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Category: EP (Page 2 of 2)

EP Review: Los Campesinos! – All’s Well That Ends [Arts & Crafts/Wichita]

It’s been a mere few months since Los Campesinos! released their last album, “Romance Is Boring”, yet despite this they still feel the need to put out something as a stopgap of sorts. These kids are nothing if not productive – after all, they did release their debut full length “Hold On Now, Youngster” to critical acclaim, only to follow that up some months later with the 10-track “non-album” titled “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed”. This new EP “All’s Well That Ends” is in fact a legitimate, 4-song release from the band, though you’ll be hard-pressed to find it in any other format other than digital. It’s also really something for steadfast and dedicated fans of the band, as there aren’t any “new” songs in this collection. Instead, this EP features 4 songs from their last album “Romance Is Boring” redone in sparse, nearly acoustic arrangements. The tempo gets slowed down and there’s a few different vocal turns as well, allowing for certain more subtle elements of each track to really get pushed forwards.

In case you’re busy sorting through your mp3s and are too clumsy to notice the difference between these EP versions and their originals, Los Campesinos! have helpfully added a few additional words to each song title. Starting out with “Romance Is Boring (Princess Version)”, they turn the punky original into something that’s a little plodding (and quite frankly a little boring…just like romance!), but there are some nice instrumental touches with the acoustic guitars, slide guitar, piano and violin. The most markedly different (and quite frankly exciting) track on the EP is the remake of “A Heat Rash In The Shape Of The Show Me State; or, Letters From Me To Charlotte”. Here it’s retitled “Letters From Me To Charlotte (RSVP)”, and the most noteworthy change is in vocalists, where one of the girls in the band sings. Given that Aleks has now officially left the band, they don’t have a female voice that’s quite as strong as hers. That’s evident from whomever (Kim or Ellen, etc) is singing “Letters to Charlotte (RSVP)” in a duet with Gareth, though to be clear the singing isn’t bad or off-key in the least. Lacking confidence might be the best phrasing to use when describing it. Yet it’s also remarkably effective with the tragedy and general sadness of the lyrics mixed with the acoustic and violin sentiments. “Straight In At 101/It’s Never Enough” has new doubled over male vocals courtesy of Rob backing up Gareth, and it gives the whole pathetic chasing girls lyrical scenario that much more creedence. It does come off as a bit odd though, what with two guys not so much singing but more delivering that spoken word vocal without so much as a harmony. Then again, Los Campesinos! don’t really do harmonies. Where “(All’s Well That Ends) In Medias Res” shines is in the actual execution. The otherwise busy and fast-paced original track that opens the “Romance Is Boring” album may have a ton going for it, but this new quieter version allows for greater focus on the lyrics and other moody nuances.

For an EP that’s tough to find physically and essentially only for Los Campesinos! completists, the band is doing the right thing by making its availability somewhat scarce. Unlike many acoustic or stripped down records that bands tend to release, “All’s Well That Ends” isn’t quite as good or revealing as you might hope it would be. Perhaps the biggest reason for that is the very complicated and unique nature of Los Campesinos’ music in the first place. They have so much going on in each song and there’s plenty of energy that goes into each performance, so when you strip all that away you’re left with are Gareth’s lyrics, which are quite brilliant but no different than they were originally. Sure, this stripped down approach gives you a reason to focus on said lyrics amid what otherwise would have been busy arrangements, but in the world of Los Campesinos! if you listen to each regular album track enough you’ll get around to the deeper meanings and entertaining wordplay eventually. Best to view this EP as a curio, something at the very least worth hearing just to know what the band does when the chips are down and the glockenspiels are put away. Anything beyond that and you’re probably going to struggle to figure out why it was worth the few dollars you spent on it.

Los Campesinos! – Romance Is Boring (Princess Version)

Buy “All’s Well That Ends” from Wichita

EP Review: Amanda Palmer – Amanda Palmer Plays the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele [Self-Released]

Amanda Palmer is great. First as part of The Dresden Dolls, later as a solo artist, and currently as one half of the duo Evelyn Evelyn, she’s a true original who embraces both showmanship and the do-it-yourself ethos. Now that she’s free from the constraints of her contract with Roadrunner Records after a hard-fought battle to be released, Palmer has taken on the burden of being a true solo artist by foregoing a record label and releasing all her music independently from here on out. Fan support is crucial for this venture, which is why she offers plenty of purchasing options for whatever projects she does. This week, she released an EP’s worth of Radiohead covers, as performed on her ukulele with the occasional piano or violin part to flesh out the arrangements.

Covering Radiohead is basically the most impossible of impossible tasks. It’s not something to be undertaken lightly, though perhaps that might be the smartest move considering there’s no way you’ll ever top the original versions of the songs. Complete reinterpretations also hold some weight, as renowned classical pianist Christopher O’Riley released two albums of Radiohead songs dressed up with the instrumental flourishes of a grand piano. There was also the “Rockabye Baby” Radiohead album, which used glockenspiels to turn the band’s songs into lullabies. What Amanda Palmer does is deliver mostly straight interpretations of some of Radiohead’s most iconic tracks, though the ukulele really brings a more “acoustic-lite” feeling to the whole thing. On the EP’s opening “Fake Plastic Trees”, Palmer mostly uses the ukulele to keep some sense of rhythm in the song, because there are barely any chord changes. Instead, the melody carries via her voice. Though she can clearly handle the vocals (though does any voice REALLY compare with Thom Yorke’s?), on the whole the track comes off a bit thin. Of course when you’ve only got a uke, thin is about the best you can do. “High and Dry” fares a little better, as it lends itself to the ukulele, but it’s the very small splashes of piano that additionall help the melody where it most desperately needs it. Still not great, but satisfactory. Continuing with the upward mobility, “No Surprises” wisely adds not only piano, but just a hint of toy piano along with some overdubbed harmonies. Given the original’s relative simplicity, it’s not too difficult to replicate. Both “Idioteque” and the two versions of “Creep” function as expected, though none of them really grab you like they should. What does work in the most effective way imaginable, is Palmer’s version of “Exit Music (From A Film)”. There is no ukulele this time, it’s instead supplanted by the piano. Compared to the plain acoustic and atmospherics of the Radiohead version, it feels as emotionally bare and paranoid as the original. Some bits of cello and violin also add to the dramatic flair, and it practically makes the entire EP worthwhile on its own.

What does make the entire EP worthwhile is the high, high cost of 84 cents for all 7 songs. All those songs for cheaper than a single iTunes track, and you get a choice of 320k mp3, lossless, or a handful of other formats. Yes, there’s also the option to pay any amount higher than 84 cents should you feel it to be worth that. And while most of the other possible packages for purchase are already sold out, there’s a T-shirt and digital version of the EP combo for $20 still available, along with the most expensive $1,000 version which gets you a 32GB iPhone, a DVD, a vinyl and digital version of the EP, a shirt and various other trinkets, plus a personal phone call from Amanda who will play a cover song for you and sing a Haiku of your choosing as well. Yes, there are some choices. Unless you’re a hardcore Amanda Palmer fan who is willing to support every little thing she does, chances are just the digital version of the EP will suffice. For 84 cents, this is worth a purchase if you like Palmer, Radiohead or both of them even a little bit. Hell, maybe even throw 5-10 bucks her way and help pay her bills for another month. This isn’t going to change your life, nor will it probably compel you to listen to it repeatedly, but it is a novelty worth having on hand for the occasional times you want to hear a halfway decent Radiohead cover. Or just Amanda Palmer singing songs you’re more readily familiar with, if you’re not her biggest fan.

Stream the songs and purchase the EP via Amanda Palmer’s official site

EP Review: How to Destroy Angels – How to Destroy Angels [Null/Self-Released]

Last fall, Trent Reznor bid goodbye to the touring version of Nine Inch Nails. He also got married to West Indian Girl singer Mariqueen Maandig and said he wanted to take some time away from making music. Reznor promised that when he did return to music he’d be doing so under a different name, as he was looking to explore some new ideas and concepts that wouldn’t ordinarily fit underneath the NIN umbrella. We already saw him dabbling with instrumental work when he released the “Ghosts Vol. I-IV” album in early 2008, which he described at the time as a “soundtrack to daydreams”. Compared to the industrial rock NIN had become known for, that was definitely a change of pace, and something Reznor has indicated he might do again sometime in the near future. In the meantime though, this past April it was announced that Reznor’s new project would be called How to Destroy Angels, and he’d be working on it with his new wife Mariqueen and his old friend Atticus Ross. Days after that announcement, the first song from HTDA appeared online with the promise of a 6-song EP to be released this summer. It’s been under 2 months since then, and things are speeding along much faster than most anyone expected. The self-titled EP was released digitally this week in the form of a high quality mp3 download made available to everyone for absolutely free. You also have the option of paying $2 and getting the EP in an HD format, which includes lossless audio versions of all the songs plus the music video for “The Space in Between” in 1080p and 480p. A physical CD version of the EP will be released on July 6th and a vinyl version is currently TBA.

At first glance, the “How to Destroy Angels” EP is exactly what you might expect from Trent Reznor. The guy has long specialized in making moody and atmospheric music, and things haven’t changed just because he’s got a new band. The comparisons to his work in NIN will be many, and that’s completely understandable given he’s done very little to dispel that notion, even admitting as much in a Q & A session. Granted, you’re probably not going to get any fast-paced and relentlessly loud songs like “Mr. Self Destruct” from How to Destroy Angels, but a number of the slower, more run down NIN songs provide a much more fitting basis for side-by-side analysis. Heavy drum machines, skittering and buzzing electronics, mixed with some rumbling electric guitar mark the foundations for many of the songs, and it’d only make sense Reznor would use them given these are all tools in his studio and he’s more than aquainted with how to use them. But listen to opening track and first single “The Space in Between” and try not to recall memories of “Hurt” or “Me, I’m Not”. A song like “Fur Lined” might as well be an easy reworking of “Only”, while “BBB” has it’s sonic match with “A Violet Fluid”. “The Believers” bears an eerie reminiscence to “Eraser”, among other things. By now you get the point. Instrumentally speaking, there’s familiar markers everywhere for NIN fans. There’s only one thing missing, and that’s Reznor behind the microphone.

Given that West Indian Girl wasn’t a very popular band, even among indie standards, chances are this is many people’s first introduction to Mariqueen Maandig. In addition to looking really good, Maandig definitely does have some vocal chops, though they’re not quite on full display across this HTDA EP. On most tracks, she maintains an even-tempered and calm demeanor, but it’s the music that surrounds her vocals pushing the suggestion that there’s something sinister lurking underneath. While it is somewhat tragic that Reznor’s only vocals are backing up his wife on a couple tracks, Maandig brings more depth and range to these songs than her husband would have, and that’s a key difference between this new band and Nine Inch Nails. Were this a NIN record, chances are there’d be a fair amount of Reznor’s trademark yell. The lyrics are angry, and the instrumentals are morbid, so it makes perfect sense to express that outrage with some loud vocals. Maandig’s resistance to that gives these songs a subtle beauty that forces you to work at uncovering the emotions rather than hearing them plainly laid out in front of you by an angry voice. The music video for “The Space in Between” echoes this sentiment quite well, with Reznor and Maandig both bloodied on a bedroom floor while a fire rages around them. Maandig barely moves her lips to get the lyrics out of her mouth as the look of hopelessness is all over her face. The world around her is crumbling, and she’s just lying there watching it all go to waste. That’s the secret weapon How to Destroy Angels are able to employ, and it works out in their favor more often than not.

The most important thing to remember about the “How to Destroy Angels” EP is that it’s a new beginning for a man who’s already given 20+ years of his life to music. To expect him to do something completely different from NIN, like moving into indie pop or alt-country, would be like asking a leopard to change his spots. Sure, Trent Reznor has made his reputation and living off of his own misery, but now that he’s married and much happier, that doesn’t mean the world’s problems just go away. And aside from that, if you’re the highest profile member of a new group, alienating a fan base of your old NIN fans probably isn’t the smartest move. So Reznor knows where the sweet spot is at and makes sure to pay appropriate attention to it. The good news is that while this EP may be a great introduction to How to Destroy Angels, by no means does it have to dictate where the band will go from here. Their sound is ever-evolving, and what sounds like NIN one day may sound like something completely different the next. Think of this FREE EP as a method of feeling things out and seeing where all the chips rest. Now that there’s a lay of the land, HTDA can determine the best path to take en route to their first full-length album. This might not be the best or most impressive start for this band, but it shows significant promise for the future, and a world in which Trent Reznor continues to make excellent music even when he doesn’t have a microphone in front of him.

Download the “How to Destroy Angels” EP for free, or pay $2 for the HD package

EP Review: The Smashing Pumpkins – Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, Vol. 1: Songs For A Sailor [Rocket Science]

Billy Corgan doesn’t care what you think. No, he’s going to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, lovers and haters be damned. He felt it right to officially dissolve The Smashing Pumpkins when James Iha left, and that led to an unproductive and synth-laden solo record called “The Future Embrace”. Plenty of fans abandoned their support for him after that album, though in hindsight it should have been expected he’d pull a rabbit like that out of his hat. Considering that solo effort’s failure, Corgan seemed to see it coming after all, publishing a full page ad the day of the album’s release announcing he would reform the Pumpkins. The claim was that he’d ask former members of the band if they’d like to rejoin him, be it ex-bassists D’Arcy Wretzky and Melissa Auf Der Maur or guitarist James Iha. Corgan would claim that none of them wanted to come back, but they also all publicly spoke out saying that they were never asked in the first place. Former drummer and longtime friend Jimmy Chamberlain did agree to rejoin the Pumpkins, and two other “hired hands” were brought in to play guitar and bass, respectively. The return of The Smashing Pumpkins came officially in 2007, when the new album “Zeitgeist” was released. Reviews for that record were mixed, with some proclaiming it the start of a bold new era for the band and others claiming it fell far short of the legacy Corgan originally left behind. The band’s live shows became equally divisive and often included sections in which Corgan would berate the audience. They would also largely avoid past Pumpkins hits in favor of new material with extended, ego-indulgent guitar solos.

The latest goings-on from The Smashing Pumpkins camp are again wrought with oddities. Jimmy Chamberlain finally left the band, so now Corgan is the only original member, and he held auditions for a replacement before settling on 20-year-old Mike Byrne. Earlier this spring, bassist Ginger Pooley quit the band and she has since been replaced by Nicole Fiorentino. Corgan also announced last fall that The Smashing Pumpkins were embarking on a wild concept record known as “Teargarden By Kaleidyscope”, a 44-song album that would be digitally released one song at a time for free, with each batch of four songs forming a limited edition physical EP box set available for sale in stores. Each wooden box is silk screened and contains the EP on CD, a 7 inch vinyl with a brand new song plus b-side, and a hand-carved leopard stone obelisk. Tomorrow sees the release of the first of those EPs, this one subtitled “Vol. 1: Songs for a Sailor”.

Believe it or not, “Songs for a Sailor” isn’t horrible. It’s also not great. Halfway decent is probably the phrase best applied to this four song collection, and given that you can download every song for free it makes everything that much more bearable. Starting with the six minute “Song For A Son”, the Pumpkins shoot for something exciting and epic in a similar vein to 70’s classic rock, but miss the mark by a little bit. The lack of brute force behind the drum kit thanks to the absence of Chamberlain is really what hurts not only that song, but the entire set of songs in general. It’s not that Mike Byrne is a poor drummer, rather it’s that Chamberlain was so good and played against Corgan so well, any other drummer by comparison is weak. Outside of the drumming though, this EP does have its strengths and weaknesses. “Astral Planes” is the most propulsive and loud thing here, and complete with rollicking solos and distortion, it seems like it’s headed towards something huge but never quite gets there. There’s lots of build up but never a pay off. That Corgan chose to largely ignore crafting lyrics that were anywhere near good and a chorus almost altogether are what really hurt the song in the end. First single “Widow Wake My Mind” is a slice of upbeat pop rock that’s far more reminiscent of Corgan’s first Pumpkins side project Zwan. That band wasn’t particularly bad, and this song isn’t either, serving as a reminder that Corgan can still write a light and breezy song with a decent hook when he works at it. “A Stitch In Time” finishes the EP, and it returns to the 70’s for inspiration but derives its sound more from the lighter pop fare at the time. Light organ and an acoustic guitar lead the way while a sitar floats through to create added mysticism. Drums are also completely absent here, and the suggestion is that you focus more on Corgan’s voice and the guitar in this briskly paced ballad. The lyrics are again not the best, repeating plenty of phrases over and over while appearing to wax poetic about time travel. The melody, relatively catchy chorus and overall performance are what hold the track together in the end, rescuing it from being called dull and uninspired.

For the die-hard Smashing Pumpkins fan who has been worried about the band’s output of late, “Songs for a Sailor” should come as something of a relief. It’s not nearly the best thing Corgan has ever done, particularly when taking most of the 90’s into account, but there’s enough here to give you hope for the future of not only this lengthy 44-song series, but for The Smashing Pumpkins in general. Compared to the crass anti-commercial, psychedelic journey that “Zeitgeist” was, this EP feels like an exploration of potential roads the band could possibly head down. Here’s the deal though – the Pumpkins were always best when they ignored expectations and influences and chose to go their own way. You couldn’t easily label the early stuff from the band as anything other than “Smashing Pumpkins style”, and given that at least half this EP sounds like it has roots in 70’s classic rock, the lack of true originality continues to be bothersome. Whether or not Corgan and company can reclaim that spark remains to be seen, but we’ve got 40 more songs coming our way in which to find out.

Smashing Pumpkins – A Song For A Son
Smashing Pumpkins – Astral Planes
Smashing Pumpkins – Widow Wake My Mind
Smashing Pumpkins – A Stitch In Time

Buy the limited edition EP box set from Amazon

EP Review: The Most Serene Republic – Fantasick Impossibliss [Home of the Republic]

Last summer, The Most Serene Republic released their third full-length album, “…And the Ever-Expanding Universe”. It marked a slight shift in direction for the collective, who previously were known for being the only band signed to the Arts & Crafts label that had no official affiliation with Broken Social Scene. That they sounded like Broken Social Scene, well that was just a happy coincidence. What made The Most Serene Republic so distinctive on their own was primarily their dense musical compositions, which tended to incorporate everything from horns and strings to computerized beats. They had some radio-friendly pop songs, but also liked to play around a bit and compose some beautiful instrumentals that added flavor and heart to their records. Since their 2005 debut album “Underwater Cinematographer”, band members have come and go almost as they pleased, though I believe at their highest they were holding steady around 7 or 8 members. Currently they stand at a healthy six members, as long-time guitarist/co-vocalist Emma Ditchburn has now left the band. Now without any female to at the very least provide a foil and solid harmonizer with Adrian Jewett’s vocals, what they’ll do with all those songs Ditchburn was featured on is a mystery to me (though you can go see them live and find out yourself). But like their counterparts Broken Social Scene, The Most Serene Republic actually have a brand new EP out this week, titled “Fantasick Impossibliss”. It’s the first piece of music to be released on the band’s brand new self-created label Home of the Rebels, and it marks a return to their humble beginnings in more ways than one.

Things are interesting right from the start of “Fantasick Impossibliss”, with the track “Comeuppance” going a heavy drum and bass route. Those two instruments with Jewett’s echo-laden vocals meandering through the sparsity is definitely a change from the immense compositions that were all over “…And the Ever-Expanding Universe”. The track builds to something of a head though, as flashes of acoustic guitar begin to slip in and eventually some loud electrics slam it home with some force. There’s not really a chorus to speak of, and at this point I’m not entirely sure if that’s a good or bad thing. “Pink Noise” features acoustic guitar as its anchor, along with a a drum machine and splashes of a horn section, which is reminiscent of the stuff on “Underwater Cinematographer”, and album I love quite dearly. It’s a surprisingly memorable and fun song, and might just be my favorite on the entire EP. The drums and bass once again stand out on “Jelly Chamber”, but this time there’s so many more layers to keep your ear attuned to. Between various guitars and a string section, I was largely reminded of the 2006 “Phages” EP, which just so happens to be my favorite release from the band. “The Church of Acorns” is one of the more normal tracks I’ve ever heard from The Most Serene Republic. Your basic combination of guitars and drums dominate for much of the song, but towards the end you can hear some light strings twitching in the background and a little bit of xylophone for added magical effect. The same goes for “Ache of Goon”, which doesn’t have any xylophone, but there’s a hint of trumpet and violin. The song gets by on sheer charm and a melody that’s attractive for reasons I’m still trying to comprehend. The final and title track of the EP stands in something of a contrast to what came before it. It’s the only song on the EP produced by Dave Newfield and goes on for 2 minutes longer than almost anything else. It’s also more of a sonic collage, featuring piano/keyboard and drums as the main noisemakers, while echo vocal effects are once again employed to both Jewett’s voice and the other members backing him up. The uptempo nature of the track helps it greatly, so much so that the 6.5 minutes flew by before I even started to wonder when it was going to wrap up.

If you’re looking for a commentary on the lyrics, well, they’re not horrible. Adrian Jewett has never been a highly prolific songwriter (no offense), and given the amount of time and precision spent on the instrumental portions of each song, his vocals serve more as another instrument in the mix rather than a collection of words intended to be analyzed and scrutinized to no end. Besides that, there are times where you can’t hear or pick out exactly what’s being said, so try not to get worked up over platitudes and generalizations that might be made. Outside of that, this really does feel like The Most Serene Republic are returning to their formative days on the “Fantasick Impossibliss” EP. Good for them, as their first couple releases were my favorites of theirs. Still, to relatively ignore the progress they’ve made these last few years, as good or bad as it may have been, feels like a step backwards. Surprisingly, the lack of female co-vocalist Emma Ditchburn wasn’t as much of a problem for me as I anticipated it would be, and the other guys in the band were able to fill in the gap with harmonies and backing vocals nicely. So, when it comes down to brass tax, is the “Fantasick Impossibliss” EP worth your time and your $5? Yes, sure, why not. I’ve been rooting for this band since their debut, and while they’ve had a rough spot or two in the past couple years, they continue to evolve and intrigue me with each new release. Now that they’re essentially on their own with their self-started record label, I hope you’ll support them keep them financially stable enough to at least continue making music for the near future. There’s a truly brilliant, game-changing album in TMSR’s future, it just might take a little more time for them to figure out exactly how to make it.

The Most Serene Republic – Pink Noise (zshare)

Buy “Fantasick Impossibliss” from Gallery AC
Buy it from iTunes
Buy it from Amazon MP3

The Most Serene Republic + Annuals Tour Dates:
5/06/10 – Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop
5/07/10 – Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle
5/08/10 – Minneapolis, MN @ 400 Bar
5/11/10 – Seattle, WA @ Crocodile Café
5/12/10 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
5/14/10 – San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
5/15/10 – Los Angeles, CA @ Spaceland
5/16/10 – Phoenix, AZ @ Rhythm Room
5/19/10 – Austin, TX @ Emo’s
5/20/10 – Houston, TX @ Mangos
5/21/10 – Denton, TX @ Hailey’s
5/22/10 – Little Rock, AR @ Stickey Fingerz
5/23/10 – St. Louis, MO @ Old Rock House
6/15/10 – Washington, DC @ DC9
6/16/10 – Philadelphia, PA @ North Star Bar
6/17/10 – Boston, MA @ Great Scott
6/18/10 – Brooklyn, NY @ Knitting Factory
6/19/10 – Hoboken, NJ @ Maxwell’s
6/20/10 – New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge

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