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Benjamin Gibbard – Former Lives

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The general public might assume that Benjamin Gibbard’s solo effort Former Lives is a divorce album, a cathartic outlet in the vein of Rumors, Like a Prayer, or Blood on the Tracks, full of tracks about picking up the pieces. But no, Ben says, the album doesn’t concern starting anew in life—it just details “eight years, three relationships, living in two different places, drinking then not drinking…[the songs are] a side story, not a new chapter.”

The tracks on Former Lives work as grown up fodder for Ben Gibbard. If the material is a side story, the main story is the departure from the Death Cab for Cutie sound. As far as anyone can tell, there is no cause for alarm with regards to Death Cab’s future, but could the band be considered a former life as well?

So, as we, know, Former Lives is no couples therapy; it is rather encouraging. Separated-lover’s duet “Bigger Than Love” is a mature tune that doesn’t sound bitter; it’s still a heavy tune, but Aimee Mann takes on the supporting role with gusto here. “Bigger” tells a vivid he-said she-said tale with colorful lyrics and guitar.

Gibbard flexes some Anglo muscles on the a capella intro “Shepherd’s Bush Lullaby” before launching into the jaunt of “Dream Song.” It unfolds with the looping sensibilities of “Yellow Submarine,” following a man with insomnia who is chased in his dreams by “everyone that he ever knew,” wondering when he wakes who is chasing his gal through her dreams. The Beatles sounds continues on “Duncan, Where Have You Gone,” something that would have fit very well way back on 70’s adult contemporary, a heartbreaking track of someone lost.

“Teardrop Windows” echoes mid-90’s alt-rock and Costello and Jeff Lynne and Petty, etc.…and is about Seattle’s Smith Tower. The guitar here is fantastic. Relating the sad story of Smith Tower is an interesting choice; is it merely cute personification for the building to be sad and alone? Or is Gibbard projecting himself in the Tower’s place, a Washington native himself? After all, Smith Tower is constantly referred to with male pronouns, is of a phallic shape, lonely, and maids are the ones who turn off the lights. Something to think about.

The album finds its boisterous strengths when tackling Western sounds in the rest of the album: “Lily” gets a bit too inane with the metaphors (“Lily is the Pacific Ocean and I’m standing at her shores”), but mariachi wailing and horns on “Something’s Rattling (Cowpoke)” make up for those weaknesses. “Oh Woe” may be the most “angry” track from a relationship angle—still not too bitter though. “A Hard One To Know” follows “Woe” in suit with amazing alt-country guitar.

“Lady Adelaide,” one third of the close, slows the pace of Former Lives and adds the haunt of pedal steel; it feels like a spiritual successor to Old 97’s similarly titled song.

“Broken Yolk in Western Sky” a track that Gibbard has been floating around for some time, makes its appearance as the penultimate piece. A true country gem, its lyrics (“Broken yolk in western sky, my stomach turned, my mouth went dry, I knew I’d never known fear before”) are truly a strong point. “I’m Building A Fire,” is a lo-fi live closer that provides a stripped down experience for the listener, Gibbard bearing himself emotionally. Even though they’re side stories, sharing these songs can be a raw experience.

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Transistor-on Takes “The Way Back Down” on EP

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Transistor-on calls their goods “fuzzed out reverb music,” and in the spirit of post-rock, EP The Way Back Down is full of that melodious texture and sensation. Recorded at The Cottage with Damon Moon, The Way Back Down is a mere four tracks. But those songs make a satisfying sampling of a band with a big future ahead.

Atlanta duo Joey Piersante and Chris Armistead offer up a hazy fugue state that is the blueprint for this coming summer, showing that they can run with the best of the lo-fi crowd with their unique rhythms and finger-picking. The minimalist use of instruments that whip up the dream poppy wall of sound succeeds in taking the listener in a layered, chill journey.

Tracks like “Calling Out” and “Solar Flare” are so catchy (the former with its title refrain; the latter with its main guitar melody), that they etch onto your brain and trick you into thinking these are songs that have been around for maybe 20 years or so already.

Reviewers are throwing out comparisons—and they’ll continue to—of Transistor-on to Explosions in the Sky. The similarities are there for sure; both bands share a genre, after all. But saying only “they remind me of Explosions in the Sky” overlooks the fact that Transistor-on are stepping out in earnest on this EP, sounding comfortable in their skin without being jaded. Plus, having smoky vocals on the tracks adds to the spacey miasma and mystery that serves as the overarching feel of the record. The singing on “Empty Planet,” for example, highlights the track’s slow burn into its rocking guitar-driven crescendo.

Though the last piece on The Way Back Down is called “Exit,” by no means is that a harbinger of the band’s future. Transistor-on closes with a sure-footed tapestry of distortion and crisp rhythm, wrapping up a consistent and skillful release that definitely marks their arrival.

The Way Back Down is available to stream on SoundCloud or for purchase on iTunes. The gorgeous photo cover by Richard Casteel.

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Muse “Drones” Review

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Emily Hearn Saves Time in a Bottle on “Hourglass”

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Emily Hearn’s sonic journey on Hourglass shows that she is a woman coming into her own, figuring out the knots of past heartache, the bliss of newlywed life, and the passage of time.

Time acts as the overarching narrative on the record; Hourglass spans the two years following the Athens, GA native’s debut Red Balloon and 2013 EP Promises. “We fall in or out of love as time moves us,” she explains. “We learn life-changing lessons as time goes on. We figure out how to handle important relationships as time shapes us. We decide who we want to be and what we believe as time reveals our priorities. And ultimately, we grow older as time goes by.”

Hearn sings wistfully “Oh, to be young, and to have time” on the third track “Oak Tree,” longing for the naïve feeling that time would never move forward, or at least not so fast. She frets over seeing her parents age so quickly. The existential worries of a twenty-something come delivered in a package of a catchy, infectious chorus and clap-along-able melody.

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