Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Justin Timberlake - Futuresex/Lovesounds

Buck Fifty wanted a bad review…Buck Fifty will get a bad review.
So, from what I hear, Justin Timberlake is a big deal. How this happened I’ll never know. We never would’ve even known Nick Lachey’s name if he hadn’t screwed up his relationship with Jessica Simpson. The only reason we know that AJ guy from The Backstreet Boys is because he’s been in and out of rehab more times than Scott Weiland. So why should we know the curly-headed guy from ‘Nsync? We know Joey Fat-One because his name is great and accurate. Lance Bass is gay. Justin Timberlake…well, he’s dating Cameron Diaz. And he put out one album in which he pretty much told the world of his massive man-crush on Michael Jackson.
But this new album is supposed to be something else. A major artistic step forward. “I wanted to do something that isn’t what you normally hear on the radio.” His words. So what does he do? Hire Timbaland…a fantastic beat-maker, but someone that everyone and his mother has used at one point or another. There’s not much unique about using Timbaland for your artistic step forward.
Of course, by now, everyone has heard his single, “Sexyback”. Is it catchy? Yeah…I suppose. It’s basically a club song, with Justin half-singing half-talking his (distorted) way through a skittering beat with synth stabs everywhere you look. It’s fine, I suppose, for one song.
Here’s what kills the album. It’s the same song for the entire album. Okay, so I overexaggerated there. There’s a break or two with the needless prelude/interlude, and, of course, the all too predictable “aw-girl-you-know-I-love-you” slow ballads. You can almost hear him proclaim, “That’s right gentlemen. Now’s the time of night when you just find that special girl, hold her tight, and dance all night. And don’t stop…just keep dancing…here, on The Quiet Storm.”
I suppose it’s not as bad as it could’ve been. I mean, he did try something a little different. For him. It’s not like this hasn’t been done before by a thousand different artists. But, all the sudden, because it’s Justin Timberlake, we’re supposed to sit up and take notice of him. In fact, I think that Gunther album might be better than this.
It’s not terrible, and parts of it are extremely catchy and sound fairly cool. But it’s just another “roll up in the club” album, full of energy, beat, sex, drinks, and, I suppose, anything else that you can find in a club. This much I can guarantee you: if this was anyone other than Justin Timberlake, there is no way on earth that anyone would be talking about this album, let alone buying it in droves. Unless it was The Indigo Girls or something.
It’s Justin Timberlake gone quasi-crunk. Can you think of a single person that was asking for that?

Rating: 4.4

Fairly Decent Track: “Sexyback”

TV On The Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain

Cris had been telling me to listen to TV On The Radio for a number of months. I never really got around to it. Why? I'm going to blame it on all the music magazines that I read. Whenever I read anything about them, they were always described as "weird", "odd", or another word that means the same thing. There was talk of them bringing this music from their home planet...and so on, and so forth.
I don't like listening to music just because it's weird. In fact, that's one of the main reasons why I don't like The Flaming Lips. I want to like music because it's good, not because it's weird.
Here's a scenario that is basically the same thing as liking music because it's weird:
I go to an art museum. I see a piece of art. I don't really think it looks that good. I can't really tell what's going on in the painting. But it's displayed somewhere prominent, and a lot of people have been talking about it. There's not really anything that I like about it...but it's different. It's odd. That means it must be good. If I don't understand it, there must be something really good to it that I'm not getting. Why else would people like it? Why else would there be a special exhibit for that artist? So I'll pretend that I understand the deep meaning of the painting, when really there's nothing to get.
That's what I see happening more and more in music. A strange new band comes out. Screeching guitars over an out-of-tune bass over a completely out-of-rhythm drummer. 3 people are singing at the same time. They're not singing in the same key. Nothing about it sounds good. Yet people love them. Why? Because it's different. "If other people like it, so will I, even if I don't understand what's even close to tolerable about them."
(This rant is getting long, and I apologize.)
That's what I thought would happen with TV On The Radio. Just another band trying to be different to get some publicity.
Thankfully, that's not what they are, and that's not what they're about.
This album is one of the more creative albums to come out this year. There are an absolute ton of influences and instruments present here, and for them to be able to mix them all together as well as they have here...well, it's just astounding.
The atmosphere of this album is what really blew me away. I haven't really heard guitar like this since My Bloody Valentine's Loveless. There's a depth and beauty to the fullness of their guitars that seems almost other-worldly. It seems the most present on "Province", a gorgeous song that builds to a huge chorus, courtesy of those swelling guitars and the vocals of Tunde Adebimpe, Kyp Malone, and David Bowie.
The quasi-hip-hop/dance of "I Was a Lover" gives way to the droning, almost tribal "Hours", which rolls into the skittering "Playhouses", which is followed by the drums-in-the-front rock approach of "Wolf Like Me" (one of the catchiest songs on the album), which flows into the minimalist "A Method"...and on and on we go.
The dual-vocal approach of the deeper voiced Tunde Adebimpe mixed with the high falsetto-ish voice of Kyp Malone works wonderfully. Creepy and beautiful at the same time.
If you're looking for something that is simultaneously creative and accessible, this is the album for you. It really is remarkable.

Rating: 9.2/10

Essential Tracks: "I Was a Lover", "Hours", "A Method"

Favorite Tracks: "Province", "Wolf Like Me"

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Anathallo - Floating World

I can't really say enough great things about Anathallo. I've said this time and again, but it always bears repeating: Anathallo is one of the most creative bands around today, and it's nothing short of criminal that more people are not aware of them and their music.
Hopefully, that is about to change.
For their latest album, Floating World, Anathallo dropped off Selah, their original label, and signed with Artist Friendship. And just like, they have nationwide distribution.
And it's about time. After years of toiling away in the underground, people are finally starting to sit up and take notice of this group from central Michigan. They've been touring the country for years, playing any and all shows that they can get their grubby little hands on. Everyone who has ever seen an Anathallo show can tell you it's an experience unlike any other. Anything and everything is an instrument. The horn section will throw down their horns in order to beat on massive bass drums, lead pipes, chains, or anything else currently on stage. Screaming, stomping, clapping, singing in unison...nothing is off limits for them.
And, for once, a band translates their live instensity to an album. Not completely, mind you (because that's close to impossible, even for an actual live album), but as close as you're ever apt to find (this side of The Hojos, that is).
And it works remarkably well.
You're never quite sure what to expect. A song can go from delicate singing over a beautiful finger-picked guitar park to a chaotic explosion of chains, horns and drums that would make Tom Waits proud...all in the span of a couple of seconds. Time signatures will change in the blink of an eye. And it all works. Not a single bit of it seems forced.
The album itself focuses on 4 songs: "Hanasakajiji" parts 1-4. These songs are a retelling of an old Japanese folktale. I won't go into a plot summary here...there's one printed in the liner notes. It's a beautiful, sad, and confusing story. I will say that much. Along with being the centerpieces of this album, these 4 songs are also the albums best moments. I guess it kind of makes sense if you think about it.
I can't begin to describe their overall sound to you. It's darn near impossible. You can't really peg them down to one particular descripter. They don't follow a standard musical path or songwriting structure. It's just one of those bands you have to check out for youself. And, if I were you, I would do so now rather than later.

Rating: 9.2/10

Essential Tracks: "Hoodwink", "Dokkoise House (With Face Covered)"

Favorite Tracks: "Hanasakajiji (Four: A Great Wind More Ash)", "Hanasakajiji (One: The Angry Neighbor)", "Hanasakajiji (Two: Floating World)", "Hanasakajiji (Three: The Man Who Made Dead Trees Bloom)"

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Griffin House - Homecoming

I fell in love with Griffin House (in a purely heterosexual way, of course) a couple of years ago. His major label debut album (Lost & Found) had just been released through Nettwerk. There was a sticker on the front - a short quote from a review of the album. The quote said something to the effect of, "The first lines of Griffin House's hushed debut sound like Bono quietly singing Johnny Cash." So, I thought to myself, "Hey, I like Bono. I like Johnny Cash. Yeah...I think I'll like this guy." As it turned out, he was coming to town to do a show in a couple of weeks, so I bought the album without listening to it.
And I loved it. I could definitely hear the Bono in his voice. He had such rich vocals, and, when he stretched his voice to "scream", it was still rich, but a little raspy, like you could tell he was only doing so out of necessity. I was also a huge fan of his songwriting. Between the two, I was telling everyone about this guy, the next great singer/songwriter, with great songwriting skills and a voice that'll knock you out. Not many people listened, which was sad. I even heard taunts of "Hey...Are you sure that isn't Ryan Adams?" upon playing his album for people. They'll learn...they'll all learn.
So just imagine how excited I was for new music from him. I downloaded it as soon as it was posted...And spent the next week trying to convince myself that it was good.
Once again, I had fallen into the LaMontagne trap of setting up expectations of what an album (or artist) should sound like. Outside of maybe 4-5 songs, there's not much on this album that sounds like his last one.
But that's good.
After about 5 listens, I started to get into the album a little more. After 7, I couldn't stop listening to it. Every song on here is great. Some sound a little out of place at first ("Czech Republic" was the main culprit), but, the more you listen to it, the more you really start to look forward to every song.
Griffin does a little bit of everything on this album. Epic 80s pop ("Live to Be Free"), rockabilly ("'Cause I Miss You"), ode to Cash train songs, ("Downtown Line"), upbeat love/breakup songs ("The Guy That Says Goodbye to You is Out of His Mind"), and a perfect closer ("Go Out on My Own").
That's not to say that the album sounds schizophrenic. Not once have I thought, "Man, I wish he would stick to one style," while listening to this album. It all seems to fit together as a whole, no matter how different some of the songs may be.
And it always good to see someone stretch themselves as an artist, especially this early on in their career. We should expect nothing less than excellence from Griffin in the future...And I know he'll produce.
One final thought. Last night Sharon and I were both in the living room. I was playing Madden while Sharon was studying for a test. I had this album playing in the background. During the first song, she turned to me and asked if this was Griffin House. I said yes. When "Czech Republic" came on a couple of tracks later, she stopped, looked at me, and we had this exchange:

Sharon: Who is this?
Me: Still Griffin House.
Sharon: Really?
Me: Yep.
Sharon: I like it. I just didn't think that he could do something this different.

Always stretching himself. Yeah...that's what I'm looking for in an artist.

Rating: 8.2/10

Essential Tracks: "Downtown Line", "Lead Me On", "Only if You Need Me", "Go Out on My Own"
Favorite Tracks: "Burning Up the Night", "The Guy That Says Goodbye to You is Out of His Mind"

(Afternote: This album is currently not available in stores, but you can purchase a copy of it through Griffin's website,, or you can download it from that same site or through iTunes.)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Outkast - Idlewild

Apparently I was grossly misinformed when it came to this release. I was under the impression that this was the soundtrack to the movie. Since I've yet to see the movie, I had no way of double-checking this information, and it wasn't until 5 minutes ago that I found out that this is not the fact, only a couple of songs from this album are actually in the movie.
At first I was confused. But, the more I've processed this information in my head, the more it actually makes sense. The movie is set in the prohibition era, but, for the most part the songs on this album don't mirror that sound.
I guess, in the end, it doesn't really matter.
What we have here is another great installment from one of the consistently most creative groups in hip-hop...and, if we're to believe the rumors (and the hints from "The Train"), it may be the last. It's no secret that Big Boi and Andre 3000 haven't really been working together since their Stankonia album. Big Boi has been working on his record label and touring, while Dre has been working on his acting career.
But no matter. Whether or not this is their last album is irrelevant at the moment. They've done more for hip-hop in their time together than just about anyone else, and that's really saying something.
But enough of that. On to the album.
One thing you can always say about Outkast is that they're creative. Always experimenting with different sounds and styles in their music. It became blatantly obvious who was responsible for the bulk of this on The Love Below, Andre's half of their bestselling double-album Speakerboxx/The Love Below.
If it was obvious there, it becomes unavoidable here. This album is a wonderful mix of Big Boi's southern hip-hop and some of the big band/ragtime stylings that categorize the music of the prohibition era.
But the entire album isn't necessarily like that. About a third of the album (maybe more, maybe less) could pass for a regular Outkast album. Creative, to be sure, but devoid of the jazz influences that you find on other songs.
Songs like "Mighty O" (the album's first single) and "N2U" would not be out of place on a regular Outkast album. But other songs, like "Call the Law" and "PJ & Rooster" place more emphasis on the uptempo speakeasy-type atmosphere that the movie strived for. Still other songs, like "When I Look in Your Eyes" and "Dyin' to Live" are straight piano jazz songs with no hint of hip-hop whatsoever...just a man on stage, pouring his heart into his vocals and piano...and they wouldn't sound out of place on a Harry Connick, Jr. album.
(I realize this is a disjointed review, but, for some reason, I can't really focus and/or get my head around this album. I'll just go through a couple of songs that I really like off of this album, and then I'll probably end it.)

"Idlewild Blue" - Uptempo blues song featuring a pretty sweet harmonica lick and a nice little blues guitar lead.
"Morris Brown" - A cool, trippy rap song backed by a high school marching band (Tusk, anyone?)
"The Train" - One of the best tracks on this album. Leading off with the sound of a train, a voice proclaiming, "All aboard...or, are all y'all bored?", followed by a banjo lead. When the horns come in at the chorus, you're hooked, and you can't even help it. This song provides the most evidence of the inevitable split of Outkast. This song is irresistible. I always listen to this song at least twice every time it's on...I can't not press repeat. Catchy beyond belief.
"PJ & Rooster" - Uptempo, stomping jazz number. Impossible to get out of your head, and impossible not to stomp your foot to while listening to it. This was the song that was featured in the commercial for the movie, containing the line "Don't make me send a telegram to Rooster/He'll shoot ya." I can see this being played at swing dances sooner rather than later.
"Mutron Angel" - An absolutely gorgeous song sung by Big Boi protege Janelle Monae. It sounds almost dirge-like...right at home at a funeral. If this song is any indication, we should expect amazing things from her in the not-to-distant future.
"A Bad Note" - Quite possibly the last song we'll ever hear from this groundbreaking duo. 8 minutes of swirling psychedelic guitars and an ominous voice repeating "a bad note". Not their best song, but a fitting way to end a fruitful partnership.

In short: a pretty good album, with it's ups and downs. When it's up, it's really up, containing some of the best stuff Outkast has ever done. When it's's still better than 95% of the other hip-hop that's out there. If you're into Outkast at all, you'll love this album. If you're not, you'll probably like about half of it. If you don't like hip-hop at all, well, there's still about 4-6 songs on here that'll you'll probably like.

Rating: 7.4/10

Essential Tracks: "Idlewild Blue", "Mutron Angel", "Morris Brown"
Favorite Tracks: "The Train", "PJ & Rooster"