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.
- – - – -
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.
- – - – -
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.
BAND APPROVED MP3s!
Download these mp3s to hear what has Frank Cardoza so excited.
They’re all yours, all legal, ready for you to hear and become a fan!
Simply right click each link and “save as” to put them on your drive.
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.
For the old-school fan of classic rock who isn’t afraid to mix plenty of Humble Pie and Jeff Beck into their listening schedule, Blades of Grass by Dirty Streets should be an album on your immediate listening list when it hits shelves on July 9th. Until then, get your fix with a few repeats of “Stay Thirsty” to keep your pump primed, a track which the Memphis-by-way-of-Mississippi power trio recorded at the legendary Ardent Studio with production help from sound engineer Adam Hill, with added power provided by Lucero’s Rick Steff on keyboards. With two full-lengths already to their name along with an extensive touring history, expect big things from these guys in the coming months. To learn more, check them out on Facebook!
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.
“Tell Me When You See Something Worth Saving” — Why you should immediately become familiar with the work of Darrin Bradbury
Darrin Bradbury tells things as he sees them, which makes this four-track single release, A Casual Conversation With Superman, a stunningly repeatable listen. “True love’s gonna make you lose your teeth,” he sings on the track “True Love,” which equates a broken-down love affair to the decay of an addiction to methamphetamine: “How I wish I could get back to when love was just a toke of something green like your eyes and gold like your hair,” he mourns, before suggesting that true love burns fast, sweet and then becomes suffocating and destructive. That’s much like the take on the Superman trope on the first track, which really is the standout. “Tell me when you see something worth saving,” Superman snarks at the songwriter while standing outside a telephone booth. “Flying will hurt your back and the spandex makes you itch … sometimes this world just ain’t worth saving.” That and saving the world repeatedly still doesn’t get you laid enough, what with Superman’s kryptonite sperm and all.
Trust me, this songwriter from West Virginia brings the goods. This EP’s only the starting point — get hooked on it, then move on to the harder drugs of The Quiet Side of Hell, which really gives you the goods on what Bradbury has to offer. This is Steve Earle meets Drive-By Truckers, with the sharp lyrical edges of John Prine and the strong folk melodic flair of Danny Schmidt. In other words, listen and you won’t be disappointed.
Classical piano meets Lil Wayne’s lyrical perversions on “IANAHB,” subverting any claim to good taste
For a minute you might be forgiven for wondering what the hell this track is — have I stumbled onto some odd alternate universe wherein Lil Wayne has converted into an off-kilter pianist?
“I’m in a crib, butt-naked bitch,” he chimes in ninety seconds in. “She said my dick could be the next black president.” Whatever the hell that means. From there, “IANAHB” expands to celebrate everything which is patently absurd about the entirety of Weezy’s schtick.
Yes, he’s crazy.
No, he doesn’t care what you think.
For those reasons, he’s willing to throw any ridiculous sleaze rhyme against the wall in hopes that it might stick and piss off someone, anyone, anywhere. In the course of nearly six minutes of perversely inane lyrical mind-fuckery, Lil Wayne manages to boast about everything from fucking every bitch in sight to even fornicating with the very piano backing his rhymes.
The message in the end is that he’s not a human being, so there’s no line he won’t cross in search of so-called hip-hop greatness. That, of course, is already clear to anyone with ears, as any rapper who would think it’s even remotely reasonable to equate the murder of Emmett Till with hardcore rough sex lacks the humanity to understand the concept of what it means to cross a line.
This is Wayne’s World, and if there ever was a line separating good from bad taste in hip-hop, he’s already gotten it drunk and had his way with it.
We’ve all been through romantic situations where “should have known better” comes to mind. We make mistakes, but often pray we won’t become defined by them. This is a playlist full of songs which ride that roller coaster from the highs of first love to the lows of wishing we’d just said no before having one’s heart ripped to shreds became a legitimate possibility. Highlights include “Flowers,” from Anais Mitchell’s acclaimed Hadestown folk-opera, “Homage for the Suffering” from a stunningly under-appreciated Matthew Perryman Jones effort, and “El Matador,” one of the best soMngs from Semisonic I can almost guarantee you’ll never have heard. That, and you can expose yourself to a number of artists on the edge of fame who sorely deserve a wider audience — Meaghan Smith deserves to be mentioned as one of the stronger “vaudeville pop” vocalists working the pop scene, and Diane Birch’s “Fire Escape” sorely needs a cult following.
The 220.127.116.11′s subvert pop, punk, surf and rockabilly expectations with Bomb The Twist, the best EP of 2012 you didn’t hear
Play this EP straight through and you’ll feel like you’ve just taken a time-warp back into the classic era of pop singles. “Three Coolchicks” may be the best mock-Beatles track I’ve heard to really hit on the sound the band made famous, while distilling how that sound must have sounded to these three Japanese women coming up in the era of Quentin Tarantino “aural re-evaluation.”
Yoshiko “Ronnie” Fujiyama, Sachiko Fujii and Akiko Omo formed the 18.104.22.168′s in Tokyo back in 1992, achieving a modicum of underground fame when they briefly appeared in Kill Bill Volume 1 performing “Woo Hoo” by the Rock-A-Teens, but their music has yet to catch fire. That boggles my mind in this era of retro-pop nostalgia — the EP’s title track sounds like a long-lost Bill Haley smash as though filtered through the Ramones with a touch of surf-rock Beach Party mix thrown in for good measure. This is the essence of “fun” and “rock” distilled into 18 minutes of furiously twisted pop. Like Tarantino the music ably steals from an era long past, but the key is that filter which is applied liberally to the music to make it distinctly theirs. That alone makes this worth a listen. I dare you not to start singing along with “Dream Boy” as though it truly was the logical follow-up to the Chordettes or Leslie Gore.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Foals burst into Holy Fire vs. new music from the Virginmarys and Atoms for Peace
When “NOW 45″ is the third highest-selling album, you know it’s been a slow week for music. You’re telling me I can play “Die Young” more than once every half hour? SOLD.
I’m constantly looking at upcoming releases and the only ones that remotely pop out are Justin Timberlake’s “The 20/20 Experience” on March 19 then The Strokes’ new one a week later. It’s a torturous time for new-music fiends.
But hey, this is also a time for discovery. New band/listener alliances are formed everyday, so may you find one as we wait for the ol’ faithfuls to wrap up production. Recovering from the absurd snowstorm, here are select albums from the past few Tuesdays. There are some new bands here, so it’s been an adventure.
Foals – Holy Fire
This is the third album by Foals and I cannot speak on behalf of the first two. But after the first few tracks, Holy Fire left an impression. Apparently, those songs are now singles, but the clicky-groove in “Inhaler” and the infectious pop anthem “My Number” are the highlights of the album.
Because the first half of the album is so catchy, the rest of it just fades away. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that it parties a little too hard, too fast. You might even be satisfied with playing “My Number” on repeat.
That said, there’s an energy throughout that is never in-your-face. The guitar is more plucky instead of grungy and it helps push tracks like “Out of the Woods” into more of a ballad category. It’s not a fair comparison, but I feel the same way listening to this as I do when I listen to the John Butler Trio. Some strange balance between rocking out and chilling out.
The Virginmarys – King of Conflict
Free downloads can be like digital pamphlets, destined for the closest trashcan. But sometimes, you get a gem that opens a gateway to spectacular musical avenues. Here’s such a case.
Sitting on my iPod since (scrolls through iTunes purchase history) 2010 (!) was “Bang Bang Bang,” a hard-hitting free download of the week that spewed out an unforgettable hook: “Take that gun, girl, and blow my mind.” Ooh man, this was a keeper. The band had nothing else out there, so their relevance was short lived. That single became buried and eventually forgotten.
Well now, three years later, The Virginmarys has surrounded that bombshell with an arsenal full of explosive tracks. These British rockers are not unlike the era of Jet and Wolfmother, Australians who sent music to the states to say, “This is how it’s done. Remember?” Mainstream rock music can get bogged down in the meaningless muck of sex, drugs and alcohol. It should be kicking down doors and pillaging all the awesome out of life. OK, maybe there is some mention of the three taboos of rock on this album, but it at least has meaning behind it. “Lost Weekend,” being the prime example, is more a cry for help: “And my body aches and my head it hurts. I’ve long found out that drugs don’t work. Will someone save me from myself tonight.”
“Just a Ride” barrels through the grieving process of a failed relationship while tracks like “Dressed to Kill” are almost the opposite, claiming “She’s my world.” Does King of Conflict bring anything new? Not quite. But sometimes the new can get so nauseating it takes nostalgia to cure it. This isn’t the dawning of another British rock invasion like we had in the early 2000s, but if it were, The Virginmarys would be at the forefront.
Atoms for Peace – Amok
So, this is Thom Yorke.
Atoms for Peace is merely an alternate label, but we can all assume that one Yorke incarnation sounds like the rest. Listen to Amok followed by The Eraser, his solo album, and for good measure, give The King of Limbs another whirl. The atmosphere is static. Compare that to a, let’s say, Tom DeLonge from Blink 182 and Angels and Airwaves. I never have to wonder what I’m listening to because those two bands are vastly different and serve different emotional purposes. Yorke, as unique as he is, is all under one bracket.
With the addition of Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, drummer Joey Waronker, who has worked with everyone from REM to Norah Jones to Beck, and percussionist Mauro Refosco, this could have been something a “fun” album. It’s not as dark as Yorke’s other work, but you won’t be craving this on a sunny day.
“Unless” feels like a car revving up in snow and going nowhere. Just once I’d like to see Yorke vocally detonate in the middle of a song. It’s a fine track, but it would have pushed this song into elite territory if it had some sort of climax. It’s like Radiohead’s cerebral and experimental style. All brain, not enough brawn. Do you work out to a Radiohead song? Can you? If this qualifies as exercise, I’m all in:
“Before Your Very Eyes…” and “Stuck Together Pieces” have prevalent bass-lines and that Flea/RHCP funk is trying so hard to get out. This album sounds as if it were produced with the utmost care and precision, but with the weapons at his disposal, this was a perfect time for Yorke to let loose. When you focus on what the band does well – smooth synth with a multitude of unconventional layers on top of it – the album is exceptional. Like deep-meaning lyrics, there are sounds on this album that require multiple listens to discover, and that’s most of the fun. But the minimalist approach and lack of diversity kept Amok from being something truly special. Oddly, this album is yet to reach Spotify.
All night awake
In the moonlight I’m with you
In the moonlight I’m with you
Brighter than gold
They’ve owned my ears since I first heard their Cuban-fueled masterpiece Two Shoes nearly a decade ago, and since that moment I’ve never ceased to be surprised at the levels to which they take their obsessively catchy blend of global pop. This latest single, a bright exercise in full body enrichment, sets your speakers afire with horn soaked exuberance, as Felix Riebl lets loose his distinctive Aussie vocals and the band holds sway over us all. In this musical empire the only reason the sun ever sets is so we can blast off with music like this under the moonlight. And with American pop music lacking any distinct edge, something this good is worth ten times its weight in gold. Their yet-untitled sixth album, due in May, can’t come nearly soon enough to sate my appetite for more as I, stuck awake way into the night, continue to press play. “Oh la aye!” indeed.
Casey Abrams’ new “Get Out!” video puts a humorous spin on obsessive crushes with an unforgettable hook
Memo to Casey Abrams. As much as we all love your songs and want you to succeed, it’s dangerous to film a video where you’re seen stalking a hot chick wearing her best “I Love NY” t-shirt, leering behind her like Seattle’s latest serial-killer-in-waiting. That, and telling a girl “you got me like a bug bite and now you’re under my skin” while your eyes bug out eerily might not quite come off as “sexy” as you’re hoping. This time it gets you punched in the face. Next time she might cut you, and we’d hate to see you get hurt, with so much great pop songwriting yet for you to do!
All kidding aside, this video perfectly sums up what made Casey so damned likeable when he was on American Idol back in 2010. If this hook doesn’t win you over, and you don’t find something to champion via this interview I conducted with him for PopMatters, I then officially excuse you. Please now safely give up pop music for life, you’re just not going to be in the right frame of mind for music which doesn’t take itself so seriously.
Lately I’ve been going crazy looking for a juicy pop hit to champion as we head toward spring. Well, folks, this is the one … roll those windows down and crank it full-volume, make sure the whole neighborhood hears. Represent for happy-go-lucky bearded weirdos everywhere, because with a hook this good, if this can’t be a hit I don’t want to listen anymore.
“We Don’t Even Live Here” — P.O.S. and his “Weird Friends” showcase just how far ahead they remain of mainstream hip-hop via new video
I’ve been a champion of P.O.S.’s magnificent hip-hop effort We Don’t Even Live Here since it came out late last year, but the rapper continues to find ways to mine that album for gold as the new year gets going, proving he leads the genre’s vanguard by a wide distance. Reset your opinions of hip-hop by giving these lyrical anarchists a listen or ten. They won’t be beat, and any chance to dig deeper into their catalog is worth the effort. Their tour was cancelled last year due to P.O.S.’s imminent need for a kidney transplant, but they will be playing Sasquatch! Fest with Mumford and Sons, Arctic Monkeys, Vampire Weekend, the XX and an astonishing number of other cutting edge alternative artists, when the festival takes over George, Washington on May 27, 2013. Based on everything I’ve heard about his live shows, this won’t be one to miss.
Check out the video below! It definitely deserves a shot at wider mainstream acknowledgement, even as the band refuses to give up an ounce of their indie credibility to get it.
Fall Out Boy knows what we did in the dark but hasn’t figured out it’s been six years since their relevance expired
I wish Fall Out Boy could see just how far they’ve fallen since their career crashed and burned with the collapse of Folie a Deux. Unfortunately they think that a dash of Maroon 5 mock-swagger plus Bruno Mars-esque backdrop hooks equals a whole lot of Fun. And it’s not. Not by a long shot. “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light ‘Em Up)” merely showcases a band whose career long ago went up in smoke attempting to create a pop juggernaut while playing by the old rules, figuring we’re all so desperate for a radio earworm we’ll gladly submit our brains for their control.
While once a powerful fixture in the world of top 40 hitmaking, Infinity On High marked their peak, and the five-year absence after “hits” like “America’s Suiteheart” failed to exceed trainwreck status suggests a total lack of direction. It’s been a long slow slide, and worse yet, they think they can Save Rock and Roll with their absurdly titled sixth studio album, due out in April. If this single is the best they can do, I think rock and roll would rather die a slow painful death than to submit to Patrick Stump and Co. as its savior. Sorry boys … the fall-out shall be swift: This critic knows what your songs did during the hiatus, and he’s not buying. Here’s hoping the rest of America follows suit.
Let it all be a reminder of how surely David Draiman rocks — Device’s self-titled debut delivers, “Vilify” leading the charge
There’s something about David Draiman’s inspired take on hard rock, tinged with all which is both invigorating and frustrating about the millennial hybrid fusion of rap and metal, that simply can’t be purged from my ears. For many of the same reasons I can’t stop listening to new Meatloaf records despite the fact that for every genius hook there’s an equally disappointing plummet, I find myself salivating whenever I hear any new track with that distinctive sing-song growl. “Arrrrrrrrrraughhhhhh!” It must be a product of my frenetic rock upbringing throughout the nineties which simply destroys all denial.
Draiman’s latest outlet, Device, has a self-titled debut coming out April 9th via the Warner label, and it arrives at once as addictive as anything Disturbed’s yet released, yet with more of an 80′s-inspired twist, particularly the incredible duet with Lizzy Hale on Device’s brilliant cover of Ozzy Osborne and Lita Ford’s 1988 “Close My Eyes Forever” which manages to blend pop hooks with Draiman’s typically uncompromising vocal energy. More on that in a moment.
First things first, however, as “You Think You Know” opens the album with typical Draimanesque bluster, including classic lines like “Get off me, you don’t know where I’ve been,” sung before he abruptly calls the mystery female a whore while referring to the monsters inside him. He’s like the opposite of Meat Loaf’s usual protagonist, the one constantly in arrested-development teenage lust, searching for desperate sexual release. Instead, Draiman’s songs come from that utterly opposite position where it’s all about living on a razor’s edge between fear, lust and ultimate insanity, a world rotting to its core.
You think you know, but it’s all in your mind. The sickness is everywhere, and we’re losing the battle.
What’s great about Device is the band’s willingness to twist the knife even as they merge Disturbed’s typical hard rock pastiche with backdrops built on layer after layer of Nine Inch Nails industrial and New Order inspired pop gloss. The opening triptych that is “You Think You Know,” ‘Penance” and the album’s first single, “Vilify,” unite everything fans will have come to expect from Draiman and Disturbed, but the new band seems more willing to play with those conventional expectations. “You’ve never had control from the onset,” he tells us. “Go find another lapdog, fucker!” He’s got this roiling tide of bile, distrust and confusion about the past, present and future, and the only way to get anywhere is to subvert every demand placed on the music.
Fuck you all!
Let every minute be a reminder
Of how it all came crashing down
Can’t believe this is happening
Don’t want to start over again!
How can this all keep happening
Over and over and over again?”
At that moment we finally come to a fork in the road — that aforementioned incredible cover of “Close My Eyes Forever” which should be the next single and the album’s ultimate mainstream breakthrough. Call it “Draiman Unchained” — apart from our demands for repeated past glories, the singer becomes a man willing to finally take the album to a new level. “If I close my eyes forever will it all remain unchanged?” Draiman and Hale sing back and forth, and while the answer in the end has to be “no,” we understand where they’re coming from.
It is easy to understand why Draiman has gone to such trouble to tell fans this isn’t an outlet to replace Disturbed — clearly he’s after a chance to redefine what’s come before, look toward the future and rediscover why he’s here to rock in the first place. The remainder of the album continues Device’s experimentation with hard rock and industrial, proving to be way more than a vanity side project while Disturbed takes a hiatus. “Out Of Line,” “Hunted” and “War Of Lies” won’t win over everyone who may have left Disturbed and David Draiman behind them a decade ago, but these songs (and in particular the album’s first four tracks) showcase a performer who knows his voice and is ready to get out there and dominate yet again, blending elements of the last three decades of hard rock into something perfectly shaped for our modern alternative landscape.
It’s not indispensable, but there’s something refreshingly invigorating about this album. Let it all be a reminder of how surely David Draiman rocks, and why we all could stand to take ourselves a little less seriously.
The last time I wrote about Hugh Laurie’s surprisingly adept blues debut nearly two years ago, the world of WordPress took note and rocketed the little review to Freshly Pressed status. The album never quite took off in the US, but my post did because at the time the music was only available in the UK — I’d just happened to luck into a press copy by accident, becoming the first US critic to say anything about it. What’s great about Laurie’s blues work, which makes the album stand out even two years in, is the fact that he comes at the music as a fan. He’s heard this music all his life, and it’s soaked into his soul — something which makes his performances work even when you perhaps wouldn’t otherwise take him seriously.
Today I learned he’s putting his music out there further in the UK to promote the NHS’s Organ Donor Registry via ITV, at a time when there is a desperate shortage of donors in that region. Laurie took to Oceanway Studios in Los Angeles, recording a rollicking cover of “Unchain My Heart” for the cause in the same venue where everyone from Frank Sinatra to Ella Fitzgerald have recorded. You can watch the video below, and then dig deep into Let Her Talk like you should have done two years ago. It’s not too late to recognize a wide-ranging talent when you hear one.
If you’ve come into this late, just refresh the page every few minutes. I add all the new posts at the top! Enjoy …
- – - – -
10:27 p.m. – Awesome that they fit in “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” to really give Adam Yauch the send-off he deserved. Too bad they then cut it off with a commercial for the Grammy Foundation. Hopefully the whole performance goes online. I’ll post it on here tomorrow if it does. That’s it for the night, y’all! Feel free to sound off in the comments! It’s been fun, but I’m glad this is a once a year thing
10:25 p.m. – I hear you Grammys, saving all the hip-hop for last, but at least it was worth all the hype. Too bad they couldn’t give out the real great hip-hop awards on here, and give some credit to the new generation of artists. Instead, the best albums got their awards online, if at all.
10:22 p.m. – Gearing up for the final performance of the night, featuring LL Cool J, Chuck D, Tom Morello, Travis Barker and others … coming up! Whew. I’m ready for a nap!
10:16 p.m. – And the Grammy goes to … MUMFORD! WHO’D HAVE THOUGHT? Definitely didn’t see that coming for “Babel.”And our first big bleep of the night … always good.
10:15 p.m. – Adele can’t help but steal the show. She’s here to present Album of the Year. Great joke about getting “knocked up like last year’s winner.” Fun’s been dominating but I still think Frank Ocean could have this one.
10:11 p.m. – And now Frank Ocean’s much hyped “Grammy performance debut.” I love “Channel Orange,” and think he deserves all the praise he’s gotten for it, but this was a ragged out of key start. He must have been having a hard time hearing himself.
10:09 p.m. – A nice version of “Your Song,” by legendary artist Juanes, which isn’t exactly the greatest Elton John song, but it is the most played. Blending English and Spanish was a really really nice touch.
10:03 p.m. – We’ll miss you Levon.
10:02 p.m. – I really think Alabama Shakes was robbed … Fun is great, and maybe this performance has me enjoying everything a bit too much, but that woman’s voice … just let me listen to her and Mavis Staples the rest of the night. Elton can’t even hold a candle to it, and he’s working his damned ass off. THIS is the Grammy Moment LL’s been waiting for all night. And it won’t be topped.
10:00 p.m. – I enjoyed Mumford’s performance earlier, but they’re having way more fun on this cover of The Band … this is why I remain a fan. I’d love to see them twist more beyond the four-to-the-floor folk stomps they’ve been known for.
9:58 p.m. – I love Mavis Staples’ voice … can she sing more on shows like this? Daaaaamn!
9:57 p.m. – Commemorating the life of Levon Helm, Elton John also calls out the Sandy Hook families for our rememberance, then plays “The Weight” at long last — a great performance I’ve been waiting for all night! Talk about an all-star band up there playing one of the best songs EVER written.
9:55 p.m. – Those we lost this year starts with Dave Brubeck and Andy Williams, then Donna Summer. Robin Gibb gets a few seconds, love his voice … Patti Page (reminds me of Kelly Clarkson’s great performance). Davy Jones of the Monkees … Dick Clark gets the same time as anyone else. Andy Griffith gets a nod as an actor and singer. Kitty Wells … love that song “Honky Tonk Angels.” Doc Watson’s another great we’ll miss. But Ravi Shankar made a huge impact as well. Adam Yauch got a good Beastie Boys clip on there. I appreciate that they put producers and writers in this as well — they deserve their moment. It’s a shame when they put four or five on a screen, you can’t differentiate between them. But I thought it was a classy mix.
9:52 p.m. – Justin Timberlake’s back to talk with Ryan Seacrest about making noise for great performers we’ve seen tonight … suggesting it might be the Best Grammys Ever. Eh … but more he wants to thank the music teachers, unsung heroes that they are. The Grammy Foundation is now creating a music educator award for Grammys 2014. Let the whoring begin … it’s nice to have teachers get an award, but I suspect it’s just going to be more politics.
9:48 p.m. – Can’t go wrong with some Dave Brubeck! Digging this indeed … I just might “take five” and relax a bit …
9:44 p.m. – Classless Grammy Moment: Would it kill them to have let Kimbra talk for 30 seconds without playing her off? Douchey move.
9:43 p.m. – Love it even more that Gotye thanked Prince for inspiring him to make music. I hear more Phil Collins in much of his work, but it’s always great to be able to thank your inspirations. Great speech, Gotye!
9:42 p.m. – Record of the Year goes to Gotye! FINALLY I got one right! Too bad I’m still blocked on Twitter, or I’d boast the hell out of this one, by posting pictures of myself in Gotye inspired bodypaint. Now the world can never see them. Take that, Twitterlimits!
9:41 p.m. – Record of the Year presented by PRINCE … why not let him play his song? It’s better than 99% of this show so far!
9:36 p.m. – That glowing dress is definitely eye-catching, and this song is going to wind up stuck in my head the rest of the night. LL’s probably backstage loving his latest predicted “Grammy Moment,” but at least with this one I think he was right.
9:34 p.m. – Hunter Hayes sounds great. Too bad he hasn’t won anything. And now he gets to sing with Carrie Underwood, which is excellent if you like country. If you’re tired of all the country and wish they’d go back to the CMAs, I guess you need to mute the next few minutes.
9:26 p.m. – And the Grammy goes to …………. FUN! Wow … take that, folk rock revival AND new artists all at once … they’ve been at this TWELVE YEARS! But great speech: “I’ve got to pee so bad!”
9:25 p.m. – Katy Perry presents BEST NEW ARTIST … I called it for Alabama Shakes earlier, but can they turn back the Fun. tide?
9:23 p.m. – Leave it to Jack White to show us why, even when his album Blunderbuss wasn’t a flat-out classic, it’s still better than most stuff out there. “Freedom at 21″ definitely IS a stone cold classic, and it should win more kudos than it does. I love that solo!
9:22 p.m. – WTF? Apparently I’m over my limit for Tweets. They need to up that limit if they want to advertise “live tweeting” as a thing. Booo ….. but hey, there’s Jack White, I feel better now!
9:20 p.m. – The Lumineers need to get a deal with Hallmark to market this chorus, which I still say could sell a million Valentines. It’s really great to hear music like this getting big radio play. Should be a fun race in the soon-to-be-announced “Best New Artist” category!
9:11 p.m. – This has improved greatly now that they finally got done with the Bruno Mars song and let the real reggae shine. Damien Marley is killing it!
9:06 p.m. – The long awaited Marley tribute starts with Bruno Mars singing his own song, “Locked out of Heaven.” Not an auspicious beginning, though it’s a rousing version of his song.
9:02 p.m. – Entering hour three of this live blogging experience, so you don’t have to. I’d love to hear what you think, if you’ve been reading along — @Sanders_SSv is active on Twitter!
8:58 p.m. – Best Country Album goes to Zac Brown Band. Meh. I was rooting for Hunter Hayes, but man the Time Jumpers had a nice Lyle Lovett sound.
8:55 p.m. – That version of “Tennessee Waltz” is why I was so bored with Rihanna. Kelly had all the soul Rihanna lacked … and she’s continuing to kill it on “Natural Woman.” This is what Grammy performances are made of, people! Take note …
8:53 p.m. – Kelly Clarkson on lifetime achievement winners … waiting for her to really wail on some Carole King. This should be good!
8:52 p.m. – I think that’s gonna win as performance of the night unless someone really pulls a rabbit from their hat. Watched the Black Keys on Austin City Limits playing just the two of them. Comparitively, this is a total circus … and I still dig it!
8:49 p.m. – The Black Keys with Night Tripper, Dr. John and the Preservation Jazz Band … this better be GOOD! I’m really looking forward to this …
8:43 p.m. – Jay Z wins the night with his quote: “I’d like to thank the swap meet for his hat!”
8:41 p.m. – Best Rap Sung Collaboration goes to “No Church In The Wild” featuring Jay-Z’s entire posse!
8:39 p.m. – Mikky Ekko really elevated that song into a solid duet when all was finally said and done. I wouldn’t call it fantastic, but I enjoyed it.
8:36 p.m. - Around and around she goes, where she’ll stop no one knows. I don’t know how I feel about her insisting on playing her song about how she wants Chris Brown to stay in her life, But it’s a nice enough sounding song. Still, nothing I’d write home about.
8:28 p.m. – Wow, Kelly Clarkson wins Best Pop Vocal Album … thought Fun was gonna win that one, but she seemed glad to get it, and it’s a great album — even if it was written by committee.
8:25 p.m. – Not a big fan of this direction of Alicia Keys tuneage. “Girl On Fire” leaves me feeling like Fun getting rained on.
8:23 p.m. – The first WTF performance combo of the night goes to Maroon 5 and Alicia Keys. I’m played out on Adam Levine, and I’m not sure how this is going to lead properly into anything from Keys.
8:21 p.m. – Way to go Black Keys! I thought Alabama Shakes might win this earlier in the day, but as the Keys dominated the pre-Grammy awards, I figured the tide was turning in their direction.
8:11 p.m. – Urban Contemporary Album better go to Frank Ocean and not that asshole Chris Brown. Okay good, crisis averted! Thank you Grammys for rewarding a great album!
8:07 p.m. – This just in: the next JT song equates love with drugs and addiction. He’s the user, she’s the pusher. But it’s got a fat groove, and I’m liking it more than what he’d previously released from the “20/20 Experience.” I’m going to guess it’s called “Pusherlove.” We’ll see.
8:05 p.m. — Jay Z pumped it up after the average “Suit and Tie” performance. The sepia filter beat us over the head with the idea that JT wants us to see this as “retro inspired.
8:03 p.m. – Ellen and Beyonce introduce Justin Timberlake’s … triumphant? … return? We’ll see how it turns out.
7:58 p.m. – Justin Timberlake’s coming up along with a ton of other random performances, including a tribute to Bob Marley featuring Bruno Mars. Wow. Wonder if Taylor Swift’ll sing along with it like she was with Mumford out there in the crowd.
7:55 p.m. — Great song by Mumford. And these guys always look like they’re enjoying themselves, though they’re much more restrained here than on SNL earlier this season. THAT was a live performance!
7:51 p.m. – And the Grammy goes to … Fun.
7:50 p.m. – Song of the Year — should go to Carly Jepsen hands down!
7:41 p.m. – Weirdest segue into the Best Country Solo Performance award. I’m going to bet on Hunter Hayes here. (Edit: Oops, it went to Carrie Underwood. Go figure. I think I’m out of touch on what works in mainstream country, now that Americana’s gone pop.)
7:40 p.m. – I’m not hating this song from Miguel and Wiz Khalifa. Hadn’t heard it before, so it was a nice surprise as we near the end of hour one.
7:36 p.m. – Miranda really elevates this song, but it sounds like too many others before it to be really that memorable. I’m yawning and waiting for more awards.
7:32 p.m. – Dierks Bentley and Miranda Lambert get to play instead. Miranda Lambert sounds great as usual, though this isn’t my favorite song of hers. It’s a fairly typical tearjerker with the kind of chorus anyone from Kelly Clarkson to Carrie Underwood could pull off indiscriminately. Dierks, meanwhile, sounded bored out of his mind singing there — either that or he took too many pills backstage or something.
7:31 p.m. – Bonnie Raitt and John Mayer … ought to be good! Oh wait, they’re not singing … boooooo!
7:23 p.m. – Not a bad performance from Fun, though they have this song down to an art now. No real surprises here. Anyway, nothing’s gonna stop them except perhaps an onstage rainstorm …
7:20 p.m. – Solo Pop Performance should go to Carly Rae, but … Adele sucks up all the awards in the room.
7:10 p.m. – Enjoying this duet between Elton John and Ed Sheeran, and Sheeran gets to actually play his own song (“The A Team”) rather than suffering through someone else’s song as a “tribute.”
7:05 p.m. – That was a hot mess. But LL says it’s the greatest show on earth, and he’d never lie … and he thought Swifty was “spectacular.”
7:02 p.m. – Taylor Swift opens the Grammys, which means we can now get on to the real business of rocking once she sits back down. I like her album, but man this song got overplayed!
6:56 p.m. — The Black Keys won big online, but won’t get as much love during primetime, while I question how much we can expect from Timberlake’s big performance and again, with LL Cool J back to “host,” do the Grammy’s really need a host? Doesn’t all that music speak for itself?
6:49 p.m. — Drake’s win for Best Rap Album for Take Care has his fans in Canada excited, though in the end it seemed like a pretty weak field. Having a hard time remembering how rare it is for this category not to make the live telecast.
6:40 p.m. — Welcome to the 2013 Grammy Live Blog here at “Hear! Hear!” With no Adele around to dominate every single on-TV award like it seemed she did last year (with a few detours for the likes of Chris Brown … ugh!) I’m expecting some key surprises. Here are my picks in the “Big Four” categories:
Record of the Year: I think this one’s going to come down to Fun vs. Gotye, with Taylor Swift sitting on the sideline disappointed. I’m going out on a limb and predicting Gotye’s “Somebody I Used To Know” will win based on just how dominant that song was across pretty much every platform.
Album of the Year: Jack White fans can attack me now, but while the Grammys won’t give big awards to rap albums, they do love R&B, and Frank Ocean’s story is the kind that gets voters salivating. My bet’s on a surprise win for Ocean.
Song of the Year: “Call Me Maybe” may be annoying as all hell, but it is clearly a song which became ubiquitous because it was ultimately the most incredible earworm you’ll hear anywhere. If it doesn’t win, I’ll be stunned. Fun’s “We Are Young” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” don’t even come close.
Best New Artist: I think the tide’s turning in Alabama Shakes’ direction, based on all the pre-Grammy hype, Above all, though, this category is stacked deep with talent. Alabama Shakes will most likely be the winner — but if Frank Ocean or Hunter Hayes pull out a shocker, expect a Twitterbomb of vitriol. And with Grammy voters’ past moves, who’d put it past them?
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “II” (2013, Jagjaguwar)
Reviewer: Matt Sanderlin
There are albums that can be and should be played at maximum volume on loud speakers for full appreciation. Other albums are the quiet-but-lush type, and need a great set of headphones for complete understanding. And then there are albums that are just great no matter how you listen to them.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s highly-anticipated second album (II), is somehow both a “car stereo” album and a “headphones” album at the same time. The album starts off quite quietly, like an entry from a hippie’s diary (“From the Sun”) – Hushed harmonies melt naturally over gentle acoustic guitar picking, and little bass bubbles and drum gusts float by as the song progresses. This, of course, is the subdued side.
And then there are tracks like “No Need for a Leader.” The metallic electric guitar scratches steadily build a violet and red undercurrent, and the punky drums and serious bass bleed black and blue. And then, about 4 and a half minutes in, the band shifts comfortably into a brief jam session, chugging ferociously like a psychedelic Clash.
The band’s appetite for blending savory blues chords and 60′s rock rhythmic structures is the main key to their success on II. Influences as far-reaching as George Harrison, Pink Floyd, and even Jimi Hendrix marinate the already flavorful, lo-fi sound-scape with fitting synths or fuzzy electric guitar tones.
If “magical” wasn’t an already-overused (and often humorously-applied) adjective, I’d be tempted to deem II as such. Whatever word fits best, it is dreamy, layered, and absolutely entrancing. This is without a doubt one of the year’s best albums thus far. Try “Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)” and “Faded in the Morning,” and let the rest follow from there.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Josh Groban, Coheed & Cambria lead the pack, while RED’s Release The Panic falls short
Welcome to “First Impressions,” a new weekly feature where we do a quick rundown of Tuesday’s most popular new releases. We’ll focus on mainstream artists and the good/bad they may bring to our ears and the music industry.
At the dawn of a new year, music fans eagerly await spring and beyond for artists to crank out new albums. That post-Christmas lull can be hard to overcome, but we have to start somewhere. February seems to have a bit more substance (all apologies to A$ap Rocky and Tegan and Sara, but January was quite lackluster). Still, it took some digging to find anything moderately popular to challenge a solid album by Josh Groban. As always, some release weeks will be better than others. In a perfect world, musicians like Kanye and Mumford and Sons would release albums every week. But instead, I have to wonder if the band Foals is popular enough to write about. (Editor’s Note: “Yes, it is.”) But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it (next week!).
- – - – -
Josh Groban - All That Echoes
Is there anything left to be said of Josh Groban which hasn’t been written elsewhere?
On his latest album, almost nothing has changed. His vocal chords were forged from the same mystical realm as Adele’s. Lucky for Groban, the male version came without perpetual heartache. All That Echoes holds no surprise for Groban followers, yet talking about him will get old before his music does. It starts off with “Brave,” just another stalwart track in his ever-growing melodic masterpieces. Throw in the emotionally conflicting “Happy in My Heartache,” songs in foreign languages (“E ti Prometterò,” ”Un Alma Más”) and covers (“I Believe When I Fall in Love” by Stevie Wonder), and you have a textbook Groban album.
But, oh that “Hollow Talk.” Originally by the Choir of Young Believers, Groban does a haunting croon on top of little plucks and hums for three minutes then … MAGIC. Those strings in the middle might be the single best moment of the album. It’s as dramatic as the man has ever been and a drop-the-mic moment. Josh Groban is only 31 years old and you have to assume that he has long since reached his vocal peak. He could make this album a million more times and I couldn’t knock it if I tried.
Coheed & Cambria – The Afterman: Descension
It’s 2013 and Coheed & Cambria remains an underground band few have hearddespite being the most unique and underrated rock band of the past decade. They create free-range rock deviating from diabolical themes to benign harmonies, while standing tall as one of the few remaining bands to consistently incorporate six-plus minute epics (“Gravity’s Union”) within each album. That is especially refreshing given that guitar solos have become an abandoned novelty among rock bands. Lead vocalist Claudio Sanchez’s distinctive voice, though a potential turn-off for some, puts Coheed within its own realm — neither above or below, just apart from their competition.
The Afterman: Descension is the second piece of a two-part album, following October’s The Afterman: Ascension. The albums comes with it’s own graphic novel, part of Sanchez’s Armory Wars, the story which the band’s music is based. Honestly, you don’t need to know what’s going on to enjoy what’s going on. Descension picks right up where it’s predecessor left off, staving off the staleness of Coheed’s previous two albums, Year of the Black Rainbow and No World for Tomorrow.
They thrive on bipolar album structures and with the funk-shred blend in “The Hard the Sell” and the odd jazz/cyberpunk “Number City,” Coheed is once again at it’s creative best. The album slowly tones down in the back half, putting a bright seal on a complicated double-disc journey. But by that point, the message was sold: they still rock.
RED – Release the Panic
RED is a rock band, and I’m leaving out the word “Christian” because, even though the band is labeled as one, it doesn’t matter. That term leads to misguided impressions, whether positive or negative. They play normal songs about human emotions based upon personal experiences. RED’s members just so happen to share a Christian background, which shouldn’t define them. At the end of it all, music is music.
This is the band’s fourth album and, as a long-time listener since their first effort, this was the first time a track failed to register chills on the first listen. RED relies on electric power with the grace of a strings ensemble, and Release the Panic sunk somewhere in a quagmire of all that. I have no idea if it was an effort to become “radio friendly,” but I hope that isn’t the case.
It starts off with the title track, which sets an oddly aggressive tone. It’s a different vibe than the rage-filled “Feed the Machines” intro from Until We Have Faces. Even behind the growls and semi-dark theme, “Feed the Machines” had an elegance to it and the rest of the album followed suit. “Release the Panic” sets the album ablaze from the start, sending everything that follows running for cover.
Salvaged from the destruction is the uplifting “Hold Me Now”, the straight-forward “Perfect Life” and the standout, “Glass House”, making this a decent album despite its flaws. Most of the intros are pretty sick. But coming from a band who has a reputation of making music with such precision, there sure is a lot of chaos. Fans who go into the album expecting a repeat of their first three albums may wind up disappointed, but enough quality songs remain to make this worth a listen for those hearing the band for the first time.
Mumford and Sons’ The Road To Red Rocks joins the ever-burgeoning ranks of unnecessary, indistinct live albums
I can understand the band’s interest in releasing The Road To Red Rocks — the idea three years ago that Mumford and Sons would have a US fan-base capable of filling the legendary outdoor venue would have seemed laughable, before their blend of Euro-folk traditionalism became pop via “Little Lion Man” and “The Cave.” But there’s nothing unique about the recordings here, little which bends the songs and makes them any different live than they were on the albums we already own. It’s one thing for the band to take a victory lap, but don’t be surprised if most fans choose to let this one pass them by, for if you weren’t there to actually experience this show, the audio portion of The Road To Red Rocks is the definition of expendable.
The video portion of the album, on the other hand, showcases the oddity of an Arena Folk band in all its glory, which at least warrants a second look. That, and the fact that the band opened up the path for bands like the Lumineers to achieve radio success, at least gives room for hope as we leap into 2013.
Check out the live album below via Spotify, and get a glimpse of the DVD portion via a YouTube clip of “Little Lion Man” from the concert:
- – - – -
She may not want to go back to the 90′s, but on No Fairy Tale Lisa Loeb fits right in with her hits.
Lisa Loeb states early on her latest album that she’s not particularly eager to go back to the 90′s, while managing to straddle the line between Fountains of Wayne-esque eighties nostalgia and Mike Doughty’s longing to put the past behind him and get ears to focus on his latest output. Funny thing is, No Fairy Tale may not pick up right where we heard her on the Reality Bites soundtrack, but these songs still have the crisp fly-on-the-wall hooks that brought fans in the first place, proving that when a singer has pop smarts, they don’t necessarily fade with age.
The title track in particular could be a long-lost Rilo Kiley out-take, daring fans to hit repeat and “share” on Facebook:
It’s no fairy tale
There’s no bread-crumb trail
To lead you back but it’s just as well
You can close the book
And curse the turn it took
It told the true story of how you fell
And that’s a better one to tell
This is one of those brisk pop albums which plays it straight, casting just the right spell to keep you listening from start to finish. I’m not going to say there’s a ton of potential hits here, because what constitutes a “hit” is such an oblique term these days. But when a songwriter can follow something as poppy as “The 90s” with the equally impressive “A Hot Minute,” it becomes clear why she’s continued to put out singable pop nuggets for twenty years while we’ve yet to hear anything new from a flash-in-the-pan like Anna Nalick.
Nothing on No Fairy Tale suggests Loeb needs to take as long between albums as she has since 2004′s The Way It Really Is, her last album aimed at adult pop audiences. No, it’s not as relentlessly catchy as her ubiquitous hit, “Stay,” but you’ll only require a few listens to the new album to prove we really don’t miss that slick sound. Resist the urge to live in the past, relying on false nostalgia to suggest there’s nothing worth hearing in today’s pop world. These dozen tracks prove Loeb still has pop smarts and hook-filled songs written in the now which capably fill the space between our headphones, just waiting for that moment when the chorus leaves our lips.
That’s more than enough for me.
“Play It Loud, Ray!” — Jacob Jones teams up with Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard on the perfect throwback single for any Music City Sweetheart
Jacob Jones’ Good Timin’ In Waynestown doesn’t come out until next week, but that’s no reason not to play his single loudly a few times in celebration of Jones’ throwback rock-a-boogie vibes, which blends the sounds of New Orleans jazz with fifties-era rockabilly and hints of Motown soul. Adding the vocals of Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard to “Play It Loud, Ray” was an inspired touch, adding to the singalong chorus’s unstoppable hook. The rest of the album more than sustains the hype, with “Now That I Found You,” “Lost on the Ohio” and “Don’t Turn Me Loose” proving in particular that Jones has an ear for making these throwbacks fit in a modern pop context. If you too are ready to, as his website proclaims, “Honky Tonk yourself to death,” play this album loud and proud. Nothing else comes close to putting Chuck Berry into the same company as Ryan Adams or Alabama Shakes, which for this critic is more than enough reason to listen.