Category: Music Reviews


The Staves / yMusic
The Way Is Read
Nonesuch

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Visit yMusic at Facebook and iTunes

The Staves are an English folk rock trio of sisters Jessica, Camilla and Emily Staveley-Taylor from Watford, Hertfordshire, England. yMusic is a sextet chamber ensemble from New York City. Consisting of a trumpet, flute, clarinet, violin, viola, and cello, the group was formed in Brooklyn in 2008. The collaborative release “The Way Is Read” might take some extra effort to appreciate, but the album reveals both the musical differences between the two groups as well as the anticipation the music creates by bringing together consonance and dissonance. The perpendicularity of the groups is evident in the first two tracks “Hopeless” (an a cappella track from the sisters) and “Take Me Home” (art music progressivity from yMusic). The collaboration comes together and bares fruit over the remaining ten tracks. The final and title track “The Way Is Read” is unequivocally the highlight; a beautiful recording in which all talent shines through. If you’re really wanting to appreciate the collaboration, one approach is to listen to the two groups on their own. For example, have a listen to The Staves’ “If I Was” and yMusic’s “Beautiful Mechanical” then have a listen to “The Way I Read”. Realizing this might be more effort than you care to invest, go with the collaborative release, but again, be patient and have more than one good listen.


Björk
Utopia
One Little Indian

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Björk along with co-producer Alejandro Ghersi have released the artist’s tenth album. In contrast to her previous album, “Vulnicura” there is considerable beauty and serenity mixed in with the anguish of life found in the complexity of the overall production; the orchestration of the vocals and instrumentation. There’s no holding back on the time based effects and layering, but the effects are handled masterfully. There is a storyline as the opening track, “Arisen My Senses” starts with the chirping of birds (electro-birds)and segues into a melodious “rising” and “The Gate” is an opening of the heart to love. The utopia projected in the first tracks gives way to reality evident in the ninth track “Sue Me” a musical expression of emotions associated with breaking with her ex. The final tracks “Paradisia” and “Saint” allow us to float toward the final song “Future Forever”; a description of Björk’s utopia. Interestingly, there are no chirping brids, flutes or harps at this point. The vocal and a synthesizer organ leaves us sensing Björk’resilience; she’s been knocked down, but she is now standing stronger than ever.


Sia
Everyday Is Christmas
Atlantic

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Seeing as though it’s Thanksgiving week in the U.S., it seems only right to kick of the holiday season with a Christmas album. Sia, the accomplished Australian singer-songwriter, music video director and record producer, has teamed up with producer Greg Kurstin to release “Everyday Is Christmas”. The ten-track album is composed entirely of originals, and while it’s not up to the high standard set by previous works such as “1000 Forms of Fear” or “This Is Acting”, it’s full of holiday including the jingle bells ringing out in “Candy Cane Lane” and “Snowman”, a poesy to a melting lover. And there’s “Puppies Are Forever” with puppy barks in the mix. Again, it’s not Sia’s best album, but like all of her work, it’s distinctive. So, come on and get into the mood. Add snap to your holiday collection and include “Everyday Is Christmas” along with the likes of “Elvis’ Christmas Album”, Johnny Mathis’ “Merry Christmas” and Barbra Streisand’s “A Christmas Album”. Ho-Ho-Ho.


Tennis
We Can Die Happy
Mutually Detrimental

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This indie pop duo comprising husband and wife Patrick Riley (guitar, keyboards, production) and Alaina Moore (vocals, keyboards) have release “We Can Die Happy”, a five-track EP. This work follows closely on the heels of the year’s earlier album release “Yours Conditionally”. While the album is worthy of attention, there’s reason to show favor for the EP. It’s technically a bit better than the album and the songs have an edge with their very upbeat mood as in the pop “Born to be Needed” or the danceable “Diamond Rings”. This Pick of the Week is sure to make you feel good and put a smile on your face.


Emily Zuzik
Tender

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Emily Zuzik first appeared on HorizonVU’s pages in 2011. We’ve been privileged to follow her work since then – The Wild Joys of Living (2011), Detours (2014) and Angelenos (2016). She consistently shows her willingness to cut across all kinds of music including folk, pop, electronica and pop-rock. Amongst her many projects she has collaborated with notables including Moby (Destroyed, 2011) and Tim Lefebvre (Angelenos, 2016).

Emily’s most recent release, “Tender” is a three track collaboration with Geoff Pearlman (recognized composer, singer, guitarist, producer and engineer). The title track is a soulful song, which is on the lighter, pop side of soul. The vocal works well in the mix from Geoff Pearlman (lead guitars, bass, autoharp), Michael Blumstein (keys), Alex Budman (horns) and George Sluppick (drums). The second track, “Ernst Kirchner” (German expressionist painter and printmaker known to be motivated by fears about humanity’s place in the modern world, its lost feelings of spirituality and authenticity) draws somewhat on sensual Teutonism for the vocal, but the blend of Zuzik’s vocals with Gerald Menke’s pedal steel and Tim Lefebvre’s bass gives the song it’s own place. The final song, “Winter In California” is up tempo contemporary country pop-rock, which will likely get you tapping your feet. “Tender” offers three very different recordings each of which is exceptionally performed. In addition to the recorded performances, clearly, Pearlman deserves a thumbs up for mixing and mastering. In part because of its diversity, this is a recording that you can shuffle the tracks on repeat and stay well-connected. Enjoy!


Darlene Shrugg
Darlene Shrugg
Upset the Rhythm

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Darlene Shrugg brings together Maximilian Turnbull (Slim Twig), Meg Remy (U.S. Girls), Simone TB (Fake Palms), Carlyn Bezic (Ice Cream), and Amanda Crist (Ice Cream). The band isn’t really all that well known. You won’t find them promoting on social media and their live performances are on again, off again, Nevertheless, if it’s hard rock that suits you, this is the album for you. You might start your day with Darlene Shrugg. From the opening track “Inherit the Wind” through to “Freedom Comes in a Plastic Card” you’ll get the adrenaline rush blasting you into the day ahead. There is a softer, beneath the waves track “Strawberry Milk” which will cool you down a bit four tracks into the journey. This is assertive, cocksure rock. There’s plenty of gain, so crank up the volume and go!


Elizabeth & the Catapult
Keepsake
Compass

Visit Elizabeth & the Catapult at Facebook and Compass Records

New Yorker Elizabeth Ziman’s (Elizabeth & the Catapult) “Keepsake”, produced by Dan Molad and featuring collaborations with Richard Swift, is our Pick of the Week for three reasons. First, in the big scheme of things, thinking about pop music and a continuum from great pop (Carole King) to undistinguished pop (no names, please), “Keepsake” clearly falls toward the upper end. Second, Elizabeth Ziman’s controlled vocals deserve recognition from the outset. The vocals stand out among singer-songwriters. Further, Ziman’s classical training shines through and her mastery of piano plays a big part in making this album a success (“Magic Chaser”, “Mea Culpa”). Third, technically, the album deserves kudos for the fact that form is consistently well-matched to melody. Dan Molad deserves credit for his role in the production process. This is an album you’ll be able to enjoy, and enjoy again.


Courtney Barnett/ Kurt Vile
Lotta Sea Lice
Matador

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Australian singer, songwriter meets up with American singer, songwriter and the outcome is really darn good. Perhaps a bit surprising given stylistic differences; Barnett’s sometimes weird, rambling spoken-word style and Vile’s blend of rock, folk, new wave, and country-pop. The duo does come into alignment, but it seems as though Vile is the dominating influence, i.e., Courtney drifts closer to Kurt’s sonic signature than vice versa (take “Over Everything”, for example). There is some foot tapping to do through “Continental Breakfast” and “Blue Cheese”. This is a nice autumn release; maybe find the groove by thinking bright-colored leaves on sunny New England day. Even if you’re not into one artist or the other, or both, open up and give it a listen.


The World
First World Record
Upset the Rhythm

Visit The World at Upset The Rhythm and iTunes

Lots of good recordings out there this week, but in the end the HorizonVU pick goes to The Word for their release “First World Record” on Upset the Rhythm. This album is juiced up post-punk. If you can imagine X-Ray Spex minus Poly Styrene with some Slits here and there and some LiLiPUT combined with a signature wicked sax duo – you’re pretty much there. The Oakland-based band features Amber Sermeno on bass and vocals, Elyse Schrock on drums and vocals, guitarist Andy Jordan, Alexa Pantalone on bongos and Stanley Martinez on sax. Pantalone and Martinez are the saxophonists contributing in a big way to the band’s sonic signature. The album takes off with “Hot Shopper” which streaks by in under two minutes, but you’ll enjoy boppin’ along. “Chet Baker”and “Namaste” really deliver what it seems fair to say is the band’s sound. The album closes out with “I Fell in Love With a Slumlord” a melodic in sort of scratchy way accompanied by a heavy dose of sax. This is the kind of album that makes one want to see the live show. It just screams fun! Read more about this band and follow the tour schedule at Brooklyn Vegan.


Wolf Alice
Visions of a Life
RCA

Ellie Rowsell (vocals, guitar), Joff Oddie (guitars, vocals), Theo Ellis (bass), and Joel Amey (drums, vocals), aka Wolf Alice, have put forth an album of rock, grunge and shoegaze blended with lyrics that are sometimes melancholy and sometimes hostile or pernicious. The band’s arguably at its best in dreamy alt-rock as with the opening track “Heavenward”. The bad-tempered “Yuk Foo” brings out rage and hostility – “I want to fuck all of the people I meet” and “St. Purple and Green” alternates between a composition which is mellow and wet and grunge. The final track “Visions of a Life” is an adventurous journey through disquietude clocking in at just under eight minutes. In addition to the performance, the track is notable for both it’s production (Justin Meldal-Johnsen) and mix (Tom Elmhirst).


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