Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out of This Country

Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country (2006)

Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out of This Country (2006)

Let’s Get Out of This Country was one of the last albums I picked up based on personalized recommendations before I abandoned my paid subscription to LastFM about two years ago in favor of independent radio. I remember it was a time when I was merely starting to realize the vast unexplored territory ahead of me, thanks to bands like Camera Obscura and The Postmarks just to name a few. To this day I still regard this album as one of the first few albums that opened the door for me to new and exciting experiences.

I believe that the vintage sound of Camera Obscura has the advantage of becoming an instant nostalgic memory even if you’ve never heard it before. It’s not the only thing going on for them of course, but that being the trademark on their sound I wanted to get that out of the way first. For me it was a nice discovery in the middle of a sea of indie bands sounding pretty much the same (I was a newcomer back then and everything was pretty much the same for my uneducated ear), and even though some might argue that this kind of approach is just a gimmick I’m confident that the sound as a concept becomes secondary once you discover the real intentions and the meaning behind the music.

But beyond technicalities and sound discussions, I must confess that I wanted to talk about this album after all this time because I just love how honest and down to earth the songs are. The lyrics are never trying to drag you out of your mind and into bizarre and unknown worlds, they are actually pretty much ordinary and mundane stuff, and that honesty makes you really make an emotional connection based on your own experiences being mirrored on this enjoyable tunes. Let’s Get Out of This Country thus becomes a collection of mostly love and broken heart songs, and even though that might sound like a depressing formula to some folks, the interesting thing is that this album does that in a somewhat ironic yet surprisingly bright way… and those are some ingredients that you don’t usually see mixed every day.

And without much fanfare you end up being absorbed into this concept. The best part is that you realize you’re lost with no chance of going back once the songs start to cycle and instead of becoming something repetitive you discover you’re enjoying them even more than the last time. I have yet to discover a song that I really dislike from this album, and I’m starting to suspect that it is not going to happen, and even though a good amount of the tracks are discrete to say the least, each and every one contributes to create a solid experience. Sure, there are a few moments here and there that will caught your ear more than the rest, and yes, you can select one or two favorites and stay with them for the most part, but I’m sure you would be missing a lot if you just do that.

When you reach that moment when you believe you know this album inside out, I dare you to stop listening to it in the traditional way and start a whole new adventure by trying to discover new details and aspects you didn’t knew were there. I wouldn’t recommend that with many albums, since most of the time you just want to listen to your favorite tracks and listening the rest is an enormous sacrifice… Let’s Get Out of This Country is one of those cases where you can actually enjoy it from start to finish.

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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.

 

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.

 

Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

Lana Del Rey - Born To Die (2012)

Lana Del Rey – Born To Die (2012)

I’m absolutely convinced that the first time I heard about this lady, I must have thought that this might be one of the oddest names I remember. Also the cover art seems like taken straight out of some late 60s  magazine or family portrait long forgotten in someone’s attic. But the truth is that the last thing in my mind was curiosity about how this album would actually sound, and if all of the reviews and talk about it are actually justified.

I was completely unaware of the incredible experience that was awaiting for me here. I was honestly just waiting to find some hipster girl pretending to be an artist using and indie image to sell some records and then fell into darkness and mystery after the dust settles down. Now I’m sure that this is just the first step in a very productive career that probably won’t reach heights of mega-stardom, but it certainly won’t go unnoticed and will have an avid number of listeners that will stay loyal for as long as she might feel like releasing more albums. Wishful thinking on my part, I know, but there are lots of potential here, you can tell right from minute one.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons why this album sounds this amazing though, I’ve been puzzled over a few weeks trying to isolate the single element that makes this stand from the crowd. I failed so far to do so, and I’m starting to suspect that there isn’t a single element that can be blamed for making this album so enjoyable, it must be the result of several variables that are not yet clear in my mind, but they sure work great together.

I have to confess though, sometimes I have a hard time deciding how exactly this album should be categorized. Sometimes it feels just like your regular vanilla pop album that comes with a couple good songs, and some other times it jumps into a whole new category and it feels like the most amazing pop album you’ve heard in years. And that’s probably one of the few complains I have about Born To Die, consistency. It is a pretty darn good album, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t always feel the same, at least for me.

Another bizarre thing about this album is the fact that Del Rey is admittedly an Eminem fan, and one or two songs here sound almost like some of Eminem’s songs of a few years back. Those moments feel just a little bit out of place here, they don’t blend that easily with the rest of the album, and while it doesn’t really diminish the value of this album, it provides us with some confusion and maybe some blank stares in the middle of an otherwise interesting experience.

However, there’s one thing that will overpower any number of flaws you want to find in this album, and that is the theatrical, almost cinematic feeling that Del Rey’s voice communicates, that moment of awe when her voice rises and plays with the lyrics in a way I haven’t been able to identify in someone else. You can’t explain that, you just have to sit there and let it flow through your mind, and yes, maybe the lyrics are far from being mind blowing, but they do have something going on for them and you end up just being indulgent about it.

Is that reason enough to give this album the thumbs up? Yes, it definitely is. We can only hope that this will be explored in subsequent releases by Del Rey, as that is the reason many of us are here in the first place, and while this isn’t a perfect album, for being a debut album it scores surprisingly high in my book. I want more of that cinematic voice, I want more of that somewhat indifferent attitude while delivering warm performances that slip through songs that act just as vehicles for her voice.

Born To Die might not be the new pop revolution, but it certainly brings some fresh elements and is a very interesting proposal for those usually unwilling to listen to the typical pop stereotype. This is a pop album with an indie approach, not the other way around.

(The following video is not mine, as Youtube penalizes any account uploading videos belonging to Universal Music Group… Sorry about that guys, serves just to show that corporate music has its own agenda, and that ironically prevents people from actually listening their music.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cE6wxDqdOV0

Ivy – Guestroom

Ivy - Guestroom (2002)

Ivy - Guestroom (2002)

The idea of having an album that is filled completely with just covers might not be that appealing at first, or at least that’s what I thought, because when you like an artist, you want and expect to hear something that sounds and feels just like you know their style is.

Guestroom is a good example of such albums, and I needed lots of hours before starting to understand that even though these are covers, they are more than just that, they are songs made by other artists, performed in the way the band feels and understands them. So, what’s interesting about that? If you are new to these songs, you probably won’t notice anything interesting going on here, but if you by chance know some of the songs, it’s a chance to rediscover something you already know but seen from someone else’s perspective.

What’s more impressive though is the fact that these are songs that belong to very different styles and eras, and yet you will notice that they all end up sharing some very similar elements. This effort to offer unity through very different pieces is what makes this album stand away from other similar efforts. You don’t end up feeling that you’re listening a random playlist, you also don’t get the feeling that whoever is performing is just trying to sound in the exact same way the original song was performed. You can actually tell the difference that Dominique Durand’s well known vocal tone and accent gives to every song, which is one of the biggest selling points for those who fancy Ivy’s previous or later works.

This might not be a good source for 100% new material from the band, but makes for a fun and well done experiment. Also, this is a unique chance to get in touch with whatever gives them the inspiration to create their own music, and that’s already a damn good reason to embrace it as any other album they have come up with.

All things said, this is a fun listen. Is not the peak of their performance, of that I’m absolutely convinced, but is a solid effort and as such you can be sure that you will have fun times with it. Indie pop can rest assured, because Ivy is representing them well… once again.

Lisa Papineau – Night Moves

Lisa Papineau - Night Moves (2006)

Lisa Papineau - Night Moves (2006)

There is a moment when you realize that what you are listening to has long passed the conventional category and starts to take into a more interesting experience, and yet you know that no matter how hard you try, it will be near impossible to convince other people about it. Night Moves is my attempt to convince someone else of how brilliant this French-American artist is, and still know that very few will agree with me.

Lisa Papineau apparently had a very prolific era collaborating with other artists, until she decided to launch a career on her own. And while she took a completely different path than the artists she used to collaborate with, is evident that she knew what she wanted to do, as there is no hesitation in anything that she does here. Also I’m being cautious here in order to not label this album as something that it is not, because truth to be told, this is brilliant, but it somehow falls short of being something more beyond that.

For my own experience, this album can be a little misleading. I foolishly assumed that most of the songs would be like Out to you and Power and glory Part 1, and found myself with some more diverse and somewhat vague songs that don’t really relate to the ones I mentioned. Yes, in the end they kind of work together, but I would have hoped for more of the first and less of the later. Also yes, it is quite difficult not to notice the french influence the music has. What would you expect from an artist living in Paris after all?

I for once will declare myself not a fan of Papineau’s voice, but she has proved to be an accomplished songwriter, so listening her sing to this songs makes sense, she makes them work the way they were intended in the first place, and that is so much important than perfect and educated vocals singing uninspired lyrics by someone else in my book.

I do like the reflexive, calm and almost mysterious aura that surrounds the first songs (except for the unfortunate timing of Sucking, Jiving, still to this day I believe it does not belong between the songs that surround it). From the middle and onwards is a different story, it feels completely different and it almost lost me there, and not because it is not worth it, I just don’t fancy those songs that much.

And as with everything that comes from Europe, you can’t help to analyze this as some sort of art. It has some flaws and undoubtedly is not perfect, but you just need to take a few steps back and the flaws start to blurry and blend with the other elements. The result is something completely different, isn’t it?

The Postmarks – Memoirs at the end of the world

The Postmarks - Memoirs at the end of the world (2009)

The Postmarks - Memoirs at the end of the world (2009)

I’m no expert regarding indie bands, but there is always something recurring when it comes to them: There is always a flaw.  Sometimes is an evident low quality in the recording process, a lack of skills, meaningless lyrics and the list goes on.  This of course creates a bias whenever I’m exposed to some new material from a band I’m not related.

Before I say anything more, let me explain how I got my hands on this record: I usually listen exclusively to my own collection of music for weeks, and eventually I will feel the need to add some new records, which means loading up SomaFM.  One evening not so long ago I came across an intriguing song, called Don’t know till you try, and long story short, this record was in my iPod ready to be fired up.

I was expecting to find the omnipresent flaw I was talking earlier, and being honest, it never showed up.  Instead I was left alone, guard-less, against a completely unexpected outcome.  What happened?  I was taken by surprise by a record that feels like it was just extracted from a time capsule that was buried in the late 60s.

This is not your typical record that relies completely on some gimmick, which in this case would be the whole 1960 atmosphere, because even though I’m too young to have been even alive by then (hell, even my parents were just teenagers back then), The Postmarks did a great job pulling this off and now we have a chance to taste what it was like.  You don’t have to be a fan of music from that frame of time to understand what makes it so good, you just have to put this on whatever you use to listen to your music, and right away the first track will bring you back some memories if you actually had the chance to be alive by then, or if you didn’t, don’t be surprised if your mind tries to recreate a memory to fill in the gap.

The lyrics aren’t breath-taking for the most part, but they don’t come up short either.  I’m suspecting that music that sounds and feels well executed just like this can get away with that, or at least I want to believe that.  I couldn’t help feeling that songs like My lucky charm or Go jetsetter are just too soft, I blame the well done vocal work for that.  I liked the fact that the whole set of songs are too much alike, without becoming monotonous, and still with enough variants to make the ride enjoyable from start to end.

The brighter note, however, is that it was not until I reached the end of the record that I discovered something fascinating.  Halfway through The girl from Algenib I realized that what was in front of me was the ultimate déjà-vu experience.  Years of watching japanese cartoons in the mid 80s taught me that feeling of living sublime experiences through visuals and music, and this song specifically brought that back to my mind because it is a carbon copy of the music I remember being exposed as a kid.

In the end it was just too much to handle, and 20 years later a song describing the troubled life of a girl from a star in the Pegasus constellation had the same effect as spending a saturday afternoon watching clips of old childhood memories on YouTube.