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Hello Stranger: Review Roundup

Hello Stranger’s debut, Long Division, has been getting some excellent coverage recently. Check out these great reviews:

Indie Voice Blog
“Get this one like your life depends upon it – they will make your day!”

A&R Factory
“The soaring melodies and synergetic harmonies sit so tightly within each other, you’re brought to a higher plateau than you could ever reach listening to Nirvana. Yes, it’s a bold statement, but I’m sticking to it.”

Rock the Pigeon
“The three piece band clearly has a lot of chemistry and has created a really great sound to back the already great songwriting. The lead singers vocals are soothing during the verses and powerful during the chorus. It’s really refreshing to hear vocals that are more raw and real and a live band on a track!”

The Music Butcher
Long Division is full of dramatic and eclectic tracks like this and shows why Hello Stranger has quickly grown such a strong following. ”

Divide and Conquer
“Overall, Hello Stranger works tight and well together as a trio and Long Division is a consistent album that’s well balanced and well produced.”

Listen Here Reviews
“Hello Stranger is a group that everyone should watch out for. In a scene like Los Angeles where its often hard to stand out, Long Division includes a few radio worthy songs that very well may make it on KROQ one day.”

Album Review: Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino

No doubt you’ve already heard about this one. Your friends have told you it’s the worst record by an acclaimed band this side Chinese Democracy. The guy with the trendy facial hair at the corner coffee shop says it’s a masterpiece on par with Sgt. Pepper’s. The truth is…(appropriately understated drum roll please)…it’s fine.

Yes, Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino, for all the hype and furor surrounding it, is shockingly competent. All this general hullabaloo seems more directed at what Tranquility Base is not rather than what it is. It is not the commanding sequel to AM that we felt entitled to. It is not a magnificent showcase of the Arctic Monkeys rhythmic and melodic strengths. It is not the sea changing record that prerelease anticipation made it out to be.

So, what is Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino?

It’s a whimsical, conceptual, and highly lyrical exploration of interstellar lounge rock. It takes elements of the Monkey’s Suck It and See and AM and throws a huge dollop of David Bowie across the top. Likely owing to that last fact, Tranquility Base is largely the Alex Turner show. There were reports that the album was originally intended to be a solo record. We may never know the truth of the matter, but it’s easy to see where these rumors come from. There is very little space during the 40 min run time that isn’t taken up with Turner’s trademark British croon.

Moment to moment, this means that the record lives and dies on Turner’s lyricism and delivery. There’s certainly a ton of corniness to be found with lyrics like: “The world’s first ever monster truck front flip” and “cheeseburger, snowboarding.” But these stand alongside some of the most salient and political statements Turner has ever penned:

  • “In the daytime/Bendable figures with a fresh new pack of lies”
  • “This magical thinking feels as if it really might catch on”
  • “I lost the money, lost the keys/But I’m still handcuffed to the briefcase”
  • “By the time reality hits, the chimes of freedom fell to bits/The shining city on the fritz”
  • “…it was well reviewed/Four stars out of five/And that’s unheard of

It’s easy to be entertained when Turner is dropping insights like these, but when he lapses into absurdity, the faults of the record become starkly apparently. Most prominently, the Monkey’s titanic drummer Matt Helders is criminally underutilized. Even on the more restrained AM, Helders found room to cut loose and provided numerous inventive grooves. Here his is mostly relegated to keeping time.

Furthermore, Turner’s piano playing, while certainly notable for his relative lack of experience, is not showy enough to match the weirdness of the tunes themselves. On that note, there’s the songwriting itself. There’s little in terms of dynamics or instrumentation to differentiate one song from another. The result is, again, that the sole point of interest is Turner’s lyrics.

What we’re left with is an album that feels like a bridge to something potentially magnificent just as Humbug was a bridge to AM. Yet, it’s even harder now to tell what the payoff for this uneven offering will be. At least we got Turner’s acerbic thoughts on Donald Trump: “The leader of the free world reminds you of a wrestler wearing tight golden trunks.” My thoughts exactly?



Album Review: The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs

Much has been said about the evolution and adaptability of Baltimore duo, Wye Oak. However, the band’s consistency and singular vision is less often lauded. Since 2011’s breakout Civilian, Wye Oak has been on a tear releasing indie gems: Shriek, Tween, and now The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs. So yes, this latest LP certainly stands alongside Wye Oak’s formidable catalog. Yet, ironically for a band that is constantly growing and improving, the quality of The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs should have been easily predictable.

If Civilian was the morose masterpiece that launched Wye Oak’s career, then Shriek was where they solidified their greatness. With funky synth and bass grooves and ontological lyrics, Wye Oak elevated the high drama of Civilian to universal proportions. On The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs, the band finds a delightful middle ground between the personal and the grandiose. There are still numerous moments of existential musing and angst, but this record largely a more upbeat and light hearted affair.

The excellent “Lifer” and “It Was Not Natural” evaluate various dimensions of interpersonal relationships, but tasteful string and synth textures punctuate the gloom. In that regard, the album is more Police than, say, The Cure.

At times this contrast feels weightless, as on “My Signal” or “Join.” However, The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs is largely successful at balancing levity and concern. Even the title reflects this duality. Is the “It” a menacing force or an elusive goal? Wye Oak doesn’t explicitly answer this question, even on the titular track, but it is precisely this ambiguity (reflected in both the lyrics and music) that drives the record. The result is propulsive yet, effortless. The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs stands tall in Wye Oak’s canon and indeed in the indie-rock canon as a whole.


Album Review: A Deeper Understanding

Impossible to categorize, The War on Drugs have carved out a niche as rock’s alchemists drawing effortlessly on Springsteen and Dylan on one hand and Sonic Young and My Bloody Valentine on the other. Do we have an Alternative Heartland Rock genre, yet?

The Philadelphia band’s latest LP, A Deeper Understanding, is not the most indispensable in their catalog, but it’s certainly a enjoyable listen that highlights the band’s capable songwriting and musicianship.

The inventive guitar-scapes that have been a signature of The War on Drugs sound are more subdued here, but nevertheless bring textural interest to songs like “Strangest Thing” and “Thinking of a Place”. Adam Granduciel’s vocals produce a wide range of effective emotions, but his lyricism sometimes doesn’t match up to the lofty influences (Bob Dylan, Neil Young) suggested by his delivery.

However, A Deeper Understanding is ultimately a profoundly enjoyable experience. It feels less pioneering and daring than previous The War on Drugs releases, so no wonder this is the one that got nominated for a Grammy!


Album Review: How Did We Get So Dark?

U.K. duo Royal Blood have been one of the most successful and explosive rock bands in recent memory. Their eponymous debut catapulted them to international success. Their sophomore record How Did We Get So Dark? has been out for some time now and brings more of the same fuzzy, Muse-inspired bass lines, cacophonous drums, and shouted refrains. There are some new textures here and there mostly in the form of multi-tracked vocal harmonies, but it’s mostly the same sounds as Royal Blood’s first LP. This is undoubtedly a great thing for rock fans as the band has been one of the most vital acts in the genre over the last half-decade.

Artistically; however, How Did We Get So Dark? suffers for the repetition. There is little in the way of dynamics or tonal variation. It can make the back half of the record into a bit of an aural slog. But when the tunes hit, as on “Lights Out” or “I Only Lie When I Love You”, it’s epic and revelatory stuff. Singer Mike Kerr’s vocals are nuanced and commanding and the hooks created by unique pitch effects on his bass come in unrelenting succession. It’s a worthy record, but given Royal Blood’s de facto role as rock standard bearers, it’s hard not to be disappointed that there isn’t more variation or exploration on display here. Still, How Did We Get So Dark? is a polished and impressive distillation of everything the band has produced thus far.