Mini-Reviews and Recent Discoveries #2.

I’m back with another batch of records that I’ve been checking out lately. After a pretty heavy fuzz-rock phase, I’ve started to branch back out. So here’s four albums I’ve been spinning and how I feel about them!

Grass Widow - Past Time

If I were to sum up Grass Widow‘s second album — and first for Kill Rock Stars — Past Time as simply as I could, I think I’d say something along the lines of: Sleater-Kinney meets barbershop quartet. WAIT! Don’t run away just yet, let me explain. I grabbed this album even though I wasn’t loving their MySpace and I’m glad I did. The S-K reference comes from Grass Widow’s plucked guitar and bass riffs (“Tuesday”, “Shadow”, “Landscape”) that bring to mind the kind of stuff S-K did so well on their mid-career records. All three girls in Grass Widow sing — and often they sing at the same time — which is where the barbershop sound comes from. I could see this turning listeners off, but I find their interlocking vocal melodies to be satisfying and often very catchy. Those two influences are just a jumping off point for their sound, which includes strings (on “Give Me Shapes”) and organ. So if you’re like me and don’t like their MySpace songs, I beg that you reconsider because Past Time is definitely worth your time.

Terri and I have already reviewed two of the best summer-pop records to come out this year (Best Coast and Tokyo Police Club), but it’s an absolute crime that the new record Release Me by Los Angeles’ The Like has been overlooked by so many. Prior to Release Me the band played fuzzy pop-grunge but after a complete make-over they’ve gone total 60’s throwback. Don’t be fooled, the change isn’t only on the surface. Release Me is authentic 60’s pop, so authentic that even the infamous Dap Kings (!!) helped during the recording process. If you’ve ever experienced what I like to call the “pop-music-shivers”, you should be ready for at least four or five of these tracks to give you some. Elizabeth “Z” Berg’s vocals are the focal point here, she sounds amazing on every single song. There’s something about the subtle quirks in her voice (not to forget the excellent back-up melodies and chants from the rest of the band) that I’ve gone totally nuts for. If you can’t get enough of catchy pop this summer or if you’re into the retro girl-band aesthetic, you need to get this record.

Beach Fossils have been getting a lot of hype lately, and for good reason: they’re a cool band. I waited a long time to finally give their album a listen and I think that may have played a factor in my response to it. I couldn’t help but be a bit let down by their self-titled debut. They play very slow-moving vaguely surf-y indie pop, a style which has gained speed over the past year (see: Real Estate). If I had gotten their album earlier I probably would have enjoyed it a bit more, but as it stands it’s got a handful of solid songs coupled with a good amount of filler. Personally, I’m looking forward to where to go from here, because they show a ton of potential for expansion. I just can’t whole-heartedly recommend the album as a front-to-back listening experience. Worth checking out for genre-purists or fans of Real Estate.

If you are a big Digable Planets fan like myself, stop reading right now and go purchase these two Shabazz Palaces (Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler of Digable Planets) EPs right now. But those of you expecting more of the same jazzy hip-hop are in for a surprise. Shabazz Palaces is very modern sounding — from the Mad Lib-esque production to the vocal delivery. Ishmael deftly balances his sense of humour with often poignant lyricism on both of these albums. It was hard to pick a song to embed into this post, because each track is like the piece of a jigsaw puzzle: often short but fitting into the bigger picture when put together. Both albums even fit together well, and work as one whole listen. Every hip-hop fan should be checking these out.

Dan Gorman

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