Los Campesinos!
Hello Sadness
Arts & Craft

It seems like the seven- to eight-person hydra known as Los Campesinos! doesn’t know the meaning of the words “break” or “slow down.” It was just last year that the double-sized EP, Romance Is Boring, and the regular strength EP All’s Well That Ends were released. And in quick order they’ve launched a zine and 7-inch subscription club and recorded another full-length record, Hello Sadness.

It is evident how much that accelerated recording process has helped Los Campesinos! improve. They were always worth hearing, but everything on Hello Sadness has a preciseness that wasn’t there before. And though they haven’t become some glossy soulless machine, there’s definitely less of the ramshackle charm. In other words, it’s maturity without the need for an orchestra or gospel choir showing up.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the humor inherent in the proceedings. But whereas in the past the jokes were telegraphed in song titles like “This Is How You Spell ‘HAHAHA, We Destroyed the Hope and Dreams of a Generation of Faux-Romantics’,” on Hello Sadness the band lets the lyrics do the talking. The result is some seriously funny character studies with some bone-dry humorous turns. And they don’t mind the occasional forehead slapping turn of phrase, such as “You are an angel that’s why you pray. I am a donkey and that’s why I bray.”

Hello Sadness doesn’t half-step or hedge its bets, instead elegantly managing to be a little bit of everything. It’s sincere, funny, energetic, laid back, tight yet expansive. It’s an impressive feat to come so quickly on the back of two releases in one year. If they can keep up at this pace and this quality, it’s exciting to see what comes next. Until then Hello Sadness is worthy of the time.
Dorian S. Ham

MP3: “By Your Hand”

Thee Oh Sees
Carrion Crawler/The Dream
In the Red

If you read as many band interviews as I do (at least one a week, if you couldn’t tell from the Agit Reader publishing schedule), one thing you hear a lot about is the desire to capture a “live sound.” Me, I’ve never understood it. I grasp that they mean they want to somehow get the energy that a live performance usually possesses, but the idea seems to negate a whole hell of a lot of possibilities to be explored in the studio. Besides, if I like your record, I’ll probably go see you live whether or not I think it approximates the live experience.

I get the sense that John Dwyer doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about such things, though. I mean, how could he when he and Thee Oh Sees are cranking out at least one and—often two—records a year and spending much of the remainder of their free time out on the road? Since Dwyer formed the band after the demise of The Coachwhips in 2006, he’s released seven full-lengths, as well as enough singles to fill a double-CD. Carrion Crawler/The Dream, which originally was going to be two EPs (hence the divided name), is his second record for 2011. Intentionally or not, though, Dwyer and his crew have locked in on that desired “live” quality. The album is rambunctious, seemingly capturing something of that vitriolic spark that fuels the band in the flesh. For example, “Contraption/Soul Desert” is a highlight of the band’s now massive catalog, Dwyer’s hiccuped yelps bouncing against a big bassline and searing guitars. The energy level is held for more than five minutes, and one can almost picture the puddle of sweat left on the floor. Any divide between the supposed EPs is indistinguishable, as the rest of the record leaves you similarly floored, waiting anxiously for an encore until you realize it’s not coming till you start the album over.
Stephen Slaybaugh

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
Sour Mash/Mercury

Oasis no doubt sounded like the Beatles because they wanted to, but picking the biggest band in history to emulate is gutsy and could have easily led to failure. But if one band was going to get big doing just that, I’m glad it was them, because they did it competently and without apology. Unfortunately, Oasis songwriter and guitarist Noel Gallagher hasn’t really moved beyond those classic rock influences with his new band’s debut. Short of one or two slight departures (namely the rhythmic, driving “What a Life” and the low key stomp of “(Stranded on) The Wrong Beach),” this outing is full of big guitars, tambourine-led backbeats and by-the-book solos. The production is giant and roomy, even a little more raw than his fans might be used too. Risking the wrath of Liam Gallagher, it must be said that Noel should probably have done most of the singing back in Oasis’ halcyon days. It’s well demonstrated on Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds that his voice is much more stable voice than that of his brother and that he has a considerably more developed ear for vocal melody.

The record starts off with a cough, then busts into Noel’s echo-laden howl leading the band through “Everybody’s on the Run.” But things don’t get exciting until the third track, the poorly named “Dream On.” It is fortunately not an Aerosmith cover, but a finely crafted Brit-pop tune. The lyrics make about as much sense as any ol’ Oasis song: “Oh me, oh my, I’m running out of battery... taking the shots as I fall, watching the wheels go round and round serene in the air ’cause I love you lady.” It’s close to making sense, but just as far from the mark too. While this has been an accepted symptom of pretty much all of Oasis’s material, I had high hopes that Noel on his own as a lyricist would do better. I had hopes as well that he could deliver an album that might compete with ex-Blur frontman and former rival Damon Albarn’s solo output. I had a glimmer of optimism that this record might just be able to outshine Jarvis Cocker’s post-Pulp masterpieces. All in all, High Flying Birds is a competent rock record. How could it not be? The man’s been in the business for nigh on 20 years. He has a proven formula and it makes no sense to deviate from it now. Why risk it? Oasis fans will be satisfied. Verve fans and Coldplay fans and Belle and Sebastian fans will be satisfied. Hell, even Beatles fans will be satisfied. Noel’s well-spoken in the language of rock & roll, and this is a great way for him to explain what’s on his mind while making sure we understand exactly what he’s saying.
Michael P. O’Shaughnessy

Spills Out
Arnold’s Park

Jurassic-period reptiles notwithstanding, the quintessential psych-rock tastemakers Pterodactyl have returned with a vengeance. The Brooklyn-by-way-of-Oberlin threesome (plus additional guests) have catapulted into uncharted pseudo-pop territory with their latest release on Oneida’s Brah label, the aptly-titled Spills Out. This alone is great, but wait—there’s more! Call 1-800-AGI-TRDR in the next five minutes and you’ll also get the band’s 2010 release, Arnold’s Park. Really, though, Soungs is releasing a limited-edition cassette and digital version of the aforementioned album, which was originally released only in Europe on vinyl by Sweden’s Deleted Art.

Chronologically, the dual release makes perfect sense. Ontologically, the two are a veritable marriage of psychedelic pop-punk, though, not in that order. Arnold’s Park is an all too short glimpse into Pterodactyl’s abrasive, progressive pseudo-alien soundscapes. Drummer and singer Matt Marlin’s “clear as he wants ’em to be” vocals build to affecting, haunting drones, particularly on the epic “Welcome Home.” Elsewhere, there are so many layers on these tracks that it’s easy to get lost. This isn’t a bad thing. Whether it’s intertwined punctuated swing-beat drums and forewarnings of “the grass isn’t greener” on the melancholic “Allergy Shots” or the whimsical, high-pitched Avey Tare—like vocals and electro bits on “Bite Into Blood,” Arnold’s Park offers something to pique the eccentricity in all of us.

If you’re looking for something more conventional (and I use that word loosely), Spills Out is the proverbial Valium to Arnold’s Park’s Risperdal, in which the growing musicians move toward a tamer, more expansive direction. Considering the stirring, sweeping otherworldly feats accomplished on the former, at first listen, Spills Out is confusing. A few songs in, it’s clear that the whole album is meant to be downright confounding; it’s Pterodactyl’s relatively serious statement as musicians, or something. Either way, the psych-pop direction they’re taking is working. You’ll feel compelled to follow the refreshingly hollow, expansive sound and punchy drums on “Hold Still.” The cleverly remixed “Allergy Shots” is strikingly similar to The Fresh & Onlys, as are many of the tracks. Spills Out encapsulates that windswept sound of ’60s masters like The Zombies, and on reeled-in, harmony-laced tracks like “The Hole Night,” The Beach Boys.

In the end, even if they’re not entirely tearing open the proverbial envelope (yes, they do sound a lot like other *cough* “experimental” bands a times), at least they’re promoting brilliant album art in the process. I mean, the cover art for both of these is worth the cost alone. If, like the rest of us sad sappy suckers, you’re forced to choose, settle for the best solution: choose both and sell your body later.
Jennifer Farmer

MP3: “Arnold’s Park” (from Arnold’s Park)

The Vision

Contrary to what the appearance of Skrillex on the cover of SPIN might seem to suggest, dubstep is not all that recent of a phenomenon. While America (as per usual) is late on the bandwagon, in the UK it’s been around long enough to spawn various waves of wobble. One of the next generation is the producer known as Joker. While he’s a relatively fresh face, he’s been in the game since he started djing at 16. Now, at the still dewy age of 22, Joker has amassed an impressive collection of releases and remixes to his name, and he’s taken those years of experience and poured them into his debut album, The Vision.

As far as these things go, so far Joker is following a fairly common script. After being associated with the dubstep scene for years, he’s now distancing himself so as to not be pigeonholed. Which should be a heads-up for anyone expecting The Vision to be a collection of face-melting bass and sick breakdowns. With not an ounce of bass, the opening “Intro” sounds like a of tip of the cap to trance or the score of a Skinemax classic. Yet when the album proper begins, it’s back into a dubstep style. Joker is true to his word in the sense that the album is lousy with variety, though, working in R&B, some grime hip-hop, some UK swing and a track that plays like a mix of 8-bit and Casio in demo mode.

The Vision certainly is disappointing for those that want something dark and brutal. Joker is obviously much more interested in melodies and proper song structure rather than just manipulating frequencies. It’s a glimpse at not only the possibilities of dubstep, but also showcases his versatility. The most interesting parts of the record are when he pairs R&B vocalizing with a dubstep backing. In most cases, it’s a perfect balance, and when it’s not, the music more than makes up for the lyrical or vocal deficits. Ultimately, for those who see dubstep as the sole dominion of Axe-saturated meatheads, Joker has the last laugh.
Dorian S. Ham