Dungen – 4

If understanding Swedish were as easy as eating Swedish fish, I’m sure more people would know about indie folk rock group Dungen. However, while I didn’t even dare to translate their latest album, 4, it is clear from the instrumental arrangement and the sound of Gustav Ejstes voice that this band is just as sweet as the candy.

The language barrier isn’t too much of a problem as many of the songs are mostly instrumental like the flute-driven “Marleras Finest” and “Fredag.”

The instrumentation on this album makes use of strings, flutes, xylophones, piano and horns. The arrangement reminds me a lot of songs you’d expect to hear in the classic television program “Charlie’s Angels.”

My main criticism of this album is that for a record filled with such flowy songs, the transition between many of them is very abrupt like that from “Det Tar Tid” into the rockier “Samtidigt 1.” I don’t think it would have been too hard for the band to improve this movement. Also, perhaps it is the language barrier, but I found it difficult to pick up on the connection between “Samtidigt 1” and “Samtidigt 2.”

Broaden your knowledge of European artists and dare to listen to songs in another language. 4 is available now.

01. Satt Att Se
02. Marleras Finest
03. Det Tar Tid
04. Samtidigt 1
05. Ingenting Ar Sig Likt
06. Fredag
07. Finns Det Nagon Majilighet
08. Mina Damer Och Fasaner
09. Samtidigt 2
10. Bandhagen

Dungen: website | myspace

Written by: Bethany

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Katy Mae – You May Already Be A Winner

“May” is the keyword and You May Already Be A Winner is not a winner of a release by country-rockers Katy Mae. There’s potential with this group that wants to bridge the gap between straight up rock and roll and country, but on their EP, this effort comes off as a little contrived. There are some positive messages in the lyrics about picking oneself up and knowing you’re not alone if you have a shitty day, but the delivery of these messages is presented in a way that is downright formulaic.

Philip Doucet does have some nice vocal moments. I really like when the vocal duty finally receives some variation on “Let Me Bring You Down.” This song brings me back to the 90s. However, these good vocals are often buried in the more noticeable, poor ones like when Doucet holds out “night” on “Dust of My Friends.”

Sometimes my dislike for the broken vocal pitches typical of country music tainted my view of some of the songs, but, setting that aside, “Two Dollars Late” is a rock song with a huge build-up. Instrumental build-up is something the band is quite skilled at and they do this again on many of the other songs. I also really like the variances in title track, “You May Already Be A Winner.”

You May Already Be A Winner is available now.

01. Two Dollars Late
02. Falls Down
03. Dust of My Friends
04. You May Already Be A Winner
05. Let Me Bring You Down

Katy Mae: website | myspace

Written by: Bethany

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The (International) Noise Conspiracy – The Cross of My Calling

With 2008 being a big election year in the United States, punk rockers The (International) Noise Conspiracy, never ones to miss out on political fun, are releasing their latest album The Cross of My Calling this November.

Although from Sweden, these boys have plenty to say about American life and politics. If the title didn’t give it away, “Washington Bullets” is one such song. However, many other songs have the American focus, too. On “Storm the Gates of Beverly Hills,” singer Dennis Lyxzén repeats, “All this shit is making us ill,” to drive his point home.

The aspect that most impresses me about this album, is the band’s ability to mix religious and political imagery-there’s no separation of Church and State here. The title itself, The Cross of My Calling, bares the religious implications and leading up to the “Interlude,” the band talks about following God before the second half of the album shows them giving into Satan and society’s materialistic tendencies.

“Child of God” works with “Interlude” to transition into the second half of the album. The succumbing to Satan is quite clear after a long instrumental break and the vocals returning saying he’ll be the “sinner,” “snake” and “seducer.” This song is followed by the angrier second half of the album which references the devil more.

If you’re a fan of punk rock in the vein of Bad Religion be sure to grab yourself a copy of The (International) Noise Conspiracy’s The Cross of My Calling out November 25 on Vagrant Records.

01. Intro
02. Assassination of Myself
03. Dustbins of History
04. Arm Yourself
05. Hiroshima Mon Amor
06. Boredom of Safety
07. Child of God
08. Interlude
09. I Am the Dynamite
10. Washington Bullets
11. Satan Made the Deal
12. Storm the Gates of Beverly Hills
13. Black September
14. Cross of My Calling

The (International) Noise Conspiracy: website | myspace

Written by: Bethany

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Final Fantasy – Plays to Please

The very talented violin-wielding Owen Pallett has yet another EP that he is releasing before his third full-length as Final Fantasy drops. Following sharp on the heels of Spectrum, is Plays to Please a theatrical EP that plays more like the the soundtrack to a musical than an indie rock album.

The jazzy “Horsetail Feathers” starts the EP off with a jazzy mix of flute, piano and saxophone. The tremolo of the violin creates just the right amount of tension to keep listener’s hooked. “Ultimatum” follows with huge percussion and syncopated accents. The only thing more weighty than the sounds of the tuba are Pallett’s presentation of the lyrics: “Ddddamn, you prostrate in fear,” he stutters after he says that you can only “win the race with a six string bass.”

The solemn “Moodring Band” is next and then “I Saved a Junky Once.” These are fine tracks, but in comparison to the others it is a low point in the album. Things get picked up again as well as plucked up on “Nun or a Bawd,” a jazzy number sprinkled with pizzicato. “Crush-Love-Crush” rounds out the EP. It’s lush with cello, piano and flute. If the instrument combination doesn’t have you in love with this song, then I’m sure Pallett’s amazingly passionate vocals will. “Crush, love, crush, crush, love,” Pallett sings faster and faster until he runs out of breath and his voice breaks.

If Final Fantasy isn’t a part of your music collection, Plays to Please is a very good place to start. Plus, with support from fellow violinist Andrew Bird, you’d be silly to skip this one over.

01. Horsetail Feathers
02. Ultimatum
03. Moodring Band
04. I Saved a Junky Once
05. Nun or a Bawd
06. Crush-Love-Crush

Final Fantasy: website | myspace

Written by: Bethany

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The Safes – Sight of All Light

The Chicago-based O’Malley brothers are shining bright on their edgy punk rock EP Sight of All Light.

Title track “Sight of All Light” is a good introduction to the band as the guys quickly rock and sing, “I want to say thank you for shining bright when I lost sight of all light.” The screaming “aahs” in “The Sky Is Falling” were a nice touch and beeps and glissandos set just the right mood for a track called “Unlock the Mystery.”

However, for as bright as parts of this EP happen to be, the downfall of having things in the light is that inevitably, something ends up in shadow. The lack of variation in “Troublemaker” makes this song a bit dull and as rocking as the guitars are on “Greed,” the vocals end up clashing.

Judge for yourself and check out Sight of All Light.

01. Sight of All Light
02. Troublemaker
03. The Sky Is Falling
04. Greed
05. Unlock the Mystery

The Safes: website | myspace

Written by: Bethany

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Ingrid Michaelson – Be OK

We all know and love her as the irresistible voice behind last year’s Old Navy Sweater Campaign and if you were unaware, all of Ingrid Michaelson‘s songs are just as catchy and just as good as the ubiquitous “The Way I Am.” Michaelson is back with a new album, Be OK, featuring a collection of unreleased material, demos and live recordings. It’s a welcome release for anybody who caught her on tour and has been dying to have all those tracks in one spot.

Single “Be OK” is a bright, cheery ukulele tune made specifically for the Stand Up to Cancer organization. The studio version opens up the album and an acoustic version closes it out. Kind of a cool effect, but I must admit, that for a singer like Michaelson who already has mostly acoustic material, the acoustic rendition really isn’t that different from the original. It is almost silly to even have it because when you take out the bells, stomps and whistles, it has nothing on the original.

Now this is not the case on her cover songs. Michaelson’s versions of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love” offer a new emotional depth that her voice just seems to naturally lend to whatever it is that she is singing. She caresses every word in such a way that you’ll find yourself getting lost in her every syllable.

If the covers aren’t enough of a testimony to her skill, the live recordings are sure to have listeners floored by her talent. Although there’s some crackling from a lessened production value, “The Chain” and “The Way I Am” sound just as good as any of her studio recordings. “The Chain” is one of Michaelson’s strongest songs. I love how simple the instrumental parts are on these songs, so that it is the voice that carries a majority of the melodic patterns. “The Chain” weaves a hypnotizing thread as Michaelson and her backing vocalists, one of which is her touring friend Allie Moss, sing a round that eventually merges into a unified a capella chorus.

This album is also great because it reflects Michaelson’s quirky sense of humor, which I feel was lost in some of the songs of her previous releases. But it is hard to hide an album like this, where you have trumpet impersonations on songs like “Lady in Spain,” or funny lyrics saying, “Let’s get rich and give everybody nice sweaters” and “Maybe I want to do what bunnies do with you, if you know what I mean” on “You and I.” Does anybody else notice how much Michaelson likes to give out sweaters?

Now, while she lets her humor shine through, she still has plenty of introspective and emotional personal songs like “Giving Up” and “Keep Breathing.” Both songs so naturally capture such true emotions: “I want to change the world, instead I sleep.” I think everybody has felt that loss of motivation. “Keep Breathing” is my favorite song that I have ever heard from Michaelson. It is pure genius when the drums, cello and the repeating of “All we can do is keep breathing” builds up until she has to break the cycle and take a deep breath before whispering, “now.” Excellent composition.

Ingrid Michaelson’s Be OK will be released on October 14th. I strongly suggest you buy this album because not only will you get quality music, but you’ll be supporting a great cause as a portion of the proceeds go to support the organization of Stand Up to Cancer.

01. Be OK
02. Giving Up
03. Over the Rainbow
04. The Chain (Live From Webster Hall)
05. Lady in Spain
06. Keep Breathing
07. Oh What a Day
08. The Way I Am (Live at WERS)
09. Can’t Help Falling In Love (Live at Daytrotter)
10. You And I
11. Be OK (acoustic)

Ingrid Michaelson: website | myspace | interview

Written by: Bethany

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The Decemberists – Always the Bridesmaid: A Single Series, Vol. I-III

The saying goes, “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride,” but marital bliss is not nearly as tempting as new material from The Decemberists, thus I’m content with Always the Bridesmaid. Leaving cheesy leads behind and in all seriousness, Always the Bridesmaid is a series of singles by the Portland artists to help lead up to their 2009 full-length album release entitled Hazards of Love. All these titles sound so optimistic, don’t they?

Vol. I is out October 14th. On one side you have “Valerie Plame,” a bombastic song weighed down by big instruments like trombone and the disparaging lyrics as we learn more about the title lady of many names. On the flip side is the catchy, but sad, “O New England.” In this song, Colin Meloy sings of traveling to New England in rekindle a love flame, “This here is the fable of a failed attempt to find new life in a love in the seat of its origin.” However, when he gets there, he gets scared and realizes it just isn’t going to happen, so he sings, “O New England, in the face of your empire, I think I’d rather just wait in the car.” I wasn’t a big fan of the harmonies on this one, but I loved the lyrics.

The piano-driven Vol. II drops on November 4th. I feel it is the least interesting of the volumes. “Days of Elaine” is a sunny sounding piano number juxtaposed with reflective and solemn lyrics about failed attempts to fix things. “Sticking With You” is a rather vaudevillian number with its staccato chords. It is just so abrupt, it comes off as a amateurish for this band.

The third and final volume, Vol. III, will be released December 2nd. Of the three volumes, this folkier collection is my favorite. The “empire” referred to in the first volume is again referred to in “Record Year” when Meloy sings, “Because I’m watching it slip away and in the annals of the empire did it look this grey before the fall?” A gut-wrenching cello rounds this number out. More lonely and sad lyrics follow in “Raincoat Song,” where Meloy sings, “And the raincoat that you wore when it rained today, I think it only made it rain more.”

Although some or the volumes are more accessible for listeners’ enjoyment, I would recommend checking out the whole series because you can never have too much of the Decemberists in your music collection.

Vol. I:
01. Valerie Plame
02. O New England
Vol. II:
01. Days of Elaine
02. Sticking With You
Vol. III:
01. Record Year
02. Raincoat Song

The Decemberists: website | myspace

Written by: Bethany

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