erasing clouds

6 Music Reviews

I.A. Bericochea, Sueño (Rojo)

I.A. Bericochea's latest album Sueño opens with layer upon layer of warm electronic tones. You sink into it like a bath, and then you hear the pulsing dance beat hidden underneath. The whole album is like that – intricate and pretty on the surface, but just outside the most prominent exterior there's an energetic dance party getting on. It sounds carefully composed when you first listen, but has more of an immediate, raw feeling of movement when you listen closer. It's atmosphere in motion, a dream state that's shaking its ass across the dancefloor. Sueño (Dream in English) is the Madrid-based musician Ignacio Aguilera Bericochea's second album, and it presents a confident, full sound. The music appeals on several levels at once: you can zone out and dream the day away, dance the night away, or do both at the same time. – dave heaton

Diana Darby, The Magdalene Laundries (Delmore)

Diana Darby's third album The Magdalene Laundries presents an especially bleak world, starting with the brief opening song which ends with the line, "why did you take away my home / my mother my self my own". Darby plays bluesy first-person folk with a singular sound – exceedingly minimalist and dark. The Magdalene Laundries has a hushed, slow, tone, with atmosphere painted in quiet colors. The CD booklet includes a huge fold-out, close-up photograph of Darby's face; the album is marked by the same uncompromising tone of analysis, of looking at what the world is like no matter how dark it can seem. "Look at her smile / there's a sadness she hides," goes one lyric, and the album is filled with that feeling that everywhere is pain just underneath the surface. On songs like "Rabbits", Darby sings in a brittle, fragile way, with an edge which suggests that terror is always right around the corner. Murder, death, heaven and hell…these things haunt every second of the album. There are moments where hope is wished for ("I wish you bluebirds / for every fear and every year", she sings), though it's hard to tell whether it's really expected. – dave heaton

I Eat Records: Appetizers & Leftovers (I Eat Records)

The Austin, Texas-based pop-rock band The Casting Couch has been getting a lot of play on my stereo lately, for their smart, moving and catchy new album Row Your Boat, on Austin label I Eat Records. But they're not the only band on I Eat that's worth a recommendation, judging by the new label compilation Appetizers & Leftovers. The CD is full of songs with depth and heart - generally in the area of country- and folk-framed pop and rock, but more varied than that description suggests. Its 21 tracks includes songs by the handful of bands that I Eat has released CDs by so far (or is about to): The Glass Family, Orange Mothers, Ethan Azarian (formerly of Orange Mothers), The Handsome Charlies, and the Casting Couch. But then there's a host of other bands, many of them from Austin. There's great tracks by bands who've made a name from themselves elsewhere, like Okkervil River (doing a song by Ethan Azarian, slow-burning country), Shearwater, the Places, and Summer Hymns. And then much more. Phosphorescent performs a memorably ache-filled cover of Kris Kristofferson's "Sunday Morning Coming Down". Fine Fifteen's "Dream" is a nice guitar-and-accordion-driven duet with a sense of C&W yearning to it. Darling New Neighbors' "Grocery" is a low-key, slinky rocker with a funky break towards the end. There's a lot here to enjoy; it's a label comp that's both jam-packed and cohesive, as enticing as you'd want such an album to be. - dave heaton

Mi and L'au, self-titled (Young God)

"Fold your hands round me," goes the last line on Mi and L'au's self-titled debut album, just as you feel like the music is doing the same, enveloping you with something as simple as two hands. The duo's music is almost unbelievably stark...that is, the believability is questionable because of how full the music is in feeling, the way it makes everything stand still and pulls you in close. Mi and L'au is a couple, a woman and a man who mostly sing and play guitar, with another instrument gently added here and there. They recorded their album in a cabin in Finland, and it sounds indeed like its own little world. There's something very out-of-time, out-of-place about the music; it doesn't feel like part of a "scene" or movement. Yet it conjures up very distinct feelings, and in that way feels very of the moment. The music is slow, almost cautiously so, and potent in its pace, its intimacy, its warmth, and the weird beauty of the voices and music. Songs like "Burns" and "Christmas Soul" are peaceful and solemn, yet still quite eerie. There's space in these songs, and who knows what's occupying it. - dave heaton

To: Elliott From: Portland (Expunged Records)

The title tells it all: this is a love letter from Elliott Smith to musicians from his town of Portland, Oregon. In other words it's a tribute album, one that of course has extra emotional resonance due to Smith's passing. It doesn't hurt, though that his songs themselves are so filled with heart. The covers are mostly reverent in tone, with occasional attempts at experimentation. No one here delivers the sort of amazing re-interpretation that would make you think of the song in a completely new light, and many of them songs just glide right past, making you think pleasant thoughts about Elliott Smith but not offering anything beyond that. The best songs here are relatively straightforward, but deliver the potency of the original in a slightly different style, like two country-tinged takes ("Clementine" from The Decemberists and "The Biggest Line" from Dolorean), the Thermals' direct yet forceful take on "The Ballad of Big Nothing" (the star of the show), and Swords' atmospheric, church-like rendition of "I Didn't Understand" (though it does get a bit bombastic in places). Eric Matthews' heavy blues guitar meeting his soft voice on "Needle in the Hay" offers an interesting balance of sludge and orchestration, as well. The album wears on a bit, with covers that don't seem that spiritually or emotionally invested in the material (Lifesavas' odd hip-hop version of "Happiness", and songs by We Are Telephone, Crosstide, and others). Overall, though, To: Elliott From: Portland is an earnest enough tribute album that mostly serves as a reminder of Elliott Smith's gifts as a songwriter. – dave heaton

Rocky Votolato, Makers (Barsuk)

Rocky Votolato has a fairly typical alt-rock singer-songwriter voice, nothing that in and of itself would knock your socks off. But the friendly, relaxed style in which he sings his intimate, detailed little songs is special. His album Makers has a sound which is simple, mostly voice and guitar, yet it beautifully captures an introspective, gentle mood. There's a great Simon & Garfunkel-like "morning in the city" feeling to Makers; the album often feels like you're living inside someone's head during a moment of quiet thought. "Please slow it down/there's a secret magic past world/that you only notice when you're looking back at it", he sings on "White Daisy Passing", while the music echoes that feeling of illumination through contemplation. Trains and streetlights and hotel rooms are the album's dominant imagery, with guilt and anxiety prominent emotions. "Come along with me now cause there are things I've been dying to tell you", he sings at one point, and you can't help but think that he has complete control of your ear, that you'll listen to whatever secrets he's going to gently croon. – dave heaton

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