Elevate Difference


Fables Of The Reconstruction (25th Anniversary 2-Disc Re-Issue)

Call it what you will: alternative rock, guitar pop, college radio. For better or worse, R.E.M. were responsible for making it—and making it big. Even a casual listener knows when they hear an R.E.M. song. Theirs has always been a definitive sound: Bill Berry's frenetic drums, Peter Buck's jangly guitar, those literate stream-of-consciousness lyrics, and, of course, Michael Stipe's vulnerable voice, leaping from plaintive wail to cooing croon to murmur (pun intended), often within the same song. They started out weird. Pretty, sure, but still weird.


Think of the word mojo in the classic sense (energy and zest for life) before Jim Morrison distorted it, and it's really the best adjective to describe this album. Having listened to Tom Petty—with and sans the Heartbreakers—since high school, I have to agree with fellow fans that the guy just doesn't make bad music. Like many an artist going through major life changes—divorce, having a child grow into an adult, a new marriage—music tends to be worn on his sleeve.


To get the most out of Passion Pit’s debut album, you will need: a healthy appetite for sugary keyboard riffs, plenty of enthusiasm for falsetto vocals, and a large space in which to dance around like crazy. Having gathered these things, you can dive straight into Manners and experience all the colours promised by the album’s cover art. This is music that isn’t afraid of a bit of fluoro.


A disclaimer before listening to Ghosts: If you're not careful, loud English folk duo Smoke Fairies will consume you. With their swampy blues riffs, exquisite harmonies, and formidable command of songwriting, Smoke Fairies is truly enchanting. You might not believe that a nine-song collection (billed as “a collection of A-sides, B-sides, and an EP from the recent past”) would have such a mighty power. There's no harm in skepticism.

The Essential Carole King

Were you to take a random sampling of the average music listener and say to them: “Quick, hum a few bars of "One Fine Day." Now, "(You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman." Great. Now who wrote them? Chances are most people could belt out the entire tune for you right on the spot, but few would be able to identify Carole King as the songwriter. Partially, this phenomenon has to do with how we view musicians. We love the sparkly, charismatic lead singer, but care less about the bass player keeping the beat, and even less about the person who created the music in the first place.

Roman Candle

Some might think this is another round of Elliott Smith’s posthumous work but it’s actually his first album. Kill Rock Stars has re-released and remastered Roman Candle, which was originally released in 1994 on the Cavity Search label. It’s self-recorded and Smith played all the instruments. The album is short, only thirty minutes, but in these eight songs you can see how Smith’s great career started.

Laws Of Illusion

July 22, 1997 in Mansfield, Massachusetts (at what was then known as Great Woods), I had the pleasure of seeing an amazing group of women perform. Over the whir of blenders and drenched in Frappuccino, I got to hear bits and pieces of the likes of Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega, and Sarah McLachlan. But, of course, I was already a fan. I was lucky enough to have been at that first Lilith Fair tour and now, thirteen years later, I hope to be going again.

Made The Harbor

It’s deeply problematic that my first thought it is to compare the Mountain Man ladies to the men of Fleet Foxes. Why must my point of reference be boy bands, so to speak? But truly, Mountain Man sounds like a fusion of two bands, both gender-segregated, that I adore: Fleet Foxes and Au Revoire Simone.

Banana Sandwich

The Astonishment is the moniker of Russian-born Marianna Limno, but although it’s her stage name and image on the cover and she delivers the poems on this spoken word album, the words were written by James Crippa, an expatriate Brit residing in Los Angeles. I found this surprising as most spoken word artists perform and record their own pieces, and also because a few of the tracks deal with sex and dating from a female point of view. Limno’s distinctive Russian-inflected voice is both a blessing and occasionally a curse.

Cooper Cobra

Rock & roll, baby!!! That’s what you’ll find on Cooper Cobra, the debut EP of New York band Lily Sparks. No samples, loops, or weird electronica, just guitar-heavy, punk-influenced songs about having a good time. The tried and true formula works like a dream.

Maniac Meat

Sometimes I can send off a record review in ten minutes. Excited by the tunes in my headphones or emanating from my computer’s tinny speakers, my fingers fly across the keys with artistic inspiration. Other times, it takes time and a few repeat spins of the disc to let the music settle into my brain. Tobacco’s Maniac Meat is one such record. You could ask, what’s happening here? A better question is, what isn’t?


Christina Aguilera has been a polemic figure since her breakthrough hit "Genie in a Bottle". She has a sexual aesthetic similar to a young Madonna’s, fashion sense like Cher’s, and raw vocal power comparable to a younger Whitney Houston’s. Her albums contain raunchy sexed-up tracks that appeal to sexually blossoming young adults and stately ballads that appeal to their post-menopausal mothers.


A few weeks back, Sabrina Chap (born Chapadjiev) contacted me to see if I wanted to review her new album, Oompa! Never one to turn down a free meal from female musicians, I obliged and she mailed me a copy (with a handwritten letter, no less — thanks, Sabrina!).

Delancey Street

On her ninth record, Delancey Street, Rachael Sage once again embraces and pushes the boundaries of her signature sound: lush piano-based pop with plenty of passion and insightful lyrics. Each song tells a distinct story, capturing a moment in time (even if the meanings are sometimes ambiguous). The enigmatic “Everything Was Red” is one of my favorite tracks, although I’d be hard pressed to tell you what it’s about.

Newborn Slime/White Light Split

According to the Musical Family Tree website, musician Kid Primitive was so “enchanted” by the album Newborn Slime, by Castle Oldchair, that he felt the need to “create a sister album for it.” So, here we have the two albums together, like peanut butter and jelly smashed at the bottom of your book bag. Could this be a match made in heaven?

Live Recordings, TV-clips, & Roadmovie

There is no doubting the strong influence the (mostly) female Swiss band Kleenex (later renamed Liliput) had on current feminist post-punk rock movements like Riot Grrrl.

Never a Long Way Home

Confession: I don’t know much about country music, and I don’t listen to much country music. But I know what I like, and Steff Mahan’s Never a Long Way Home is damn good music. The opening track, “If I Let You Go,” starts things off rockin’. Mahan bangs away on a distorted guitar while belting out the lyrics. The song is upbeat, but the story isn’t; the narrator can’t let go of a past relationship even though her former lover is with someone new.

The Magic of Think

Imagine, as a parent, helping your child form a robust and resilient identity and allowing your child to define his or her own values based on his or her own upbringing. Perhaps the gift that follows such acts is an individual with the ability to resist both the conditioning of modern marketing and majoritarian societies and the pressure of some peer groups that may not have his or her own best interests at heart.


Before reviewing the album, I have to admit, Ani Difranco and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, who are both major contributors to the project, definitely rake up the most counts on my iTunes top played lists. Bias. That said however, Anaïs Mitchell’s folk opera Hadestown is a masterful album in its own right, originally beginning in 2006 as a live show that toured New England with a cast of twenty-two performers.

Levantine Indulgence

Singer and composer Gaida’s debut album Levantine Indulgence is named for Levant, the Fertile Crescent’s desert oasis. Aptly named, this album offers listeners an abundance of vocal and instrumental styles that even the most resistant listeners can find nourishing and enchanting. The opening track, “Dream,” begins with rhythmic clapping and percussion and a chorus of male voices who share vocals with the lead singer.

Holy Ground: NYC Live with The Wordless Music Orchestra

MONO is a golden goose. Their live album, Holy Ground, is a golden egg. With three guitars, drums, and sans vocals, they are completely focused on the music at hand. Both their music and performance are intense and entrancing. MONO's sound is a mix of classical and rock, at times gliding with genres such as shoegaze and post-rock. For a better idea, imagine a movie score set to beautiful, dramatic visuals.


“Jangly” is a complimentary adjective in my music lexicon. It's a descriptor applied quite often to indie rock bands of the early '90s: think classic-era music from UK label 4AD. In the case of Texas trio Tribella, jangly serves as both a term of endearment as well as a nod to their forebearers.

Nothing Out Loud

Alejandra O’Leary has released an album of high-quality, well-articulated, catchy pop songs that plumb the depths and the banalities of modern life. Influenced by 1960s British compositions and production, the record is wonderfully warm and the songs are well arranged with fleshed out, but never overdone, instrumentation. The album begins with the pop-perfect tumult of “Ever After,” “Love I Been In,” and “Tremor.” The lyrics crackle with accessible Ivy League intelligence and innuendo. Sleepless nights and frustrated affairs never sounded so good.

This Is Happening

This can go one of two ways. You can put this album on the loudspeakers of your choice and busy yourself with life until the best beats drop and you are unable to stop yourself from dancing around wildly, close to whatever said speakers you chose. Or, you can do as I do: ready the tunes, put on the headphones, and sit down. You’re going to need to fully absorb the genius before you try to dance to this record. How does one come to produce some of the greatest ironic dance music of the decade? As co-founding producer of DFA Records, James Murphy certainly learned from some of the best.


Three-part a cappella harmony finds itself slowly warmed by spare instrumentation. A bedraggled man, bobbing adrift on the ocean in a yellow inflatable life boat, regains consciousness. The first thing he sees is a black rock. There is no one else with him, no land nearby. He weakly tosses it overboard and closes his eyes for a moment. When he opens them again, a small pile of rocks has gathered in front of him. After looking around, he starts tossing them out, turning his back briefly. When he turns back, the rock pile has grown so big that it's nearly pushing him out of the lifeboat.


As a Southern woman, I've been told from birth that if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. It's a mentality borne from equal parts charm and suppression, and one that is kind of antithetical to the whole business of review writing. In this case, though, I had to find the nicest thing to say about Massachusetts teen talent Kate Cameron and her debut seven-track EP, Conviction. Otherwise, I would have ended up with an empty review.

Nobody's Daughter

It can often be shocking to step back from one's own life and think in terms of how much of your time has been devoted to a particular thing. For instance, I have been writing since I was seven years old. That means that at this point, I have spent over seventy-five percent of my life with pen and paper in hand. Similarly, I have been a steadfast Hole fan for sixteen years.

From A Basement On The Hill

My indie cred—if you want to call it that—is this: I was at one of Elliott Smith’s last shows. At the Northwestern University A&O Ball in 2002, Smith attempted to open for Wilco, fumbling with his guitar, breaking a string, complaining that his hand fell asleep, and never really finishing a song before trudging off stage an hour later.

Evelyn Evelyn

“Real art has the capacity to make us nervous.” —Susan Sontag Evelyn Evelyn is the creation of Amanda Palmer (of the Dresden Dolls and lately a successful solo artist) and musician Jason Webley. Palmer and Webley have built a layered piece of art rather than simply a collaborative musical effort or side project.

The Bundles

I used to have a Livejournal, and Kimya Dawson was on my “friends list,” meaning I could read her journal entries. She was always a cheerful yet honest writer. Kimya shared photos of her lovely self, her bearded-and-bespectacled-husband, and her baby dressed in gender-neutral colors. I quickly admired this plus-sized woman with body modifications and tattoos, going about being a mother, wife, and artist, all in her own way. Both Kimya's music and overall personality seemed to lack the superficial posturing many other folks demonstrate. Needless to say, I was inspired.