Sound Bites: Ben Nichols, O Pioneers, Two Cow Garage and more

After a brief hiatus, Sound Bites, our economy-sized album reviews, is back. In this first edition, Andy Thomas weighs in on five recent national releases from Ben Nichols from Lucero (pictured left), O Pioneers, Two Cow Garage, Portugal. The Man and Jessica Lea Mayfield with Blasphemy after the jump.

Ben Nichols, Last Pale Light in the West (Liberty & Lament). Nichols doesn't stray far away from the formula that brought his band, Lucero, success. However, Last Pale Light, delves deeper into Nichol's personality, playing less on the crazy drunken nights and more on the life-examining next day hangover. Pale should have Lucero fans frothing at the mouth for the group's forthcoming major label debut.

O Pioneers, Neon Creeps (Asian Man). Many musicians shut themselves off and become reclusive in times of turmoil. O Pioneers take a different approach and shout their frustrations with "cool kids" and day jobs loudly over lightly distorted power chords. Grab a friend and shout along. Catharses never sounded so aggressive.

Two Cow Garage, Speaking in Cursive (Suburban Home). This Ohio quartet loses the twang it has long been associated with and replaces it with abrasive, emotional rock worthy of any Crazy Horse session. Micah Schnabel's voice resonates with the pain and depth of a man on a twelve day whiskey binge with no solution in sight.

Portugal. The Man, Censored Colors (Equal Vision). Despite Sarah Palin's best attempts, Portugal. The Man prove that good things can come from Wasilla, Alaska. Censored Colors is flower-power-punk-rock perfection with hooks that reel you back in just before the trip makes you completely lose control. This album will "thrill baby thrill!"

Jessica Lea Mayfield, With Blasphemy So Heartfelt (Polymer Sounds). Here, Mayfield channels the spirit of Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval and walks her through a barbed wire wrecked southern field. Haunting melodies and emotionally macabre lyrics create a sound that can best be described as "ghost country."

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Andy Thomas is a music journalist who hopes other music journalists write nice things about the music he performs. He lives in Denver with his wife, their two cats and a massive pile of unfinished projects.
Contact: Andy Thomas