Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Lower Dens--Twin-Hand Movement

Our review of Twin-Hand Movement, the debut album from Jana Hunter's new band, Lower Dens. Read below or at Prefix.

An artist like Jana Hunter can be at an immense disadvantage. Upon Devendra Banhart “discovering” her in 2005, the Baltimore-by-way-of-Houston musician was lumped into the ultra-hyped freak-folk movement. She released two albums of spare, offbeat folk tunes, and then the freak-folk bubble burst. Acoustic folk musicians all too often paint themselves into corners, releasing album after album of the same gently strummed background music. But Hunter is well aware of this. With the absence of any associated scene, she’s traded in her acoustic for an electric guitar, leading a full band called Lower Dens in an exploration of ragged psychedelic rock.

Projects like these are a great way for an artist to regroup and refresh, and there’s little doubt Hunter could have felt saddled by that earlier genre tag. Here she doesn’t so much let loose as expand on her folk tendencies. Like much of Hunter’s stripped-down discography, Lower Dens’ songs are patient, slowly morphing with the aid of careful guitar squall. Most of the record can trace its roots to the kinds of droning interstitials she included on 2007’s There’s No Home, but here they’re fleshed out with a solid backing band. First single “I Get Nervous” starts tenuously before giving way to a firm backbeat and Hunter’s raspy voice, displaying a cinematic sense of unease that repeatedly pops up. The record is bookended by “Blue & Silver” and “Two Cocks,” two songs that get by with a Krautrock-like intensity. There’s little in the way of comfort, as Hunter’s voice and guitar, both bathed in reverb, trade in claustrophobia rather than expansiveness.

While Hunter’s wall-of-sound guitars are certainly hard to miss, what gives the album edge is the muscular rhythm section. The unfortunately named “A Dog’s Dick” uses a guitar melody that’s so simple it allows for a snaking bass line and minimal drums to carry the song forward to the cathartic conclusion. “Holy Water” immediately follows, offering a nice instrumental cleanser of distorted bass and a propulsive rhythm for the careening guitars. Elsewhere Lower Dens rely too much on the mood-over-melody technique. “Plastic & Powder” wears out its welcome long before it reaches its final six and a half minutes, despite another memorable drumbeat. Likewise, “Tea Lights” kills all the momentum of the album opener. A dark bass line is the only real highlight, as Hunter’s tired melody replays endlessly.

But these missteps are few and far between and obvious aberrations compared with the sublime brilliance of “Hospice Gates,” a late-record standout and Hunter’s best song in her still-young career. “Gates” rides yet another stellar rhythm to great effect, using the dark groove to dissipate the sleepiness of the album’s later minutes. Guitar feedback is corralled to offer color to Hunter’s weary bellow, but she strays from the comfort of her lower register into some truly stunning high notes that perfectly match the song’s rising tension. The song is perfectly timed and executed, and it gives hope for even better things to come.

Hunter is wholly comfortable as the frontwoman for a rock band, but you’d never guess that given her past. She’s been pigeonholed as a strictly folk talent; thankfully she’s decided to defy this categorization. Twin-Hand Movement is the sound of an artist breaking free, putting her formerly good skills to great use.

Lower Dens--Truss Me
Lower Dens--Hospice Gates

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Episode 20

This week's podcast was informed by the westernmost reaches of our state, where weeks of rain have turned the desert into a blooming oasis. Mountain Man gets us on the road, and their debut drops on Tuesday, a week that sees a number of great releases and a highly-anticipated local show from Phosphorescent (Thursday at ND). The stuttering rockabilly of Hasil Adkins two-steps with the sunny remembrances of the Kinks and there's a double shot of Department of Eagles waiting on the other side (both pulled from their recent Archive 2003-2006, which we reviewed here). Charles Mingus offers up some epic free jazz noir before the melancholic psych-folk of Amen Dunes (new EP out July 27) closes up the trip. Dig it below:


Mountain Man--How I'm Doin'
Phosphorescent--Nothing Was Delivered (Love Me Foolishly)
Hasil Adkins--Chicken Walk
The Kinks--Picture Book
Dungen--Marken Låg Stilla
Buffalo Springfield--Rock And Roll Woman
Department of Eagles--Practice Room Sketch 2
Yma Sumac--Ataypura (High Andes)
Charles Mingus--Track A-Solo Dancer: Stop! Look! And Listen, Sinner Jim Whitney!
Department of Eagles--Golden Apple
Amen Dunes--Murder Dull Mind

Total time: 35:26


Waterloo Sunset Podcast #20

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Department of Eagles--Archive 2003-2006

Our review of Archive 2003-2006, the new odds-and-ends collection from WS favorites Department of Eagles. Read below or at Prefix.

Department of Eagles’ two principals -- Daniel Rossen (also of Grizzly Bear) and Fred Nicolaus -- met in the early part of last decade while attending NYU. They traded demos and decided to record together, resulting in a handful of 7-inch singles and a debut album that sounded exactly like what it was: a couple of college students with too much time, too many inside jokes, some pirated recording software, and a love of every genre under the sun. Yet in 2008, the duo released In Ear Park, one of the year’s best records and a nice appetizer for Grizzly Bear’s breakout 2009. How did Department of Eagles go from dorm-room jokesters to chamber-pop maestros seemingly overnight? This odds-and-ends collection seeks to connect the dots, rounding up early sound collages by Daniel Rossen as well as the duo’s first attempts at serious songwriting.

Archive 2003-2006
serves as a neat window into the past, right at the moment that Rossen’s compositional quirks began to form. His songs for both of his bands have always had a slight jazz angle to them, and the five piano “sketches” included on this album sound like warped, slow-motion Tin Pan Alley instrumentals. The sketches are studies in layering and building sound collages, with walls of vocal harmonies complementing the unfolding piano chords. “Sketch 1” is of particular interest to Grizzly Bear fans, as the cascading notes would go on to form the basis for “Easier,” the lead-off track from Yellow House. These experiments are quick and simple, but the melodies are still superb, if somewhat undercooked.

On the fully written songs, Department of Eagles are a bit hit and miss. “Deadly Disclosure” and “Grand Army Plaza” meander, packed with interesting sounds but not enough hooks, and it’s obvious that these two songs were probably earlier in the band’s chronology. Rossen’s idiosyncratic style is apparent on “While We’re Young,” a shuffling choral exploration that’s both ghostly and deceptively catchy. Rossen’s quavering voice lends itself well to the classic-sounding melody of “Golden Apple,” the band’s first dip into the type of experimental orchestration that it would perfect on In Ear Park. Yet the “a ha” moment arrives with “Brightest Minds.” It’s a propulsive and dark folk tune full of the kinds of twists and turns that Rossen excels at, constantly leaving the listener guessing as to where the song will end up next. The duo’s array of talents is wrapped up in the “Minds,” the stellar missing link in a somewhat beguiling but fascinating discography.

Music critics love to analyze the connection between Points A and C in an artist’s career; analysis puts the music into an easy-to-understand perspective. Archive acts as this brief glimpse into the evolution of a celebrated songwriter and a band, yet with the quality and the high level of music geekery required, it’s obvious that this one’s intended for the superfans.

Department of Eagles--Brightest Minds
Department of Eagles--Practice Room Sketch 3

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Dungen

One of my favorite concerts in recent memory was Dungen (with Woods opening) last summer. And thankfully, the Swedish psych-jazz outfit is set to release a new album on September 14 called Skit I Allt, which roughly translates to "Fuck All." Plus, they're swinging back through the ATX on September 18, revisiting the Mohawk. Download the first single below, the piano ballad "Marken Låg Stilla," which closes the new record.

Dungen--Marken Låg Stilla

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Episode 19: Fireworks And Hot Dogs

[via cosmic dust]

What could be better than a good showing from the U.S. soccer team for July 4th? A Waterloo Sunset podcast, of course. And Episode 19 is sure to please at barbecues and pool parties. After a little soulful patriotism from Ray Charles, we get down to the real cause for celebration: Beer, beer, and more beer, and The Sandals certainly agree. New music from Richard Swift and notes from the American underbelly courtesy of Michael Yonkers paves the way for Lower Dens, the new Jana Hunter project that pries the acoustic guitar from her able hands and allows her to indulge in some red, white, and blue psychedelia. The '70s should-have-been folk sensation (and Cherokee descendant) Karen Dalton lays down some world-weary wisdom before giving ground to Warren Zevon and his slice of dark (but cheery) Americana. Light the fuse below.

Ray Charles--"America The Beautiful"
The Sandals--"6-Pak"
Richard Swift--"Drakula (Hey Man!)
The Cotton Jones Basket Ride--"Chewing Gum"
Michael Yonkers Band--"Sold America"
Lower Dens--"Hospice Gates"
Jana Hunter--"Palms"
Karen Dalton--"Something On Your Mind"
Wilco--"In A Future Age"
Warren Zevon--"Carmelita (1974 Demo)"

Total time: 31:08

Waterloo Sunset Podcast, July 4th Edition