Thurston Moore - Demolished Thoughts

If you don't know who Thurston Moore is, feel free to close your window or tab now. I don't mean to be a dick, but Sonic Youth largely created the landscape of indie pop we now enjoy and Thurston, well, he made Sonic Youth into Sonic Youth. If you're confusing him with island millionaire and jacket-wearing mainstay Thurston Howell III, I salute your knowledge, but decry its application. And if you held out past that first "angry professor on the first day of a college course" style sentence, you got a little background delivered right into your beautiful craw, free of charge. Demolished Thoughts, Moore's fourth solo album is a beautiful, sprawling and elegant achievement in acoustic rock. Produced, and influenced, by Beck, yes that Beck, it has flavors of country, folk, and soaring orchestral music. It's also vibrantly, incredibly and staggeringly poetic. This is soul repairing music, demonstrating supreme immediacy and intimacy with each plucked guitar string, delicate note and chord, bow-sweep and the deep, whispering breathiness of Moore's voice.

Opening with the gorgeous, thoughtful and somber "Benediction," Demolished Thoughts immediately confronts love and loss and forgiveness. Moore's sense and skill in songwriting is immense and largely unmatched, and with this track, we are gifted with a calm, roaming guitar backed by sparsely used, masterful strings. It's a dream and a cry-fest.

On "Illuminine" the tone remains largely the same, sticking to soft vocals and more beautiful, delicate imagery. Moore utters many of the words with a sort of pained, appreciative breath, as if describing a sublime greatness that leaves him in awe even as it terrifies him. Rock occurs when "Circulation" begins. Moore pummels the strings of his acoustic guitar and sings with some of the passion and urgency we remember from Sonic Youth. It's a powerful, charging track, but what really defines it is a long tapering outro that plucks and dances its way back to a quieter place, and that place is "Blood Never Lies." Incredibly, Moore continues that long outro by feeding in with a prolonged, ornate intro setting up possible the most gorgeous track on the whole album. It's refrain of the titular phrase, so pained and honest, so dark and somber, is as haunting as it is masterful. "Orchard Street" picks up the pace a bit, living by a strongly hit bass line amid the chords. It has a dark, Echo and the Bunnymen quality, especially as growling cellos accent between the verses. And it's flourishing, uncontrollable, orchestral jam-out ending is wonderful. "In Silver Rain With A Paper Key" brings out the throaty-er Moore vocals, and parades more fantastic lyrics like the following in the fifth verse: "I seem to recall sometimes last fall/ Brown leaves crowned around your head/ Now I'm back in town and I'm looking around/ Will I ever see your eyes again?"

"Mina Loy" is about as dark as the album gets, riding the sort of eastern style first brought to fame by the Rolling Stones "Paint It Black," but done with greater care and elegance. It's a song that pummels the listener with dramatic uppercuts and right hooks. "Space" enjoys a long intro, and fills in the eventual verses with free-form, meandering poetry that travels great distances with each word, while maintaining a toehold on the ground and "January" closes the album on a charming, sprawling note of rebirth, with fantastic harp accents. Demolished Thoughts is really as great as an acoustic album can get, and despite some of the extended intros and self-indulgent guitar riffs sounding similar over time, or feeling a little overdone, it's an album that should be in any indie archivist's collection. And if the acoustic guitar folk/rock genre is in your wheelhouse, you will love it. This is a rainy day album that feels good in a summer breeze and will never let you down.

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Podcast: It's A Thing! #7

From their remote recording studio in the Alps, this is the newest edition of It's A Thing, numbered 7, seven! SEVEN! It's called Covers. You'll hear why. Jared and Mikey talk airlifting dogs, bagging kittens and clandestine browser use. Heartfelt moments include tales of rat funeral etiquette and a very special episode of Community. There's sports joking, couch moving and blown minds. And a kind, shame-aware plug for their friend James Fluty and his stand-up comedy. Jared lays some of that creepy hidden track shit sound that will open a portal to hell. Some amazing covers of songs you already know, but don't know you know them the way you will know them once you've listened, you know? And oh, comics, Bored to Death, Men In Black 3, some dad stories, presumably designed to create a low-bar of appreciation just before Father's Day, Red Rocks Amphitheater, the PianoFight theater group and revelations about the meaning of life itself...

It's A Thing! #7: Covers
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Sloan - The Double Cross

Sloan is everywhere. You don't have to know that you're hearing them, but a lot of times you are. Well, maybe not everywhere, but Sloan is a unique combination of prolific and ubiquitous. You don't have to have bought an album or even sought Sloan out. Their music has appeared in commercials. Their unique sound graced the Virgin Suicides Soundtrack. That was a song called "Everything You've Done Wrong," and for the longest time, since the song is sandwiched amid Todd Rundgren, The Hollies, Al Green and Gilbert O'Sullivan, I always thought Sloan to be some unmentioned '60s - '70s contemporary. That lasted for a couple of years. It was 1999, and I was still in high school. No internet. No smart phones. Life was simpler then. So, when I bought their 2001 album Pretty Together, based primarily on the track "The Other Man," which was a solid, mature and semi-rocking tale of being the guy she (or he, I supposed) is cheating with (which turned out to be strangely prophetic...) was a great track that felt current (2001 current) and made me realize who Sloan was. Turns out, Sloan has been around since 1991. That's 20 years by my count. Could be wrong. Not great at math. It's a long time to make music, and hone their sound, which varies from power-pop mid/late-'60s, into a bit of the sprawling stadium pop of the '70s. The thing is, this band knows how to craft a proper pop song. And on each of their 10 LPs and 2 EPs, they apply the formula with passion, vigor and a healthy dose of humility.

In 2006, Sloan released Never Hear the End of It, an album that didn't grab me initially, but has grown into one of the most comprehensively excellent in their catalog. It was an award winner, picking up Juno nominations and an East Coast Music Award for Rock Recording of the Year. Fifteen years into their career, Sloan was still churning out amazing work. So, when this year's The Double Cross, touted as a serious return to their poppy, high-energy roots was announced, I awaited it with bated breath. And for good reason. The opening track "Follow the Leader" is about as perfectly crafted as a song can be, darting through two movements and ending on a pristine cry. And the whole album is that way. It's not perfect, but nothing is. And as joyful pop rock goes, this is some of the best, most thoughtful and most aurally interesting you'll find. Sloan has mastered harmony and call-and-response. Sloan dominates when it comes to bringing layers of sound to their listeners, throwing guitars and keys and drums and rattling alternative percussion. And what's even more beautiful is that The Double Cross has no gaps between songs, like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, when the Beatles did that for the very first time, capturing the set list experience with straight transitions. The album feels like a show. And it feels like a true album because if you try to listen to just one track, the song endings are clumsy, but put together, goddamn does this album excel!

"Unkind" is the single, a riff-heavy beautiful song that lives on the line "You suck the light out of the room." But from "Shadow of Love" to "Laying So Low," The Double Cross is immaculate. It's all positive energy, fun beats, rousing riffs and frolicking. This is beautiful work by a truly talented band. And some of the songs are not immediately memorable, but I defy any listener to hear any of them and say confidently that they did not enjoy it. Writing great pop music is a task. It's balancing the tastes of the populace. That's no simple feat. And especially when a song like "She's Slowing Down Again," that sounds so perfectly like the natural progression of the Beatles in this century, comes in to really, really charm you, well, it's like a fix. It's fun and when it's over you just want to go back for another taste. Listen to the album below. Repeatedly. Go buy it. Download it or whatever, but don't deny yourself this great opportunity to hear some phenomenal music by true rock legends.

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Friendly Fires - Pala

In 2008 I picked up the self-titled Friendly Fires on sale from the now-defunct Virgin Megastore. It was one of those albums that I purchased based solely on a quick track scan, like a musical scavenger picking at the tasty surface meats that hung off of a delicious downed animal. But, it wasn't nearly as disgusting as that makes it sound, obviously. Mostly, I was instantly enamored with the super-catchy punk-dance beats and quality hooks. It was something that I hadn't usually gravitated to at the time, but now informs the majority of my taste. It's Britpop, it's funky and it's fun. And it's a lot like Chinese food, at least based on the common parable, it can be easily enjoyed and heard, but often leaves only a small lasting impression, requiring repeat visits to taste it again and again. Three years later, Friendly Fires returns with Pala, an album whose name comes from the Aldous Huxley novel Island, wherein a journalist is shipwrecked on a fictional island called Pala. In a lot ways, Pala feels like a shipwreck. Not because it is disastrous or flawed, but because it lays the travel and island references on thick, and while the music remains fun enough, it also may as well be deserted. Hearing it at first is a great experience of solitude, but some of the songs are so short that they lack proper sustenance. I imagine being stranded it that way. First, "Yay for freedom." Second, "Boo for lonely emptiness."

The opener "Live Those Days Tonight" is solid, peppy and somewhat innocuous. Not nearly the powerful starting track that "Jump In The Pool" was to the first album. "Blue Cassette" is intentionally lo-fi, telling a story about an old cassette that touches on nostalgia and rumbles enticingly with heavy-hitting drums and quality, echoing vocals. "Running Away" trickles and runs on funk with a touch of clanging bells. It's a fine track, but melodically seems to never quite grab the upper echelon of pop that it nearly reaches for, like the kid in gym who could never quite reach the top of the rope (and I was that kid several times so I know). "Hawaiian Air" is decent, sweet, but somewhat mediocre, trying to paint a sort of island-pastoral concept, but never completely succeeding. Finally, with "Hurting" the album reaches a level of lyrical maturity and compositional difficulty that really makes an interesting track. The repetitive synth and airy vocals, with some blue-eyed soul vibe sprinkled in, really makes the track feel like an '80s pop gem, but with enough complexity to feel new and bright. "Pala" also brings something interesting to the table, drawing on pseudo-darkness combined with bird sounds, camera clicks and shutters, to decorate a conceptual track that really does well. It's a slow dance number, crunchy and cavernous, that is so delightfully interesting it makes for a great experience. The only downside is finding that two of the best tracks are buried halfway into the album, but rest assured that they are worth getting to.

"Show Me Lights" continues that trend with raucous bass drums, crashing cymbals and overlapping vocals all set to a huge wall of consistent sound. One of the better written songs, lyrically, on the album, this one feels as much like a soul track as anything else. And despite a strong opening, "True Love" disappoints slightly once the vocals start. For all of its excellent musical merit, the lyrics lack depth. That's not entirely bad, but when the melody never escapes the music that greatly it leaves the whole song feeling a little bland. Still, it's as good or better than some of the earlier songs. "Pull Me Back To Earth," though is extremely interesting, overflowing with energy and sung over a plucky guitar lead. It builds and crashes and is mostly satisfying, though on repeat listens it becomes more enjoyable than the first time. "Chimes" and "Helpless" both have great moments, hitting on some beautifully paced dance and sweet, sincere, nearly-emo declarations of emotionality. But both of these, despite their notable moments of virtue feel a lot like some of the throwaway tracks from Friendly Fires. Sometimes, Pala feels like it has far more potential energy than it does kinetic. It strives for to be greater, bigger, and more memorable than it is, but it is nonetheless enjoyable.

Built for party music, Pala will serve as an excellent, well beyond suitable backing track to any gathering, shindig, or chaotic dance breakdown. It's a solid album that begs additional listens, and I will say that after a few times through, the more ornate touches stand out greater than on the first pass through. Perhaps it's not an album that will always demand your direct attention, but it is an album that could soundtrack activities very well. And because every song has a special little surprise worth finding in it, whether it's a chorus or a buried bridge, there's a lot to look out for and forward to. Give it a listen below.

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Okkervil River - I Am Very Far

Okkervil River doesn't get mad. But they've really never been a band that gets even either. For all the pain and darkness combined poetically in The Stage Names and The Stand Ins, Will Sheff and Co. only rarely used their distemper and modern frustration to build a fire. Instead, they're ire was mostly bluster, mirroring a sort of faux-soapbox argument common to post-modern literature. Essentially, they were always saying "We're all pissed. We're all disappointed. We're all screaming. But we're all aware that it's all a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing." Each of our great emotional outbursts eventually fall apart into a whisper, or worse, a whimper that leaves us alone with our individual experience. Of course, those were concepts albums, designed to capture just that, and while The Stand Ins faltered some, never quite capturing the catchiness of its predecessor, the mission statement remained the same. Now, with I Am Very Far, Okkervil River delivers a similar thesis, but with a more soothing, laid back vibe. And on more tracks than previous albums, they also ramp up the guitar and drums, relying on heavier, more powerful instrumentation to deal out their poetry. The themes are still largely the same. But the energy is different and arguably more palatable.

Opening strong with "The Valley," guitars and drums are paramount. And Sheff's vocals are layered, thick and without the vulnerable, voice-cracking, pained design they have bore on previous discs. It's an elegant track, on that seems to harness the "new folk rock" vibe that happened with Bill Callahan's newest too. Marching, sturdy and powerful. "Piratess" maintains that energy, but infuses a bass line and back beat that nearly touches on pop-soul. And while Sheff croons, the song holds onto a crunchy, production-heavy vibe that has been unusual and elusive on their other work. It's a departure and a great one, adding a new decoration to a lush sonic landscape. "Rider" feels vaguely like a Springsteen or Mellancamp track with hard-hitting, bounding drums. "Lay of the Last Survivor" finally takes on some of Okkervil's traditional story-telling vulnerability. Sheff's voice, the one we're used to, comes back in full swing to whisper a tale of death and loss. And the piano garnishes are beautiful here. "White Shadow Waltz" keeps that theme going as Sheff continues to cry out through charging strings and possibly the most ambitious instrumentation on the album. It's a song that builds and builds, fighting forward until breaks apart, intentionally, under its own energy.

"We Need A Myth" is a big time theatrical anthem that could find a place in a rock opera somewhere. It lives by trickling piano, grungy guitar work, and a set of poetic lyrics that capture disaffection attached with an overly-explained world. Essentially, we know too much, and myths would at least give us the wonder we need back. "Mermaid" is great and subtle. Calm and sweet. And "Show Yourself" is the same way. A song that whispers more than it glowers. Utters more than it insists. It picks up the pace nearing the halfway mark, but never completely explodes, content to let its message hang over the listener like a cloud with self-contained lightning. It's a build that doesn't completely storm, but hints at something massive over the horizon that could come. "Your Past Life as a Blast" is rousing and echo-y. "Wake And Be Fine" is brilliant, thunderous and piano-heavy. It's easily the gem buried near the album's end. Fast talking and sturdy in its waltz, it's really a wonderful track. And "The Rise" allows everything to finish out on a brilliant note of calm piano and call-and-response (Sheff on Sheff... which is very interesting). The song is sweeping, with trembling cymbals, and another extremely theatrical design. The only problem with it is that Sheff's voice isn't perfect for such a demonstration of crooning beauty. It gives the song its own style, and it's Okkervil River, so really, it's expected, but it ever-so-slightly undercuts the inherent beauty of the music. Luckily, there's a little bit of a Sufjan vibe happening throughout that not only holds interest, but captivates it.

Check out the album below, streaming on that little player right there. And then if take a chance on picking up a few tracks, or if you desire the wondrous quality of packaging and the essence of a true album, get the disc or LP, and look out for the lyric chapbook too. Okkervil River is always willing to challenge listeners by pushing poetry into strange corners, and conversely, push rock/folk into poetic corners. Sometimes it works perfectly, sometimes it feels a little forced, but ultimately I Am Very Far is an exceptional collection of songs that show their widest range of experimentation and influence yet. Its scale is epic. Its execution is excellent. And its satisfaction with modern existence is somewhat greater than before.

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Podcast: It's A Thing! #5 & #6

Starting today Gas Lantern Media will also feature a great music podcast, produced by Mikey (of The Most Awesome Protagonist) and Jared in San Francisco, It's A Thing combines wit and wisdom with a healthy slice of quality music. Imagine if Abbott and Costello met Robert Pollard and Morrissey instead of crossing ill of the Mummy and the Wolfman. The charming comedic duo runs frantically from song to song, artist to artist, all while trying only to escape the ancient pyramid of internets with their lives. A fragile love forms between them, creating a bond so pure and noble that nary the greatest sweeps of God's mighty hand could break it. And calmly, in the sweet afterglow of song after song, sweet nothings are whispered that unveil the deepest secrets of life, nature, science, love and French-Canadian cuisine... It's actually nothing like that, it's a thing, but it's nothing like that. Still, it's a great image...

Here are episodes 5 and 6. Future episodes should be available here, barring complications related to their recording studio nestled high in the Alps. So, have a cup of tea, light something and enjoy...

It's A Thing #5

It's A Thing #6
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Austra - Feel It Break

There has been a lot of music emulating the mechanical, synthesized 1980's lately, but few albums have captured the sort of hollow sadness implicit with music that sounds so robotic as Feel It Break. Austra, a trio from Toronto headed by opera singer Katie Stelmanis, seems to so fully embrace the darkness in rumbling electronics and hollow (if driving, plodding) drums that their debut crosses the lines repeatedly, bounding from dance-fuel to sad self-evaluation to powerful battle chants. What's great is that they find time to experiment frequently, adding twinkling, astral accents to more traditional, oft recognizable, synth beats. And what's better is that Stelmanis' vocals are so purely beautiful and consistently haunting that sets itself away from the aforementioned pack that now includes such artists as Fever Ray, Florence and the Machine, La Roux, and School of Seven Bells. It's a tough task to differentiate oneself, or bandself perhaps, when so many great musicians trend the same direction. Austra's dance leanings are full and sincere, but so is their lyrical darkness. The anthems that appear on Feel It Break are not club rockers, nor are they pop-settlings down, instead these songs tend to talk themselves through terrible situations, much in the way done so well by St. Vincent, but on a much larger sonic scale.

Beginning with "Darken Her Horse" and its echoing electronic bass line, the album feels initially slow, methodical and dramatic. Stelmanis' operatic voice is on full display, carrying the opening track beautifully, but it's not long before "Darken Her Horse" picks up in energy and the truer feel of the album reveals itself. The bouncier "Lose It" comes with the haunting refrain "Don't wanna lose ya" and "I never knew ya" sung in such a sincere way that it reminds me of the cathartic work of Stars on Set Yourself On Fire. The frolicking, but unsettling "The Future" lives on a repeated piano riff and chunky electronic bass beats that breaks down in a twinkling, starry scape. The awesome "Beat And The Pulse" follows by providing exactly what it should: heavy beats and heart-racing rumble. The vocals here are especially enjoyable as Stelmanis manages to stick with numerous pace changes seamlessly. "Spellwork" opens with a slightly too precious magical riff reminiscent of when Wayne and Garth travel magically into fantasy, but once the drums and more spare tones take over it turns into an excellent dance track. It is maybe the lowest register track vocally, but it still works incredibly well, a testament to Stelmanis' range. It's also the track that presents the beginning of the album's late peak, where rattling dance music and mysterious, haunting poetry converge.

"The Choke" is about as perfect as the album gets. Brilliantly set up and cavernous, both aurally and lyrically, it has a very M83 feel. And "Hate Crime" flutters into pop perfection, increasing the pace and utilizing more ornate instrumentation. Interestingly, it feels a lot like Tegan and Sara. "The Villian," too is amazing, so loaded with energy and spirit, so beautiful sung and so very nearly rocking that the second half of the album begins to compel movement. You will want to dance, or foot-tappers, you will want to tap. It's a lot like that first jolt of coffee in the morning, you're tired and slow and then suddenly bursting with desire to get moving. "Shoot The Water" with its opening lyrics "Silence speaks for you" carries on with a very metered bounding design. "The Noise" is epically haunting and repetitive, a treatise on all the overwhelming sound and bullshit we must sift through to form our identities. And "The Beast" closes the album out with delicate piano and some natural sound, starkly contrasting the rest of the album, but doing so in a way that seems to indicate the war is over and something more delicate, if still powerful and dark, is coming.

You can listen to Austra's new album Feel It Break via the streaming player below, or through NPR's First Listen for a limited time.

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May 10: Yelle

Photo courtesy of Max Winkler
The following concert review has been provided by guest columnist Kellen O'Brien. To "boom" out the experience, please see the embedded video and streaming player featuring Yelle's newest album Safari Disco Club. Enjoy! - Nate

It doesn’t matter if you appreciate or have even heard her music, if you like to dance, you will have a fantastic time at a Yelle concert. With the stomp of a drum circle, but the nostalgic spectacle of a late 80’s rave, the three-member band electrified May 10th’s Bluebird crowd from their entrance to their encore.

After a few hours imbibing on my balcony, my friends and I showed up at the Bluebird near the beginning of French Horn Rebellion’s set, a rare instance of me making it for a blind date opener. The laptop-focused duo carried on quite admirably, although their proclamation, “stick around for Yelle” was completely unnecessary.

Yelle came out at 10 for a sixty-minute show that seemed much longer. Yelle—the name of the French female lead singer and her band—was flanked by a pair of gentleman sporting keyboards and drums.  During the first song, Yelle kept her upper body hidden behind a large costume that made her look like rain forest flora. Through this, she cooed into the microphone as her playmates looped spiraling bass and synth beats. Sweaty dancing ensued.

Photo courtesy of Max Winkler
Safari Disco Club, Yelle’s most recent album, stands out because its cover both spoofs Devo and mimics Bjork. However, those two sensibilities only begin to describe Yelle’s package. Lykke Li fronting Hot Chip. Madonna and Jerry Harrison. Yelle’s sound is a lot like James Murphy lyrics. The many working parts to their sound could lead to an inconsistent live performance, but it hummed along last night. The band’s chemistry—they are having legitimate, blissful fun onstage—is the lubricant to make this complicated formula glide like a jaguar.

My favorite moments were the sharp breaks: drum heavy, hip hop styled, and propulsive enough to ensure that the pace never became stale, these breaks dove as easily into three member percussive jams as into glittering electronica sprints. For this, and many other reasons everyone in my group had a stellar time last night. There’s nothing better (on a Tuesday) than a Tuesday night dance party.

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Dustin O'Halloran - Lumiere

Sometimes the best music is haunting in its beauty. We're all fans, reluctant or not, of fun music, the stuff that makes you want to move and elevates your mood like some kind of sonic superdrug, and yet, the craving remains to hear something so beautiful, elegant and nearly tragic that it evokes tears of the heart. This is how bands like Depeche Mode and Joy Division came into our lives. But it's also why a powerful score or an incredible opera or symphony can so easily manipulate our emotions. Music is such a visceral medium that it can change your mind and move you, it can psyche you up or drag you down. And with our ability to consume music so quickly now, hearing hundreds of different artists and styles over the course of a single day means we can almost control the fluctuations in our spirits. Even if the music still tends to control them. When an artist excels at altering their listeners without the aid of lyrics, it's a notable and monumental achievement. Classic music was that way, and so is the Neoclassical music of today. Dustin O'Halloran does this with a piano. And his new album Lumiere is a sweeping, beautiful and tragic masterpiece.

O'Halloran is most recognizable from his work on Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette soundtrack where he was featured three times on disc 2 with his "Opuses 17," "23," and "36." He combines a careful, almost melancholy piano that trickles across the keys with soothing, soft strings. He is a true modern composer, a true classical musician working in modern times, and his work is rarely joyful. Rather than punctuate the glorious moments of life, O'Halloran's music functions to underscore the menace, sadness, ennui and fear that permeates our shared existence. We forget, I think, in a world so wrapped up in language and saying things the right way, a world of quipped one-liners and fast talk, that instruments alone can say so much. Music creates, defines and mitigates our world. And so often we perceive our existence based entirely on the sound around us. Lumiere is its own world. The album is its own emotional landscape. Like a rainy day in the city where no one is around and walking alone feels so completely and utterly individual, as if the world itself belongs to you and only you with its empty sidewalks and the pervasive sense of perfect calm, Lumiere creates a bubble around you when you hear it. It creates that rare space in which sadness is not sad, it's just the absence of elation. Perfect calm.

Over nine tracks, O'Halloran holds his style and doesn't experiment too much. The mood is too important here to interrupt. So when Lumiere opens with the spare and quiet "A Great Divide" the album will not and does not suddenly blast into a collection of sweeping crescendos. "Opus 44" and "We Move Lightly" both pick up the pace slightly, as the piano becomes a little more playful, but we're always riding minor keys and progressions with elegant time and pace. "Quintette N.1" brings in a heavy wall of strings to start, but allows them to fade to the back so O'Halloran can present a piano narrative that becomes progressively more beautiful and catchy (really) until the strings come back in for what could be considered a chorus. Really, O'Halloran seems to hold a lot of common compositional interest with Radiohead, just without the electronics and without the words. But perhaps the greatest achievement on the album is "Fragile N.4," a song so perfectly concocted and beautiful that it climbs from sadness toward the sky and then bounces back down, but it also has such a brilliant instrumentation that it feels more full. It's the kind of song that makes you want to be living, it's the song that plays over the final moments of your favorite character in a film. It is inspiration and disaster mixed together. And the closer "Snow + Light" delicately falls out into hushed airiness.

Lumiere deserves a chance to break and mend your heart. You can listen to it in the player below.

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Big K.R.I.T. - Return Of 4Eva

I don't always feel qualified, pedigreed as it were, to talk about hip hop, as with many of these reviews, I find myself trapped in a space of philosophical appreciation that lacks the formal experience and education necessary to understand the source code for each and every song, sample and reference. So I default to how an album feels and looking at jazz and blues and the other historical starting points of American music from which hip hop et al. burst butterfly-like from a cocoon. With Big K.R.I.T. I find a lot of the strongest qualities found with Girl Talk and other mash-up aficionados as well as the smooth, pop-driven and catchy rhyming delivered by Kanye West and Outkast. On Return Of 4Eva, Big K.R.I.T. delivers a seemingly endless stream of ultimately enjoyable songs that cover a large swath of sonic territory, carefully managing solemn lines and riotous outbursts that manages to pay homage to some of rap and hip hop history (references and sampled sections abound) while also snagging classic Motown era sounds and dance riffs. What's dangerous here is also what is so excellent. Return Of 4Eva offers a little bit of everything. And even in some spots where the words aren't quite as strong as sounds backing them (occasionally the storytelling is deadpan, lacking playfulness) Big K.R.I.T. offers so much solid and digable content that it's hard to pick on any specific song. Listen to it below via the embedded DatPiff.com player. And get it free/pay for it via returnof4eva.com.

The first three tracks, flowing together seamlessly, are "R4 Intro," "Rise and Shine" and "R4 Theme Song." With this swift 7+ minutes, the album is established. The music will be beat-driven but the backing samples and mixes are often simpler, instantly catchy and often recognizable. "Rise and Shine" in particular does good work to get the album rolling; it's that hook you need to really keep going and it's perfectly placed. Other tracks of note are "Rotation," which despite somewhat lazy lyrics feels sturdy and memorable. And "Sookie Now" marks an entrance to the album's wheelhouse. It's followed by "American Rapstar," a song that tells a common story of leaving the streets to become famous with the addition of finely placed, clear and noble political commentary. Other tracks of note: "Shake It," "Lions and Lambs," "Time Machine," "Players Ballad," and "Amtrak."

What I seem to be rushing to get to, I know I noticed, but then I am the one writing (If you didn't notice, just ignore these last two sentences and imagine a beautifully concocted segue in their place; maybe something involving the classic Allen Ginsberg poem "A Supermarket in California.") is that Return Of 4Eva is better than Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Despite all of the applause and coddling reviews, including my own, in which I did find a lot of virtue in that album, it just wasn't as enjoyable and consistently good as Return Of 4Eva. Though, that is qualified by my lack of hip hop background, as I stated above. The thing with music, whatever the genre, is to create something that becomes desirable once you learn it. It doesn't have to be pretty. It doesn't have to be catchy, but I think "good music" relies on continued effort to make something that is both decipherable and enjoyable (once you know the code). While Kanye's album is mostly enjoyable, it seems like it's trying to be artsier than it can be. And that's fine, as long as the language the album is told in is worth learning. Big K.R.I.T. does a better job, asking for standard prerequisites and then pushing the language into political and social places that are both deeply self-referential and complex. And at no point does it seem like Return Of 4Eva it wants you to work to meet it. It takes itself seriously, but arrives casually. No absurdist costuming necessary.

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