Dead Letters – The Dead Letters EP

deadlettersConsisting of long-time collaborators Jim Demos and Alex Janusz (National Monument) and recent addition Jill Winzoski on the violin, the Dead Letters are an instrumental trio that pay homage to the likes of Ennio Morricone and other spaghetti western composers through original compositions. From the riding-high tones of “Ghost of a Thousand Battles” to the graceful and spellbinding “Cathedral of Leaves” and finally the haunting and masterfully conceived “War,” each epic track is loaded with atmospheric tension and beautiful dramatic intensity. Although some of their previous live material was a lot more loud and rockin’, this three-song EP is no less powerful or enchanting as any of their live shows. (Independent, Kent Davies

Youthanize – The Color of Violence


This band lost most of their members to the hardcore group From First to Last. After a few years’ hiatus, the two remaining members began writing songs again and putting them up on the band’s MySpace page. Soon after, the demand for an album was high and the duo promised that they would bring one. I am here to tell you that it was worth the two-year wait. This may be one of the most well-crafted screamo/grind/rock albums of the year. Every song has heavy guitars, pounding drums, deranged screams, and something catchy enough to make each song stand on its own. The lyrics are mostly literal and deal with unpopular political standpoints (example: Recycling is wasteful.) This album never loses its intensity, which is rare for the genre. Usually bands like this have some sad song in the middle with a slow tempo and a singing voice so injured sounding that you can actually see the emo comb over. The only time this album slows down is in the hidden song, and even that one feels just like another heavy track. All in all, this album sounds like only listening to the really fast and scream-y songs by the Blood Brothers and Showbread. (Epitaph, Paul Nordin

Castanets – Texas Rose, the Beasts, and the Thaw

castanetsThe simplest way to describe this album (other than garbage) is to imagine if Pink Floyd decided to record a country album. Castanets creates mixture of space-y soundscapes with traditional country vocals and acoustic strumming, which attempts to evoke the image of a cowboy riding in a sprawling desert. I’m making this album sound a lot better than it actually is. This is a country album created by a hipster, for hipsters, who are upset that a large majority of people like country music, and hate the pretentious crap associated with their scene. Listening to this album, I felt like I was being punished for actually enjoying country. Despite clocking in at 39 minutes, the album felt more like three hours. I could actually hear my brain sizzle as I tried my hardest to stay awake while listening. This album is such a bore, I don’t even think the hipsters would enjoy it. (Asthmatic Kitty, Charles Lefebvre

Blitzen Trapper – Black River Killer EP

blackriverkillerThis EP’s namesake, one of the best tracks from last year’s breakthrough, Furr, is given special treatment here and allowed to kick off a new batch of songs. While it proves worthwhile to revisit a fantastic track like “Black River Killer,” that darkly whimsical tale of a killer who can’t help but evade redemption, this EP feels a little thrown together and lacks the propulsive energy that made Furr so likable. Here, Blitzen Trapper show a willingness to branch out and expand their influences. “Preachers Sisters Boy” features a synth line that has to have been stolen from the Cars, but still sounds like more of the same. The mid-tempo “Going Down” sees Blitzen Trapper starting to recycle their melodies, while “Shoulder Full of You” could pass for one of Beck’s more sentimental acoustic numbers. At this point, Blitzen Trapper appear to have settled on a formula that’s worked quite well for them, but this EP leaves me wondering where they can go from here, whether they have the ability to take their classic rock Americana to the next level. (Sub Pop, Jonathan Dyck

The Antlers – Hospice

This remarkably assured album from the Brooklyn-based band The Antlers is all about space and atmosphere. What started out as a lo-fi solo project for Peter Silberman has evolved into an epic collaborative project over two years in the making. Though not a particularly difficult record, Hospice rewards patient listening with a tightly bound narrative about isolation and terminal illness. Melodically, it’s a pretty straightforward chamber-pop record, and at times it even sounds a bit formulaic, but on a song like “Kettering” (which, on its own wouldn’t be all that interesting) there’s so much going on thematically, and such a careful texturing of sound, that the track takes on a new life, slowly building into something almost raucous, almost hopeful. “Bear” features the same sort of upbeat flickering, with a cutting chorus (“We’re too old / We’re not old at all”) that disappears as quickly as it emerged. This haunting quality is the most powerful aspect of Hospice, which teeters between vacuous drones and lush flourishes, and finds The Antlers at their best in the echoes and whispers of songs like the beautiful “Shiva” and the inspiring “Wake.” Hospice is pretty heavy and perhaps a bit too serious. As one critic has said, it’s “music for people who like hospitals,” which doesn’t strike me as a compliment. Indeed, it will be interesting to see where yhe Antlers go from here, to see if there is, after all, life beyond hospital walls. (French Kiss, Jonathan Dyck