Album Review: Noah And The Whale, Heart Of Nowhere (2013, Mercury Records)

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History is full of dangerous duos. Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. Bert and Ernie. Thelma and Louise. But none may have a more epic story than Noah and the Whale – and the band of that title lives up to their namesakes’ greatness. The English group has long been wowing audiences with their indie-rock bluegrass sound and the team’s latest disc, Heart of Nowhere, exhibits a maturity and quality their fans have come to love and appreciate.

The entire album is a very solid artistic endeavor, but a few of the tracks really stood out to me. “Lifetime,” for example, opens with the beautiful string sound N&TW have perfected and, in my mind, trademarked. The lyrics, too, speak perfectly to the young adult angst of commitment, freedom, what-am-I-doing-with-my-life??? we all (or am I the only one over here?) experience or have experienced. The refrain, “Are you ready to make that call?/It’s going to be a lifetime” makes me want to listen to this song all day. Such a good question! “There Will Come a Time,” too, is an especially catchy track with a light-hearted narrative of pursuit of the ever-elusive seemingly-perfect female. Moral? You might catch her, but it won’t be tonight. Of course, the title track, “Heart of Nowhere,” is also well worth a mention. Cue the strings again – and the inspirational message this time around. The song urges, essentially demands, an escape from the cautious lives of our ancestors and an embracing of all that is great about youth: life, love, and liberty.

This is not only an album for tried and true fans, but also any music lover looking to expand their repertoire. Definitely worth a listen!

Tour dates:
Oct 12 – Austin, TX @ ACL Official After Show
Oct 13 – Austin, TX @ Austin City Limits Festival
Oct 15 – Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse
Oct 16 – Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
Oct 17 – Philadelphia, PA @ Theatre of Living Arts
Oct 19 – Toronto, ON @ Phoenix Theatre
Oct 21 – Boston, MA @ House of Blues
Oct 22 – New York, NY @ Irving Plaza

Song of the Day/Album Review: Toussaint Morrison – Can’t Relive the Party

Posted on by Celeste in Albums, Song of the Day | Leave a comment


My sister and her work spouse are acronym SMEs (subject matter experts). Some examples include:

JFA – Just Fell Asleep, as in ‘I’ve spent the past hour churning this organic homemade ice cream and it’s still the consistency of soup. JFA. I’mma go buy an ice cream snickers.”

BGCM – Big Green Check Mark, as in “This farmer’s market has free samples? BGCM.”

and my personal favorite:

JVOM – Just vomited, as in “He spent an hour recounting every mile of his triathlon. JVOM JFA.” (Double points for double usage).

However, a new usage of JVOM has come into being with the recent discovery of Toussaint Morrison, a hip-hop artist out of the Midwest. After seeing this video, the consensus is that a person might JVOM after experiencing something so incredibly adorable:

After over-indulging in the extreme dosage of “holy crap that’s adorable” of Toussaint Morrison’s “Can’t Relive the Party” I checked out his bandcamp and found that he’s more than just a pretty face and golden pipes – the man a) oozes creativity and b) has a story to tell. A winning combination for an artist.

His most recent album, Fast Times at Trillmont High, tell the story of Juice, a tutor at a fictional high school in the midwest, giving a tour to Ms. Day, a visiting teacher from a school in South Korea. According to his Facebook, the album was inspired when Morrison was hired on to teach spoken word poetry at a high school in Minneapolis. To publicize, he went classroom to classroom performing rap and spoken word poetry about the class, racial disparity, drop-out rates, and stratification in Minneapolis, which led to huge student enrollment, and a dismissal the next day.

While this might seem like a hugely depressing subject matter for an album, Morrison incorporates it well – forming likable characters, a comprehensive story-line, and even creating stories within stories in the album. True to his roots as a spoken word poet, listening to Fast Times at Trillmont High is more akin to listening to live lit or a radio serial back in the day than listening to an album. And while he does focus on racial and social disparity in this fictional high school, he also keeps it light with stories of swim-offs, prom and hulking out. On top of breaking genre barriers and bringing forth delicate issues of race and gender and social status in a meaningful way, Morrison is just a plain old talented musician, merging hip-hop, soul, R&B and indie rock into some super catchy tracks. Give it a listen:

Album Review: JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound – Howl [2013, Bloodshot Records]

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How can you fail to love an album that sums up all of human romantic complexity in one sentence? “We howl for love.” We do. We date, we wingman, we’re set up by friends, we wait by the phone, we agonize over text messages, we break up, we give out our number, we start all over again. Love is complex. Romance is complex. Relationships are complex. JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound boils it down into one universal sentiment and one heart-rending howl. We howl for love.

Brooks might be the only crooner on earth who can get away with literally howling on his album. On anyone else it’s overplayed, but with him it just seems a natural extension of his sentiments. “Howl” is a strong start to a strong album. The post-punk R&B group bare their souls on their third studio album which ranges the musical gamut from the lovely ballad-style “River” to the funk-driven “Rouse Yourself” to the more electrified “These Things.” While the intro “Howl” sets the tone for the album, exploring themes of the dark side of love and doubt, the standout piece is “River.” While the token ballad piece in most albums seem more like a conciliatory nod to the necessity of showing your musical range, for JCBUS it simply plays to all the band’s strengths – it leans on the power of the lead singer’s voice (I can hardly justify calling it a voice – the man doesn’t sing – he really does, simply stated, just croon), it relies on the band’s ability to put forth emotion without ranging into the territory of sappy, and it hinges on creating a slow song that still captures and keeps the listener’s interest. Check, check and check for JCBUS – they make it look easy.

“Howl” which was produced in the Hotel2Tango in Montreal with Howard Bilerman (who has also worked with Arcade Fire and Godspeed You! Black Emperor) might not be the most cohesive album, but it certainly shows off the band’s creativity and enthusiasm. Especially coming from a group that, it could be argued, is best known for their cover of Wilco’s “I am Trying to Break Your Heart”, this album is a welcome offering of fresh material. With a band like this, obviously bursting at the seams with talent and ingenuity, they really should be best known for their own creations, and with an album like this I’ve no doubt they will be.

EP Review: Minor Characters – Heal Me, Healing Times

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If I had to sum up Minor Characters in an idiom it would be “short and sweet.” They’re a band that understands the concept of leave them wanting more, and clocking in at 17 minutes and ten seconds, the band’s new EP sticks to that theme.

The hardworking Chicago foursome dropped their first EP in November of 2011, and their sophomore effort, Heal Me, Healing Times, seems like a natural extension of their debut. Maintaining the same ebb and flow of the last EP, “Heal Me” starts off the album with slow, halting strains that burst into a strong but simple drum backbone. Draped over that backbone are the staples of Minor Characters’ sound: catchy guitar riffs and lead singer Pelletier’s hovering falsetto. Aurora Borealis,the second track of the EP, maintains the catchy riffs with a bouncy and undeniable guitar line overlaid by a story that, when you listen a little closer, might be darker than it first appears.

While still sticking to their strengths, this new EP, especially the second half, is a little more introspective and melancholy than the first. “Sun Trials,” a flowing and soulful track heavy with a sense of ending, explores a relationship cycling through the seasons, “Don’t take me for granted/I don’t know when winter’s coming.” “Expatriates” closes out the album, the band branching out into new territory with a winding and mournful piano ballad about displacement, “Watch out, we left home to be left out.”

While there’s a clear divide in the tempo and tone of the first two songs versus the second, the EP doesn’t feel disjointed – it has a story to tell. The band performs March 1st at Lincoln Hall – if you’re in Chicago I’d suggest you watch them tell it live.