For Chris Merritt, Cruise Elroy has been a labor of love years in the works, built on the solid foundation that was the song of the same title, a seven-four exercise in pop-jazz perfection. Daring continuously to push the envelope of what great pop music can and should be, he’s existed on the fringes of pop, building melodies of the Ben Folds ilk while taking his lyrics in the vein of a less snarky Jonathan Coulton. There’s always been more to Merritt’s music than easy comparisons may make clear, but it’s a good start. Now with the arrival of EP1 and EP2 from Cruise Elroy, the full spectrum of this sound is immediately evident.
While the first EP takes the opportunity to update early Merritt faves “Tarmac”, “Feminine Mind” and “Rain King” via a cleaner studio veneer, it also provides us with the songwriter’s strongest pop contribution yet. Via “The Fever,” which speaks to the search for truth between what we can see, smell or touch versus what we sense might be true on the fringes, Merritt hits us with his catchiest chorus while peppering the musical arrangement with his trademark odes to video-game music and off-kilter kitsch. “Shorty” opens the EP with an extended 5/4 disco-funk breakdown, then segues into a surprisingly straightforward dose of keyboard-tinged nostalgia complete with the best fuzzed-out bass outside an early Ben Folds Five effort. And even the new studio recordings of Merritt classics shine as examples of remarkably astute songwriting, particularly “Feminine Mind” for it’s twist on Billy Joel’s “She’s Only A Woman To Me” — “She’s a killer but she’s always on time; she’s brutal but she’s never unkind,” Merritt sings without the dark edge of Joel’s misogyny tainting the proceeding. And “Rain King” softens the edges of the lo-fi gem via a pair of extended instrumental interludes at the song’s center and conclusion while heightening the contrast between the bare melody with the trio’s deftly layered vocal harmonies.
But if EP1 introduces you to the sounds of Merritt and Cruise Elroy in a non-confrontational setting, EP2 becomes positively revolutionary, evident from the moment you crash ears-first into “Sisyphus.” Thirty seconds in and you’ve thrown out any comparisons to Ben Folds as the band embraces prog-rock leanings much more in tune with bands like Wax Fang. Quite unlike anything else I’ve heard on any pop album this year, “Sisyphus” takes everything that’s great about Merritt’s songwriting and encapsulates it within a melodic structure that demands a schizophrenic arrangement. All but demanding headphone listening, the song features layers upon layers which, peeled back, illustrate an artist coming fully into his own. And four minutes in, the Chris Martin-inspired harmonic breakdown seals it, making repeat listens compulsory.
And if you weren’t already sold, the EP’s closer, “Ghost,” which opens with the best rock intro not composed by Styx, will cement you as a lifelong fan. A freewheeling pop masterpiece, Ghost reminds one immediately of the more experimental side of Weezer (“The Greatest Man That Ever Lived”), a symphonic synthesized sensation which aptly showcases why I’ve argued for years that Merritt is the best pop songwriter you’re not yet listening to.
These two EPs make it tantalizingly clear that great pop music won’t be denied. With the tease of a full-length still on the horizon, take the opportunity to introduce yourself to the sonic world of Cruise Elroy. Nothing else this year comes even remotely close to this, and you ignore it at your own peril.
Elroy was here, and he’s thrown down the gauntlet.
I’ll admit that Brian Vander Ark’s vocals on the entirety of Villians soundtracked my early high school years, giving me plenty of reason to play the album and dozens like it on repeat as I navigated teenage awkwardness. Unfortunately the ’90s alternative rock scene wasn’t built on longevity, at least where myopic, aurally insensitive radio execs were concerned, and bands like the Verve Pipe, Harvey Danger and Semisonic never got the long-term traction they so richly deserved. It wasn’t that they couldn’t write another hit, but rather that radio and label honchos wouldn’t have known said hit if it broadsided them.
Thirteen years after their last full-length rock album, however, The Verve Pipe returns June 17th with Overboard, an album which relights the fire under their blend of well-crafted pop and catch-you-off-kilter rock. With “Crash Landing,” the album’s first promotional single, they show you really can’t go back again — this is no “Villians” or “Photograph” — but you can put a new spin on something and reinvent yourself in a way which is refreshing and well worth the listen. “I’m hearing words no one’s spoken,” he sings. “And I can feel my heart beat though I know it’s broken. Nothing is the way it seems, like being awake in a dream.” The chorus then crash-lands with an impact that launches this song instantly into the memory banks.
If you’re looking for the band to tread water through nostalgic carbons of what you heard while walking those sophomore hallways, you may be disappointed. But it’s refreshing to hear a band return after all these years, arriving with the verve to sound as fresh in the current musical climate as their alt-grunge did when we first heard it in the early ’90s. That the band’s songs feature hooks as brilliantly singable even after a decade and a half in limbo is the icing on the cake. Overboard is the most pleasant surprise of the summer so far, and it’s an album you shouldn’t miss.
Forgive me for being a bit behind the curve here, but Matthew Good’s sixth solo album Arrows of Desire is good enough to be well worth the wait. Out since late September, the album follows his staggeringly good Lights of Endangered Species, bringing a serious dose of invigorating rock music to an audience starved for music of this caliber. From the opening one-two-three gut-punches of “Arrows of Desire“, “Via Dolorosa” and “Had It Coming”, this album announces itself as exactly what fans of Good have come to expect: introspective lyrics coupled with raw passionate rock arrangements which showcase Good’s always-stellar vocals.
The hooks are visceral, hitting from an emotional core no one else among his peers could mine on such a regular basis with this level of consistency. The way he stagger-holds each syllable on “Via Dolorosa” before letting loose with a guttural wail on the chorus: “Wait til I get my head on … wait til I get my head on straight!” That’s what brings us back for more, no matter how long we in the States might have to wait to ever catch him in a live setting. The raw fury comes through on the album, something ever more rare in this day of over-polished radio fodder. Check out Arrows of Desire immediately and remind yourself why rock music, in the right hands, will always be relevant.
Scott Carney and Jacob Heustis of Wax Fang have spent the last decade proving to be the perfect comparison to the region’s weather patterns — if you don’t like one album, or it fails to resonate with you instantly, you’re almost certain to like something about what comes next. Each album they’ve released has taken a different twist on the most progressive elements of psychedelic experimental rock, proving you can craft songs of impressive scope and infinite replayability. They’ve proved repeatedly that the current “single first” mentality need not apply to every band or artist — that, Bob Lefsetz’s constant diatribes nonwithstanding, album rock is not dead. The album is not an art-form to be relegated to discussions of Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Yes, or any of their ilk.
Wax Fang’s latest album, The Astronaut, is a revelation, a five-song suite which does as much to tell a story through its inventive instrumental arrangement just as much as it does through Carney’s vocals. The main character becomes untethered from his ship, careens through a black hole and is transformed into a God, all-knowing and far from human. Imagine Gravity and 2001 filtered through the musical mind of the man who brought us that positively delicious animated rendition of “The Majestic” on American Dad and you’ve got at least a taste of how great this album is.
This isn’t an album which requires multiple listens to enjoy. It requires multiple listens merely because it’s so immediately enjoyable. The key, however, is to listen to the suite uninterrupted. The tone shifts relentlessly throughout, as the story is told through every bit of instrumentation. Carney’s voice is in top form as well, but blasting this album through a good pair of headphones is its own reward — you’ll feel the story being told as though the experience were your own. And unlike albums like Thick As A Brick, which occasionally drowned in their own artistic pretensions, Carney’s vision is allowed to fully develop through this forty-minute arrangement. To hear this chopped into easy-to-swallow “singles” would be a disservice to what is the band’s artistic masterpiece.
More important, the same aural themes continue to crop up throughout the album, twisted and electrified by the same outside forces which are transforming the titular astronaut from man to super-being. The album rewards patience and continued listening by focusing our attention on subtle shifts in mood. So while the album’s quality is evident even on first listen, it becomes better and better the more you experience the telling.
You can hear the first fifteen-minute segment of The Astronaut via NPR’s “All Songs Considered” blog, but be assured you’ll be wanting this album in full the moment you can get your hands on it on January 28th. And while there are pleasures in playing the album in high-quality digital format, this is one of those albums for which the vinyl treatment proves just as tantalizing. I’ve listened to the album on repeat while walking through snowy small-town Hoosier landscapes. But I’m just as excited to sit down in a dark room and let the record spin.
That’s why albums aren’t dead.
That’s why Wax Fang is the best band you’re not listening to.
The Astronaut will change that.
For those among us who appreciate the incendiary goodness of an electric guitar soloist fully unleashed, what Eddie Brnabic does with his album Subtle Realms is positively buzzworthy, particularly on “Transcendental Wine,” an intense throwdown which illustrates his ability to trip with ease between full-throttle rock and raw oozing funk. This is instrumental music built custom for the headphone treatment, and it’s worth every effort to listen to while avoiding all other distractions. Keep an ear toward this kid — you’ll hear much more from him when this album takes off. You can stream the entire album via his Bandcamp page.
They came. They saw. They clouded. And while they were at it, this Brooklyn psych-rock outfit crafted Freakin’ Out The Squares, an album of supremely addictive tracks that showcase their sound, one immediately awash in jangling guitars, slightly fogged vocals and all the melodic hooks you can handle. Don’t believe me? Play “Broadcast Victim” and you’ll be a fan for life. This is the music we murdered the gatekeepers for hiding it from us! Hear all their music at http://clouder.bandcamp.com.
With the pop kick of Rilo Kiley coupled with the hooks of Kasey Musgraves and Lindi Ortega,l Angela Perley and the Howlin’ Moons hit like a full-on tropical wave with Hey Kid and lead single “Hurricane.” This is the music you should play to friends who say there’s nothing country music can offer, while also bolstering the hooks which could fuel pop-country radio if they focused on musicians with the chops to play to classic and modern influences. Clearly these tracks showcase an artist who’s at home as a cultural observer:
Growing up in small town Ohio, Perley spent years as an observant wallflower engrossing herself in poetry, literature, people, and films. “I am a storyteller at heart, always have been. I get a lot of inspiration from relationships, surroundings, poetry, and old movies. Music for me is a way to express feelings I can’t get out any other way, and when I hit the stage with the band I can turn up and let go.”
The album officially comes out January 21st, and features more than just the single, including “Athens” and “George Stone” which help front-load the listening experience with material worthy of consistent repetition. But “Hurricane” definitely sums up the band’s sound, giving the “something real” she seems to honestly feel straight down to the bone. “You and I you know we are the same,” she howls early in the proceedings as crunchy lead guitar and thundering percussion provide a backdrop as intense as the storm in her heart. The chorus of “whoah whoahs” and stacatto “ha”s further showcases the Rilo Kiley influence, reiterating just how much of an earworm this song is.
Check it out below and then visit the band’s official website to ensure you get your copy the day of release. This isn’t an album you’ll want to miss, as these Howlin’ Moons are ones you’ll want to revel beneath well into 2014.
Si, soy un perdedor, but I’m loving how much fun Slippertails are making out of my eternal nostalgia for early-90s alt-sludge.
These New Jersey-ites have soaked in everything that made Beck’s Mellow Gold and Nirvana’s Bleach so mind-bendingly addictive and they’ve put it through a punk-rock blender, creating a photocopy of their own “Garden State of Mind.” However you look at it, songs like “Hip New Jerk” require one to immediately forego the headphone treatment, instead blasting these sludgy, instantly deep-grooving tracks to the masses, demanding they pay attention.
You can stream the entire album now on the band’s Bandcamp page, and you should do so quickly, for There’s A Disturbing Trend serves to showcase just how good modern alternative music can be when you forget about trends altogether and simply rock. Now that’s a novel idea!
Pour some sugar on it, Hysteria‘s done, now that we get the chance to hear the result of Def Leppard’s Las Vegas residency, during which they played the classic album in its entirety plus other band favorites, rarities, etc. If you’ve heard the album itself a thousand times, there may not seem to be much here you haven’t already experienced, but there’s something to be said for a band still out there killing it live on a regular basis. What wins out isn’t that they wrote such classic rock cuts in the first place. It’s that they can still make it sound easy two and a half decades later.
These songs sound as fresh now as they did back in 1987, soaked in the production gloss of “Mutt” Lange a decade before Shania “country”-fied his signature sound. All the hits are of course here on the first disc, in addition to a full disc of “opening set” performances from the band as Ded Flatbird, playing such classics as “Good Morning Freedom” and “Another Hit and Run.” The band had never played Hysteria straight through, so there’s that to consider, but this live capsule succeeds more on the sheer number of great songs you’ll hear. Few bands from the eighties had this much fun with such abundant success, and even if it’s just for the pure nostalgia, it’s hard to find much wrong with this dose of live Leppard.
For those among us who lament the cookie-cutter direction folk-tinged Americana has taken in the current decade’s “pop folk” era — that of the Lumineers or Mumford’s Babel – you may now rejoice in that which is The Muse. The fourth album from Boulder’s the Wood Brothers revels in everything blues, jazz, gospel and, yes, folk. The opener, “Wastin’ My Mind,” will stun fans of the Band who are likely to marvel that this song wasn’t produced forty years ago, and from there it’s a great ride through track after track of genre-bending songs which prove to be more than folk revivalism or obsessive attempts at recreation.
Any album with the one-two-three punch of “Wastin’ My Mind,” “Neon Tombstone” and “Sing About It” is already worth a listen. But the album’s boozy, horn-soaked finale “Firewater” wins the day, that slow-burn melancholy certain to fuel many a full-album restart or furious clicks to repeat the track itself. The rest of the album more than lives up to the gauntlet the band has thrown down, proof that there’s still room in today’s musical landscape for albums which challenge the listener. With three months to go, the Wood Brothers have produced this year’s best Americana album by far.
We are in a
golden age lucky streak of music right now.
No addicting singles by a inadequate artists being jammed down our esophagus. “Radioactive” is finally becoming inactive. Pink is only played 13,256 times per day, down from the usual 24,890. We can breathe. Our precious air supply is, for the moment, untainted.
But something is coming. It always does, and it’s terrifying. The next time you hear a song with an “Ooohh,” “Lalalala” or any other wordless chant you can memorize after one listen, run. These are the demon seeds that take root into our society and grow to ostentatious heights. I guarantee that the next radio addiction will prominently feature this. [Editor's note -- unless it's by Adam Duritz ... then bring on the "Lalalala's"]
The catchy, mindless little sounds create havoc on our ears and we don’t even need to pay attention before we are singing along to Lady Gaga, whether we like it or not: “Ro ma, ro ma ma, ga ga, ooh lala, WHATCHUPA ROMANCE.” Maroon 5 has mastered this technique with the whistles in “Moves Like Jagger,” the “ooh-ooh” sequence in “One More Night” and countless other songs. The Biebs does it, as does Taylor Swift (Oooh-woo-ooh-ooh-ooh/We-eeeee). I’m sure the pop industry hooked onto this formula years ago and now cranks those hooks out like worthless iPhone apps. The list goes on, but put on a top-40 station and you’ll take notice.
I can’t find research to back up these findings, but how else do you explain Nickelback’s rise to power? I once saw an interview with Chad Kroeger where he talked about the reason “How You Remind Me” was so popular. It was the “Yeah, yeah” part. It’s so simple, but they found out how to stick in our ears in an effective way. “When We Stand Together” might be their catchiest song and the chorus is perforated with “yeah”s. It’s no coincidence. Say what you want about that band, but they rode a wave of success off that nugget of information, as have many others. It’s clever marketing.
And there’s nothing really wrong with it. There’s nothing wrong with us liking it, either, because sometimes music is a release, not a cryptic message. If we don’t know the words to the song on every station, at least we can get the easy part. Still, it’s sort of degrading harmonizing to Selena Gomez on the drive home. But the main problem is that as long as you live like a normal human being, there’s no way to avoid them. And another one’s coming.
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The Lonely Island – The Wack Album
Analyzing music can get immensely draining, mostly because there’s a lot of garbage to sift through. Also, the music industry can be downright evil (see above).
Before you dismiss The Lonely Island as the musical equivalent to the spitball-firing class clown, remember that we all have our role to play. Andy Samburg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone’s faux-rap trio has yet to take itself seriously, even on this, their third album. That’s important. The Lonely Island may represent musical satire, but the content tells you the exact state we are in as a society. It’s smart enough to know how to make fun of common trends and self-aware enough to present it with charm. This includes the mindless way we dance to absurd songs, the ridiculousness of the “YOLO” meme and strutting as a not-so-tough rapper. Oh, and there are songs about hugs, the semicolon and compliments, because of course.
And they actually make pretty good music, which gets lost in the buffoonery. But for TLI, it’s not all about comedians making jokes through song. It’s what their musical purity brings out in their guests by representing caricatures of themselves.
As with the previous two albums, The Wack Album is an A-list bonanza. Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell and Too $hort have some ironically comical rapping cameos, which is a standard Lonely Island shtick. Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong shines in “I Run NY” and it’s unlike anything he has ever released. Best hook on the album. Sick beats and punk rock seem to pair well with each other. And coming off of his Le Miserables success, Hugh Jackman wails as this album’s Michael Bolton. Only TLI could take a classy, dignified Oscar-winner and feature him singing about breasts in “You’ve Got the Look.” Kristen Wiig also kind of sings in that track, surprise. Solange gets some exposure in “Semicolon,” and we already know the chemistry Justin Timberlake has with these guys.
I’d imagine each guest star welcomes the opportunity to be on these tracks because there are no rules holding them down. I have so much respect for all of the artists listed above. Being an entertainer is a serious business and there needs to be a liaison to show us that not everyone is a bland square. There are plenty of victims at the expense of dirty jokes, but if Diddy can handle it, so can we.
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Jimmy Eat World – Damage
One day while creating an iPod playlist, I had to do a double-take in the Jimmy Eat World section. I’ve never thought of the band as a favorite; it’s merely an acquaintance with which I don’t have a problem, but I don’t . But there were a shocking number of 5-star rated songs on there. Like, way more than most bands I LOVE. So I began to give them more of a listen and became a supporter, if only out of my own guilty neglect.
I was ready for Damage to release. So I listened to it. Then I had to check to see if this was a B-side collection or something. This is so typical. Whenever you start liking something years after it has been around, the new stuff is a letdown. And now I’m blinded by my own tastes and disappointment to give this the positive review it probably deserves. Here’s why: That collection of 5-Star songs included singles like “Pain,” “My Best Theory,” “A Praise Chorus,” along with some lesser-known tracks. But it all had ENERGY. I could crank a homerun at Yankee Stadium from the adrenaline pumping through those songs.
Damage is not that. It’s a love/breakup album from the same bracket as a Dashboard Confessional or Yellowcard. And for the most part, this album is heavy on the acoustic sound, which goes back to their earlier work. It’s like they took their big sound they built up over the years and stripped it down for a more intimate feel. But it was the best way to convey these emotions and that counts for everything. The final two tracks, “Byebyelove” and “You Were Good,” got to me, capping a bit of a gloomy ride. To someone who isn’t in that state of mind, this album and I just didn’t sync up. But it wouldn’t be fair to them or you to say that this was a “bad” album. If you are going through some kind of heartache, Damage could make for decent pain relief this summer.
“I Will Steal You Back” is the lead single and probably the best song here. And for energy, “How’d You Have Me” has the biggest serving. There are beneficial takeaways from a rather somber album, but I wasn’t ready and I had a bad experience. I hope that you find them just as I hope that this album finds those who need it.
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AKA & The Heart Hurt Goods – “Dotted Line”
(f. Double B / Nathalie Elam)
AKA & The Heart Hurt Goods – “Put On Blocks”
(f. Nathalie Elam / Andrew White / Nicatine of Free Whiskey)
AKA & The Heart Hurt Goods – “Supersonic Love”
(f. Nathalie Elam)
AKA & The Heart Hurt Goods – “Last Call”
(f. Nicatine of Free Whiskey)
From the land of the mighty Pacific Northwest comes the rumbling of a burgeoning hip hop community, that is uniting all things hip hop. Graffiti, Djing, B-Boying, Emceeing and a growing battle rap scene.
Matthew Lindblad definitely has plenty of experience as part of the Orange County music scene. A multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter, Lindblad played guitar with the band New Years Day, which gave him a taste of mainstream success including Warped Tour experience. Now he’s teamed up with Gus Flaig (drums) and Chris Chavez (guitars, vocals) to form Rebel Revive, a band which is able to draw on Lindblad’s experiences with rock influences both old and new, to create a sound they can call their own.
The result is XI, a hybrid of pop, rock and punk influences named for the eleven years Lindblad has spent performing his music in the area. “The Voices,” the EP’s standout single, features a fresh musical backdrop which reminds this critic of Blink 182 or Cartel if they were filtered through the Slip (must hear: “Even Rats”), with the band singing a chorus of “whooooah-oh-oh!”s as Lindblad claims they have the voices, silent for too long, which will now speak for a generation. While that may be an overreaching statement, the chorus itself is incredibly ear-catching and repeatable.
The rest of the EP builds on that hook to create songs which are memorable and instantly accessible. With “Better Days” and “Stars” standing out as potential future singles, there’s no reason to expect this album to fade away anytime soon. If anything, expect your appetite to be barely whetted. You’ll have to settle for repeating the six songs and hoping it won’t be too long before the band puts together the epic full-length this hints lies just over the horizon.
XI officially drops tomorrow, but if you’re ready to go for a musical ride, “Hear! Hear!” has the entire album streaming exclusively today! So strap on your headphones and press play, then make sure you share this music with everyone you know with good taste. You may have heard it first, but they’ll all want to ride your coattails.
Texas-based songwriter Lucas Jack has made no bones about his desire to bring back the glory days of the piano-pop songwriter, whether that singer be Billy Joel or Elton John. But his attempt to reinvent that tradition, while maintaining the familiar beats listeners will have come to expect, does a surprisingly solid job expanding it as well.
Sun City, a concept album which follows a couple through their journey toward the American Dream, though the detours are numerous and their success rarely assured. These songs are often Joel’s Brenda and Eddie from “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant,” as they travel through the darker edges of modern suburban life. Midway through the album, “Hope” takes on a darker view of Joel’s “She’s Always A Woman,” in particular:
There’s a distance in her eyes
Every time she starts to lie
And she’s far away tonight
And she always offers hope
That she wraps around your throat
Like a hangman selling rope
The war is only words you never say
The score you keep just counting down the days
Keep singing with the chorus in the bar
To blacken out the dark
And keep on coming back just as you are
But it’s not just an exercise in cheap misogyny like Joel’s hit, taking cheap shots. The song illustrates the buying of time which takes place in a marriage collapsing despite everything both spouses try to do. Both sides want to keep things together, so she lies and he accepts the hope she provides, even as he lies by saying the marriage still has a chance and that he’s not strangling against the metaphorical noose. The song’s haunting tone echoes the futility both must feel in the situation, with little they can do but keep living lie after bitter lie.
We witness the same couple earlier in the album on “Paralyzed,” as the husband debates just walking away from everything, even though he knows he never will. Lyrically this is where Lucas Jack shines, laying everything on the line in brutally cutting prose as his piano echoes the hopeful tone which will obviously keep this man in the marriage past its breaking point.
Once a month with our t-shirts on
That’s how far our love has gone
Our friends all tell us we should both move on
But we’re tangled up too tight
We’re paralyzed in our separate ways
We’ve both got kids of our own these days
And they’re making it harder to walk away
But we’re both long gone inside
How’d we get so old at 35?
I don’t want to give you the perspective that this album is nothing but bitter pills to swallow, backed by sunny piano pop which belies the devastation within. Lucas Jack is a talented songwriter who echoes Billy Joel in his delivery as often as he does solo-era Ben Folds and (on “Don’t Get Carried Away” in particular) even a touch of contemporary Randy Newman. These are songs crafted from the ground up to focus on all angles of the song, and it makes for an album full of vignettes which each deserve to be single candidates.
“You Belong To The City Now” stands tall as the album’s best individual track, and it’s rightly been named as the album’s lead single. It opens with piano, bass and guitar as Jack’s vocals sing of “living it up until it’s way too late to live it down,” his characters’ first glimpse of the city life which, while it eventually will consume them, still holds an alluring aura. I was reminded immediately of “Bonfire of the Vanities,” the Tom Hanks character who thinks he’s the master of the universe, making loads of money so he can live what he thinks is the perfect life, but we know he’s just a few steps away from being destroyed by that lifestyle. On the fourteen songs which follow this introduction, these two characters will take a serious beating — by the end, will they still believe in that dream? Does that upward mobility to the middle class mean anything, or are we all struggling to get past the moments which in the end would really matter the most?
In the end, Sun City is a remarkably astute debut from a songwriter who has crafted a song suite which plays well from the first hit, building in intensity as we listen more and more, sifting through all the lyrical details. It’s like watching a film where we’ve known these characters in varied forms all our lives, so we’re invested in seeing that they come out in the end with at least a semblance of dignity. This is modern American life, and like the troubadours he so admires, Lucas Jack has potential here to have produced a contemporary pop classic. For fans of the genre, missing this album would be a misstep you don’t want to make.
Anamanaguchi – “Endless Fantasy” (2013, dream.hax)
Reviewer: Matt Sanderlin
So… Most of you are probably asking yourselves – What exactly is “chiptune” music?
Remember 8-bit soundtracks to games on the original NES and the Super Nintendo? Well, chiptune music integrates these vintage sounds with real, modern instrumentation to create a very amicable conglomeration. It’s generally instrumental, though some bands have vocalists that accompany their chiptune music.
Anamanaguchi (ah•nuh•ma•nuh•goo•chee) are the current kings of chiptune. One of their older pieces, “Jetpack Blues, Sunset Hues,” has been used as the intro music for the well-known Nerdist podcast for a couple of years now. The band also just launched and successfully funded a $50,000 Kickstarter project in order to spread the word about their latest record, Endless Fantasy.
Endless Fantasy has 22 (yes, twenty-two) brilliant little chiptune compositions. The energetic vibes that the quartet exude begin immediately with the introductory title track, and do not stop or even begin to slow down until the record is long over. Early album track “John Hughes” is an easy jumping-off point – Its nonstop melody runs are not only instantly catchier than you would ever believe, but are strengthened in full force by the metal-level charge of the drums. If you’re not moving in time in less than a minute, than you might want to check your pulse to see if you’re still breathing.
The following track is the dancentric and light-heartedly seductive “Prom Night.” Vocalist Bianca Raquel lends her fitting talent to the track, dueting in an unorthodox-yet-suiting fashion with the 8-bit cartridge sounds. It’s something that fans of the Drive soundtrack would really get a kick out of – In a less dark sort of way, obviously.
Other great pieces like the atmospheric first single “Meow,” the overcast anthem “In the Basement,” and the whimsical frenzy “Space Wax America” will set your melodic sweet tooth on fire like nothing that you’ve ever heard. And electronic music is not usually in my wheelhouse, either.
If you dig fun, way uptempo instrumental music that appeals to the 80’s/90’s child in you, Endless Fantasy is the key to your Delorean. The digital and CD versions are already available, and the vinyl version releases later in the month. Definitely an album and genre worth checking out!
If you music lovers aren’t on Last.fm, GO THERE. It’s a music social networking site, and too many people aren’t using it. Discover, share and socialize about music and you can even scrobble what you listen to on any music device. It’s the best digital community out there.
That’s my pitch, now here are the reviews.
The Great Gatsby Soundtrack
This review was supposed to come after seeing Baz Luhrmann’s film, packaged in some profound synthesis of Jay Gatsby as the archetype of American wealth and despair. I just have no desire to see this movie, even before the reviews. Weeks later, it’s just not going to happen. Thanks to this soundtrack, though, I don’t think I have to. It’s got Leo’s and Tobey’s best quotes conveniently laced between something resembling the playlist to a Louis Vuitton gala in Paris. Just like in the trailers!
There are mostly two types of songs here: dollar-chain $WAG and divas aiming straight for the chest cavity. There were chills during the following:
- Jay-Z, “100$ Bill” – Sentimental Leo DiCaprio monologue transitions into Jay-Z coming in SMOKIN’.
- Beyonce & Andre 3000, “Back to Black” – Bey’s sultry voice does the vocal equivalent of entering a stage in mystical smoke and spotlight.
- Lana Del Rey, “Young and Beautiful” – Still mopping up the tears.
- Emeli Sande, “Crazy in Love” – Wait, Beyonce is on this album and you have another singer doing a Vaudeville rendition of her classic hit?
- Florence and the Maching , “Over the Love” – That green light. Such agony: “And I sing from the piano, tear my yellow dress, and cry and cry and cry over the love of you.”
- Nero, “Into the Past” – There’s a visceral soundscape here without the need for much singing.
The xx, Gotye, Jack White and Coco O. all had solid contributions as well, so this is a recommended listen. The beginning starts off with some of the more party-driven anthems (Wil.i.am is a cyborg), but a good three-fourths of the album is heavy on the tragedy aspect of this story.
You never know what you’re going to get with soundtracks. It could be a greatest hits list of overplayed 80s songs or something with theme-oriented originals as we have here. This is one of the best soundtracks you’ll hear this year, fundamentally planted in the story it represents while placing some of Jay Gatsby’s definitive quotes around for easy consumption. It’s shorter, too.
30 Seconds to Mars – Love Lust Faith + Dreams
To understand this album and the essence of 30 Seconds to Mars, remember that the band has the world record for the longest concert tour. And this album’s first single, “Up In the Air,” debuted from SPACE. This band would be considered totally “epic” if that word hadn’t eroded into a punishable offense.
Because of these outlandish gimmicks, expansive music videos and putting their fans’ chants on its albums, 30STM might be the best fan-band out there. They exist solely for them, not for the record label and certainly not for the waves of haters. Shockingly, I’ve met maybe one member of this “Echelon,” the rabid fan-base for Jared Leto groupies. Those people scare me, but they’re EVERYWHERE. Every city of every country of every continent. This is why they played 300 concerts in 600 days. Oh, and the average age of the three band members is 39 years. That’s astounding.
If you referred to 30 Seconds to Mars as something other than a band, such as the living embodiment of neon splatter painting, I wouldn’t argue. Surely Jared and the boys want to mean something beyond the music. To some, it’s art. To the Echelon, I’m sure it’s truth. Love Lust Faith + Dreams is pure energy. Those little polka dots on the album cover are misleading because this thing will cause seizures if you aren’t prepared.
“Birth” kicks the album off calmly enough, but that string section let’s you know that a storm’s a-brewin’. “Conquistador,” “Up In the Air,” and “The Race” are ripe for any galactic workout playlist. Most of the other songs seem more grounded for the romantics out there because that’s the audience. You’ll notice a little voice orating the current section of the album you are on, which, surprise, are Love Lust Faith + Dreams (the album booklet has a cool little chart about this). These overarching themes explain why your girlfriend will love “City of Angels” and “Bright Lights.”
The album turns a bit dark on “End of All Days” and “Northern Lights,” in a dystopian This is War style, but they stuck with me above the rest because of their novelty (Confession: I LOVED This is War, which is why I can’t call this their best album. Most complete? Yes). Also, wasn’t the end of “Pyres of Varanasi” in the Iron Man 3 trailer?
I’ve discussed this album with peers and some say it’s too energetic. It’s rave-pace and some people prefer to operate at a civilized wine-and-cheese speed. That’s OK. But we’re dealing with a band whose past few years have been nothing but strobe lights, ballistic crowds and absolutely crushing it on stage. The new album isn’t going to be about silence and being alone. Musicians write what they know and 30 Seconds to Mars has been adored by its own lifeline. The long tours, these Echelon summits and releasing singles in space aren’t meant to be extreme just for show. They’ve just raised the bar too high for Earth’s atmosphere.
Vampire Weekend – “Modern Vampires of the City” (2013, XL)
Reviewer: Matt Sanderlin
(Available now on iTunes/Amazon)
A third album can really define a band’s past, present, and future. U2’s War. The Smith’s The Queen is Dead. Radiohead’s OK Computer. The third album really can make a case for a band, revealing if they are truly “in it” for the long run.
On Vampire Weekend’s third album, the band fully and finally realizes and defines themselves. While the quirky, afro-pop nature of their sound is still largely present, a newfound seriousness abounds. In stark contrast to previous and frivolous frolics like “Oxford Comma” and “One (Blake’s Got a New Face),” Ezra Koenig and his companions build much darker soundscapes and overall tones. Lyrically, Koenig reveals his religious distaste in “Unbelievers” and “Ya Hey,” shocking the system of fans who are used to hearing him sing about more obscure matters, like mansard roofs and diplomat’s sons. This maturity is actually quite natural and fitting, and showcases Koenig’s versatility and eagerness to grow.
Musically, the band experiments readily. Even from the first sounds of the opening track (“Obvious Bicycle”), the listener is showered with striking and intriguing sounds that perfectly texture the memorable melodies and fitting lyrics. “Everlasting Arms,” one of the many highlights of the album, displays this same experimental mindset by filtering the vocals through expansive reverb, creating vivid sonic washes and a colorful sound palette.
In all, Modern Vampires of the City is a great victory for a still-young band, and one of the year’s greatest accomplishments. If you didn’t care for the band’s work on Vampire Weekend and Contra, give this album a chance – You’ll be more than pleasantly surprised.
Two bands, opposite directions.
Paramore – Paramore
In a publicized dispute December 2010, Josh and Zac Farro left Paramore and didn’t go quietly. From their viewpoint, the entity that is “Paramore” is a crooked mess. Summing up Josh’s post, it’s Hayley Williams – and those guiding her – using the band as a mere vessel for her own solo project. Which is odd, because I’d argue that the band has been to her detriment, at least musically.
With a handful of exceptions, Paramore suffers from “Lady Gaga syndrome”: addictive choruses (“YOU TREAT ME JUST LIKE…”) and dull verses that make dryer lint seem thrilling. This is because Williams, who has a shimmering set of pipes, and the band’s style of music doesn’t always fit. Remember “Airplanes”? That’s some good stuff. She needs to be more of a singer, not a rocker, so that our eardrums have time to recover from that incessant piercing. Despite the band showing some growth on each album, the same conundrums persist: Is Paramore a synthetic product of the industry who’s sole purpose is to promote Hayley? And, how can Hayley’s voice exist in the confines of a “rock” band?
We have one answer. The self-titled Paramore was named as such because the band felt born-anew after the recording process and this is their “reintroduction.” Yeah right. We all know that this is the ultimate slap in the face to the Farro brothers. This is the first album without them, and they were the ones who founded the band in the first place. You may call it a coincidence, I call it irony. But even with all this squabbling, we don’t really know the truth. All we know is Hayley took some time to herself in LA and got a new producer for this album. But it’s not like you care about that anyway. Music is music. As long as a record gets put out, why bother with the semantics of its creation? So, as painful as it might be to hear, this is Paramore’s best album.
Paramore speaks to angsty young-adults coming of age in a tumultuous world (there’s a song called “Grow Up” and an interlude titled “I’m Not Angry Anymore”). They are on every Twilight soundtrack for a reason. But there are 17 tracks here that add up to more than an hour of ambitious songwriting, so we’ll focus on the new Paramore rather than the handful of throwbacks.
When the first interlude came on, I about lost my mind. THIS is what Hayley Williams should be doing all the time. Strip the instruments around her to bare essentials and let her voice carry those songs to the moon. Use Ingrid Michaelson as a template for how heavenly that could sound. Luckily, we get more than that little sample in the three short-but-sweet interludes.
“Ain’t it Fun.” Listen to it, seriously. It’s not a “Paramore” sound by any means, but that song exemplifies how far they can deviate from the cookie-cutter sound of their past. I can’t imagine how much Chaka Khan listening it took to inspire this. Oh, that gospel chorus. “Part II” bridges this new sound and the former sound: catchy chorus and enthralling verses, keeping the skip button at bay. The ballads smell a lot less cheesy this time around, too. “Last Hope” and “Hate to See Your Heart Break” show an emotional maturity anyone can tolerate.
And that is sort of how this album breaks down. Chances are, unless you are a true Paramore fan, you won’t like the entire album but there will be something playlist-worthy for your music taste. Evolving bands can alienate fans in the process, but this one seems to do more of the opposite. Hayley Williams can thrive in this band when they step out of that punk-rock quagmire and when the need for screaming is at a minimum. Even so, whether the industry is pulling the strings or not, this album retains what Paramore has always been about: Hayley.
Fall Out Boy – Save Rock and Roll
Pete Wentz said that he and Patrick Stump started writing songs just for the heck of it and one of them gave him chills. That just about says it all. They reunited the band and started recording this album in secret. No song in recent memory has made me want to run head-first into a brick wall more than Fall Out Boy’s comeback single, “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark.” But there is a whole album to account for now. Please, please, don’t be a one-track wonder. When the group disbanded in 2009, who mourned? By that time, Fall Out Boy had eroded into an odd semi-hit pop-rock concoction. And though their music evolved, it was kind of bleh. I listened to Folie à Deux in preparation for this album, thinking my ear-buds had changed and there would be a hint of what was to come. Wrong on both accounts.
The Save Rock and Roll claim is a bit of a stretch, but this record may have saved the band. That “secret” album Stump and the boys created is full of SICK BEATZ and arena-caliber explosives. Big Sean, Courtney Love, Foxes and, yes, Elton John all make appearances but they are merely afterthoughts. From the get-go, “The Phoenix” reintroduces the band by knocking you flat on your rear. “Just One Yesterday” and “Death Valley” all have that “MSKWYDITD” ferocity, which is perfect. The album can’t be all crazy, but you can’t leave us hanging after that first single either. Old school fans can find vintage FOB in “Young Volcanoes,” an anthem for the adolescents, just like the good ol’ days.
The hiatus and side projects have seemed to do wonders, but perhaps the best change for Fall Out Boy was creating an album solely on its own accord. They had fun making this album and it shows. We might not have missed them when they left the first time, but it’s feels good that they’re back.
First off, watch the video below then “Like” the band as quickly as possible:
Done that? Good … bring on the 90s nostalgia!
Afew repeats and I’m wanting to dig out my copy of the Blue Album along with my other favorites from the era, including some Marcy Playground, Harvey Danger and … nah, I’ll just go to Bandcamp and rock out to the rest of Unmacho, which includes the blisteringly good two-minute track “Van Man,” which deserves a video as ridiculously cool as the one they’ve made for the title track. That and the album’s opener, “Bonehead,” which showcases there’s more under the hood than just aping Rivers Cuomo. A quick stream suggests there’s not a dud in the bunch, which is more than a good reason to like them on Facebook and then buy a copy to blast with your windows down all summer.
Blindly soldiering on, Josh Krajcik produces a solid post X-Factor album with Blindly, Lonely, Lovely
He finished second in a reality show, but let’s face the facts: Josh Krajcik has talent which didn’t need a Simon Cowell-led talent show to showcase it. So it doesn’t come as a surprise to hear Blindly, Lonely, Lovely showcasing his blues-tinged growl over larger-than-life arrangements which accentuate his ability to merge blues, rock and pop, all within a slick package.
“Back Where We Belong” brings “big” to the forefront, with its massive arrangement of piano, thundering drums and Krajcik’s lung-deflating vocals, and at times the song itself becomes overwhelmed by that top-heavy heft. Sometimes less is more, which “Nothing” illustrates as the album’s opener. That’s the song which needs to be spread around the internet as the reason this guy needs to be heard. That or the southern-blues keeper “The Remedy,” which could have fitted itself nicely into any Ray Lamontagne album yet released, or at the least as a John Mayer Continuum b-side. Steep yourself in those vocals at the chorus, along with that rising tide of horns, and try not to get swept up in the mood.
This isn’t an album he’ll be able to build a whole career on, but clearly reality success didn’t spoil him — he’s used the time in the Fox spotlight to build an audience and then released an album perfectly in line with what those fans wanted to hear, free from obsessive studio interference. With album tracks like “Don’t Make Me Hopeful” and the album-closing stunner “Let Me Hold You” anchoring this mix, there’s plenty to hope for in this songwriter’s future. If you weren’t already sucked in by the solid craft illuminated by his first two independent albums (try “Atavistic” on for size if you don’t believe me), I can’t think of a better mainstream introduction to his sound than what Blindly, Lonely, Lovely delivers.
This week we’ve got new music to talk about, but first I need to get something off my chest. I attended my brother’s local rock music awards show last weekend and, through all the performances and drunken acceptance speeches, goodness gracious, the profanity.
Though I don’t frequently resort to cussing, I have a high tolerance for it. But this was outrageous. These young adults would interrupt their own set to give a soliloquy about how “effing cool” it was to play in front of us and how they couldn’t “effing hear us effers” when met with a smattering of applause. They forced it so much that when you broke down the parts of speech, it turned out to be a useless glob of babble.
It was awful. Subjects and predicates of the same sentence were some conjugation of “eff.” My family members were offended, and you should hear them watching KU basketball games.
To put it simply, something about being on “the stage” makes people strive to be cooler than they need to be.
My advice: “Do your show.”
You can work the crowd and use any word you want to, but let it flow like a normal human being. The mic isn’t a magic wand that takes your flurry of f-bombs and turns them into something daring or groundbreaking. [Editor's Note: "Unless you're the reincarnation of Lenny Bruce. Then work blue all you want."] As I was sober that night, perhaps I wasn’t the target audience. But I’m a civilized human being who enjoys good, clean fun. Treat me like one.
Back to business, though … here are your reviews, presented in full without the Parental Advisory sticker.
OneRepublic – Native
Despite being a mainstream pop band, One Republic remains vastly underrated despite the fact that lyrically gifted frontman Ryan Tedder has had his hand in the creation of so many gold-plated pop hits — everything from Beyonce to Backstreet Boys and Adele — it’s astounding. And within the confines of the soulfully beat-driven OneRepublic, we have a band who actually plays and writes their own music in such a way that listening seems guiltless no matter your musical preference.
Native, the band’s third album, is their most complete and definitive to date. Today’s pop music industry is saturated with the same equipment and same writers recording for the same dozens of artists, so it’s truly a spectacle to come out of it as “original.”
The first single, “Feel Again,” is infectious while retaining that “Good Life” vibe (Another track, “Burning Bridges,” though a mellower song, has the exact same beat as “Good Life”). There’s a Jason Mraz-like feel on Native, buzzing with about positive vibes (“Preacher”, “Something I Need”) and the affirmation anthem, “I Lived.” I want to post so many amazing one-liners, but the delivery wouldn’t do them justice. Let’s just make it clear; Their songs are more vibrant than ever, turning OneRepublic from an occasional hit into a feel-good band whose albums play like a greatest hits record from start to finish.
You can’t go wrong there.
The Strokes – Comedown Machine
Angles came out in 2011 and I still wasn’t ready for a new Strokes album. But it worked out because halfway through Comedown Machine, I had forgotten to whom I was listening. If you are a Strokes fan, you may still be trying to decipher what this is exactly. It’s not necessarily a “fun” album, which is kind of how this band has thrived over the years. It’s more outlandish and definitely experimental. A little too much of Julian Casablancas’ solo influence, maybe?
Nonetheless, let’s tackle Comedown Machine without any preconceived notions about what this band should sound like and determine it’s true musical merit. The album starts off with “Tap Out,” which is a groovy tune to dance to if you don’t like expending a ton of energy. Next is “All the Time,” which is as close to vintage Strokes we get. Let’s get back to that lack of energy. The rest of the album has some appealing pop beats but it’s like each song is masked in a sepia filter, void of true color. It’s really odd. Tracks such as “Welcome to Japan” and “Happy Ending” have the hook to deliver a serious butt-kicking, except you’re met with an inflated Socker Bopper to the face. The true value of this album comes in the droney riff-tracks, where the Strokes’ vast instrumental spectrum is explored in full. “Chances” is a winner.
Some people would prefer a pillow fight over a boxing match, and that’s perfectly OK. But this is a deviation from the Strokes’ usual throwback rock-and-roll style, so temper expectations accordingly. There’s an experience to be had here, but it’s going to be with headphones, not Phil Spector’s wall of speakers.
New Kids on the Block – 10
Imagine my bewilderment when I first saw this. It’s like a live-action Evil Dead, and be warned that Nick Lachey and the boys might be coming to your backyard, too. No disrespect, but the Backstreet Boys are the boy band supreme (with another album on the way!) and Justin Timberlake is doing his thing. I don’t even consider those One Direction tweeners part of the discussion.
My calendar says it’s 2013 and Joey McIntyre is 40 years old. But if you even think about calling NKOTB an “man band,” not so fast. This is a boy band in every sense of the term and even though they’ve been around for DECADES, they have transitioned seamlessly into today’s top-40 scene. If you enjoy streamlining pure pop music into your veins like myself, this album is pretty good stuff.
Hearing that “Remix (I Like The)” song for the first time felt like a caffeine rush. So exhilarating. Tragically, Donnie Wahlberg only waved his pen around during “Miss You More.” Listen long enough and you’ll get that sultry emo-rap. Luckily, Joey has a couple writing credits. ALWAYS look for a McIntyre credit. Those are usually gold. In this case, it’s album’s ultimate ballad “Back to Life,” and I expected nothing less. He helped write “Now or Never,” too? Not as good, but solid.
Bands like this should never die. With all the garbage we have to endure by a premeditated “next-best-thing,” it’s nice to have the presence of something that was the next-best-thing. NKOTB is lightyears away from the “Hangin’ Tough” boys from yesteryear (because, hey, the industry has different needs). I pray this reemergence puts an end to the tween poppers, but it might give rise to even more phonies. Hopefully, New “Kids” on the Block will continue to slay them.
Kacey Musgraves catches lightning in a bottle — “Same Trailer Different Park” is country’s best album of the year so far
If you ain’t got two kids by 21
You’re probably gonna die alone
At least that’s what tradition told you
And it don’t matter if you don’t believe
Come Sunday morning you best be there
In the front row like you’re supposed to
Same hurt in every heart
Same trailer different park
Mama’s hooked on Mary Kay
Brother’s hooked on Mary Jane
And daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down
Mary, Mary, quite contrary
We get bored so we get married
And just like dust we settle in this town
On this broken merry-go-
Round and round and round we go
Where it stops nobody knows
And it ain’t slowing down
Talk about a shot to the gut. This is one of those songs which could apply to just about everyone I’ve known in small-town Indiana at some point in our lives. It’s a touch of downwardly mobile Americana as we settle for less than we’re worth because we don’t believe we deserve anything better than just a chance at treading water.
Kacey Musgraves doesn’t have the thundering “shoot for the high notes” vocals of a Carrie Underwood, and though she could out-hustle Taylor Swift in any songwriting competition, you’ll be unlikely to find her drawing the same kind of frantic, obsessed crowd. All the better, because we can take in the wonderful songwriting on Same Trailer Different Park, 2013’s first flat-out fantastic country album, without having to worry she’ll be overexposed by September.
“Merry Go Round” may be the strongest introduction to her sound, but “Dandelion”, “Stupid” and “It Is What It Is” reiterate that this young woman is Nashville’s best lyrical hope, suggesting that country can mean a hell of a lot more than just by-the-numbers button pushing. This is the real America … it is what is is ’til it ain’t anymore. Here’s hoping listeners aren’t too stubborn to give her the chance she so richly deserves, because there’s nowhere better you could be than listening to this album a few times through.