All posts by Morgan Booker

[Album Review] First Aid Kit – Ruins

From out of the humble beginnings of singing carefree as fans at a public festival, and from out of Enskede, near the very heart of Sweden’s lovely capital city of Stockholm, come the indie/folk band named First Aid Kit, The band is known around the world for their melodic and despondent seasoned acoustic Americana, their literary songwriting, and their duo of vocalists which consists of the two darling sisters Klara and, the multi-instrumentalist, Johanna Söderberg. In 2014, the band released their domestically Platinum hit LP Stay Gold and after a near four year hiatus, they’ve come back and released their latest album, Ruins, this January. The album enlists the help of several well-accomplished musicians, most notably R.E.M’s Peter Buck on guitar, and Decemberists producer Tucker Martine.
Ruins starts off by taking its audience on a haunting journey with the opening track “Rebel Heart” The track easily elucidates the feelings of heartbreak which color the tones of the entire album. The song features a short, yet strong instrumental break that leads into an outro which lyrics and vocals propagate an endless melancholy, and elicits a sense of concrete nihilism.

The next song on the album, “It’s a Shame” describes the desperate feelings of loneliness one feels when they’ve finally come to the point where they realize they’re on their own. The duo look for affirmation that they’ve made the correct choices in life, and the assurance that those choices will lead them to feelings of accomplishment and a sense of purpose. Musically, the song is more upbeat than the albums opening track, and at the start the duo sing: “Lately, I’ve been thinking about the past. How there is no holding back. No point in wasting sorrow, on things that won’t be here tomorrow” lyrics that show that in between the suffocating and forlorn walls that surround them, there are flakes of optimism sprinkled throughout.

Later comes, “Post Card”, which is the most traditionally classical county inspired song the band has yet to produce. The song is full of acoustic twang and sets to spins a narrative about setting oneself free and chasing a wayward dream, to then send a postcard to those you’ve left behind in order to remind them all where you’ve been so far, and where it is that the roads ahead may lead you.

The title track “Ruins” is about picking out the good and the bad when it comes to shattered connections, whether in friendships or in love and then attempting to reconstruct these realities to try and make sense of them all.

The albums closer “Nothing Has to Be True” is the rawest the two sisters have ever been and is one of the most memorable tracks on the album, which effortlessly pulls at the listener’s heartstrings. Rather than relying on a heavy focus on layered harmonies, in this song, each vocalist opt to sing solo interchanging verses that are highlighted by a delicate ambiance and as the song reaches its conclusion, a voluminous percussion erupts, which slowly transforms into inundating noise.

It’s clear for those familiar with First Aid Kit that Ruins is more a refinement than an evolution of the bands sound. But I feel it is those refinements that work towards an intriguing cohesive whole that’s injected with an undeniable sense of sincerity, heartbreak, and the finality of endings, which creates an album which proves to be the bands greatest work yet, and that it grants a perfect unique utility that allows us to put on the record whenever we feel like taking a time-out in life for a healthy cry or a moment to be reflective and appreciate all the many miracles that life presents us.

Essential Tracks:

Rebel Heart
It’s a Shame
Post Card
Hem of Her Dress
Nothing Has to Be True.

[Album Review] The Wombats – Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life

Hailing from Liverpool, England is a collective of three musicians that make up the indie-pop/rock band that call themselves The Wombats. The band had reached critical acclaim with their hit single release “Let’s Dance to the Joy Division” from off of their 2007 album A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation. And it is early February this year that they’ve delivered their first full studio length album in three years, with their fourth album release entitled Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life.

Their new entry opens up with their new album’s third single, “Cheetah Tongue”, which is a song about surrendering to the myriad pressures and the failures of maturity and adulthood and accepting the asphyxiating feelings that you find yourself succumbing to. In the track’s chorus, “The Wombats” lead vocalist Matthew Murphy sings “I cut off my head and my cheetah tongue. I can’t think straight and my mouth is numb. Don’t shut your eyes ’til we fade to black. ‘Cause maybe this time the good stuff could last” which are arguably the most creative lyrics in an otherwise mostly lyrically uninspired track, though the songs pulsating synths and acoustic breakdown in the bridge does give the song some much-needed flair and saves it from being entirely mediocre.

The next song, and their first single, “Lemon to a Knife Fight” alternatively offers an endlessly catchy tune, that aims to stay stuck in your head for days. Not only that, the lyrics of this song do a great job of projecting a picture in mind that plays like a film composed of scenes of water-colour paintings. “Hero to zero, I pick up the bill. The brake lights cast a red light. And the road twists round the hill. Lipstick on the backseat, saliva on the dash. I’ve clawed my way out of here before, but I keep on coming back” though it has a similar message to “Cheetah Tongue” in that it is a song about combating your personal scrimmages and ultimately failing, it does a much better job of presenting its meaning through its words and through its music.

Later on is the shortest track in “Lethal Combination.” This song is one of the more toned down and tranquil sounding songs on the entire album, which presents itself as a tasteful and awkwardly romantic indie-pop treat. “We’re a lethal combination, too lost for therapy. Guilty by association, I’ll keep you close to me. Baby, let’s go and get blind tonight. I’ll hold your hair back and you’ll hold mine.”

The Wombat’s Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life is neither groundbreaking nor is it an entire failure of musicianship. In its eleven song track list there are moments of greatness scattered throughout, with songs such as “Turn”, “I Don’t Know Why I Like You but I Do”, “Lethal Combination”, “I Only Wear Black”, and “Lemon to a Knife Fight” that demonstrate just what type of music the band is great at delivering, but oppositely, the album has just as mainly bland tracks which eschew the indie pop flavored nostalgic feelings of coming of age that the band have previously made themselves known for, which wouldn’t be too much of a problem if it felt like an evolution of their sound. Instead it mostly feels the same, but ultimately not as memorable.

[Single Review] Upsahl – “Kiss Me Now”

Singer-Songwriter and Phoenix, Arizona native Taylor Upsahl, AKA “Upsahl” has been making music since she was 13 years old and released a self-titled alternative folk EP by the time she was 14. And, while it is true she has only just graduated high school, she has still already managed to somehow release several full-length albums into her musical repertoire. In February of last year, the fast emerging artist released her third studio album “Unfamiliar Light” and received relative critical acclaim in the indie scene when she collaborated with Max Frost on her indie-pop single “Can You Hear Me Now?”

And now, scarcely even a month into a new year we come to see the release of her new single entitled “Kiss Me Now” With this new track, Upsahl handily highlights the history of each and every person who has ever succumbed to the feelings of being soddenly unnoticed and invisible. “Kiss Me Now” manages to genuinely depict the hardships that come with the impatience of those who have become more than fed up with a someone who is either completely clueless when it comes to the verbal and physical signs of romantic interest, and just can not take a hint, even if it was a brick thrown right to their face, or of someone who indignantly disregards their unrequited feelings completely either because of a lack of interest in the portents of love entirely or is uncomfortable with dealing rejection.

“Kiss Me Now”’s instrumental is saturated with acoustic guitar that greatly emphasizes its colorful vocals and in the exquisite indie pop tune, Upsahl icily sings “My dinners getting cold but your eyes aren’t” and “I’m giving you one more chance, I’m giving you one more dance. I’m giving you just another second to see it through” in a song that is sincere in tone, yet musically remains quite upbeat and vibrant.

[Album Review] The Shins – The Worm’s Heart

The Shins are a curious sort of band, somehow always seeming to drift quietly in the overflowing waters that fill the endless sea of indie music, reach periodic acclaim, disappear in the ether, only to then come up and to spontaneously rear their heads in the expanse all over again. It was after a five-year hiatus when in March 2017, The indie pop/folk band The Shins had released their album Heartworms. Heartworms was a stunning accomplishment that combined the band’s original eclectic and experimental brand of indie folk with their more recent pop-ish output that started with 2007’s Wincing The Night Away, and now with just under a year since their last album, the band has released The Worm’s Heart, a sister album to Heartworms.

The Worm’s Heart aims to re-imagine its predecessor track by track with completely new instrumentals and vocal takes, to construct an ambitious sort of remix album that is rarely seen and is strangely most comparable to Alt-Rock band Linkin Park’s 2002 album Reanimation in scope. But how does it hold up to the original? “The Fear (Flipped)” turns the original’s tropical and string-heavy ethereal symphonic epic into a slow jam, with a slamming bass-line. “Mildenhall”’s acoustic folk is now an acid blues-eqsue joint with heavily distorted guitars and rolling percussion. “Name for You” transforms electric pop into a spastic disco dance-a-long. Oppositely, Rubber Ballz’s bouncy synths have now become an acoustic ensemble in “Rubber Ballz (Flipped)”. To be honest, on average, whether it is out of newness, out of familiarity or, bespoke loyalty, I seem to find myself listening to the original songs more often. While I think it’s clear that The Worm’s Heart lacks a great deal of cohesion, I still believe it has a lot of interesting and competent takes which do not demonstrate any outright bad reinterpretations of the original album’s tracks, and in time I may even prefer them, but for now, not quite.

Essential Tracks:

Mildenhall (Flipped)
Painting a Hole (Flipped)
Rubber Ballz (Flipped)
Name For You (Flipped)