Brimstone Howl
Big Deal. What’s He Done Lately?

Having already earned their garage-band stripes over the course of four albums (most notably, their third, Guts of Steel) and incessant touring, Brimstone Howl has returned no worse for the wear with album number five. Like past records, Big Deal. What’s He Done Lately? is a vitriolic mix that goes down like a dollop of axle grease and razorblades. Guitarists Nick Waggoner and John Ziegler play off each other like a couple of sparring partners in a manner that’s complimentary but which never totally meshes (in the best possible of ways). With Ziegler also singing like some like bastard offspring of David Johansen, the band transcends any retreads by creating a sound tied but not owing to anything in particular.

This feral timelessness comes across best on “Everybody Else Is Having Fun.” Led by a tuneful refrain but undercut with a rumble of toms and green fuzz, the song lurches out at whomever is within earshot. Similarly, the big stomp of “Final Dispatch” was either cribbed from the Cheater Slicks (whose path the Brimstone boys surely must have crossed in their travels from Lincoln, Nebraska) or from the same lost 45s the Shannon brothers have been hoarding. The latter might be the case, as etched within the cracks between Brimstone Howl’s hurtling din is a good deal of soul—even when squashed under Midwestern guitar squeals. As such, give Brimstone Howl another medal for Big Deal. They’ve earned it.
Stephen Slaybaugh

MP3: “Suicide Blues”

Dragon Turtle
La Société Expéditionnaire

Almanac, the debut from Brooklyn’s Dragon Turtle, is, if nothing else, a beautifully tragic first statement. The tragedy unfolds as the band reveals their trouble in finding a suitable identity. Primarily a blend of cosmic soundscapes and spaghetti western motifs, Almanac’s largely gorgeous instrumental expanse is frequently interrupted by the band showing face, singing songs of sorrow and playing the tired role of just another aimless indie rock outfit with dramatic arrangements. On the surface, their ambitions appear as mostly lugubrious drone with false doors leading to clouded dead-end closet space. “Moon Fallout” takes some chiseling, some meditation to peek through earthen and celestial hues, the murmurs, and muddiness. It’s all about building atmosphere, though, and eventually in the second half of the song, they transcend it, forming a slowly blurred psych that shows swirls of rust colored rainbows like in a puddle of gasoline. Equally stunning is “Hourglass,” which begins as echoed folk and evolves over the next 10 minutes into shimmering sheets of trance tones where in turn discreetly hypnotic melodies materialize.

When the band fails, such as on “Island of Broken Glass,” Dragon Turtle tries too hard to compact their cinematic longings into sloppy rambling. The results are rough-hewn in mood but lacking in pure roots. “Apophis” shows them making an effort to capture their ghost-town Americana under the Umagumma moonlight, but finding the right shadow, or combination of those elements, takes whole sides of a record. At their best, Dragon Turtle do a fine job cribbing Mountain’s meticulous minimalism, the Red House Painters’ understated slowcore, and Morricone’s desert tension. When they stretch their legs and/or snooze a while, it succeeds. Getting too close, too intimate with the personalities involved in Dragon Turtle is when they lose their mystique. They’re a band much better seen and heard from afar.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “Island of Broken Glass”

Deer Tick
More Fuel for the Fire ep

Call it the Ryan Adams syndrome: young singer-songwriter releases a subdued collection of sad folky gems, before ruining it all by chasing dreams of rock & roll idolatry. And although Deer Tick’s solid debut album, War Elephant, is nowhere near as good as Adams’ Heartbreaker, the post-debut trajectory of singer-songwriter John McCauley’s career has followed a similar course. His band’s new EP, More Fuel For the Fire, follows in the same generically rollicking vein as their 2009 full-length Born on Flag Day. There’s nothing inherently wrong with classic-rock revivalism, but this is a clear case of a band trying to be something they’re not. And just as Adams is no Bruce Springsteen, McCauley’s country-tinged rock is just a pale, pristine imitation of acts like the Stones and the Band.

More Fuel For the Fire features three new tracks along with a live version of Born on Flag Day’s “Straight Into a Storm.” Opener “La La La” is a slice of sufficiently pleasant honkytonk that wouldn’t sound out of place on an episode of Prairie Home Companion. But the following song, “Dance of Love,” is so slight and predictable in its lessons of old-fashioned courtship that it barely justifies its 1:55 running time. After these two perfectly acceptable exercises in alt-country, the band breaks into an opening riff worthy of John Cougar Mellencamp on the EP’s only outright bad song, “Axe is Forever.” Finally, the straightforward live cut offers us assurance that Deer Tick is not one of those revivalists like My Morning Jacket that you “have to see live to truly appreciate.”

Deer Tick’s recent output is by no means hard on the ears, and devoted alt-country enthusiasts may find something to enjoy here. But it’s difficult to tell what Deer Tick brings to the genre that hasn’t already been explored and exhausted over the past four decades. Here’s hoping that McCauley returns to the more minimal, intimate approach that endeared fans to his debut.
David Holmes

Various Artists
Compilation 8
Kitsuné Maison

With so many musicians seeking to diversify their brand and supplement their music paychecks by starting fashion lines, it seems logical that the opposite would happen. Not that fashion designers should become musicians, although Jean Paul Gaultier's “Aow Tou Dou Zat” is a delightfully strange artifact, but it’s not surprising that some fashion label would launch a record label. It makes sense: the mixes that accompany the runway shows are a big part of the presentation, so why not try to keep that aspect in-house?

One has to imagine that there are labels out there releasing music on some level, but no one has been as consistent as Kitsuné Maison. Since its formation in 2001, the Franco-Japanese label has released a series of singles and compilations that have managed to grab bands and producers just before the hype machine hits. The alumni include Hot Chip, Crystal Castles, Boys Noize, Digitalism and Klaxons, to name a few. And Kitsuné Maison hopes to do it again with its latest release, the simply titled Compilation 8.

The Kitsuné Maison sonic aesthetic seems to be a balance between electronic-leaning pop and straight-up dance. The common thread is beeps, bloops and blurts, but they come in different servings. But there’s something about the selection for Compilation 8 that makes everything fit. Collections like these can feel like a jumbled grab bag of songs, but this is different. There is a very logical progression. The record starts with lightweight vocal pop songs, moves into driving electro tracks and comes out on the other side with aggressive and slightly more dance-influenced, vocal-driven tracks. It’s a very smart programming move that plays like an eclectic DJ set.

As is the case with any 20-band compilation, some songs are stronger than others. Much like with fashion, you can see how the past has influenced the current collection. The Drums’ “Let’s Go Surfing” is a bastard mix of New Order–ish guitar, Beach Boys vocalizing and a frantic Buzzcocks delivery, but in a really clean Peter, Bjorn and John “Young Folks” type of way. Then there’s “This New Technology” by Midnight Juggernauts that plays like a more aggressive Erasure track. And while less specific, Chew Lips’ “Salt Air,” which is remixed by Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos, has a slow burning ’80s goth menance to it. Yet for all the influence spotting, it doesn’t detract from the fact this is just a great compilation. If Compilation 8 is any indication of what Kitsuné Maison is sending down the runway, it’s best to get ready for the next collection.
Dorian S. Ham

Julianna Barwick
Florine ep

At this moment, the twilight of the decade, it might be difficult to proclaim that Animal Collective were the artists of the ’00s, but very easy to assess that their influence on modern music, the future of music and the expanding the palette of the average listener is unparalleled. If anything, it was Panda Bear’s Person Pitch album alone that convinced every bedroom auteur that they too could command the universe with little more than a sampler and their voice. Julianna Barwick, on her debut Florine, may have taken that requiem to extremes, as most of these six songs employ her gilded pipes and nothing else—not even a beat—to guide the bewildered listener along.

Don’t fret about Florine being some Brooklyn equivalent to Bjork’s Medulla or even the ectoplasmic new age of Enya. Though ethereal is an apt descriptor here, Barwick tops layers on top of layers, pitching her melodies to both extraterrestrially high peaks and very grounded timbres. A much closer comparison could be the Gregorian chants of the Benedictine monks sans the pan-flute rupture of Enigma. Not so much based in religious fervor, “Sunlight, Heaven” and “The Highest” do build into a choir-like spirituality, a kind of boho ecstasy spoken in tongues, still amorphous and delightfully strange enough to root her among tribal folkies and circuit benders alike. As a mode of evolution, Barwick does begin to find stronger compositional structure when she includes a weightless piano line and nearly invisible synths to “Anjos.” And though her words, for the most part, are a polyglot of tones and wild bird calls, when discernible lyrics form on “Choose,” you get the sense that Barwick is perfectly capable of writing a pop song. But for the time being she prefers the esoteric high road, where—like Animal Collective—being an individual is paramount.
Kevin J. Elliott