Saturday, April 30, 2011

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

  • Gatefold
  • Lyrics included
  • Etched

  • Album Rating: 4.5/5 (Excellent)
  • Sound Quality: 4/5 (Great)
  • Packaging: 5/5 (Perfect)

The second album in Arcade Fire's trilogy of commercially successful and critically acclaimed works; Neon Bible delivers classic indie rock with all the emotional ups and downs of its predecessor, Funeral. Often referred to as baroque pop, Arcade Fire's music is intricate enough to hold interest even on repeated listens, and still accessible enough for the casual listener to enjoy.

Neon Bible bears many similarities to Funeral, but it is still very much it's own album. With a moodier atmosphere and an underlying loneliness, Neon Bible clearly defines what indie rock can truly be capable of. From the anthemic "No Cars Go" to the soul-shattering "My Body is a Cage", Arcade Fire creates music that takes their listeners on a roller coaster ride; they bring you up on one song only to throw you back to the ground on the next.

Neon Bible is a great addition to any vinyl enthusiast's collection. It sounds great, presenting in the best possible way the beautiful instrumentation and musicianship that Arcade Fire is known for. It is pressed on two 180 gram vinyl records.

The album is packaged in a gatefold jacket that includes lyrics and credits on the individual vinyl sleeves. Neon Bible's eleven tracks are spread over three sides, with the fourth side featuring an etching of the titular neon bible, an added bonus that gives the album a well deserved uniqueness to it. The fourth side is of course unplayable.

Buy Neon Bible on vinyl here (Amazon): NEON BIBLE [Vinyl]

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Deerhunter - Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.

  • Gatefold
  • No lyrics

  • Album Rating (Microcastle): 4/5 (Great)
  • Album Rating (Weird Era Cont.): 3/5 (Okay)
  • Sound Quality: 4/5 (Great)
  • Packaging: 4.5/5 (Excellent)

With Deerhunter's third studio album, titled Microcastle, the band began to experiment with a more mature, pop-oriented sound that would later be fully realized on Microcastle's successor; Halcyon Digest. Although Deerhunter did have a loyal following before the release of this album, it was the band's prominent shift in direction from ambient-shoegaze to more mainstream indie rock (while still maintaining their shoegaze roots) that solidified their position as a band to follow in the indie rock scene.

Microcastle is a great album from start to finish. From the melodic "Agoraphobia", sung by guitarist Lockett Pundt, to the epic standout track "Nothing Ever Happened". The middle of the album is significantly slower paced than the beginning and end, featuring tracks that incorporate ambient atmospheres together with the beautiful melodies that define the album.

As if one album wasn't enough, Deerhunter decided to make this release a double-album. On the second disc is Weird Era Cont., a collection of mostly less than stellar b-sides from Microcastle; it still has some excellent tracks that are definitely worth a listen, and considering it's free of charge, you really can't go wrong.

The vinyl sounds great; certainly not on par with it's successor Halcyon Digest, but still a solid recording that should not be missed.

The original vinyl release of Microcastle features alternate cover art and is pressed on white vinyl. The re-release version (the one that I have) is packaged in a heavyweight gatefold sleeve and is pressed on black.

Buy Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. on vinyl here (Amazon): Microcastle [Vinyl]

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Travis - 12 Memories

  • Non-gatefold
  • Lyrics included
  • Import

  • Album Rating: 4/5 (Great)
  • Sound Quality: 4.5/5 (Excellent)
  • Packaging: 3/5 (Average)

I picked this one up used at Amoeba Records in Hollywood last week. Any Travis album is pretty difficult to find on vinyl, so needless to say I was pretty stoked to find an import of this excellent LP for only 25$. Although used and containing a bit more pops and skips than I would have liked, it is still a great addition to my growing collection and most of the tracks still sound great!

Travis is often credited for influencing acts such as Coldplay and Starsailor, creating gentle, melodic rock that makes metalheads roll in their graves. On their fourth studio album 12 Memories, the Scottish quartet continues to do what they do best; combining rich textures, beautiful melodies, and memorable lyrics. Standout tracks include "Re-Offender" and "Love Will Come Through". Both are dangerously catchy and infinitely fun to listen to.

The vinyl sounds great even if the previous owner didn't take the best care of it. Putting that aside, the production quality is top notch and every song sounds crisp and clean, beautifully accentuating the band's musicianship and lead singer Fran Healy's clean vocal style.

The packaging (sans the marks made by the previous owner) is typical. The vinyl is housed in a standard, non-gatefold sleeve and comes with lyrics on the flip side of the inner sleeve.

I highly doubt you'll find the vinyl version of 12 Memories on Amazon anytime soon, but here's the link for it anyway (out of stock): 12 Memories [Vinyl]

Friday, April 22, 2011

List: Radiohead Power Ranking

Just for fun I thought I'd do another list. This time it's my ranking of my personal favorite band, the almighty Radiohead. Again, this list does not take the vinyl editions into account; there will be separate vinyl reviews for each album listed eventually. So here it is, my Radiohead power ranking:

8. Pablo Honey
Album Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

7. The Bends
Album Rating: 4/5 (Great)

6. Amnesiac
Album Rating: 4.5/5 (Excellent)

5. Hail To The Thief
Album Rating: 4.5/5 (Excellent)

4. The King Of Limbs
Album Rating: 4.5/5 (Excellent)

3. In Rainbows
Album Rating: 5/5 (Masterful)

2. OK Computer
Album Rating: 5/5 (Masterful)

1. Kid A
Album Rating: 5/5 (Masterful)

Radiohead fans: What do you think? List your Radiohead Power Ranking in the comments section below!

Iron & Wine - Our Endless Numbered Days

  • Non-gatefold
  • Lyrics included

  • Album Rating: 4.5/5 (Excellent)
  • Sound Quality: 5/5 (Perfect)
  • Packaging: 3/5 (Average)

An indie folk staple of the modern age, Iron & Wine's 2004 classic Our Endless Numbered Days is a soft, easy-going album that no one should miss out on. Singer/songwriter Sam Beam mixes beautiful lyrics, whispered vocals, and simple folk melodies like nobody else.

From the rhythmic opening track "On Your Wings" to the spirits-lifting closer "Passing Afternoon", Beam never ceases to create an atmosphere that makes you long for a simpler life. Songs like "Radio War" and "Fever Dream" float along lazily, while tracks such as "Teeth In The Grass" and "Free Until They Cut Me Down" are faster paced and exciting, while still managing to retain Beam's signature mellow style.

Due to the acoustic, folksy nature of Our endless Numbered Days, it sounds absolutely perfect on vinyl. I would even venture to say that it's one of the best sounding LPs I've heard. It is pressed on black only.

The packaging is pretty basic. It is non-gatefold but does include an insert with lyrics.

Purchase Our endless Numbered Days on vinyl here: OUR ENDLESS NUMBERED DAYS [Vinyl]

Thursday, April 21, 2011

St. Vincent - Actor

  • Gatefold
  • Lyrics included

  • Album Rating: 4/5 (Great)
  • Sound Quality: 3.5/5 (Good)
  • Packaging: 4/5 (Great)

Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent released her sophomore album Actor in 2009, and has since become a rising star in the indie rock scene. She has opened for prominent acts such as Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear, Xiu Xiu, and Death Cab For Cutie.

Actor is a fascinating blend of beautiful vocals, catchy melodies, and rather odd instrumentation (Odd in a good way of course). Orchestral strings, horns, and flutes are layered atop heavily distorted guitars, producing a unique sound that is endlessly enjoyable to listen to. Clark's lyrics are surprisingly morbid considering the source. The words are dark and haunting, an interesting contrast to Clark's own voice as well as much of the instrumentation, all working toward what I would describe as a very schizophrenic album (Again, in a good way).

The vinyl sounds good but is far from outstanding. The drums are hard hitting and sound fantastic, but some of the more layered tracks can sound a bit muddled. I think this is more due to the nature of the album itself than the pressing process, but it's still well worth a listen.

The packaging is well put together, consisting of a gatefold jacket with lyrics on the inside fold. The jacket itself is made of a thick, glossy, full color paper that looks really nice.

Buy Actor on vinyl here: Actor [Vinyl]

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest

  • Non-gatefold
  • Lyrics included
  • White vinyl

  • Album Rating: 4.5/5 (Excellent)
  • Sound Quality: 5/5 (Perfect)
  • Packaging: 3.5/5 (Good)

My second favorite album of 2010 and easily my favorite Deerhunter release, Halcyon Digest is a natural step forward for frontman Bradford Cox and company. Utilizing more organic instrumentation in his songwriting than in past efforts, Cox moves even further away from his ambient music roots in order to further embrace the more pop-oriented aspect of his musical psyche.

Halcyon Digest is full of catchy hooks, lonely atmospheres, and ambitious instrumentation that really (and finally) exemplify the remarkable musicianship that forms the foundation of the band. The track "Basement Scene" features all the appeal of the understated shoegaze-y-ness that Deerhunter has become known for. The lyrics are equally as amusing, focusing on the narrator's personal reflections on his life. In a "hope I die before I get old" fashion, Cox sings, "I don't want to get old", but as the song progresses, that line changes to "I want to get old" as the narrator considers the reality of the alternative.

My personal favorite track on the album is "Conronado", an ambitious, powerful song that shows the grittier side of Deerhunter. Cox sings in a very different vocal style than we're used to, characterized by a deep and gravelly sound that I'd love to hear more of. This song is also one of two tracks on the album that introduces the utilization of a saxophone, the other being "Fountain Stairs".

Everything about Halcyon Digest is perfectly suited for vinyl, it is the kind of album you want to feel all around you. Headphones do NOT do it justice. The wax sounds absolutely terrific, accentuating the acoustics and rhythms nicely. It is pressed on lighter weight vinyl, but this does not hold it back in the slightest. It is pressed on white only.

The packaging is nice, but nothing extraordinary. Lyrics and credits are presented on the inner sleeve, including the tragic real-life story of the key figure of the track "Helicopter".

For vinyl enthusiasts, this one is not to be missed. Purchase Halcyon Digest on vinyl here (Amazon): Halcyon Digest

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

List: Top 10 Albums Of 2010

For my first list on this blog, I thought I'd stick to the classic "best of the year" list. This list does not take the vinyl versions into account, just the music itself. For now I will only list the albums, but expect full reviews on each in the weeks to come. So without further ado, I give you my top 10 of 2010!

10. The Morning Benders - Big Echo

9. The Head And The Heart - S/T

8. Menomena - Mines

7. Spoon - Transference

6. Liars - Sisterworld

5. Villagers - Becoming A Jackal

4. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

3. Wolf Parade - Expo 86

2. Deerhunter - Halycon Digest

1. The National - High Violet

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Breathe Owl Breathe - Magic Central

  • Not gatefold
  • Lyrics included
  • Pink colored vinyl

  • Album Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)
  • Sound Quality: 3.5/5 (Good)
  • Packaging: 3.5/ (Good)

Michigan band Breathe Owl Breathe has been playing mellow indie folk since 2004, and with their latest LP, Magic Central, the trio continues to show that they are here to stay.

Unintentionally or not, Magic Central conjures up a feeling of longing for early Iron & Wine, featuring soft, beautiful vocals that are more whispered than sung. Singer Micah Middaugh even sports a beard that is nothing short of epic, rivaled only by Mr. Iron & Wine himself; Sam Beam. The album features whimsical lyrics and clever arrangements. For their catchy melodies and soothing atmospheres, songs like "Swimming" or "Own Stunts" are sure to stick in your head for days.

The vinyl sound pretty good, but is certainly not without its flaws. For such a minimalist album, wax should have suited Magic Central perfectly, but unfortunately, the songs sound slightly muddier than they should have. Still, it's not bad by any means and is definitely worth the purchase. Plus, it's pressed on hot pink marbled vinyl!

The LP is packaged in a non-gatefold sleeve but does come with a nice foldout newspaper-style insert that features all the lyrics and credits. One extra detail that did stand out to me was the inclusion of the yellow bird motif on the interior or the sleeve, the same one that is featured on the front cover.

Purchase Magic Central on vinyl here (Amazon): Magic Central