lead me on, lead me on, through the darkness, through the dawn

Let’s be plain: The MoondoggiesTidelands is a damn-fine album. Hailing from the flannel-clad corner of the Pacific Northwest, The Moondoggies offer honest and hearty tunes that draw their energy from the land and the sea and the salt of the earth.

Grand vocal harmonies are often front and center on Tidelands, playing into the sense of the everyman projected by the album. The harmony gives way to a soulful groove on “What Took So Long”, and soars heavenward in the gorgeous bridge found about a minute into the title track.

“Empress of the North” reads like a refined campfire song, and singer Kevin Murphy’s strong, clear voice steers album closer “A Lot of People On My Mind”. Beautiful vocals aren’t all The Moondoggies have to offer, though; little touches like a slide guitar and railway drums transport you right to the moment, to a different place and time.

Tidelands dropped 10.11.10.
Click to download “It’s a Shame, It’s a Pity“.

replace my heart with a machine

Michael Benjamin Lerner’s project, Telekinesis, is hitting the road and bringing a new EP with them. At a little over ten minutes, the band (now comprising Lerner, Jason Narducy [Robert Pollard Band] and Cody Votolato [Blood Brothers]) fleshes out Telekinesis!‘s “Calling All Doctors”, offers up a couple new songs, and covers two more.

“Non-Toxic” has a nice 90s alt feel to it, and “Dirty Thing” is an instant like with its staccato, prancing piano and dreamy guitar. The covers on PSC stay fairly close to the originals. Lerner could have easily penned Guided By Voices’s “Game of Pricks“, and Telekinesis keeps all the punk of Warsaw’s (Joy Division before they were Joy Division) “The Drawback” while pushing the drums even closer to the explosive quality of machine-gun fire.

Parallel Seismic Conspiracies dropped 08.31.10.
Listen to the album at the Merge Records site.

i put my heart and soul into chapter one

San Francisco’s Ocean Beach boasts beautiful views of the Pacific, the infamous Seal Rocks, and the relics of the Camera Obscura and Sutro Baths. The area’s mix of timeless and dated, wilderness and precision also borne Sonny & The Sunsets and their blissed out ode the mid-century pop.

Sonny Smith, along with Kelley Stoltz, Tahlia Harbour, and Ryan Browne, crafts a chilled-out, lo-fi tribute to the sounds of the past, calling to mind everything from “Earth Angel” to The Byrds to Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros’ indie anthem “Home“.

Hand claps, finger snaps, acoustic guitars, and guy/girl vocals give Tomorrow Is Alright a homey feel, letting the listener settle into it at once have them playing along, as it were, a few songs in. Melodies as familiar as a 50s high school dance play out on “Planet of Women” and “Strange Love” – the former ripe with Harbour’s charming deadpan delivery and the latter a piece of perfection with its distorted lead, doowop-ready backup vocals, and cavernous piano.

In addition to Sonny & the Sunsets’ hip-swaying, head-bobbing melodies, the album also contains little lyrical snapshots that catch the mind’s eye, like “strange girl with lipstick smudged / asked me if I’ve ever loved” and “every tear rolling down is a lesson learned” – not particularly weird or striking, but having that certain something that stays with you long after the lights have faded.

Tomorrow Is Alright drops 08.31.10.
Click for the “Too Young to Burn” mp3.
Find out more about Sonny & The Sunsets here.

so young at love and life

On their debut EP, Young at Love and Life, San Francisco duo Dominant Legs encapsulates the sound of the city, mixing danceable synths and a folky earthiness to pleasing effect.

Ryan Lynch heads up lead vocals on the four-song set, while Hannah Hunt provides dreamy backing vocals that are as integral to the sound structure as the synthesizers and guitars. The self-titled opening track hints at being reared on the Beach Boys and teenage experimentation with psychedelia, while the equally synth-heavy “About My Girls” trends toward funk and Prince.

“Clawing Out at the Walls” simplifies things, employing bongos and acoustic guitar. There’s a sense of earnestness about the song, Lynch questioning, “don’t you think that we’re hard enough on ourselves? / We believe that we do it all on our own.” Dominant Legs brings the EP to a close by infusing electronic elements into the acoustic setup on “Run Like Hell for Leather”, letting a beautiful acoustic guitar riff shine where synthesizers blast away on other tracks.

Young at Love and Life EP dropped 08.17.10.
You can listen to most of the EP at the Dominant Legs MySpace page.
You can download “Clawing Out at the Walls” here.

i got a sandcastle heart

Like their previous release, At Mount Zoomer, Wolf Parade‘s Expo 86 is mostly fantastic with a few tracks that, while not bad, are not as gripping as the rest. Fortunately for us all,¬†Expo 86 is front-loaded with dance-ready kick that eases into a slow burn.

Synth-heavy and 80s vibes abound, the songs on the album are at once filled with energy and tinged with ¬†melancholy. “Palm Road” is a perfect example; while dark, it still makes you want to dance. Also of note are “Little Golden Age” (the first-listen favorite) and single “What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)”. The lyrics of the latter are at times striking, and one phrase is downright novel-worthy: “I wonder if all the beaches / in all your holiday towns / will turn into giant shining earrings against the cheek of the sea / when finally this supernova goes down.” Gorgeous.

While the beginning of Expo 86 breeds excitement, the latter loses steam. There’s cohesion among the halves, due to the basic instrumentation and vocalist Spenser Krug’s distinctive delivery, but the tracks lack the memorable punch that so captures listeners in the beginning.

The final blow comes with closer “Cave-O-Sapien”, which recalls Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself” to the point of distraction (seriously – play WP @ 3:52, then BI @ :38). However, it may all be with a wink, a nod, and a stroke of genius from Wolf Parade, as Stereogum reported that Krug’s main criterion for the songs was whether or not he would dance to them. While all the songs may not strike my fancy, it doesn’t matter – Krug and company are going to dance anyway.

Expo 86 drops 06.29.10.
More on Wolf Parade at their Sub Pop artist page.
Download “What Did My Lover Say” and “Ghost Pressure” by right-clicking.

rearrange the wreckage of our hearts

On their fifth full-length release, Destroyer of the Void, Blitzen Trapper swing from era to era and genre to genre while somehow holding tight to a common thread.

Weaving in and out of a mix of fuzzy and twangy guitars, piano, and deep-space-evoking sound effects as well as Tom Petty-esque harmonica blues and a folky duet with Alela Diane, Blitzen Trapper creates a sonic blend that has a little something for everyone.

Picturesque lyrics such as “heaven’s right below the hurricane / and hell’s contained in every flame” are sprinkled throughout the album, jutting up against simple declarations like “I’m left here with this cheap love song / because Sadie, I can never change.”

Cheap songs these are not. Layered, nuanced, and varied, the songs of Destroyer of the Void are an amalgam, a trip. They’re a product from “the tailor of the earth and electricity.”

Destroyer of the Void drops 06.08.10.
Download “Heaven and Earth” here.

maintain a love that never was

On the final track of Horse Feathers’s third LP, Justin Ringle croons, “by winter’s end you may come back to life.” With the devastating warmth found on Thistled Spring, it’d be impossible to not.

The piano and strings on the opening, self-titled track are so beautiful you just sink into yourself, relaxed and happy despite the underlying sense of melancholy. Banjo, guitar, and cavernous drums complete the sound on the album, creating songs that are as welcome in the cab of an old Ford pickup on a deserted road as they are in a cowboy movie (“Vernonia Blues”). Hovering under the instrumentation is Ringle’s wounded tenor, spouting, pleading, asking such things as “stay awhile with me…hold a hand with no ring” so convincingly saying no is a near impossibility, even with the cold grip of death on your arm (“The Widower”).

Essentially, Thistled Spring makes me nostalgic for a life I never had – part Little House on the Prairie, part Carnivale – and a great love I have yet to lose. I realize that may make the album sound dated, unaccessible, and depressing, but it’s none of those things. Thistled Spring calls to mind the honesty of a first kiss, the spark that comes with the moment you realize it’s love, and the bite of realizing possibly forever has become the definite past. With no song falling solely in any of these particular stages, Horse Feathers gives us an album that floats somewhere in the space only found in those sun-drenched moments between wakefulness and sleep.

Thistled Spring drops 04.20.10.
Tour dates and more here.