the first place. I don’t think they ever completely did, but some of their previous records flirted with it, becoming poppier and more produced than I would have liked.

Damage is the closest Jimmy Eat World has come to returning to their classic emo/alternative rock roots in many years, and it is excellent indeed. The record seems to mix the older stripped-down emo sounds with the Futures-and-onward full-bodied aesthetic. In short, it’s a good mix of the old and new Jimmy Eat World.

Right off the bat, “Appreciation” hits the listener with an organic guitar-based approach that typifies most of Damage. It’s probably thanks to the bare-bones recording-to-tape approach used by producer Alain Johannes, a regular Queens of the Stone Age collaborator. The title track, “Lean,” and “Book of Love” are upbeat, jaunty pop-rock songs. Lead single “I Will Steal You Back” boasts one of the stronger choruses on the album.

“Please Say No” might be the “Hear You Me” of Damage; a gradually-building slow-tempo ballad with deeply personal and specific lyrics. The next two tracks step up the energy—the exceptional “How’d You Have Me” is full of driving guitar and catchy hooks, and “No, Never” is the closest thing to Bleed American/Futures-era Jimmy Eat World I’ve heard the band produce since those records were released.

JEW has always thrived in the open spaces—expansive, mid-tempo rock songs with emotive lyrics from frontman Jim Adkins. The superb “Byebyelove” is a great example: another standout for sure, and one of my favorites. Album closer “You Were Good” is a simple acoustic song that almost sounds like it could have been found on one of JEW’s lesser-known EPs like Firestarter, the self-titled EP, or Stay On My Side Tonight.

Along with guitarist Tom Linton, bassist Rick Burch, and drummer Zach Lind, Adkins has crafted another masterwork here with Jimmy Eat World’s seventh studio full-length. Although the record is rather short—ten tracks, clocking in at just over a half-hour—the band consistently pulls off what they do best: sweet and simple emo-rock songs that stick with you. 2013’s Damage is unexpectedly excellent.

~ J.M.

The-National-Trouble-Will-Find-Me-608x608With each full-length from Brooklyn’s The National, the band has progressed and grown in sound and scope. They continue the trend with their sixth LP, Trouble Will Find Me. While—for me personally at least—the novelty of The National’s sound may have worn off a bit considering I listened to Alligator, Boxer, and High Violet about a trillion times each, their new material is certainly as solid as anything they’ve released, and will be unanimously praised by fans of their prior work.

Trouble sees vocalist Matt Berninger stretching his limits like never before. On opener “I Should Live In Salt,” he sings in a higher register than normal, almost sounding like a normal indie band vocalist instead of the baritone bass crooner we know him as.  His whimsical ruminations rise to the forefront on songs like “Heavenfaced” and “Fireproof” in a way they usually don’t—most of the time, Berninger’s lyrics lurk behind the groove, rather than standing out front. Personal stories, regrets, worries, tales of love and loss—Berninger doesn’t break too much new ground here lyrically, but as per usual submits his lines expertly and humorously.

I’m also intrigued by the odd time signatures that occasionally crop up within Trouble Will Find Me. It’s most notable in lead single “Demons,” where an otherwise-standard National song is made unique thanks to a 7/8 groove, lead by drummer Bryan Devendorf. Devendorf’s parts seem a little less frenetic and busy than usual, opting instead to support the tunes tastefully rather than stealing the spotlight.

Some of the songs on Trouble are classic National (“Graceless,” “Don’t Swallow The Cap,” “Humiliation”) while some are more whimsy and fleeting than usual (“Heavenfaced,” “I Need My Girl”). “Pink Rabbits” utilizes a nice slow swing/shuffle type of groove that suits the band well, especially Berninger’s somber illustrations of his experiences. Closer “Hard to Find” ends the album with a subdued piano ballad, only introducing a light percussion part in the final minute—a cerebral closing to an album that sees the band covering some new ground.

I can’t say Trouble Will Find Me is blowing me away like 2007’s Boxer or even the band’s earlier records did, but as I said, it might just be that the charm wore off a little. That’s not The National’s fault, it’s mine. In addition, most National albums take a few weeks to really settle in and grow on the listener, so I’ll probably be more stoked on Trouble by the summer.

It may seem obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: those who already enjoy The National will like this record, and the band’s detractors, who might foolishly label this music “boring,” probably won’t find a whole lot to gravitate toward this time around. Even so, Trouble Will Find Me continues this band’s incredible growth and expansion, and is a solid addition to their existing powerhouse of a catalog.

~ J.M.

PERILS_Digipak-4 panelTwo of Open Bar Reception’s previously-featured artists, Mark Kozelek and Jimmy LaValle, have teamed up under their pseudonyms—Sun Kil Moon and The Album Leaf, respectively—to release one of my most highly-anticipated albums of 2013, Perils from the Sea. At first blush, the pairing seems unorthodox—mixing Kozelek’s low, droning ruminations with LaValle’s electronica-based bleeps and gurgles, which brings to mind the more electronic side of Radiohead as well as another well-known sound engineer/vocalist combo, The Postal Service. But, as with most things Mark Kozelek touches, this album is fantastic, even if the combination sounds strange at first.

Maybe this SKM/TAL combination is a sort of next-decade Postal Service, although I’d venture to say that Perils from the Sea imparts a depth and somberness that Ben Gibbard and company never quite attained. That’s mostly thanks to Kozelek, a sort of godfather of down-tempo and indie-folk thanks to his first band, Red House Painters. LaValle’s contributions shouldn’t go unmentioned, though, as his 8-bit synth sounds and Daft Punk-esque techno drum machines bolster the whole project. In fact, if it weren’t for LaValle stepping out of his comfort zone here, there wouldn’t be much to separate Perils from the Sea from recent Sun Kil Moon albums or records Kozelek releases under his own name.

Kozelek’s lyrics touch on relationships, traveling, touring, family, hotels, and his own songwriting process and career. As usual, he communicates them with an honesty and bluntness that makes every song a valuable slice of Kozelek’s musical output. Another thing I like is the length of the songs. Not only do you get the most bang for your buck—a solid hour and 17 minutes of music—but this genre seems to lend itself to lengthy, repetitive compositions. Not one tune is under five minutes, and half of them stretch over the seven-minute mark. Kozelek’s pondering verses expand over these longer tunes, weaving in and out of LaValle’s bloops and bleeps entrancingly.

“Ceiling Gazing,” an eight-minute tune composed mostly of droning organs, seems to be the most popular track, judging from iTunes ratings and what I’ve been reading from other critics. It’s a decent song, but definitely not one of my favorites. I much prefer the excellent “By The Time That I Awoke” or lead singles “What Happened to My Brother” and “Caroline.” The plodding “You Missed My Heart” tells a strange story of murder and arrest; something in the lyrics and the way Kozelek sings the verses reminds me of Modest Mouse—and maybe that’s not far-fetched, keeping in mind Sun Kil Moon’s 2002 collection of Modest Mouse covers, Tiny Cities. “1936,” “Gustavo,” “Baby In Death Can I Rest Next To Your Grave” and “Here Come More Perils from the Sea” shore up the rest of the album sturdily.

If I had to make a complaint, I’d say that by the time you’re through with the whole affair, some of the songs start to blend together because of the formulaic nature of these tunes—Kozelek’s rise-and-fall lyrical styling in front of LaValle’s drum machines starts to feel a bit pedestrian. I like the repetition within each track, but one has to wonder if the formula was used one too many times.

If you’re a fan of Mark Kozelek’s work, you’ll love Perils from the Sea. If you’re not, maybe this is the moment of his career that can be your ticket in. I highly recommend listening to this album with headphones, or at least loudly. You can’t hear the intricacies (especially LaValle’s background atmosphere-building parts) by playing this record quietly. While unexpected, this is a surprisingly great combination that in turn produced a great record. Here’s hoping this isn’t the last time Kozelek and LaValle team up.

~ J.M.