L’Altra – Different Days

L'Altra - Different Days (2005)

L’Altra – Different Days (2005)

Since the first days of this reviewing adventure I’m in, I always said that indie music wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. That seems a little contradictory under the light of the sheer amount of albums belonging to the genre I’ve reviewed this far, I know. And here comes yet another indie album, so bear with me.

This Chicago-based indie band has been around for some years now, and I’m ashamed to admit that even though I’ve had this album in my possession for at least 5 years, I have never been curious enough to pursue the chance of getting some of their more recent material. Shame on me.

Different Days is sometimes labeled as indie rock, and that might be a little odd for someone who is more used to the usual “dirty” and kind of messy sound (almost like a cliche) associated to indie rock. Truth is, Different Days sounds and feels way more sophisticated than what you would usually get on your favorite indie rock radio. I’m almost tempted to discard the indie rock label and classify them as just contemporary adult melancholic pop… Ah screw it, I’ll refrain myself from even mentioning the indie rock tag on this review.

The fact that the vocal work is shared between Lindsay Anderson and Joseph Costa through the entire album gives Different Days an interesting touch, because not only they seem very comfortable sharing the microphone duties, each one features in their very own set of solo songs, which seems very appropriate after hearing the end result. Anderson’s songs are a reminiscent of any good trip hop, female-vocalist driven music, while Costa tends to go for some more melancholic effect. In either case I can safely assure you that they were careful enough to focus on what suits their individual styles the better.

Lyrically and musically speaking, this album shouldn’t be regarded as an uplifting experience, as it tends to wander through some melancholic moods (without getting into mellow territory though), so if you are in the mood for an introspective session and want to have something to go along with that, Different Days is a very good choice for that. I’m not warning you against this album if you are in a brighter mood though, this could also be very helpful if you’re looking for something elegant to rev you down a little bit, or if you are already on a slow and quiet state of mind this album might even actually provide some reassuring company.

It has been many years since I wanted to talk about this particular L’Altra album, because in a personal level it does have a special meaning due to everything that was happening around me at the time. I would like to point out that besides my personal attachment to it, this would have been reviewed anyway, so don’t pay attention to my feelings here. And even after all those years, this album still evokes the same set of emotions and feelings, so yeah, you could say that it has passed the test of time… is there any greater feat for an album?

There’s just one thing I can’t promise though… and that is stop reviewing indie albums, seems like lately I just can’t get enough of them. Might as well be on my way to get some other L’Altra albums while I’m on it.

 

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Stripmall Architecture – We Were Flying Kites

Stripmall Architecture - We Were Flying Kites (2009)

Stripmall Architecture – We Were Flying Kites (2009)

There’s no point in hiding the fact that I absolutely adored Halou and its fair share of incredible albums leading to their break up back in 2008. Unfortunately I got to that party a little late and when I was starting to discover just how amazing they were, they ceased to exist… Funny how life works sometimes.

But at the same time, just as almost everything else in life, there are second chances (strong emphasis on that almost), and Stripmall Architecture can count as a second chance for all of us that somehow came up short with Halou. However I can’t stress enough the fact that we shouldn’t regard Stripmall Architecture simply as Halou with another name, even though it is basically the same people behind it.

At the very beginning I was genuinely hoping for they to just pick up where Halou left off and I’m pretty sure I would have loved that album just as much, but deep inside of me I know that the right choice was to follow the natural evolution that We Were Flying Kites represents. Of course, you just can’t discard your loyal fanbase and come up with something radically different, and naturally this album retains the unadulterated essence of the good old days, but is subtle enough to introduce some new elements to the formula and the result is that you get to enjoy something very familiar and at the same time feeling like you’re actually listening to something new.

From this transition I reckon that some of the trademark whispering voice and somewhat dreamy sound seems to be gone. It still sounds like the good old Halou, but it is somehow a little bit bolder and still carrying a confident attitude towards their music. And that’s probably what I’m enjoying more about Stripmall Architecture, the fact that the blurry line between trip hop and dream pop is no longer that blurry and this truly is dream pop at its best. Those almost whispering, magical moments are still there, not in the same fashion and probably for not that long as you remember, but still worth checking out.

The vocal part has always been and will continue to be the highlight in any record Rebecca Coseboom performs, and this new era, starting with this album is not the exception. However I’d like to point out that it’s not just the voice, the instrumental performance adds a lot and it does a little more than just “being there”. I mean, it’s not like it is going to blow you away (or maybe it will, who knows), but there will definitely be  some moments when you will want to crank the volume up just to enjoy how good everything fits together.

We Were Flying Kites took me some time before it started to grow on me, it did felt a little bit cold and not very personal at the beginning, but it gets all warm and very enjoyable towards the end. It is not an acquired taste, that’s for sure, and maybe some others will find it extremely enjoyable right from the beginning, for me it just took some time but in the end it actually delivered. One of the most exciting bands from the San Francisco musical scene I’ve had the chance to explore so far.

If you are anything like me, you will find this genre a little bit tricky to explore. Sometimes mislabeled as trip hop, the dream pop scene has some very interesting acts, and if you fancy the likes of Stripmall Architecture (or Halou for general purposes), most recommendations of similar artists tend to point you back to trip hop. But now that I think about it, it also works the other way around, I started with the trip hop, and ended up landing in dream pop terrain.

It’s a good thing that this group of musicians is still around. Never mind the name, they are still around and that’s all that matters.

 

The Album Leaf – In a Safe Place

The Album Leaf - In a Safe Place (2004)

The Album Leaf – In a Safe Place (2004)

Before I say anything at all, all of the Album Leaf albums are puzzling pieces of intricate, mysterious, introspective and even mellow moments. Pristine music interpretation in nature, this solo project by Jimmy LaValle is probably the epitome of the quintessential indie artist concept. But never mind the concept, In a Safe Place goes beyond the simple realization of a concept and it becomes more like a collection of living images and memories.

The similarity and obvious comparison to Sigur Rós is not a coincidence, as members of the latter are credited as collaborators for some of the tracks found here. And while there might be a fair share of similarities, The Album Leaf has its very own arguments and the trademark sound and approach to their art is simply unmistakable.

It won’t take you a while to notice that In a Safe Place features a well-defined structure and as a result, things tend to land not very far from the tone that is laid from the very beginning. However all of those details pale in comparison when you discover the single most important feature that this album has to offer: intimacy. At first I wasn’t able to pinpoint what was exactly that warm sentiment that seems to invade whenever I left myself go with this album, but one day I realized that it was due to the simple fact that In a Safe Place let us witness a personal and intimate interpretation of tunes as if we would be there in the same room with the band, but not as in a private concert fashion, more like a private gathering just for the sake of enjoying the music they love to play for themselves.

And once we established that, we need to check our higher expectations at the door for a glamorous indie experience with The Album Leaf. Let me explain that, because for a moment it might sound like I’m warning to expect a sub-par performance when in reality the performance is top-notch. I’m rather talking about the expectations for things to take off to surreal heights, when in reality In a Safe Place and even beyond that, The Album Leaf in general is a very down to earth concept and very aware of what their music is trying to achieve, and as a direct result we get a very honest performance, without attempts at something that simply isn’t there.

A strange reminiscence of a calm and peaceful place you might know, and yet puzzled by the unexpected, intense (and let’s not forget intimate) experience that awaits within In a Safe Place, this is an album that should be enjoyed not just by those indie music enthusiasts, but also for those outsiders to the genre, it is not an exaggeration when I say that this album has a lot to offer even if indie music is not your cup of tea.

 

Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (2008)

Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago (2008)

It is difficult to approach an album with a reputation for being one of those critically acclaimed by the press and yet totally unexpected back in the day. One of my rules is to avoid as much as possible reading before I do my listening on a particular album, but Bon Iver is one of those few exceptions where inevitably I stumbled upon rave reviews about it.

And truth to be told, this album is as bare-bones as you can get, and while I love that isolated, almost distant evoking sensation mixed with a genuine indie / folk sound that you might have heard before, trust me, this is the real deal, it’s not an expensive recording made in a fancy studio trying to emulate it, this is as authentic as you will ever get from indie recordings. For those who like to do some background checking on their music, the recording process for this album is an interesting reading.

Recording process and genres aside though, it is very easy to listen two or three songs and then convince yourself that the entire album will be basically the same exercise repeated over and over. Let me tell you, the songs might sound very much alike, but if that’s your impression of this album, you got it wrong. As I said earlier, the album might be made of the same basic premises, but there’s a great deal of personal immersion to happen here before you start to notice how your own mental images, evoked landscapes and situations merge in a very subtle way with the music. The day that happens, you can be sure that you will always be coming back from time to time to revisit those borrowed memories.

I have to warn new listeners though, For Emma, Forever Ago is not the kind of album that you can pick up and get into at any given time, as I believe it fits very specific moods. In my particular case, it is a must when I’m looking for some peaceful moments, looking for something unobtrusive enough but with enough texture as to don’t slip past my subconscious.

It’s been a long time since I gave a hint about highlights within an album, because I phased that out in favor of personal discovery within the music, but in this case I thought it was worth mentioning the most rewarding moments happen in a succession starting with the touching and yet fragile The Wolves (Act I and II), followed by the incredibly agonizing (lyrically speaking) Blindisded. Since I got the version without bonus tracks, my album ends with Re: Stacks, which in my opinion wraps up the experience rather nicely, although I might be missing something… Who knows, I’m perfectly satisfied with that ending.

If it is a matter of confession, I have to say that I doubted that this album would live up to the reputation it has. I was almost certain that it wouldn’t be more than a lukewarm effort hyped to dizzying heights by reviewers avid to show the world of an otherwise unremarkable indie artist. But Bon Iver proved me wrong, there’s enough substance to those claims, and now I’m one of those reviewers praising For Emma, Forever Ago.

This is not the sound of a new man or crispy realization…
It’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away,
Your love will be safe with me.