Artist Spotlight: A. A. Bondy

The transition from post-grunge rocker to indie-folk troubadour might seem like a bizarre shift, but Auguste Arthur Bondy has pulled it better than you’d think. It’s difficult to say whether fans of his previous outfit, Verbena, were eager to jump on the bandwagon, but those who did found themselves with one of the 2000’s most underrated folk albums – the stunning American Hearts.

Tracks like “Black Rain, Black Rain” sport an aching beauty vividly personal to Bondy, but it’s distinctly intrinsic to the listener, too. It’s an ode to sadness that pierces both author and audience. Digging in deep, Bondy goes for the emotional kill more often than not. That’s never changed from album to album, though his stylistic tendencies have.

2011’s Believers may have ditched acoustic guitars for electrics, but Bondy stayed the same. His music, regardless of shade and style, is always poignant, always clever and deserves your attention. Whether it’s the brief, acoustic stomp of “Vice Rag” or the militaristic, dirge-like march of “The Heart is Willing,” A. A. Bondy is an artist to keep an eye on.

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Artist Spotlight: Dungen

Despite an appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and a performance at Bonaroo, Dungen can’t claim much of a profile. Swedish psychedelia has yet to break mainstream, but that hasn’t stopped the band from releasing a number of fantastic releases over its 16-year career. From  Ta Det Lungt‘s hazed-out indie psych to the pastoral, summery vibes of Skit I Allt, Dungen has maintained an enviable consistency. The band’s latest record, Allas Sak, keeps that tradition alive.

Tracks like the phenomenal “Franks Kaktus” showcase the band’s instrumental ingenuity with a solid percussive backbone anchoring airy flute passages. Beneath, Reine Fiske retains his ever-tasteful guitar tone and seals the deal for a truly gorgeous instrumental jam. Elsewhere, “Flickor Och Pojkar” ebbs and flows like a gentle stream, soothing the listener with its lapping melodic waves. It’s more than just a gorgeous track: it’s a perfect excuse to daze out of reality. Really, that just might be Dungen in a nutshell. Whether playing peaceful psychedelia or indie rock through a kaleidoscopic lens, the band remains uniformly excellent – as does Allas Sak

You can find more information about the band via its official website.

The Dear Hunter Maintains its Record of Excellence with “Act IV”

Fire engulfs a mounted ring, and the crowd roars with excitement. The ringleader cracks a whip, cutting through the air like a gunshot. His lion roars and primes itself; its tail sweeps gently to and fro as its eyes narrow. Then it happens. The beast leaps through the flames with triumphant swagger, spinning circles as it lands. Fireworks burst through the air, and men on unicycles ride across tightropes in the sky. Every member of the audience explodes with applause. This is the level of bombast Casey Crescenzo achieves with The Dear Hunter. Since 2006, Crescenzo has been crafting one of music’s most ambitious projects – a six-part story of loss, love and redemption told over the course of six albums. If that sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is. What’s also ridiculous is just how consistently good this project has been. Defying all the odds, Crescenzo’s magnum opus has gone swimmingly so far. Infectious hooks, orchestral excursions and progressive songwriting all coalesce into an unmistakable sound that’s garnered a cult status among underground music fans. Good news, then, because Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise keeps The Dear Hunter’s tradition of excellence alive and well.

Much of Act IV’s success comes from Crescenzo’s self-awareness; he seems to know himself as an artist inside and out at this point in his career. He knows he’s at his best when he goes for broke, and “The OId Haunt” is as good an example as any. Rollicking bass and tumultuous guitar leads snake beneath a solid percussive backbone before erupting into an explosive, roaring chorus. It’s a moment of exhilaration and triumph for Crescenzo, who’s fully bought into his own capacity as storyteller. Moments like these work to sell the narrative and drive it home. It’s obvious that the band has bought into this story, but standout performances like these will buy the audience in, too.  As good as that track is, I’d be remiss not to bring up “Waves,” one of the year’s finest songs. Here, Crescenzo plays to another side of The Dear Hunter’s persona: emotional resonance. Swelling strings, crashing drums and female vocal accompaniment come together into a wrecking ball of emotional force. When Crescenzo’s final lament of “but I can’t see the lighthouse” bursts through the speakers it’s a gut punch of Mayweather proportions – one that will stay with you long after the record’s stopped spinning. This isn’t the only track on Act IV to evoke a potent reaction; it just happens to be the most effective of the lot.

Despite these standouts, it’s hard to shake the thought that many listeners will grow fatigued before the album’s end. This isn’t an issue of quality, but of energy. Cresecenzo’s larger-than-life personality and sharp narrative focus may demand too much investment from casual listeners, but honestly, this album was never for them. You won’t unearth the record’s subtleties on your first listen, and you certainly won’t realize how deep its hooks have sunk until later still. Tracks like the narrative-heavy “Bitter Suite IV and V” and the nine minute “A Night on The Town” aren’t easy listening – you will expend energy to get these songs. This might sound like a hazard sign, but don’t let it deter you; the effort required here is worth it. Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise is a fantastic, ambitious record if you allow it time to spread its wings. This may not be the easiest rock album of the year, but it’s certainly earned its place as one of the most impressive.

8.7/10

Deerhunter Detail New Album

Atlanta-based indie rock outfit Deerhunter has detailed its upcoming studio album, Fading Frontier. The record is slated for an October 16 release via 4AD Records and will follow up 2013’s Monomania. You can view the album art and track list below:

fadingfrontier

  1. All The Same
  2. Living My Life
  3. Breaker
  4. Duplex Planet
  5. Take Care
  6. Leather And Wood
  7. Snakeskin
  8. As Astra
  9. Carrion

More information regarding the band and its upcoming album can be found here.

Artist Spotlight: Noah Gundersen

Noah Gundersen may not be a household name in the indie folk scene, but it sure should be. Last year’s phenomenal “Ledges” crawled its way up into many album of the year lists. It deserved every accolade, laying bare the heart of a man in ways so straight and honest it might sound like a deposition set to acoustic guitars. That may not sound endearing, but it is. Lines such as “you remind me of cigarettes, the way I hold you in my chest, the way you kiss me, with your filter breath, I keep thinking, I’m getting over this” are delivered with a poignancy that’s rare even in this diluted genre.

It’s not all somber strumming, though. Gundersen ups the tempo for tracks like “Ledges,” which carries a strong Allison Krauss vibes in its energetic, sweeping chorus and rustic instrumentation. Counterbalancing tracks like this with slow heartbreakers sets Gundersen up with a winning formula. Whether or not he’s set to repeat this remains to be seen, but whatever route he pursues will likely be an exciting one.

Noah Gundersen’s new album “Carry the Ghost” is now available for preorder at the artist’s official website. The album releases August 21 on Dualtone Records.

New Bon Iver Songs Debuted Live

Fan video captured two new Bon Iver songs played during the band’s performance at the Eaux Claires Music Festival earlier this week. Both songs can be listened to at Consequenceofsound. The performance marked the band’s first set of concert dates in three years, spurring rumor regarding the state of the band.

During an interview with David Campell of The Current in 2012, Justin Vernon said the following about the future of Bon Iver: “I have to turn it off and walk away from it because so much of how that music comes together is subconscious or discovering. There’s so much attention on the band, it can be distracting at times. I really feel the need to walk away from it while I still care about it.”

No official word has been issued regarding the release of a new album. Bon Iver’s last album, the self-titled Bon Iver, Bon Iver was released in 2011.

The Dear Hunter’s “Act IV” Detailed

The Dear Hunter has unveiled new details about its upcoming album, “Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise.” The album is currently slated for an August 21 release. “Night on the Town,” the first promotional single, debuts tomorrow. The album’s tracklisting can be viewed below:

1. Rebirth
2. Old Haunt
3. Waves
4. At The End Of The Earth
5. Remembered
6. Night On The Town
7. Is There Anybody Here?
8. Squeaky Wheel
9. Bitter Suite IV & V: The Congregation And The Sermon In The Silt
10. Bitter Suite VI: Abandon
11. King Of Swords
12. If All Goes Well
13. Line
14. Wait
15. Ouroboros

More information regarding The Dear Hunter’s new album can be found here.

Artist Spotlight: The Tallest Man on Earth

When the Tallest Man on Earth released “There’s No Leaving Now,” change was clearly in the air. Drums, bass, and a myriad of other stylistic advancements crept into Kristian Matsson’s signature acoustic-folk sound. Much as Bob Dylan struck out beyond his bare-bones aesthetic, so has Matsson — diving headfirst into full band territory on his new album, “Dark Bird is Home.”

Whereas Matsson seemed perfectly content to ride his acoustic guitar talent to the end of times, that content has all but fully evaporated. Keyboards, horns, and even synthesizers dominate alongside both electric and acoustic sounds. Matsson’s also taken a leap in songwriting, bringing a keenly adventurous attitude into the fold. The backing vocals of “Little Nowhere Towns,” for instance, stand out as one of his boldest and least expected turns to date. On album number four, The Tallest Man on Earth has never been so ambitious.

More information regarding the artist can be found at his official webiste, and the new album can be purchased here.

Artist Spotlight: Built to Spill

If someone had told me that Built to Spill would release one of their best albums in 2015, I would’ve laughed it off. Sure, the band has been competent lately, but none of their recent releases have come close to the heights of 1997’s “Perfect From Now On” or 1999’s “Keep It Like a Secret.” 2009’s “There is No Enemy” was a solid, but relatively uninteresting entry into the band’s canon — and still a better record than the two that preceded it. But, here we are in the last days of April with “Untethered Moon,” a stunning revival if there ever was one.

The band’s latest album finds them roaring back to life, louder and leaner. Album opener “All Our Songs” carries a distinct garage vibe as it rolls onwards, guitars set to blaze against the minimalist production. It’s a clear statement of intent: we’re back. Indeed they are. The album continues to churn out catchy tune after catchy tune before culminating in the final, exasperating rush of “When I’m Blind,” a fiery eight-minute jam that leads to one of the band’s most triumphant closings. It may not be album of the year in a year of monumental releases, but it’s surely earned a spot on any respectable list.

More information regarding Built to Spill can be found at their official website.

The Mountain Goats Faceplant in Spectacular Fashion on “Beat the Champ”

If we inventoried a list of things that don’t belong together, it’s likely that indie music and professional wrestling would sit in a comfortable position. John Darnielle and The Mountain Goats, however, seem to disagree. On the band’s 15th album “Beat the Champ,” Darnielle has tapped into his childhood love of large men grappling one another into submission (yes, typing that was weird). But, here we are, with one of the most peculiar indie albums of the year staring us in the eyes with a masked, sweat-drenched face. It’s inventive. It’s brave. Unfortunately, it’s just not particularly consistent. On their 15th album, The Mountain Goats seem more interested in riding the quirk of the album’s lyrics than penning compelling songs. “Beat the Champ,” oddly enough manages a knockout – but not how the band intended. Sporting an unfavorable ratio of misses to hits, the album goes all-in for a pile driver but winds up face planting the floor in spectacular fashion.

The Mountain Goats’ latest record suffers most from the wavering quality of its songwriting. Throughout 13 songs, “Beat the Champ” covers all the indie bases – starry-eyed balladry, up-tempo romps and mild-mannered acoustic dirges. It does these things competently, indifferently and stupidly – sometimes all at once. “Werewolf Gimmick” provides a much needed shot in the arm after a ponderous track, but even the rolling percussion and fiery acoustics can’t save the song from its uninspired sigh of a chorus. It’s the perfect example of buzzkill, captured in a mere two minutes and thirty-five seconds for your listening convenience.  “Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan” is one of the record’s worst offenders. It’s not at all unreasonable to think one of the longest cuts on the album should spare the courtesy to end on some semblance of a climax. It doesn’t. The song lurches forward with sporadic string runs that punctuate and contrast Darnielle’s nasal yelps. This irritating game of back and forth, admittedly, does get louder, but louder alone doesn’t make for an exciting finish; it makes for a lazy one.

Lyrically, the album treads through stories of muscle-bound braggadocio and untimely demise. Over the album’s 13 tracks, it eventually becomes apparent that this thematic unity, while impressive in how well it’s maintained, reeks of gimmickry. Take “Foreign Object,” for instance, which documents the pre-fight insults wrestlers hurl with reckless abandon. Lines such as “sink my teeth into your scalp, take an icepick bite, save nothing for the cameras, play the angles all night” work well enough as lowbrow black humor, but aren’t exactly highlights of stunning lyricism. Really, it’s a shame; on previous releases the Mountain Goats’ lyrics, while not profound, did manage to conjure some semblance of relatability. Listeners could feel what the band felt. Here, connection is taken to the shed out back and buried. Sure, it’s easy to tell that it’s all meant to be tongue in cheek, but that doesn’t make mediocrity any easier to swallow.

This is The Mountain Goats performing their shallowest songs in years behind a fresh coat of lyrical paint to mask the deficiencies. The joke’s on the band, though, because that fresh coat only works to sabotage the record even further. If this sounds exciting, then by all means, jump right in. I hope that Mountain Goats fans enjoy it. I really do. But when you wind up with your face plastered on the floor, it won’t be anyone’s fault but your own. It’s bad enough that the band’s down there. One embarrassment is enough.; we don’t need any fans down there with them.

4.2/10