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.