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...

Monday, March 21, 2011

New The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

It's an awkward name I think we can all admit, but THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART make some very sweet music indeed. They have recently released their second full length, "Belong" to a lot of critical praise. What they have done is taken their nostalgic slightly twee sounding approach and beefed it up with a heavy dose of shoegazer angst. The result is a record that has both depth and breadth in the sound.

The opening title track drones away with all the might of a vintage MY BLOODY VALENTINE track before surrendering to their better pop instincts. This is a common approach to the songs on the record and serves the band well. The sheer pop genius that was so apparent on their first album is a bit muted here, only resurfacing in 80's inspired "Heart in Your Heartbreak" which could very well have been an outtake from their debut. Throughout the album, Kip Berman and Peggy Wang intertwine their vocals to make a singular sound. Berman lyrics still have some of that schoolboy poetry to them but they are not out of line with a lot of what is being written about in indie rock these days.

This is a record of a band stretching its legs and finding new ways to take its sound out for a walk. The move into more sonically adventurous territory serves them well and makes for a really enjoyable listening experience. This is certainly no pain...

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart - Belong by Slumberland Records

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Charlatans Cover Themselves

There is absolutely no explaining how THE CHARLATANS have lasted this long. They were initially part of the post STONE ROSES "Madchester" wave of britpop bands that took hip hop rhythms and meshed them with rock song structures. Their use of keyboards and slippery bass lines gave them dancehall credibility. But they should have crashed and burned, flamed out like so many others (Chapterhouse, The Milltown Brothers, Happy Mondays...). But here they are still going strong and now throwing us yet another curveball with the "Warm Sounds" ep.

The six songs on the ep are re imaginings of their other songs. Rather than cover other artists, they have opted to cover themselves. Now my rule with covers is, if you dare take on someone else's work you have to put an original spin on it. But what about your own work? How do you judge it? Well, I think it's best to think of them as both original on their own and as if they had covered another band.

"Smash the System" from their last record gets stripped of the techno backbeat which is replaced by a computer blip track along with a simple guitar line. Singer Tim Burgess becomes a much greater presence in this mix. "The Only One I Know", loses the keyboard and replaces it with a jangly acoustic guitar. Much has been made of the band's love of Bob Dylan this ep seems awash in Dylan style musical arrangements. "North Country Boy" becomes a Tom Petty-esqe mid tempo rocker. "Oh, Vanity" is slowed way down to just a strummed guitar and Burgess's voice. "Blackened Blue Eyes" which originally was a club anthem now becomes a country stomp played on the front porch. "One To Another" which was a CHEMICAL BROTHERS production in it's original incarnation has morphed into a bluesy guitar pop track worthy of THE BLACK CROWES or THE KINKS.

The whole ep is an interesting listen merely to see what the band may do when freed from the shackles of their day job as standard bearers of a dying genre. In the real sense, THE CHARLATANS have eclipsed the scene are now embarking on their third decade of making music. Not bad for a bunch of also rans...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day Everyone!!

I know it may be less than imaginative but any St. Patrick's Day without THE POGUES and U2 just ain't right

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Underwhelming Return of The Strokes

Clearly I missed the boat on THE STROKES. People have been writing about them for the past ten years like they are set to be the next big rock band. I own "Is This It" and found it mildly entertaining, but since then I have lost interest in them as both a band and the future of rock. Prior to digesting their latest record, I had to go back and refresh my memory on their "hits" to get a jumping off point for comparing their newest work, "Angles". This is where I came to the conclusion that I missed on their "importance". Like THE KILLERS, The Strokes travel in taking 80's sounds and repackaging them for a modern audience a bit too lazy to find the originals on their own.

So what to make of their new record? Like there previous three, it has moments of pop achievement. "Under Cover of Darkness" is their signature sound as a blueprint for their catalogue. Ragged guitars, distorted and detached vocals and a jumpy drum beat make for a nice song for the radio. "Two Kinds of Happiness" sounds like it stepped out of MTV circa 1988. Outside of that this is a throwaway album. The synth lines are regurgitated OMD and HAIRCUT 100. The singing is still more of a monotone drone slightly slurred to give the impression that Julian Cassavetes doesn't give a damn. The whole thing is lackluster.

Now I try to avoid thrashing a record. I would be better served celebrating great music than tearing down mediocre stuff, but if the major media is going to posit these guys as successors to the arena rock thrown, I must take issue. The Strokes are what used to be for the record industry. They are a band that has made a carefully crafted image of themselves and sold their greatness before actually achieving it. In this brave new world of bands rising up through alternative promotional means, The Strokes cling to the old model. Here's hoping this is their death knell and we can move on to better things.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Why I Can't Stop Listening to "I Cut Like A Buffalo"

Normally I have dismissed most of Jack White's output other than the occcasional spin of a WHITE STRIPES record. Although certainly a talented musician and a versitile band leader, something about White has always struck me as off. I can't really put my finger on it as to why I have not invested more time in his 0ther outings (THE RACONTEURS, THE DEAD WEATHER) other than his voice is very hard to sing along to. So I was knocked to the floor when I found that I thoroughly enjoy "I Cut Like A Buffalo" from the Dead Weather so much. I have literally listened to it a dozen times in the last couple of weeks. From the bluesy guitar and keyboard open to the suberb way White and Alison Mosshart's vocals mesh to the absurdity of the lyrics, the whole song is pop song nirvana disguised as an old time rock stomp. Here is the live version from Later...with Jools Holland that is about as good as the live.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes) Free EP

Just came across this a couple of days ago and thought it was simply beautiful. ROBIN PECKNOLD is the lead singer of THE FLEET FOXES, who are prepping their second album as we speak. Pecknold released a three song ep of his solo work via his twitter account and they are breathtaking (and free). Using a simple acoustic guitar, the songs have a vibe that is similar to BON IVER. "I'm Losing Myself is a duet with Ed Droste of Grizzly Bear and has a worn, late night porch feel to it. "Derwentwater Blues" is an absolute stunning song. Taking a quiet acoustic pick line and meshing it with Pecknold's dreamy vocals, the song is a sonic tapestry of longing and hopelessness. It sounds a lot like NEIL YOUNG in his "Harvest" era acoustic troubadour persona. The third track, "Where is My Wild Rose" is a cover of a 1974 song by New Zealand singer Chris Thompson and has that same easy feeling of a wanderer searching for something (love, redemption, happiness) but unable to do so for whatever reason.

THE WIFE has been obsessing over the new Fleet Foxes single and that couple with these songs has heightened my intrigue of their coming release. Do yourself a favor and grab this ep quickly...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Dodos make a beautiful racket

THE DODOS are a two piece band out of San Francisco that make some of the most interesting music I have heard in a long time. Composed of singer/guitarist Meric Long and drummer Logan Kroeber. Mixing acoustic guitars with some ridiculously cool African Ewe Drumming t make a sound that is both pretty and wildly improvisational in sound. "No Color" is the bands fourth album and will be the one that makes them a blogosphere sensation. The opening beats of "Black Night' set the pace, then using a slide guitar line to propel the rhythm as Long implores the listener to "control yourself". "Good" takes a plucked string guitar line and beats it into the ground before launching into a polyrhytmic approach to accompany Long's somewhat monotone singing style.

There is an undercurrent in parts of the record of old time stomping blues songs that would make ROBERT JOHNSON proud. "Sleep" takes this approach and mixes it with a pop sheen that makes it very catchy. "When Will You Go Home" has a slower, more maudlin approach to the song structure but without sacrificing the signature drum sound at the heart of the whole record. The song develops slowly till it almost takes on a SONIC YOUTH sound at the end. In fact, the most apt comparison I can come up with is the solo work of Sonic Youth guitarist THURSTON MOORE, who took a similar approach of burying his vocals and highlighting the instruments. By the time you reach the end with "Don't Stop", Long and Kroeber have refined their sound to a perfect pop noise blend that is mesmerizing to listen to.

The Dodos have created a record that develops with each listen and deepens with every spin. Each time I hear something new in the drum playing or the guitar picking that makes me appreciate two professional musicians at the height of their game.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

PPP (Part 14)

Seemed easier to start abbreviating my Perfect Pop Song Series. For this installment I bring you the absurdity that is NEW ORDER's "True Faith". People slapping each other and jumping on trampolines all leads us to the absurd notion that a great song doesn't always yield a great video.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

French Goodness from Tahiti 80

TAHITI 80 will both benefit and be hindered by the success the last couple of years of PHOENIX. The comparisons are inevitable given that they are both French and play dance soaked rock with a little funk to them. But Tahiti 80 should be taken in their own right. Their latest record, "The Past, The Present, and The Possible", is a nice blend of Stereloab, New Order, disco and electronic music to create a highly unique sound. The opening drone of "Defender" takes a very basic guitar line and washes it with synths and drum machine beats to give the aforementioned Stereolab vibe. "Gate 33" tells the tale of a chance encounter with a rock star at an airport killing time. "Solitary Bizness" brings out their funkier side in an homage to early PRINCE. The extended version of "Crack Up" plays up the dance rhythms and almost has a HAPPY MONDAYS feel to it.

I'm not sure how much shelf life the record will have for me over time but the initial first listens reveal a band comfortable moving around within their influences and playing with the sound enough to make them interesting. At the very least, it's a dancey good time.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

REM: Collapse Into Now Track by Track Review

Okay so let's dispense with this myth. REM is not back. The truth is they never really left. All that has happened is the collective musical marketplace moved on and they have settled into a comfortable place making records and hitting the road. To expect any sort of major creative leap or new direction is missing the point. REM has made their name on a signature sound (one that if often copied) and have spent the last few albums refining that into a sleek, ear friendly mix. Clearly "Collapse Into Now" is not in the high cannon of REM masterpieces, but it is a good album and worth a listen. So here we go:

1. Discoverer
I covered this when it was released as a single, but now in the context of the record it makes even more sense as the opening track. Peter Buck reignites his guitar and Stipe sounds engaged and interested his lyrics. A high quality anthem to set the tone.

2. All The Best
Every so often REM tries to really rock out. As they have moved into middle age this has been less then effective (see "Man Size Wreath" from the last record). This track hasn't really grabbed me yet, which usually happens at least once.

3. Uberlin
An acoustic number that is reminiscent of their "Automatic for the People" days, "Uberlin" has some nice harmonies between Stipe and Mike Mills. Lyrically, Stipe is mining the turf he first laid out in "Walk Unafraid", namely the overcoming of obstacles and reaching beyond one's grasp.

4. Oh My Heart
Another acoustic number that has a little New Orleans flavor (with the horns and accordion flavoring the song). Stipe's plaintive use of the timbre in his vocals gives the song a real desperate quality to it.

5. It Happened Today
Where the previous album was a much more defiant record in sound and lyric, the album seems to have been a bit more personal. With backing vocals from Eddie Vedder (which are barely noticeable till the end), this is meant to be the center piece of the record. Buck's acoustic guitar is getting a real workout this time out, as it is the feature again. The song builds to nice crescendo and ends with a wonderful vocal flourish by Stipe, Mills and Vedder together.

6. Every Day Is Yours To Win
A lot of what I have read about this record so far has to do with the recording that was done in the same studio as U2 did "Achtung Baby" in Germany. However, REM has chosen to be less experimental in their trip. This however, is the exception. "Every Day" has an ethereal tone to it and the bridge of simple sounds rather than words gives it an interesting vibe. It also seems that the boys have been digging into their old VELVET UNDERGROUND records for guitar lines.

7. Mine Smell Like Honey
The proper single off the record is a traditional REM rock song with the return of the electric guitar. The chorus is really catchy and would sound great on radio, if they still got airplay. Of all the songs on this collection, this is the one that will translate the best live.

8. Walk It Back
This is clearly meant to be the "Everybody Hurts" moment of the album. A piano led ballad with Stipe in his lost soul persona. Every so often REM opens it's musical vault for a their interpretation of a soul song. I have never really liked this version of their sound but I guess we can tolerate it for a bit.

9. Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter
My initial thought was this would have been more at home on "Accelerate" since it has that records more aggressive tone. The rocker is a quasi-duet with singer PEACHES and again is REM tapping into their Punk Rock side.

10. That Someone Is You
Feels like a throw away song that might have been better served as a b side. It's at this point the record seems to drag a bit.

11. Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I
With a title like that the song had better kick ass. The sound is a return to the more somber tone of the record and is quite beautiful. A rumination on death (I think), Stipe's vocals are simple, understated and are matched with a nice piano and acoustic guitar accompaniment. A real highlight of the record.

12. Blue
A sing speak coda similar to "Belong" it is haunting and gorgeous at the same time. I love when they take these sorts of risks, letting the feedback of the guitar wash over Stipe's poetry to make a sound all to itself. PATTI SMITH returns to offer her vocals to the chorus which have always been a good match for Stipe's. A nice way to close the record. (There is a slight return of the "Discoverer" chorus that has no real purpose other than to extend the playing time but it bears mentioning.)

In terms of comparing this record to the last decade's output (which is I think a fairer assessment of it's merits) it is certainly better than "Reveal" or "Around the Sun" but not as consistently good as "Accelerate". But worth your time if you are even a casual fan.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Examples of the Perfect Pop Song (Part Thirteen)

There are just some songs when they come on brighten your day. U2 has a host of these songs but I have often thought that "Beautiful Day" is hands down one of their best at lifting up your spirits. Here is the official video; let is enliven your day.