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Hype, or something like it…

18 Jan

Local Houston musician, Ryan Montalvo, is at it again.

It hasn’t been long since the September release of his second full-length album, A Voice From The Crowd, but Montalvo doesn’t seem to be plagued with lack of creativity or commitment to his work.

 

Montalvo officially began writing new material for his third album, currently untitled, on December 3.

For more information, follow him on Facebook and Twitter. You can also download his first two albums via Bandcamp for free.

My Favorite Releases of 2012

7 Jan

2012 has been a whirlwind year for music. It seems like everyone is releasing an album, going on tour, collaborating and then some. Perhaps it was the supposed “apocalypse.” Perhaps it was something in the water. Whatever it was, it was nearly impossible to get my list down to 10, 15 or even 20. Though I stopped at 25. I assure you I could have gone on longer.

Here are 25 lucky bands and artists that made it to the the top of my list. You can share questions, thoughts or your own list in the comment section below.

1. Menomena – Moms

For their first release as a duo, Menomena put forth one of the most emotionally honest albums of the year. Moms

touches on the effect of parental relationships and lack thereof (no pun intended). Danny Seim and Justin Harris, trade off storytelling throughout the ten-song effort. It’s dark, it’s brutally honest, and it’s a breath of fresh air for all parties involved. Be prepared to keep this in your record player for months.

2. Ben Kweller – Go Fly A Kite

After his last release, Changing Horses, it was unsure if Kweller would go pop, rock, or country. Instead, he went with all of the above. Go Fly A Kite, released on Kweller’s own label, The Noise Company, takes his best work and makes it better. Even the badass album packaging can’t hold a candle to just how great these songs are, but it is pretty cool to have a diorama record cover, complete with the chords for every song.

3. Cursive – I Am Gemini

Though Cursive is best known for their concept albums, I Am Gemini takes it to another level entirely. The story revolves around two twin brothers – one good, one evil – and carries out a story that you can’t look away from. Even better, Cursive pulled out all of the stops, bringing in Kasher’s theatrical-scoring background to really bring the story to life. This album is a must-have for any lit-nerd.

4. DZ Deathrays – Bloodstreams

Hailing from Brisbane, Australia, this dance punk band is no frills. Singer Shane Parsons will tear you in half with his gritty vocals, while drummer Simon Ridley pounds into his kit without apologies. With the clever use of pedal-work, these songs will catch you off-guard and keep you dancing for days on end.

5. Liars – WIXIW

Liars weren’t lying when they said this album was different. It’s their most atmospheric effort to date, and their experimentation paid off greatly. Somehow, it’s both soothing and driving at the same time. You won’t get bored of this album.

6. Hop Along – Get Disowned

Sometimes a band and it just clicks. This is the case for me with Hop Along (thanks to dear friend’s recommendation.) In their debut, the Philly-based trio put together an atmospheric alternative album that takes you from acoustic to rock and back. Singer Frances Quinlan’s raspy, perfectly imperfect vocals will steal your heart and keep you hanging on her every word. Do not miss out on this album or this band.

7. Wild Nothing – Nocturne

If you didn’t find yourself dancing to this album beneath dim lighting at a house party, you didn’t truly live this year. To put it best, Wild Nothing is the kind of band that would be on a John Hughes soundtrack if John Hughes were making “brat pack” movies nowadays with its equal parts of new wave, pop and synth-powered indie.

8. The Jealous Sound – A Gentle Reminder

Hopefully you’re lucky enough to know about The Jealous Sound. If not, it’s time for a formal introduction. A Gentle Reminder is so effortless, with all of their late 90’s/early 00’s indie rock charm, it’s as if the band never took a  ten-year hiatus after their debut full-length, Kill Them With Kindness. Most bands don’t have that kind of staying power, let alone enough to make a comeback. The Jealous Sound did it swinging.

9. Ceremony – Zoo

Ceremony is typically known for their more aggressive sound, but when the Bay Area-based group slowed it down, they didn’t become boring. Zoo is fast-paced without giving you whiplash. More importantly, the group pulls from a pool of influences and finds a creative way to blur lines between punk, hardcore and rockabilly without  feeling pretentious. Some claim this album is mediocre, I’ll politely decline. Not just anybody can get into my Top 10, okay?

10. Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits

Divine Fits is a super group in its own right, consisting of Britt Daniel (Spoon), Sam Brown (New Bomb Turks), and Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade/Handsome Furs). Daniel and Boekner compliment each other so well, it doesn’t feel like a game of tug-of-war. The songs are no more like one than like the other, but their influence is obvious at every turn. The album is playful, sexy and every other adjective you imagine a good rock album should be.

11. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist

Seattle-based rapper, Macklemore, is everything a grass-roots musician should be: talented, artistic and  driven. With viral hits such as “Thrift Shop” and “Same Love,” Macklemore brings a much-needed voice of intelligence and awareness to hip-hop. He’s as quick as Jay-Z, as catchy as Kanye and as funny Dave Chappelle.  This isn’t your best friend’s hip-hop.

12. Sleigh Bells – Reign Of Terror

I never thought I’d place Sleigh Bells in my top ten, but it was hard to pick up anything music-related and not see an ad for Reign of Terror. Needless to say, I gave in. In short, Sleigh Bells features Alexis Krauss, a bad-ass little firecracker of a singer, with Derek Miller, former guitarist for Poison The Well, on guitar. Mix it up and you get something like hip-hop infused cheerleader shred rock. No bubblegum bullshit. It’s the mixture you never knew you were missing.

13. Sara Bareilles – Once Upon Another Time (EP)

Once Upon Another Time highlights some of Bareilles’ best work to date. Her voice packs a punch as she delivers emotionally charging lyrics. Even better, Bareilles blazes down a path all her own, separate from other pop singers entirely. These five songs will take listeners from a cappella cathedral to blues, from blues to pop, and then back again.

14. Why? – Mumps, Etc.

Why? isn’t known for their modesty, but more so for their crippling honest. It’s just what works for them. On Mumps, Etc., the group’s nucleus, Yoni Wolf, delivers cleverly-written lyric full of self-awareness, the art of aging with bitterness, and where to go when you’re not really sure what you’re doing anymore. If you still can’t visualize it, take poetry, throw in equal parts of sexual frustration, indie rock, hip hop and experimentation. Throw it in a blender, and you’ve got one of the best albums from this year.

15. Fiona Apple – Idler Wheel…

When Fiona Apple’s new album dropped, fans couldn’t help but rejoice – especially following all of the issues she was having with her label. Lucky for us, they released it. Idler Wheel… brings us a vision of Apple who’s as sharp as she’s ever been, orchestrating brilliant piano compositions alongside poetic grace. Her voice is stronger than ever, the lyrics cut a little deeper, and the songs sound more mature (complete with big band and  jazz influences.)

16. Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse

Slaughterhouse is something between hi-fi grunge-punk and  lo-fi dance-punk. Compared to Ty Segall’s solo work, Slaughterhouse has layer and depth. Admittedly, it’s at its best when Segall’s voice isn’t completely fuzzed out. More importantly, it’s a ride through underground punk in 11 tracks. This is a definite recomendation to anyone how enjoys dancing in crowded, sweaty basements that smell of sweat and cheap beer.

17. Delta Spirit – Delta Spirit

In the four years since their debut, Delta Spirit has matured from a group of soulful, wide-eyed friends into men observing the world around them. Their third, self-titled album has proven that the band ages like a fine bottle of whiskey. Whether you’re seeking nostalgia, awareness or something else, this album will hold your attention. The album is up more than it’s down, but if you’re into songs that are as cinematic as they are rock n’ roll, this album is for you.

18. Two Gallants – The Bloom and The Blight

At times, you’d think that The Bloom and The Blight was more peaceful than previous releases. Au contraire. The quieter moments have more folk undertones, but when it gets loud, it tears into you with the force of heavy rock. Worry not, though. The sound is still very much Two Gallants.

19. Minus The Bear – Infinity Overhead

Minus The Bear has always known what their sound was. Even so, the group has transformed over the years without changing much at all.  Regardless, the group has found a way to blend previous experiments in more electronic sounds with their perfected skill in rock. Infinity Overhead might not be as sexually charged as OMNI, but it will still make you want to hop between the sheets with someone.

20. Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory

At times, this eight-song doozie has the grunge appeal of Smashing Pumpkins. Other times, it feels like you’re listening to a clever fusion of The Vines and Real Estate. It might sound like a head-scratcher, but somehow, it works. Don’t question it. Simply put, Attack On Memory drips nostalgia, finding a way to bring some of rock’s most delicious moments back to life all at once.

21. The Mountain Goats  – Transcendental Youth

Transcendental Youth kicks off with the uplifting bang, “Army aka Spent Gladiator 1,” crying for anyone listening to “just stay alive.” This type of loving wisdom is what has kept The Mountain Goats around for so long. Darnielle’s excited strumming and modest vocals are shaped by Owen Pallett’s arrangements, making this album as full of life as Darnielle himself.

22. Maps & Atlases – Beware and Be Grateful

On their second full-length, it seems settled that Maps & Atlases have progressed traded in their multiple time signatures for harmonized vocals. And the truth is, they’re better for it. They’re staying relevant for their talent, not simply their ability to pull tricks out of their sleeve. The songs are more aware, more well rounded and, often times, more sincere.

23. New York City Queens – Burn Out Like Roman Candles

This Houston-based group worked tirelessly to write, record and produce their sophomore album. It’s composed tracks are both breezy and electrifying. This is the kind of rock that oozes promise of a bright, full future.

24. Tame Impala – Lonerism

Labeled as “neo-psychadelic,” Lonerism is the perfect soundtrack to smoke to. Once you get past the initial Beatles-inspired sounds and visualize something other than bell-bottoms or a laser show, you’ll find cleverly created pop melodies veiled in fuzz. The drums on Lonerism have a refreshingly clear compared to other modern-psych bands, and the guitar almost comes secondary to the bass groove and shimmering keyboards.

25. P.O.S – We Don’t Even Live Here

In his fourth effort, rock-hop artist POS takes his music to a new level. With beats that act as a cinematic backbone, his lyrics pack a one-two punch harder than ever before. The bass drum will make your heart race as artists such as Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Astronautalis are featured on tracks that tackle social issues across the board.

From karaoke bars to record companies: Why indie musicians won’t ever get above ground.

12 Feb

On Friday night I was casually speaking to a friend via text, when the subject shifted to the karaoke bar he was at.

After a little while, he mentioned that someone was singing “Don’t Stop Believin’,” to which I responded that it was a choice boring people make when they karaoke. Sure, it’s a classic for a reason, but when he said “Who are we to judge?” The only answer that I felt adequately expressed my annoyance of karaoke joints was that most people don’t notice how many songs are those binders. In all of those hundreds of pages, and thousands of song choices, how do people overlook classics from Ramones or Velvet Underground?

Unless of course, they’re not there.

It suddenly occurred to me that perhaps the reason why indie and punk fans stray from karaoke bars is the inability to choose songs that they like. We can choose to live in alternative cities where recycling is a choice, bikes get their own lanes and Wal-Marts don’t exist, but we can’t find a decent karaoke bar that allows the Regular (Alt) Joes to become rock stars for a song?

But what’s even worse is that women are usually getting the shit end of the stick. While I love Fiona Apple, she is one of the only women in the book that provide an alternative to Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. Did people not get the memo that (shocker!) women who don’t listen to Britney Spears can sing too?

Instead, “alternative chicks” are forced to listen to people who don’t know a thing about us chime in on who they think our new “Queen” should be. (Yes, I am talking about Lana Del Rey.) While I understand that not every artist is going to fit into a specific genre or category, I find it humorous that us opinionated women suddenly shock the nation when we don’t like an artist that has been shoved down our throats.

To anyone that’s reading this, here’s my take on this: some people might get their rocks off to Del Rey’s “style” and how she’s so “artistic,” but the truth is that it shouldtake a lot more than homemade videos capturing your own self-indulgence to land you a recording contract. Instead, the pretty girl wins again, pouting her way to the title of “Indie Queen” – a title that was never earned. In fact, the only thing Del Rey has taught us is that record companies still think they can force us into liking this singers that are less talented than the ones we choose to listen to ourselves.

Del Rey might have a great bod, but more than anything, she’s a one-trick pony whose video for “Born To Die” made much more sense when paired with the song “Video Games.” I can’t be the only person who noticed, and I’ll be damned if she makes it into karaoke books before Jenny Lewis. Then again, the Lana Del Rey’s are a dime a dozen while Lewis is a diamond in the rough.

Maybe if these executives and high-paid critics spent less time trying to find the next big thing and actually gave struggling musicians a chance, piracy and DIY-methods wouldn’t be the most talked-about subjects on music blogs. And I know you might cringe from the thought, but if more musicians were “making it”, maybe blogs could stray away from the go-to format of lists. Besides, do we really need another journalism major stuck in a cubicle writing lists that do nothing more than help us win trivia night at the bar? I didn’t think so.

My Favorite Albums of 2011: Better Late Than Never

27 Dec

We all know it’s coming — the almost-dreaded “Best of” lists that flood magazine covers, blogs and other entertainment sites that revolve around music and music culture. While I’m sure a lot of outlets genuinely enjoyed the artists on their lists, I’m finding myself wondering why it was that some of the albums that made it on these lists actually did. Was it popular opinion? Money? Level of Fame? Or perhaps, did some of them actually deserve those spots?

Rather than waste anybody’s time on repeating the names of every band on every other list, I’ll be honest and tell you that these ten albums are the albums that I can’t stop listening to, and why I think you should listen to them as well. Some of them might be on the Top lists of every other outlet, but I doubt they’re in the top ten.

From my favorite bands to bands that I never listened to before this year, this list can also be named “Listen and Fall in Love with 2011” or “Ten Reasons Why 2011 Didn’t Suck for Music!” They were hard to put in

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Girls – Father, Son, Holy Spirit
Like most of us, an eclectic taste in music has spawned an appreciation for things that go beyond the realm of simply liking “rock” or “pop”. And if it weren’t for Girls’ third album, Christopher Owens might have never been able to show the world how Dwight Yoakum could positively influence the surf/chill rock genre. The album is a hit from start to finish, tackling issues of love and life on tracks like “Honey Bunny,” “Vomit” and “Die.” Other tracks, such as “My Ma” and “Forgiveness” help Owens find closure in his tortured past, while the album’s closing track, “Jaime Marie,” is easily one of the year’s most beautiful.

Chad VanGaalen -Diaper Island

Okkervil RiverI Am Very Far

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Mates of StateMountaintops
The mates of Mates got experimental with Mountaintops, earning them a place among the ranks of albums to be praised. The album flirts with sounds across the spectrum, and even pays one hell of an homage to Motown on “Total Serendipity.” However, what the band hasn’t been commended for often enough since the release of this is taking risks with their music and finding success in them. Songs like “Palamino” and “Maracas” flaunt Kori Gardner’s ability to ditch the organs and experiment with sounds found on synths and pianos, while vocal performances from both Gardner and drummer/husband Jason Hammel seem to have improved (although I admittedly love their voices no matter what.) The two slow things down on “Desire” and “Mistakes,” but all ten tracks on the album are unforgettable and catchy in their own right.

La Dispute Wildlife

DodosNo Color

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Bright EyesThe People’s Key
Conor Oberst is known for many things, but his unpredictability might be the one that keeps commentators on the edge of their seats. Previous releases left fans floored at changes in sound, and for the most part, people weren’t even aware that The People’s Key was being written until information on its release were publicized. However, perhaps the lack of pressure laid on Oberst are what allowed him to move forward and find ways to both get back to Bright Eyes, and seek out a new dimension to the music. Taking notes from Cassadaga, the album begins and ends with a deep, almost satanic voice before flowing into “Firewall,” setting a tone for Bright Eyes’ most mystical album to date. Still, songs like “Shell Games” mesh prior releases, while “Jejune Stars” drives the band into new, harder territories. However, the album as a whole feels more like an idea than others bring to mind. Where Oberst once felt like a sheep looking for his flock, songs like “Ladder Song” and “One for You, One for Me” make him seem like he’s tackling a single concept versus using us as his fleet of therapists. If you didn’t like Bright Eyes before, this is definitely recommended.

Peter, Bjorn and John – Gimme Some

Black Keys -El Camino

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Wild Flag Wild Flag
In recent times, a new wave of feminists are erupting into the public’s eye. Whether it’s from faulty politics or not isn’t really clear, but I’ll be damned if any of the ladies of Wild Flag aren’t given due recognition for bursting through the glass ceiling before Sarah Palin. Basically, Wild Flag is a supergroup that pulled members from Sleater Kinney, Helium and The Minders, and they’re reminding women what it’s like to rock the fuck out. Opening track “Romance” is an anthem for dancing around in your panties with a bottle of your favorite beer, while tracks like “Something Came Over Me” and “Glass Tambourine” are like a kiss on a busted lip – it’s punk with a slice of charm. However, the ladies travel from that fast, loud sound on “Boom” to an almost-Americana approach on “Racehorse” with guitar parts that require more than some simple chord progression. Crooning or not, Wild Flag proves that if you want a damn good rock album, sometimes you’ve got to hike up your skirt and bang it out yourself.

An inside look: My very first design project!

13 Dec

For my final in Elements of Design, I was required to design either a newspaper, a magazine or a website. I, of course, chose the hardest one – a magazine. I also chose this because my dreams are large and I’d love to work for a magazine and possibly start my own someday.

I was going to do more for it, but I ran out of time, so I did what was required of me. Four pages: a cover, two “sample” pages (aka non-feature pages that have stories on them) and a feature page.

She asked us to use stories from other authors and send her the links to the stories to cut down on time, but we were required to do some editing to show that we’re taking those things into consideration, and I’m assuming to also avoid plagiarism. Either way, I attributed each story to the proper person in my design. All headlines and wstories without a name are assumed to be written by me; I also used my Rilo Kiley story from earlier this year, as it was one of the requirements.

All photos of Christopher Owens were taken by Hedi Slimane, who is a fantastic photographer. Everything else was put together by me in Photoshop.

RIP: Rilo Kiley (1998-2011)

14 Jul

The indie world, as a collective entity, would be undeniably foolish if we said that we didn’t see this coming. Still, Paste Magazine reported earlier today that Rilo Kiley’s looming break-up is finally official, and that’s what hurts.

After being signed to a major label and releasing their fourth album, Under The Blacklight, fans of the infamously dysfunctional band were left with a brilliant rock record that just missed it’s mark.

What it stood for to the band showed. Mirroring lead singer Jenny Lewis and guitarist Blake Sennett’s real life relationship, it was much like the trial separation of a marriage. What resulted was the brilliantly messy Blacklight – an album that has you gritting your teeth, dancing, and cutting tension with a knife all at once. Sadly, each song had it’s own shining moment of glory, but the album as a whole felt sloppy, as though it were being held together with string and duct tape. At times, it’s hard to understand cohesively, and others you’re scratching your head wondering how some of the songs made the cut. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the hell out of the album, but at times it felt as though someone gave me a puzzle where the pieces are all of different images and I can’t get the full picture on the front of the box.

Long story short, Blacklight proved that they still had the chemistry, but underneath it all, the heart of the band was gone and it left everyone wondering – were they in it for fear of change, or had they seen it as their chance to redeem and solve the band’s issues? I’m willing to bet it was both, and I’d like to think they were also ‘in it for the kids’.

An exclusive interview with Spinner, also released earlier today, Sennett was quoted giving the best explanation possible for the band’s final curtain call.

“I just felt like there was a lot of deception, disloyalty, greed and things I don’t really want to submit myself to,” said Sennett. “I had related that frustration to music but I just thought, ’I’m not going to put myself in that position again,’ so I said, ‘Fuck that, I can’t do this anymore.’”

For now, it’s hard to stomach the loss. What better way to mourn the death of one of indie’s unarguably most prominent and influential bands than making a list of their ten best songs? I can’t think of one. Don’t worry, I didn’t put ‘Does He Love You?’ on it, but if I had, it’d be at the top of the list.

10. Teenage Love Song (Initial Friend, 2nd Pressing)
9. It’s A Hit (More Adventurous)
8. Rest of My Life (Take-Offs and Landings)
7. I Never (More Adventurous)
6. My Slumbering Heart (The Execution of All Things)
5. Always (Take-Offs and Landings)
4. The Angels Hung Around (Under The Blacklight)
3. Portions for Foxes (More Adventurous)
2. Pictures of Success (Take-Offs and Landings)
1. More Adventurous (More Adventurous)

Even with this list, it’s hard to deny that their entire discography is worth acquiring and listening to. I recommend their highly successful (and probably most popular) third album, More Adventurous, as a starting point.

For now, I’m saving up for the plane ticket and entry fee it’ll cost for the reunion show. It’s unlikely, but damn if it isn’t something worth waiting for.

Give Peace A Chance: 42 years of inspiration through music

31 May

42 years ago, today, John Lennon sat in a hotel room in his pajamas and long hair alongside Yoko Ono and recorded his historic single ‘Give Peace A Chance’.

Now, the song still means just as much to those of us that simply refuse to accept that violence has to be a part of the world we live in. With the Iraq and Afghanistan wars still going on, and current uprisings in Libya, it’s hard to imagine that anybody is still thinking about the peace that John sang about all those years ago. Still, it’s the kind of song that still means just as much now as it did during Vietnam.

While not everyone is as firm a believer in peace as John and Yoko were, today I challenge you to live a little more peacefully. Hug your loved ones, smile at a stranger and help someone you don’t know just because they need it. We might not be able to end suffering today, but love and peace start with the small things. After all, WAR IS OVER! If you want it.

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