The National ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ Review

Birthed from Cincinnati college jam sessions and an old band named after vocalist Matt Berninger’s mom (Nancy), The National proper came together in Brooklyn in 1999 and has released a string of increasingly critically-acclaimed albums and EPs. Trouble WIll Find Me, their 6th full length, finds the band less tightly-wound in the rhythm department than its predecessors, becoming increasingly chill yet somehow building to bigger, more anthemic choruses. This album may be their best to date (time will tell), as they have found the perfect way to grow and polish their sound on each album while keeping their overall sonic keystones intact.


Personally, I didn’t discover The National until The Boxer. They hit a sweet spot with a more unique sound on their third album Alligator (2005), so when Boxer was about to drop in 2007, the anticipation from indie-focused sites like Pitchfork and Stereogum was palpable. I was convinced to look into it. What I liked the most was the special way they combined chill melodies, guitars and keys with more aggressive post-punk bass and drums. It was at once relaxed and jittery–I’d never heard a band do that before. But it wasn’t until 2010’s High Violet that they really blew my lid. Drummer Bryan Devendorf was especially instrumental in convincing me of their greatness, because his explosive yet controlled beats on the album really took these swelling guitars and pianos, as well as Berninger’s baritone croons, cruising right over the cliff to a gnarly explosion on the rocks below. A good explosion–an explosion of sound–ya dig?


A perfect example of this is “Graceless,” a song that could be a ballad if Bryan wasn’t so obsessed with Joy Division and their drum-machine yet-human-powered patterns of snare fills, tom hits and quick hihat runs. He single-handedly (well, with both hands, and both feet) propels the song to its apex with Berninger in his trademark low wail, also recalling Joy Division and their iconic departed frontman Ian Curtis.


First single “Don’t Swallow the Cap” references some classic universally-loved albums, “And if you want / To see me cry / Play “Let It Be” / Or ‘Nevermind’” as well as killer quote-able lines like “I have faith but don’t believe you / This love ain’t enough to leave you ”. “I Need My Girl” is another favorite, though it doesn’t have much in the way of those killer drums, just a slow build of booming percussion. What makes it is the finger-picked electric and Berninger’s lyrics, throwing at you some lines you never thought you’d hear sung in such a chill setting: “Remember when you lost your shit / Drove the car into the garden” and “I’ll try to call you / From the party / It’s full of punks and cannonballers“. He is revealing himself to be one of the greatest lyricists of modern indie rock. “Fireproof” follows a similar route as “I Need My Girl,” with simple shakers pushing the song along for most of it’s duration, and cool guitar hammer-ons and low-end synth swells.


There are some new twists to the band’s sound that most people won’t even notice they’re so subtle and well-done. Opener “I Should Live in Salt” features a 9/4 chord progression that never feels unnatural. Near the album’s end, “Pink Rabbits” winds down with a midtempo piano groove and ambient guitar feedback wails, something they should experiment with more. “You said it would be painless / It wasn’t that at all.” is a key line from the track. “Sea of Love” rocks right off the bat, something they usually hesitate to do, tending to build songs up gradually. Buzzy bass breaks it down in parts, but it just keeps comin’ back up. Another addition is the many more instances of backing vocals, especially big sung/shout gang parts, which is a nice addition to a group focused so intensely on that one unique voice.


You can tell that The National hit a fruitful songwriting stride writing this album. It’s 13 tracks and damn near an hour, and you won’t regret a minute of what they included here. There is a fantastic flow from upbeat, crescendoing rockers to gentle yet looming ballads. Overdefined may give me shit, but fuckin’ A, 2013’s been a great year for indie rock and Trouble Will Find Me  is bound to end up near the top of heap for me.

By Greg0rb via


My Bloody Valentine – m b v

How do you go about releasing an album the world has waited on for nearly twenty-two years? Apparently from your website late on a Saturday night, with little warning. Then to tease us further, the website crashes from the traffic.

During their initial run, My Bloody Valentine released a handful of EPs and two essential LPs, 1988’s Isn’t Anything and 1991’s Loveless, the latter especially becoming a landmark in the height of the shoegaze era. Leader Kevin Shields, a noted perfectionist of guitar noise, nearly bankrupted Creation Records during the lengthy crafting of Loveless, foreshadowing the wait to come. After its release, the band signed to Island and used their advance to build a studio, but following a myriad of technical issues coupled with Shields’ inability to be satisfied with his material, all the band released were a couple compilation tracks. Reportedly, Shields recorded and scrapped at least one full album, and another report says he turned in 60 hours of music to Island during the later half of the 90s. But a new album never saw the light of day.

In 2007 the quartet reunited and already started baiting us with talks of new material as they toured the festival circuit. Shields said in an interview in 2008, “I realized that all that stuff I was doing in 1996 and 1997 was a lot better than I thought” and the once-abandoned album was given new life. Still, it wasn’t until late 2012 that we got any concrete information about studio happenings. Then, finally, late on Feb. 2, 2013, m b v greeted the world.

On opener “She Found Now” the touchstones are there: thick, fuzzy, swirling guitars and ghostly, unintelligible vocals. Shield’s vocals are a bit higher in the mix than we are used to, but still used as another instrument rather than to convey lyrical ideas. “Only Tomorrow” ushers in the looping, mesmerizing drums we associate with the band, and couples it with guitars that are somehow buzzier than ever. Showcasing the art of whammy bar, “Who See You” bends chords in and out of shape to sail you across a sea of distortion as insistent tambourine holds things together.

Track 4 “Is This and Yes” breaks the mold with a keyboard dirge buoying Bilinda Butcher’s vocals. I had hoped for some of the bendy synth leads that pepper Loveless, but on m b v they take on a more supportive role. “New You” recalls a more Isn’t Anything feel, with lighter tremolo guitar and a strong bass and drum groove from Debbie Googe and Colm ÓCiosóig, respectively. You’ll get about halfway through “Nothing Is” before you realize it only has one chord–perhaps a bit of filler but it contains some of the album’s most powerful and trance-inducing drumming.

The album ends just as strong as it started. The bridges of “In Another Way” layer pointy guitar jabs over delicate synths and Butcher’s climbing vocal line. “Wonder 2” sounds like it was recorded inside a wind tunnel as phased drum fills end the album like a jet plane landing.

It’s obviously very difficult to judge how this record stacks up against an album I’ve loved for so long. Against all odds, My Bloody Valentine managed to put together an album that keeps enough of the elements that made us cherish Loveless, while stretching their sonic palette just enough to keep things interesting. m b v was worth the wait.

[Original review here.]

Dinosaur Jr. – I Bet On Sky

I gave Dinosaur Jr.’s second reunion effort Farm a very favorable review and while it is a great record, a year or so after it’s release I found myself returning to Beyond at a much greater frequency. Where Beyond blasts through its track listing, Farm chills out a bit (as much as Dino can chill) and meanders through even more extended solo sections with slower tempos. So when their third reunion effort (and tenth album overall) I Bet On Sky was announced, I was excited to see if it would get back to the rip-roaring tempos, or if these gray-hairs were getting grayer.

“Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know” starts things out with J Mascis’ funkier side, with quick, clean chords over sustained keys and a tight, speedy groove from Lou Barlow and Murph. It grows to a louder breakdown chorus and has a laid-back tremoloed solo near the finish. Single “Watch the Corners” (with its video featuring Tim Heidecker) chugs through the intro (in strikingly similar fashion to “It’s Me” from Beyond) and opens up as a nice mellow rocker. The bridge has the big hook, though it takes awhile to get there. “I Know It Oh So Well” gets funky again with wah pedal and nice tom work by Murph but busts into some big guitar sections including a bridge rockin’ some cowbell and crunchy 7th chords.

However, my big issue with Farm is still present: most of the songs on I Bet On Sky are long and mid-to-slow tempos. The one J song that would be an exception would be “Pierce the Morning Rain”, which starts with a billy club of a riff and tears through its running time in under three minutes, a welcome change in an album of five-minute songs. Minus “Almost Fare” which is built on a rather dopey little guitar lick, the songs are solid, just not as in-your-face as I was hoping for. “Stick a Toe In” would be the premier ballad of the set, featuring chunking piano chords and fuzzy bass details from Barlow. But where’s the “Over It”-style shredder to follow it up?

Then there’s Barlow’s “Rude”, which seems out of place, like it was written for Sebadoh rather than Dino. It’s got some classic Lou lyrics: ”Caring is rude / And nature is cruel.” But with the straight-forward and giddy beat, the simplistic guitar runs and the distorted obscured vocals, it just doesn’t seem “Dino”. “Recognition” makes much more sense within the set while retaining that Barlow feel. It opens with a spooky stomp followed by a slippery quick riff in the vocal breaks. There’s a complete breakdown to light acoustic plucks in the bridge, bursting into one of J’s patented solos.

While these old dudes still rock, I Bet On Sky is the weakest of their reunion albums. At this point they’ve been reunited for seven years, so they’re itching to expand their sound back out after proving to the world with Beyond and Farm that they’ve still got the magic. It’s that finicky third album, all over again.

[Original review here}

The Raveonettes – The Observator

With last year’s Raven in the Grave, Danish duo The Raveonettes made a conscious effort to step out of their fuzz-pop comfort zone and into a more atmosphere-based goth world. While decent levels of pop pierced through nonetheless, Raven showed a more restrained side of the band we hadn’t seen since Pretty in Black. However, being restrained isn’t what the Raveonettes are all about.

Observator sits squarely in the middle of the three distinct paths they’ve taken on their most recent albums: it retains some of the ambience of Raven, pops it up towards the sugar-coating of 2009’s In and Out of Control and raises the fuzz levels back up, but granted not to the amount found on 2008’s Lust Lust Lust.

Due to some interesting sequencing, the middle of the album has the biggest block of noise-pop hits. “Sinking With the Sun” buzzes and bops along with chiming guitars overtop as Wagner and Foo trade the chorus line back and forth. “She Owns the Streets” dials in a brisk walking tempo, cranks the ‘verb, and finds the duo bouncing vox off each other again in classic girl-group fashion. Then immediately it’s “Downtown”, which blitzes through several verses and choruses with no-nonsense efficiency, even chopping measures down to 2/4 just to cram an important “uh-woah-oh” in and move right along.

While there is still plenty of drum machine/manufactured beats (as is their MO), organic instruments grab more of the spotlight on this album. Gone are the 80s synths, in are the pianos. Electric guitar heads to the back, acoustic steps up front. Earlier this year they teased us with the Into the Night EP, but in retrospect those tunes seems more like B-sides that would have been out of place had they plunked ‘em in here, with the guitars up louder and the drum beats harder than found in this set. This fuzz is not Lust fuzz dominating the track, it’s a gentle white noise, sitting comfortably behind a surfy lead, menacing piano (“Observations”), or acoustic guitar (“Young and Cold”). Electrics still shine of course, as chorus pedals jangle “The Enemy” right into my heart.

On Raven, Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo experimented with dissonance. They’d always been noisy, but kept the harmonies real purrrty until that record. There is a pinch of those unsettling note clashes on songs here, like on “Curse the Night”, where we find Foo singing in a very wispy and shy high register, not her usual sure-footed pop style, over a noodly guitar line. The confident chorus makes up for this minor weak point on the album.

While not making a bold artistic attempt at new territory, Observator sums up The Raveonettes in a nice tidy package, like a Greatest Hits that happens to be all new songs. Another high-quality batch of songs that shows all the younger noisy bands how it’s done.

[Original review here.]

Fang Island – Major

This album had me at hello. ”All i know I learned in Kindergarten! shouted over epic piano arpeggios and smooth sky-high guitar leads? Shit. As an elementary music teacher, nothing has ever expressed on such a animalistic level both my thoughts about the importance of early education and rock music in one four-minute chunk.

Fang Island have been compared to Andrew W.K. before, but it’s an apt comparison that deserves repeating. Where A.W.K. screams, Fang Island lets their guitars do the screaming. Continue reading