Aloha: Some Echoes

Bands need to use more vibraphones. It works. At least for Aloha, who followed up 2004’s very strong, Here Comes Everyone with the even better Some Echoes. Kicking off the album with the downcast psychedelia of “Brace Your Face,” a six and half minute message to a lost love, the band never wavers, creating one of the year’s most consistent and confident works. Just 10 tracks, Some Echoes has few wasted moments, as the band has become tighter with age, without sacrificing any of the lyrical or musical quirks that have characterized their earlier sound. Despite strong buzz and mostly good reviews, I wouldn’t expect this album to make too many Year-End Best Of’s. But it’s definitely notable. A very solid performance by a very solid band. Survey says: long live the vibraphone.

Aloha at Myspace

Download: MP3: Aloha-“Brace Your Face”

Guster-Ganging Up on the Sun
People give me strange looks when I tell them that I liked this record. Usually the next setence involves something about how this band and Dave Matthews share the same fanbase. Which to quote Wayne Campbell is both sad and lame. However, even if Guster fans get chills down their spine whenever they hear “Crash,” you shouldn’t fault them for liking a band that could produce this album. The album got mostly good reviews, but neither Pitchfork nor Stylus reviewed it and the blogs mostly ignored it. However, those who didn’t hear it missed out on a very good guitar pop record,with complex harmonies and sumptuous orchestral arrangements. If you were a freshman in the dorms at some preppy Eastern University, this is the CD you would want playing to impress the sorority girl down the hall.

Guster on Myspace

MP3: Guster-“Satellite”

Clean Guns-Sometimes There is T
Most rap albums are pretty mediocre and difficult to even get through once. Let alone rap albums from small indie labels (Beat Garden) with smaller production budgets. But with Sometimes There is Trouble, Zilla and his partner Knowledge Don have done one of the rarest things in hip-hop: make a solid album from start-to-finish. Without having to hit the skip button, Clean Guns walk the line between swaggering street rap and introspective underground lyricism, reminiscient of Overcast-era Atmosphere. At this point, it’s not out of reach to suggest that Clean Guns and their label Beat Garden have taken their first steps towards building Philadelpha’s version of Rhymesayers.

Clean Guns on Myspace

MP3: Clean Guns-“Management”

Monkey Swallows the Universe-Bright Carvings

First off, it has to be said that Monkey Swallows the Universe have the dumbest name I’ve ever heard. Sometimes I wonder if that Arctic Monkeys and Monkey Swallows the Universe had a love child, whether or not they’d call it Arctic Monkeys Swallow the Universe. That would be awesome. But probably not as awesome as the Bright Carvings, a collection of 11 beautiful and melancholy tunes. The highlight “Sheffield Shanty” has an emotional resonance that few songs ever written can match, as lead vocalist Nat Johnson sounds like a cross between Joni Mitchell and The Fairport Convention. And just when you think the emotional impact of these stark folky ballads are getting a tad heavy, the band drops a song like “Jimmy Down the Well,” which might rival Ghostface’s “Miguel Sanchez” for the best Simpsons reference in a song this year.

Monkey Swallows the Universe on Myspace

MP3: Monkey Swallows the Universe: “Jimmy Down the Well”

Trae’s Restless answers the question what would Flesh N’ Bone from Bone Thugs would’ve sounded like had he grown up in Houston. Except much better than you’d expect. In fact, I’m surprised how much I enjoyed this album, since I like Houston hip-hop about as much as I like Houston’s other major export: President Bush. But unlike Paul Wall and the rest of the “Wow…I can put jewelry on my teeth” set, Trae actually has something to say. Sure, he might tell you a few too many times that he’s a “gangsta.” But so does the Game and like The Game, Trae displays unexpected introspection, enough to make him a compelling figure. The CD is too long (18 tracks, 1 Hour 15 Minute Run Time) but Trae’s mix of mic skills and street intelligence always keeps things interesting. And yes, there’s a track with Jim Jones on it. And yes, he yells out the word” Goonies. And yes, I still find Jim Jones funny. I’m sorry.

Trae on Myspace

MP3: Trae-“The Rain”

Mezzanine Owls-“Slingshot Echoes”
The Wrens are getting old. Not be mean or anything, but that’s the truth, and like it or not, a day’s going to come when they aren’t going to be able to tour anymore. Thankfully, the Mezzanine Owls have come along, as the Los Angeles-based quartet seems to be the missing link between the Wrens and The Jesus and the Mary Chain. Slingshot Echoes, the band’s Andy LeMaster produced LP, might not yet hit the same heights as The Meadowlands, but I wouldn’t put it past Jack Burnside, the Mezzanine Owls’ hyper-literate frontman to one day do something similar. In recent months, the band’s live show has been gaining the fans converts throughout Los Angeles. And it’s for good reason, as few bands in town can match the group’s polished and arena-big sound.

Mezzanine Owls on Myspace

MP3: Mezzanine Owls-“Lightbulb”

+/- Let’s Build a Fire

For those who aren’t familiar, this is the band whom Pitchfork reviewed twice and instituted a strange cover-up and subsequent apology for reviewing the Japanese version of the album. To get revenge, the band members of +/- put up a fake Pitchfork review with a score in the 9 range, proclaiming their work to be one of the best albums of the year. Silly fools. Didn’t they know that the only way to get a 9.0 at Pitchfork is to either play the harp or sing exclusively about dealing cocaine. But the truth is, if I were in +/- I would’ve been pissed too. Their album might not be of the 9.0 caliber, but it’s quite good, succeeding in its modest ambition to present 13 extraordinarily pleasant tunes, the majority of them about love (hence the band’s frequent emo comparisons). And in “Steal the Blueprints” Let’s Build a Fire best track, +/- recorded the best song this year that the Postal Service never recorded.

+/- on Myspace

MP3: +/- “Let’s Steal the Blueprints”

Candy Bars-On Cutting Tigers In Half and Understanding NavarrationSeriously, what’s with new bands and their stupid names. Why on earth would a band name themselves the Candy Bars? Perhaps they’re trying to associate themselves with sweet and delicious chocolate confections, making people think: “I like Candy, this band must be awesome.” Or possibly the band is playing a joke on us all and Candy Bar is some sort of twisted sexual euphism. Either way, this band probably needs a name change. But what shouldn’t change is their sound, a weird hybrid of the Kinks and Modest Mouse, sunny guitar chamber pop crossed with off-kilter Tom Waits-influenced vocals. Even stranger is the fact that it works. Truth be told, this debut from the Tampa trio probably should’ve probably cracked My Top 10 Best Debut’s list. Plus, the always tough to impress, Ian Cohen gave them an A- in his Stylus review, declaring the album “so consistent that one can drift off in the lazy river ebb, but you’ll always wake up somewhere beautiful and familiar.” True story.

Candy Bars on Myspace

MP3: Candy Bars-“Landscape”

Mojave 3-Puzzles Like You
You might not love this album, but it’s impossible to dislike it. This is that CD you throw on when you’re going for a drive on an exceedly bright Sunday morning and want to hear something pleasant, painless and poppy. Nearly 20 years after the first Slowdive album, Mojave 3 are going strong. “Breaking the Ice” flips the guitar chords to The Replacements “Kiss Me On The Bus” quite nicely, to make for an instantly catchy (if not slightly) derivative track. “Kill the Lights” is similarly infectious, with a sinuous Doors-like organ bridge. This album doesn’t exactly re-invent pop music, but if you like Belle & Sebastian or the New Pornographers, two more well-known bands that followed in the wake of Slowdive, chances are you’ll also appreciate Puzzles Like You.

Mojave 3 on Myspace

Mp3: Mojave 3-“Breaking the Ice”

Working For a Nuclear Free City-Working For a Nuclear Free City

It makes perfect sense why this British album didn’t gain much steam on the Internet or on the radio. This update of the trademark Madchester Stone Roses/Happy Mondays sound doesn’t boast any catchy singles or anything instantly demanding to be heard. But that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a satisfying and well-produced album, one that grows with each listen. But while the album often pounds with drug-tinged energy, it maintains a dreamy cinematic quality that makes them stand out from second-generation Raver knockoffs. Certain CD’s demand your full attention, this isn’t one of them. Nonetheless, it’s the ideal background music to get lost in, never overwhelming but always remaining consistently solid. In an age of MP3 singles, this is an album that pays off to listen to from start to finish.

Working For a Nuclear Free City on Myspace

MP3: Working For a Nuclear Free City-“Troubled Son”

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