Pre-Screening: Sonic Youth

Album: The Eternal
Artist: Sonic Youth
Label: Matador Records
Due Out: June 9th

Of all of the artists we've reviewed at Animal Noises, I'm pretty sure that Sonic Youth has the most extensive catalogue by far, so my apologies in advance, if I somehow do not do The Eternal justice in the scope of their work as a whole. The band's 15th album to-date, The Eternal marks a change of sorts for the noise rock and no wave pioneers. For anyone disappointed with some of their more recent efforts, I can assure you, you will at least be pleased with the direction this album takes. Back are the noisy backgrounds and angst-laden yells of the 80s. The record has an attitude I have not seen from the band in quite awhile, so for those following along since the beginning, perhaps this one's for you.

The album starts out with the heavy and choppy "Sacred Trickster". Many may remember the track from about a month ago, as Kim Gordon remains unabashedly herself in this allusion to 1988's Daydream Nation if I've ever heard one. Next, "Anti-Orgasm" does a nice job melting together aspects of classic rock, noise and post-punk, as Thurston Moore and Gordon trade-off jabs amidst a background spiraling out of control as the song progresses. There's an eery quality here, a bit nightmarish to be honest, but that mood is usually displaced by the loud and frequent breakdowns which comprise the track, at least before it settles down. "Leaky Lifeboat (For Gregory Corso)" changes things up a bit right afterward, mellowing out, at least by Sonic Youth's standards, toning down the noise in the background for a much more basic guitar riff and percussion exchange. Though coming off as inherently grim, the song does seem a bit bright at the same time, bouncing along for the most part, in a surprising development.

We then turn our attention to "Antenna". Taking the calm, reserved nature of the previous track, this one tends to skip along at the onset before opening up to a gruff, yet open mid-section. Though there's plenty of noise contained within this song, it's extremely controlled, and is almost relaxing in nature. Whatever somber feeling you may have been taking on however is erased within seconds of the beginning of "What We Know". Jungle drums, and a thick guitar part have this one pulsating as it gives way to some light soloing later on. Once again afterwards though, we are seemingly slowed back down, this time with "Calming the Snake". This can be seen as somewhat of an allusion within seconds- squealing guitars and a burst of vocal energy break through the uneasy quiet, and Gordon's voice carries the remainder of the track above the steady drum part in the back. Next, "Poison Arrow" finally takes energy from a preceding track effectively, and mixes a bit of a pop guitar part with the feeling you're being put through a wood chipper. Both sounds give way to toned-down vocals by Moore, with contributions from Gordon, and the track runs on the same progression for the final minute or so.

"Malibu Gas Station" creeps in initially, before picking up the pace and peaking your interest. Still, Gordon's display of a partially-reserved approach, along with a sound that seems caged in until the very end, gives off a sense of the song operating in a box. "Thunderclap (For Bobby Pyn)" resolves this issue, by utilizing Sonic Youth's best tool, quickly contrasting volume and intensity to create a more meaningful effect, and a fun and electrifying track to boot. "No Way" does a great job of carrying this momentum forward, pushing the tempo with an active and engaging guitar part that does wonders for the track. Next, "Walkin Blue" embraces alternative rock more than any other track on the album, mapping out a direct and defined course, yet still peppered with solos. There's a lot going on here, but not how you'd normally expect from the band. Each instrument stays confined to its respective role, and you hear the instrumentation doing much more to work with the other aspects than against. The album ends with its' longest track, "Massage The History," clocking in at nearly 10 minutes. Seemingly mixing the wide array of noises you've heard throughout the record, it works to sum up The Eternal, the mellow aspects, the louder one, the organized and the more disorganized, all together into one final thought.

Of all of the albums I've heard this year, this has been one of the most difficult to judge. I heard everything I'd want to hear from a Sonic Youth record, I suppose, but I can't help but wanting for something more. Some songs seemed a bit too reserved for a band that worked to define noise. However, others jump right out at me, and bring me back to their earlier sound. Both Moore and Gordon had their brighter moments, as well as instances when a bit more intensity could have worked to their advantage. It was less of a wall of sound, and more of an album in a box, which is to say that they seemed to fence themselves in here, much to my dismay. Still, a solid album that can definitely grow on both longtime fans and new listeners over time. For similarities, I'd recommend Dinosaur Jr., Pixies and Yo La Tengo.

Rating: 7.0/10

Best Track: "Anti-Orgasm"


New Kanye West Video, "Paranoid" (Feat. Mr. Hudson)

Yeah, Kanye West's definitely doing a video for every song on 808s and Heartbreak.  The high-quality version of his newest video single, "Paranoid" is now available to the public.  You see very little of Mr. West, and none of Mr. Hudson (at least from what I noticed), in the video, but rather, just Rihanna, scantily-clad and just sort of striking poses for almost five minutes.  Very odd.  Not even sure it works really, but whatever.  It's Kanye, so I don't question it anymore.

John's Track of the Week: "What Never Comes"

Song: What Never Comes
Artist: Crooked Fingers
Album: Forfeit/Fortune
Year: 2008

Admittedly, I hated Crooked Fingers' Forfeit/Fortune on the first listen.  In fact, I even hated it on the second one.  However, over this past weekend, I decided to give it one more shot, and I was not disappointed.  The entire album is a great display of emotion, hitting on both the highs and the lows, while employing a broad and interesting range of instrumentation that only helps to convey the mood.  Though I enjoy many of the tracks, to me, it all starts with the intro, "What Never Comes".  I can always respect a good mood-setter, and this song seems to accomplish that quite well.

With a steady guitar riff, to counter an active and building keyboard selection, as well as the occasional influx of horns, the track is busy, but the pieces fit nicely.  The song is grasping for something, but due to its abrupt end, it would seem it's never reached, except maybe at the album's conclusion.  In a full album of contrasting styles, I think "What Never Comes" possesses one of the more interesting approaches, even making the male-female vocal dynamic which can sometimes grow stale, an exciting and intriguing section that makes for the best part of the song.  With all of that in mind, I can't make any guarantees on the first listen.  However, if you give it a chance, perhaps you'll experience the same effect I did.


Here We Go Magic on Daytrotter

Don't know how I missed this earlier, but I guess better late than never.  Here We Go Magic, Luke Temple's fantastic new project that we reviewed earlier this year, has a new session up on Daytrotter.  Among the tracks are the album intro, "Only Pieces," crowd-favorite "Fangela" and a new unreleased track, "Collector".  Most know the deal by now- if you're not already registered over at Stereogum, simply fill out the quick form, and then you are once again free to download tracks from the site.  Check the deal at Daytrotter, and enjoy.  As always, we're back with more original content here tomorrow through Friday.

New Jay-Z, "Can't Cheat Death"

Jay-Z, fresh off of leaving Def Jam, has got something in the works already.  For "Can't Cheat Death," Hova collaborated with DJ Premier, and the results, as you may have guessed, are extremely satisfying.  Apparently, Premier and Jay have a whole album set to go for Independence Day, entitled Premier Issue vol. 7: Hova Edition, but we'll see what happens with that.  In the meantime, check out "Can't Cheat Death" (Produced by DJ Premier) over at Hypebeast.


Music Video Monday: "Lay Me Back Down"

Track: Lay Me Back Down
Artist: Portugal. The Man
Album: Censored Colors
Year: 2008

First off, a happy Memorial Day to anyone out there reading this today.  This Monday, our music video feature brings us to the intro track from the album this website named as the #1 effort of 2008.  Portugal. The Man's Censored Colors blends an astounding mix of sounds to form what is a melodically appealing, and at times, breathtaking album.  However, all of that could not be accomplished without the tone-setter for the entire ordeal, "Lay Me Back Down".  Loud chords and interesting keyboards propelled this one to the forefront of my attention immediately last year, and the accompanying video should grab you as well.

The band, who are natives of Alaska, are playing a show out in the desert in this one.  We, and the band, encounter what seem to be native peoples, as well as some odd static entity.  Admittedly, it can get weird at times, but I'm never really surprised with this band.  Their abilities to put out such a large volume of high quality work in a short time frame continue to amaze many listeners out there, and this year should be no different.  The Satanic Satanist will be out July 21st, and though many of us were in love with last year's record, I'm not really expecting it to sound all that similar.  I guess we'll see though.  Stay tuned.


New Grizzly Bear Video, "Two Weeks"

Finally, the official release of Grizzly Bear's epic new effort, Veckatimest, is just days away.  By now, every fan of the band has heard standout "Two Weeks," so I'm sure readers are anxious for the accompanying video.  Just in time, it's here.  Released by the band today, we get to see everyone's first- or second-favorite song of 2009 (depending on whether you're in the Veckatimest or MPP camp) in visual form.  Check out the church-themed video below, and enjoy the extended weekend.


Matt's Track of the Week: "Carry The Zero"

Song: Carry the Zero
Artist: Built to Spill
Album: Keep It Like A Secret
Year: 1999

In the spirit of the weather getting warmer, it seems like a good time to highlight one of my summertime favorites.  "Carry the Zero" has a vibe that's extremely unique in the Built to Spill catalog.  Although the band's sound has included small dashes of island-influence since some of their earliest releases, no song brings that element into the forefront quite like this one.

Right away, the bold opening guitar lines knock you off your feet.  Then, the sweeping, punchy guitar solo carries you off to a scene of blue skies and palm trees with a hint of melancholy.  The song relies heavily on its instrumental aspects throughout, but still delivers some of my favorite Doug Martsch lyrics in between drawn-out interludes.  It's catchy, and seems to hit all the right buttons at all the right times.  It's one of the best examples of Built to Spill's strong sense for creating vivid imagery in their music.  Check it out below.


Pre-Screening: Phoenix

Album: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Artist: Phoenix
Label: V2 Records
Due Out: May 26th

It seems that the buzz over Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix has been going on for months now. Stereogum's good for about at least a couple posts about the band, Phoenix, every week, and it seems like everyone's at least heard "1901" and "Lisztomania," if not the entire album. Still, it's not out yet, so some speculation exists. The group has morphed quite a bit from its humble beginnings of 2000's United, which seemingly touched more on 90s alternative. Today, the band has fully embraced the current landscape of the indie rock scene, which has a strong and growing focus on electronic and dance elements, and the results have been nothing short of fun and active. The bombs on the album's cover are probably an apt description of this album- definitely better than any imagery I can formulate with words. You're seemingly bombarded from the first note until the end with a wave of pop bliss, and a steady, streaming hiss of dance-ability. Cue the lights.

"Lisztomania," the first single, gives you the perfect tone-setter for an album whose joy and ecstasy seem to bleed out of every note. Imagine The Strokes with a dance beat, and you're starting to get on the right track. A great keyboard backing really drives this one through its peaks and valleys- jumping, bopping, and then careening towards a fever pitch before settling back to Earth. "1901" starts similarly. A bit toned-down in comparison, but still very poppy, encouraging a tempo increase as it goes. The song stays within some limits, never bringing things too high or too low, but still, maintains a very active mood throughout. Next, "Fences" brings slows us down a bit further, at least at first glance. Here, like the other tracks, there's a lot going on, between dueling synths, falsetto vocals and a couple of interesting and offsetting guitar parts. Alluding to the name, the sound seems a bit fenced in, almost muted by restriction, however still remains strong, within these confines.

"Love Like a Sunset" is the album's longest track, clocking in at over seven and a half minutes, and is also the most adventurous. Unlike the first three tracks, here we have something completely devoid of a chorus or verse (for the first half of the song), an existential experiment into the inner workings of what mindset constructed these songs. Tribal beats mixed with synths act together to create a buzzing wall of sound that harkens to one of this year's earlier releases, Here We Go Magic, mixed with a Kid A b-side. Though we see several different moods throughout the mostly-instrumental experience, all flow perfectly from one to the next, and give a calming mood to the record, for the time being. Not to settle in the middle, "Lasso" jumps in immediately following, bringing the pace back up to where were at for the first track. Continuing a musical trend this year, we see a bright and sprawling picture unfold in front of us with the track's inviting, yet driven nature. On a similar note, "Rome" builds on the energy created by the last track, only to tear it down, and then erect it again by its own model. The lyrics flow easily and the electronic beats in the background glide in between the active guitar and percussion parts, to form a relaxing, yet upbeat standout.

"Countdown (Sick For The Big Sun)," gives us one of the busiest songs on the record, as several sounds bounce back-and-forth behind the album's most obvious shows of regret to this point. Still, it's also filled with a lot of bright spots, a great contrast that sets this one apart, for me at least. Next, "Girlfriend" once again tones it down a bit, while functioning within some pre-constructed walls. Here, however, you can almost feel the steady beat try to stretch these boundaries. It always feels like it's about to burst, but never does, almost holding itself back from the peak of its sonic potential. Finally, "Armistice," seems to stay true to its name, disarming parts of the album, and providing us with a proper and fitting end to the pop experience. Still, perhaps another track or two would have made this one feel a bit more complete.

Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is filled with a passion and energy that you will find on very few albums this year. From a pop standpoint, the album does its job- providing us with an enjoyable and radio-friendly mix of bright and interesting tracks. Maybe there weren't any songs to make this a 10- or 11-track effort, but like I said, it would seem a bit more complete if there had been. The album as a a whole provided for an active experience, and the tracks were all notable individually, but as a whole, I did feel as if everything sounded a bit too similar. Still, I commend the band for keeping continuity a priority, something that some artists lose track of at times. Phoenix has something here that will definitely appeal to a lot of people, so I encourage music fans across the board to give it a listen. Similarities include the aforementioned Strokes, Ra Ra Riot and Voxtrot.

Rating: 8.0/10

Best Track: "Countdown (Sick For The Big Sun)" (not up yet, but check out "Lisztomania")

John's Track of the Week: "Heretics"

Song: Heretics
Artist: Andrew Bird
Album: Armchair Apocrypha
Year: 2007

For anyone who's kept up with this blog all year, you'll probably remember that I was, and still am, a very big fan of Andrew Bird's latest effort, Noble Beast.  The southwestern air about it, mixed with some interesting and active arrangements, made for quite an album.  However, Bird's material has not always resembled what we see on Noble Beast.  On 2007's Armchair Apocrypha, Bird shows a progression from his earlier, acoustic-based works to a more electric-based arrangement.  The songs are more rooted in indie rock than his normal baroque style, and some could say it has been his most rock-oriented album to-date.

In "Heretics," Bird addresses issues with God and death.  Told from the point of view of a heretic, or multiple heretics, he speaks about punishment for the crime of heresy, and how he, the narrator, views the church establishment from the outside.  It's interesting to see it from the passive point of view, rather than the active.  It's not a call for action, but rather, just an observation of the world surrounding the narration.  Outside of the lyrics though, still a great musical arrangement as well.  Check it out below.


New Cornershop Video, "The Roll Off Characteristics (Of History In The Making)

UK band Cornershop, who many may know from the LeBron James chalk commercial that came out around the holidays last year, is coming out with a new record, Cornering the Market, this July.  In order to create some hype though, they've released this new single, "The Roll Off Characteristics (Of History In The Making)," their first new material since 2002.  For those who are unaware, the group mixes traditional Indian sounds with indie and electronic dance music to make a wholly original and engaging sound.  I've seen the video, which was shot in India, and it's a pretty cool endeavor.  Check it out if you're interested, and look for "The Roll Off Characteristics (Of HIstory In The Making)" single, out May 26th via Ample Play.  Also, check out the remix of the song below, courtesy of Stereogum.


Dâm-Funk Remixes "Summertime Clothes"

Glad to see that Animal Collective is employing some good judgment, and will be making my second-favorite song off of Merriweather Post Pavillion, "Summertime Clothes," the second single from the album. The bouncy and fun number was brought to Letterman last week, and a video should be out by July.  If the video for "My Girls" is any indication as to what we're in for, I'm intrigued.  Also being included with the single are remixes of the song by ZombyDâm-Funk, and L.D.  Expect all of that to happen on July 7th.  For now though, head over to Rappcats to check out Dâm-Funk's fantastic and spacey mix of the track for both streaming and downloading  Trust me, you'll enjoy it.

Music Video Monday: "Overdue"

Track: Overdue
Artist: The Get Up Kids
Album: On A Wire
Year: 2002

This week's video is one of my all-time favorites.  Along with it being for one of my favorite songs, by one of my favorite bands, it shares the same dark and beautiful quality that is presented in the album's cover art, as well as in the overall sonic mood of the record.  It creates a uniform image, and serves as a perfect visual companion to the music.

The video's story follows a lonesome doll-maker, who lives in a dollhouse, through his mind, and a warped, run-down urban wasteland.  Whether he's looking for something he has lost, or something that he has never had is unclear.  The focus of his yearning, however, appears to be on love.  The objects of his affection seem to be the dolls that he makes and piles in his dollhouse, but it's as if they're only failed attempts at creating what he truly needs.  In his fantasies, he sees himself with one of the dolls, in a life-sized form, almost echoing the beginning and end of the video, where a real woman, who dwarfs the man, walks by the dollhouse and catches his eye.  It drives home the idea that all people really want is someone who is made for them.

New Modest Mouse, "Guilty Cocker Spaniels"

As we've discussed quite a bit during the past week, Modest Mouse will be releasing a collection of b-sides later this summer.  Prior to this release, however, there will be several sets of 7" singles, the first of which is for "Satellite Skin".  Today, the band has allowed the second song on said single, "Guilty Cocker Spaniels" to see the light of day, via a Stereogum-exclusive stream.  The track is a lot different from "Satellite Skin"- a more mellow version of Isaac Brock's usually ranting and raving, yet still touches on enough rock and roll elements to perhaps mark a new chapter for the band.  I guess we'll see though.  If you're interested, check it out over at Stereogum.  The limited edition "Satellite Skin" single will be out on May 26th, and will also be available on Itunes.


New Modest Mouse Video, "Satellite Skin"

We just talked about "Satellite Skin" being up on Modest Mouse's Myspace the other day.  Now, the video for the new track is up for your enjoyment leading up to the release of both the "Satellite Skin" 7", and August's No One's First and You're Next EP of previously-unreleased tracks.  This video's a fun and creepy stop-motion/real-life clip that you're sure to find interesting.  Check it out below, and also stay tuned for the "Satellite Skin" 7" and digital release on May 26th.

Coldplay Giving Away Live Album

Though I really don't listen to them much anymore, Coldplay is giving away their new live album, LeftRightLeftRightLeft, up on their website today, and I thought some readers might be interested.  When I went to go check out the link, it wasn't working, but perhaps it's just a temporary technical glitch that will be ironed out soon.  Here's the link if you'd like to go check that out for yourself.  Also, look below for the track listing.

1. "Glass of Water"
2. "42"
3. "Clocks"
4. "Strawberry Swing"
5. "The Hardest Part/Postcards From Far Away"
6. "Viva La Vida"
7. "Death Will Never Conquer"
8. "Fix You"
9. "Death and All His Friends"

Pre-Screening: Passion Pit

Album: Manners
Artist: Passion Pit
Label: Frenchkiss Records/Columbia
Due Out: May 19th

For a group that's been around for about a year and a half, Passion Pit has generated an awful lot of buzz. Appearing on the scene late in 2007, the five members have created fun and interesting pop music in their brief time together, capitalizing on the recent electro-indie craze, or perhaps, even furthering it. After releasing a six-song demo, originally penned for lead singer Michael Angelakos' girlfriend, the band gained popularity at Emerson College almost instantly, followed by notice in the Boston music press. From there, MTV, Pitchfork, Itunes, and the WB online have all picked up on the band, and ever since, it's seemed that they've been on a roller coaster ride to stardom. And that's where we arrive at Manners. Expanding upon the creative wall of sound they concocted on 2008's Chunk of Change EP, Manners brings a strong first chapter in what should be a long and interesting career of full-lengths. If you like pop music, brace yourself.

"Make Light" rolls in, quickly getting louder from its reserved introduction, bursting onto the scene with a jovial collection of pop synths, soaring falsetto vocals, and a playful guitar riff. Next is "Little Secrets," a song that at first makes you think you're starting up the NES for a game of Super Mario Bros., before the inevitable vocal takeover. Though the entire record is fun, this song may be the most so, employing a bouncy pop beat that curries favor from 80s enthusiasts and even fans of church hymnals. Admittedly, I usually hate kid vocals in songs, but this track uses them to perfection. Literally, perfection. When I first heard them, I was hooked. It's the perfect medium to truly translate the youth this record strives for, so I commend the band for possessing the foresight there. Compared to the previous track, "Moth's Wings" may sound slow at first, but I'm pretty sure anything would. However, we see that this track quickly jumps into its keyboard-fueled melody that, like most of the songs on the album, bounces along with a pleasant and airy feel that is sure to make it endearing to listeners this year.

From there, we proceed to the album's first single, "The Reeling," a dance party in the image of European electro-pop if I've ever heard one. These songs all fit together, trust me, but there is a definite difference in style per song that makes me eagerly anticipate the next one. Also, if the fantastic beat here wasn't enough, the kid chorus is back for yet another perfect placement within the track. In what starts out as something that sounds very similar to a slowed-down version of the intro Ra Ra Riot's "Too Too Too Fast," "To Kingdom Come" finally allows us to catch a bit of our breath, though that observation is only by the standards of Manners as a whole. It's still catchy as hell, just like the rest of the album, once it gets to the chorus, and will have you dancing, or tapping your foot at the least. Next, "Swimming in the Flood," could probably substitute as a hip hop song at first glance, before incorporating some calm vocals and a conservative piano contribution. If this album had to have a ballad, I suppose you could call this it, at least for the first half, before it gets more active again. "Folds In Your Hands" then brings us back to the club, once again hopping around between the high-pitched vocals, 80s-inspired synths, and 90s dance beats.

"Eyes As Candles" just seems like a spoof on Hoobastank's "The Reason" at first glance, and honestly, if someone did an entire record of songs like that, I would have half a mind to give it a 9 out of 10. Hoobastank owes us for that entire three-month block time we had to hear that song, so I think it's only fair to champion those who may allude to it, albeit briefly and in a joking fashion. The next track, "Sleepyhead," is definitely familiar to anyone who's been listening to this type of music in the past year. We even featured it here a couple months back. Though not the fastest, nor most adventurous song, for some reason, this one appeals to people purely on the basis of its many elements creating a fun and pleasant pop mixture. Then, believe it or not, "Let Your Love Grow Tall" actually sounds like a regular song- and by regular, I mean, something that's not hopped up on pop and club beats while flying along at over 180 bpms. Once again, there's a hint of the kids chorus, this time in a more-reserved capacity, but still there and effective, so it's a plus. And we end with "Seaweed Song". This one actually sounds a bit religious, but maybe that's just my perception. I'm guessing it was called "Seaweed Song" because of the underwater aesthetic it seems to create? I could be wrong, but I feel like I'm underwater while listening to it, so that seemed to work.

Manners, unlike any other album I have heard this year, is in another world. Literally. Passion Pit has created a bubble of sound, that you can only access while listening to this album, and once inside, you are so overwhelmed and taken aback by the pure level of accomplishment that it's over before you know it. Every song has a real and original personality, and I commend the band for quickly holding their own and making a name for themselves as ones to watch in the recent sea of electronic-based tunes. Rarely does a band, especially on their debut album, undertake this much so successfully. There's a lot going on here, all of it delightful, so prepare yourself to listen multiple times to truly latch on to everything happening around you. Similarities include the aforementioned Ra Ra Riot, MGMT, and Dan Deacon.

Rating: 8.5/10

Best Track: "Little Secrets"

Dark Night of the Soul Now Streaming

Many have probably heard about the mysterious music project that is Dark Night of the Soul, engineered by Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse. Well, though there is now no actual release date for the record, the tracks for this artistic venture are now streaming up on NPR. For those who may not be aware, Dark Night of the Soul is a dual art/music project of sorts, that employs artist David Lynch, along with other musicians including James Mercer of The Shins, The Flaming Lips, Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals, Jason Lytle of Grandaddy, Julian Casablancas of The Strokes, Frank Black of the Pixies, Iggy Pop, Nina Person of The Cardigans, Suzanne Vega, Vic Chestnutt, and Scott Spillane of Neutral Milk Hotel. If you're interested, check it all out at NPR.


Pre-Screening: Iron & Wine

Album: Around the Well
Artist: Iron & Wine
Label: Sub Pop
Due Out: May 19th

Yes, this is, indeed, a compilation album. A large portion of the songs that appear on Iron & Wine's Around the Well have not been heard before by more than the most-dedicated fans. They are an extensive group of songs (23 in all), which the man behind the music, Samuel Beam, put together quite nicely, and for that, should at least be awarded with an evaluation. On top of this, Matt was traveling today, and thus couldn't post his usual Thursday article, so I decided to compile this double-dip album review in its place. Thursday/early Friday will be this album, while I'll feature another album later Friday. However, regardless of the fact that this album was not put together as organically as the others we normally discuss, I can assure you that the content flows extremely well, and even seems to carry a similar vibe, though obviously taken from many different writing periods.

"Dearest Forsaken" starts us off with a classic Iron & Wine vibe- a quick acoustic and banjo number covering the issues of love. Immediately following, it appropriately opens up into the bright "Morning," which stays true to its name and slowly wakes you up, easing you into the record. The one underlying aesthetic you start to sense within a few songs is the (almost too) glaring similarities to the work of Sufjan Stevens, and it is even harder to ignore once you get to "Loud As Hope". "Peng! 33" continues the positive outlook with its quest, and apparent discovery, of happiness. Then "Sacred Vision" slows us down again. For the most part, the tracks here on disc one alternate between up-tempo and the slower material, and I feel as if it's something that works very well for the type of record we're looking at. Tracks such as "Friends They Are Jewels" may seem to make this theory sound false though.

Heading into the next grouping of songs, "Hickory" doesn't speed up, but rather glows as compared to the previous one. I hate using brightness too much as a description for music, but this song's easy-going nature and airy presentation can only be talked about as such. To adapt to space constraints, I'll talk about the covers ("Waiting For A Superman", "Love Vigilantes", and "Such Great Heights") altogether- they're all fantastic reinterpretations of the originals, and great additions to your collection. Admittedly, "Swans And The Swimming" immediately caught my ear as one of the more notable pieces, possessing a strong background part to counter a soft vocal approach seemingly broaching the subjects of youth and beauty. It's made better when set up against the slightly plodding "Call Your Boys," a track that can be enjoyable in its place.

Skipping ahead, Disc 2 (if you get the CD version) starts with one of the best tracks here, "Communion Cups and Someone's Coat". This song, unlike almost all of the others, legitimately sounds different than the larger collection of I&W work, with a quick and more active guitar part bouncing pleasantly with the vocal harmonies. I'd say the second disc is definitely the more pleasant (and dare I say better of the two) collection of songs, but once it's on your media library, it pretty much all melts into one experience, save the previously mentioned demarcation line. "Belated Promise Ring" strolls along briskly in the same mood as the last track. "God Made the Automobile" kicks in next with a delightful mix of shakers, radiant guitar and a beautiful vocal chorus that builds as you go. Finally, the good mood mellows slightly with "Homeward These Shoes," which is a completely new track. Going ahead once again, "Sinning Hands" continues to cool us down from the quick opening pace of the disc, with a relaxing, yet active melody. In comparison to the smooth last song, "No Moon" gives off a smokey and choppy mood, but one that still works well, given the juxtaposition.

Hitting the home stretch here, "Serpent Charmer" brings an exotic sound I have not really seen much from Beam before, but it's definitely a welcome one. "Carried Home" brings us a similar, foreign feel, but much more mechanical, yet still an enjoyable difference from this we're used to seeing, with the addition of piano doing well to soften the song's persona at various instances. From there, you may be taken aback by the "jazz" number, "Kingdom of the Animals," which employs a very lively and youthful piano piece, mixed with tambourine to create more sounds that have rarely, if ever, been heard by Iron & Wine. "Arms of the Thief" sounds like dirty southern rock and roll- something else new and different- and once again employs piano, as well as some electronic elements, to create a fantastic presentation. We end with the longest track on the record, "The Trapeze Swinger," which, for the most part, re-establishes the sound we're all accustomed to, but still incorporate some novel elements that differentiate it and make it a fair compliment to the other material at the same time.

So, after that marathon of an album, I must say, I sit here pleased with the first disc, but in awe of the second disc. If the second one had been released by itself, it would contend for album of the year, while the first half would just blend into the pack. Since they are released together though, I will evaluate them as such. I commend the risks taken, but must still consider the ones which were never attempted in the early going. If I were Beam, I'd go in the direction of the second record for future recordings. I know it won't happen, but I'd be extremely happy to see it. Try this one out if you enjoy Iron & Wine, or just relaxing music in general. Similarities include Sufjan Stevens, Andrew Bird, and Ray LaMontagne.

Rating: 7.5/10

Best Track: "Kingdom of the Animals" (unfortunately not up right now, but check out "The Trapeze Swinger" live)