2014 is well under way and the torrent of new tunes has threatened to swallow up our dedicated staff of reviewers. Here’s a sample of some of the tunes that have been putting us in a good mood of late.
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In the first installment of our new weekly roundup of album reviews, we present: one highly anticipated sophomore release, one veteran rock band’s latest single, one Latino rock side project and one slice of urbane soul. But it’s Angel Olsen, one of the buzziest names around, that bats in the lead-off spot. Coming at you from the streets of New York and the garages of Puerto Rico, we offer our insights into these plush new grooves.
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Angel Olsen
Burn Your Fire For No Witness

Vivascene rating 9 out of 10

Burn Your Fire For No Witness, the highly-anticipated second LP from Missouri-born musician Angel Olsen, is a stunning collection of celestial, Mother Earth-ready anthems. The first three songs wisely hover around the two minute mark, acting as hors d’oeuvres to the album’s main course of grander moments. Within these three introductory songs, however, Olsen reveals a lot about her musical approach: there is world-weary folk on ‘Unfucktheworld’, hypnotic garage-pop on ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’, and indie-meets-country saloon vibe on ‘Hi-Five.’

Olsen blends a lot of different sounds and styles together on this record and she has the lyrical prowess to tie it all together. A lot of attention has been directed at ‘White Fire,’ Olsen’s seven-minute ode to passion, lust, and overcoming. Olsen best showcases Burn Your Fires … themes — passion, loss and loneliness — on this one, sounding like Leonard Cohen on one of his better days,
On the stellar ‘White Fire’ Olsen references the album’s title, singing “If you’ve still got some light in you then go before it’s gone/Burn your fire for no witness it’s the only way it’s done.” Olsen understands the innate desire for one to fulfill their passions before they’ve been extinguished, but also recognizes the great challenge involved in this.

Sounding like a cross between country legend Loretta Lynn and Velvet Underground-alum Nico, Olsen melts hearts on the album’s final three songs, all of which are gorgeous showstoppers. Olsen’s band takes the backseat for these numbers allowing her vocal and lyrical chops the chance to shine.
On the album closer, ‘Windows,’ Olsen does away with much of her sadness/happiness, optimism/pessimism dichotomy in favour of life-affirming guidance. “Won’t you open a window sometime/What’s so wrong with the light?” she sings over and over again, and it feels just right.
Ben Bengtson

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Warpaint
Warpaint
(Rough Trade)

Vivascene rating 9 out of 10

Los Angeles-based indie art rockers Warpaint have a fiercer following and rallying cry than their scant discography suggests. Warpaint, the second official release was produced by Flood (Nick Cave, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails and U2), and shimmers with his signature haunting and intense atmospherics. Warpaint does require diligence and a little daring from the listener — a slow burning attractor whose rich textures and ample ambiance makes for a gratifying aperitif of anxious ease and often minimalist cool.

The album cover bears an artful photographic overlay of the band (an all-female four-piece) by British video artist and film director Chris Cunningham: the band is framed in black borders with “Warpaint” in an all caps Futura font, echoing the design of similarly acrimonious noise pop prodigies The Jesus and Mary Chain. One part tribute/homage and perhaps as well a trading of tradition as Warpaint moves from heartrending responses (lead-off single ‘Love is to Die’ does so exquisitely) to elastic, heavenly-harmonic prog-rock retorts (‘Disco/Very’ fills this ordinance nicely).

Emily Kokal‘s vocals are showing more range than 2010’s excellent The Fool first suggested. Sure, some of that Hope Sandoval eupnea (or “quiet breathing”) exists, on ‘Teese’ especially, but a more distinct R&B influence saturates the recording. With more synth-soaked circuits and drum machine in the scrim, tracks like ‘Biggy’ had me short for breath and happily hyperactive at the new path Warpaint is wandering. So early into 2014 and I’ve already found a prized release from a previously overlooked place. Maybe “overlooked” is the wrong word here, but I certainly didn’t see an album of this distinction from a band I knew was solid but had, to my mind, settled in to its own little niche, having already made their manifesto.

The more time I spend with Warpaint the more I succumb to its rhythm and recognize its unsparing rhyme. ‘Feeling Alright’ is the apogee of the album for me, a mist-enshrouded and resilient pop song of melodious and airy ability. Sigur Rós devotees will find a lot of cinematic similarities, and so too the erotic dangers of David Lynch and John Lurie (see his scores for Jim Jarmusch) seems to fit in with the ignis fatuus tapestry Warpaint has handsomely sewn. Essential listening from one of the most germane groups around. Miss this album at your peril.
– by Shane Scott-Travis

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U2
‘Invisible’ (single)
(Island)

Vivascene rating 7 out of 10

Just when we thought that U2’s Danger Mouse-produced 13th album would never see the light of day, we get ‘Invisible’ – a very visible and U2-ish new single from Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. Coupled with their hit song from Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, ‘tktk’, ‘Invisible’ offers the first new audible noise from a band largely silent since 2009’s magnetic No Line On The Horizon and its juggernaut of a tour.

Although I enjoyed ‘Invisible’ quite a bit, I find U2 is best digested with a full album of material, not just a single. With little more than a boot of the drum and some keyboard flourishes, one of the last legacy rock bands announces their return. At about the one minute mark, I released my breath when the glorious, familiar sound of The Edge’s discordant guitar army took control of things. Bono’s lyrics are nothing to get too excited about here, but his voice sounds better than ever. By tracks end, I’m in awe that the veteran band still has the ability to reach soaring, anthemic heights.

Partnering with RED and Bank of America, U2 made the super cool decision to temporarily release ‘Invisible’ as a free ITunes download — for 36 hours only. Every download of the song within this time span guaranteed that the Bank of America would donate $1 to RED, a non-profit devoted to fighting AIDS, TB, and malaria in Africa. ‘Invisible’ raised over three million dollars in that time span.

‘Invisible’ is an inessential song, but it’s breezy and fun and makes the perfect tease for the Danger Mouse record. Although I’d be (pleasantly) surprised if I ever heard U2 make another song as good as ‘Moment of Surrender,’ here’s to the band and their new record, whatever it winds up being called.
– By BB

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AJ Davilla
Terror Amor
(Nacional Records)

Vivascene rating 7.5 out of 10

Garage rock, Puerto Rico-style is fertile to say the least. Davila 666 lead singer AJ Davila has jumped into side-project territory. Terror Amor was just released on February 18 by Nacional Records, Davila has unleashed a fiery and cacophonous noise — an album of unbridled passion as told through auto plant percussions, skronk-y horns, greased up bass notes, sriracha hot guitar licks and the untamed vocals of a bestiary of feral animals.

Terror Amor imagines a world where The Ramones, The Pixies and The Strokes disappeared on a Central American adventure cruise. The descendants of the lost bands descended into a Mad Max-ian netherworld of aggro surf music and rock spiritualism. The resulting bloodbath leaves AJ Davila as leader of a New World Order of Garage Rock.

But maybe I’m projecting a little. This is orgiastic rock mayhem and the most head-bangingly awesome record I’ve heard in a dog’s age. Infectious in all the right ways — fuzzed-out vocals, delirious harmonies, garbage can drums, and switchblade guitars — Terror Amor may be the only true rock and roll album you’ll need all year. (Hell, the daffy-dopey brilliance of ‘Ya Sé’ alone is worth admission). Even if your Spanish begins and ends with cilantro you won’t need a Spanglish dictionary to get off on these 43 minutes of primal rock beats.
– By Jason Motz

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Jonny P
Right To You
(Noisetrade)

Vivascene rating 7.5 out of 10

For those hankering for a return to the warm sounds of 70s R&B, the Velveeta smooth rhythms of a pre-disco age, where silkiness was a virtue, may I present to you Jonny P.

Right To You is unapologetically anachronistic. Really, if you had to be stuck in a time warp, wouldn’t 1974 Philadelphia be your choice? Recalling Smokey Robinson in his initial solo forays and Stevie Wonder’s Music of My Mind, Right To You fits like a rhinestone-studded glove. The production is equal to Hi Records in Al Green‘s prime. He lacks the slithery glam of Bruno Mars (thank God) but he has the lyrical chutzpah of Aloe Blacc.

Jonny P is every bit the real deal. (And he racks up copious style points. Seriously, is there a better dressed dude anywhere on the planet?) There is a soul renaissance going down and this NYC stud has got all the right moves. ‘Gradual Things’ flat-out tops anything Prince has written in the past decade. (There, I said it.) And the melody to ‘All They Need’ is so relentlessly joyful you may have to play two or three times before you even hear they lyrics. Jonny’s A-game isn’t as well-rounded as Blacc’s (yet!) but he’s got an undeniable groove. Loose, flirtatious, and smooth, Right To You Is the introduction to a certifiable star in the making. An EP that will leave you dripping for more.
– by JM
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