Album Review: Night Moves – Pennied Days

Night Moves’ debut album Colored Emotions took the genres of psychedelic country and folk rock and packed all of its components into a more glamorous, embellished package, and, despite its slight hiccups, was enough to attract the attention of Domino – who then took the group under its wing and polished their tunes without changing their quirky personas in the process. Almost four years later, the Minnesota based band hasn’t lost their unique charm and sly magic that made their debut so wonderful, and as a result, Pennied Days is a stunning, focused sophomore attempt rife with emotion.

Initially, when hearing the new record for the first time, its clear that something huge changed between the release of Colored Emotions and the recording of Pennied Days, being the nature and overall sound of frontman John Pelant’s vocals. In the jangly “Country Queen” and the hazy “Colored Emotions,” two of the debut’s best tracks, his voice is elastic, gooey, and often times surrounded by lush instrumentation to a major extent, brilliantly forcing that almost tangible strain and yearning in his voice to become his signature in the future. Now, his vocals sound potent and infinitely more confident, taking his impassioned yelps and falsetto croons in the emotionally and technically stunning opener “Carl Sagan” as prime example. Pelant’s vocals aren’t buried under layers of synth or reverb – well, at least, not as much – and here, we hear both vocals and instrumentation equally sharing the spotlight. The piano pounds that lead into the metallic twangs of guitars on the previously unreleased track “Border On Border” are simply euphoric, and again, the strong, nostalgia-inspired riffs that power “Carl Sagan” are breathtaking. The upbeat, anxious “Staurolite Stroll” and the smooth, romantic track “Alabama” brilliantly act as simultaneous contrasts and compliments, and its beautiful that the mind-blowing instrumentals of the former are soothed and caressed by the latter. While it’s clear that Night Moves actively sway to the beat of their predecessors and the trio hasn’t lost their skill in channeling that quintessential 70’s psychedelia, there are times where that sense of over-heightened acknowledgment weakens the album – for instance, tracks like the retro “Leave Your Light On” and “Kind Luck” where, after the third or fourth vocal strain and guitar swell, it starts to lose the magic and honesty that the album starts out with and instead acts as filler. However, while Colored Emotions had a sense of fluidity but wasn’t as skillfully impressive, on Pennied Days it’s the exact opposite, which surprisingly works in its favor.

Ironically, the album’s first teaser “Denise, Don’t Wanna See You Cry” is the best track on the album, as I found myself attached to the way it oozes nostalgia and desperation each time I came around to it. It’s the perfect combination of soft and hard, of cold and warm, and that yearning found in the croon of the beginning word “tonight” as well as the various subtle iterations of guitar that surround it is enough to make you swoon. The instrumentals swell and pulsate like a beating heart, and seems to be an excellent representative of Pennied Days as a whole – a living, breathing thing succumbed to passion.

8.5/10

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photo courtesy of domino

P.S. I also got a chance to see Night Moves during SXSW and they are just as great live! Highly recommended. Plus, I got a chance to chat with John for a while and he is just as chill as he appears to be.

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Whitney – “No Woman”

I heard about retro-folk group Whitney during a random set at SXSW the other day, and as soon as I heard their gorgeous tune “No Woman,” I knew I had stumbled across something incredibly powerful. The track changes moods as it plays on, starting with a yearning, melancholy guitar instrumental and ending with a bold, refined medley of trumpets and violins. Julian Ehrlich’s vocals are saccharine sweet, adding a layer of nostalgia and honeyed passion to an already emotionally drenched track. Among the millions of songs dealing with leaving the familiar and attempting to embrace the unknown, “No Woman” feels like one of the most genuine, swapping out the fear and uncertainty with tenderness.

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photo courtesy of artist

Nap Eyes – “Stargazer”

Nap Eyes released their sophomore album Thought Rock Fish Scale last month, with critics noting the album’s as well as the Canadian band’s evolution since their debut. “Stargazer,” one of the stand-out tracks on the album, is slacker-rock with a hint of Bob Dylan, with frontman Nigel Chapman providing clear, crisp vocals completely in sync with the smooth, repetitive guitar progressions. It’s simple and musically minimal, but highly effective in capturing Nap Eyes’ unique persona.

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photo by Colin Medley

Playlist: Spring Showers

It’s been raining a lot recently where I reside, which always tends to make me change my listening habits. However, I’ve learned that rain doesn’t always mean sadness, but rather a rebirth of inspiration, or even a sense of rejuvenation. So, in lieu of an album review this week, please enjoy some of the best new tracks of the 2016 spring season including tunes from Pillar Point, Japanese Breakfast, and Night Moves (mixed in with a few “oldies,” of course), enjoyed best with a rain-streaked window.

 

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Sunflower Bean – “Easier Said”

Psych-shoegaze trio Sunflower Bean released their debut album Human Ceremony back in February, and now, they have released the companion video for the hazy, mellow tune “Easier Said.” The group performs well beyond their years, and this particular track is no exception, with its moody, distorted guitar and soft, wistful vocals provided by Julia Cumming. It’s definitely one of the more dream pop inspired tracks the album has to offer, and shows off a more evocative side of their persona. Although they may have started off as quirky indie outliers, its clear that they deserve all their new found fame.

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photo by Crista Simiriglia

Japanese Breakfast – “The Woman That Loves You”

As soon as Japanese Breakfast’s new track “The Woman That Loves You” begins to radiate inside your speakers, it’s clear that you’re listening to something incredibly special. Michelle Zauner’s solo project is beginning to gain some well-deserved attention, and the upcoming debut album Psychopomp is slowly looking like it could be one of the best of the year. “The Woman That Loves You” is the newest shared track among the emotional “In Heaven” and the bright, brilliant ditty “Everybody Wants To Love You,” and succeeds in showing a more technical and skilled side of the same persona. Its hazy, shimmering synth provides just enough cushion for Zauner’s voice to find a place of enchantment, and is simply too short and sweet for just one play.

Psychopomp will be released on April 1st.

photo by Julian Master

Nite Fields – “Voyeur”

Dark dream pop group Nite Fields released their debut album Depersonalisation back in February of last year, and now, the Australian quartet is back with a new track. “Voyeur” revisits some of the techniques used in their past work, including sparse, yet dense synth, spidery guitar, and the moody, grungy voice of frontman Denny Venzin. However, this track, in it’s Ought-like vocals and Lust For Youth-esque synth, just feels different than anything heard on the band’s debut, and showing off a more confident, albeit esoteric side of their particular sound.

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photo courtesy of artist

Foxing – “Night Channels”

St. Louis based band Foxing released their album Dealer just a few months ago, and now they have shared the video for “Night Channels,” one of the more evocative and passionate among the tracks on the album. The 11-minute video perfectly captures the melancholic essence of the track, visiting the painful consequences of a love triangle for the two people on opposite sides of the spectrum. Lead vocalist Conor Murphy lets loose in both the track and the video, making it a brilliantly cinematic experience.

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photo courtesy of artist

Album Review: Methyl Ethel – Oh Inhuman Spectacle

Methyl Ethel’s debut album Oh Inhuman Spectacle came as a bit of a surprise, considering the fact that, rather than choose to build up continuous intrigue, it was provided all at once by 4AD after the announcement of it’s North American release. The Perth trio’s evolution from just another quirky indie band to a versatile, well-rounded group shows through on the album brilliantly, with a proportionate and cohesive blend of moody, melancholic pop – whether that comes in the psych, dream, or synth variety – as well as everything in between.

Among the various, often times near tangible feelings that Oh Inhuman Spectacle conveys, the essence of warmth and intimacy proves to be the most potent, appearing without restraint throughout each and every one of its twelve tracks. This could be because multi-instrumentalist and frontman Jake Webb began creating the backbone for Methyl Ethel in the privacy of his bedroom, and those intimate sounds bled over when it was time for him to record the real thing. It’s an effect that definitely makes a difference, and here, it easily allows lovers of the chill and synth wave genres to instantly become attached to the opening track, aptly titled “Idée Fixe.” The dimpled, groovy synth introduction morphs beautifully into Webb’s flinty, breathy voice, only to become enraptured and possessed as it reaches its apex. “Shadowboxing” changes gears almost instantly, showing off a hazy, shoegaze inspired guitar melody dancing in time with Webb’s wavering voice. Although some tracks like “To Swim” and “Unbalancing Acts” aren’t as vocally or instrumentally impressive, the feeling still remains. Webb sings with a tinge of melancholy permanently affixed to his voice, and his lyrics remain incredibly personal and thoughtful, despite their catchy, mellow nature. “Also Gesellschaft” boasts Webb’s falsetto abilities in tune with a swelling, pulsating synth beat, while “Sweet Waste,” is just that – a saccharine vocal track amidst murky, yet still wonderfully lucid tones.

The instrumental work is near impeccable throughout the album as a whole, succeeding in showing off a number of different styles without losing its overall tone. The bass becomes the hero in a number of tracks, including the rough and rowdy “Rogues” as well as the absolutely enchanting “Obscura,” which may even be one of the best the album has to offer merely because of its smooth, masterful instrumentals. In fact, the very first track that proved Methyl Ethel’s immense potential was their single “Twilight Driving,” a gorgeous, mercurial masterpiece. As if the haunting effect that the opening guitar melody and Webb’s impassioned, contemplative voice wasn’t enough, the saxophone solo that appears at the end should really prove its mystifying demeanor. Closing track “Everything Is As It Should Be” is somber, melancholic waltz, almost as if Webb bids us farewell with a single tear. There’s no denying the passion present in these tracks, which transforms the album from a mere collection of tunes to something more meaningful.

It can be said that Methyl Ethel is perhaps a bit too ambitious in their attempt to take on a large number of techniques and styles in their debut album and still have it remain cohesive, and at times, they are, but this is precisely what debut albums are for – to experiment and toy with a particular sound. Yes, Oh Inhuman Spectacle is strange and quirky at times, but when it manages to sample just about everything, it’s exciting to think about what Webb has in store for the future.

8.5/10

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photo by pilerats

Koi Child – “1-5-9”

Jazz fueled hip-hop group Koi Child have recently announced the release of their self-titled debut album, both produced and mixed by Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker. Based on this news alone, its easy to fantasize that the album, much like Parker’s own work, will have a slight tinge of psychedelia, not to mention flawlessly executed. “1-5-9,” the new track from Koi Child, proves that theory right, but the group also succeeds in adding their own personal flair to the mix. The bright, brassy instrumentals add a burst of color and energy to the rapid fire vocals, which have an energy all their own.

Koi Child’s debut album will be released on March 18th.

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photo by Matsu Photography