Saturday, July 24, 2010

Feathe Concert Review

“At what time do you know you’re supposed to go to the dentist?”

“Tooth-hurty,” I say. There’s an awkward silence; I’ve managed to wreck the joke. Alyssa Rieper is still fiddling with tuning her guitar, so Adelyn Strei and Jana Swanson try again.

“Okay, at what time is someone else supposed to go to the dentist?”

“Tooth-hurty Too!” someone shouts back. There are about eight of us in this Milwaukee coffee house I’d never heard of called Brewing Grounds, and we’re all here to see this great little female folk trio Feathe. Did I mention there’s an accordion? That should have gotten your attention.

Right. They’re ready for the rest of the set. And what a set it turns out to be. The three-part singing harmonies and the beautiful guitar/accordion/snare drum arrangements these girls have created and share with this small handful of people should not be missed by anyone. Hailing from the small-but-beautiful town of Eau Claire, Wisconsin (hometown of Justin Vernon, of Bon Iver fame), these three bring to the table more talent than expected of your typical college folk group.

With the release of their second EP Flora, the band set off for a (possible) farewell tour across the country with nothing but a compact car, their instruments, and a boatload of ambition. But hey, you’d have a boatload of ambition too if two of your best friends wanted to take a road trip across the country with you.

The three put on a great show, to say the least. There was no stage or gear preventing the audience from sitting about 5 feet away as the band played on until the sun set in the background. Add in some clever banter between tuning breaks, and you’ve got yourself one of the most one-on-one (three-on-eight?) concert experiences ever. Though I suppose having the band escort the entire audience to the nearest McDonald’s for post-show snacks certainly helped add to the personal experience as well.

So if you find yourself in a coffee shop hosting a trio of girls, and the name of this trio happens to be Feathe, then buy another drink and sit yourself down because you’re in for a treat. Otherwise you’ll just have to settle with downloading their music (and for free I might add) over at their official website here.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Cloud Cult's Latest Album Light Chasers Disappoints

Cloud Cult is an amazing band. It’s as simple as that. So you can imagine my excitement when I found out recently that not only were they releasing a new album this year, but that they were letting fans download it before its intended release. Unfortunately, as far as typical Cloud Cult albums go, Light Chasers is far from astonishing.

This six-piece (not including the on-stage painters) group from Minnesota has managed to capture the attention of its fans through the use of experimental electronics, foot-tapping drum beats, melodic strings, and some of the most inspired lyrics ever to grace a compact disc. This being their seventh official studio release, it’s no wonder all of these key features of the band seem to finally be at a "fizzling point"; the originality of the group is now beginning to wear thin. Eventually a band this talented simply cannot continue to create such memorable masterpieces like that of Advice from the Happy Hippopotamus or The Meaning of 8, yet some (myself included) began to worry they were beginning to lose it after their last release Feel Good Ghosts. While Ghosts certainly is a fine album, it marked the beginning of the lack of depth seen previously, and now we find ourselves at the release of their latest and most disappointing album in Light Chasers, which is a shame as their Running With the Wolves EP released not too long ago showed a lot of promise for their continuing future.

While Cloud Cult has managed to walk a fine line concerning whether or not their albums are actually “concept albums,” they’ve finally chosen to cross over and declare this an actual concept album telling a story through space and light in songs with multiple parts. Rather than having subtle references to childlike innocence through the use of standalone stories, Craig Minowa seems to be inadvertently declaring he has run out of ideas as he sings and strums through each bland song in an almost monotone fashion. All of the songs blend together in a typical concept album style, yet this seems to be where the album falters the most. All the songs literally blend together. There are no individual lyrics that make your mind shiver like it would while reading a Kurt Vonnegut novel. There are no memorable drumbeats or guitar riffs that stick with you until the next morning. It all just seems so…bland. I kept waiting for something to happen, and all of a sudden I realized I had listened to the album straight through multiple times in a row.

That’s not to say it’s a terrible album. Even though all of the components that typically comprise a Cloud Cult album are lackluster in this outing, they’re still there. While the record may fault on not having anything extremely memorable, the songs still seem to be well-crafted, specifically in the opening and closing tracks “Unexplainable Stories” and “There’s So Much Energy In Us” as well as “Running With the Wolves” smack dab in the center. I only hope we see something a little less forgettable in Minowa and the gang’s next adventure.

Aloha Proves Once Again They Can Do No Wrong (Review of Home Acres)

Why more people aren’t worshiping the members of Aloha as our true musical lords and saviors is beyond me, but I suppose I can understand why they’re not for everyone. Nobody’s perfect, right? Well, nobody outside of Aloha, that is.

This is the mindset I was going in with for Aloha’s latest release in years, Home Acres. Granted, this is probably not the best mindset to go into for any kind of media unless you’re gearing for disappointment. So after years of waiting (and demanding an early copy from Polyvinyl Records that never came), this Holy Grail of the Gods of Modern Music arrived at my doorstep (if I had a doorstep). And it was…good. It wasn’t great, but it certainly was good. While I can’t hold it in the light of earlier releases such as Sugar or Here Comes Everyone, Home Acres still proves Aloha know what they’re doing and simply do not know how to make a bad record or even a bad song.

The album goes in a “heavier" direction than usual with louder, lower-pitched guitars and more driving bass lines and drums, as its original intended purpose was to be a companion to the band’s previous softer release Light Works. In this sense, the album works. It reaches for new fans with instantly catchy and memorable upbeat riffs and hooks on tracks like “Searchlight” and “Blackout” while still retaining Tony Cavallario’s signature thought-provoking dark lyrics.

As for the rest of the band, they’re as amazing as ever, with Matthew Gengler bringing back memories of John Entwistle whose bass is just as bright as any of the other instruments as long as you’re looking for it. Cale Parks is still the Cale Parks we’ve all come to know and love, an unstoppable tour de force whose drumming skills can hardly be topped in today’s music scene. Peoples’ ears should truly be drawn to the budding genius that is T.J. Lipple, though, as he invents even more new instruments and equipment such as a distortion device for the vibraphone heard throughout the album’s second single “Waterwheel.”

There is a definite welcome familiarity to the album as well. Influences ranging from Sonic Youth to the lesser known 80s group Felt dip bits of their sound and influence into tracks. Nothing ever feels like a rip-off or anything like that, mind you. Rather than feeling slightly peeved at the prospect of the band trying too hard to sound like someone else, these tracks felt more like a nod-of-the-hat to earlier influences, with the solo at the end of “I’m in Trouble” instantly coming to mind as a way of Cavallario channeling and thanking Lawrence Hayward for his ingenuity.

So was the album worth all the wait and rising tension in anticipation of its release? After another few months of listening, I can safely give a resounding “yes.” While it didn’t blow me away like I was expecting at first, its catchiness has safely found a spot sitting equally beside the rest of Aloha’s catalog. From the opening repetition of “Building a Fire” to the closing anthem of “Ruins,” Home Acres is a well-constructed album from start to finish deserving of praise that has a fair shot at being the best album 2010 has to offer.

P.S. - You can check out my interview with drummer Cale Parks over here.