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WAIT TIL I GET MY HEAD ON STRAIGHT: Matthew Good’s Arrows of Desire a must-hear rock album

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.

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“HEAR! HEAR!” EXCLUSIVE: Hurrah! A Bolt of Light – “In Over My Head”

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Brooklyn’s Hurrah! A Bolt of Light! brings a sensational blend of U2 arena rock and Augustana-inspired pop to the table via the entirety of their self-titled debut album, due out April 1st. The band spent time with producer John Fields (Switchfoot, Soul Asylum, The Rembrandts) in Los Angeles working to get the sound right, and I’ll come out and say it: there’s not a dud on the album.

“In Over My Head” in particular is a shining example of what the band offers. “I keep my heart in a little box … I should have known there’d be hell to pay,” Will Farr sings, backed by shimmering guitars, thundering percussion and echoing hand-clap fueled backing vocals. And while he may feel as though he’s in over his head, listeners will fall head-over-heels as they sing along with this perfectly radio-ready nugget.

Help break this band wide and share the track now, available to stream and download exclusively at “Hear! Hear!” via the above link. It’s easy to say there’s nothing great making it to radio but it’s another thing entirely to sit back and let something this good slip away. (You can follow Hurrah! A Bolt of Light! on Facebook and Twitter.)


“HEAR! HEAR!” EXCLUSIVE: PAZ’s “The Silence” is golden, an EDM hit in the making

There’s nothing about this song lyrically that would typically draw me in, but the hook to “The Silence” is immediate and I could legitimately expect to hear PAZ’s latest played on radio stations in the same mix as Imagine Dragons, Skrillex and Avicii, something which should attest to its EDM bona-fides. In the end the hook is all that matters, and it will have you singing along mindlessly long before you have the inkling to think about what you’re singing. That’s the essence of a great pop song, one which grabs hold and drags you kicking and screaming into liking it, and then getting you to spread the word even when you know you’ll be tempted to attach “guilty pleasure” to the description.

“Hear! Hear” is excited to be the first place you’ll hear “The Silence,” which you can stream via Soundcloud below. When more information is available about the full mixtape, we’ll let you know here as well.


RELEASE THE HOUNDS: Holy White Hounds’ “Switchblade” hooks like a knife to the gut

“Sometimes all you need is just a taste,” or so the chorus of “Switchblade” tells you as the brilliant single pinwheels its way through the confines of your skull. Holy White Hounds owes a great deal to the Black Keys, but their sound has a pop-fueled energy that band often lacks, fueled by the high-end production values of Brandon Darner (Imagine Dragons, Envy Corps) who helmed the band’s latest EP. There’s a real sense of “I don’t give a fuck” fun behind this one, as the video will attest on a single viewing. You’ll be singing along with this one all day while hitting repeat and trying to find out anything and everything about this enigmatic trio. With any luck Holy White Hounds will be the big rock story of 2014, as Iowa needs some serious rocking and this song seriously deserves wider appeal.


Tom Levin’s “Pull Yourself Together” melds sly folk with pseudo southern gospel for real keeper

Like a twisted blend of Cracker, Tom Waits and Jason Isbell filtered through the sensibility of the Coens’ Fargo, Swedish artist Tom Levin defies the “sanctity” of genres with this riot of a single off his latest album Them Feet. Hell, even Levin hints that this is his version of “Minnesota Nice,” twisted through a wondrous sludge of psuedo-Southern Folk and gothic Gospel touches. Says Levin:

The lyrics to “Pull Yourself Together” are inspired by how people in the [American South] are very good at letting someone know, in a polite way, when they are behaving like an idiot. I wrote the song because I had to get my disappointment with certain peoples’ behavior out of my system. “Bless your little heart” takes the edge off almost any insult and sometimes makes it sound like a compliment. If you or anyone you know ever needs to tell someone they are being a total jackass.just send them this song.

Watch it below and make your night just a little more special!


ARTISTS TO WATCH: Unicycle Loves You to release searing fourth album The Dead Age June 10th

This one’s an interesting beast. Though it’s not out until June, and the band won’t be revealing its lead single until after SXSW, I felt I’d be letting all of you down if I didn’t at least get your attention piqued well in advance. With three albums under their belt, Unicycle Loves You has already built a reputation as aural chameleons, delving into jangly power pop, post new-wave and garage psychedelia, but The Dead Age is something else entirely. Taking garage rock into the world of pop music by way of some of the grungiest sounds not already trademarked by Sonic Youth, the band wastes no time digging talons into your brain and achieving immediate liftoff. “Face Tattoo” has potential single written all over its surf-rock guitar-and-drums combo, with the ultimate bass groove underlining the faded-back vocals which echo back to an era when we didn’t have to understand every word our rock stars sang. It was about the way the music made us feel, and this is music tailored to stimulating all your senses.

Until you can hear the new material, give some of the band’s other stuff a listen — check out “Garbage Dump” below, off their album Failure and sound off in the comments if you want to hear more from these guys.


Black Crowes’ Guitarist Rich Robinson will release solo album The Ceaseless Sight on June 3rd

Rich Robinson, of the Black Crowes, has announced he will officially release his third solo record The Ceaseless Sight in June, and has premiered the lead single “One Road Hill” via Paste. You can check out the song below, featuring its strong folk melody, hand-claps and Robinson’s patented jangling acoustic guitar style, all of which echoes through the entirety. I’m really excited to hear more from this one.

In related news, beginning March 8th, Robinson will proudly join the likes of stalwart names such as Buddy Guy, Zakk Wylde, Robby Krieger, Jonny Lang, Bootsy Collins, Eric Johnson, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Billy Cox (Band of Gypsys, Jimi Hendrix Experience) and many more on the Experience Hendrix Tour presented by BandFuse: Rock Legends. Robinson will be performing on the following select dates:

March 8 – Shawnee, OK – Grand Event Center
March 9 – Midland, TX – Wagner Noel Performing Arts Center
April 4 – Milwaukee, WI – The Riverside Theater
April 5 – Merrillville, IN – Star Plaza Theater
April 6 – Peoria, IL – Peoria Civic Center
April 8 – Minneapolis, MN – State Theater


NEW MUSIC MONDAY: Schizophrenic melodies, synths unite adventurous singles from Ninetails, Arum Rae and Sleep Thieves

Ninetails – “An Aria”
Album: Quiet Confidence
Release Date: March 10, 2014

A trippy exercise in merging a dense yet adventurously free-wheeling arrangement, this second single from Ninetails’ upcoming album Quiet Confidence showcases a band with music perfect for close headphone listening. The vocals hide hauntingly out of reach, as the ears focus on the ornately schizophrenic melody, with bells and horns competing amid a constantly shifting aural backdrop. Definitely music worth savoring.

Arum Rae – “2001”
Album: Warranted Queen EP
Release Date: April 22, 2014

The backdrop of this endlessly addictive single which Spin dubbed “Auto-Tuned soul” is awash in synths and electronic dub elements, but Arum Rae’s distinct vocals delve into 808s and Heartbreak-esque territory while making subtle shifts which belie her advanced study of jazz vocals at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. What sets the song apart is that constant shifting between the worlds of hip-hop, pop and electronic, with a minimal use of instruments allowing Arum Rae’s voice to really twist and turn. There are moments where her voice, heard through this chaotic prism, takes on a vaguely middle-eastern touch, as though blending human voice and synth strings.

Sleep Thieves – “City Of Hearts”
Album: You Want The Night
Release Date: Spring 2014

The intro at first sounds like come of Enya’s more twisted synth tracks, but once the drums kick in this single quickly falls into a groove more akin to the sound of the Knife, as filtered through the more poppy nature of early Tegan and Sara. It’s a sound both modern and retro, which is sure to give Sleep Thieves plenty of potential appeal. Their debut You Want The Night, which as a full-length follows their successful 2012 EP Islands, is due out this spring and should quickly assert the Dublin band’s global status among synth-pop taste-makers. It doesn’t hurt that the song is instantly ear-catching and repeatable, which makes you want to blast it from your speakers to anyone who will listen.

 

 

 


FEATURED SONG: Nikki Lerner – “Plea”

Nikki Lerner’s entire album Longings is well worth your listen, but if you’ve only got time for one song, try the subtle building “Plea,” which showcases her pop-meets-jazz leanings in full-on glory. This is an example of a song taking its time to earn a listener’s respect, building layer upon layer of melody as Lerner’s vocals swim among the notes, elevating them from mere pop to something significantly more. This is mournful blues, soaring pop and multi-textured jazz all rolled into one five minute track, something you have to hear again and again to fully absorb. From the pizzicato strings at the first chorus, which immediately make the hairs on the neck stand alert, to the background vocals which add depth and clarity to the melody, this is a song built upon attention to detail. Every detail brings you back. By the time the song builds to its apex — “Please forgive me!” lingering in the air over thundering toms and an epic string instrumental provided by jazz violinist Zach Brock, there’s no going back.

You can buy the album via her Bandcamp page.


FEATURED SONG: Terese Taylor’s “Briefcase” a scathing indictment of love gone awry

I’ve got to say, I like the sound Terese Taylor brings to the table, a biting combination of anti-Lilith nineties post-grunge that references PJ Harvey and Liz Phair, with just as much appreciation for bands like Veruca Salt sneaking out through the lines. “If I ever wanted to be true I’m sure it wouldn’t be to you,” she all but snarls on the chorus of “Briefcase,” emphasizing an inherent distaste for truth-telling in a situation where both sides are hiding plenty in the shadows. This isn’t the easy pop breeze look at love on the rocks, where a well-placed apology will fix everything. This is more akin to the blind leading the blind. “I’m lying to myself and everybody else,” she sings, and the strident guitars and fuzzed-out bass are unobtrusive enough to let Taylor’s understated vocals take the lead. This is a keeper — At Your Mercy Circuit, out in April, has officially jumped onto my “must hear” list.


Wax Fang’s The Astronaut or: “For Those About To Show Albums Aren’t A Lost Art, We Salute You!”

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.


Lea Michele overacts as her new single “Cannonball” sinks hook-less, like a stone

“I’ll fly like a cannonball,” Glee-alum Lea Michele sings on her first original single, but what goes up eventually must also come down in a gory explosion of pyrotechnic overkill. At least that’s what happens here in a single which explodes in all the wrong ways, something only Michael Bay could fully appreciate.

Akin to something from a bad Broadway rock musical, Michele overacts her way through the video, backed by her own overwrought vocals, verses and chorus merging into one dense morass of pop miscalculation. The basic message is this: I’m lonely inside, but I’m going to get out there once I light this fuse and live my life, today … today … today …” Michele repeats words and phrases as though beating us with a blunt rhetorical instrument will make us like this song even in the slightest.

I in turn will start living today, and my first step will be vowing never to play this song again. If you’re feeling particularly masochistic, you can press play on the video below and then make the same vow never to do so again. But don’t say I didn’t warn you!


07 – Interview: Kat Dahlia


On this episode of the “Hear! Hear!” and Now Podcast, I have the opportunity to speak with Kat Dahlia, a 22-year-old pop / hip-hop songwriter who’s already made waves with last year’s viral hit “Gangsta.”

Dig beneath the surface and it’s easy to hear her disappointment with those in her generation who remain content bragging about accomplishments which in the end mean little. This, juxtaposed against her own family struggles as a first-generation Cuban-American growing up in Miami, sets her apart from most in the genre.

With a mix of fun party songs and more serious looks at the world in which she lives,one thing is clear: Kat Dahlia has something to say coupled with the drive to take over your pop landscape. Listen up, she’s coming to a city near you and there’s the chance to get in on this thing from the ground floor!

For a list of upcoming tour dates and to get a copy of her Seeds Mixtape, you can visit katdahlia.com


Freakin’ Out The Squares by Clouder is the reason the Internet murdered gatekeepers

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.


Angela Perley and the Howlin’ Moons’ “Hurricane” hits with the full force of a band worth knowing

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.


MELLOW GOLD: Slippertails’ There’s A Disturbing Trend sludge-rocks its way into your soul

Slippertails_COVER

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!


AMERICAN APPROPRIATORS: “Best Day Of My Life” shamelessly duplicates Imagine Dragons’ hook and no one cares

For the last two months I’ve been having a sense of musical deja vu, from the moment I first heard American Authors’ “Best Day Of My Life” and started wondering how it is that the hook which the song is built upon sounds so much like Imagine Dragons.

Not in the sense that it’s “hey, here’s the new Imagine Dragons!” or something of that ilk, something the band could hang its hat on as a badge of “honor.”

No, I’m hearing almost carbon copy similarities between the hook of Imagine Dragons’ “It’s Time” and the breakthrough of American Authors. The former has been a hit since mid-2012 and has spawned more than 55 million YouTube views, while also becoming the most sampled track for movie soundtracks and Hulu Plus advertisements. The latter came out in October and hasn’t built up nearly the same level of ubiquity, though it also seems set to live on in advertisements for years to come thanks to spots for Lowes and Hyundai.

 

 

“It’s Time” was produced by Alex da Kid and Brandon Darner, while I cannot find definitive production information for “Best Day Of My Life” for comparison. So I cannot be certain that this was a situation similar to when Beyonce and Kelly Clarkson were provided the same beat with minor edits by Ryan Tedder. Still,when so many specious arguments are made regarding potential plagiarism (“One Direction” sampling the opener to “Baba O’Riley” anyone?) it’s disheartening that two songs so similar can be released within the space of eighteen months and no one seems to be pointing out just how derivative this track by American Authors truly is.

If it’s not an outright ripoff, it at the very least signifies the band can’t separate its influences from its own sound. And it doesn’t bode well for the state of radio in 2014 if we’re willing to play along.


“Hell Yeah, Fuck Your Life” — Chi City puts the viral in underground hip-hop

Press play on this one by Southside Chicago rapper Chi City and let the incredible beat reel you in. One listen and I’m ready to share with the world, while blasting the chorus to everyone in earshot: “Hell yeah, fuck ya life!” Though hard-edged, the message is clear. You want riches, fame and respect? Work like a dog for it, put in the time and then maybe you’ll hit on something that sticks. Until then, don’t expect Chi City to cry any tears for you. The track’s got all the hooks needed to worm its way into any hip-hop playlist and stay there. Can’t wait to hear what else these guys come up with in the new year.


04 – “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!” Holiday Podcast


Consider this an early Christmas gift, if you will – ten songs which, combined, prove to be the true alternative to a boring repetitive day of holiday listening. I’ve kept my voice out of it this time, letting the songs speak for themselves. You can view a tracklisting below, along with the timed position of each particular track. Enjoy — and if it’s your cup of tea, go ahead: shoot your eye out. You’ll still be able to enjoy great music!

While the file size is large, the joy you’ll get from serenading your family with “Jingle Balls” at Christmas dinner will be well worth it — trust me!

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0:00 — Ye Olde Royal Shithouse Players – “Jingle Balls”

0:52 — Matthew Ryan – “It’s Christmas Time”

4:32 — The Mants – “All I Want For Christmas (Are Some Human Teeth)”

7:26 — The Anti-Queens – “I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus”

9:23 — PremRock – “A Christmas Card From A Hooker In Prague”

12:14 — Murs – “Christmas Rules Everything Around Me”

15:42 — Lindby – “Jesu, Joy Of Synths”

17:41 — The Diabolical Machines – “Drinking Alone On Christmas”

21:46 — Sherry Ryan – “I’ll Come First This Christmas”

24:44 — The Walla Recovery – “Go Tell It On The Mountain”


The Lonely Island keep it “Wack,” while Jimmy Eat World strips down

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.

LALALALALALALA…

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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.


“My Heart Hurts So Good” — AKA and the burgeoning Olympia, Wash. hip-hop scene (FREE MP3s!)

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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)

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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.

One of the leading emcees going by the moniker AKA, began putting together his album Heart Hurt Good together in seven years ago. Working with one of the premier producers in the Pacific Northwest Matt “Smoke” Smokovich and featuring some key players on the hip hop scene, Nicatine from Free Whiskey, Double B, Q-Storm, Skyler Blake and Brad B of Drunken Immortals. AKA added what would become The Heart Hurt Goods: Josh White on drums, Joe Pearce on rhythm guitar, Adam Bakotich on lead guitar and DJ Mothrider, and keyboardist Andrew White, and vocalist Nathalie Elam combined to form AKA & The Heart Hurt Goods.

They preceded to play almost everywhere and even tour the Southwest over the next year along the way winning Best Solo Act and Best Hip Hop Act at the Oly Music Awards and the just announced Hip Hop Freshman Of The Year in the Puget Sound. With the album Heart Hurt Good AKA has shown the passion and creative fortitude to follow his own path. From the first track “What We Do As We Do It”, the love of hip hop and Olympia flow through the entire album.

“We’re not in Kansas anymore Auntie Em” AKA flows on “Rocketman”, reminding us that this album is full of surprises and all the great things that indie hip hop can be. The stand out tracks that could bump in any club include “Dotted Line” Featuring Double B, and “Put On Blocks” featuring Nicatine from Free Whiskey and Nathalie Elam, throw a twist to the regular boring bass bumps that permeate through many misguided hip hop fans’ speakers. Tracks that bump the soul and drive anyone to start dancing in their spot, building up to throw aside the listeners’ inhibitions and get up onto the dance floor and shake.

Add in songs like “Supersonic Love” which touches on love lost and remembered and the iconic “Last Call” which ends the album with Nictaine from Free Whiskey and AKA singing the perfect song for those of us who continue to look for something else to occupy us when we’ve heard that familiar line “we don’t care where you go, you just can’t stay here.” With live instruments, flows which resemble poetry more than the false bravado that seems to reign supreme in mainstream hip hop, AKA has crafted a album with the Heart Hurt Goods that hits all the senses and easily fits into both rock fans and hip hop fans musical collection.

This is what a album for the summertime is supposed to be.

“HEAR! HEAR!” EXCLUSIVE: Rebel Revive’s debut EP XI

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.

rebelxi-300x300The 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.


Lucas Jack’s Sun City brings the piano-rock troubadour a new breath of life

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.


XY Unlimited’s Omega proves even a boy band has potential to surprise

I’ll admit to not having high expectations when I downloaded Omega, an album from a band billed as “an evolution of the classic 90’s boy band for the modern ear.” But even a boy band can surprise, particularly when said band’s album packs as many twists and turns as this one. There’s the requisite radio single in “Put Your Hands Up,” which encourages all of us with inner nerds to put our hands up and pray for the day we can “turn the other cheek when [we're] their boss,” but that thankfully comes at the end of the album. “Carmen” fares much better, as the band channels all the Bowling for Soup they can handle as they swoon over a beautiful latin grocer who quite likely remains out of their league to this day. Get that to radio and maybe we’ll be hearing these guys get the kind of airplay formerly reserved for songs called “Hey There, Delilah.”

But don’t overlook the album’s deeper tracks. “”They All Fall Down”, “Three Times” and “Gravity” showcase XY Unlimited’s lyrical range, and all three tracks also highlight their greatest advantage — these guys can SING! The harmonies on this album would make Ben Folds nod in approval (and I’m talking Reinhold Messner-era Folds) and seem perfectly tailored to a generation which made Glee the most popular pop ensemble ever. Everything culminates in a Donny Darko fanboy’s wet dream, as the band takes on “Mad World” in its Gary Jules incarnation, stripping it down to bare voices and autotune, creating a hybrid which is impeccably arranged and would give Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” a run for its money.

While this isn’t an album which is going to blow your mind and turn the sanest of listeners into mad XY Unlimited groupies, it is a solidly crafted pop album which is more than the sum of any boy band parts. Billing this band as such is a limitation they don’t deserve. Call it pop-punk with the heart of Death Cab for Cutie and the arrangements of Ben Folds, and give Omega the fair shake it deserves. Maybe you’ll even decide to award it “guilty pleasure” status as you listen to their voices swell.