Jul 21

Little Star – Being Close (2016)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/44,1 kHz | Time – 00:31:04 minutes | 360 MB | Genre: Indie
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download – Source: Bandcamp | Front Cover | © Good Cheer Records

Like it or not, the Little Star story is a classic rock one. Born out of a dissolving relationship, baptized in manic bedroom recording sessions, and confirmed under the winking lights of Portland basement venues, Little Star embodies the rock dream of transfiguring sadness into pop gold.

We first heard of Little Star through the Romantic World of Little Star cassette self-release, a map for Daniel Byers’ inner tumult disguised as scrappy dreampop. Big Star’s exuberant melancholy, the Kinks’ crackerjack guitar work and the Cure’s winking macabre all lit the path through Daniel Byers’ little world. Now we have Being Close, an album that finds Byers enlisting the help of bassist, singer and songwriter Julian Morris and drummer John Value, transposing the coy synthesized instrumentation of Romantic World into a true power trio. “It has very aggressive moments, and it has more tender and sweet moments,” than the debut cassette, proclaims Morris. Byers takes care to note the influence of friends and fellow Portlanders Sioux Falls on the album’s brash sound.

Being Close is the sound of Little Star “bringing the [Romantic World] out of the bedroom and into the live space,” says Value. The ten-song collection finds Byers and Morris, penning songs about transformation and transcendence—Dan’s songs about processing his breakup, Julian’s songs about his process of gender transition. The album might be about dissolution and finding oneself anew, but Byers carefully notes that the songs are really about “moving apart from people.” Is it a breakup album? “Well maybe it is, on accident.”

Songs like “Cheeseman” and “For Goth Easter” demonstrate the emotional breadth of Little Star. All of the songs are “about moving apart from people,” Byers explains. The rollicking “Cheeseman” details the painful drift between two friends, set over Bolan-esque chugging guitar chords. An honest-to-god guitar solo caps off the song, showcasing Byers’ sage-like (and Sage-like) fret heroics. And then there’s “For Goth Easter.” The Morris-Value-Byers trio have turned Romantic World’s emotional centerpiece into a Being Close’s first act showstopper, a breathless three-minute meditation on the power of rock music. Portland Mercury contributor Cameron Crowell has described seeing entire basements teary-eyed, singing along to every word of the song, and I’ve seen it happen, too, I swear to god.

Little Star recorded the bulk of Being Close live in a single eighteen-hour session at Portland’s Type Foundry Studios and mixed the rest of the album in the same house used to make Romantic World. Portland label Good Cheer Records is proud to release the album on CD and Cassette, available online and in stores on January 8.
– Mac Pogue

Tracklist:

01. Being Close
02. Cheeseman
03. For Goth Easter
04. Voice
05. Ollie
06. Banker
07. New TV
08. Ian
09. Attention
10. Hungry Ghost

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Jul 17

alt-J – An Awesome Wave (2012/2013)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz  | Time – 43:38 minutes | 862 MB | Genre: Alternative
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download – Source: HDTracks  | Digital Booklet | © Canvasback/ATL

An Awesome Wave is Alt-J’s award-winning debut. This thrilling masterpiece effortlessly blends rock with experimental pop, redefining the genre of art rock. Packed with memorable choruses, the recording is included on Guardian’s “Best Albums of 2012.” This rock quartet has been compared to artists including Mumford & Sons and Fleet Foxes. Standouts include “Fitzpleasure,” “Tessellate” and more.

Named after the Mac command also used as a mathematical equation to show change, formed while studying fine art at university, and prone to throwing in the odd geometric reference within their lyrics, there are signs that Cambridge-based quartet Alt-J might be a little bit too clever for their own good. Produced by Charlie Andrew (the Laurel Collective), their debut album, An Awesome Wave, is occasionally guilty of pretentiousness, particularly the irritating a cappella vocal warmup of the interlude “(The Ripe & Ruin).” But for the most part, its 13 tracks do for nu-folk what Everything Everything’s equally ambitious debut did for indie rock, breathing new life into the genre with an intriguing but accessible series of art rock twists and turns. Indeed, other than frontman Joe Newman’s impassioned – if occasionally bordering on parody – vocal style, there’s little here in common with the tweeness of Mumford & Sons. “Tessellate” combines the glitchy electronica of Thom Yorke’s solo career with the wistful wintry harmonies of Fleet Foxes; “Fitzpleasure” fizzes along with its dubstep-lite beats and acidic basslines before it’s interrupted, first by a burst of jangly post-rock and second by the kind of shimmering guitar twangs you’d expect from a Tarantino soundtrack; while “Taro” somehow melds together the unlikely bedfellows of Americana and bhangra to produce a fittingly oddball but enthralling finale. It’s to Andrew’s credit that these eclectic arrays of sound are woven together in a manner so effortlessly that the results never feel forced or contrived. There are a few more straightforward moments such as “Matilda,” a gentle acoustic folk ode to Natalie Portman’s troubled character in Léon, and the sparse, haunting “Ms.” But Alt-J’s wave is far more awesome when it’s at its most schizophrenic.

Tracklist:
01 – Intro
02 – Interlude 1
03 – Tessellate
04 – Breezeblocks
05 – Interlude 2
06 – Something Good
07 – Dissolve Me
08 – Matilda
09 – Ms
10 – Fitzpleasure
11 – Interlude 3
12 – Bloodflood
13 – Taro
14 – Hand-Made

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Jul 17

alt-J – This Is All Yours (2014)
FLAC (tracks) 24-bit/44,1 kHz | Time – 55:34 minutes | 572 MB | Genre: Indie
Official Digital Download – Source: Q9buz | Front cover | © Infectious

Alt-J is a Leeds-based group with a signature blend of layered, folk-inflected dub-pop and soaring alternative rock. Alt-J follow up their debut album An Awesome Wave with This Is All Yours. The debut sold over a million copies worldwide and was the 2012 Mercury Prize winner, and the band found themselves at the outset of making a follow up in a new position of recording an album that was actually anticipated, and having gone from a four piece to a trio. The album was recorded in Spring 2014 with the same producer / engineer (Charlie Andrew).

The 2012 Mercury Prize winners begin their sophomore outing with the subversively titled “Intro,” a four-and-a-half-minute highlight reel of what’s to come that pairs the monastic chanting that prefaced An Awesome Wave’s first single, “Fitzpleasure,” with a pastiche of new age and worldbeat-blasted ambient pop that suggests Mogwai by way of Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios circa 1990 — it’s both planetarium laser light show and art installation ready. The muted yet equally heady “Arrival in Nara,” all fingerpicked electric guitar and diffusive synths, and its more muscular yet no less monkish second half, “Nara,” do little to rein in the holistic atmosphere that’s so decisively laid out in the remarkably potent This Is All Yours’ opening moments, which makes the arrival of the punchy, carnally minded “Every Other Freckle” and the meaty, Anglo-Motown thump of “Left Hand Free” so thrilling, but hardly unexpected. After all, this is a band that proved with its debut that it can go from icy, distant, and often excruciatingly beautiful to downright feral at the crack of a snare drum (or pots and pans, as the group’s humble, dorm room beginnings often required), and This Is All Yours does little to tarnish their reputation as choirboys with dark passengers. That penchant for edgy refinement, along with frontman Joe Newman’s elastic voice, remains the band’s most effective weapon, but it’s hard to pinpoint where and when that magic occurs, as it’s so effortlessly woven into the group’s sound. It’s somewhere in between the autumnal and apocalyptic, Miley Cyrus-sampling “Hunger of the Pine,” the bucolic, recorder-led “Garden of England,” and the oddly soulful, midnight-black posturing of “The Gospel of John Hurt,” and it gets under your skin, where it somehow manages to both hurt and heal. ~ James Christopher Monger

Tracklist:
01 – Intro
02 – Arrival in Nara
03 – Nara
04 – Every Other Freckle
05 – Left Hand Free (Extended Version)
06 – Garden Of England – Interlude
07 – Choice Kingdom
08 – Hunger Of The Pine
09 – Warm Foothills
10 – The Gospel of John Hurt
11 – Pusher
12 – Bloodflood pt.II
13 – Leaving Nara
14 – Lovely Day (Bonus Track)

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Jul 17

alt-J – Relaxer (2017)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/44,1 kHz  | Time – 39:03 minutes | 422 MB | Genre: Alternative
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download – Source: Q0buz  | Front Cover | © Infectious

Relaxer (stylized as RELAXER) is the third studio album by English indie rock band alt-J. The album follow up to the band’s Grammy nominated album “This Is All Your”s, and finds the band working with producer Charlie Andrew for the third time. The cover art features a screenshot from the 1998 PlayStation video game, LSD.

A heady and sometimes capricious piece of work that vacillates between pastoral folk, classical crossover, proto-punk, and progressive rock, the Mercury Prize-winning trio’s third LP is never clear about its overall intentions. The same could be said about Alt-J’s two previous albums as well, but Relaxer is a thornier beast than either of them, carefully concealing its myriad barbs beneath bucolic washes of meticulously forged comeliness. Bookended by what are for all intents and purposes a pair of augmented English folk ballads, the first (“3WW”) a patient, swoon-worthy pagan love song, and the second (“Pleader”) an impossibly lush, choir-led anthem/ballad inspired by mining in 19th century Wales, Relaxer is aptly named, as between those two cuts lies a swath of idyllic sonic farmland that yields fruits both honeyed and acrid. Only the nervy “In Cold Blood” and the cringe-worthy, Velvet Underground-aping misfire “Hit Me Like That Snare” hint at the flashy, decisive indie rock posturing of past pleasures like “Left Hand Free” and “Dissolve Me.” As per usual, Alt-J’s lyrics remain elliptical, with frontman Joe Newman espousing a narrative persona that’s both arthouse Dickensian villain and boarding school poet – that lines like “Well that smell of sex, good like burning wood” and “I just want to love you in my own language” manage to elucidate their contrasting amorous perspectives within the same song is notable. Clocking in at just under 40 minutes, the album’s dizzying stylistic shifts and offbeat arrangements are rendered refreshingly palatable, and even when the band’s artistic hubris is drawn front and center, as it is on the aforementioned “Hit Me Like That Snare” and a spectral, almost completely rewritten version of “House of the Rising Sun,” there’s usually enough craftsmanship on hand to offset the overall air of importance.

Tracklist:
01 – 3WW
02 – In Cold Blood
03 – House of the Rising Sun
04 – Hit Me Like That Snare
05 – Deadcrush
06 – Adeline
07 – Last Year
08 – Pleader

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May 07

EZ3kiel – LUX (2014)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/44,1 kHz | Time – 00:53:46 minutes | 588 MB | Genre: Alternative, Indie
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download – Source: Qobuz | Digital Booklet | © Ici d’ailleurs

Ezekiel stylized as EZ3kiel is a French musical group formed in 1993 originating from La Riche, Tours, France. It now consists of three members Joan Guillon (main songwriter and guitarist), Yann Nguema (former bassist in charge of visual and interactive aspect) and Stéphane Babiaud (training percussionist, multi-instrumentalist and arranger). Matthieu Fays (drummer), a founder of EZ3kiel withdrew from the group in May 2012 after twenty years of collaboration.

Vocalist Brigitte Amédomé and guitarist Florent Duytschaever participated in the project during its first years of existence (1994-1999). Stéphane Babiaud joined the group in 2007 after recording the album Naphtaline to which he actively participated. The band has been involved in parallel projects, classical music project Naphtaline Orchestra, exhibitions notably Les Mécaniques Poétiques d’EZ3kiel, theatrical, poetic and musical collaborations with a great number of independent artists.

Tracklist:

01. Born in Valhalla
02. Anonymous
03. Zero Gravity
04. Dusty
05. Dead in Valhalla
06. Lux
07. Eclipse
08. L’œil du cyclone
09. Never Over
10. Stereochrome

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Mar 31

Lord Huron – Strange Trails (2015)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/44,1 kHz | Time – 00:55:42 minutes | 616 MB | Genre: Alternative, Indie
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download – Source: Qobuz | © IAmSound Records

On their follow-up, Strange Trails, Lord Huron settle into the Western themes and sense of open prairies that marked the band’s debut, Lonesome Dreams. Frontman/songwriter Ben Schneider fully embraces the American West/Troubadour character, illustrated even in song titles like “Dead Man’s Hand,” “Meet Me in the Woods,” and “The Yawning Grave.” The album’s lyrics tell haunted stories of adventure and survival (“On the night you disappeared/Oh, if I had seen it clear/But a strange light in the sky was shining right into my eyes”), with nature imagery (“In a grave out here where the carrions cry”), and the occasional old-time turn of phrase (“Before I commence my ride/I’m asking Lily to be my bride”). With warm electric guitar sounds, soft and constant reverb, harmonized vocals, and a faint but persistent twang, it’s a contemporary, specifically Fleet Foxes-reminiscent, indie folk-influenced rock haunted by allusions to the Old West. Listeners may envision fringe and spurs without any overt country presence (though there’s certainly a subtle one) outside of lilting vocals, such as on “Way Out There.” The band still focuses more on atmosphere and haunting, harmonic sound and rhythm than on progressions or memorable hooks, but the landscapes that they create are consistent and sound-defining, and there’s no shortage of eerie beauty in the melodies. “The Night We Met,” in particular, has a lullaby quality to its wistful, singsong melody (“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do/Haunted by the ghost of you”). The record takes a few interesting musical routes on its journey: the reverbed rockabilly and surf sounds of “The World Ender,” the campfire-gathering feel of “Meet Me in the Woods” with handclaps and female vocal harmonies, and the pulsing, ramblin’ road tune “Frozen Pines” all contribute to an impression of timelessness as well as a certain folksiness befitting the album’s well-established rural themes. There are no big surprises here; fans of Lonesome Dreams will surely be pleased, and Strange Trails’ serene ambience and unconventional narrative may capture the imagination of inclined first-timers. ~ Marcy Donelson

Tracklist:
1 Love Like Ghosts 3:44
2 Until The Night Turns 3:47
3 Dead Man’s Hand 4:21
4 Hurricane (Johnnie’s Theme) 2:46
5 La Belle Fleur Sauvage 5:41
6 Fool For Love 4:34
7 The World Ender 4:30
8 Meet Me In The Woods 4:22
9 The Yawning Grave 3:12
10 Frozen Pines 3:57
11 Cursed 3:58
12 Way Out There 4:10
13 Louisa 3:09
14 The Night We Met 3:28

Personnel:
Ben Schneider – guitar, vocals
Mark Barry – percussion, vocals
Miguel Briseño – bass, keys, percussion
Tom Renaud – guitar, vocals

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