Sleigh Bells Tell ‘Em

Sleigh Bells - Treats

Raucous, pro-Loudness noise-poppers Sleigh Bells are set to drop their debut full-length as the newest signees of M.I.A.‘s label N.E.E.T. Recordings. “Tell ‘Em” is the opening track of Treats — that’s the album art up there — and also our first pre-release glimpse into what this record is going to sound like… and it sounds pretty damn huge.  Derek Miller’s guitars squeal and soar against a wall of beats, snaps, and hand-claps, while Alexis Krauss applies just the right amount of sweetness with pure vocal hooks. Play this looooouuuuuuddd and dance, people.

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Download: Sleigh Bells – Tell ‘Em
Buy: Insound only has a pre-order up for for the vinyl release that’s slated to ship in June, but we’ve been assured that this record is coming out on May 11th.

Crank the Treble: Rafter

Rafter - Animal Feelings

Animal Feelings is currently the Album of the Week over at Treble. You can check out my full review down below, originally published right here.

Rafter Roberts can’t sit still. Over the course of a decade he‘s mixed, mastered, and produced for the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Castanets, The Fiery Furnaces, Rocket from the Crypt, Pinback, amongst many others. He makes up one half of the celebrated San Diego band Bunky and more recently has dropped four stellar solo albums and an EP. He’s also built his own recording studio and even finds time to write ad jingles. The shrinks out there might label it ADD, but that’s a far too negative and sterile explanation for the man’s prolific and consistently excellent creative output. From the more obtuse, lo-fi ramble of 10 Songs, Rafter’s solo work has been drifting ever closer to the radiant center of his own pop solar system, getting sweeter, more danceable, and more cohesive along the way. His career continues its crash course into pop-brilliance in 2010 with his most even-handed and song-centered full-length Animal Feelings, a satisfying swirl of sassy guitar cuts, catchy ramshackle percussion, smooth and soulful white-boy R&B posturing, vocoded funk-swagger, and distinctive playfulness and charisma.

This latest record opens with decisiveness, the talk box warble of “No Fucking Around” ringing out across minimal, synth-assisted percussive strikes. In contrast to its abrasive hooks, Rafter whispers a croon full of genuine praise, somehow fusing the funkiest of funks and his fragile pop-bent with convincing ease. Going beyond simple juxtaposition, these songs, like virtually all the works of Rafter Roberts, are crafted with skillful stream-of-consciousness and appear to be imbued with all the inspirations that happened to be floating around in his head at the time. In the context of his singular musical vision — at once delicate, bold, intimate, youthful, earnest, humorous, and off-kilter — he runs a thematic gamut that spans the reaches of life, from the serious to the trivial. Friendship, togetherness, love, lust, sex, and death are explored and interpreted, just as the title-track implies (“I’ve got animal feelings, animal thoughts”), through the lens of irrepressible carnal desire and emotion. Album standout “Fruit” embodies that spirit of primal need rather openly, finding Rafter indulging in more talk box-heavy guitar slink throughout this seize-the-day, why-postpone-the-inevitable love-jam. Roberts plays persistent protagonist, his instincts taking the lead in breaking down all barriers that obstruct love.

I don’t think we need to ask if his insistence won out; much of the rest of Animal Feelings celebrates his love for his new wife Lizeth Santos (photographer and sampler/drummer/singer as Smile Now Cry Later). Of course, Rafter also isn’t afraid to acknowledge love’s duality as he does on “Love Makes You Happy (When It’s Not Making You Sad)” and elsewhere on this record with grin-worthy whimsy and plain-spoken honesty. In fact, his charms seem to be exposed equally in pure expressions of happiness and love or when riffing on less joyous subjects. With “Paper”, originally written and recorded for his “Song a Week” project for the Asthmatic Kitty Records website, Rafter constructs an irresistible, rhythmic, tropical-tinged gem around his annoyance at losing ideas and thoughts in the recesses of his brain: “You motherfuckers, you motherfuckers where did you go!?”. Luckily a solution is quickly realized in the song’s namesake and catchy chorus, “I need paper, I need paper / I need paper, yes I do / To keep my thoughts from goin’ away / To keep my thoughts from goin’ away”. Yes, even when he’s bugged by something, Rafter Roberts prefers to express himself through lovable, dancey, hook-laden tunes.

It doesn’t seem like the guy really has a choice. He’s a whirlwind of ideas, energy, and enthusiasm that knows better than to do anything but keep riding that wave to its unending conclusions. And I mean that quite seriously; according to his blog he’s got his next “4 album projects mapped out”. So look for more of Rafter’s pop wizardry — and maybe some “meditation music” — very soon.

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Download: Rafter – Paper
Buy: You can order Animal Feelings directly from Asthmatic Kitty Records.

M.I.A.: “Born Free”

Maya sends “a post card from Waziristan” and drops some Suicide-sampling punk rock haze on ya. Consider me excited to see what other surprises will crop up on her upcoming record… though I’m still waiting to hear definitive evidence of “Gucci Mane meets Animal Collective”, Diplo!!

That yet-to-be-titled third album is due out June 29th.

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Download: M.I.A. – Born Free

New Maps & Atlases: “Solid Ground”

Maps & Atlases

After a series of EPs, fans have been patiently waiting for a proper Maps & Atlases record. On June 29th, Barsuk Records will finally release that debut full-length from these Chicago tech-pop wizards. Our first glimpse into Perch Patchwork suggests that they may be emphasizing the second half of that genre approximation even more this time around, but their approach is certainly no less layered (or wood block-oriented) than usual.

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Download: Maps & Atlases – Solid Ground
Buy: Perch Patchwork is now available for pre-order from Barsuk Records. You can also download the two excellent preceding EPs here.

Animal Feelings, Animal Thoughts

Rafter Roberts (Photo by Lizeth Santos)

Photo by Lizeth Santos.

Going to see Rafter live is a real treat. If you’re lucky enough to be in San Diego on April 17th you’ll get a chance to cap off Record Store Day by doing exactly that, with bonus sets from local rising artists Cuckoo Chaos, Lion Cut, and Smile Now Cry Later (aka the dancey, Banda-sampling music project of photographer Lizeth Santos, wife and frequent artistic collaborator of Rafter). Get ready to smile, laugh, dance, jump for joy, and just plain have fun, because this is exactly what virtually every act on this line-up fervently inspires.

In fact, this show is being specifically held in celebration of the release of Rafter’s new record, the bright and bubbly Animal Feelings. Completely unpretentious, his approach here and elsewhere is seemingly straight-forward at heart, but always playful and delightfully weird, unfailingly united by subtle overarching concepts and themes. Many of the tunes on his latest album — like the intimate, homemade mixtape-esque meanderings of Sex Death Cassette and the bedroom booty-bass of Sweaty Magic — reflect the accompanying title, delving into carnal desires, emotions, and thoughts through breezy, infectious, and often funk-leaning pop. Expect vocoded declarations of praise and respect, earnest encouragements, and lots of carpe diem-embracing love-jams. But I guess Rafter is just a stream-of-consciousness, honest-expression-of-intimate-joys-and-pains kinda guy. After all, not too long ago he cranked out two dozen or so free songs for the Asthmatic Kitty site in his ambitious “A Song a Week” column and according to his blog he’s already “nips deep in the next 3 albums”; this kind of primal mind mapping must come naturally.

A handful of those “Song a Week” tracks have been re-recorded for albums, including Animal Feelings stand-out “Paper”. Classic rhythms and chord progressions abound, Rafter exudes irresistible charm in this proclamation of annoyance at losing ideas and thoughts in the recesses of your brain: “You motherfuckers, you motherfuckers where did you go!?”. Luckily a solution is quickly realized in the song’s namesake and catchy chorus, “I need paper, I need paper / I need paper, yes I do / To keep my thoughts from goin’ away / To keep my thoughts from goin’ away”. These days, even when he’s bugged by something, Rafter Roberts prefers to express himself through lovable, dancey, hook-laden pop gems. It doesn’t really seem like the guy even has a choice; he’s a whirlwind of ideas, energy, and enthusiasm that knows better than to do anything but keep riding that wave to its unending conclusions.

Check out the details for the must-attend Animal Feelings record release show down below and the album’s cover art and full tracklist after the jump. You can also see a complete list of Rafter’s tour dates here.

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Download: Rafter – Paper
Buy: Pre-order Animal Feelings from Asthmatic Kitty Records. Stream the entire record at MBV.

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Animal Feelings Record Release Party
Saturday, April 17th @ 9pm. $5.

Rafter
Smile Now Cry Later
Lion Cut
Cuckoo Chaos
+ DJ WWDJ

Free ANIMAL FEELINGS cake!
Color-your-own animal masks!
Dance contests with rad giveaways!
Photos by Lizeth Santos!

Tin Can Alehouse (21+)
1863 Fifth Ave
San Diego, CA 92101

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Crank the Treble: jj

jj - jj n°3

Here’s my latest review written for Treble, which covers the new record from Sincerely Yours / Secretly Canadian recording artist jj. Peep the original publication here, which includes a short list of albums you may also enjoy if you dig jj n° 3.

In retrospect, it’s hard to see the coy mysteriousness surrounding hazy pop duo jj as much more than a gimmick. Not to say that it wasn’t a captivating or extremely successful one, as most internet tastemakers became enamored with these elusive Swedes and helped propel them into the upper echelons of buzz in 2009. But with that kind of meteoric rise at a time when virtually anyone can help fuel a web 2.0 hype machine with any number of free resources, it seems pointless to suggest that such a widespread lack of knowledge was neither calculated nor irresistibly intriguing. Of course, gimmick alone means little if you aren’t producing good music. jj certainly hasn’t had a problem on that front; thus far the output from Joakin Benon and Elin Kastlander has been pretty exceptional, especially their 2009 effort jj n° 2. And now, just eight months since that album dropped, jj is back with another full-length, the aptly and functionally titled jj n° 3.

Still on the comedown from jj n° 2‘s drug-addled, sunny Balearic pop bliss, some have been quick to write off this latest, more subdued effort for lacking the same immediate allure and memorable songwriting as jj’s debut. The songs that populate these records were reportedly conceived and recorded at the same time, so despite its seemingly hasty release there’s no justification in saying that jj n° 3 was rushed, though it has been referred to as “jj n° 2 b-sides”. But as the double-edged sword of how (and how quickly) jj entered the collective consciousness of the indie world starts to cut the other way, I’ve found that repeated listens have helped to displace initial disappointment and reveal more strengths than shortcomings on this record.

Pushing from summer to its counterpoint with this “winter album,” Joakin and Elin still cannot escape the ever-present tropical vibe that permeates their songs. This time around it’s far subtler and dives even further into nostalgic melancholy, but jj n° 3 still transports the listener far from their own existence, fuzzy images of expansive nature and sensations of sunshine and cool breezes accenting conveyed feelings of both warm relationships and pristine solitude. Juxtaposition seems to come naturally for jj, as opener “My Life” demonstrates rather bluntly with its collision of sorrowful piano and stolen Lil’ Wayne and Daft Punk hooks. That sounds terrible written out, but somehow it all typically works, if at times inspiring a smirk or an eye roll. With the amount of charisma that Joakin and Elin exude all things become that much easier: their youthful naiveté and melodrama escapes easy criticism because it’s just too charming, their occasional dips into almost new agey soft-pop are interwoven and performed so seamlessly that it feels right.

Though jj n° 3 has been faulted on the memorability front, there are a handful of catchy, repeat-worthy gems here that strike at the infectiousness that is becoming characteristic of jj. Perhaps not as direct as their best songs, lead single “Let Go” is a restrained, plaintive and minimal anthem that highlights Elin’s soft and ethereal voice, embodying the more languid tone of this record. That tone is brightened considerably on the bubbly and playful standout “Voi Parlate, Lo Gioco,” its upbeat guitar strums and bouncy, synthesized xylophone and strings soar along with the vocal melodies as the purest and most immediate hooks on the record. After the brief detour of “Golden Virginia,” the sweet falling-for-you confessions of “You Know” carries jj n° 3 up to similar heights of unabashed pop.

So even if this record doesn’t improve upon the foundation laid by jj n° 2, it’s important to remember that it’s really a part of the same statement. A bit weaker, yes, but its aims are also different. Deliberately less immediate and outright hook-driven, it shouldn’t be surprising that our expectations weren’t met — they were just sidestepped.

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Download: jj – Let Go
Buy: Stream and download jj n° 3 from the Sincerely Yours digital store.

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Bonus Download: jj – 5 Minuter med jj