The Vaccines: What Did You Expect From the Vaccines? (2011)

December 24, 2011

The Vaccines – What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?

NME:  8/10

Admittedly, The Vaccines’ songs aren’t really about very much, and when they are, the subject matter is a bit gauche (all that stuff on ‘Norgaard’ about fancying a girl who’s 17 and “probably not ready” – it’s mildly creepy). Nuance is not really their thing. Their songs all use the same three chords. But, to resurrect an old punk cliché, they’re the right chords.

Pitchfork:  6.2

Sure, the band’s buzzing guitars, thick reverb, and bouncy rhythms lack any particular spark of originality that might help listeners avoid compulsively thinking of names like Ramones, the Jesus and Mary Chain, or, yes, the Strokes. Then again, there’s no shame in catchy, concise, sharply executed tunes that communicate mildly fresh takes on relationships, either– and this album has more than a few.

The Guardian:  3/5

In the era their music recalls, the Vaccines’ ambitions would have extended no further than a few Peel sessions and a few singles on Subway or Creation. But in the post-Britpop world, that’s no longer the way: the overriding impression left by What Did You Expect from the Vaccines? is of a first effort by a fairly good indie band boosted far out of their league by an overexcited music press. That, rather than their supposedly privileged background, is what might ultimately do for the Vaccines, something their album title and downbeat interviews suggest they’re aware of: an old-fashioned band, wrestling with a modern problem.

411 Mania:

The Vaccines seem so in touch with their past and their heritage but so aware of the modern problem they face, trying to stand out in a room full of musicians with the exact same haircuts and exact same sound. And they seem to have found the answer to the conundrum, that being to do what everyone else is doing, except to do it better than everyone else. Simple really.

AVClub:  A-,56727/

The music has a simple formula, and the execution is pretty straightforward, but don’t be mistaken: The Vaccines aren’t working in the spirit of the old punk bands that used to empower those around them by creating music that seemingly anyone could make. This London quartet’s less-is-more approach wouldn’t sound nearly as impressive in lesser hands. It’s the product of surprisingly thoughtful songwriting, a refined sense of knowing that sometimes the finest pop songs don’t need all of their allotted three minutes, and a frontman with an engaging, versatile voice that works well whether he’s feeling moody, vulnerable, or aggressive.

The Independent:  2/5

The Vaccines are effectively this season’s Arctic Monkeys, the latest fast-rising inheritors of a brash post-punk guitar pop tradition that stretches back ultimately to The Undertones.


Most key, however, is the fact that they’re able to write songs that are anthemic in scope yet punkish in packaging and catchy enough to warrant praise entirely on their own creative merits – “All In White” is downright stirring. It may well be that they’re just the next British guitar band of the moment, but it’s The Vaccines’ moment and they’re making the most of it.

Consequence of Sound:  3/5

If we’re to answer the album’s title, it’s with a simple retort: This and that. Because of this, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? ends up being an enjoyable debut. Whether the band is being serious (“Family Friend”, “A Lack of Understanding”) or attempting pop (“If You Wanna”, “Norgaard”), they make it work. As it is, The Vaccines are a welcome break from the dance pop and electronic garbage dominating the airwaves currently. And while they won’t snuggle with your more radio-friendly tunes, their music offers an enviable alternative, instead. The Vaccines are clenching onto rock and roll, and this album is an amicable chapter in the genre. Amicable.

Paste Magazine:  7.3

While the British buzz band undoubtedly wears its influences on its sleeve, it’s the kind of overt practice here that makes you celebrate the bands they draw inspiration from rather than cringe at the recreation of older sounds. That’s the overarching theme of their debut album What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?—a collection of songs emerging as slightly kitschy, largely catchy and entirely enjoyable… If you’re expecting anything groundbreaking from The Vaccines, you’ll be disappointed. But if you can get past the unoriginality, this record is a no-brainer to enjoy.

Contact Music

It’s a little early to judge whether The Vaccines are in fact, as has been claimed by lesser authorities, a band who will be “Game changing”. By however establishing an aesthetic not unlike the first Jesus & Mary Chain album without the feedback, What Did You Expect hard to convince us that they may be the catalyst which finally leads us back down the road to rock and roll as a vital force in British music.

Pretty Much Amazing:  B

You expected a record of eleven songs to just edge over half an hour maybe. You didn’t quite get off so easy. You got a record about losing your friends and your lovers and growing up and becoming boring and cruel without meaning to. It just so happens some of these songs have the kind of propulsive drive that might as well hold you at gunpoint to start dancing.





Luke Roberts: Big Bells and Dime Songs (2011)

December 24, 2011


Luke Roberts – Big Bells & Dime Songs

Pitchfork:  7.5

Big Bells is preoccupied with failures, emotional or otherwise: These are faithless laments, dirges for the nights when your glass is empty and no one’s coming over… These songs are fiercely internal, which also makes them remarkably hard to shake– here, Roberts is singing about the no-place of everyplace, the desolation we all know.

Drowned in Sound: 6/10

…Roberts’ ditties pride themselves on being not flagrant or especially well-honed, you have to admit Big Bells & Dime Songs – the title itself a peculiar oxymoron of impoverished ambition – is a record of hard-bitten character…  While sometimes left wanting for redeeming bells and whistles, where Big Bells & Dime Songs sporadically strikes gold is its distillation of tumbleweed folk Americana…Roberts’ style is rigid and repetitive, not necessarily brave, witty, wise or anything else you’d traditionally look out for in a non-boring, non-nu-folk, indie-credible singer-songwriter.

Popmatters:  6/10

Big Bells is not a singles record. If you’ll forgive the tired metaphor, it’s more like a landscape—to be taken in all together, more about mood and feeling than about specific points or blades of grass. These songs bleed together, dirges constructed from similar elements toward similar results. Brushed snare pops up here and there above the guitar, or a distant electric reverb, or a humming organ. These shades add enough color to keep things interesting, if not thrilling. But then, Roberts doesn’t seem interested in thrilling. He wants to create and sustain a mood, one of quiet melancholy, or a sadness lightly struck with some beauty.

Foxy Digitalis: 9/10

His singing voice is plaintive and low, and his lyrics are delivered with a style of unadorned simplicity and roughness that belies his youth; the whole effect is that of a musician exploring a particularly expressive style in a quiet way.  Each song features a style of Southern folk and blues music that is written with affection for these forms, and there are beautiful chord progressions and melodies, and genuine moments of sadness, that crop up throughout the recording, particularly on pieces such as “Anyway” and “Unspotted Clothes” (songs which also have a quality that make you want to return to them repeatedly).  The album can also, however, move at a too-slow pace, creating gaps between the well-written moments and its more repetitive sections.

405:  8/10

There is a real feeling of Americana and storytelling surrounding Big Bells and Dime Songs, it reaches out and attempts to depict a slice of life through music of an age almost gone by through Roberts’s finger picked acoustic guitar and the heavy, steady drum beats which are sprawled across each track. Roberts harks back to a time where songs where simply stories about life, accounts of the musician and of all he had gone through to get to where he was today. The musical history is not lost on Roberts and often he does a great service to those roots, most notably the sorrow laden ‘Dime Song’ and bittersweet ‘All American’.

Frank Fairfield – Out On the Open West (2011)

December 24, 2011

Frank Fairfield – Out On The Open West

Driftwood Magazine:

On Out on the Open Road, Fairfield continues his exploration of the hinterlands of American roots music. He’s still the center of the music, picking banjo and fiddling frantically, and his eerie, otherworldly voice is still the key to his music. On stand-out tracks like “Ruthie” and “Frazier Blues” (listen here); his voice is unsettling and weirdly beautiful at the same time. There’s a sadness at the heart of his music that’s reflected in his voice, in the way he draws out the songs with long, floating notes that flutter gently to the ground. His playing is rough, no doubt about that.

National Beardy:

“I piece together a thing or two or mash up one thing with another or make something up,” Fairfield says, “but I wouldn’t call it songwriting. Ira Gershwin was a songwriter. I’m just a kid that writes songs.”  As if there weren’t already enough reasons to like this guy, he’s modest too. His original songs are timeless and sound every bit as legitimately old-timey as any traditional folk song. He truly brings his music alive, picking, plucking and pulling bow with such mesmerizing ferocity that it’s hard to look away. Add that with his dapper-dan side-part and high-waisted trousers, and Frank Fairfield’s old-timey aesthetic is so spot on that it’s not even funny.

Dusted Magazine:

The songs on Out on the Open West, Fairfield’s second record, are more modern in one respect; Fairfield wrote them. Still, he’s made a record that sounds like it comes from another time. There’s no crackle of needle against shellac, but neither is there the compression and isolation of modern recording…  He plays like a guy looking for forgotten treasure in an old tool drawer. When he picks up the pace, his signifying reference — the click clack of a steam-powered locomotive — is simultaneously anachronistic and universal. If he’s bringing back the past, it’s not an obscure one.

No Depression:

Frank Fairfield’s new album, Out on the Open West, is not so much a return to the roots that inspired him, but rather a burrowing deeper into the Appalachian traditions he clearly loves. His voice winds through the old songs like a trucker crossing the Cumberland Gap. There’s something timeless to the music, but also something critically alive. And that’s what Frank says about the music: it’s alive. Frank hears the beating heart of the music and can tap into it.

Brooklyn Country:

To top it all off, the recording perfectly suits the sounds of this album. It is sparse as sparse can be and sounds like Fairfield and a handful of friends, including local bluesman Jerron Blind Boy Paxton, set up a DAT recorder and just laid out these tracks. The result is a lived in sound, full of natural warmth and a very traditional atmosphere. I can’t help but respect him for so clearly foregoing today’s modern recording conveniences for what has worked so well for his forbearers. It’s a brilliant move that aligns his own music with those that he so clearly respects. “Out On The Open West” is raw and primitive and perfect.

Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three: Middle Of Everywhere (2011)

December 23, 2011

Pokey LaFarge & The South City Three – Middle of Everywhere

Ninebullets:  Essential Listening

I’ve been fortunate to see Pokey and the band play several times in some of Mississippi’s finest barrooms and a few things always happen. People stare, then they high five their friends, people drink and they smile. But there’s one night when Pokey and the South City Three played that’ll be hard for me to forget. The band was on stage in my favorite bar and it was closing down in a few weeks. I was about to leave town so I decided my last night in there would be with Pokey behind the mike. A little blond girl I knew was behind the bar and an old friend who’d moved away was back for a visit. My friend was drinking Wild Turkey and Sprite and so I decided to follow suit. There’s a song on Middle Of Everywhere about this kind of evening. It’s called “Drinkin’ Whiskey Tonight” and you should hit play on the little button below and give it a spin while you read about what I decided to do with the rest of my Wild Turkey evening.

Paul Kerr:

Throughout the album The South City Three perform stellar duties. Hoskins’ guitar embellishes Pokey’s playing perfectly while Joey Glynn’s upright bass adds a fine natural depth. His skirmishes with Ryan Koenig’s washboard on several songs are a treat while Koenig’s harmonica is always tasty. Over all this Pokey sings with confidence, at times crooning, other times hollering yet hardly ever breaking sweat he is in command throughout, oozing charisma and style.

The Phosphene:

This album kicks off with its first single, “So Long Honeybee, Goodbye,” a sweet song that sets the tone for this album and sets it apart from 2009′s Riverboat Soul. While that album was a mixture of folk anthems, old standards reinterpreted and a smattering of love songs, this album finds its home among the love song. “Head to Toe,” “Mississippi Girl” and “Feels So Good” are all strong examples of Pokey’s love song writing chops. But in addition, the boys treat us to songs like “River Rock Bottom” and “Drinkin’ Whiskey Tonight,” both of which feel as though they would have been comfortable on either Riverboat Soul or Middle of Everywhere.


Pokey LaFarge revives the 20s and 30s with his blend of blues, ragtime, western swing and Appalachia country music. The 27-year old St. Louis troubador’s Middle of Everywhere is his latest release. The vinyl version of the album contains two bonus tracks that were recorded at Jack White’s Third Man Records studio.

McGurk Music:

Once Again Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three bring fun and style to music with their latest release Middle of Everywhere.   Named for their hometown St.Louis’ relativity to the rest of the country, and their place in the world touring all over, Middle of Everywhere is a superb release through and through.  The attention getting schtick and pagentry are missing from the album, unlike Riverboat Soul.  RS just grabbed and pulled you right in with legendary tales of ‘Claude Jones’ and Jim Jones in ‘In the Graveyard Now’,  RS also forced you to take notice with such crowd pleasing period pieces as ‘Hard Times Come and Go’.  Instead Middle of Everwhere, brings forth 13 tracks that don’t require a period or being called “old timey’.  These are just 13 pleasing songs of love, relationships failed and girls, that can be listened to over and over.

The Head and the Heart (2011)

December 23, 2011

Spotify: The Head And The Heart – The Head and the Heart

Pitchfork: 3.8

Such nods to history and to hard labor are meant to give this album the sheen of authenticity, but it doesn’t take long to see through to the calculation beneath. Musically, the band’s old-time approximations resemble the Avett Brothers, but, without that group’s effortless harmonizing, easy melodicism, and demonstrative vocals, the Head and the Heart sound anonymous, their drama wholly predictable. Conceptually, they’re close to Mumford & Sons: opportunistic in their borrowings, yet entirely unimaginative in the execution. Theirs is a thoroughly timid, tentative take on Americana: roots music without the roots.

Consequence of Sound: 2/5

The Head and The Heart sounds like an album stripped from 2008, never once providing any sense of surprise or adding anything new to the folk genre. To make matters worse, most of the lyrics that pour out of the record sound half baked for a Grey’s Anatomy episode; they’re often too emotive or disarming, particularly the opening lines of “Down In The Valley”: “I wish I was a slave to an age-old trade/Like ridin’ around on railcars and workin’ long days.” No, the epic crescendo never comes. Yes, the album ends just as harmlessly as it began.

Although hopes were high and so much work went into the creation of the record, The Head and The Heart have ultimately created a debut that will most likely be forgotten by summer. Even as singers Jon Russell and Josiah Johnson’s voices flow together swimmingly over Charity Thielen’s violin, the album never truly succeeds at living up to its name. What does that say for the band’s name?

AVClub:  C-,54761/

Though the songwriting is sturdy, the choruses hearty, the melodies time-tested, and the recording vibrant, The Head And The Heart falters most on account of Jonathan Russell and Josiah Johnson’s pre-packaged, Cracker Barrel lyrical conceits. The fiddle-fortified travelogue “Down In The Valley” crams some of the most generic clichés into one tidy space, evoking “whiskey rivers,” railway cars, and an entirely appropriate “Lord have mercy.”

Sputnik Music:  3.5/5

But for every moment that The Head and the Heart breach the confines of tolerable twee, The Head and the Heart becomes a little less convincing. It’s this aforementioned blurry line that comes into focus every so often preventing the band’s nostalgic songwriting from being drop-dead brilliant. Until the band finds more than one lyrical subject matter and writes a song as good as ‘Cats and Dogs’ without dashing its chances with animal sounds, we’re left with a band still embracing the genre’s most bittersweet and common attribute: a touch too little head, a tad too much heart.

little hurricane – Homewrecker (2011)

December 23, 2011


Spotify: little hurricane – Homewrecker

Hearya –

little hurricane are a two-piece that deliver a blues-based sound without pretense. You’ll find a dude named Tone on guitar and lead vocals and a spicy female drummer named C.C on drums and backing vocals.  It’s hard not to draw comparisons to The White Stripes with this formula. They even have a couple of a call and response tunes such as “Crocodile Tears” and the phenomenal closing tune, “Give Em Hell.”

Owl and Bear:

The similarities between Little Hurricane and The White Stripes are easy to spot and hard to ignore. Both are male/female blues-rock duos, and Catalano’s voice has that same choked power that gives Jack White’s delivery its visceral heft. But throughout Homewrecker, yet another point of comparison becomes apparent in Celeste Spina’s backups, which are sung with a ghostly airiness — first on the call and response of “Crocodile Tears” and then on the slow-burning “Shortbread” — that bears a striking resemblance to Meg White. In Little Hurricane’s live sets, Spina’s voice is barely audible above the crack of her drums, but on record the Meg-iness is unmistakeable.

The Owl Mag:

Most of the time, it’s hard to believe that a musical duo can pack as big of a punch, if not more, than a four or five-piece band. Sure, there are a few stand-out acts like The Black Keys, but the usual sentiment is that the more members, the fuller the sound. However, San Diego-based Little Hurricane is one of those stand-out acts. Made up of Anthony “Tone” Catalano and Celste “CC” Spina, this duo rocks hard. Tone is responsible for the gritty, blues-y guitar riffs, and CC backs him up on hard-hitting drums. Both share the vocals. Formed just a short time ago, Little Hurricane has won awards at the 2010 and 2011 San Diego Music Awards. In 2011, their debut album Homewrecker, was named Album of the Year.

Cosmic American Music Reviews #10 Album Of 2011: Wilco – The Whole Love

December 23, 2011

Spotify link: Wilco – The Whole Love

Pitchfork:  6.9/10

The best thing about The Whole Love, Wilco’s adventurous, elliptical eighth LP, is the ease with which they’ve recaptured some of that old unpredictability: From Being There through A Ghost Is Born, the band’s best work has always perched itself upon the edge of traditionalism and experimentation, and The Whole Love is the first of their albums in years not to shy away from such risks…

It took Jeff Tweedy years to get comfortable with his place in Uncle Tupelo, and a few more to truly settle into Wilco’s first act. After a few years of constant sonic flux and personnel shifts, Sky Blue Sky and Wilco (The Album) found the band feeling more resolved than ever, a consistent lineup settling into what seemed increasingly like a signature sound. But Wilco’s always seemed their most creatively surefooted atop uneven ground. So the weird, winsome Whole Love is certainly Wilco’s least consistent LP in a while, but inconsistency has its own rewards. At its best, The Whole Love finds Wilco casting aside the caution, reveling in their own contradictions.

Paste Magazine:  8.5/10

The Whole Love rewards patient listening, which isn’t exactly fashionable in 2011. In some ways, it’s the black sheep of their catalog—not as instantly catchy, not as blatantly weird, lacking an obvious sonic identity compared to their other works. Maybe they’ve run out of creative obstacles. Oh, well. It’s the sound of Wilco out to prove nothing, driven only by their desire to craft great songs. In that regard, they’ve succeeded from start to finish—given enough breathing room and a bit of perspective, The Whole Love reveals itself as their finest album since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

The Guardian:  3/5

The Whole Love, then, is a nuanced, feel-good album full of open-endedness, laced with the kinds of observations only instruments can make fluently. It may not rank among Wilco’s boldest works. It could have done with more wig-outs. But it captures the art of the almost with both hands.

Los Angeles Times:

Not so “The Whole Love,” a 12-song effort that’s way more “Summerteeth” and “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” than more recent efforts: The band is having fun not only with sound but with structure, without sacrificing catchiness. Nearly every song contains some tangential surprise, odd hook, sonic back flip or midsong redefinition. The first single, “I Might,” sounds like ? and the Mysterians covering Radiohead and is the closest thing to a simple rock song on the record (rivaled by “Dawned on Me,” which suggests Electric Light Orchestra). “Sunloathe” is a surreal, psychedelic piano ballad carried forward by Kotche’s miscellaneous noise and layers of intricate countermelodies. “Standing O” sounds stolen from Elvis Costello’s “This Year’s Model.”

Aquarium Drunkard:

There’s a strange strength that permeates The Whole Love, even in its darkest moments. It’s the feeling of having come through a long something, and that feeling is only palpable when the length and breadth and pain of that something is fully acknowledged. We aged instantly and most of us have spent the past past ten years trying to understand what exactly just happened to a world that we thought we had under control. “I am the driver at the wheel of the horror,” Tweedy sings in “Born Alone.” “Mine eyes’ deceiving glory / I was born to die alone.” The whole of The Whole Love comes down to the rejection of that one adjective, to the steady crushing of that one flattering deception. It is the question to which Mavis Staples’ Tweedy-penned song from 2010 is the answer: You are not alone.

Popmatters:  7/10

So while some had started talking like the story of Wilco has been written, like its best days are behind it, The Whole Love proves the band is still moving forward, still changing, even if it’s not in the lofty ways we expect it to. This isn’t a return to form, nor is it an out-and-out reinvention. It’s just the new Wilco album, and like all new Wilco albums, it doesn’t sound much like what came before it. This is what makes them one of the most fascinating bands working, and The Whole Love is a new, vital shard in their splintered discography.

Prettymuchamazing:  A-

Jeff Tweedy is still trying to break your heart, and he tears it asunder with hushed brevity on “Sunloathe,” “Black Moon,” and “Open Mind,” even as he continues his (perhaps) hopeless quest for self-exorcism (“Born Alone”). The Whole Love is a quintessential Wilco album, which means it exists mostly in slow-tempo and drags on a bit too long. But love demands you forgive its failings, and The Whole Love does just that. Totally.

Spin Magazine8/10

Amiably skronky, seven-minute kitchen-sink opener “Art of Almost” aside, there is a concerted effort to mothball the experimental tangents of recent years in favor of laconic twang, organ-driven garage pop, and tempered balladry. This is not to say there aren’t moments of dissonance — “I kill my memories with a cheap disease,” goes the psych-lite lament “Sunloathe” — but now Tweedy’s showing off his journal, not his record collection. Dad’s never cooler than when he’s not trying to be.

AVClub:  B,62309/

As enjoyable as The Whole Love is—and it’s an appreciable improvement over the wan Wilco—it still has some of its predecessor’s slight, low-stakes feel. The Whole Love is an album of reliable, occasionally exceptional, but mostly just solid pleasures from a very good band that doesn’t seem interested in doing the heavy lifting it takes to be great. Wilco’s early records seemed like the product of painful deliberation and unmitigated tension, a real life-or-death proposition; The Whole Love breezes by like a sunny Saturday afternoon among best friends. Now that Wilco has finally found its comfort zone, it might be time to venture elsewhere for a change.