February Release Party


Published: February 16, 2011

James Blake
“James Blake” released Feb. 8

Blake, the 21-year-old London-based dubstep producer, may be young, but don’t let his age fool you. This classically trained pianist released his first full-length, self-titled album on Feb. 8, but was garnering high critical acclaim from the likes of Pitchfork and BrooklynVegan before the record even came out.

Blake is an innovator; his puree of meticulous beats with heart aching, soulful lyrics is something of a warm welcome in a genre that relies mostly on brooding drones and occasional bleeps. His songs have no traditional pop structure, but they work brilliantly to his advantage, piecing together throngs of instrumental samples, synthesized vocals and hypnotizing beats that make you wonder what’s lying around the corner on this album.

One of the standout tracks, a cover of Feist’s “Limit to Your Love,” sounds as if Bill Withers himself had taught Blake the basics of heartbreak poetry. Don’t be fooled by this album’s untraditional landscape; it may seem empty and non-transitional at times, but that just adds to the recurring, heavy emotion Blake puts into his vocals and arrangements. Up to now, Blake, a bluesman at heart, has the best album of 2011. And that’s nothing to cry about.

“S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT” released Feb. 8

Recording on the side of an active volcano on a Japanese island? Check. Additional recording inside an abandoned train station in Detroit? Check. Does it work? Not really.

Portland by way of Brooklyn psych-folk sweethearts Akron/Family stay true to the weird uniqueness that is often associated with their new home, except it doesn’t succeed on this album. The songs aim to be epic, but many are as out of place and unfulfilling as the Black Eyed Peas at the Super Bowl half time show—it just doesn’t feel right.

Highlights include “A AAA O A Way,” a nice, Pink Floyd-esque segue into the best song on the album, “So It Goes,” a romping jam that must have Portland pissing themselves. Unfortunately, Akron/Family try to do more than they are capable of on their sixth album. The songs have no set direction, which lead you off into sounds that start to become annoying and hectic. It has the potential to be great, but never reaches that point, only crumbling into a pile of molten rock.

Bright Eyes
“The People’s Key” released Feb. 15

Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst has been called one of, if not the best songwriters of our generation. His lyrics are often recounted as angsty, youthful and sometimes too emotional, even extraneous.

On his latest, long-awaited album, “The People’s Key,” he returns to the basics of 2005’s “Digital Ash in a Digital Urn.” Many of the songs off the latest album sound like B-sides from his supergroup, Monsters of Folk, in the way that Oberst’s pure rock composition and songwriting return to the basics of open chords and charging, hooky riffs.

“The People’s Key” isn’t overly exciting, though; some of the songs still sound as if Oberst went into his manila folder and pulled out a leftover that sounded best. The frontman proclaims his love for Rastafarianism and reggae with “Haile Selassie,” even though not one note sounds even remotely close to reggae, which would have been interesting to hear.

Oberst ignores the roots-rock folk of his past two albums and instead relies on the strides he has made with his big-production solo projects. “The People’s Key” is not a bad album by any means, but it’s also not a very good one considering it has been over five years since Oberst released his last album as Bright Eyes.