Monthly Music Review: January Album Release Grab Bag


(First Aid Kit/Wichita, Howler/Rough Trade, Cloud Nothings/Carpark)


(First Aid Kit/Wichita, Howler/Rough Trade, Cloud Nothings/Carpark)

First Aid Kit
“The Lions Roar” Jan. 15

The Swedes have a nice little musical enclave up there in the Great White European North. The amount of talent that has come out of Scandinavia in recent years rivals the United States, and there are still more acts that have gone unnoticed. However in 2008, it was two sisters’ cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” performed in the middle of the Swedish woods, complete with flannel, unkempt hair and an eerie echo of the forest that attracted fans via a YouTube video, going viral in an instant. The sisters Klara and Johanna Soderburg aka First Aid Kit, capitalize on the breakthrough success of 2008’s “The Big Black and Blue” with their new album, “The Lion’s Roar,” a poignant dedication to American folk music that at times fails to grab the listener like “Black and Blue” did, but still manages to craft gorgeous melodies through vocals and craftsmanship.

“The Lion’s Roar” is darker and gloomier than their previous work, giving the duo a medieval, European folk sound that is rooted in strong storytelling through song. Their production has been built up as well, dipping their feet into the techniques and sounds employed by their contemporaries, especially Fleet Foxes. Pastoral flutes, the delicate striking of a harp here and there, mixed with the harmonies they are known for are sometimes imitated exactly as you would hear a B-side to the Foxes’ latest, “Helplessness Blues.”

The songs are gorgeous, eloquent and serious; certainly more mature songwriting has taken place with this album than their previous projects but many of the songs don’t jolt the listener as much as say “The Big Black and Blue” did. It’s plain as day who their inspiration is, and frankly, it’s a bit overbearing at times. Songs like “Dance to Another Tune,” “Blue,” and “I Found a Way” save the album from being just another attempt at the generic folk revival, but these Swedes have much more to offer in the future than just meatballs.

“America Give Up” Jan. 17

One simply cannot put a finger on Howler’s “America Give Up.” In fact, if your finger could, it would probably flip you off for even trying to pinpoint a central starting spot on this album. “America Give Up” is a proverbial 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle in the image of a colorful bowl of M&Ms; it’s a pain in the ass to get through at first, but when you stand back and look at the whole picture, that’s a damn tasty looking bowl of M&Ms.

The Minneapolis band may look like they just finished taking their senior yearbook pictures but the craftsmanship put into “America Give Up” is nothing short of special and downright fun to listen to. Howler banks off the formula of pouty power-pop mixed with the brashness of fuzzed-out punk if it happened to exist circa 1965. There’s an element of beach party bingo in this album with most songs backed by clangy guitars and a hallowed out, driven sound that matches The Buzzcocks with the sarcasm of The Cramps.

Howler plays off the power-pop tradition of keeping songs under or around the three minute mark, but there is so much noise that the need for a large swab Q-tip to gently wipe the blood from your  shattered eardrums is greatly required for songs like “Too Much Blood” and “Beach Sluts.” And I say that with the best of intentions; for a band so young using only the minimal array of effects matched with the simplistic chord changes of punk, one can tell the amount of fun thrown into the album. Despite the fuzzed out sound, a clear and open path has been laid out for them in 2012.

Cloud Nothings
“Attack on Memory” Jan. 24

Dylan Baldi aka Cloud Nothings, is one pissed off 20 year-old. It’s not the angsty early nineties anymore, but that’s how Baldi treats his songs on Cloud Nothings latest album, “Attack on Memory.” Produced by Steve Albini, the album certainly channels the teenage angst of 1992 when music was being turned into a moving image shit fest that was the music video. The Smashing Pumpkins was the band to daydream to with your friends while Nirvana ushered in a new incentive for being misunderstood and unheard in the Bush Senior years. Unlike Cloud Nothings’ care-free innocence albums of the past, “Attack On Memory” launches the guitar neck into a the speaker of an amp where it belongs.

The songs for this album take on a even whinier tone than Cloud Nothings’ self-titled album in 2011, but they’re tolerable. The amount of screaming versus singing is quite surprising and satisfying. At 33 minutes long, the album is scrawny, but packs a punch to the face of the school bully at lunch time. One thing that grabbed me on this album in particular was the guitar work; dueling lines that swell around each other and cooperate but don’t overpower.

The mark of Nirvana producer Albini is unmistakable on “Attack On Memory”: loud drums, emphasis on vocals and swirling guitar that keeps poking fun at the hairs standing up in your Dad’s ear as its blasted in your home bedroom. In an interview with Pitchfork, Baldi recalls Albini playing Scrabble on Facebook while updating his food blog while the band sat in and recorded their parts. If that was the case, get the man all the Scrabble opponents and French recipes he can handle.