Saturday, December 31, 2011

IMHO: The Top 20 of 2011

Here is my opinion of the top 20 records of the past year. For a more detailed breakdown of each song visit my new Tumblr page (

1. Death cab for cutie -- codes and keys
2. M83 -- hurry up, we're dreaming
3. Tv on the radio -- nine kinds of light
4. Radiohead -- the king of limbs
5. Found -- Factorycraft
6. Noah and the whale -- last night on earth
7. The decemberists -- the king is dead
8. rem -- collapse into now
9. Friendly fires -- Pala
10. Noel Gallagher -- Noel gallagher's high flying birds
11. Coldplay -- mylo xyloto
12. Bright eyes -- the peoples key
13. Beirut --the rip tide
14. Wilco -- the whole love
15. Black keys -- el camino
16. Cassettes wont listen -- Evinspacey
17. We were promised jetpacks -- in the pit of the stomach
18. The war on drugs -- slave ambient
19. Mogwai -- hardcore will never die, but you will
20. Release the sunbird --release the sunbird
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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Noel Gallagher goes it alone

The level of acrimony that exists in the Gallagher household must make Christmas an interesting experience. After the very public break-up of OASIS, both Liam and Noel have now released records with new "bands". Where Liam's BEADY EYE was flat out awful, the expectations for NOEL GALLAGHER'S HIGH FLYING BIRDS are much higher. Universally considered the real talent of Oasis, Noel steps to the mic full time with the weight of his career squarely on his shoulders for the first time.

Gallagher has always had a gift for melody and he spares no expense to craft a pop record. The opening majesty of "Everybody's on the Run" sets a tone of classic rock to the set of songs. This is followed by a shuffle and stomp number entitled "Dream On" that echoes some of the early releases of his former band and at the same time details his struggles to keep clean in his new adult life. "If I Had A Gun..." marks the introduction of the "Wonderwall" acoustic sound as the song recalls the sense of longing that has been in his writing since the beginning. "The Death of You and Me" is really the first sign of any divergence from the Beatles inspired manual, with a bit of a country twang to the guitar and an old piano tinkling in the background. You have to wonder if this is a song of lost love or lost brotherly connection. "(I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine" is a full on sing along full of epic strings and a soaring vocal performance. It's a highlight of the record for sure. "AKA...What A Life" follows that with a sense of positivity not often found in Noel's lyrical profile. Is his appreciation of life due to the freedom from the Oasis drama? The closing "Stop the Clocks" brings the record to a sweeping conclusion in true Oasis fashion.

It's hard to judge this record without considering Noel's prior band. What if this had been a proper Oasis record? You can imagine what some of these might have sounded like with Liam singing (whose voice has a deeper range to it for sure.) Noel has invested more in this album than the last couple Oasis record for sure. It is certainly a good album but once has to wonder would this have been the next great Oasis record if they could have worked out their family issues?

(mp3) Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds -- (I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bjork's Dark Fairy Tale

I'm not sure anyone could have predicted the type of career BJORK has had. From pixieish lead singer of the dance pop band THE SUGARCUBES to solo club diva to leading lady of the electronic music movement, Bjork has used her unique voice and ear for melody to make her both commercially viable and critical darling all at once. Now on her 8th solo record, "Biophilia" finds Bjork continuing to push her own personal and professional boundaries developing new instruments to get the sounds she wants.

The opening track, "Moon", is a lullaby of sorts to nature that features Bjork's voice meshing with the tinkling of a toy piano. "Thunderbolt" washes a muted beat with synths and strings in a track that recalls her classic "Hyberballad". The single "Crystaline" blows the doors off the record with it's cacophony of beats and drum n bass tempo like something from APHEX TWIN. The middle portion of the record is definitely downtempo, with "Dark Matter" serving as the musical equivalent of walking through the woods on a dark and creepy evening. "Hollow" continues that feel with ominous strings taking the listener through the night before a deep bass line grabs the song and blasts it into the future. I get the feeling that in someone else's hands "Virus" would have been a saccharine  pop song but with Bjork in charge, it's more of a baroque torch song. "Sacrifice" replicates "Crystaline's" slow build to beat heaven trick to lesser success, but I'm sure someone will remix the hell out of it. The record comes to a close with the soft acoustic picking of "Solstice", which is like waking from a very dark dream into the morning light.

Bjork has said the this record is about the combination of nature and technology and although the  record is more images than straight ahead thoughts, one can see the connection. The absence of her old pop hooks makes this a tough listen and will not really garner her any new followers. There are no club stompers here, just musings in the classical and jazz senses. I'm not sure I love this record as much as her others, but fans of hers will no doubt continue to place her on her pedestal as one of the most innovative musicians creating music today.

(mp3) Bjork -- Sacrifice

For those who miss the dancy feel of her early work check out this remix of "Virus" which updates it for the club masses.

(mp3) Bjork -- Virus (Them Jeans Remix)

Thursday, September 08, 2011

M83 get amibtious about dreams

Ambition is a tricky wicket. We want our musicians to extend themselves beyond their boundaries and explore new sounds. But we also want them to replicate the songs that made us first fall in love with them. We want new music from them on a regular basis but not at the expense of the ability to digest it and appreciate it. RYAN ADAMS and PRINCE have often been accused of musical megalomania by release a ton of stuff without any real regard to the overall quality. GUNS N' ROSES effectively ended their career by releasing a double album when one at a time would have sufficed. THE STONE ROSES couldn't seem to get their shit together to release a second record for over a decade, and when they did the wait made it a disappointment. It's a hard thing to time your ambition just right.

M83 have accomplished such a rare feat. Three years after their last record, the band (essentially one member at this point, Frenchman Anthony Gonzalez), has released a magnum opus entitled "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming". The double record contains 22 songs of sheer brilliance. Culling from the past catalogue of sounds from their early shoegazer material through their most recent forays into 80's synth pop, M83 have recreated and updated their sound at the same time.

Opening with the epic "Intro", it is clear that Gonzalez has opened up the effects panels on his guitar, which frames quest Zola Jesus' vocals nicely. From there the record soars through the anthemic "Midnight City" and "Reunion". "Wait" has a sleep acoustic feel, which is new for M83. "Claudia Lewis" has a retro HOWARD JONES feel to it (don't laugh it's really good). Their are instrumental interludes that serve as resting stops along the journey. Gonzalez has said that the bulk of the record has to do with dreams or a dreaming state. "Soon, My Friend", another acoustic number, is very much a lullaby to a child. M83 have started to fiddle with more straight ahead songs on recent records, but here the size of the record makes that harder to do. There are a lot of short bursts of musical ideas that aren't really fleshed out, and are not meant to be. It's as if you are inside someones dreams as they come and go.

"My Tears Are Becoming A Sea" opens the second disc with a crescendo of drums and strings like your soaring over mountains and out to the ocean. "New Map" roars the record back to life with the more traditional M83 sound. "OK Pal" readdresses the 80's sound of their last record, feeling like something left off a John Hughes soundtrack. "Year One, One UFO" revisits the use of pre-recorded interviews to add to the texture of the song that was so prevalent on the band's early work. By the time you reach the instrumental "Outro", you are ready to wake up, not from exhaustion but from a feeling you have seen all their is and you are ready to tell your friends.

The record could have been trimmed a bit, but I think it would have sacrificed the artist's intent to deliver on his own ambition. I can't imagine where he goes form here, but if his next journey is as good as this one, we are in for a real experience.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

PPP (Part 18)

I've been reminscing a lot about the music of my youth. Not in a melocholy, crap I'm getting old sort of way. More of a wow, that was seem really good stuff sort of way. Even though I missed the boat on the PSYCHEDELIC FURS the first time around, I still enjoy this song quite a bit;

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Wilco's "The Whole Love"

Wilco's journey to one of America's premier rock bands has been an unusual one. Rising from the ashes of the seminal alternative country band UNCLE TUPELO, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy has been on a mission to see just how odd and obscure he could make his country twang sound. The first three Wilco records play like more commercial versions of the Tupelo sound. Then came "Yankee Foxtrot Hotel". With "Hotel" Tweedy and his revolving band of musicians began melding the rock sound with spacier elements to create atmospheric epics that featured odd instrumentation and more obscure wordsmithing. This continued with "A Ghost is Born" before a slight return to earth with their last record "Sky Blue Sky."

Wilco's latest record, "The Whole Love" continues to seek a middle ground between the original work and the more grandiose dreams of the more recent output. Opening with the 7 minute clicky "Art of Almost" the listener prepares themselves for another listening foray into the unknown. But Tweedy offers us a curveball with the fuzzy bass driven "I Might" as the second song. "Might" plays off like a vintage 60's rock song. "Sunloathe" seems like something from the BEACH BOYS collection of oddities with it's piano tinkling and soft vocals. "Dawned on Me" revels in it's feedback before settling into a nice rhythm and has the sound of a radio single from the heyday of AM radio. "Black Moon" has a dark acoustic guitar line to lead us through Tweedy's song of searching for truth. "Born Alone" glides along a rat-a-tat drum beat before the guitar picks up the track for the ride. The title track, "The Whole Love", is sunny number about a man who knows he is hard to get along with. "One Sunday Morning (song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)", could easily scare a listener off at over 12 minutes but it is well worth the investment. Tweedy sounds like a little Bob Dylan ish here as the song seems to wander around a acoustic guitar until it settles in. The band forsakes any studio trickery and plays it straight. What comes is a jam feeling as if they recorded it on the porch of some old southern home in the last summer.

Wilco's latest doesn't have the ambition of "Hotel" or "Ghost" and in many ways is a nod to their past as Uncle Tupelo. Those hoping for the sonic soundscapes of those records will be a bit disappointed. But those of us who take our music with a sense of authenticity will find the record gaining in stature with every listen.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Warpaint: Making Chicks Rock!!

I have been accused by The Wife of only liking music made by men. She thinks that I have some sort of pre-disposition to tuning out music made by women. I argue that the primary reason I tend to gravitate to the male-centric music is mostly because I can't sing that high in the car driving to and from work. But that doesn't mean when a good record by a female fronted band comes along I ignore it.

Such is the case with WARPAINT. This all girl collective make grandiose, somewhat maudlin art rock that would appeal to those who long for the day of SIOUXSIE AND THE BASNHEES. The debut album, "The Fool", would not be out of place if it had been released at the height of the goth movement. "Set Your Arms Down" glides along a shimmery guitar line that sounds as if it was left over from LUSH. The record explodes with the single "Warpaint", which comes off like a refugee from vintage 4AD records. "Undertow" benefits from the meshed dual female vocal approach to give the song a swimming feel to it. "Bees" takes advantage of a manufactured drum beat and a big fat bass line to offset vocalist Emily Kokal's ethereal vocals. The record slows down in the second half and adopts a more medieval chamber music sound which, in my opinion, is not as captivating as the first part. But it is still full of interesting musical ideas.

Somewhere my inner CURE fan is rejoicing that I took some time with this record. It is in no way a summer record, but something tells me come winter I will be driving down the freeway trying to mimic these vocals. It just won't sound as good as what these girls can do.

(mp3) Warpaint -- Warpaint

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Remembering Good Will Hunting

Sometimes late at night, after everyone has gone to bed, I get a chance to sit and watch TV. Usually this takes the form of a baseball or basketball game (or highlights of the night's sports action). Every once in awhile I will flip to a film I have seen a hundred times before (The "Shawshank Redemption" or "Ocean's Eleven" are popular ones on TV right now). Tonight, it was "Good Will Hunting". I hadn't seen it in it's entirety in a long time but I was captivated once more.

For those who may have forgotten, the film centers around the troubled Will Hunting, a genius struggling with various psychological issues. The central character, after getting into trouble with the law, is mandated into counseling where he meets Sean Maguire, a somewhat troubled in his own right psychology professor. Together they strive to get Will moving ahead with his life and attempt to reach his seemingly limitless potential.

Two things struck me about watching the film again. First, the acting is tremendous. It's hard to remember that when the film was made in 1997 both Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were relative unknowns. A lot was made of the fact that they wrote the script (which won an Oscar), but their acting in the film was as genuine and authentic as I can recall. These were characters that they knew so well, that it stopped being acting and became living as these people. Robin Williams, who also won an Oscar as Maguire, was a revelation in subtlety as a grieving man who sees a bit of himself in Will. The relationship between the two is so rich and detailed, it was clear the actors enjoyed working together even through the darkest of dialogue patches.

The other aspect that hit me was how perfect ELLIOT SMITH's music was a running soundtrack for the film. Smith, himself a troubled young man who suffered from depression and died at age 34 of apparent suicide, uses his hushed vocals and acoustic guitar as a means of giving the film emotional depth. "Angeles" and "Between The Bars" and "Say Yes" float into the film to give us a connection to Will as he tries to relate to people in new and sometimes painful ways. By the end of the film, as Will leaves Boston to chase down the girl he has fallen for over the course of the movie, Smith delivers his tour-de-force gem "Miss Misery". In a way the song exemplifies the character and the film itself. It's a song of both hope and despair as the singer details how he's trying to just make it through the day.

It's not often that a film ages well. Actors get older and we remember them for newer roles. Damon and Affleck have both gone on to bigger fame (both in and out of acting). Williams will always be a comedian at heart. Minnie Driver, who plays Will's girlfriend, has graduated to adult roles that have robbed her of her charm. But for one night, I was re-introduced to the world of Good Will Hunting. I can't think of a better reason to stay up late.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Boy and Bear or sometimes you can tell by an album cover

There are those times when you look at an album cover or a band name and you just get a feeling. When I glanced at the debut full length by Australian band BOY AND BEAR I knew I would like it. After a morning of digesting their album I think I am in serious love with it. Sometimes you can just tell.

The record opens with the solemn "Lordy May" which marches like a funeral dirge that opens into a celebration of life. The stomping bass line of "Feeding Line" marks the real sound of the band as lead singer Dave Hosking's earthy vocals plead to become someone else. "Milk and Sticks" adds a hammond organ to the sound to great effect (and we all know I'm a sucker for a good organ). "Part Time Believer' whistles a quasi-happy tune that echoes the 70's revival that is currently afoot (i.e. FLEET FOXES, BON IVER). The album slows down with the plaintive "My Only One" before the country romp "Golden Jabilee". The closing duo of Dylan inspired tunes "Beach" and "Big Man" which has a distinct MUMFORD AND SONS tinge to it, wrap up the set in fine form.

Given the success of Mumford there is no reason to think this album shouldn't find some commercial success. Hopefully, people find it as enjoyable as I have each time I run through it's inspired collection of songs.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

John Craig & The Weekend...conceptually

Concept records are tricky business. If the story is too obtuse or hard to follow the listener won't stick around for the whole thing to unfold. If the songs lack a pop hook to them, it makes them hard to digest. However, if the story is interesting and the band uses the music to help propel the idea, then they can be quite entertaining. While not a true concept record (at least that's what I got from the record promoters liner notes), their does appear to be a song cycle embedded in the debut record by JOHN CRAIG and THE WEEKEND.

Craig has a falsetto voice that is not unlike Geddy Lee of RUSH. But musically, the band takes on a chameleon approach to each song. The opening pop salvo "Newstories" is rooted in a slight Prog rock vibe. "We Are Whatever" hangs its hat on a big fat bass line like some jazz club bar brawl. "Don't Think Make Mistakes Part One and Two" are the centerpiece of the record with part one relying a tinkling piano and Craig morphing into an 80's pop crooner. "Part Two" dips it's toes into electro-clash drumbeats to match the intensity of the darkening mood of the record. Later in the record Craig duets with Nicole Berke on the beautiful "Sink or Swim". "Numbers", the title track, has a DAVID BOWIE like spacey feel to it and closes the set with a swirl of keyboards and soulful "oohing" and "aahing".

I can't really say if there is a lyrical thread to the entire record, but the journey through various styles and song structures in conceptually very interesting. Surely a record that I will listen to further.

(mp3) John Craig and the Weekend -- Don't Think Make Mistakes Part Two

Saturday, July 30, 2011

PPP (Part 17)

When talking about the band GARBAGE you have to start with Shirley Manson. It's rare to find a combination of beauty and talent like hers. I met her prior to her days in Garbage when she fronted the band ANGELFISH and she was very nice at the time. Then I heard "Vow", the lead single from Garbage and I was hooked. I know they were popular in the 90's and sold a ton of records but I still feel that they were undersold a bit. Here is a live performance of their first single (since Interscope sucks and doesn't let their videos be embedded);

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Missing The 80's? Try The War On Drugs

THE WAR ON DRUGS want to turn back the clock and make believe that all music ended in about 1985. Drawing on touchstones such a vintage BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, TOM PETTY and later day BOB DYLAN, the War on Drugs craft an ode to Reagan era pop music that ends up sounding a lot like the most recent ARCADE FIRE album.

This is not meant as a slam on the bands most recent work, "Slave Ambient". In fact I quite like the record and have a deeper appreciation for it each time I dive into it. But it's hard to get passed the comparisons. Lead singer Adam Granducial morphs his voice to imitate Petty in one song, then Bruce, then Dylan. One the opening track, the medium paced "Best Night" he takes Petty's southern twang out for a spin. "Brothers" actually sounds like a BRUCE HORNSBY song minus the piano (which is saying something since that was his signature instrument.) "Your Love is Calling My Name" and "Baby Missiles" are where the Arcade Fire comps come in. The mix of keyboards, driving drums and Granducial's yelping vocals would have been very much at home on "The Suburbs". "Come to the City" has a touch of 80's era U2 with the chorus like remnant of "With or Without You".

The joy of listening to this record is not in a sense of originality but in how the band takes such care to honor their musical heroes without totally falling into outright karaoke. It's a high wire act for sure, but one that they pull off with admirable ability.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Full Length Release The Sunbird

A couple of months ago I previewed the lead single from Zach Rogue of ROGUE WAVE's solo record under the moniker of RELEASE THE SUNBIRD. Now the full length record is out and it is magnificent. Rogue has said the record was a chance to make a vocal heavy record that was softer in tone and subject matter than the usual Rogue Wave records and he has succeeded.

The opening acoustic strums of "It's All Around You" led to a drum beat and guitar line that is reminiscent of his day job but with a nice hammond organ addition. From there the record charts it's own course. The title track, "Come Back To Us", drifts on a acoustic strum and a shared vocal with singer Kate Long. The dual vocals highlight Rogue's own sensitive hushed vocal style to great effect. "No Light" has a nice shuffle to it driven by a bass line that slithers around the lyrics. "Best Thing For Me" is full of "oohs and aahs" as he does his best JACK JOHNSON impression. "Back Strikes Back" is a bluesy verse accompanied by a sunny chorus for an oddly captivating dissonance in song structure. "Running Away From Me" dips it's toes in a country twang that would not be lost on RYAN ADAMS. The closing number, "Outlook's Anonymous", borrows from THE BEATLES playbook to a nice coda to the work. The songs slow build never really materializes to anything epic but gives the listener a sense of finishing to an immaculate collection of song craft.

Rogue has said that this record does not signal the end of Rogue Wave but merely a chance to stretch out his vocal talents. I hope that some of his experiments here find their way into the cannon of Rogue Wave musical skills. It would make them that much better of a band, and that is saying something.

(mp3) Release The Sunbird -- Come Back To Us (link removed by request)

Monday, July 25, 2011

PPP (Part 16)

I often think CATHERINE WHEEL gets overlooked as one of the best bands of the shoegazer movement. Sure, subsequent albums were more rock oriented, but their debut is still a full on force of nature. "Black Metallic" is, for me at least, one of the greatest songs ever.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The World Weary Sound of Beirut

BEIRUT have risen to a blog level of fame due to the infusion of Middle Eastern instrumentation into a folk pop sound led by Zach Condon and his musings on life, love and politics. Now on their third record, "The Rip Tide", Beirut seeks to move into the mainstream by honing their sound and smoothing out the edges.

From the opening horns of "A Candle's Fire" it is obvious that Condon has a pop sensibility to his work. "Santa Fe" is a straight up pop song about moving on and away from the comforts of home. The piano line drives the song like a car on a dusty road. 'East Harlem", the records first single, sounds more like a traditional Beirut song with flourishes of old style piano and horns dripping off the song as it rambles around Condon's vocals. "Goshen" shows off the band's epic sensibilities as the slow ballad gives way to a sweeping collage of sounds and Condon's soaring falsetto. The second half of the record does get a bit repetitive as the songs sort of blend together. Things come to a nice close with the acoustic "Port of Call" that echoes the themes of moving away from the things one loves. You can almost see Condon playing this one in Union Station waiting for change from people passing by.

Beirut have all the potential to challenge bands like ARCADE FIRE as the new generation of important bands. This move to a more mainstream sound is the first step.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Introducing...The Atolls

THE ATOLLS are a two piece outfit from Glendora, CA. Being that this is practically across the street from where I live I feel compelled to give them some love. That and they are pretty damn good as well.

Most two piece rock outfits have some toehold in old school blues or noise rock. That makes the BLACK KEYS and WHITE STRIPES the comparison point for other duos. The Atolls eschew these styles for a more lo-fi SEBADOH approach to music. Their self titled debut ep has a little something for everyone into indie rock.

"Older Nazi Boyfriends" does have a bit of bluesy rip to it with vocals that are very punk rock in their tones (little David Byrne in the verses). "Low Tide" is a softer, darker ballad that drifts over a JOY DIVISION style dirge. "Tangles" is probably my favorite as it finds the band mining a simple guitar line to a nice crescendo. "Something I'm Not Supposed To Do" has the makings of an epic as it starts out slowly then builds into a fuzzy collapse onto itself.

You can get the digital download for free here. Enjoy!!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Work Drugs want you on the beach

WORK DRUGS are a Philadelphia duo that make electronic music for beach reading. This is not a bad thing. There latest ep, "Tropic of Capricorn", should be required listening for lounging around the pool or by the shore. The songs seemed to be coated in lazy rays of sunshine and a little bit of tequila to make them smoother.

"Curious Serge' opens the set with soft synth line and simple drum beat. Vocalist Thomas Crystal never his voice above a hushed tone interrupt the groove being mined. "Rad Racer" is a little faster paced and has a killer hook for a chorus. "Golden Sombrero" is a retro 80's inspired keyboard vamp that could have passed for vintage OMD. The elegiac "Sunset Junction" swims lazily along a soft guitar line and shared male/female vocals. "Third Wave" returns to the earlier beat pattern and resets the mood of the ep as an after hours bar somewhere in the Caribbean. After the slow comedown of "Dog Daze" comes the acoustic take of "Rad Racer" Here the song is re imagined as a simple troubadour playing some tiki bar sound stage.

Work Drugs should just move to Tahiti and mine the summer circuit to notoriety. Their music was made for summer days and nights.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

PPP (Part 15)

The return of the Perfect Pop Song Video series leads us to the first thing I ever heard from SUEDE. These lads were supposed to be the next incarnation of THE SMITHS and while they never attained that height here in the US, the did make a few interesting records (which are being re-released with bonus stuff). Here is "Animal Nitrate" off their debut record;

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Introducing...Shoot The Image

Toronto, Canada's SHOOT THE IMAGE have released their debut album "Cranes in The City", a collection of songs that mines vintage Brit Pop sounds for the new millennium. There isn't much background information on the members of the band other than they appear to have a male and a female singer. The songs are a sleek combination of guitar and synthesizers and a female. male vocal tandem.

The opener of the album, "Fortified", has a faint touch of vintage ECHOBELLY in it with swirling guitar lines and driving drum beat. "Loveless" continues the upbeat music as the female voice carries the chorus as a chant. "Crane" is a softer synth driven number that sounds like an outtake from a SLEEPER record. "Vagabond" has the kind of bluesy start and stop guitar work made famous by the record producer. Morrissey's primary guitarist Boz Boorer. You can almost see this track being on one of Moz's early solo albums. The lead single, "Lithograph" is a retro 80's number that seems to wander around the groove like a late night taxi cab ride with the vocals like a distant relative of NANCY SINATRA. The record does drag a bit at the end before settling into the nice coda of a closer in "Sightlines".

I wish we knew more about the band, who appear to be a bit shy in most of their interviews. But on the strength of this record, they are certainly worth keeping an eye on if you have a nostalgic ear for the Britpop heyday.

(mp3) Shoot The Image -- Lithograph

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Leftist Rants of the One and Only Jello Biafra

For most people my age punk rock represents the rebellious nature of youth. Before the marketing machine got a hold of it, Punk was the purest form of expression you could get in music. Bands like BLACK FLAG, X and THE DEAD KENNEDYS came at life from the viewpoint of the disenfranchised and disassociated in a way that most teens could relate to. Even if you were like me and grew up in a stable, middle class environment, there was still an appeal to the anarchistic cry of the punk movement. Where NY punk was more artistic in form, the west coast scenes reveled in the sheer energy of the moment and had a more direct political bent. Leading that charge was JELLO BIAFRA.

Biafra was the manic ranting front man of the Dead Kennedys up until their dissolution over money (insert your own ironic joke here). Biafra has since formed a new collective, JELLO BIAFRA AND THE GUANTANAMO SCHOOL OF MEDICINE. Their latest ep is a 6 song collection called "Enhanced Methods of Questioning." Clearly time has not calmed Biafra down as the songs rip with the intensity and spark of the Kennedys. The music is a collection of punk shredding mixed with some blues and rockabilly not unlike THE REVEREND HORTON HEAT. on the 18 minute epic "Metamorphosis Exploration On Deviation Street Jam" the backing band noodles about like a house band for a spaghetti western as Biafra stretches out some his spoken word chops. Biafra still attacks the sacred cows of the day; corrupt politicians, mass consumerism in society, and the ever growing presence of technology in our lives. The highlight for me was the more straight ahead "Victory Stinks" which sounds like something GREEN DAY would record if they were allowed to be more adventurous.

Biafra has always been something of a Punk Rock benchmark for front men. His lyrical style is akin to a sledgehammer and he leaves nothing to chance. You will get his message through his sheer will or you just aren't paying attention. Either way, he will continue to push the envelope.

(mp3) Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine -- Victory Stinks

Monday, June 27, 2011

New Bjork!!

I have always had a soft spot for BJORK and her avant garde pop sensibilities. From her work with THE SUGARCUBES on through to her outstanding early solo work, Bjork has set the bar for the melding of electronic and pop. I have often thought that Madonna's later work was her trying to cop Bjork's sound for the mainstream. Here is the first new track from "Biophilia" due out later this year. It encompasses all wide range of genres as it starts with a tinkling piano before exploding into a full on Drum and Bass cacophony at the end. I have high hopes for the entire album.

Björk - Crystalline (Full New 2011) by El Ciervo Vulnerado

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cassettes Won't Listen and the indietronic movement

Indietronic is a new term I have come across recently. When describing a band or musician that makes music that is a bit retro 80's mixed with a dash of electronic noodling and a pinch of home producing magic, you get this new sound. Most people cite THE POSTAL SERVICE as the genesis of the genre and OWL CITY as the most commercially successful. From a creative standpoint, nobody beats CASSETTES WON'T LISTEN in my book.

Opening with the instrumental club number "Friendly Float", the record finds it's groove with the two singles "Perfect Day" and "The Echoes" which askew to the formula set forth by one of my all time favorite songs "Freeze and Explode". Jason Drake, the man behind the moniker, has a thin voice but he makes the most of it and doesn't try to make his lyrics the center stage. "The Night Shines" has a very DEPECHE MODE feel to it. The instrumental numbers come off a more assured than the vocal ones with standouts such as the trip hop flavored "Harp Darkness" and the blink and you'll miss it hip-hop of "Kingdom".

Cassettes Won't Listen will probably never make the pop charts. Drake seems to interested in sonic architecture to really ever dive into a true pop record. But his work should show up here and there enough to make him a voice to be heard from a long time.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Smooth Summer Sounds of Vetiver

VETIVER is the brainchild of Andy Cabic. Cabic and his revolving group of musicians have recently released their fifth album entitled "The Errant Charm' as the perfect sound for warm summer nights. Vetiver specialize is a slowed down, folky kind of the indie rock that would appeal to fans of ELLIOT SMITH and FLEET FOXES. I can just imagine turning the record on while sitting on the porch watching the sprinklers dust the lawn at dusk.

The opening strums of "It's Beyond Me" echo an acoustic take on "Love Will Tear Us Apart' until Cabic comes in with his hushed vocals. From there the vibes of THE BETA BAND take over to find a nice little groove. "Worse for Wear" continues the acoustic strum joined by a kick drum and a synth line that washes over the whole proceeding. "Can't You Tell" almost seems to stroll along to a skippy beat as Cabic evokes BECK at his folksy best. "Hard To Break" has a BYRDS feel to it as the acoustic guitar is ditched in favor a picked electric line. "Wonder Why" is a pure pop gem that will be a summer staple for the next three months. The record quiets down with the ending instrumental, "Soft Glass", that seems to signal the coming fall after month of warm shimmery light.

Vetiver are the kind of band that you might forget about until a song of theirs comes on, but when it does, for those few minutes, everything seems a little brighter.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Digitalism Loves You Dude

German dance duo DIGITALISM have made a name for themselves remixing other people's work on top of having some success on their own merit. With DAFT PUNK abdicating the techno thrown in favor of collaborations with rappers and soundtrack landscaping, Digitalism is poised to ascend to the top of the dance music mountain with their second release "I Love You, Dude"

This record has everything a dance music aficionado could hope for. The opening track is a thumping repetition of a rhythm entitled "Stratosphere" which bleeds into the poppier "2 Hearts" which is akin to DELPHIC or a more sanitized FRIENDLY FIRES. "Forest Gump" featuring Julian Cassablancas from The Strokes is the second official single and sounds as if lifted from the chase seen of a Bourne Film if it was recorded by Gary Numan. "Reeperbahn" takes the CHEMICAL BROTHERS beat patterns and vocal sampling in a very industrial direction. The highlight of the record is the club thumping "Miami Showdown" which recalls the best of THE CRYSTAL METHOD.

Clearly these boys have been studying the dance heavyweights playbook and what the record lacks in originality it more than makes up for in ridiculously catchy dance grooves. I'm sure we will be hearing more of this record is summer movie trailers to come.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Zach Rogue Releases the Sunbird

Zach Rogue has made his name as the frontman for ROGUE WAVE, which has been off and on, one of my favorite bands from the past 10 years or so. Rogue has decided to go solo under the new name of RELEASE THE SUNBIRD and the first song from his first solo record, coming out on July 26th.

The song, entitled "Always Like The Sun", is a soft piano and acoustic song that highlights Rogue's gentle vocals. A departure from Rogue Wave's more eclectic indie rock approach which usually features a lot of hiccups and syncopated drum beats. This song seems to indicate a simplified approach that allows Rogue's vocals and lyrics to be more discernible. Based on what I have read the approach for the record was more organic and the recording sessions designed to explore the unfinished songs rather than tinker with fully realized demos. Hopefully, the rest of the record has this same natural, easy going approach.

visit his website here to get the song for free.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Year in the Life of Into It. Over It.

INTO IT. OVER IT. is a one piece operation fronted by Evan Weiss. I stumbled across his record "52 Weeks" trolling around for something new and fresh and this was just what I was looking for. Weiss wrote a song a week for a year and collected them together in this 2 CD opus on life both on and off the road. Observations run the gamut from the deterioration of a relationship to what's on TV. Weiss alternates between quiter acoustic tracks and more raucous straight forward indie rock.

It's an interesting exercise that is not unlike the musical equivalent of blogging. The structure of writing a song a week leads itself to some songs that are more musical ideas than finished works. Most of the songs come in at under 3 minutes but their are hooks a plenty for all musical interests. The fire and passion on tracks like "Fak It" and "Heartificial" make for great live fodder. The simplicity of other tracks like "Introduce This To Your Parents" and "David Caruso TV" echo lo-fi acts like SEBADOH (he even titles one song "Sebadon't"). The quieter moments like the opener "Batsto" and "ATM Disaster Scenes" are more akin to someone you might hear in some out of the way coffee shop or bar. There is literally so much here that you could construct three different records depending on which songs you took.

The initial reaction is that the album would have benefited from some editing but to do that would have lost the idea. "52 Weeks" is more about the process of writing and the attempt by Weiss to encapsulate his life in song than about a record that will sell 1 million copies. I have no doubt Weiss is a talented writer and his eye is keen to observing life's little intricacies. I get the feeling if I came back and wrote about this album five more times it would still be unique. I can't wait to see what he does when he gives his songwriting some real time to grow.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Death Cab For Cutie: Track by Track Review of Codes and Keys

This has been one of the records I have waited for with great anticipation. DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE have left their indie roots behind and ascended into the stratosphere of honest to goodness pop stars. For a long time people have been asking who the heir apparent would be to alternative rock royalty REM, and I think DCFC can lay that claim. Building on the success of "Plans" and "Narrow Stairs", the new record has huge pop hooks and all the musical touches we have come to expect from this Seattle collective. Here are my thoughts on their new album, track by track:

1. Home Is A Fire -- DCFC tend to open each record with a song that starts slow then builds. "Home Is A Fire" may not have the grandeur of "Marching Bands of Manhattan" or "Bixby Canyon Bridge" but it does set the appropriate tone. Ben Gibbard decides to distort his voice as if singing through a megaphone, which makes the lyrics have a detached feel to them

2. Codes and Keys -- The title track is a bluesy piano led song starts to show off the new lyrical sunniness that encapsulates the album. That is not to say that Gibbard has grown out of his over a decade long funk, just that he seems happier in his disposition.

3. Some Boys -- A driving bass and drum opening and the return of the distorted vocals in this paean to immature adolescence. The theme is one that the band has traveled in before and here the observation is that some boys never seem to grow up and that is not necessarily a good thing.

4. Door Unlocked and Open -- A great example of why I love this band. The song takes a great bass line, adds in just enough guitar to make the song interesting and rides the beat the whole way. Gibbard sings it straight up and this could be the cousin to "I Will Posses Your Heart" in tone and feel. Truly breathtaking.

5. You Are A Tourist -- The first single has a great guitar line and sounds as if it was a lost refugee of 70's AM radio. Gibbard's topic of yearning and longing is well traveled but never seems repetitive. It also a sense of positivity that has not always been a Death Cab hallmark.

6. Unobstructed Views -- The opening of this track has a slow beating synth/piano accompaniment that takes it time before finally bringing Gibbard into full view. The song is clearly the centerpiece of the record as he sees love in an unobstructed way for the first time. Whether it was written after he got married is not important, what is significant is how his world view has changed because of it. Though the song never really takes full flight, the message is enough to make it remarkable.

7. Monday Morning -- After three intense songs, the band takes it down a notch with a simple pop song full of fuzzy guitar work that reminds me of some of their earlier work. This has all the feel of a summer song for lazy days and nights.

8. Portable Television -- At first listen this feels like a throwaway. Gibbard takes to the piano here and is met halfway through by a skippy drumbeat. It has a church revival feel to it and when it's stretched out live will be a barnburner I'm sure.

9. Underneath The Sycamore -- This track is the kid sister to either "Sound of Settling" or "Crooked Teeth" in that it is a poppy ode to being different and the same at once. The flourishes of trumpets give it a sunny feel. An unabashed pop song in all it's glory. An earworm for the next week I have not doubt.

10. St. Peter's Catherdral -- Their hasn't been an out and out ballad on the record until now. Unlike the more downtempo "Narrow Stairs" this record has been a lot more upbeat. This song starts out with a stark vocal only arrangement before the drums kick in. Lyrically, it seems to be another in the cannon of what happens after we die, as Gibbard intones that "there is nothing past this". The song builds slowly and takes the back half to find it's place. A sure encore piece for their live show.

11. Stay Young, Go Dancing -- This album has been about finding home, either in the actual place or with the people you love and the closing number is almost like walking through the door of the kitchen after being gone for a long time. A love song in every sense, this track gives us a sense that Gibbard is very content where he is and with the people he loves. It's a fitting ending to a truly breathtaking musical journey.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Beastie Boys return to form

It would be of little use to apologize for the extended absence of regular posts. It is safe to say that I have neglected my little blog due to work and other writing commitments but I pledge to try to post more often. So thank you dear readers for bearing with my lack of consistency. But I do bring with me good news, the BEASTIE BOYS are back with a new record.

It was a bit hard to envision that these three white kids from New York would have anything close to a sustainable career after they released their first record. The story is well documented how the band, chaffed by their party frat boy personnas, dove head first into the sample heavy rap world at the time and redefined their style over the years to encompass funk, rap, punk, jazz and even straight ahead rock to carve out their own unique niche.

After an extended hiatus (their last official record was 2006), the band has returned to see the landscape has changed quite a bit since they left. They had to wonder if they would still be relevant in this new digital landscape. But fear not, "Hot Sauce Committee, Part Two" is a refreshing reminder of what has made them great. "Make Some Noise" has all the earmarks of a Beastie Single; great hook, catchy lyrics and danceable beats. The record is not as sample heavy as past records, favoring live instruments on such tracks as the galactic funk of "Ok" and reverb laden "Say It" and the outright punk of "Lee Majors Come Again". Nas shows up on "Too Many Rappers" to reaffirm his place as one of the premier battle MC's out there right now. Santigold lends her talents to the reggae jam "Don't Play No Game I Can't Win". The variety of the music is all anchored by the highly skilled lyrical acumen of Ad Rock, MCA and Mike D. It's as if they never left.

I hope that this record finds an audience with the new generation of music listeners who would benefit from the variety and lyrical skills of these refugees from a by gone era. The Beastie Boys still have a lot left to offer and have served up one of the best records of the year.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Crystal Stilts and the Ghost of Joy Division

Over the years I have spent a fair amount of time basing INTERPOL and, to a lesser extent THE EDITORS, for aping the sound of JOY DIVISION for commercial success. Both bands have singers that have openly copied Ian Curtis' drab vocal inflections to the point of almost comedy. Where Interpol has in recent records tried to distance themselves and The Editors have dabbled in dance rhythms another band has stepped into the Joy Division void. However, CRYSTAL STILTS succeed in ways the other two failed.

The five piece band from Brooklyn have released their second record on Slumberland records (home of the brilliant THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART) to a fair amount of critical success. This is largely due to the industries undying affection for Joy Division. It is true that singer Brad Haggart's voice bears a similar tone to the late great Curtis, the music of the band's sophomore collection has the mark of a unique take on a signature sound. The opening spaghetti western guitar and keyboards of "Sycamore Tree" signal an original sound rather than an homage to the doom and gloom of Joy Division. "Through The Floor" has a early rock and roll vibe to it, while "Silver Sun" could be an outtake from an early ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN record. "The single "Shake the Shackles" is what I imagine Joy Division would sound like now had Curtis not committed suicide and Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook not discovered dance music.

I have no idea if Crystal Stilts will fall victim to the weight of the comparisons that will be heaped upon them. but if they can keep challenging themselves without worrying about large scale commercial appeal right away, they will be just fine.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Friendly Fires and the new sound of England

I have been ignoring what has been happening over in the UK musically speaking for awhile now. This is partially due to all the good stuff being produced by the Yanks locally as well as my disillusionment with all the bands that were coming out of England that sounded too much like SEX PISTOLS redux for awhile. But slowly some new interesting sounds have been emerging as the Brits have remembered how to dance.

FRIENDLY FIRES are releasing the second full length, "Pala", to a quite a bit of hype so I thought I should check in to see what all the hubbub was about. I rather enjoed the two singles I have heard from them earlier so I thought a full album would be worth my time. The jury is still out on the whole album but there are moments of the record that are really quite good. For those not familiar I would characterize their sound as rhythmic pop with a world beat that travels in uplifting lyrics. The album opens strong with the uplifting "Live Those Days Tonight" and the goregous "Blue Cassette". These are far and away the strongest songs on the album. "Hawaiian Air" is a funky number about flying away for the hell of it, or a commercial jingle for their favorite airline. Parts of the record seem to steal from PRINCE of all places, particularly on the falsetto laced "Hurting" and the R n B influenced "Show Me Lights". "Pull Me Back To Earth" echoes their previous hit "Kiss of Life" with it's afro rhythmic approach.

Friendly Fires, along with THE KLAXONS and DELPHIC, give us hope that the UK still has some musical tricks up it's collective sleeve. Go get this and get ready to dance!!

Monday, May 02, 2011

The Generationals mine the past

I love when bands find a way to take an old sound and refurbish it into something new. THE GENERATIONALS are a duo from New Orleans that have taken care over 2 records and an ep to try to pay homage to the 60's British Invasion sound through a uniquely American lens.

The band's latest record, "Actor-Caster", opens with a bluesy shuffle entitled "Ten-Twenty-Ten" before gliding into the piano and guitar slink of "I Promise". "You Say It Too" has some KINKS DNA in it along with the distorted vocals made famous by the DAVE CLARK FIVE. What is refreshing about the record is not how it works over the past but makes it accessible to those who were not around to hear it in the first place. This is the kind of album that makes you research the bands it uses a markers for it's sound. Enjoy the swirl of "Dirty Mister Dirty" then go and look into THE TROGGS? But rather than mine the past it's better to live in the future with this gem of a record.

The Generationals are offering two free songs here.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Interview with I Am Not Lefthanded

So the wife and I have been championing the Irish band I AM NOT LEFTHANDED for awhile now and they were gracious enough to answer some questions for us about their upcoming album. Part one is over at Have You Met Heather? and part two is right here. (or this is part one and part two is over there depending on your perspective.) You can visit their site here and get all kinds of free music.

Zen: You spent a lot of last year on the road, including hitting the US - how did that affect your sound going into the new record?

Lefthanded: I think it made us more confident about the sound we wanted, rather than affecting the way it turned out. We tend to keep busy, together and individually. In that ten hour drive from San Francisco to Portland, or the six hour drive headed north from LA, in every car journey, we had more time and space to talk about what we wanted than we'd had before. It was good to check in, make sure we were all on the same page. There's at least one song on the album about driving at night too...

Zen: How was playing the states different from Europe?

Lefthanded: Audiences in the US are just so different from ones in the UK. We like people, as a band. We generally tell people that they're welcome to come up and talk to us after we've played. UK audiences are that bit more reserved. They're more likely to drop you an email after a show than they are to come up and see you. US crowds love to chat to you after you've played, it was genuinely heartwarming. There were a lot of great stories, good recommendations, and ultimately a lot of positive feedback for us, in the US.

Zen: You have been broadcasting some of the recording sessions live. Has that influenced your process at all?

Lefthanded: Have you ever had a favourite song that you listened to over and over again, and when you played it for a friend, or a family member, it sounded completely different? Like you hear the individual lines more, you hear the perfections as well as the imperfections, because you're more nervous about how their listening will change how you hear the song? That's what broadcasting the recording sessions has been like for us, I think. Songs and lines that had become comfortable, had become part of us were suddenly new all over again. It wasn't an entirely confortable process. But then I tend to be incredibly tense in those five minutes before we get on stage anyway. I think the sound we ended up with was closer to how we are live, as a result. I don't regret doing it at all.

Zen: What are your plans for 2011? Album release and tour?

Lefthanded: We're not the most patient of bands, I think. We like to get recordings done all in one sitting, to record videos in a night. Everything's done in the spirit of the adventure. We've definitely been trying something different this time. Making ourselves slow down, to think about what we're doing. It means can't quite imagine not being recording this album, right now. We're hoping to have it ready for release late in the summer, and will tour the US again for a few months from September. Then maybe Thanksgiving, Christmas, some more videost to celebrate the major holidays - we have some brilliant ideas up our sleeves for the next ones - and we stop and take stock at the end of the year.

I can't remember when exactly I decided this, but when I was a teenager, I remember telling my family I would play as much music as I wanted until 2012. Then I promised I'd take stock and see where I was in life. If I was busking on street corners and barely scraping a living, I'd sell my amps and find something better to do. I've no idea why I picked 2012, I suspect it was because it seemed just so far away, and was an easy out when they asked me what I was doing with my life. I'd like to at least stick to my word in some sense though. So 2011 is for the album, and for making as much music as we can. I can't ever imagine selling anything I own or agreeing to sit behind a desk for the rest of my life, but it will be a good time to take stock and see how we're doing.

Big thanks to Kathryn and check them out when they hit the road later this year.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The National suprise new single

It is always a little better day anytime THE NATIONAL put out new music. "Exile Vilify" comes from a new video game (who knew you had to monitor Video Game soundtracks for new music, like I don't have enough to keep track of) and is a little slice of wonderful. Starting with a simple piano line, Matt Berninger goes up the ladder a bit with his vocals without sacrificing his silky smooth baritone in the process. The inclusion of a string section halfway through gives the song a cinematic quality that is not always part of their usual sound. I am curious if this was recorded at the same time as "High Violet" or as a stand alone track since it doesn't seem to be of the same vein as the tracks off that record. Either way it is a great song and only enhances my outright love for the band.

(mp3) The National -- Exile Vilify

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The sultry sounds of The Twilight Singers

Greg Dulli's voice is a thing of beauty. As the lead singer of the AFGHAN WHIGS, Dulli anchored the power pop sound with his soul full wail as he sang about love lost and despair. The Whigs had a little bit of commercial radio success before disbanding. Prior the that Dulli set out with a side project called THE TWILIGHT SINGERS that was designed to showcase his softer side. Over time the band has harnessed a powerful, dark sound to compliment Dulli's songwriting structure.

Their fifth release, "Dynamite Steps", opens with the slow burner "Be Invited" before launching into the driving, Cure inspired "Waves". Dulli the blue eyed soul singer returns to navigate "Get Lucky" which practically oozes smoke and liquor. The feel continues with the piano and drum machine tandem of "On The Corner". "Gunshots" sounds like a really good imitation of the old Whigs sound and would be right at home on commercial radio circa 1996. ANI DIFRANCO contributes vocals to the haunting "Blackbird and the Fox". The entirety of the record has a feel of regret and late night mistakes. Dulli opens his soul for all to see and has made a record for those who are seeking redemption for the choices they made. It's really very powerful.

(mp3) The Twilight Singers -- Blackbird and the Fox

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sorry old friend, I neglected you

First I got really busy at work. Then I got deathly ill from what might have been best described at the stomach flu mixed with a touch of the Bubonic plaque. Then I picked up a new writing gig (more on that in a minute) so I have some to neglect my old friend here for the past week or so. But now I'm back and ready to talk some music.

A bit about the other gig. I will be writing two days a week (Fridays and Saturdays) for a wonderful blog called Monkey With A Halo. They cover the Los Angels of Anaheim (baseball for those of you not indoctrinated to US sports), which I am huge fan. I am very excited about this chance and hope to bring my voice to the world of sports as I have with music. Should be fun.

So back to the music. I have been kicking a bunch of stuff around for awhile now but with little real interest. So I settled on reviewing the new FLEET FOXES record. There has been a lot of buzz about this one and I went in with high expectations. This were heightened even further when Robin Peckhold dropped a solo ep that is gorgeous. But "Cosmic Tomes for Mental Therapy" leaves me a bit wanting.

Opening strong with the somber "Montezuma", the record falls into a nice groove full of 70's references such as the dual harmonies on "Bedouin Dress" and the shuffle on "Battery Kinzie". The Foxes are aching to transport us back in time to the golden era of AM radio with music that sounds like the open road at dusk. There are flashes of Middle Eastern influence on "Sim Sala Bim" and their is ample flute usage on "The Plains/Bitter Dancer". "Helplessness Blues" is far and away the highlight of the record as it builds slowly to a quickened pace of a country stomp played by a Led Zeppelin at their quieter moments.

I think Fleet Foxes suffers because although musically they take chances, the lack of vocal changes makes the record seem repetitive. A falsetto here or a baritone there might have served the overall sound well. Perhaps more time will reveal the hidden depths. It feels like a record that with time will grow on me.

Monday, April 11, 2011


The first track from the new BEASTIE BOYS record "Hot Sauce Committee Part Two" leaked out and it is everything I had hoped and more. Classic 70's groove, all three MC's taking turns like vintage 80's era NYC hip hop, and just enough of a hook to be memorable. While not as instantly classic as "Intergalactic" or "Sabotage", it is a nice sign that the boys haven't lost any of their skills. I cannot wait to hear what the whole thing sounds like.

MAKE SOME NOISE by Beastie Boys

Monday, April 04, 2011

Bell X1 and the shadow of U2

When you are an Irish band at some point you are going to have to answer the u2 question. Just how much did the four lads from Ireland influence your own work? It's not even a question of if they are an influence, but to what degree. Such is the case with BELL X1 (as it was with SNOW PATROL before them). Even though this three piece is releasing it's fifth album, "Bloodless Coup", most people outside of the Ireland haven't been exposed. The first blush with this new album isn't going to quell the U2 issue much.

The opener, "Hey Anna Lena", takes the now popular drum loop/blip approach that is more RADIOHEAD than U2 even mimicking Thom Yorke's falsetto. But it's with the lead single "Velcro" that the band shift into stadium rocker mode. Awash in synthesizers and bass lines, "Velcro" is an arena pleaser for sure. Singer Paul Noonan's voice bears a striking resemblance to David Byrne especially on the TALKING HEADS-ish "4 Minute Mile". "Sugar High" takes what might be an OMD outtake and updates the sound. Other parts of the record have the band taking a bit funkier outlook on their sound.

It's a risk for sure, but at least the U2 comparison dissipates. Where Snow Patrol has run to the Adult Alternative center with their music, Bell x1 seem to have at least tried to branch out.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

New TV On The Radio

Soul music is often misinterpreted. Most people take soul music to mean the sound of the 70's (Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson) and that is certainly what I usually think of, but TV ON THE RADIO threaten to augment that definition for the 21st century. With the release of their fourth record, "Nine Types of Light", they are now poised to make a mainstream dent in both the alternative and soul music markets.

Opening with the seriously groovy "Second Song", lead singer Tunde Adebimpe's announces the bands intention to create a sound that is unique by blending all their influences together. Stax era trumpets, Parliament bass lines weave in and out in beautiful concert. "Keep Your Heart" finds Adebimpe alternating between a baritone and a falsetto over a simple drum beat. "You" is an out right love song that could double as a gospel torch tribute. "No Future Shock" could be a Prince outtake (back when he cared what he sounded like).

The highlights really start coming with the epic "Killer Crane which builds off a piano and synth marriage into a song of hope and inspiration about life after all has fallen apart. It's the type of song COLDPLAY has been aiming for but doesn't have the musical chops to pull off. The single "Will Do" is a sort of companion to "You" as the theme of finding love as salvation returns. The last half of the record settles into a patterned groove collection of rock songs before ending with the revival blues stomp of "Caffeinated Consciousness" which echoes a bit of JACK WHITE'S work filtered through their own lens.

This is a record that will deepen with every listen. It has the potential to be the kind of album that marks their ascendency to the big leagues with bands like ARCADE FIRE as the new voices of a generation. It's that good.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

OPENING DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!


Yes folks, baseball season is upon us. It may be corny but I still get excited by the romance and the joy of the first day of the season. I think JOHN FOGERTY put it best in his four minute ode to wanting to get onto the field...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jets Overhead Keep Flying the Emo Flag

Emo, an offshoot of the pop punk movement of the late 90's/early 00's, seems to have come and gone without much of a fuss. There was a run of bands like JIMMY EAT WORLD, SOMETHING CORPORATE, and STRAYLIGHT RUN that combined some of the punk reliance on simple chord progressions with a more confessional, heart-on-your-sleeve writing approach. The one thing about the emo bands was that by and large the records sounded great and played well in the car.

With the release of their new ep, "Bystander", Canadian collective JETS OVERHEAD, continue to keep the emo tradition alive. A collection of leftovers from their last record, the five tracks do hold up well as a whole body of work. The title track has all the driving force of a great rock song which is tempered a bit by the more acoustic musings on "Destroy You." The bands stretches itself a bit with "It's Not Up To Me" which reminds me a bit of vintage RIDE in their use of bass and feedback guitar. "Friendly Fire" continues to explore new ways to fine tune their sound with a pretty little guitar line opening the instrumental groove as the vocals float in and out in an almost inaudible haze. The remix of "Full Shed" from the last record has a nice keyboard line and allows the vocals of Adam Kittridge and Antonia Freybe-Smith to become more center than on the original. Again RIDE and the other shoegazer bands have a firm influence here. The acoustic version of "Bystander" is a throwaway and should have been left off.

This is not a record that will redefine a genre but is certainly enjoyable and will almost certainly sound better driving down the freeway.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

FOUND blow my socks off

FOUND, a Scottish collective, have just released their third proper record, "Factorycraft". It has been awhile since I have been this impressed with an album that is so varied in it's sound. Every time I listen to it, I dive deeper and deeper into the marriage of pop and electronic music that is so seem less and well thought out that it seems wholly organic. "Anti Climb Paint" is a straight ahead pop lament that is followed by the gorgeous "I'll Wake With A Seismic Head No More". As the record evolves, you almost get the impression that is what Radiohead has been trying to do with it's music but to a lesser degree. Using blips and loops throughout the pop structure allows Found to play with songs in new and creative ways. "Machine Age Dancing" is a 21st century take on the classic Beach Boys melodies. "You're No Vincent Gallo" and Lowlandness" are the most accessible from a song status, and yet still are off kilter enough to appeal to the more adventurous listener.

Then there is "Shallow". In what may be a master craft of sonic textures, the song builds on a simple synth and guitar line like a descendant of the shoegazer movement. The simplicity of the lyrics makes the music more important to get the feel of the song across. The band don't rush the build and allow the song to breath and find it's way till it settles into a groove akin to GALAXIE 500 or THE BETA BAND. It is simply breathtaking and clearly a song of the year candidate.

There will undoubtedly by a lot of hype around this album because it will appeal to both indie kids and electronic freaks equally. It will almost certainly be in my top ten for the year. Get this record immediately if not sooner.

Friday, March 25, 2011

New The Wildhouse EP

Anytime I get an e-mail from Ed over at 17 Seconds my ears prick up. His label has sent me some truly mind bending stuff over the past couple of years, so a new THE WILDHOUSE ep, "Good Morning, Captain", was just what I needed to get through a dreary day. The new music takes their marriage of Shoegazer droning guitars and feedback laced solos and amps up the intensity. "Palantine" has elements of TH' FAITH HEALERS and GALAXIE 500 in the mix. "Go" is closer to a traditional rock song until the end careens off the tracks in a Thurston Moore-esque feedback loop that threatens to burst the eardrums. "Palace of Words" is a four minute sonic experiment with a spoke word interlude serving as the vocals to the dueling guitars that make it feel almost like some sort of jazz duet where they bend and wrap sounds around each other. The fifteen minute epic "Calvinball" builds slowly to a driving beat of punk rock ethos as the lead singer spits out his spoken word diatribe like a manic disciple of Mark E Smith.

This is certainly music for those with more extreme tastes. But if you need to vent some vitriol in your day this is the record for you.

(mp3) The Wildhouse -- Palatine

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Two Door Cinema Club Mine a Sound to Stardom

I have a 15 month old son at home who does not appear to enjoy sleep. He does however look forward to quality time with his old man at 3am. He has very discerning viewing tastes and will often invest himself so fully in a movie that he will not go back to sleep. (At least this is what I believe is happening). This means that we are often stuck watching things that I would normally not be interested in. Lately it seems music videos on channels like MTV and VH1 are what put him back to sleep. This can be a problem since most of the videos these outlets play are usually bad rap or pop songs.

(Note to TRAIN: I agree to not make fun of you if you promise to take "Marry Me" and go away, while your at it could you also take MAROON 5's 'I Never Want To Leave This Bed" and Christina something-or-other's vapid "Jar of Hearts" with you, Thanks)

Now every once in awhile a band that actually has some talent sneaks through the dreck and into rotation. Such is the case with TWO DOOR CINEMA CLUB. Or so I thought. "What You Know' has officially hit heavy rotation on VH1 so I have seen it a few times. The video owes a lot to the ROBERT PALMER vids of yesteryear (look it up and you'll see what I mean). But the song is very catchy so I thought I would dive into the rest of the album. And there is the problem. If you have downloaded the single, I will save you. You have the whole album. Each song has the same staccato guitar lines (borrowed liberally from the FOALS) and lead singer Alex Trimble's thin vocals. I had hoped for more. "Undercover Martyn" has some originality to it but other than that, the whole record sounds eerily similar. That is not to say the band is not talented, just a bit unoriginal. Here's hoping that life on the road does them some good and that they are not sucked into the success they are getting with their initial offering. It could either way...