True Widow – As High as the Highest Heavens and from the Center to the Circumference of the Earth
Dallas trio True Widow’s second record, As High as the Highest Heavens and from the Center to the Circumference of the Earth is a muddy affair. That is, the self-proclaimed “Stonegaze” band brings the bottom – big time. The album is all rumbling bass, humming cymbals, and guitar that doesn’t screech so much as it growls. Reverberating vocals, set amidst this instrumentation, promote a less than chipper vibe. Opening track, “Jackyl” broods like its namesake, and although the following cut, “Blooden Horse” is (perhaps surprisingly, given its name) a bit of pick-me up, True Window revel in their gloom. Still, although their metal lineage is evident in sound and song names, True Widow has much more at play. Instead of featuring thoughtless machismo, cut-throat solos, or a wall of noise, High is bursting with nuance and innovation; loudness itself becomes a musical tool. The result leans closer to the Sonic Youth than to Metallica.
– Paul Falardeau
Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo
Since his exit from Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs back in 2008, Kurt Vile has released an increasingly well-crafted and personal series of fuzz-folk records. On his fourth solo outing, Smoke Ring for My Halo, Vile dials back some of the drone-y haze and densely-layered effects pedals of his earlier records, allowing his sharp melodic sense, virtuosic guitar work, and seemingly disaffected, yet resiliently haunting, vocals to come to the fore. Smoke Ring draws equally from classic rock and indie influences and listeners are likely to notice the spectres of either Bob Dylan and Lou Reed or Beck and Guided By Voices depending on their own record collection. Often lonesome and occasionally sweet, Vile’s latest offering distils the best guitar music of the last 40 years into a surprisingly distinctive style, making it an early contender for album of the year.
– Nick Ubels
Typhoon – A New Kind of House
If this EP were sold in the produce department, it would be in the organic section. Beautifully simplistic melodies are highlighted by a variety of instruments: drums, piano, acoustic guitar, violin, tuba, trumpet, trombone, and others combine tastefully to create a sound that allows each instrument to stand out. Rhythmically and dynamically, A New Kind of House draws the listener in – this is not elevator music. At a time when massive “Orchestral” indie groups (i.e. Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene) are all the rage, this 12-member group actually utilizes their numbers – the sound is big, while remaining acoustically driven. Portland based Typhoon leaves us wanting more with A New Kind of House. This short, 5 song EP could have easily been expanded to be a full-length album. This release is sure to give Typhoon some much deserved attention in 2011.
– Sean Evans
Peter Bjorn & John – Gimme Some
From the glorious country that brought us the Sedin twins comes Peter Bjorn & John; the group named for the first names of each of its members. Their new album, Gimme Some is PB&J’s follow-up album to 2009’s successful Living Things. While this album demonstrates a clear maturation from the previous work, its bare bones are the same. While there isn’t any whistling, the melodies are light and playful; in other words, easy to whistle along to, even if they don’t bother to record it. The rhythm is light yet persistent: the first single, “Second Chance,” is a good example of this – while the tempo is upbeat, the lack of any bass line to speak of keeps the otherwise driven song a light and relaxing listen. This is pretty indicative of the rest of the album: light, airy, with enough rhythm to keep it from being the kind of folk music sung by people who don’t shower.
– Karen Aney