Review Round Up #40

PlugInMusic.com's Review Round Up feature provides five quick-fire music reviews on a weekly basis. This edition includes Howlin Rain's "Magnificent Fiend," Brett Dennen's "So Much More," Juliette & The Licks' "Four On The Floor," Tegan and Sara's "The Con," and The Capstan Shafts' "Environ Maiden."

Magnificent Fiend

Howlin Rain
“Magnificent Fiend”
(Birdman Records/American Records 2008)

A soulful combination that draws on R&B and classic rock, Howlin Rain make their sophomore album into a nostalgic trip. Frontman Ethan Miller's vocals rasp lightly over soft, loose melodies that are gently enveloped again and again by the soaring shrill of keyboards and tight guitar licks. Howlin Rain's "Magnificent Fiend" has heart and that is something you just can not fake.

Sounds Like: A welcome trip back to ‘70s rock

Key Tracks: "Nomads"

B-
buy it!
So Much More

Brett Dennen
“So Much More”
(Dualtone Music Group 2006)

With his thoughtful lyrics and his smoothly distinct voice Brett Dennen's sophomore album, "So Much More," plays as easily as a Bob Dylan record. Dennen stretches himself and adds some light reggae accents on several tracks for a refreshing change of pace. Carefully crafted folk songs with warm, inviting melodies are matched with Dennen's almost apologetically humble style for an endearing combination.

Sounds Like: Folk that goes right for the heart

Key Tracks: "Ain't No Reason"

A-
buy it!
Four On The Floor

Juliette and the Licks
“Four On The Floor”
(The Militia Group 2007)

What's there to do after you've dated Brad Pitt and been nominated for an Academy Award? For Juliette Lewis the answer was obvious: form a rock band. The spitfire Lewis rolls Iggy Pop and PJ Harvey into one as she delivers her admittedly decent vocals over snarling electric guitar riffs while, notably, Dave Grohl adds drums. While the lyrics are not always the strongest and the album's final two tracks are uncharacteristically serious, the tightly produced album might just surprise you.

Sounds Like: Animated garage rock with a hint of the ‘90s

Key Tracks: "Hot Kiss"

B
buy it!
The Con

Tegan And Sara
“The Con”
(Vapor/Sire 2007)

Twin sisters Tegan and Sara are a one-two punch of dynamic indie-emo rock. The duo speeds through "The Con" unveiling tasty musical tunes at each turn to whet your appetite before quickly spiriting them off. Sure, it's rapid fire but each track shows off their fierce individuality as the flowing vocals weave their dual harmonies into instrumentation that varies from sharp thumping to strong but quirky. Tegan And Sara will turn heads with "The Con."

Sounds Like: A lively mix of indie and emo that keeps you guessing

Key Tracks: "Relief Next To Me," "Back In Your Head"

B+
buy it!
Environ Maiden

Capstan Shafts
“Environ Maiden”
(Rainbow Quartz 2007)

The Capstan Shafts make you listen very closely. Or rather Dean Wells, the man behind the one man band, makes you want to listen closely. Through a slightly muddy mix, the Capstan Shafts' lo-fi sound incorporates loosely strummed guitar and light melodies that catch your ear with crafty lyrics (just read the album's track listing for a better idea). There is something remarkably inspiring about Wells approach that never seems to give up as he pounds out twenty-nine songs in just over a half-hour without giving up his vision.

Sounds Like: Smart lo-fi rock

Key Tracks: "My family was Welsh, I'm just tired," "The flowering universe confounds"

B-
buy it!