Panda Bear - Tomboy


Paw Tracks

The infamous psychedelic synth group, Animal Collective, has always been a unique representation of the endless tug-of-war between the avant-garde and pop that currently dominates that which we call "indie music". What's been unique about Animal Collective is that the two sides of this tug-of-war have always been represented by the two vocalists of the group: Avey Tare and Panda Bear. Panda Bear has always been the voice of blissful melody and poppy nostalgia while Avey Tare has always represented the voice of untamable musical experimentation and production. Although you might never know it from listening to the unifying sound of Animal Collective, the idea that Animal Collective was some kind of a "collaboration" between the two artists had always been at the roots of the band. Unfortunately, to me, the collective sound of their collaboration has always left me feeling a bit underwhelmed by the solo work of these two musicians and Panda Bear's newest record seems to be no exception.

Following up his critically-acclaimed album from 2007, Person Pitch, Panda Bear adds some much appreciated fidelity to the mix in his newest release, but maintains many of the general vibes from his prior album. Tomboy finds Panda Bear diving even deeper into the depths of his laid back, surfer attitude. In one of my favorite tracks from the album, Surfer's Hymn, Panda Bear directly references surfing and finds philosophical consolation in the water and waves in typical Panda Bear style. The percussion rattles and bounces amidst the bubbling synths and soaring melody and creates a great flow Unfortunately, Surfer's Hymn is probably the most sonically dynamic track on the album with most of the other songs sitting on one sound or feel for the entire duration of the song. While I totally understand what he's doing here, many of the songs just doesn't appeal to me in the way that makes me want to return to them unlike more of the tracks from Person Pitch or the Animal Collective albums.

In fact, I really like some of the sounds Panda Bear is working with here. I love the sawtooth synth at the beginning of the title track "Tomboy" or even the quiet pianos in "Scheherazade". I also like that Panda Bear is experimenting with these different instruments and moods, expanding the washed-out guitars and samples that dominated Person Pitch. However, more than anything else, the lack of explosive production and dynamic songwriting here has made me increasingly aware of what makes the collaboration of Animal Collective so great. While this album lacks focused aggression and unpredictable sonic experiments to me, Avey Tare's solo release last year lacked the undeniable hooks and melodies that Panda Bear is known for. So while I appreciate hearing the differing perspectives between Panda Bear and Avey Tare, these solo albums mostly appreciate the collaboration even more and get me more excited for the next Animal Collective album.

Panda Bear - Surfer's Hymn


TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light


Interscope Records

I think its safe to assume we were all a little spoiled by TV on the Radio's 2008 release, Dear Science. To think that a band with an early discography as noisy and distorted as TV on the Radio's could go on to release something so instantly accessible, perfectly sequenced, and undeniably catchy was something of a strange, indie listener's guilty fantasy. While many of the songs from that album worked great as singles, Dear Science also had an amazing amount of flow and listenability as an album, easily making it both one of the best albums of the year and the best work of their career. "Family Tree", the beautiful string-led ballad from Dear Science, was perhaps the only track from the album that felt a bit out of place to me. The deeply personal lyricism and organic instrumentation of the track felt strange up against the punchy drum loops and aggressive lyrics of tracks like "Dancing Choose" and "Red Dress". Following up that track, their new album seems to set out to create a much more personal and emotional album that might have provided a better space for a song like "Family Tree".

After considering the actual sounds that make up this album, you'll notice that Nine Types of Light doesn't deviate much from the sonic groundwork of Dear Science. This, of course, is not a bad thing at all in my books. You'll still find the Prince-esque falsetto choruses in songs likes "Keep Your Heart" and "You". You'll still find killer bass lines in "Will Do" and the fanfare horn blasts in songs like "New Cannonball Blues". Furthermore, frontman Tunde Adebimpe sounds as good as ever, continuing to have his uncanny knack for writing melodies that are as catchy as they are inventive.

Even so, Nine Types of Light is indeed a different kind of album as a whole. Opening with three slower tempo songs, the guys seem to be less concerned with convincing everyone that they are energetic and creative and more concerned with representing themselves in an honest way. In fact, a large part of the album deals with the topic of relationships and love, something somewhat new for the band. Because of that, Nine Types of Light feels like a much more introverted album, both musically and lyrically. Songs like "You" and "Will Do" are written like love notes from the perspective of direct experiences and emotions. Whereas Dear Science felt a bit heady in its critiques of society and culture, Nine Types of Light turns inward and examines the self. Naturally, this makes the album feel a bit less "important" and intentional at times. As I mentioned before, as the album pushes on to its end it actually finds itself returning to more extroverted themes in songs like "Repetition" and "Caffeinated Consciousness". Unfortunately, to me this is where the album loses a little steam as well.

Because the album is in someways divided into two with most of the slower songs packed to the front and most of the upbeat songs packed toward the end, Nine Types of Light definitely does feels a bit uneven to me. This 'flow' problem is what a lot of critics have been calling Nine Types of Light's primary flaw and I think do now understand what they mean by this after taking a lot of listens. I would much have preferred for the album to have stayed closer the conceptual and musical themes of the first half of the album. After the heartfelt words of "Will Do" are sung, "New Cannonball Blues" feels almost like the startling beginning of a new album.

At the same time, I don't want to act like the album's lack of focus and strange organization has kept me from thoroughly enjoying the songs here. As TV on the Radio pushes forward into mainstream success, Nine Types of Light has plenty of hits on it to satisfy the masses. Even if am not necessarily really feeling the way they chose to lay out the album, Nine Types of Light still manages to take all the accessibility and sonic fidelity of Dear Science and use them to create another great set of songs with that distinctive afro-funk touch that we all know and love.

TV on the Radio - Will Do


Peter Bjorn and John - Gimme Some



Poor Peter, Bjorn, and John. No matter how good anything they release will be after Writer's Block and their big single, Young Folks, they will always be labeled as a one-hit wonder. Gimme Some is the sixth full-length album from the Swedish indie rockers and finds them returning to the simple, pop/rock sound that got them on iPod commercials and the entire world whistling along. And while some will certainly call this album nothing more than PB&J attempting to cash in on their previous successes, Gimme Some has got enough sunshine pop tunes to keep even the toughest cynics smiling.

Starting with "Tomorrow Has To Wait", PB&J seems determined to show the world that they've got more where Writer's Block came from. The first few tracks are pure, indie bubblegum. The first track, "Tomorrow Has To Wait", has a catchy hook full of pentatonic goodness, even though the lyrics are laced with enough cliches to be a song that you might want to graduate high school to: "It's too late/But tomorrow has to wait/It's the time of your life/So tomorrow has to wait". Even still, the track is a sign that PB&J are serious about their return to fun and lightheartedness and has enough substantial hookyness to keep this one stuck in your head. Where their last album, Living Thing, featured non-traditional song structures, drum machines and synths, and general "more sophisticated than thou" experimentation, Gimme Some brings back the return of the punchy drums and singalong choruses that made Writer's Block so successful.

Their signature high-energy drumming and catchy bass groves are in full force here, proving how full their simple, three-piece band can feel, with the youthful energy of The Beach Boys with the added effect of Peter Moren's John Lennon-esque vocals. But you won't find any ballads or breaks in uptempo pop songs here. Gimme Some never lets up on the breakneck drums and hard hitting electric guitars, perhaps described most fittingly in the song "(Don't Let Them) Cool Off". But I couldn't help feeling a little overwhelmed by all the over-the-top energy of the album at points. Overall, the first half of the album, if not a bit one-dimensial, is a fun and catchy group of pop songs. Perhaps its just the obsessive attention I put on how albums flow, but most of the songs after the melodic wonder "May Seem Macabre" aren't really doing much for me. In the songs that find the band returning to some of their dirtier pop-punk roots, most notably "Black Book", the mix just feels cluttered and claustrophobic.

The problem isn't that there aren't enough hooks or big beats in Gimme Some, its just that once you get halfway through the album you begin to get the feeling that PB&J, despite their best intentions, are trying a little to hard to convince you of how fun they are. Luckily, there are enough memorable tunes here to put it above any of PB&J's more recent efforts and their return to straightforward pop rock turns out to really suits them well. A lot of these songs bubble and burst with joy and summertime bliss and I can totally seem myself returning to this one come July.

Peter Bjorn and John - Tomorrow Has To Wait


Favorite Radiohead Songs of All Time

I know Radiohead's most recent album, The King of Limbs, was "sooo two months ago", but in light of all the mixed reviews its been getting and the recent attention the band has been receiving, I thought it would be fitting to make a list of my favorite Radiohead songs of all time. I can't say, after making this list, that I understand any better how The King of Limbs fits in the grand scheme that is the Radiohead discography, but oh well. Oh and by the way, I don't claim to be a Radiohead expert or even the world's biggest fan; these are the ones that have stuck with me the longest.

Honorable Mentions:
-Karma Police

10. Creep
While a lot of "hardcore" Radiohead fans tend to overtook their most popular single of all time behind, I find "Creep" to be a great representation of how even from very early on, Radiohead was able to write music that resonated with listeners in a very special way. After seeing a cover of the song sung by a choir in the trailer for the recent film, Social Network, it became so very clear to me that there was something significant about the way this band would come to inhabit the voice of an entire generation of people entangled in issues of self-image, individuality, and alienation.

9. High and Dry
If you listen to this one up against the other songs on the list, you'll find its pretty striking how much Radiohead has changed their sound. A single off their second 1995 alternative rock album, The Bends, "High and Dry" represents the best of Radiohead's more mainstream pop/rock sound and is a good reminder of how good the band once was at this sound.

8. Let Down
The big single off of OK Computer, "Let Down", saw Radiohead mastering their new experimental rock sound and perfectly combining it with the mainstream rock sound of The Bends, their previous album. "Let Down" was just the kind of anthem that the band needed to boost them into the stratosphere of global popularity and stadium rock stardom. Plus, the cute, sine wave tinkles at the end of the album are a naive, but cordial prophecy of the electronic experimentation of Kid A that was just around the corner.

7. Paranoid Android
This incredibly strange track off OK Computer shows off Radiohead's bizarre harmonic language that shows off the band's uncanny use of traditionally non-pop chord progressions and key changes. Taking cues from progressive rock and the late Beatles albums, this multi-sectional song had just enough dark sonic exploration and explosive electric guitar fuzz to win over fans from all sides of the "rock" spectrum.

6. House of Cards
Who honestly knew Radiohead still had this side of them around? This often overlooked, reverb-laden track off of In Rainbows, has got to be one of the most simple songs Radiohead has ever released. Its soaring melody, love affair-themed lyrics, and simple production makes this one my favorite "ballad" (if you want to call it that) by Radiohead and shows that for all Radiohead's contrived instrumentation and pretentious lyrical ideas, they can still write a simple love song and pull it off with a convincing amount of tenderness.

5. Optimistic
This more "classic Radiohead" sounding, track off of Kid A is often seen as the one misnomer in the Kid A album. Whereas the rest of album retreats from incredibly popular sound that the band achieved on their previous record, OK Computer, "Optimistic" finds a lot of overlapping ground with it. Featuring a full-fledged rock band Fortunately, Optimistic is simply too good have been left off a Radiohead album and features just enough lyrical and sonic experimentation to fit in well enough on the album while at the same time giving older fans something to hold on to.

4. Reckoner
Only after three albums of electronic experimentation could Radiohead be free to release such tracks like Reckoner of pure, simple, unrestrained beauty. In "Reckoner", a track off of In Rainbows, we are again reminded of how sweet and powerful Thom Yorke's haunting falsetto vocals truly are. Yorke's long sweeping melodies contrast up against the assorted percussion from the rest of the band and culminate in a beautiful drop-out bridge section, only to return to the previous section with layered strings and percussion in the arsenal.

3. Idioteque
This one is the crown of Kid A and perhaps the climax of the album as a whole. Using the sounds of house and techno beats to drive the unnerving post-apocalyptic tension in this track, Idioteque is the prime example of what I would call Kid A's thematic emphasis on 'digital anxiety'. The beautiful chorus melody contrasts starkly with the ghostly atmospheric noises and hollow drum machines and making Idioteque land somewhere between a dance song not meant for dancing and a rock song without any real instruments. However you classify it, it's straight up genius and that's before hearing the energetic live versions that made turned it into a fan favorite.

2. Airbag
The opening distorted electric guitar notes that begin "Airbag" and OK Computer are truly representative of the more experimental rock genre in which they were headed as well as the lyrical ideas of the album. While not a true concept album, OK Computer dealt quite directly with issues of consumerism, alienation, industry, and apocalypse and "Airbag" opens with these evocative lyrics: "In the next world war/In a jackknifed juggernaut"/I am born again" and "In an interstellar burst/I am back to save the universe". People have linked the 1997 album to the millIt was all of a sudden very clear that Radiohead's era of soul-searching and personal lyricism was over and they were entering into the strange, mysterious ground of concept.

1. Everything in Its Right Place
Okay, so I guess I'm a sucker for album openers. To me, this first track off of Kid A is not only my favorite Radiohead song, it was also the face of the new sound Radiohead wanted to project with their shocking, new electronic sound in Kid A. The smooth electronic organ, the strange vocal manipulations, and the uniquely Radiohead harmonic language just perfectly sums up the band for doing what they are best at: constantly redefining what it means to be a rock band in our ever-changing cultural landscape through beautiful musical experimentation and masterful songwriting.


Typhoon - A New Kind of House EP


Tender Loving Empire

When I first heard Typhoon was a big "epic"-sized band, I'll admit I wasn't exactly super-excited to hear what the talk was all about. Even I, the only guy who thought Sufjan Stevens' most recent album was the best album of 2010, was beginning to become weary of bands who claim to be "bigger-than-life". Maybe its just the Oregonian in me talking, but Portland's Typhoon newest EP has seemed to have revived my faith in the power of "big" once again. Typhoon, more than any other band I've heard of recently, is most certainly that. Featuring 12 band members that could function as their own personal marching band, Typhoon has all the symphonic intricacy of a Sufjan Stevens arrangement and all the communal energy of Arcade Fire's Funeral all contained in a relatively short 5-song EP.

Fortunately, Typhoon relies on their big size in a way that feels musically fundamental to their sound instead of getting in the way of the songs. So when you hear the mariachi-style horns or the crowd of people singing in the opening track, "The Honest Truth", you're hearing the real thing. A New Kind of House is the followup to last year's full-length, Hunger and Thirst, and finds the band becoming a much more cohesive band in the studio. Creating what frontman Kyle Morton calls "walls of sound", A New Kind of House feels like more of a family than a band at times. Their familial themes and lyrics left a heavy impression on me, often leaving me wanting to be adopted and sing right along with them. The fact that they tour in 12-passenger vans and live together in a single studio apartment proves that these guys aren't just adopting some kind of trend: they live it.

You'll notice that at times these songs can sound messy and even a bit crowded at points, as if their big sound didn't quite fit in between the two audio channels on your headphones. And while I'm sure this will turn off some, these songs are full of great moments that only a band this big could produce such as the soaring melody in "Kitchen Tile" or the punchy breakdown in "Claws, Pt. 1". The mix does a great job of bending and fumbling through the montage of instruments, highlighting different parts of this indie-orchestra at different times, but still often keeping the big picture in mind. And while the EP is a bit shorter than I would have preferred, that is always the sign of a good thing. According to Morton, A New Kind of House acts as something of a bridge in between Hunger and Thirst and what comes next. Judging from their recent appearance at SXSW and their plans to begin working on their next full-length this summer, I think its fair to say that this EP isn't the last you'll be hearing from Typhoon.

Typhoon - The Honest Truth