Stand Out Tracks: “Crutch & Cane,” “Hard As Nails,” “Down Down Down” (I for some reason immediately think of Elliott Smith’s “Don’t Go Down”)
-- Fiona Hanly
The 1960s band The Mynah Birds was a Canadian R&B group who, although they never released an album, was known for featuring a surprisingly large number of big-hitters, including Neil Young, Nick St. Nicholas, and Rick James. Embracing the ‘60s group’s name as well as their adoptive attitude, singer/songwriter Laura Burhenn and producer Richard Swift began the contemporary musical project, The Mynabirds' What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood.
In the spring of 2009, Burhenn—formerly of Washington D.C.’s defunct indie duo, Georgie James—turned away from her personal losses and a worn-out style to create her own, individual feel. By compiling sounds from gospel hymns and old country harmonies, Burhenn cobbles the echoes of Carole King, Dusty Springfield, and Cat Power, imitating sounds from the past, yet through this amalgamation producing an updated musical perspective.
This all sounds complicated, but ironically what struck me most about What We Lose was the lack of superfluous sound. The best tracks on the album—Wash It Out, for example— are stripped to the bare musical bones and feel very folk-festival simple, an impressive feat given the carefully considered inspiration.
Unfortunately, despite the well-planned and researched approach to the music, The Mynabirds’ final product doesn’t quite live up to its own expectations. On first listen, some of the songs left me skipping around in hopes of a standout sound, which I never quite found. In truth, I would rather listen to the original music of most of Burhenn’s muses than to her take on them.
Like the 1960s Mynah Birds, Burhenn’s Mynabirds compile and present a huge amount of potential that is never fully realized. An intellectually intriguing, understated album, What We Lose in the Fire gives a new, but not necessarily exciting, take on a good sound and showcases what is, unquestionably, a decent amount of talent.
Recommendations: “Let The Record Show,” “Wash It Out,” “Numbers Don’t Lie”
-- Emma Forster
if i had a hi-fi
Don’t lie to me – I know you listened to Nada Surf in the 90’s. And you loved them. You played “Popular” so many times even your mother had to sit you down and tell you to seriously, knock it off. Or at least alternate it with the similar sounds of Weezer. Then when Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla produced their next semi-widely played album in 2002, you probably revisited them for kicks (until you realized that yeah, that album sounded like it was produced by someone who plays in a band with Ben Gibbard).
Well, two years after their last release – 2008’s Lucky, which got as much play as you think it did – the band has come out with their sixth studio album. Allow me to introduce Nada Surf’s latest album, a collection of covers ranging from Spoon to Kate Bush, by saying that its title incorporates two of my favorite things: a lack of capital letters, and a palindrome. Look! if i had a hi-fi. Isn’t it cool?
Yes, yes it is. The album itself is pretty cool as well. It is Nada Surf at their alternative rock pop-y best, upbeat and somehow cohesive despite the wide range in song choices. Each cover is very obviously homage to the people and melodies that impacted the members of Nada Surf, lovingly and thoughtfully crafted to reflect both the original and the band’s own particular sound. By doing so, it doesn’t seem so weird that Depeche Mode’s gloomy synthpop “Enjoy the Silence” and The Soft Pack’s garage rock “Bright Side” share the same track listing.
But why a cover album, and why now? That's a question that the band has apparently not decided to address, at least not yet. It's a risky move if done incorrectly - people will likely speculate that the band has run out of material, or decided to take the easy route to make a few bucks. Nada Surf doesn't seem to lean towards either of these motives, though, which is interesting in itself. This cover album feels more like the band is rediscovering its sound by examining the sounds of others that they find appealing. In my opinion, they have succeeded in doing exactly that. This sounds like Nada Surf to me, the Nada Surf that broke out in the nineties and refused to step off the stage in the years that followed. Want to know why I think I'm right? This is also the first record that the band has produced completely independently. No DCFC guitarists, no Ric Ocasek. Just three guys in their forties looking to make the music they love, and I think that's great.
if i had a hi-fi, with Matthew Caws’s smooth vocals and the familiar, not necessarily ground-breaking but still enjoyable, alternative nineties rock sound, will most likely be gracing my summer rotation more frequently than I ever expected a Nada Surf album to. Sitting by the kiddie pool in my tiny backyard, I will be able to listen to Kate Bush and Spoon re-imagined by a band from my youth without even getting up to mess with iTunes. Life – and this album – is good. Really, surprisingly good.
- Emily Simpson
To say one enjoys The Radio Dept.’s music pre-April 20th 2010 would have said more about one’s taste in movies than music. Let’s be real: the The Radio Dept. was discovered by Sofia Coppola and featured on the Marie Antoinette soundtrack back in 2006. The reality, however, is that The Radio Dept. has been producing synthesized beats, breathy vocals, and ethereal melodies since the band’s conception in 1995—a whopping eleven years before they received any significant recognition!
The Radio Dept.’s third album, Clinging to a Scheme, takes the shoegaze-y band from one that relies on the popularity from various singles: “Pulling Our Weight,” “Keen on Boys,” and “I Don’t Like it Like This,” to a band that can be independent form its past success. Clinging to a Scheme is a musical success from start to finish. The record begins with a strong opening, “Domestic Scene,” which creates an atmosphere of catchy rhythms that sets the tone for the rest of the record and leads seamlessly into the second and strongest track. “Heaven’s On Fire” begins with a monologue sample from the 1992 documentary, 1991: The Year Punk Broke which expresses the group’s frustration with trying to break free from corporations’ chase on all that is creative and new among the youth culture. This frustration resonates throughout the rest of the album’s lyrics. While this clichéd hipster cry for help is as overplayed as a Miley Cyrus song, the band manages to bring sincerity and depth to this overarching, anti-mainstream phenomenon. “Heaven’s On Fire” is a breath of fresh air among its neighboring tracks as it is the most fast-paced and complex in terms of the dynamic differences between instruments.
If there is any room for improvement on The Radio Dept.’s best album yet, it is their potential for a more bold and daring edge to their finely tuned soft and synthesized signature. Now that they have mastered their catchy-yet-whimsical ambiance, I dare the Swedish trio to venture into a dance-y tune. It is evident that the band understands its style with three albums and several EP’s as practice, but a little challenge to progress is always welcome in music. All in all, Sofia Coppola will not be needed for listeners to realize they are “Keen on” these “Boys.”
There’s got to be something in the water in Sweden. Is it just me, or are half of the great new songs on the airwaves today by Swedish artists? I’m thinking maybe Sweden’s got a pretty incredible music program in elementary schools or something. Well, national generalizations aside, First Aid Kit is one of Sweden’s more recent musical exports and they’re ready to impress. Those who have heard of First Aid Kit probably discovered them, much as I did, through their memorable YouTube cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song.” The Stockholm folk duo of sisters, Johanna and Klara Soderburg, shines equally bright on their beautifully harmonized first LP, The Big Black and the Blue.
The album has folk style but not the bluegrassy type, instead I would say the sisters Soderburg have that 60s female singer-songwriter sound – think Joan Baez. There are minimal frills to their songs, just pure clear vocals and some guitar strumming. That said, with those few tools First Aid Kit has put out a really beautiful folk album with some key standout tracks (see below). Mid-album, listeners might get a little bored as the blueprint for most their songs is very similar, and to me, it got a little tired.
Still, this duo has a lot to offer and have written some pretty wise and sophisticated lyrics for their young ages (16 and 19). I hope to see more albums like this in the near future from them. Their MySpace music page reads, “We aim for the hearts, not the charts!” but with effortlessly pitch perfect harmonies and pretty melodies, I’m guessing they’ll hit both targets before they know it.
Recommended Tracks: I Met Up with the King (track 10), Hard Believer (track 2), Heavy Storm (track 5).
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