While normally the 28th meant the end of February and the beginning of March, leap year has other plans. The extended February has featured plenty of great releases. Check out the reviews of Fanfarlo and Memoryhouse by David Williams and Frankie Rose by Charles Poladian.
Memoryhouse â€“ The Slideshow Effect
by David Williams
Dreamy, heavily reliant on ambient guitars and Denise Nouvianâ€™s voice, what separates Memoryhouse from the other dreamy-ambient indie rock bands is the alt-country element to their melodies. Itâ€™s a great combination that shows a lot of promise for the band, especially where Nouvianâ€™s voice picks up where it needs to. Otherwise, Memoryhouseâ€™s debut album is a fine collection showcasing the bandâ€™s imagination and potential.
The opener, â€śLittle Expressionless Animals,â€ť sets the pace with a slow tempo that chugs by the end and introduces an electric violin to help fill out the desperate, airy atmosphere set by the layers of Ms. Nouvianâ€™s voice. She can sound, at times, like She and Himâ€™s Zoey Deschannel,though, for much of the album, the intention sounds like a drawling, less glitzy version of Lana Del Rey. Sheâ€™s a bit flat at times, but overall, it becomes part of the bandâ€™s appeal: the sound of
While the follow up, â€śThe Kids Were Wrongâ€ť picks up the tempo, it still exemplifies the kind of guitar-washed sound and drawl that the band approach that the band uses to each song. It seems less like a trademark sound than a go-to tactic, but when a few new instruments fill out the bandâ€™s sound (like xylophones and some ghostly keyboards on â€śAll Our Wonderâ€ť), itâ€™s the lone trait that separates these similar tracks apart from one another.
The few moments where the wall-of-guitars gets slimmed down, like the mostly-acoustic â€śBonfire,â€ť showcases the bandâ€™s knack for folksy pop with country touches like slide guitars that are relegated to the background compared to Ms. Nouvianâ€™s voice, which (if you couldnâ€™t guess at this point) are consistently up front. For better, or for worse.
Whatâ€™s really a shame is that the band wants to stick to the sort of dream where the slow tempos seem like cruise control for artistic integrity. You can be up-tempo and reflective, but Memoryhouse would rather display the sort of indie-pop touches made for Sunday night listening. Itâ€™s intimate at times, and enjoyable as a whole, though the songs (perhaps ironically enough) are largely forgettable. Still, The Slideshow Effect, much like an actual slideshow, is interesting at the very least, but is perhaps too long to stay that way.
Frankie Rose – Interstellar
by Charles Poladian
Frankie Rose’s Interstellar has been what her whole career has been leading up to. During her stints in Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts and The Dum Dum Girls, there was a pop gem hidden in the noise and lo-fi recordings. Interstellar removes all of that, displaying Rose’s knack for pop craft.
This isn’t to say that Interstellar is a joyous pop album, full of bright flourishes and bublegum interludes. The songs rise gently and build into moody little pieces of pop that are perfect for gazing out and drifting off. Rose’s voice is soothing and comforting while still able to be engaging. Easy guitar riffs and steady driving tempos help propel each song forward.
Starting things off with “Interstellar,” the song builds to a rousing chorus of “oh’s” anchored by a steady drum beat and synths. “Know Me” feels like a hidden 80′s gem, perfectly balanced with a tinge of haziness around the edges. I want to describe these songs as “soft,” not as a negative, rather these songs feel so inviting and welcoming. The textures and how each song is composed makes for an easy gateway into reflective wandering. This trend continues with “Gospel/Grace.”
Interstellar alternates between sweet and dreamy, usually finding a perfect balance of the two, and nowhere is that more apparent than “Pair of Wings.” The obvious centerpiece of the album, Rose’s vocals and lyrics are evocative, gentle and sweet. It’s a solid piece of pop that feels vulnerable, open and honest. It’s the song that can be dedicated by anyone who pines for someone else, an invitation to open up and express who they are.
“Night Swim” is probably the most uptempo track on the album, bouncing easily along with a carefree charm and sway. The song acts as a way to say goodbye to the songs before it and to welcome the atmospheric last third of the album.
The trio to end Interstellar, “Apples for the Sun,” “Moon of My Mind,” and “The Fall” are dreamy passages into the night. Each song still contains plenty of energy, especially “Moon in My Mind,” but they tend to be more atmospheric, letting the songs spiral out much like Rose’s vocals in “The Fall.”
Interstellar is a pop album without tricks and lets Frankie Rose shine. It strikes the right balance between accessible and dreamy and fits well in any mood or weather.
Fanfarlo â€“ Rooms Filled with Light
by David Williams
Familiar yet completely unconvincing, Fanfarloâ€™s second album, Rooms Filled With Light, could have been released at any time in the past five years and find itself somewhere in the back end of any criticâ€™s year-end best-of list. Thanks to the guise of the preciousness that baroque-pop lends itself, Fanfarlo can do anything they damn well please but produce a tune that will get stuck in your head.
This is not to take away the fact that some of the songs on here are great pop tunes, or that there are a few fascinating nuggets throughout. But because of the genreâ€™s own idiosyncrasies that are ubiquitous onto itself, itâ€™s hard for a band like Fanfarlo to stand out when you can get the same basic product by anyone from Beirut to Arcade Fire.
At the very least, the albumâ€™s two opening tracks, â€śReplicateâ€ť and â€śDeconstructionâ€ť do provide some interesting pieces of music. The former for being a delightful mash-up of Andrew Bird-style orchestration and minimalist approach to composition, while Simon Balthazar borrows some twitchy high-end vocals from David Byrne; the latter is the same in planning, but up-tempo and more fun in execution. The problem is that a lot of the album follows this basic pattern, and itâ€™s all very charming, airy, and light. But in being so, thereâ€™s very little to remember as being a vastly new idea worthy of being considered ground breaking.
â€śShiny Thingsâ€ť is the kind of big anthemic number thatâ€™s so closely associated with Arcade Fire nowadays, complete with breakdown of just percussion and warbly melodic horns. â€śEverything Turns,â€ť a title whose simplicity indicates just how hard you have to try to make this kind of pop, is a fairly interesting instrumental piece that recalls some of the more commercially viable moments of the Books.
Yet, I hesitate to call it derivative, because so much of these ideas, structures, and colors are basic for any band that could consider itself a part of the baroque-pop banner. And even then, any indie band whoâ€™s ever considered having a xylophone and violin player among their roster would attempt for these abstract, light pieces devoid of any kind of hard hook. Ultimately, Rooms Filled with Light makes for great background music for any hip storefront, but makes for a largely toothless experience for anyone else.