NYC club fixtures Video Beast deliver full-length debut ‘Gooch’

Video Beast‘Gooch’
Video Beast (self-released)
3 stars out of 5

Fixtures on the New York City club scene, psychedelic/post-punk trio Video Beast look to expand their sphere of influence with the release of full-length debut “Gooch.” The 10-song release aims to shine a light on the filth and corruption of modern society, as seen through the eyes of Fabian Jimenez (guitar/lead vocals), Felix Gotts (bass) and Dave Weinstein (drums).

Video Beast CD“Some folks may feel uncomfortable listening to ‘Gooch,’” Jimenez concedes. “But that’s OK. I hope listeners will reflect on the lyrics and maybe learn a thing or two about themselves and the world we are living in. The songs aren’t personally about me. Instead, they are the result of my personal observations, characters and environments I’ve come across.”

Even at a manageable 40 minutes, “Gooch” seems to overstay its welcome by about a third. Songs like “Bangalore,” “Chimp Strength,” “Buzzcuca,” personal favorite “Rat Parade” and “Tropical Fantasy” merit multiple listens but a little Video Beast goes a long, long way. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Matt Pond PA extend winning streak with ‘The State of Gold’ LP

Matt Pond‘The State of Gold’
Matt Pond PA (Doghouse)
3.5 stars out of 5

For the better part of two decades, Matt Pond PA have been one of the most prolific indie bands around. They have nine full-lengths to their credit and even more EPs, and continue to churn out enjoyable music on latest release “The State of Gold.”

Matt Pond CDFrontman Matt Pond had been going through a serious case of writer’s block in January 2014 when inspiration finally struck.

“I was in love and I was where I wanted to be,” Pond recalls. “I wrote (lead track) ‘More No More’ … (and) the rest of the songs started flooding in throughout the spring. ‘Take Me With You,’ ‘Emptiness’ and ‘Four Eyes’ were answers to questions I didn’t know how to ask. Through the summer and fall, the deluge continued until its ultimate end and answer, ‘The State of Gold.’”

Those are some of the better entries on the 13-track, 48-minute platter, with Matt Pond PA also impressing on “The Starting Line,” “Don’t Look Down” and “Have to Know.” After so many years in the business, it’s nice to know we can still count on Pond to get the job done. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Canadian singer/songwriter Jeen impresses on her ‘Tourist’ debut

Jeen (self-released)
3.5 stars out of 5

Anyone who still longs for the indie rock heyday of the 1990s — and there plenty of you out there, I know — needs to make sure Toronto native Jeen O’Brien is on your musical radar. Her “Tourist” debut dropped on her native Canada almost a year ago, but is getting a deluxe reissue in North America and Europe with four additional tracks.

Jeen CDIn recent years, O’Brien has been handling vocals for Cookie Duster, a band put together by Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning, and she shined on that outfit’s 2012 offering “When Flying Was Easy.” As a solo performer, however, Jeen really comes into her own on this eclectic 16-track release.

There aren’t any out-and-out clunkers on “Tourist” — though “Sad Boy” and “Hole in My Heart” wouldn’t have been missed — and Jeen soars highest on standouts “Buena Vista,” “NY Island,” “Summertime,” “Higher and Higher” and “All My Life.” Keep your eye on this talented Canuck. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Sick of Sarah return at long last with first-rate new EP ‘Anthem’

Sick of Sarah‘Anthem’
Sick of Sarah (self-released)
3.5 stars out of 5

Minneapolis-based female rockers Sick of Sarah have been at it for the better part of a decade, always seeming poised to take — yet never quite taking — the next step up the career ladder. The ladies made a nice first impression on their 2008 self-titled debut and took things up a notch on 2011 sophomore slab “2205.” It’s been about 4.5 years since we last heard from the four-piece, but Sick of Sarah return at long last with new EP “Anthem.”

Sick of Sarah CDThere have been the usual hiccups along the way for SoS — lineup changes, parting ways with their label, etc. — but the band that once earned comparisons to the likes of indie darlings The Breeders and Sleater-Kinney appear to have gotten things back on track. Frontwoman Abisha Uhl remains the straw that stirs the drink (the current lineup also includes Jessie Farmer, Katie Farmer and Jessica Forsythe) and her impressive vocals do the heavy lifting on the six-track slab.

The one-two opening punch of “Stereo” and “Bars Full of Strangers” serve as a nice re-introduction to Sick of Sarah, and the ladies also score with “Everything Is Beautiful” and “Contagious.” Here’s hoping that Uhl & Co. enjoy smooth sailing from here on out. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Prinzhorn Dance School make strides with ‘Home Economics’

prinzhorn‘Home Economics’
Prinzhorn Dance School (DFA)
3.5 stars out of 5

British post-punk duo Prinzhorn Dance School have grown on me over the years. I was not a big fan of their 2007 self-titled debut, but found some things to appreciate on 2012 sophomore set “Clay Class.” While I’m still not completely sold on the music of Tobin Prinz (guitar/vocals) and Suzi Horn (bass/drums/vocals), I think third effort “Home Economics” is their best yet.

prinzhorn CDPrinzhorn Dance School wisely trimmed the musical fat from this streamlined six-track offering, which whisks by in a manageable 23 minutes. Prinz and Horn still opt for a minimalist approach, which might be off-putting to some listeners, but it works here.

The opening salvo of “Reign” and “Battlefield” set the tone for “Home Economics” and I’m pretty sure you’ll know whether PDS are the band for you pretty quickly. After stumbling slightly on “Clean” and “Haggle,” the twosome bounces back with “Education” and set highlight “Let Me Go.” (Jeffrey Sisk)

Of Monsters and Men avoid sophomore slump on ‘Beneath the Skin’

Of Monsters‘Beneath the Skin’
Of Monsters and Men (Republic)
4 stars out of 5

Though I’d be hard-pressed to pronounce the names of the individual band members — let alone spell them! — Icelandic chamber folk/pop Of Monsters and Men are fast becoming one of my favorite bands. The quintet exploded onto the scene with the release of 2011 debut “My Head Is an Animal,” which spawned the ridiculously awesome single “Little Talks” and earned the group festival gigs at Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and Glastonbury, as well as an appearance on “Saturday Night Live.”

Of Monsters CDCo-vocalists/songwriters Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson displayed an impeccable chemistry on OM&M’s debut and it continues on almost-as-good sophomore platter “Beneath the Skin.” Hilmarsdóttir and Þórhallsson work the girl-boy vocal dynamic to perfection throughout the 15-track, 65-minute slab.

The overall mood of “Beneath the Skin” is a bit more melancholic than its predecessor, but it’s still a flat-out terrific album. Among the many keepers here are “Human,” “Wolves Without Teeth,” “Empire,” “Organs,” “Thousand Eyes,” “I of the Storm” and “Winter Sound.” There’s no sign of a sophomore slump from Of Monsters and Men. (Jeffrey Sisk)

The Deslondes take old-school approach to making music

The Deslondes‘The Deslondes’
The Deslondes (New West)
4 stars out of 5

There’s a decidedly old-school country feel to the music of New Orleans-based quintet The Deslondes. They combine country, soul and folk into a sound all their own and count among their heroes the likes of Woody Guthrie, Townes Van Zandt, Hank Williams and John Prine. The Deslondes are a true musical democracy with all five principals — Sam Doores (vocals/guitar), Riley Downing (vocals/guitar), Dan Cutler (vocals/stand-up bass), Cameron Snyder (vocals/percussion) and John James Tourville (pedal steel/fiddle) — contributing songs to the mix.

The Deslondes CD“Even before we started this group, when I was just playing with Cameron, we always had the idea that it would be fun to be in a band where there were multiple singers and multiple songwriters,” Doores notes. “Where everybody had a voice and can play multiple instruments — a true collaboration that’s greater than the sum of its parts and is still cohesive.”

Tourville’s pedal steel is The Deslondes’ secret weapon and he anchors most of the 12-track, 40-minute platter with the instrument’s distinctive sound. “Fought the Blues and Won” lifts the lid on the album, and the band also scores with “Those Were (Could’ve Been) The Days,” “Less Honkin’ More Tonkin’,” “The Real Deal,” “Time to Believe In,” personal favorite “Simple and True” and “Out on the Rise.” Good stuff. (Jeffrey Sisk)

A Thousand Horses score with twangy ‘Southernality’ debut

A Thousand Horses‘Southernality’
A Thousand Horses (Republic Nashville)
4 stars out of 5

As an avowed fan of rock-tinged country artists (or is it country-tinged rock artists?) like Cross Canadian Ragweed, Turnpike Troubadours and Whiskey Myers, it should come as no surprise that I’m really, really digging the “Southernality” full-length debut from newcomers A Thousand Horses.

A Thousand Horses CDThe Michael Hobby-fronted outfit — he’s joined in the band by Zach Brown, Graham Deloach and Bill Satcher — impress at every turn on this rollicking 13-track release. They’ve upped their profile considerably with recent television appearances on NBC’s “Today” and Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” and landed a plum support slot on Darius Rucker’s summer tour.

A Thousand Horses come out of the gate firing with “First Time,” “Heaven Is Close” and the terrific “Smoke,” which enjoyed the highest debut ever on Country Aircheck for a new artist’s first single. Additional standouts include “Tennessee Whiskey,” “Sunday Morning,” “(This Ain’t No) Drunk Dial” and “Hell on My Heart.” The sky’s the limit for this talented outfit. (Jeffrey Sisk)

The Silver Lake Chorus get some high-profile help on debut LP

TSLC‘The Silver Lake Chorus’
The Silver Lake Chorus (Six Degrees)
3.5 stars out of 5

The Silver Lake Chorus isn’t your normal collection of singers putting their spin on songs spanning a myriad of genres. This gathering of 20 Los Angelenos has some pretty famous fans and collaborators. After acclaimed Aussie singer/songwriter Ben Lee saw TSLC perform, he suggested they take a novel approach to traditional choral music by performing completely original indie rock songs.

PrintLee signed on to produce what became The Silver Lake Choris’ self-titled debut album and he asked his friends and fellow musicians to write new music for the record. As such, this 11-track release features compositions by Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Tegan & Sara, The Bird & The Bee, The Flaming Lips, Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie), Sia, Carl Newman (The New Pornographers) and Aimee Mann.

“Some songs called for a more traditional choral sound, and some for a more contemporary arrangements,” says soprano Heather Ogilvy. “The process of letting the songs be our guide and working with an array of vocalists and instrumentalists within the group was completely freeing. We weren’t trying to make each song sound the same, we were trying to fully serve each as best we could.”

TSLC are at the top of their game on keepers “From the Snow-Tipped Hills,” “Break It Down,” “Heavy Star Movin’,” “Nervouse Soul,” “Home Come Home” and “Wreckage.” It’s a fascinating sonic journey that plays out over 40 mostly enjoyable minutes. I realize that choral music isn’t for everyone, but this is an album that could make some converts. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Indie poppers Yukon Blonde enjoy themselves ‘On Blonde’

Yukon Blonde‘On Blonde’
Yukon Blonde (Dine Alone)
3.5 stars out of 5

Fun-loving Canadian outfit Yukon Blonde have spent the past few years making a name for themselves on the indie pop scene, delivering a pair of winning albums in 2010’s self-titled debut and 2012’s even-better sophomore slab “Tiger Talk.” The quintet serves up more of the same — this time with a healthy heaping of synth-soaked melodies — on third album “On Blonde.”

Yukon Blonde CD“It’s a more dynamic and more visceral album than our previous records,” explains Yukon Blonde frontman Jeff Innes. “We were more ambitious writing ‘On Blonde’ so it’s sort of ironic that in experimenting we created a more accessible record than ever before.”

That accessibility is readily apparent from the outset, as Yukon Blonde capture your fancy with “Confused” and “Make U Mine.” Additional standouts on the 10-track, 41-minute platter include “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “You Broke the Law,” “Favourite People” and “Jezebel.” If you haven’t yet submitted to the charms of Yukon Blonde, here’s your chance to do so. (Jeffrey Sisk)