Back in 2011 Wolfgang Jay released their debut album and I was immediately taken by it. The songs were dark and brooding, but also easy to dance to. They celebrate the new wave along with early post-punk and classic rock. On paper it might not seem like it would work, but the talented musicians that make up the group seem to be capable of pretty much whatever they put their minds to.
Broken To Fit, the new album that just came out on May 18th, continues their genre-bending style. They’ve made improvements where they needed them; this new record is much more fluid. It feels almost like one long piece broken into pieces (hence the title?). Like their previous effort, the band wrote, produced, and at least partially engineered with help from David Mills and Caleb MacIlvaine. Keeping all the decision-making insular has helped them fully realize their original vision.
The first noise we hear on the record sounds a bit like a plane taking off, followed by a guitar plucking two notes and Ryan Wolfgang’s voice. It’s soon joined by Jason Ryan’s Morricone-like riff. Those familiar with WJ’s last album will recognize the sound of the vocals: not out front and not quite buried, they tiptoe above the mix. This production choice gives the listener a couple options: you can listen passively and just enjoy the music, which is great, or you can listen more actively and catch every word.
Unlike most albums, Broken To Fit gets better as you get further down the track list. For me, it really hits a stride when “Atmospheric” starts. It’s a synthy 80′s throwback that perfectly captures the sound they’ve been developing over the past few years. It owes a lot to Duran Duran, almost like a tribute to their work.
The following track has a bit of a Pink Floyd streak with the galloping rhythm guitar and baritone vocals pitted against the swirling motion of the lead. Fitting that the song is called “Leave It On The Wall.”
I’m a big fan of Wolfgang Jay, and Broken To Fit does nothing but provide more examples of how good they are. They just played a record release show this weekend which I had to miss, but I’ve seen them play before and they put on a really fun show. You can purchase the new album from Bandcamp for $8. It’s also streaming on Spotify, along with their first record And We Move. I highly recommend both.
Suburban Heart has been one of my most highly anticipated records of 2013. Since Winterpop hit early last year The All-About have released a couple singles and an EP, including the almost perfect jam “Sadie Hawkins.” The build up to the new full-length dates all the way back to last year, but things have heated up recently with the release of two new singles, “Jessie” and “Whatever, Happy Birthday.”
The two new tracks are both great and really set the bar high for Zac Coe’s not-so-solo project (featuring Oliver Ignatius, Alexandre Da Silva, Gabby Ambrosio, and Layne Montgomery). I had nothing but faith in the album, and it came out even better than I could have hoped. Gone are the charming Killers references, replaced by smart Springsteen cues and mentions of a couple of the Boss’s hits in the lyrics. It’s a more mature record than Winterpop, but no less fun.
The album deals a lot with growing up, losing touch, and the difficulties in trying to go home again. Zac might be the most nostalgic early twenty-something in the world, but he seems ready to let go of the past by the end of Suburban Heart. One facet of life that gets a lot of attention is growing apart from the friends you had as an adolescent, and I think the chord struck here is the most relatable on the album.
On the sprawling “Nashville,” Coe and a friend lament their waning time together knowing things can’t stay the same forever. There’s a certain comfort in knowing someone as well as we know our closest friends as we grow up, and an uneasiness comes when we leave that behind. When he sings “All I need is a full heart to get where I’m going, but I want you to be here when I come back,” it’s a bittersweet reality we’ve all experienced.
There are a lot of precious memories relived here as well. On the title track Coe sings “Don’t you wanna take me home? The only roads that we’ve ever known are from your house to mine.” The song is about star crossed lovers who are too busy to for a relationship and how every second without the other person is a moment wasted. This is the first instance where you feel the sonic similarities with Winterpop. The horns and piano used here aren’t new to The All-About, but they fit so well that its hard to complain.
I love the opening of “Jessie.” It might be my favorite 45 seconds of the whole album. With just a synth and his voice, Coe reminisces and it feels like our own memories. “I could see in the way you moved your hips it was nearly dawn, you were feeling a little bit anxious. Remember how you tried to dare me to run the light because nobody would see when I drove you home? So every girl just grab a boy, lately I’m losing my voice, baby. Singing along, with the radio.”
In the biggest surprise of Suburban Heart, “Lyla Garrity” opens with beautiful strings that give way to a Peter, Bjorn, and John-like whistling. The outro of the song finds the two components coming together perfectly to create a magical moment of poignancy and acceptance.
Suburban Heart may not sound like its a giant leap from Winterpop, but lyrically and thematically it is a great step forward. Zac uses his own past to assemble songs that are so universally relatable this album will probably be translated in more languages than Beowulf. The album comes out on Tuesday May 21st, and will be available on Bandcamp. You can also find all of The All-About’s previous releases there, and you should download all of them.
When Holdfast disbanded about 18 months ago, I feared the worst. They weren’t the greatest band in the world, but they were good and getting better. Now two separate bands, Lamp and Terriers, I think everyone can agree that we are all better off for the split. Danny Cohen and Easton Gruber started the latter, joined by Connor Boyle (a solo artist as well), Nora Leahy, and Brandon Hunt.
Music has been trickling out from Terriers for a while now. They put out a really good single called “Black Hole” in September and “Waste Time” has been available more than a year now. Though both are strong entries in their catalogue, neither is really a precursor for the new album. Working with producer Dan Duszynski (Gold Motel, Any Kind), Terriers have created an album which is impossible to peg down in one genre and exceeds expectations.
The band deftly mixes Pablo Honey-era Radiohead and John Vanderslice on the opener, “I Don’t Care If The Sun Is Shining.” Noticeable immediately is Cohen’s improved vocals. A good voice in Holdfast and on the earlier singles, he’s come into his own as a singer and only gets better with multiple listens.
“New York,” the lead single off the album, is the most mainstream-radio type song on UAS. It doesn’t have some of the elements that I really like on other songs from the record, but it does appeal to a wide range of listeners. Plus it doesn’t hurt that it’s a really well-written song. I love the line “New York, I was once humbled by your greatness but now enlightened by the lateness in your answers. Baby, I have rid you for the better. For Chicago or whoever I may find.”
Getting as far away from that adult contemporary feel as quickly as possible, the next three songs swing from Elvis Costello folk to Earth Wind & Fire funk. “You Belong To Me” comes as a very pleasant surprise. I definitely didn’t expect such a dance-y, fun track to follow up the ballad “Fall In Love,” but they fit together seamlessly. All players do an amazing job of jukin and jivin through this number, especially Boyle on the drums.
The talent stays front and center on the Todd Rundgren-like “You Belong To Me.” As if demanding to not be forgotten, Nora Leahy takes the spotlight on “Like I Always Do.” She delivers a beautiful vocal on the country-tinged ballad that increases the vulnerability already displayed in Cohen’s trill.
“Probability Theory” closes the record and contains what is probably my favorite lyric: “I wouldn’t call myself charming, I’ve got a lot left to learn. But I’m not the worst on this farm team, and I still get spurned.” It’s a well-constructed tune, but the genius comes right at the end. Like Abbey Road‘s “The love you take is equal to the love you make,” you’ll always remember these final words on Mutual Admiration Society, “I guess I’ll count myself lucky for what little I do comprehend. Keep my chin up and stay plucky, cause I don’t want it to end.”
I think after you hear the album for yourself, you’ll have a similar feeling. But, you’ll have to wait until next Tuesday to do that. Terriers will be playing a record release show next Wednesday, May 22nd, at Schubas in Chicago. They’ll also be coming by Handwritten Recording studio to record a Hasty Revelations session with us, and we couldn’t be more excited.
On May 20th The National will release Trouble Will Find Me, their sixth studio album in twelve years. I’ve heard it, and I find it disappointing. Much like High Violet, they’re moving further from the band I loved on their early albums. It started with Boxer, when they became the critics darling we know them to be today. They still write good songs, but I feel like they’re just repeating themselves now.
So instead of reviewing the new record, which I know everyone is going to pick up regardless of what I say, I figured I’d use today to remind myself how great The National can be. Here is my top ten songs from their career so far.
10. The Perfect Song
9. Secret Meeting
6. Start A War
5. Anna Freud
4. Lucky You
3. Fake Empire
2. Mr. November (Ed. note: This is a video Kari shot when we saw them at First Ave in 2009. The audio isn’t perfect, but the end is worth it)
1. Slipping Husband
As always, feel free to add your own lists or tear mine to shreds in the comments section below.