Department of Eagles

Department of Eagles

Department of Eagles, a collaboration of college buddies Fred Nicolaus and Daniel Rossen, have a new album coming out on October 7th called In Ear Park.  This long-awaited follow-up to 2003’s The Cold Nose is a collection of folk-tinged baroque pop that’s not all that far from what we’ve come to expect from Rossen’s other band, and perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that fellow Grizzly Bear members Chris Taylor and Chris Bear are also featured on this record.  But, Rossen himself has drawn some distinctions between this material and his other works:

A lot of these songs felt way too personal to bring to Grizzly Bear — there’s a lot of childhood nostalgia and an emphasis on more concise songwriting. Fred and I had license to try some things that I could never get away with otherwise, but we still went for the lushness and attention to sonic detail that Chris [Taylor] and I always want out of a recording.

That “lushness and attention to sonic detail” is definitely apparent throughout the record, just listen to the most recent track to be revealed in the lead-up to In Ear Park‘s release. “No One Does It Like You” seems to float out of your speakers on clouds of plucked strings and cascading choruses of light-as-air backup vocals. Draped in production that simultaneously emphasizes sound and space, melodies soar and Rossen’s distinct voice aches with emotion. And I thought the demo was impressive.

Unsurprisingly, this is an album of beautiful material that yields a pretty exceptional listen, one that I highly recommend… especially if you have even a passing interest in the music of Grizzly Bear.

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Download: Department of Eagles – No One Does It Like You
Buy:
If you pre-order the album now from the Beggars Group USA page, you get a free 7-inch single for “No One Does It Better” (b/w a cover of JoJo’s “Too Little Too Late”).

New Zazen Boys Video: “Weekend”

Last week, Zazen Boys released a video for “Weekend” from Zazen Boys 4, their upcoming album that was recorded at Tarbox Road Studios by Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, and many others) earlier this year.  It’s definitely exciting that frontman/resident genius Mukai Shutoku is working with Fridmann again, as their previous two collaborations, Sappukei and Num-Heavy Metallic, were the two strongest albums of Mukai’s former band (the indelible Number Girl).

“Weekend” finds Zazen Boys delving into somewhat familiar territory as they juxtapose pop elements with their trademark off-kilter experimentalism.  Bending riffs, digressive guitar leads, sparse bass-slaps, and swaggering keyboards dominate this track, framing Mukai’s staggered falsetto in waves of minimal gonzo-funk.  The minimalist tendencies extend heavily into the video itself, as the Z-Boys are lined up in a bare studio, spaced out evenly, and then proceed to freeze, pose, overact, and freakout in fairly hilarious absurdity.

No mp3s from the new album floating about yet, but here’s frantic math-jam “DARUMA” from last year’s I Don’t Wanna Be With You EP (my 2nd favorite EP of 2007).  You can also stream higher quality versions of both new videos from Zazen Boys over at their website.

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Download: Zazen Boys – DARUMA
Buy: Zazen Boys 4 is due out September 17th on Mukai Shutoku’s own Matsuri Studio label. For us not living in Japan, look for it at the iTunes Store. Full tracklist and awesome, tongue-in-cheek cover art after the jump. Continue reading

El Guincho: Alegranza

El Guincho - Alegranza

Originally released in 2007 on Discoteca Océano, El Guincho‘s excellent Alegranza hasn’t quite gotten adequate distribution. Until now it’s only been available at live shows or as an import for anyone outside of Spain, but on Oct. 6th and 7th Young Turks/XL Recordings will be giving it a much deserved worldwide (remastered) re-release. I’m especially happy about this, because not only can I now get myself a legit copy of the record, but I can also use this as justification for including it in my list of Favorite Albums of 2008 (where it will surely find itself in a few months), since I hadn’t listened to it before I compiled my favorite albums from last year… though it easily could have sat in the top ten, even in a year as good as ’07.

If you haven’t indulged yourself already, Alegranza is a work that’s as fun as it is compelling. There’s no question that El Guincho shares certain sensibilities and stylistic similarities with like-minded samplers Panda Bear and Animal Collective, but his psychedelic aims are more driven toward raucous sun-soaked dance parties. Of course, by pulling heavily from afrobeat, tropicália, and calypso, his source material provides enough rhythms that one would probably have a hard time finding samples that didn’t lend themselves to this kind of percussive patchwork. But, El Guincho’s ear for melody and ability to create vivid, layered soundscapes are what propels this effort toward “great” territory. It remains to be seen if it’s a truly lasting work or not, but over the past months Alegranza has certainly stayed with me.

While you wait for the release, check out the tribalistic psych-doo-wop of album opener “Palmitos Park” in all of its remastered glory (via GvB). This fantastic track will also be released on Young Turks as a 7-inch single, with a b-side of The Ruby Suns performing a cover of the song.

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Download: El Guincho – Palmitos Park
Buy: Pre-order the U.S. release of Alegranza at the Beggars Group USA page.

Fever Sleeves: “Futuristic Killings”

Fever Sleeves - Futuristic Killings 7

Fever Sleeves are a band on the cusp. They’ve been together for roughly 5 years and have had to deal with their fair share of setbacks; they’ve juggled college (with one member going to school outside of San Diego), endured intermittent hiatuses, been stuck with frustrating recording arrangements, and have scrapped a number of songs as they’ve grown as a band. Somehow, they’ve managed to survive, stay on the same page artistically speaking, and have finally unveiled their first official release (ie: non-self-release), the excellent Futuristic Killings 7-inch.

The circumstances listed above, plus the loudness and ferocity of their live show, as well as the apparently ever-plaguing lameness of San Diego as a music city, have largely prevented Fever Sleeves from developing a sizable following. Though that’s not to say they haven’t earned the respect of their peers, compatriots, and others. As a result of their newfound consistency, they’ve been featured on local radio, developed relationships with impressive San Diego bands, and earned the backing of some major figures of the local music scene. Perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle has been Black Box Recording Studios where Fever Sleeves have recorded material not only for this debut 7-inch, but also for their as-of-yet-untitled full-length. Currently mastering and label shopping, the Sleeves are poised to collect a wider recognition that is long overdue… personally, I’m very excited to see where it all goes.

As far as first steps are concerned, “Futuristic Killings” is definitely a strong foot to lead with. For this highly-technical band that blends prog, hardcore, indie rock, post-punk, and math-rock, it is easily their most pop-oriented offering so far. Infectious guitar licks soar over surging moog and relentless drums, the melodies are memorable and engaging, and the vocals are at once ethereal and forceful. While the track contains musical refrains, shifting song parts and the lack of a chorus convey a sense of constant progression as lead-vocalist Tony Gidlund delivers a gem-filled diatribe against group think, herd mentality, and more specifically frat-life:

Alpha Beta fortune for a friend
Paid a rate to have companions
Way to imitate a fish in a school
Ain’t ya heard of individualism, bro?

According to my iPod count, I’ve listened to this song a nearly-embarrassing number of times… and after you listen to it I’m sure you’ll understand why. Yet, “Futuristic Killings” is ultimately just one piece of Fever Sleeves’ larger, refreshingly diverse sound. Try to concisely define it and you can struggle for whatever label you wish, progressive indie rock, mathy tech pop, technical post-hardcore-pop… in the end, their music is many things, but above all it is their own.

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Download: Fever Sleeves – Futuristic Killings
Buy: The 7-inch is available through a Paypal mailorder on their myspace page in either pastel pink, hot pink, or red vinyl. Orders will also include a CD-R so you can upload the tracks to your (futuristic) mp3 player. And while you’re there you can also listen to the b-side, “Tigers for Hire”.

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Download: Fever Sleeves – Maximum Castles
Buy: From the Black Box Vol. 1 compilation, which is available in digital or CD format on Amazon… or you could send an e-mail to Black Box and order it from them directly.

Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

David Byrne & Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

David Byrne and Brian Eno have just unveiled their latest collaboration, and first since the analog experimentalism of 1981’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, in a simultaneous digital release and physical copy pre-order on their website… an increasingly common practice since the innovative success of In Rainbows. Considering that 27 years separate the two, it’s not surprising that Everything That Happens Will Happen Today is a very different work than their initial opus. Described as “electronic gospel” by both David Byrne and Brian Eno, the songs are composed in a far more conventional fashion this time around with Eno providing the music for Byrne to embellish and then complete with lyrics and vocals. Listen to “Strange Overtones” down below and you’ll realize that this is also a much more pop-oriented affair.

While their original collaboration reflected the dying analog age, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today is primarily a product of (and concerned with) the digital age, both in its construction and method of distribution. The album was released without any record label affiliation as a digital download, digital + CD combo, or “Deluxe Edition” (which includes four bonus tracks, a short film about the album, a miniature hardbound book, and screensaver), all of which are exclusive to their website. You can also stream the entire album there.

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Download: David Byrne and Brian Eno – Strange Overtones
Buy: Download and pre-order Everything That Happens Will Happen Today from the website for the album.

New Clipse (feat. Joss Stone): “Celebrate”

Clipse

Though it’s being billed as a Re-Up Gang song, Ab-Liva and Sandman are nowhere to be found on this decidedly solid party-up track… and it’s certainly a whole lot better than anything on the disappointing Clipse Presents: Re-Up Gang. Produced by Maestro, who was responsible for “3 Peat” on Tha Carter III, we’re left wondering if this simply didn’t make it onto the crew album or if Clipse is giving us an early glimpse of their upcoming Till the Casket Drops. Unfortunately, the latter seems unlikely considering the recent announcement that the record has been pushed back to 2009 (this is starting to feel all too familiar). Either way, if you weren’t excited about the trajectory their latest effort hinted at, “Celebrate” might help wash that bitter taste out of your mouth.

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Download: Clipse – Celebrate (feat. Joss Stone)

Wagonwheel Blues

The War on Drugs - Wagonwheel Blues

Straight outta Philly, The War on Drugs is one of a number of bands I’ve been meaning to post about, but never got around to. And while my thoughts on the record are overdue, the delay has certainly not arisen from any kind of second thoughts. Their full-length, Wagonwheel Blues, has received a fair amount of critical acclaim and after spending quite a bit of time with it, I can easily agree that it is one of the finest debuts to grace 2008 so far.

Guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Adam Granduciel sets the tone of this record in the distinct tradition of post-modern reinvention by pulling from, and fusing, a diverse set of influences that span era and genre. Most apparent is the thread of prototypical American rock music, whether it be the meandering drawl of Dylan, the rambling roots-rock of CCR, or the blue-collar anthemics of Springsteen. Yet, Granduciel also drenches Wagonwheel Blues in layers of fuzzed-out guitars and atmospheric drones that recall Brian Eno, Suicide, and, to some extent, My Bloody Valentine, somehow reconciling these seemingly disparate approaches in ways that are both familiar and original. The resulting album is one of the more mesmerizing efforts of the year, one I’ve found myself returning to often over the past few months.

From the start, “Taking the Farm” has been the promotional track of choice for Wagonwheel Blues, and why wouldn’t it be? With its soaring guitars, galloping rhythm, captivating melodies, right on down to the Creedence-like “woo-ooo-ooos” that punctuate the chorus, the song screams “anthem” and illustrates much of Granduciel’s strengths as a songwriter… you shouldn’t need much else to be convinced that this is an album that demands your attention.

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Download: The War on Drugs – Taking the Farm
Buy: Order Wagonwheel Blues from the Secretly Canadian Mailorder.
Watch: The War on Drugs just recently premiered the video for “A Needle in Your Eye #16”, another great track from Wagonwheel Blues, in which the compiled images reinforce their nostalgic American songwriter elements. Check out a high-res version over at Pitchfork.tv.

The Mixtape About Nothing

Wale - The Mixtape About Nothing

D.C. rapper Wale is one of the most exciting up-and-comers in hip-hop these days. Running on mixtapes, singles, live shows, word of mouth, and hometown props, he’s managed to assemble a really impressive producer line-up for his highly anticipated major-label debut (out sometime in 2009), garnered a plethora of good press and legitimate hype, and rubbed elbows, performed and toured with some of the biggest figures in hip-hop. Of particular note is his latest mixtape, The Mixtape About Nothing, which has been critically hailed as an effort so focused and so excellent that it transcends the medium itself.

While there’s been a discernible shift for the better in the quality of mixtape-crafting over the past couple years, most are simply used to fill the void between official album releases (which, unfortunately, can be sizable in the hip-hop world) or as hype-creating teasers for upcoming records. Artists don’t typically bank on conceptual quality as the driving force of a mixtape, but instead rely on a widely cast net of prominent recycled beats and tracklists 25+ songs in length. And while there’s no question The Mixtape About Nothing has created a fair amount of hype for Wale’s debut, it opts for predominantly original production (courtesy of Best Kept Secret) and is executed with such cohesion and skill, one might be surprised that it’s a mixtape at all. [I’d like to point out that this refreshing aspect of The Mixtape About Nothing is covered in more depth in an excellent post over at Passion of the Weiss.]

As the cover art and title suggest, Wale’s most recent effort is centered around the theme of Seinfeld; the song titles are formatted just like the show’s episode titles (“The _______”), it’s full of lyrical references, samples heavily from the show, and he even got Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who played Elaine) to drop in for a humorous/slightly embarrassing shout-out. And under the pretense of crafting a mixtape “about nothing”, like anything from Larry David, Wale slyly touches on nearly everything, with a portion of his wide breadth of topics laid out in Seinfeldian “what’s the deals” in the intro (over the show’s theme song) and others subsequently explored with an impressive amount of complexity and wit.

Beyond it’s conceptual focus, The Mixtape About Nothing is also notable for Wale’s formidable presence as an MC. With dense wordplay and vocabulary he’s able to effortlessly layer self-reflexive humor and satire, clever deconstruction and dissection, and poignant insight into a series of varied cadences. Leaping from the off-kilter flow on “The Opening Sequence”, to fitting in comfortably with Bun B and Pusha T or Lil’ Wayne, to showcasing his verbal agility on the self-conscious “Roc Boys” freestyle, to the laid back emotion of “The Remake of a Remake”, or to any of the other styles he flips, Wale makes it sound way too easy. There’s no doubt he recognizes the value of his contributions to the genre (what’s a rapper without an ego?) and yet, for all his obvious skills, Wale won’t be using his bravado to vie for the title of “Best Rapper Alive” or similar accolades anytime soon. From “The Vacation from Ourselves”:

…And they label me a king; you can kindly take it back
I don’t want no fuckin’ crown, I don’t need no fuckin’ throne
See, the kings get killed, or at least overthrown…

It’s just one tiny example of Wale’s ability to take familiar topics in hip-hop, turn them on their head, and approach them with a refreshing balance of ego, modesty, intelligence, and complexity… something he does at nearly every step on The Mixtape About Nothing. Check out a few tracks below, including “The Kramer”, perhaps one of the most painfully honest and thoughtful reflections on race in hip-hop, period.

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Download: Wale – The Kramer

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Download: Wale – The Vacation from Ourselves

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Download: Wale – The Artistic Integrity

The Mixtape About Nothing is available for free download over at Elitaste.