Monday, April 18, 2011

The Unthanks


Rough Trade

On their new album, Rachel and Becky Unthank (their real name) add a bit of prog to their musical mixture of contemporary and indie folk. Prog not in the sense of Jethro Tull, but more early Strawbs, the quieter side of Elbow, and a dash of “Carpet of the Sun” era Renaissance, of that band wrote gloomy, not happy, songs. . It is very gentle, but with much sadness, like walking on a cloudy day, but with no rain forecast. It is also magical, and even oddly pretty.

Their lyrics have the same gentle sadness, whether they are talking about star-crossed lovers, or lords and ladies. For all of that , there is a sense of hope. Wait until things get better, move on to a better place, and never give up. And the magic that is in the music, is also in the lyrics, making this album breathtaking,, and a very worthy follow up to their last album Here’s the Tender Coming. []

Andrea Weiss

Tune Yards


4AD Records

Merrill Garbus is Tune Yards, and her great debut, combined found sounds like the foghorn on the Martha’s Vineyard ferry, with the ukulele and her voice, using a cheap vocal recorder and shareware recording software. On her new album, the found sounds and the ukulele are still there, but she recorded in a studio with a producer, who polished up the basic sound. Together they, and people she brought into the recording process, fashioned an album that is just as good as the debut.

While the core of the sound is still folk/rock you can dance to, this album is even better. The beats zing all over the place, but also you can sit and contemplate the lyrics just as on the debut.

While the debut was mostly love songs, the left-wing political undercurrent was muted. Not so on this album. Garbus’ feminist, warm, kind, smart, common sensible, tough left wing politics are reminiscent of Ani DiFranco’s 90’s work, before it curdled into a smug, obnoxious, cynical, self-righteous act. Garbus is a breath of fresh air. Here are politics and music that are fun, cool, witty, and just right for dancing, or thinking. A great album. []

Andrea Weiss

Monday, April 4, 2011

Cold Cave

Cherish the Light Years

Matador Records

This is a brilliant fusion of Siouxie and the Cure, with a bit of New Order and Joy Division mixed in for detail, coloring and shading. Bandleader Wesley Elsold even sounds a bit like a deeper voiced Robert Smith. Cold Cave has the same musical drive, flow, and fullness as the best Siouxie/Cure tracks, but not as goth lyrically. It is also very poetic, since Elsold has published his poetry with Heartworm Press.

Lyrically the album looks back on where Elsold has been, and where he’s going, it is inspired by his move to New York, and the nighttime walks he took soon after moving to the city. The urban feel of these songs shines in “Underworld USA,” “Icons of Summer,” and the album’s best track “Catacombs.”

The album isn’t perfect. The last three tracks’ energy level flags, and there is a whiff of cheese on “Confetti,” which sounds as if it could have come from the first Till Tuesday album. Nevertheless, this is very good album, one that looks both fondly back on the 80s musically, and forward lyrically, which is a great combination. []

Andrea Weiss

Alela Diane and Wild Divine


Rough Trade

Musically, this is a wonderful fusion of Neko Case’s more recent work, and what Katrina and Nerissa Nields were doing on their album Sister Holler. It’s rich, and full bodied, quiet, and understated, that can be a bit surreal at times, and in the end, succeeds nicely.

Lyrically Diane combines poetic imagery that is a bit off kilter, very moving, full of love and life, death and dreams. But her writing is never dark, never mournful, just a message that life goes on, maybe not as expected. Live it as best as you can.

This album is a big improvement over Diane’s debut, To Be Still, where she sketched the rough outlines of what was to come, and not much beyond that. On her new one she comes into her own. It’s wonderful, it’s thrilling, and all great. []

Andrea Weiss


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