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Pick Your Poison: Monday 7-1-13

Site news alert! We’ve now reached the halfway point of 2013, and with that I’d like to use that as a springboard to make some changes to the site moving forwards. Really by “changes” I mean one change, and that’s going to concern album reviews on the site. A little earlier today, I posted my review of Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City. If you haven’t had a chance to look at it yet, please do, because it gives an in-depth analysis of one of the year’s strongest records. You may also notice that review is quite lengthy. Like the sort of lengthy that maybe makes you not want to read it, or wait until you’ve got plenty of time to read it. It’s also the first album review I’ve written in a few weeks. Why? Mostly time constraints, and when I did have free time, I kept writing that Vampire Weekend review. It went through an editing process and I didn’t put it out there until I felt satisfied with the end product. This sort of perfectionism and relentless need to dive head first into deep analysis of every record I hear has ultimately crippled my ability to write reviews in a timely and easy to read fashion. In a sense those longer reviews do stand out a little from a lot of other music bloggers, who will toss an mp3 at you with a paragraph about the song and call it a post. Alas, I’m just not getting the diversity and lending my opinion to enough records these days. There’s so many great albums out there I want to write raves about, but simply don’t have the time or luxury to do so. Which is why I’m changing the way I write album reviews. From now on, a vast majority of my reviews will be very short and to-the-point. Certainly something will be lost in these quick hit reviews, but I hope to give you a basic idea about the worth of an album in a nice economical package that’s easy to read and reveals whether or not it’s worth your time and money. Look for that new album review format to start later this week or early next week. I’ll begin by playing catch-up with a few notable releases from the first half of the year that I failed to get to, and then quickly jump to current and future releases. The hope is to put together 4-5 of these reviews each week, which is much better than the 1 or 2 every week…or two that my review rate has fallen to. I hope it will increase your overall enjoyment of the site just a little bit more. One of the other things I wanted to point you in the direction of now that we’ve officially hit mid-year is a new Spotify playlist (U.S. only) featuring 80 songs from the first six months of the year that I genuinely loved. There’s tracks from well-known artists like Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, The Joy Formidable, Kanye West and Justin Timberlake paired along side more interesting discoveries such as Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, Alpine, Daughter, Savages, The Knife and Autre Ne Veut. I encourage you to listen to the whole thing if you have time (take it in chunks), and click the follow button in your Spotify app to keep an eye on things. Of course new music doesn’t stop coming just because we’ve reached July. Here’s your Monday edition of Pick Your Poison as well, featuring tracks from Black City Lights, Flaamingos, Gladiola, Kodacrome, Little Big League, Obits, Sinden, The Static Jacks, Steel Cranes and Walking Bicycles. Wow, lots of good stuff today. In the Soundcloud section after the jump, stream new songs from Chelsea Wolfe, Duke Dumont, Holograms, Janelle Monae, Torche and Chicago’s own Twin Peaks.

Black City Lights – Offering

Cadien – Expression of Self

Emeron & Fox – Arms Out

Flaamingos – Walk A Wire

Gallant – If It Hurts

Gladiola – Your Biography

Kitten Forever – Famous Friends

Kodacrome – Strike the Gold

Little Big League – My Very Own You

Obits – Taste the Diff

Sinden – Almost Gone

The Static Jacks – I’ll Come Back

Steel Cranes – Boat Song

Walking Bicycles – So

Pick Your Poison: Wednesday 5-8-13

I’d like to take a moment as part of this Pick Your Poison introduction to make mention of a small issue that’s been plaguing the site these last few months. Namely, the lack of content outside of Pick Your Poison posts. Back in the earliest days of the site, even prior to the incarnation we’ve been at now for the last 3 years, I used to write 4-5 album reviews each week. For whatever reason I’d power through and crank out review after review like it was nothing. Of course reading those reviews today, there was a certain crap-tastic factor to them that might explain why they were so easy to write. Let’s just say it was very stream of consciousness. The last couple years, reviews on the site have slowed down to 2-3 per week, and these days it can be almost lucky if I make it to one review each week. There’s a lot of really great records out there that I still listen to and form opinions about every week, but don’t review them on the site because I simply don’t have the time. Clawing my way through close to 200 site emails every day takes a good couple hours, then writing these Pick Your Poison intros can pull another 30 or so minutes of daily focus as well, and with a full time job and some semblance of a social life I can only devote so much time to writing reviews each week. Which is why most reviews are built over the course of 4-5 days as I write and edit them when I have some free minutes. In many respects I regard it as quality over quantity. But for every one review I write, there’s about 5-6 more that pass me by that I’d love to review as well. Which is why I’m currently considering a new album review format. Instead of writing paragraphs of detailed analysis, reviews would be extremely cut and dry, with 5-10 bullet points attempting to highlight a record’s strengths, weaknesses and greatest moments. It lacks charm and depth (well, perhaps I can manufacture some charm), but it’ll get the job done. Anyways, it’s just a concept right now and nothing definite or locked in place. If you’ve got an opinion about the proposed changes (which, mind you, would not affect Pick Your Poison whatsoever), let me know in the comments. If I decide to go forward with the idea, it’ll probably debut on the site at the start of June or July. So we shall see. In the here and now, or should I say hear and now, there’s a bunch of great tracks in today’s Pick Your Poison. I’d like to recommend songs from Alexander Spit, Capital Cities (covering the Bee Gees), Free Time, German Error Message, Mother Falcon, Speedy Ortiz, Tangled Star and Way Yes. In the Soundcloud section after the jump, stream songs from Airbird & Napolian, Man or Astro-Man?, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, and Prins Thomas’ remix of Shout Out Louds.

Admonic & Davies – Ascension

Alexander Spit – Valet Park, CA

Capital Cities – Stayin’ Alive (Bee Gees cover)

Crystal Fighters – You & I (Gigamesh Remix)

Free Time – I Lost Again

German Error Message – There’s A Place

Her Royal Harness – Blood + Fire

Lane 8 – Sleepless

Memoryy – Don’t Give Up

Mother Falcon – Blue and Gold

Speedy Ortiz – Tiger Tank

Svavar Knútur – Baby Would You Marry Me (ft. Marketa Irglova)

Tangled Star – Head in the Sand

Way Yes – Macando

Introducing – Snapshot Review

This is just a quick administrative post to let you know that a couple times each week I’ll be publishing what I like to refer to as “snapshot reviews”. The idea behind the snapshot review is to provide an album review in shorter form. For a typical album review I’ll spend around 5 hours composing an in-depth analysis of a record’s strengths and weaknesses. As I only have so many hours in a day and I’ve been publishing less and less written content the last few months, the goal of these snapshots is to provide more analysis and give more exposure to more albums and artists without sacrificing some of the bigger picture elements. I’ll still be publishing longer form album reviews 2-3 days a week, but the other days I’ll be padding out with these shorter reviews. I hope you enjoy them. The first one goes up in a few hours. Thanks for your patience, and keep listening to new music!

Mid-Year Review: 5 Disappointing Albums

Whether you’re new to the site or have been reading Faronheit in some form or another for a long time now, I feel that it’s worth mentioning today is the site’s official 4th anniversary. Yes, Faronheit has been around since July 1, 2006, and while the first 3.5 years were spent over at Blogspot, at this point I couldn’t be happier with the recent conversion to the dot com status. Granted, those 3.5 years worth of site archives are currently in the wind somewhere and I’m fighting to get them restored and uploaded here so all of you can have access to the complete library of reviews and the like, but for the time being we’re making good with what we have.

Faronheit was originally conceived as an outlet for me to have an open and honest discussion on a global scale with music fans looking to learn about and hear more from up-and-coming artists. Thanks to loyal readers, commenters and the multitudes that email me every day, because all of you contribute in one way or another towards making this site what it is currently. And the artists! They’re first and foremost in all this, so thanks for making music and giving us something to listen to and talk about at endless length.

Now I’ll continue with a tradition that I started with the very first post on Faronheit, which is my Mid-Year Roundup. Today and tomorrow I will highlight a few albums released in the first half of the year that have surprised me and disappointed me. Typically I choose 10 albums apiece in the surprising and disappointing categories, but despite having heard a wealth of very good and very bad music so far in 2010, not a whole lot has caught me off guard in one aspect or the other. So I chose instead to halve both lists to keep things neater, cleaner and more organized.

First up are 5 Disappointing Albums from the first half of 2010. Before we get started, I would like to clarify that the word “disappointing” is NOT intended to indicate BAD. An album can still be good and disappointing at the same time, because for all you knew the listening experience was supposed to be completely mindblowing but was instead only pretty good. Every album that made this list this year also coincidentally is by a band that has released at least two albums prior to their current one. The setup for disappointment in most of these cases is mostly failing to deliver on the promise that previous records had shown them capable of. Hopefully that makes more sense when you examine the list below, which by the way is not ranked and in alphabetical order for that exact reason. I’m also curious to know your opinions on this list, along with what albums disappointed you in the first half of the year. Let me know in the comments.

Band of Horses – Infinite Arms
It never occurred to me to find out the names of the guys in Band of Horses besides singer Ben Bridwell until I heard “Infinite Arms” for the first time. See, it turns out that unbeknownst to me, Band of Horses was pretty much Bridwell’s solo project for the first two albums and the guys he played shows with were pretty much hired hands. Well, after the last album “Cease to Begin”, Bridwell did hire some guys full time to write, record and tour with him. Band of Horses now being a full-fledged band, all the new guys contributed a bunch of stuff to “Infinite Arms”, and suddenly their mojo disappeared. The new songs are blander and aimed at the arena-sized crowds they’re starting to attract. If they got this far with more introspective and personal material, why stop now? I’m not saying that Bridwell should fire the rest of his band, but maybe for the next album they let him go back to what he does best – writing and composing songs on his own. [Buy]

The Hold Steady – Heaven Is Whenever (Download: Hurricane J)
Keyboardist Franz Nicolay left The Hold Steady before they went to record “Heaven Is Whenever”, and though a moustachioed keyboard guy is never the lynchpin that makes any band go from good to great, something does feel like it’s missing from the band’s latest offering. The advancement of The Hold Steady from “Separation Sunday” to “Boys and Girls in America” was remarkable and pushed the band into new territory that saw them make huge strides in terms of attention and popularity. Their last album “Stay Positive” largely continued on the themes that “Girls and Boys in America” had set up, and while it was slightly less effective, the band remained exciting and prolific. Where “Heaven Is Whenever” goes wrong is when the band decides to abandon the Springsteen-esque progress they’d made on their last couple records and return to the much more guitar-based sound of their early days. If only they’d attempted to take another step forwards rather than looking backwards, I think everyone would have given them a little more leeway. Instead, The Hold Steady for the first time sound creatively exhausted, and Craig Finn’s stories are starting to wear a little thin. [Buy]

Hot Chip – One Life Stand
Hot Chip established themselves as this great electro-pop band building songs that sounded amazing on the dance floor. Examining the hits for a moment, songs like “Over and Over” and “Shake A Fist” were so huge and earned them such a following because they were fun, highly creative bursts of energy you could get down to. They seem to have forgotten that on “One Life Stand”, because the number of club banger tracks has decreased significantly. Yes, you could say the approach is far more nuanced and mature, but mid-tempo pop songs and slow ballads just don’t have the same cathartic release. There are a few great things about the album though, first and foremost among them is the incredibly great video for “I Feel Better”. I’m also all kinds of in love with the closing track “Take It In”. If Hot Chip want to show their more serious side, they have every right to do so, but as LCD Soundsystem has proven time and time again, you don’t need to scale back your beats and tempos to put your emotional depth on display. Hopefully they remember that for next time. [Buy]

Spoon – Transference
Spoon has had such a spectacular run of albums in the last few years that as much as we all might like that streak to continue, we knew it couldn’t go on forever. Their last album “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” may have placed them at the peak of their creative powers, so unless they could continue with that same vigor and intensity, “Transference” was going to be a let down. And so it was, with Britt Daniel & Co. turning in what felt at times like a half-baked album. As the band might put it though, every song is as complete as they want it to be. A small dash of grimy lo-fi here, a purposely missed or incompletely sung lyric there, and a splash of unfocused energy and things sound a little topsy-turvy in Spoon’s world. Good for them for having the courage and spirit to throw most everybody for some sort of loop, and the majority of the songs still work well even with the added quirks. “Transference” will go down as one of the lesser albums in Spoon’s catalogue, and as disappointing as that might be, the record is still interesting and even a bit surprising…just not always in that great sort of way. [Buy]

Stars – The Five Ghosts (Download: We Don’t Want Your Body)
Blandness and repeating yourself are two big things that many long-standing bands have had to fight against. Stars have reached their fifth album, and while their dark and depressing brand of indie pop has worked more often than it hasn’t, “The Five Ghosts” leaves them sounding like they’re no longer dying but are already dead. Many of the songs on the album are downtempo or devoid of any real expression of life, and the ones that do manage to pick themselves up off the floor can’t seem to do so for long. To be clear though this isn’t an album filled with bad songs, just merely okay ones. The positive is that Amy Millan really shines across the entire album from a vocal perspective, while Torquil Campbell seems pushed into a corner where he’s not allowed to be his normal, expressive self. It’s sad in a way, because while Stars haven’t always been the most prolific of Canadian exports, memories of magic from albums like “Nightsongs” and “Set Yourself On Fire” hurt whatever haunting message the band might be trying to get across here. Between this and “In Our Bedroom After the War”, let’s hope Stars find something a little lighter and less same-y sooner rather than later. [Buy]

TOMORROW – Mid-Year Review: 5 Surprising Albums

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