Rating (9.2)

How do they do it? A small-town garage band makes it big but sticks to their roots. Other Northwest success stories have had much different results (see also: Death Cab for Cutie). Through the years, even with switches to major labels and radioplay, the band has stayed true to their sound, picking up an incredible guitarist along the way. With a blip of pop-influenced song structing (Good News For People Who Love Bad News), the indie-rock superstars have faded back to abstract, avant-garde rock, keep the verse-chorus-verse aspects of pop loosely in mind.

Songs like "The Whale Song" recall songs of yesteryear ("Mechanical Birds") with bending, whiney lead guitar building up to the first verse, almost like an anti-"I Will Possess Your Heart". The genius in Modest Mouse is their ability to, to borrow from the Bush administration, 'stay the course'. Distorted background vocals, twangy guitar, paradoxical lyrics, and essentially an unmarketable sound in the confines of a big time label and mainstream radio.

The EP goes from one extreme to the other; "King Rat" brings on the insanity of Issac Brock we've come to know and love, and "Autumn Beds" brings into play the band's ever-growing pop sensibility with a happily banjo splashed in. No One's First's biggest accomplishment is "Guilty Cocker Spaniel", a track summoning the crisp, raw, straight-out-the garage guitar of Lonesome Crowded West; an admirably simple "sound" passed down to up-and-coming acts like Thao & the Get Down Stay Down.
Rating (8.6)

Pete Yorn's debut album Musicforthemorningafter came at the right time for me: an adolescent down on his luck with girls and life and everything in-between. Eight years later, Back & Forth has grabbed me the same way. Call it nostalgia, call it good timing, call it refined bitterness parelling the life of a singer/songwriter putting out his most touching, honest album in years.

Back & Forth is subtle in its heart-on-sleeve moments, like in "Thinking of You" where he offers "it won't happen again...'til the next time"; a glimpse of openess and self-awareness one might find too paralyzing to admit even to themselves. The album gives way for an introspective, self-reflective Yorn; less innocent than his beginnings, much less doe-eyed and mopey. If Morning was like hitting rockbottom, then Back & Forth is a manic-depressive revisit, this time a self aware experience, readying oneself for impact. His hushed, cloudy vocals still yank at heartstrings with lyrical charm. Though he's not a literary genius by any means, Yorn writes candidly, like someone curled up with a pen and journal, stipped bare and fueled by their emotions.

Back & Forth is a fluid album, unlike the few leading up to it which felt more like compilations of songs and styling that, though well-oiled, were all over the map, many times over-produced and less-than-sincere. Whether he's singing about a "white trash beach" or a "social development dance" Yorn has a unique way of telling stories without overloading you with detail; he combines abstract ("I keep seeing you in sheets of white") with solid recollection ("we were great last summer").

In Yorn's 2003 hit, "Crystal Village" he sang "it was good in the beginning." He returns to that beginning, to tge strong roots clenching tighly to Musicforthemorningafter, and adding life experiences, growth, and maturity along the way.
Rating (8.4)

To say that I have a little bias towards the Alligators would be an understatement. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest and experiencing the sights and sounds of the scene from which they arose was ingrained in my adolescence.

To throw on Piggy & Cups is to plug Kitsap County into an amplifier. It's a place where everyone sooner or later will share a concert bill. And while they're at it, let a few influences rub off. The Alligators possess all the qualities of a great band: mimickry of the past (the Zombies, the Beach Boys), borrowing of the present (Radiohead, Spoon), and ultimately creating their own personalized sound while still fitting comfortably in a well-developed nook in the Puget Sound.

The band is at a conflict, though: without the scene, would they have the sound? Had they formed in another part of the country, hell, another part of the state, it's certain they'd be a completely different band. Though creative in their own right, the Alligators do owe a lot to the bustling, rain-drenched scene, and this album is a testament to that.

Their thick, sun-soaked harmonies, mix-worthy melodies, and overall pop mentality is cunning. Piggy & Cups is like pop art: destined to be enjoyed by the masses, and still authentically maintaining an original sense of organic creativity and humbleness. Even with a sound that could charm the world, the Alligators have the admirable ability to hold on to that small town venue appeal.

Rating (9.0)

Bon Iver remains the only band that can make secrets, breakups, and blood banks seem so hopelessly romantic. On the follow up EP to 2008s For Emma, Forever Ago, frontman Justin Vernon takes you through his journey of emotions with 4 dynamic pieces, beginning with the title track, "Blood Bank". The lyrics begin with simple yet significant scenarios and build to endearing confessions like "I'm in love with your honor; I'm in love with your cheeks". The percussion is limited to just basic drumming, leaving the overlapped vocal harmonies as the driving force behind the song.

Vernon continues to deliver his heart-on-his-sleeve with the notable track "Beach Baby", where a lonely guitar and fragments of sentences paint a picture of lost love and memories of making love on the beach. Sadly, the EP doesn't finish as strong as it started. Bon Iver fans will probably find themselves bearing with Vernon as he explores the vocoder on the last track, "The Woods". However, the group does not disappoint with this little gem, and it leaves us with an intense anticipation for further full-length releases.

See also their contribution to the "Dark was the Night" compilation; "Brackett, WI", which has quickly become a repeat on my shuffle.

-Ila Joy
Rating (9.1)

Neko Case has always been a musician I admired, but from a cool distance. When Fox Confessor Brings the Flood came out, that admiration grew, but something still wasn't clicking. Then came Middle Cyclone.

Cyclone is a perfect combination of haunting vocals, acoustic folk roots, and country twang. Case has enlisted the likes of Garth Hudson (of The Band) as well as M. Ward, and Sarah Harmer to create one whimsical folk album built for the backroads. She's even thrown few covers ("Never Turn Your Back on Mother Nature", "Don't Forget Me") into the mix.

Right off with "This Tornado Loves You", Case showcases her polished songwriting skills as she highlights the journeys of a tornado looking for its lost love. In "Vengeance is Sleeping" she mourns over the pressures of marriage in a small town: "If you're not by now dead and buried, you are most certified being married."

Other standout tracks include the "Fever" which shows Case peeping on death, exclaiming "my dove is home, my breast is warm", and the Calexico-esque ballad, "The Pharaohs."

But the catchiest of them all, "People Got a Lotta Nerve" where, in the spirit of Nelly Furtado and Hall & Oates before her, Case admits to being a "man-man-man eater." Having already performed the Johnny Marr-esque romp on Jay Leno, it's a surefire hit.

Cyclones ends beautifully, with a heavy drum beat, staccoto guitar, deep basslines, squelching horns, and charming piano interjections. The song builds up to the chorus where she belts "I want to go back and die at the drive-in, die before strangers can say 'I hate the rain'." This is the followed by nearly a half-hour's worth of outdoor ambience; a whirlwind of crickets, birds and frogs, sucking you in to a warm summer's night in the country.

Middle Cyclone would be a crowning achievement for any singer-songwriter: a perfect blend of beautiful crafted instrumentals and nostalgic country storylines. This is an album to fall in love with, if not a soundtrack to fall in love to, whether it be with someone or something: nature, the country, life.