Thursday, July 29, 2010

Arcade Fire Manage Expecations

There will be a lot of talk about the new ARCADE FIRE record "The Suburbs". It is without a doubt one of the most hotly anticipated records of the year both critically and commercially. Their first two records were both musical masterpieces that have had people falling all over lead singer and principal songwriter Win Butler compared to a modern day Dylan and Springsteen. His command of lyrics and his ability to comment on the human condition have placed him in this rarefied air. Like Springsteen, Butler details life for the normal people highlighting the trials and tribulations of the everyman and his struggles to get ahead or merely survive. However, the music is more varied and nuanced than the Boss. Rather than bludgeoning you with big guitars and sax solos, Arcade Fire use a multi-instrumental approach that highlights crafted guitar and bass work with additional flourishes of other instruments.

With their newest album, the band takes on life in modern day Suburbia. "The Suburbs" as an album aims to show the state of life outside of the big city for a typical nuclear family. Now in most people's mind the notion of the post cold war nuclear family is already antiquated but Butler's point throughout the record is that it's still there, just hidden from view. "Modern Man" takes us into the mind of the husband/dad figure and his concerns about where his life is and where it's going. "City With No Children" echoes lost opportunities and laments the author's "private prison".

The album turns both sonically and lyrically with the two part "Half Light" that showcases Regine Chassagne's contribution as lead singer. There is also a sonic shift as the second "Half Light" echoes shades of electronic music that is eerily 80's in sound. The other two part song "The Sprawl" ends the record with the notion that modern society is full of interconnecting lives that really don't connect at all.

"The Suburbs" is musical heavy lifting. It takes several listens to warm to it and get inside the meaning of the record. While on the surface it's not as dark as "Neon Bible" and has less of a blues feel than that masterwork, it becomes a deeper record over time. I have little doubt it will be a top record for the year on most best of lists. And it deserves it.

**The other option for posting was the title track but to be honest it's my least favorite song on the album so you get this driving rock song instead. Enjoy!!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tired Pony = Country Snow Patrol

Two records popped up on my radar in the last two days and I still haven't wrapped my head around what I want to say about the new ARCADE FIRE record, so I pontificate about this oddity instead.

TIRED PONY is a side project of SNOW PATROL front man Gary Lightbody. Lightbody has referred to this as a country record using some heavyweight American musicians to support his musings. What the record does is highlights one of the conundrums facing all singers...namely, that he can't change how he sings. "Dead American Writers", the first single, is exactly like every Snow Patrol song ever written only with a slide guitar. Using Singer/Actress Zooey Deschanel as a duet partner on two songs rekindles his work with Martha Wainwright on earlier records. His songwriting style of stream of conscious lyrics with no chorus is still here as well. One would think that a solo venture would challenge Lightbody to tinker with his sound.

Then there is Peter Buck. Buck has long been one of my favorite guitar players for his way of attacking songs and giving them edge and fire. Even when he takes to the mandolin he does it so distinctly that his signature is all over the songs. His work with the MINUS 5, HINDU LOVE GODS and TUATARA showed that even outside of REM he still remains distinct. Here though he seems replaceable. There is no sight of his imprint on the band's sound. It's as if he was swallowed up in Lightbody's songs and can't find his own place in them. "Pieces" does have echoes of some of the guitar work from later era REM, but elsewhere he could be any guitar player for hire.

Is it a bad album? No. It's a remarkably easy record to listen to, like most Snow Patrol records. "Northwestern Skies", "Dead American Writers" and Get On The Road" are nice pop songs that are catchy. But one wonders what might have been if Lightbody had been more adventurous and Buck a little more prevalent in the songwriting mix.

(mp3) Tired Pony -- Dead American Writers (link removed due to DMCA Complaint)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

KaiserCartel Live @ Hotel Cafe

Okay, let me get this out of the way first. My wife has long been a fan of this band and I have for the most part ignored them. I tend to be less than enthralled with female singer songwriter stuff. Though I have fond memories of 10,000 MANIACS, TORI AMOS and the like, my tastes mostly fall toward the male dominated stuff (easier to sing in the car I guess). So I approached last night's show at Hotel Cafe with slightly less enthusiasm than the usual musical sojourn. So here it is, I was wrong, my dear wife. They were excellent and I can't stop humming their songs.

There is something endearing about seeing a band in a tiny venue. There must have been about 40 people in the room. The band had no roadies and no pretense to their performance. All you had was a singer/guitarist and a singer/drummer. The sound was crisp and the intimate setting allowed you to really absorb the music. Lead singer Courtney Kaiser has a nice dulcet tone to her vocals that is in many ways reminiscent of THE COWBOY JUNKIES and THE THROWING MUSES. This was most evident on some of the newer songs off their second album, "Secret Transit", particularly "Riverboat Dream" and "The Wait."

When the band turns up the amps they have a nice shuffle and shake to their sound that showed up on the standout songs of the set like "Worn Out Nervous Condition" and "Ready To Go" (which was the catchiest song of the set). When drummer Benjamin Cartel took the lead on "Minefield" the sound morphed into something akin to Elliot Smith. It takes a lot to make me change my mind about a band, but their show did it for me, sealed by their walking through the crowd for a acoustic performance of "Memphis".

Top it off with the fact that the band mans it's own merchandise stand after the show and you can't help but root for them to find at least enough success where they get some help on the road. Take some time to go buy their new record.

(mp3) Kaiser Cartel -- Worn Out Nervous Condition

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Meet Delorean (no...not the car)

I cannot take credit in any way shape or form for discovering the joy of DELOREAN on my own. The ever hipper-than-me Ed from 17 Seconds posted about them about a month ago and I have since come to the conclusion that his assessment of the brilliance of the record is very appropriate. What struck me about listening to this is how organic it all seems. Even thou at it's heart, "Subiza" is a get off your ass dance album, it draws many comparisons in my mind to early NEW ORDER. The use of dance rhythms in a rock context was a staple of the Manchester icons sound and much of that imprint has found its way to these Spanish lads. "Stay Close" is about the best example of records sound, with it's high pitched sample vocals and skittering drum beats. As you listen to the record more and more you start to hear the little flourishes of keyboard or guitar that dot the songs and give them context and depth.
The New Order comparison extends beyond the music to include the slightly off key, slightly monotone vocal delivery of Ekhi Lopetegi (who is like Bernard Sumner but with a cool accent) on songs like "Endless Sunset" and "Simple Graces". Hell, they even created their own Hacienda-like club in Barcelona to play and recruit other artists to their sound.

Just how successful the band will be with the absence of any real lyrical threads to their songs remains to be seen. It is clear that they aspire to move beyond club life and into the mainstream of music with this record. It is also clear that this is one of the best records of 2010, and from a place where you wouldn't expect.

Monday, July 12, 2010

New Future of Forestry

Usually when I sit down to write a review of something I use the same process. I start by listening to the record once or twice before starting to formulate ideas about angles I will write on. Then I start to research the band looking for information about history and influences. So when I started looking into FUTURE OF FORESTRY I was suprised to see that they are listed as "Christian Rock". Why did this suprise me? Because often bands will shy away from this moniker for fear that it will lessen their ability to be marketed to the mainstream. In fact, lead singer Eric Owyoung said as much in a 2007 interview. But does this change the way I relate to the record?

Musically the album has a lot of similarities to RADIOHEAD and their offspring. It's actually a pretty good record. But does the band's openness about their desire to not only play music but to preach to the unconverted change my feelings about what they play? Now I'm not trying to challenge anyone's faith (far be it for me to delve into any level of spiritual discourse on such a trivial thing as a blog. In fact, I am trying to purposely keep my own spiritual affiliation vague for that reason) and after all, didn't U2 start out with the same mission? Have they and other artists used music as an exploration of faith and devotion to a higher being or purpose? Why is that we only classify Christian rock and not Buddhist or Muslim rock? Ultimately, if the music is good and the songs have depth and passion and conviction in their message that should be enough. So as I type now with the knowledge that Future of Forestry sees itself as both a religiously convicted band as well as a band with a desire to be heard by a greater audience I don't feel as limited in my thinking. Before I might have dismissed the record as something that is "not for me" but I still listen to the songs and the music and fall in love with the melodies and the guitar work.

Music is about moving people to places of deep emotion, whether be in the service of love or pain or sadness. A band's personal beliefs, or their stated mission to share those beliefs with others, does not interfere with that pursuit. Just trust me and listen to the songs. They are really good and deserve to be heard...

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

It's almost embarrassing to admit liking this song.

As I dabbled in a variety of musical genres throughout high school and college I picked up some peculiar songs along the way. I'm sure we all have these little hidden treasures from the time we jumped head first into liking rap music or that month long flirtation with glam rock that came with dating a girl who teased her hair and used a bit too much Aquanet. There was a time when I spent some of my days perusing the goth world mostly due to the fact that I was hanging out with a lot of drama students and trying hard to seem edgier than I really was. Out of this time period came an appreciation for BAUHAUS, LOVE AND ROCKETS, SISTERS OF MERCY and THE MISSION UK. I can't really say what appealed to me about the style of music other than it was so over the top that you had to appreciate the sheer conviction of the artist for putting such noise down for public consumption. So when I rolled across an old Mission UK song in my catalogue, all the sights and sounds of that sophomore year in high school came rushing back.

Now I was what you might call a poser to the goth scene. I own no eye-liner or have ever dyed my hair. I have nothing pierced or tattooed. I can't claim any sort of inner turmoil to send me scribbling into a notebook (which is probably why I never learned to play guitar...damn you normal, stable family life!!). But for some reason, "Deliverance", with it's allusions to fairy queens and the fall of Babylon screamed at the top of one's lungs in a 1986 red Dodge D50 pickup seemed right to me. Upon reflection it must have been a bit disconcerting seeing a preppy white kid with short blond hair modeled more after Zach from SAVED BY THE BELL without the impish charms shouting "Give Me Deliverance...brothers, sisters." But damn it all if the song didn't sound kick ass at the time. And you know what, after three listens as I write still kind of does. Let the mocking begin.

(mp3) The Mission UK -- Deliverance

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Glass Vaults make pretty music

I often wonder how new bands have a prayer of getting discovered in today's highly fractured marketplace. With radio being overrun by American Idol and bad pop music and no real major print outlets left (sorry but Rolling Stone just ain't what it used to be), it seems that it takes a major alignment of the stars to get a band any sort of exposure. Even the blogosphere is so vast that it would take a huge serendipitous chain of events and postings to get the exposure necessary to be found. Now, that's not to say it doesn't happen. Bands like FRIGHTENED RABBIT, THE ARCADE FIRE, and BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE have all found a modicum of success without the traditional methods of exposure to the listening audience. But in most cases, all a band can do is plug away and hope for the best.

I bring this up due in large part to a weekly e-mail I get from Insound. I signed up for their free mp3 of the week ages ago and on most weeks I ignore it. I have no real reason for playing this week's submission other than I was bored with what is currently on my playlist and needed to hear something new. So color me shocked with the sample track from Wellington, New Zealand's Glass Vaults. "Forget Me Not" inhabits the space occupied by m83, loopier RADIOHEAD tracks, and ANIMAL COLLECTIVE (which I swear is what I heard prior to reading their bio which name checked those exact bands.) Although the rest of their ep is a bit spacier and tends to find it's way into the SIGUR ROS territory, it still is a very intriguing listen (particularly late at night in headphones). Will GLASS VAULTS be a big success and sell loads of records? Probably not. But do the deserve to be heard? Very much so and you should take time to listen to what they have won't be sorry.

Visit the bands bandcamp site for more of their stuff