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Ears To The Music, Vol. VII: Built To Spill, Modest Mouse, Pearl Jam, Clues, Cymbals Eat Guitars, Paramore & More

Indie rock legends Built to Spill are back in a big way with their new LP, There Is No Enemy, which dropped last week. More than three years in the making, the album is a surprisingly impressive release; not to say they couldn’t do it, but just that they have been seemingly drifting for years without a solid new record.

Doug Martsch lyrics have never been more personal: Like anyone assuming they know what makes us tick/I was just as wrong as I could be – from “Tomorrow”; occasionally bitter: Stay out of my nightmares, stay out of my dreams/ You’re not even welcome in my memories – from “Things Fall Apart”; and, provocatively soul-searching: And if God does exist/I am sure He will forgive/Me for doubting Him/For He’d see/How unlikely He/Made Himself seem – from “Oh Yeah.”

Additionally, the brilliant layering of spacious and tangled guitar jams (most evident on “Tomorrow” and “Good Ole’ Boredom”) and a propensity for fractured song formats – cornerstones of BTS’s music since their beginning – sound better than ever. There are many memorable, enthralling and enjoyable moments on this LP, including crowd pleasers like “Aisle 13″ and “Hindsight,” as well as the remarkably beautiful ballads, “Life’s A Dream” and “Nowhere Lullabye.” Every track on this album is a keeper. Seriously.

When we got a preview of some of the new BTS material at this year’s Outside Lands Festival, we were really impressed, but had no idea that There Is No Enemy would be this amazing. This album is yet another masterpiece from one of indie rock’s truly iconic bands.

“Hindsight”Built to Spill from There Is No Enemy (2009)
“Aisle 13″Built to Spill from There Is No Enemy (2009)
“Life’s A Dream”Built to Spill from There Is No Enemy (2009)

Available since August, indie rock pioneers Modest Mouse‘s newest release, No One’s First, And You’re Next, is a collection of eight songs that date back to 2004, and therefore can’t really be called the follow up LP to the successful, and widely praised, We Were Dead Even Before the Ship Sank, released in 2007.

Many of the songs from No One’s First have been released over the years, including the darkly bizarre, “King Rat,” which the late Heath Ledger directed the video for. And yet the EP holds up as the newest offering from the band, proving Modest Mouse haven’t abandoned their quirky, yet strangely cool, song crafting, like on the fuzzy guitar jam, “History Sticks to Your Feet”; the blistering riffs of “The Whale Song”; and, the mostly spoken and shouted lyrics of “Guilty Cocker Spaniels.” The band also present the respectable alt-country melodies of “Autumn Beds”; catchy songs meant to be singles – “Satellite Skin“; and even mix it up Dixie-style with the return of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band on “Perpetual Motion Machine.”


“The Whale Song”Modest Mouse from No One’s First, And You’re Next (2009)
“Autumn Beds”Modest Mouse from No One’s First, And You’re Next (2009)
“History Sticks to Your Feet”Modest Mouse from No One’s First, And You’re Next (2009)

Despite their iconic stature in the world of hard rock, Pearl Jam‘s latest album, Backspacer, has received mostly lukewarm to poor reviews for one of the biggest rock bands of the past two decades. The common criticism, and one that is easy to latch on to, is that Backspacer is driven by, and dependent on, blazing formulated guitar riffs and Eddie Vedder‘s less than impressive vocal delivery (not sure who’s to blame for that).

The major problem with Backspacer is that it’s unimaginative; there’s really nothing new here that makes us sit up and say, ‘Wow, this is great.’ PJ fans, of any age, will likely cherry pick their own keeper songs from the LP, like “Gonna See My Friend,” the ballad-like cut “Just Breathe,” or the acceptable “Amongst The Waves.” But, for now, we’ll relish in the classic PJ albums of the past (i.e., Ten) and hope that PJ can come up with something better next time. Backspacer proves the band can still rock; it just appears they’ve run out of ideas.

“The Fixer” - Pearl Jam from Backspacer (2009)

Next, what happens when former members of Arcade Fire, Unicorns, and Think About Life start a band? Well, you get the Clues, the latest Montreal buzz band that creates a big sound that mixes grinding guitar rock jams, melodic pop sound scapes and the falsetto-like vocals of frontman Alden Penner.

Also, check out new songs from Staten Island‘s experimental pop band Cymbals Eat Guitars; the phenomenally popular band, Paramore; Jersey City‘s retro-pop rock group The Black Hollies; Edinburgh‘s eclectic Meursault; London‘s hugely successful indie rock band, The Horrors; Brooklyn‘s electro-acoustic musician Argyle Johansen; the self-described Seattle ‘ghettotech’ blues band Black Whales; Mexico‘s grunge meets Britpop group Rubik; Canada‘s pop soul band The Rest; Minneapolis‘ psychedelic pop band Velvet Davenport; the gorgeous pop of Detroit‘s The Silent Years, and the UK‘s folk rock band Low La Love (abbreviated for practical reasons).

“Perfect Fit” - Clues from s/t debut (2009)
Double-shot: “Cave Mouth”Clues from s/t debut (2009)

“What Dogs See”Cymbals Eat Guitars from Why There Are Mountains (2009)

“Brick By Boring Brick”Paramore from Brand New Eyes (2009)

“Gloomy Monday Morning”The Black Hollies from Softly Towards The Light (2009)

“Nothing Broke” - Meursault from Nothing Broke EP (2009)

“Sea Within A Sea”The Horrors from Primary Colours (2009)

“A Sunny Day in Hell” - Argyle Johansen from s/t debut (2009)

“Books on Tape”Black Whales from Origins (2009)

“Wasteland”Rubik from Dada Bandits (2009)

“With Every Heartbeat” (Robyn cover) – The Rest from The Cried Wolf Book (2009)

“Lemon Drop Square Box” - Velvet Davenport from Lemon Drop Square Box (2009)

“Taking Drugs at the Amusement Park”The Silent Years from Let Go (2009)

“Blackbird 3″ - Low Low Low La La La Love Love Love from from Feels, Feathers, Bog and Bees (2009)

Check out all of the ETM playlists, featuring the best in new indie and alternative rock.

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