The new releases continue to flood the market as we near spring and I haven't found myself being able to keep up with them. Once again, there are a number of albums that I listened to this week that I just didn't feel ready to put down my opinions in words. Luckily, I was finally able to catch up with last week's leftovers, as well as find time to enjoy a few older gems that have been cluttering my airwaves of late. Rather heavy on the singer-songwriter's this week, but that's never a bad thing in my opinion. Overall, I'm very pleased with these selections and hope you are too. Enjoy.
OndaDrops Vol. 5 - Postcards From the North: This is the webzine's fifth compilation in the last two years to feature underground folk artists. Having previously selected their talent based on theme, this album turns its attention to Scandinavian folk bands, a personal favorite of mine, and as result produces one of the best compilations in the series. Borrowed heavily from mid-western American folk styles, the artists of the frozen north have incorporated decidedly old world elements into the genre and the combination is simply beautiful. Some stand out tracks are Christine Owman's "Day 1", I'm Kingfisher's "A Continent Lost," and Einar Stray's "For the Country." The best part is that these compilations are FREE. You can find a link for the album here, on the bottom of the page. With each new release, I always discover several amazing bands. I highly recommend checking it out.
Band of Skulls - Sweet Sour: The London rock trio's long awaited sophomore follow-up to 2009's Baby Darling Doll Face Honey will finally be released this week. There was an element of Northern Soul on that album that reminded me of The Verve which isn't to be found on this album. Instead, they have taken a heavy blues approach to their blend of slightly psychedelic rock. There are times when the album feels a little flat, but it's more than made up for by the moments where it excels like on "Lay My Head Down," "Navigate," and "Such a Fool."
Sophie Zelmani - The Ocean and Me: A few weeks back, I reviewed one of this Swedish singer-songwriter's earlier albums, Sing and Dance from 2001. Fast-forward seven years and three albums later and she still delivers wonderfully crafted folk pop. I compared her earlier album to Aimee Mann, and there is still a resemblance on this album, but in many ways Sophie aspires for less art and more raw emotion. That said, the emotion is always grounded and never over dramatic. A real talent that probably deserves more recognition here in the States.
Tim Buckley - Happy Sad: This 1969 record, the folk artist's third, began a prolific period that continued up to his death in 1975. Unlike the other folk acts of the late '60s and early '70s, Tim Buckley shunned the traditional structure, instead composing lengthy arrangements that owe as much to jazz as they do to Dylan. Considered one of his best, this album really captures the coming sadness of that would be felt on records throughout the next few years. This album reminds me a lot of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks (released the prior year), but with a distinct California flavor to it. All six songs on here are quite brilliant.
Elliot Smith - New Moon: Not a new album for me by any means. I'd been a big fan of the late singer-songwriter for years before his untimely passing and certainly purchased this double album shortly after it came out in 2007. Over the past several weeks, I've been listening to it quite a bit and thought I'd review it here. This collection of demos and outtakes is a revealing insight into one of the greatest singer-songwriters of my generation. Some of his best songs are unearthed on this record, including "High Times," "Riot Coming," "Either/Or," and the fantastic cover of Wilco's "Thirteen."
Soft Machine - Fourth: In the late '60s and early '70s, this Canterbury jazz-fusion band was hard at work laying the roots for what become prog-rock. As the title suggest, this 1971 album is the band's fourth album in as many years. It is the first album that is entirely instrumental, though the previous one was pretty close, and also the last one to feature founding member Robert Wyatt. In structure, it differs little from Third, featuring expansive experimental pieces that sometimes seem to battle with themselves. As a matter of taste, I prefer Third, but this is certainly another worthy record in the band's stellar early career.
The Mars Volta - The Malkin Jewel: Born from the ashes of At the Drive In, this band emerged in 2003 and through a series of spectacular new-era prog records, quietly became one of the biggest bands in the world, with albums frequently debuting in the top 20. Then...nothing since 2009's Octahedron. That is until last week when this single was released. This song erupts into a hard hitting riff and near demented vocals, calming down in the middle section into quiet insanity, and then once again building for the end. So rejoice all ye fans, the kings of prog revival have returned. I for one can't wait until the album, Notctourniquet, is released later next month (on the same day as my book).