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April_May 2015 Relix Magazine Sampler: My Morning Jacket - Circuital
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“Our earthly bodies will surely fall,” croons Jim James toward the end of My Morning Jacket’s seventh LP, his tenor gliding over a dreamy R&B vamp. “But the love we share outlives us all.” James is rock’s wide-eyed poet, preaching the gospel of psychedelic love. And with The Waterfall, that message radiates stronger than ever. It’s been four long years since the band’s criminally underrated Circuital—though James veered into the mystic with his 2013 solo project, Regions of Light and Sound of God. That album’s evocative space-funk soundscapes teased the grandeur of classic Jacket, but its songs felt half-formed without the earthy anchor of James’ bandmates. The Waterfall’s opening anthem, “Believe (Nobody Knows),” arrives like a warm hug from an old friend. Bo Koster’s delicate synth figure creates a foggy atmosphere, deepened by James’ trademark quasi-spiritualism and nursery-rhyme cadence. Then the thunder erupts: Bassist Tom Blankenship and drummer Patrick Hallahan form a towering rhythmic engine, while Carl Broemel’s electric fuzz pierces through the mix. The Waterfall consolidates all of the band’s varied strengths, from twangy pedal-steel country (“Get The Point”) to shoegaze-y dream-pop (“Thin Line”) to epic-scale psychedelia (the showstopping “In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)”). “I wish you all of the love in this world and beyond,” James sings. A hopeful salutation from deep in the rock cosmos.

CD REVIEW

My Morning Jacket: The Waterfall

by Ryan Reed on May 04, 2015
“Our earthly bodies will surely fall,” croons Jim James toward the end of My Morning Jacket’s seventh LP, his tenor gliding over a dreamy R&B vamp. “But the love we share outlives us...

“Our earthly bodies will surely fall,” croons Jim James toward the end of My Morning Jacket’s seventh LP, his tenor gliding over a dreamy R&B vamp. “But the love we share outlives us all.” James is rock’s wide-eyed poet, preaching the gospel of psychedelic love. And with The Waterfall, that message radiates stronger than ever. It’s been four long years since the band’s criminally underrated Circuital—though James veered into the mystic with his 2013 solo project, Regions of Light and Sound of God. That album’s evocative space-funk soundscapes teased the grandeur of classic Jacket, but its songs felt half-formed without the earthy anchor of James’ bandmates. The Waterfall’s opening anthem, “Believe (Nobody Knows),” arrives like a warm hug from an old friend. Bo Koster’s delicate synth figure creates a foggy atmosphere, deepened by James’ trademark quasi-spiritualism and nursery-rhyme cadence. Then the thunder erupts: Bassist Tom Blankenship and drummer Patrick Hallahan form a towering rhythmic engine, while Carl Broemel’s electric fuzz pierces through the mix. The Waterfall consolidates all of the band’s varied strengths, from twangy pedal-steel country (“Get The Point”) to shoegaze-y dream-pop (“Thin Line”) to epic-scale psychedelia (the showstopping “In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)”). “I wish you all of the love in this world and beyond,” James sings. A hopeful salutation from deep in the rock cosmos.

At times, San Fermin’s sophomore effort, Jackrabbit, doesn’t feel like the work of eight musicians. The album, following the Brooklyn, N.Y., band’s 2013 debut, has moments of quiet singularity. Singer Allen Tate, whose voice recalls the gravely croon of The National’s Matt Berninger, drives the emotional gravity of tracks like “Emily” and “Astronaut.” The lush orchestral buoyancy of the rest of the musicians and the vocals of new addition Charlene Kaye bolster bandleader Ellis Ludwig-Leone’s overall vision, particularly on boisterous number “Ecstatic Thoughts.” San Fermin are perhaps most powerful during the spaces between their grandiose surges, and Ludwig-Leone and his band know how to balance those highs and lows within the songs: “Woman In Red” shifts between sparse, hypnotic verses and layered, cinematic choruses, resulting in a more effective expression of aching emotion. The album almost feels like Sufjan Stevens is composing music for The National, although there’s still something inexpressibly and evocatively original about San Fermin’s songs.

CD REVIEW

San Fermin: Jackrabbit

by Emily Zemler on May 01, 2015
At times, San Fermin’s sophomore effort, Jackrabbit, doesn’t feel like the work of eight musicians. The album, following the Brooklyn, N.Y., band’s 2013 debut, has moments of quiet...

At times, San Fermin’s sophomore effort, Jackrabbit, doesn’t feel like the work of eight musicians. The album, following the Brooklyn, N.Y., band’s 2013 debut, has moments of quiet singularity. Singer Allen Tate, whose voice recalls the gravely croon of The National’s Matt Berninger, drives the emotional gravity of tracks like “Emily” and “Astronaut.” The lush orchestral buoyancy of the rest of the musicians and the vocals of new addition Charlene Kaye bolster bandleader Ellis Ludwig-Leone’s overall vision, particularly on boisterous number “Ecstatic Thoughts.” San Fermin are perhaps most powerful during the spaces between their grandiose surges, and Ludwig-Leone and his band know how to balance those highs and lows within the songs: “Woman In Red” shifts between sparse, hypnotic verses and layered, cinematic choruses, resulting in a more effective expression of aching emotion. The album almost feels like Sufjan Stevens is composing music for The National, although there’s still something inexpressibly and evocatively original about San Fermin’s songs.

In the ‘50s and ‘60s, it was common for elderly black bluesmen who’d been working in the rural shadows for years to finally find some mainstream recognition, but today? Not too often. In fact, Leo “Bud” Welch may just be the last of them, a chiseled, grizzled Mississippian whose authenticity, you can rest assured, is not in question. The deal Welch made with label chief and producer Bruce Watson, the story goes, was that he’d give him a blues album, but only after he cut a gospel one. So now, at 82, he delivers I Don’t Prefer No Blues, the follow-up to last year’s Sabougla Voices. It’s all grit and mud and sweat, the kind of traditional roadhouse gutbucket grime and grease you’d be lucky to find on some old scratchy slab of vinyl in a Natchez warehouse way back when. Seize the moment—Welch’s brand of blues is an endangered species.

CD REVIEW

Leo “Bud” Welch: I Don’t Prefer No Blues

by Jeff Tamarkin on April 30, 2015
In the ‘50s and ‘60s, it was common for elderly black bluesmen who’d been working in the rural shadows for years to finally find some mainstream recognition, but today? Not too often. In...

In the ‘50s and ‘60s, it was common for elderly black bluesmen who’d been working in the rural shadows for years to finally find some mainstream recognition, but today? Not too often. In fact, Leo “Bud” Welch may just be the last of them, a chiseled, grizzled Mississippian whose authenticity, you can rest assured, is not in question. The deal Welch made with label chief and producer Bruce Watson, the story goes, was that he’d give him a blues album, but only after he cut a gospel one. So now, at 82, he delivers I Don’t Prefer No Blues, the follow-up to last year’s Sabougla Voices. It’s all grit and mud and sweat, the kind of traditional roadhouse gutbucket grime and grease you’d be lucky to find on some old scratchy slab of vinyl in a Natchez warehouse way back when. Seize the moment—Welch’s brand of blues is an endangered species.

During his high-profile 2014 opening slot for Arcade Fire, experimental-electro oddball Dan Deacon debuted a hooky synth jam called “Learning To Relax.” And that title became the creative mantra for Gliss Riffer, an album that eschews genre-bending complexity for simpler pop melodies and relatively linear arrangements. The immediacy often pays off, like on the carnival-esque rush of opener “Feel The Lightning.” But then again, “relaxing” has never been part of Deacon’s DNA. Recent albums like 2009’s Bromst and 2012’s America offered innovative spins on modern electronica, weaving classical and psychedelic elements into the programmed buzz. With its more conventional approach, Gliss Riffer feels like a step backward. But even Deacon’s by-numbers doodles (the whimsical nursery rhyme “When I Was Done Dying,” the stereo-panned, spiraling “Meme Generator”) are expertly crafted—proving that this dude can outmaneuver his electro peers without breaking a sweat.

CD REVIEW

Dan Deacon: Gliss Riffer

by Ryan Reed on April 29, 2015
During his high-profile 2014 opening slot for Arcade Fire, experimental-electro oddball Dan Deacon debuted a hooky synth jam called “Learning To Relax.” And that title became the creative...

During his high-profile 2014 opening slot for Arcade Fire, experimental-electro oddball Dan Deacon debuted a hooky synth jam called “Learning To Relax.” And that title became the creative mantra for Gliss Riffer, an album that eschews genre-bending complexity for simpler pop melodies and relatively linear arrangements. The immediacy often pays off, like on the carnival-esque rush of opener “Feel The Lightning.” But then again, “relaxing” has never been part of Deacon’s DNA. Recent albums like 2009’s Bromst and 2012’s America offered innovative spins on modern electronica, weaving classical and psychedelic elements into the programmed buzz. With its more conventional approach, Gliss Riffer feels like a step backward. But even Deacon’s by-numbers doodles (the whimsical nursery rhyme “When I Was Done Dying,” the stereo-panned, spiraling “Meme Generator”) are expertly crafted—proving that this dude can outmaneuver his electro peers without breaking a sweat.

Beth Hart has made quite a name for herself in the 15-plus years since her single “LA Song (Out of This Town)” gained international recognition and garnered placement on an episode of Beverly Hills 90210. With several songs topping the blues charts, collaborations with both Jeff Beck and Joe Bonamassa, and various Grammy nominations to her credit, Hart’s success seemed assured. On Better Than Home, she makes good on that promise, delivering a veritable tour-de-force that highlights her remarkable prowess as both a singer and a songwriter. Little wonder then that opening track “Might As Well Smile” projects unbridled optimism. (“I woke up this morning/ With a smile on my face/ I threw out those stones/ That stood in my way.”) And while succeeding songs take a more subdued turn, from the troubled tone of “Tell ‘Em to Hold On” to the moving, melodic ballads “St. Teresa” and “Better Than Home,” Hart’s assurance and determination are always evident. When, in the defiant “Tell Her You Belong to Me,” she implores an unfaithful lover to reject her rival’s advances, she remains resolute (“No, she’ll never win/ ‘Cause I’m not giving in…”). Hart’s songs sound like standards, and she makes it clear that she’s a star.

CD REVIEW

Beth Hart: Better Than Home

by Lee Zimmerman on April 28, 2015
Beth Hart has made quite a name for herself in the 15-plus years since her single “LA Song (Out of This Town)” gained international recognition and garnered placement on an episode of...

Beth Hart has made quite a name for herself in the 15-plus years since her single “LA Song (Out of This Town)” gained international recognition and garnered placement on an episode of Beverly Hills 90210. With several songs topping the blues charts, collaborations with both Jeff Beck and Joe Bonamassa, and various Grammy nominations to her credit, Hart’s success seemed assured. On Better Than Home, she makes good on that promise, delivering a veritable tour-de-force that highlights her remarkable prowess as both a singer and a songwriter. Little wonder then that opening track “Might As Well Smile” projects unbridled optimism. (“I woke up this morning/ With a smile on my face/ I threw out those stones/ That stood in my way.”) And while succeeding songs take a more subdued turn, from the troubled tone of “Tell ‘Em to Hold On” to the moving, melodic ballads “St. Teresa” and “Better Than Home,” Hart’s assurance and determination are always evident. When, in the defiant “Tell Her You Belong to Me,” she implores an unfaithful lover to reject her rival’s advances, she remains resolute (“No, she’ll never win/ ‘Cause I’m not giving in…”). Hart’s songs sound like standards, and she makes it clear that she’s a star.

Nicki Bluhm comes across as a modern country troubadour who’s been schooled in traditional trappings. Her easygoing demeanor blends contemporary attitude with down-home distinction. With hubby Tim Bluhm (of The Mother Hips) and her band The Gramblers in tow, Bluhm takes her inspiration from both Bakersfield and the backwoods, singing songs about hard-living women and eager party gals, while rarely discerning any difference between the two. Loved Wild Lost also finds a fair amount of twang stirred into the brew, particularly on tracks like “Simpler Times,” “Only Always” and “Love Your Loved Ones,” and indeed, every song offers some variation of a homespun design. There’s also a certain reverence at work here, as evidenced on the album’s gospel-flavored send-off, “Heavy Hey Ya.” Sweet, sassy and celebratory, Loved Wild Lost captures Bluhm at her best.

CD REVIEW

Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers: Loved Wild Lost

by Lee Zimmerman on April 27, 2015
Nicki Bluhm comes across as a modern country troubadour who’s been schooled in traditional trappings. Her easygoing demeanor blends contemporary attitude with down-home distinction. With...

Nicki Bluhm comes across as a modern country troubadour who’s been schooled in traditional trappings. Her easygoing demeanor blends contemporary attitude with down-home distinction. With hubby Tim Bluhm (of The Mother Hips) and her band The Gramblers in tow, Bluhm takes her inspiration from both Bakersfield and the backwoods, singing songs about hard-living women and eager party gals, while rarely discerning any difference between the two. Loved Wild Lost also finds a fair amount of twang stirred into the brew, particularly on tracks like “Simpler Times,” “Only Always” and “Love Your Loved Ones,” and indeed, every song offers some variation of a homespun design. There’s also a certain reverence at work here, as evidenced on the album’s gospel-flavored send-off, “Heavy Hey Ya.” Sweet, sassy and celebratory, Loved Wild Lost captures Bluhm at her best.

Sometimes a revolving door of talented friends can kill an album; for Calexico’s Joey Burns and John Convertino, it just makes for compelling music. The border-town outlaw mood that underpins the band’s desert-noir style is still ever-present on Edge of the Sun. “Miles from the Sea,” with its epic scope and Burns’ smoky voice, could play over a scene straight out of A Fistful of Dollars, but a song like “Falling from the Sky” folds Texas swing, folk-rock, spacy electronics and Band Of Horses’ Ben Bridwell (on soaring background vocals) into a sleek gem of alt-country pop—and that’s just the beginning. Further on, Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam lends “Bullets & Rocks” a slice of brooding menace, Neko Case elevates “Tapping on the Line” with flawless harmonies, and Baja-born singer Carla Morrison transforms the tech-mariachi of “Cumbia De Donde” into a rousing cantina chant. It’s no wonder that Burns and Convertino wrote the bulk of the album in Mexico City; it’s a megalopolis of influences, but somehow it all holds together.

CD REVIEW

Calexico: Edge of the Sun

by Bill Murphy on April 24, 2015
Sometimes a revolving door of talented friends can kill an album; for Calexico’s Joey Burns and John Convertino, it just makes for compelling music. The border-town outlaw mood that underpins...

Sometimes a revolving door of talented friends can kill an album; for Calexico’s Joey Burns and John Convertino, it just makes for compelling music. The border-town outlaw mood that underpins the band’s desert-noir style is still ever-present on Edge of the Sun. “Miles from the Sea,” with its epic scope and Burns’ smoky voice, could play over a scene straight out of A Fistful of Dollars, but a song like “Falling from the Sky” folds Texas swing, folk-rock, spacy electronics and Band Of Horses’ Ben Bridwell (on soaring background vocals) into a sleek gem of alt-country pop—and that’s just the beginning. Further on, Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam lends “Bullets & Rocks” a slice of brooding menace, Neko Case elevates “Tapping on the Line” with flawless harmonies, and Baja-born singer Carla Morrison transforms the tech-mariachi of “Cumbia De Donde” into a rousing cantina chant. It’s no wonder that Burns and Convertino wrote the bulk of the album in Mexico City; it’s a megalopolis of influences, but somehow it all holds together.

The more you hear from the back catalog of Betty LaVette—she changed the spelling to Bettye a few years after recording the songs in this collection—the more perplexing it is that she wasn’t recognized as one of our greatest soul singers until a decade ago. LaVette had already been on the scene for 10 years when she cut the tracks that were to become Child of the Seventies for the ATCO label in 1972. Produced by Brad Shapiro in the storied Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, the sessions reflected the same wide-ranging stylistic breadth that LaVette still employs today, from deep, horn-powered soul to more country-tinged fare. “Your Turn to Cry,” the single released from the sessions, was, like much early ‘70s R&B, bathed in strings and additional vocals, but LaVette’s dynamic power nonetheless shone through. The album, to her chagrin, was never released, and although most of it has now found its way to other compilations, this is its first proper release. Real Gone has augmented the original album tracks with other LaVette odds and ends, from some of her earliest sides, cut in 1962, to other ‘70s waxings, including what might just be the funkiest take on Neil Young’s “Heart Of Gold” ever.

CD REVIEW

Betty LaVette: Child of the Seventies

by Jeff Tamarkin on April 23, 2015
The more you hear from the back catalog of Betty LaVette—she changed the spelling to Bettye a few years after recording the songs in this collection—the more perplexing it is that she...

The more you hear from the back catalog of Betty LaVette—she changed the spelling to Bettye a few years after recording the songs in this collection—the more perplexing it is that she wasn’t recognized as one of our greatest soul singers until a decade ago. LaVette had already been on the scene for 10 years when she cut the tracks that were to become Child of the Seventies for the ATCO label in 1972. Produced by Brad Shapiro in the storied Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, the sessions reflected the same wide-ranging stylistic breadth that LaVette still employs today, from deep, horn-powered soul to more country-tinged fare. “Your Turn to Cry,” the single released from the sessions, was, like much early ‘70s R&B, bathed in strings and additional vocals, but LaVette’s dynamic power nonetheless shone through. The album, to her chagrin, was never released, and although most of it has now found its way to other compilations, this is its first proper release. Real Gone has augmented the original album tracks with other LaVette odds and ends, from some of her earliest sides, cut in 1962, to other ‘70s waxings, including what might just be the funkiest take on Neil Young’s “Heart Of Gold” ever.

Passion Pit get right to the point on their new album, Kindred, which opens with an explosively peppy dance track called “Lift It Up (1985)” that acts immediately as an intense mood-booster. Passion Pit mastermind Michael Angelakos hasn’t necessarily written about the most feel-good subject matter in his lyrics, but this album, in itself, is the most feel-good collection of music so far this year. Like the group’s prior two releases, Kindred revels in propulsive, carefree synth beats, balancing any emotional heft and depth in the lyrics with continuous sonic merriment. Even when Angelakos leans inward and slows down the beat, like on ethereal ballad “Dancing on the Grave,” a sense of lightness lingers, a reminder that darkness doesn’t necessarily have to sound dark. The music is at its most expressive when Angelakos—and the listener, by association—fully lets loose. “My Brother Taught Me How to Swim” is a chipper, swirling dance number, and mid-tempo anthem “All I Want” is all-encompassing in its layered beats. Angelakos may not always feel good, a sensibility that emerges in some of the album’s lyrics, but he clearly wants to give the listener an experience that ensures they always will.

CD REVIEW

Passion Pit: Kindred

by Emily Zemler on April 22, 2015
Passion Pit get right to the point on their new album, Kindred, which opens with an explosively peppy dance track called “Lift It Up (1985)” that acts immediately as an intense...

Passion Pit get right to the point on their new album, Kindred, which opens with an explosively peppy dance track called “Lift It Up (1985)” that acts immediately as an intense mood-booster. Passion Pit mastermind Michael Angelakos hasn’t necessarily written about the most feel-good subject matter in his lyrics, but this album, in itself, is the most feel-good collection of music so far this year. Like the group’s prior two releases, Kindred revels in propulsive, carefree synth beats, balancing any emotional heft and depth in the lyrics with continuous sonic merriment. Even when Angelakos leans inward and slows down the beat, like on ethereal ballad “Dancing on the Grave,” a sense of lightness lingers, a reminder that darkness doesn’t necessarily have to sound dark. The music is at its most expressive when Angelakos—and the listener, by association—fully lets loose. “My Brother Taught Me How to Swim” is a chipper, swirling dance number, and mid-tempo anthem “All I Want” is all-encompassing in its layered beats. Angelakos may not always feel good, a sensibility that emerges in some of the album’s lyrics, but he clearly wants to give the listener an experience that ensures they always will.

As far as indie bands go, Built To Spill has fared remarkably well in the larger marketplace. Since signing with a major label nearly 20 years ago—an impressive feat for any band of their ilk—they’ve scored any number of successful albums while still managing to tour consistently, garnering the ongoing support of both their record company and their devoted following in the process. Not surprisingly then, Untethered Moon, the group’s first new offering since 2009’s well-received There Is No Enemy, showcases a band that’s revived and resolute, chock-full of assertive riffs and sizzling rhythms. The opening salvo of “All Our Songs” sets the mood, a fearsome combination of bombastic guitars and screeching vocals that likens Built To Spill to the aural equivalent of a ticking time bomb. Echoes of their prime influences— Pavement, Crazy Horse and Dinosaur Jr.—are evident throughout, especially in the combined melody and mayhem that defines “Living Zoo,” “On The Way” and “Another Day.” Along the way, they give listeners plenty to connect with as far as recurrent refrains and fist-pumping exhortations are concerned. Call it controlled excess or unrepentant rock. Untethered Moon falls just short of coming unhinged.

CD REVIEW

Built To Spill: Untethered Moon

by Lee Zimmerman on April 21, 2015
As far as indie bands go, Built To Spill has fared remarkably well in the larger marketplace. Since signing with a major label nearly 20 years ago—an impressive feat for any band of their...

As far as indie bands go, Built To Spill has fared remarkably well in the larger marketplace. Since signing with a major label nearly 20 years ago—an impressive feat for any band of their ilk—they’ve scored any number of successful albums while still managing to tour consistently, garnering the ongoing support of both their record company and their devoted following in the process. Not surprisingly then, Untethered Moon, the group’s first new offering since 2009’s well-received There Is No Enemy, showcases a band that’s revived and resolute, chock-full of assertive riffs and sizzling rhythms. The opening salvo of “All Our Songs” sets the mood, a fearsome combination of bombastic guitars and screeching vocals that likens Built To Spill to the aural equivalent of a ticking time bomb. Echoes of their prime influences— Pavement, Crazy Horse and Dinosaur Jr.—are evident throughout, especially in the combined melody and mayhem that defines “Living Zoo,” “On The Way” and “Another Day.” Along the way, they give listeners plenty to connect with as far as recurrent refrains and fist-pumping exhortations are concerned. Call it controlled excess or unrepentant rock. Untethered Moon falls just short of coming unhinged.

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