Monday, April 11, 2011

The Hanging Tree is No More

It is with a tremendous amount of pride, and a tinge of sadness, that I annouce the end of The Hanging Tree, a music blog which I started on September 11th, 2009 in my basement on a whim, simply to take up ample amount of free time I had on my hands. 

The site was more than succesful in ways I ever thought of. From the first review (The Arctic Monkey'sHumbug) to the last Song of the Moment (Tom Jones' "She's A Lady"), over 10,000 hits were registered on the blog and the Facebook page. I achieved hits in countries from across the globe and was even spied on by record labels and MTV. 

I'm closing up shop because (a) I no longer have the amount of free time which is required to keep this blog maintained the way it should be (b) I'm morphed from a news / criticism blog to simply criticism in a more condensed form which runs once a month in a Column I post here on Facebook as well as on Tumblr at I still plan to stay on top of music and pop culture in general because it's who I am. 

I would like to thank my friend Dave Beauchene for his funny, insightful and intelligent contributions to the blog and for adding an in depth layer to the site which I never could reach on my own. I've often told him he should make a blog of his own, but I'm sure he has more important things to do like... ya know... being an adult and earning a living. 

I would also like to thank Will Grimm, Michael Hadley, Anthony Lents and Whitney Stapleton for commenting frequently on the many discussions brought up over the years, and always expressing their views, even if I didn't fully agree with them. They indulged me and I will always be thankful for that. 

Another thanks to Jason Wineinger for helping to create the logo and really give an identity to The Hanging Tree. 

This isn't a goodbye, just a closing of one chapter and the beginning of another. I'll still be out there, always reminding you how right I am when it comes to anything music. Well... at least I'll always think I'm right. 

Thank you for the support in these brief months. 

- Jon LaFollette

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Review: Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo

If he’s not a fresh of breath air, Kurt Vile certainly is a nice throwback. In the age of modern disco glam and multi colored hair divas dominating Top 40 radio, Vile’s bare bones and denim jeans approach to folk rock may not get his songs on GLEE, but maybe a beer and a free meal at whatever watering hole he happens to be performing at. Maybe he’ll even get a little lucky and a stranger will let him bum a cigarette.

Smoke Ring for My Halo, his fourth album and second for Matador Records, packs a powerful whisper akin to the works of Springsteen’s and John Mellencamp’s more rustic efforts. His vocals sound washed out, which makes him sound wiser than he really is, but when you listen to a song like “On Tour”, a personal tune about the tediousness of life on the road, the payoffs are tremendous. While the rhythm section mostly takes a backseat to Vile’s repetitious riffs, which lay the groundwork and kick-starts the album’s subtle energy, the delicate and quietly energetic guitar work shines through from start to finish. Highlights include the title track, “Runner Up”,  and “Ghost Town” which all radiate with a soft spoken, but crystal clear ring of confidence. What happens when he tries to get loud? He makes the best song on the record with “Society is My Friend”. Can’t wait for the rock album. 


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Review: The Strokes - Angles

Not to be confused with angels (and the chaotic cover makes sure you get it right), Julian Cassablancas and his grimy band mates have returned after a few years of missing in action while resting their batteries and raising families. While the time off saw Cassablancas go solo and and other members venture into various side projects, these five greasy New York rockers have made their first album in half a decade, and have one foot on the gas pedal while keeping an eye in the rearview mirror. 

While 2006's First Impressions of Earth sounded like a band full of people who hated each other stuck in a gnarly rut, Angles is just what the title leads you to expect. Dubbed after a geometric term because it reflects the individualistic nature of the group, the record is at times the best they've made since 2001's excellent Is This It  but also falls victim to the monotony of some of their weaker songs. The first four tracks out of the gate are bound to be instant classics to die hard Strokes followers, as they vibrate with a subtle tenacity and a bright sounding rebirth. From there Angles becomes acute (get it) and more subtle."Games" floats on a soft synth pattern, and "Call Me Back" is an effective and reflective ballad. Angles is a showcase for the new Strokes. A Strokes who have no desire to be the rock n roll saviors fans and critics are in search of, but friends who work out their egos and differences in a musical democracy.


Key Tracks: Machu Picchu / Under the Cover of Darkness / Two Kinds of People

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Review: The Joy Formidable - Big Roar

All right kids, a quick history lesson : Once upon a time music used to be listened to on these things called CDs, which were plastic circles with people actually paid money to buy and enjoy. About twenty years ago a band named Nirvana, no they were not Buddhists but heroin addicts, sold millions of CDs by making grungy songs about being pissed off about anything in genera (which connected with other heroin addicts alike), all while making a three piece band sound like an invading army. 

The Joy Formidable, another three piece, made waves three years ago in their native U.K. by slightly replicating what Nirvana did before, only given an update via Smashing Pumpkins sludge guitar work, and a floating Muse aesthetic which only serves to remind you they hale from across the pond. So with all of those influences so apparent, who is The Joy Formidable? A band who believes "love is the everchanging spectrum of a lie" as vocalist Ritzy Bryan says on her band's debut. It's a tired concept for sure, but the intense grandiosity of the song's seven minute running time will distract you from the slip shod lyrics. There are riffs and hooks by the dozen here, but they lack a worthy lyrical or vocally melodic counterpart, which renders their enormous sound their only strong point. I went back and forth as to weather they belong on the junk list or not, but at the end of the day, their bright eyed, yet scattershot, ambition won me over. 


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Review: Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes

Why is it every act from Sweden inevitably gets referenced to ABBA? Do all Americans perceive that country as one which is perpetually stuck in the 70s and uses copious amounts of hair spray everyday to look like Farrah Fawcett? The cover alone for this Sweed's sophomore effort should dispel any kind of hope for those seeking disco glitz. Li writes angsty, and pseudo-tribal songs Twilgiht execs want for their soundtrack, which should give you a pretty good indication as to (a) the sound and (b) content of her music. 

For a sophomore effort from someone whose first album was titled Love NovelsWounded Rhymes is very well realized. A moody, and at times quite dense, record, Li embodies the perils of being a twenty-something sweetheart with one foot in adulthood and the other in her personal diary, which the music reflects for better or worse. The first half sports chunky songs brimming with polyrhythms and a confident strut of sadness, anger and teenage grit. "Youth Knows No Pain" is an excellent send off to her previous incarnation, as well as a completely honest statement Taylor Swift has yet to realize. Second half becomes more methodical and ballad ridden, which lets the record run out of steam, but at least she knows "Sadness is a Blessing", and one that keeps on giving. 


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Review: Lupe Fiasco - Lasers

Someone please tell me why rappers from Chicago make dominating their genre look so effortless. While Kayne roared back to life in 2010 with his introspective and Twisted Fantasy then proceeded to one up everyone not named Arcade Fire, his protege Lupe Fiasco, fresh and renewed from a three year absence, has delivered the first great rap record of 2011, and he's done it by being the anti-Kanye in the best way possible - extrospective.

Lasers, his third proper solo album, is a mix mash of the sonics of Drake with the aesthetic of The Roots How I Got Over. The beats and the melodies built around them are on the sombre side, and Fiasco ruminates on the current state of the world. While his approach may be jaded to some, Fiasco is smart enough to avoid coming off as a bitter, finger pointing super star. Trapped in the age of "State Run Radio", disenfranchised by a president he never voted for in the first place, and isolated by his own fame which he has yet to rationalize while the middle class wages a class war, he declares "The Show Must Go On" (which expertly borrows from Modest Mouses' "Float On). He may not have all the answers, or any at all, but at least he knows he wants to go home, a place all great artists strive to find.

Grade: A-

Thursday, March 3, 2011

February Junk List

Gruff Rhys - Hotel Shampoo
The Super Furry Animals singer continues in his journey of psychedelic pop, now complete with impressions of Beck. Who knew mariachi horns did wonders for white guys with groove handicaps?GRADE: C+

Cut Copy - Zonoscope 
These Aussie electro-nerds aren't as cynical as LCD Soundsystem, which would be too apparent, they're just fine with simply being themselves - which, as it turns out, means they really like Men At Work and Pheonix's last record. I think it was Picasso who said the best art is always stolen, well... just don't call Cut Copy "the best", just really good imposters who like to be a little playfully nimble dance tunes from time to time.GRADE: C+
Key Tracks: Where I'm Going / Alisa 

Adele - 21
All she'll ever be is therapy music for white women with guy problems. She's more interesting than Norah Jones. Just don't call her Dusty Springfield GRADE: C

Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
The best part of this dense instrumental album is its clever title - which is also deceiving. This isn't a Motorhead cover band, but a good reference point for the  kind of record Jimmy Eat World were aiming for when they made 2004's Futures Eerie and ominous, these Scottish post-rockers, now in their 16th year, have the chops to make riffs as melodies work, only problem is, it's a rehash of their better days. Tool fans will love it... sort of. GRADE: C

Nicole Atkins - Mondo Amore
There is something to be said for her confidence in her own womanhood, Zooey Daschannel should take a hint from this Jersey girl. But while her sexy blues songs may stir up a few suppressed feelings of desire, the other songs come off as a less annoying Sara Bareilles. At least Atkidns admits she writes love songs. GRADE: C
Key Tracks: Vultures  / My Baby Don't Lie

Jessica Lea Mayfield - Tell Me
"I have a dream and the dream is perfection, I have a dream and that dream is so far away." At least this up and coming sad country girl knows her goals are unobtainable. She wants to sound like the grown up Taylor Swift will never be, but is too blatant about it. Ditto to Black Keys front man David Auerbach, who produced the record in hopes of giving her "indie cred". The boys she cries about would like her more if she had a more interesting role to play besides the damsel in distress. Yawn.GRADE: C

Bright Eyes - The People's Key
Connor Oberst's last outing in his pet band, is also his strangest. Don't believe me? Just listen to the first three minutes of the opening track, where a friend of Oberst dishes out theories on aliens, evolution and Hitler. Never mind how the rest of the song works in it's own limited way, you'll spend twenty seconds fast forwarding through stupidity for a pay off which isn't worth the hassesl. He'll win you over again on some decent tunes, only to let the lunatic out of his cage on other songs. It's not brilliant, just silly. Buh Bye. GRADE: C-
Key Tracks: Jejune Stars / Ladder Song

...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead - Tao of the Dead
Proudly progressive and shamelessly silly, these concept rockers could be a decent straight forward rock band if they just learned that, regardless of their approach, their songs would still be disposable. It's up to you guys. 15 minute songs filled with junk, or 3 minute toss offs. GRADE: C-

The Game - Purp & Patron
This free mixtape from one of rap's least interesting figures continues in his streak of bland. He can't think of anything clever to say on his own, so he quotes more capable people while copping what Drake (I know right?) does more effectively. When he tries to rhyme on his own, the smartest he'll get is "My pants are on fire, blow me" or "I just want to fuck". The guest stars carry the songs only sparingly, but that depends on how much tolerance you have for T-Pain. GRADE: D
Key Track: Ashes to Ashes