Weekly Top 10: Brooklyn Bands

This week, we're looking to profile some of our favorite Brooklyn-based bands. As the current hub of indie music, Brooklyn has become a vibrant and ambition collection of artists. Many perform together, listen to each other's music and take cues from innovations they may develop. It's a true music scene, and it's just getting bigger and better each day. You're no doubt aware of all of these bands, but we think this list still serves a purpose. Check it out below.

[Previously on Animal Noises: Weekly Top 10: Mixtape Rap Songs]

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Matt's Track of the Week: Crime in Stereo's "Not Dead"

Song: Not Dead
Artist: Crime in Stereo
Album: I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone
Rating: 8.0

In the infancy of Animal Noises, this probably would have been bigger news, but alas. Crime in Stereo has just released their newest full length, I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone, and with it, the single, "Not Dead". These Long Island natives were once known for their unique brand of politically educated, high energy, old school hardcore punk. In their last two efforts, however, they have taken more experimental approaches to the old formula, risking their street-cred in the process, and have received surprisingly still positive reviews. The one issue I have with many (not all) hardcore 'innovators' (I think 2006s The Troubled Stateside was a complete breath of fresh air and a stroke of genius), is that although these bands may be 'pushing the envelope' to some, it's all within the confines of the genre, and not much to listen to for anyone with a wider musical scope. It would be too complicated to get into the scene politics that legitimize this type of thing, but Crime in Stereo, it seems, is more concerned with expressing themselves as musicians instead of just another hardcore band, and for that, we can be glad.

It's hard to get around it. "Not Dead" sounds like everything that Brand New's Daisy could have been, had the album been written using what we like to call 'the right way'. That being said, I would never compare the bands on any other plane. The two are both completely separate and unique entities, and there's nothing worse than not being accepted on your own merits when you've more than earned them. "Not Dead" also builds on the band's already established sense for creating melody within the natural intensity of their style, polishing their craft, even since the giant leaps made on their last genre-defying effort, Is Dead. This song's passionate urgency is its biggest strength. Check it out below.

[Previously on Animal Noises: Tuesday's Releases (2/23): Now Streaming]


New Video: Kanye West's "Coldest Winter"

As of last month, Mr. West was officially back in the studio, working on material for his next album (says his blog). Although details about the name, and even genre of this future release are still fuzzy, we will more than likely have another classic on our hands very soon. Kanye put together his last masterpiece, 808s & Heartbreak, in a matter of a few weeks. With that in consideration, you could understand why one might be surprised to see a brand-new video single, featuring a song from the aforementioned 2008 release, blowing up all over the internet. Maybe he's trying to make sure he stays relevant in the lead-up to the next big project. Whatever the case, this video is pretty striking. It has an incredibly dark vibe, reminiscent of Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow or Kenneth Branagh's Frankenstein. It even features a gang of otherworldly J.K. Rowling-esque creatures chasing an attractive young woman through the woods. This is not at all what I would have expected for this one, but it does grab the viewer's attention, and that's half the battle. Check it out below.

[Previously on Animal Noises: Weekly Top 10: Mixtape Rap Songs]

John's Track of the Week: She & Him's "Thieves"

Song: Thieves
Artist: She & Him
Album: Volume Two
Rating: 7.0

Everyone's favorite male-female folk duo are back in 2010. She & Him, aka Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward (as if you needed such a clarification) will be releasing their second collaboration together, appropriately entitled Volume Two. Surely you all recall how successful Volume One went over, with its catchy mix of Deschanel originals and various lovelorn covers. And then there was Deschanel's 2009-- an extreme encroachment into the hipster universe if I've ever seen one. If starring in indie film (500) Days of Summer wasn't enough, she also contributed to the soundtrack, and married Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard. Quite a year for the young actress, to say the least.

The introduction to Volume Two is the swooning, elaborate "Thieves." A ballad lamenting over lost love, it brings in a conservative orchestra backing to really get the point across that this collaboration was supposed to take place about 30-40 years ago. The wishy-washy, boy-meets-girl vibe that Deschanel and Ward have managed to keep up is atypical of today's scene, becoming a welcome break from less-straightforward explorations into pop and rock conventions. You'll want to welcome them back into your life with this track. And be sure to pick up She & Him's Volume Two, out March 23 via Merge.


New Roky Erickson, "Goodbye Sweet Dreams"

In more news indirectly involving Okkervil River, the 13th Floor Elevators' legendary frontman Roky Erickson is returning with new material this year. The troubled, and oft-disturbed musician will release True Love Cast Out All Evil as his first collection of new music in 14 years. His backing band? Fellow Austinites Okkervil River. Frontman Will Sheff also produced the record, which promises to be interesting at the least, and phenomenal in a best-case scenario. You can check out the seemingly triumphant comeback track, "Goodbye Sweet Dreams" below. And be on the lookout for True Love Cast Out All Evil via Anti- on April 20.

New New Pornographers, "Your Hands (Together)"

Ignoring the redundancy in the post title, The New Pornographers do, in fact, have a new record-- Together-- coming out later this Spring. The first track from said album is "Your Hands (Together)," which returns all of your favorite elements of pomp and circumstance you've come to expect and enjoy from the band, with a bit more edge to it. Perhaps it's an indication of things to come, or maybe not. Either way, there's reason to get excited about the release, as the band also employs a ton of collaborators, including Beirut's Zach Condon, Okkervil River's Will Sheff and St. Vincent's Annie Clark.

Together is out May 4 via Matador Records. You can check out "Your Hands (Together)" below.

New Portugal. The Man, "The Dead Dog"

As promised, Portugal. The Man will be releasing an experimental album this year entitled American Ghetto. Made more for their longtime fans, the collection is a departure from more recent work-- specifically The Satanic Satanist which came out just this past July. Their first offering from the new album however is entitled "The Dead Dog." Playing more towards classic psychedelia, a hip-hop beat and swirling samples, it looks like a return to what made the band so engaging and intrepid in their infancy. Hopefully the rest of the effort follows suit.

Check out "The Dead Dog" for the price of an email address below, courtesy of the band. And be on the lookout for Portugal. The Man's new album American Ghetto, which will be released via Equal Vision on March 2.

[Previously on Animal Noises: Best Albums of the Decade: #1-10]

Tuesday's Releases (2/23): Now Streaming

It's a HUGE week for releases. So with literally a ton of stuff coming out, we'll just get right to it. Check out all of your favorites below, with album streams courtesy of Spinner. Hopefully, we also see some additions for new efforts from Rocky Votolato, Jack Rose, We Are Wolves and Xiu Xiu (amongst others) as the day goes by. As always, credit for the original idea goes out to LargeHeartedBoy.


Music Video Monday: Vampire Weekend's "Giving Up the Gun"

Track: Giving Up the Gun
Artist: Vampire Weekend
Album: Contra
Year: 2010

It's safe to say this can be filed under "ridiculous," or perhaps will just stand as more evidence of Vampire Weekend's continued encroachment into the mainstream public's consciousness. Either way, the video for Vampire Weekend's latest single "Giving Up the Gun" serves as an entertaining, albeit confusing look into what's been going through the band's mind as of late.

There's a lot to take in with this one, so we'll get right to it. RZA is playing line judge to a tennis match between band pal Jenny Murray and Joe Jonas, who's not even the least-likely participant in the affair (somehow). Running through her competition, Murray eventually gets to play a whiskey-swigging Jake Gyllenhaal (how? why? all of the above?), yet defeats him handily. Lastly, she faces her own self-- usually the largest obstacle for most. After Lil' Jon gives her a pep talk in French she gets all charged up and destroys her alter ego. What follows is a celebration out of a Japanese game show. Mass confusion ensues as the internet explodes over searches for all the aforementioned role players, specifically Murray who just put herself on the map big-time. Enjoy below.

[Previously on Animal Noises: Pre-Screening: Vampire Weekend's Contra]


Pre-Screening: Holly Miranda's Magician's Private Library

Album: Magician's Private Library
Artist: Holly Miranda
Label: XL Recordings
Rating: 8.0

The album art for Holly Miranda's solo debut Magician's Private Library may only seem appropriate for about the first 30 seconds of opening track "Forest Green Oh Forest Green." Still though, the image of the slumbering young girl lingers. For as many times as the collection bursts into majestic shows of emotion-- either through Miranda's dusky voice or the bevy of instrumentation brought in by producer Dave Sitek (of TV on the Radio)-- you're never expecting it. But that's what carries this album. Surprises-- from the unexpectedness of the effort's strong showing, to the hints at TVotR's influence and Miranda's ability to keep a dreamy pop record engaging for listeners.

Emotionally, Miranda maintains a stoic resolve of sorts. Her voice never wavers, never stresses in her most intense moments and even her happily sentimental selections ("Sleep On Fire") appear only with reserved reverence. Yet, the point is still conveyed effectively. In this regard, at least some of the credit goes out to Sitek. Miranda's looks and voice may speak for themselves, but what she needed to really set her act apart was an expert arranger, and stunning production. The Regina Spektors, Leslie Feists and Jenny Lewises of the world are immensely talented vocally, which is why all comparisons for indie-type female artists fall to them. However, in Miranda's case, her strong vocals become a compliment to the even stronger horns and orchestration. Sometimes she soars above the sounds around her, while at others, the instrumentation arrives at the front. But regardless of where it's located, you get most of your cues as to subject matter and mood from her accompaniment. They're the guide to the whole piece of work, and to focus more closely on lyrical content might be to ignore the most important part.

That being said, it doesn't necessarily mean that Magician's Private Library lacks popular appeal. While lead single "Forest Green Oh Forest Green" may only serve to display the full range of the album's talents prior to its release, tracks like "Waves" and "Sweet Dreams" also play off of some popular norms. Part of this comes from her time with The Jealous Girlfriends, who've found themselves on Grey's Anatomy twice. So she's no stranger to what creates or maintains pop appeal. But here, there's more of an unassuming air about it. Cascading horns and cooing echoes make it seem like the songs don't want to be hits outside of the construct of the album. Rather, these songs are more interested in simply existing in the confines of it all. It's a conflict that forms on any record with even a remotely broad appeal really-- there are always those tracks which seemed destined for radio play, or whatever the case may be. Due to a lack of music sales over the past decade, and listener's increasing tolerance for track licensing though, how an artist deals with these potential hits has become less of a hot topic for fans. Nonetheless, you usually know whether a song was meant to be a single, or an album track.

The album's dreamy nature comes from various sources. Miranda's dusky voice does a nice job of evoking nighttime imagery right off the bat. Plus, there are also the three tracks named for sleep in some way ("Sweet Dreams," "Everytime I Go to Sleep" and "Sleep on Fire"). And of course, the intricacies of the underlying keyboard, auxiliary percussion and appearance of soothing strings factor in as well. Mixing them all together, what results is Miranda's narration of either her life or another, through sleep. You see bouts with idealism, realization, and settling with oneself the things you want and need most. Parts may seem like a nightmare ("No One Just Is"), while "Sleep On Fire" seems to walk us out of the scene, either propelling us forward, or bringing us back to the start. I guess in hindsight, it ends up that the album cover is appropriate for the collection's entirety. The girl sleeps soundly amidst danger, but the arrows all miss her, and thus she remains safe-- a perfect symbol for the underlying narrative.

Miranda's Magician's Private Library floats, shimmers and at times, even cascades through its motions. The waves in which it moves range from delicate to turbulent, much like life, yet in the end, our narrator comes out all the better, and maybe with more perspective, too. One could definitely see why Kanye West enjoyed her music so much last year, as he himself usually tries to learn more through music (see 808s and Heartbreak). For those looking for a soothing and fresh artist, who strikes a near-perfect balance between reservedness and ambition, Holly Miranda may be your new obsession.

New Broken Social Scene, "World Sick"

It would appear that we're in for quite a ride come May 4. Broken Social Scene, who have not released a full-length album since 2005, are finally back in action. Forgiveness Rock Record's title alone alludes to being overwhelming, and by the sounds associated with "World Sick," it's probably the most appropriate term. It's a sprawling, exploding rock anthem-- still rife with the intricate instrumentation of their other work, but somehow seeming more basic. Clocking in at nearly seven minutes, it's a lot to take in, but well worth it.

Forgiveness Rock Record is out May 4 via Arts & Crafts. But you can get "World Sick" now-- just for the price of an email address, courtesy of the band, below.

[Previously on Animal Noises: Weekly Top 10: Canadian Bands]


Matt's Track of the Week: Jarrod Gorbel's "Optimism"

Song: Optimism
Artist: Jarrod Gorbel
Album: Ten Years Older EP
Rating: 8.0

Okay, so this song and EP were technically 'released' late last year as a tour-exclusive, with very little promotion and fanfare. This may not constitute as hot off the presses, however, it has recently been given major outlets of distribution, and because of that, I thought it would be good idea to bring it to the attention of our reading public. Jarrod Gorbel was one of the two main minds behind the now-defunct Honorary Title's Anything Else But the Truth (#34 on our Best of the Decade list), and with that notch on his belt, there's bound to be more genius where that came from. 2007's Scream and Light Up the Sky was no exception to this either.

What Gorbel brings to the table with "Optimism", is the same thing that originally attracted us and many others to his work in the first place. His soulful melodies and insightful narratives make for a breath of fresh air in the category of 'painfully honest guy with a guitar'. With a deceivingly simplistic approach, Gorbel delivers time and again, with songs that speak to our darkest character flaws, and romanticize the sometimes-destructive lifestyle that we live from day to day, as young people finding our way in the modern age. On "Optimism", these minor evils are wrapped in a metaphor-ridden cocoon of vague catchiness, and hand-delivered by the man himself. Check it out below.

Weekly Top 10: Mixtape Rap Songs

In the past year, we've talked a lot about mixtapes, and their ever-growing importance in the burgeoning hip-hop scene. Smaller budgets aside, artists put almost as much time and energy into these collections of tracks as they do their full-length studio albums. Mixtapes speak just as loudly about emcees' individual talents, and in many cases are even more readily accessible and widely listened to, as well as a first impression of their work. Due to this, recent mixtapes have been full of many hidden (and not so hidden) gems, that are sometimes a harder act to follow than the artists ever could have expected. Some of the songs we've listed here were hits, and others will only see the light of day as part of the pack. Top 40 or not, these are our favorites. Check out our picks below.

[Previously on Animal Noises: Weekly Top 10: Lil' Wayne]

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John's Track of the Week: Pantha du Prince's "Stick To My Side"

Song: Stick to My Side
Artist: Pantha du Prince
Album: Black Noise
Rating: 8.0

German producer Pantha du Prince (aka Hendrick Weber) had a lot to live up to after the acclaim he received from 2007's The Bliss. In a much more muddled and crowded electronic landscape three years later, there was little ground left untouched by other artists, leaving the standard for exceptional music that much higher. Yet, with all this in mind, Pantha du Prince delivered a sound as majestic and distinct as ever with his third release Black Noise, which saw release via Rough Trade just last week. Of course, having friends like Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) and Tyler Pope (!!!) can also be of some help.

"Stick To My Side" rumbles amidst clanging bells, garbled samples and a heavy backing beat. On an album full of house-influenced dream sequences, this one seems to stick out the most, partially due to how busy it appears-- while also buoyed by Lennox's appearance as well. Lennox's vocals break up the swelling soundscape, much as they did the walls of sound contained within Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion. Entangled within the array of interesting noises, someone has to derive the meaning, and from MPP to Atlas Sound's "Walkabout" to this track, Lennox seems to be your man. Check out the rich pop track below, and if you haven't already, go check out Pantha du Prince's Black Noise in full.

[Previously on Animal Noises: Tuesday's Releases (2/9): Now Streaming]


Pre-Screening: Lightspeed Champion's Life Is Sweet! Nice to Meet You

Album: Life Is Sweet! Nice to Meet You
Artist: Lightspeed Champion
Label: Domino Records
Rating: 8.0

For long-time listeners of Lightspeed Champion, the artist may not necessarily be recognizable when you first hear Life Is Sweet! Nice to Meet You. Refined, focused and precise, Dev Hynes abandons his more raw, damaged persona for a new direction entirely on his latest release. Not only does he nearly eliminate his former penchant for rampant profanity, but any less-than-pristine arrangements from his previous efforts seem to be gone as well. For all intents and purposes, Hynes appears to be a new man, and a new artist here. And yet, even with all of that change, he couldn't have put together an album much better than this one.

What's most striking is the immediate sense of depth one gets within seconds of the first track "Dead Head Blues." The song is filled with layered emotions and instrumentation, as Hynes has seemingly found his voice within his music. Though he still manages to amble off into his hokey storyteller mode at times, he has learned how to better choose his spots by this point. For most of Life Is Sweet!, he allows the music to tell the story for him, only interjecting when necessary. This shift is mostly made possible by the superior musical arrangements Hynes places on all 15 songs, whether entirely instrumental or not. From a more extensive strings section, to expert keyboard sounds or the more polished vocal pipes Hynes sports, the sound has somehow matured by leaps and bounds in a short amount of time.

One of the album's other strengths happens to be its sense for the dramatic. No, you won't hear an overcooked solo, or some half-baked attempt at falsetto crooning. However, as far as theatrical approaches go, when Hynes makes an effort here, it's dead-on. "Faculty of Fears" is about as poppy a song as he's ever put together, the track motoring along on the legs of driving guitar riffs and strong group of strings. Songs like "The Big Guns of Highsmith" and "Middle of the Dark" actually end up leaning on the most subtle homages to bands such as Queen, who thrived on theatrical presentation. Though you won't hear Hynes attempt to imitate Freddie Mercury any time soon, the comparison in the musical composition, specifically when employing the likes of all-male choruses, or some spiraling (yet appropriate) guitar solo.

On the more conventional side, Hynes displays his talents for musical composition without the assistance of words as well. Both intermission tracks are just showcases for some light experimentation with guitar and keyboard, yet they come off as so much more than that. He even tries his hand at a classical piano number, and succeeds with startling positive results on "Etude Op. 3 'Goodnight Michalek'." Experimenting with electronic effects and the like, "Smooth Day (At the Library)" acts as a soft jazz number, then an electronic ballad of steady lament. There's even a track for doo-wop fans, as "I Don't Want to Wake Up Alone" discusses loneliness with more of a tidied up Motown vibe. Though this author certainly wasn't averse to his previously crass approach, the cleaner lyrical content does allow for a much tidier sound overall, and helps speak to the true maturity of this record.

The strides taken by Lightspeed Champion on Life Is Sweet! Nice to Meet You can be overwhelming to longtime fans. Many knew that he had always had something like this in him. Hell, if you listened to any portion of the 10-minute epic "Midnight Surprise" from Falling Off the Lavender Bridge, you'd be well aware of this fact. But, still, this album manages to catch us off guard. It's not as if he's refined just one portion of his skill set. Everything is different, and thus, it's almost like we're listening to a different artist. And Hynes actually ends up being better off for it. As much as we'll miss the downtrodden heartbreak of tracks like "Galaxy of the Lost," the harnessing of all of the potential contained within it is a fair trade off. If he continues making music up to this standard, there's no telling how many accolades he'll eventually receive.

Best Track: "Faculty of Fears"

[Previously on Animal Noises: Tuesday's Release (2/16): Now Streaming]

Tuesday's Releases (2/16): Now Streaming

Hopefully this collection of records is just the beginning of what should be a decent week for music listening. Among those unrepresented at the moment are Dan Black, Tindersticks and Peter Gabriel (amongst others)-- but with luck, this will change, and we'll be sure to update this section as it does. The album streams below are brought to you courtesy of Spinner, unless marked otherwise. As always, credit for the original idea goes out to LargeHeartedBoy.