Indie pop/rock act would benefit from a few more hooks.
Esoteric _ Boston Pharoah
Sara Evans _ Stronger
Riley Etheridge, Jr _ Powder Keg
**Ellie Goulding _ Lights
Quality straightforward pop from the UK. Artist to watch at SXSW.
Grails _ Deep Politics
Spacey but intricate instrumentals.
Jonny Greenwood _ Norwegian Wood (Soundtrack)
Greenwood scores a Japanese flick as only a Radiohead member could.
Avril Lavigne _ Goodbye Lullaby
The genius behind "Sk8er Boi" still writes like she's in high school.
**Lupe Fiasco _ Lasers
Finally an art-rap record that might be appreciated by hip-hop fans and mainstream music.
Alexi Murdoch _ Towards The Sun
Warm voiced singer/songrwriter has some magic. See "Some Day Soon."
Parts & Labor _ Constant Future
Disappointing follow up to 2008's Receivers.
Raekwon _ Shaolin vs Wu-Tang
Rap's best storyteller claims his well-earned spot in the mainstream
**Reks _ R.E..K.S
Top-notch underground MA rapper gets help from some of the best producers in the biz (Hi-Tek, Premier, Pete Rock).
REM _ Collapse Into Now
Rival Schools _ Pedals
Post-hardcore act return with their first album in 10 years.
Turisas _ Stand Up and Fight
Theatrical Russian metal.
Kurt Vile _ Smoke Ring For My Halo
"Constant hitmaker" has potential but is inconsistent on new disc. See "Baby's Arms," "In My Time."
WC _ Revenge of the Barracuda
Familiar West Coast rappers over XXL beats.
Wye Oak _ Civilian
Wye Oak _ Civilian (3.5/5.0)
With their first two records, If Children and The Knot Baltimore duo Wye Oak operated largely under the radar. They joined the latest generation of indie rock DIYers briefly with self-released If Children in 2007, until catching the attention of Merge records a year later. The Knot (2009) was dark, gorgeous, and moody all at once, and cemented the band as one to watch in the future. Two years later the band returns with Civilian, retaining their dark hazy atmosphere while enlarging their sound to reach a wider audience than ever before.
A trebly guitar welcomes the listener over a restrained snare, before expanding into an expansive chorus followed by shimmering harmonics. The second track "The Alter" finds the band in unfamiliar territory with the attention removed from the guitar and shifted to a bouncy keyboard part and huge rhythm section. This could almost be a Black Keys song, but the noisy build of the chorus reminds you who you were listening to if you had any doubts. "Holy Holy" is one of the best tracks on the album; a simple guitar progression chugs along before the tension is released with a sparse chorus before a massive wall of guitars comes crashing down all over again.
The tracks are arranged in away that maximizes contrast and commands the audience's attention; the heavy darkness of "Holy Holy" is followed with the quirky stuttering guitars of "Dogs Eyes," and the uneasy build of the title track, which provide a welcome respite from the onslaught. Just when things may have been getting sleepy synths pick up in the chorus of "Fish" offering yet another variation on the bands penchant for large, dark choruses.
"Plains" is a change of direction and one of the prettiest tracks the record has to offer; simply strummed guitar chords plod while delayed noises swell and explode into their trademark heaviness. The staggered pounding of "Hot As Day" is reminiscent of a National song, the restrained "We Were Wealth" acts as the beginning of the ending, and "Doubt" closes the record in singer/songwriter mode. The overall result here is an artful, cohesive record full of depth and emotion, warranting repeat listens and keeping Wye Oak on our short list of bands to watch.
Highlights: "Holy Holy," "Plains," "Civilian"