Saturday, December 06, 2008
Now, on to the newest Band of the Month...
Discography: 2008 - Glasvegas
Background Ramblings: Formed in Glasgow, Scotland...their name is a combination of Glasgow and Las Vegas.
Sharon's Rating: 3.5/5
Sharon's Thoughts: I like them. They have a very soothing sound and are fun to listen to. I like his accent, and the way it sounds like he's putting everything he has into a lot of the songs; like he's throwing his entire self into his voice. I like that kind of unabashed emotion in a vocalist.
Favorite Songs: "Flowers and Football Tops", "Polmont on My Mind", "Stabbed"
Dusty's Rating: 4/5
Dusty's Thoughts: Massive reverb-laden songs that fill the entire room with sound. I love the guitars. I'm also a fan of his voice...even if I can only understand a fraction of what he's saying. Some of the songs have a definite 50's doo-wop sound to them...only modernized a bit.
Favorite Songs: "Flowers and Football Tops", "Geraldine", "It's My Own Cheating Heart that Makes Me Cry"
Next band: Bjorn Norestig
Feel free to join us and write your thoughts in the comments.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
2008 Partie Traumatic
It has an 80's sound that is both nostalgic and comforting. I like it.
Nice Cure-ish new-wavy stuff, complete with synths and vocals/lyrics ripped from Robert Smith. It's upbeat...but can be a bit obnoxious at times. It's a great CD to listen to in the car, but it seems a little out of place when listened to in the house.
"Hit the Heartbrakes", "Hurricane Jane", "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You"
The next band will be Glasvegas. Feel free to join us and leave your comments.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
1. "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby" - Counting Crows (from This Desert Life)
This is my favorite song off of This Desert Life. It's long and a bit rambling, but I love it. There was a time of about a month where I would listen to this song at least once a day.
2. "Don't Go Into That Barn" - Tom Waits (from Real Gone)
Dark, stomping, angry, murderous song, complete with a gruff chorus of "hoo-HA!" from Waits in the background. A terrific song. My favorite part is at the end when he's doing the call-and-response thing: "Did you bury your fire? Yes sir. Did you cover your tracks? Yes sir. Did you bring your knife? Yes sir. Did they see your face? No sir." And so on, and so forth. A fantastic song. Listen to this one loud on a dark night.
3. "Big Joe and Phantom 309" - Tom Waits (from Nighthawks at the Diner)
What are the odds of two Tom Waits songs in a row? Sure, he takes up about 1.5 gig on my iPod, but that's still a pretty small percentage. Not my favorite song of his, but it's still pretty good, and it shows Waits in full beat-poet mode. He has better narratives, but you could do a lot worse than to listen to this track.
4. "The Other Side of the World" - Tindersticks (from The Hungry Saw)
If you're looking for a band to listen to on a cold day, the Tindersticks wouldn't be a bad choice. This song shows them in full force, all full orchestration and that fantastic baritone up front. Great song.
5. "Worth of Labor" - Starflyer 59 (from I Am the Portuguese Blues)
I was just thinking about this album on the way to school today. It's been a while since I've listened to it, but it's a great rock album. This is one of my favorite songs on it. Great guitars. Great energy. This is a great song to drive to.
6. "If I Were Dead" - Rose Blossom Punch (from Ephemere)
This album wasn't in print for very long, which is a shame. It's a great rock album, lush with guitars and pianos and whatnot. This song shows off their capabilities; big guitars, great drums, distorted goodness floating somewhere in the background. The fact that these guys never got much recognition is a tragedy.
7. "Kreuzberg" - Bloc Party (from A Weekend in the City)
This is the only Bloc Party album I like...but I'm not a big fan of this song. It's fine, I suppose; a slow-building song that ends up pretty good. It just takes too long to get there, and the entire first part of this song holds no interest for me whatsoever. Kind of like Bright Eyes' "No One Would Riot for Less" off Cassadaga. The ending is good, but it doesn't atone for the boring 4 minutes I had to sit through to get there.
8. "Encore" - Jay-Z (from The Black Album)
I'm not the biggest Jay-Z fan, but this song is pretty cool. It's still hard for me to get past the fact that this song is all about how awesome he is. I realize that it's a rap thing...but it doesn't mean I have to like it. I like the production, though...can't you just see him alongside Manilow at the Copacabana? Talk about a guy who is the best...
9. "The Grey Man" - Copeland (from You Are My Sunshine)
It's nice. Pretty much par for the course for Copeland at this point. It's a good, well-produced pop song, with shimmery guitars and a piano throughout. I like Copeland, but they just seem a little predictable. I like this song, but it's not really too much different from most of their other recent material.
10. "Pow" - Beastie Boys (from The In Sound From Way Out!)
One of my favorite songs on this album. When most people think of the Beastie Boys, they think of the rap aspect of their career. Not a ton of people realize that they're all fantastic musicians, as is evidenced on this track. It's a wicked-funky breakdown of instrumental-awesomeness. If you haven't heard this album yet, check it out. Now.
Monday, September 22, 2008
TV On the Radio - Dear Science,
Typically brilliant stuff. They go from Prince-esque funk to glitchy electro to string-laden ballads to creepy bedtime stories, all without blinking an eye. I loved Return to Cookie Mountain, but I think I like this one better. Just fantastic stuff.
Favorite Song: "DLZ"
Doug Burr - On Promenade
A great folk singer, but he also adds bits of noise and gospel into the mix for good measure. He has a great voice, and a real gift for musical arrangements. To call it a folk record is to miss the greatness of it. There are a couple of songs that aren't great, but when the rest of it is so fantastic, the "down moment" aren't really that big of a deal.
Favorite Song: "In the Garden"
Kings of Leon - Only by the Night
I've never been a big fan of theirs, but their great performance on SNL prompted me to check this album out. It's a bit spotty, but when it's on, it's really on. Their best work on this album is the best work of their career. I'm a big fan of the lead singer's voice...it kind of reminds me of the lead singer from Polarboy. Who didn't love that reference?
Favorite Song: "Use Somebody"
Cherry Ghost - Thirst for Romance
I'm a sucker for big pop songs, and Cherry Ghost does them very well. They also mix a bit of country into their stuff from time to time, and it sounds great. They kind of sound like Coldplay, but that's mainly because there's a British guy singing pop music.
Favorite Song: "Dead Man's Suit"
Coldplay - Viva la Vida
Since I just referenced them, I might as well talk about their new album. This album is light years better than X&Y, but that's kind of like saying that eating grass is better than eating human beings. It's not a bad album...in fact, there are a number of really good songs on the album. If this album was terrible, I would've written off Coldplay forever. It's possible that this album is just delaying the inevitable...or they could be back on the path to greatness.
Favorite Song: "Death and All His Friends"
Throw Me the Statue - Moonbeams
A nice little summery pop album, filled with fuzzed-out instrumentations, drum machines, and vocals that are usually somewhere between good and mediocre. It's catchy, it's fun, and it's great to play with the windows down. It's not a great album, but it's a good album.
Favorite Song: "About to Walk"
Shearwater - Rook
So...these guys really like Talk Talk, huh? I don't mean that in a bad way...in fact, I love this album. Rarely can a band show it's influences as obviously as Shearwater does and still put out an album as great as this. Grand sweeping pop songs infused with noise and a hint of classical influences.
Favorite Song: "Home Life"
Beck - Modern Guilt
Quite possibly my favorite Beck album. He is, fairly consistently, the most electic and exciting artist. With every album he does something new and different. On this album, he pares down his electro and hip-hop wanderings in favor of a psych-rock direction. Beck & Dangermouse make a glorious team...let's do it again, fellas.
Favorite Song: "Youthless"
The Shortwave Set - Replica Sun Machine
A nice little psych-pop album. I like it...but I don't love it. They seem creative enough, and they have a pretty cool sound, but I've never been blown-away by this album...which I think it what they're going for. Check it out, but don't expect to have a mind-bending experience.
Favorite Song: "Glitches 'n' Bugs"
Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs - Dirt Don't Hurt
A big, stomping country album. It sounds like this album was recorded 70 years ago in a barn with dirt floors, the entire thing done in one frantic session. Whiskey bottles and lined up and clouds of dirt fill the barn, yet the recording session continues, on into the night. If I were a big country fan, this would probably be my new favorite album. As it is, I just like it quite a bit.
Favorite Song: "Bottom Below"
Grand Archives - The Grand Archives
As you all well know, I'm a sucker for a good pop song. This album has quite a few of them. I'm not a huge fan of the entire album, but there are enough great songs on here ("Torn Blue Foam Couch", "Sleepdriving", etc.) to keep me coming back. It's not that the "off" songs are bad, they're just not nearly as good as the great ones. I guess that's not really a bad problem to have.
Favorite Song: "Torn Blue Foam Couch"
Amanda Jenssen - Killing My Darlings
What a voice. She can jump from horn-laden soul music (a la Dusty Springfield) to nu-soul (a la Amy Winehouse) to ska-ish pop to slow-building ballads...all without batting an eye. While the genre-jumping can be a little distracting sometimes, she's so good at them all that it doesn't really matter all that much.
Favorite Song: "For the Sun"
Jesper Norda - Little Ones EP
The first song, "Tomorrow You Will Be Forgiven but Tonight You Will Have Your Teeth Knocked Out" is an absolutely gorgeous, piano-driven song. It sounds like a song that Matt Behringer (from The National) would alone in his apartment after a long night out on the town. It's fast becoming one of my favorite songs of the year. Unfortunately, the rest of the EP is not too good. It's worth checking out for the first song, though. And, since it's a free download, you can do just that.
Favorite Song: "Tomorrow You Will Be Forgiven but Tonight You Will Have Your Teeth Knocked Out"
There's more...oh, there's always more. I'll stop here for now, though.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
2008 Drowned in a
The first song reminds me of “Don’t Fear the Reaper”. They have a cool, shoegazy-pop sound, and I was immediately drawn in. The more I listened to it, though, the less impressive it sounded. It’s not that the songs were bad, it’s just that they all seem to blend together. There were times they reminded me of Bloomsday and The Lassie Foundation, so that was pretty cool. Overall, it’s not a bad album...there’s just not much to it. It’s nice if you’re looking for a airy, noisy summer album.
“Release the Kraken”
Next week: Black Kids
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Over the course of a little more than a month, I went to 3 pretty amazing concerts. I will now share those concerts with you...well, as much as I can, anyway.
Attendees: Me, Brittney
He came out onto the stage, stepped onto his own personal riser, and threw himself into an amazing rendition of "Lucinda" (not one of my favorite songs of his, but this live version was unreal). As he sang, he stomped on his rider, letting loose a cloud of dust that rose and fell...rose and fell...until it was a dense cloud about waist high. Words can't quite describe the look of this, but it looked great, and we were hooked.
We were sitting about 12 rows back, left-center of the stage. Great seats. We could see everything perfectly. Yet, I was left to wonder: what does one have to do to get closer? I got on the second they went on sale, and purchased them within 45 seconds (I was prepared). And yet, somehow all those people had gotten in ahead of me? I refuse to believe that, but I guess I don't know what else it could be. Don't misunderstand me: I'm not complaining. We had amazing seats. Just musing, is all.
We had seen Tom Waits once before (at the Louisville Palace in 2006), but I think this show blew that show out of the water. The biggest difference was the band: at the Palace show, he was touring with Duke Robillard, a renowned blues guitarist. The problem laid with him. Robillard was good, but his playing was just too smooth. A Tom Waits guitarist needs to make a guitar sound rusty; like he's banging out the songs on 50-year-old strings that he's not altogether familiar with. The band behind Waits this time were fantastic, and they really brought out the rawness of the music. The guitars were nasty, the percussion was huge, and the horns/harmonica sounded like they were coming out of a radio. The sound was perfect.
The sound was perfect, and the performance was magnificent. He jumped all over with his song selections: "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis", "Chocolate Jesus", "Innocent When You Dream", "Falling Down", "God's Away on Business", etc. He closed with "Come On Up to the House", a perfect closing song.
My favorite song that he did was "9th and Hennepin". I've always loved his narratives that show up on albums, and this was one of his first. I always felt that there was something missing. I always thought, "If he did that today, it would sound competely different. I'm sure he could make it better." And he did. With the band lurking in the background, Tom stood in the middle of the stage, with nothing more than a single lightbulb hanging directly to his right that would flicker on and off...on and off. Again, I can't explain it in words, but it was much better than the album version. Breathtaking, even. He is a terrific songwriter, but his passion has always seemed to be storytelling. That passion was on full display on this performance. For me, it was one of the best "songs" I have ever seen performed live.
If you get the chance to see Tom Waits, don't pass it up. He doesn't tour often, but, when he does, it's worth the price to see him.
The Mercy Lounge is a small club in Nashville. There couldn't have been more than a couple of hundred people there. We got there early, so we were able to get really close to the stage. There were only two people between us and the stage, so that was cool. Unfortunately, those people were jackass high school kids, one of whom was auditioning to be Andy Samberg. These guys didn't buy tickets in advance: they opted to wait outside and bug everyone until they got tickets...then they muscled their way to the front of the crowd and refused to leave, deciding it would be much better for everyone if them and their sweaty heads bopped directly in front of the stage. There was also a creepy bald guy who raised his hands above his head and muttered "Zooeyzooeyzooey" over and over again, trying to touch her at every opportunity (he never succeeded). When she went to sit at the piano, he shoved his way over, trying to look up her dress. When he couldn't get in prime creep position, he left. Just walked out the door. I kept waiting for him to come back, but he never did. We were all excited about that.
Charlie Louvin opened the show. And, while he's 300 years old, he actually put on a good show. He didn't move much, but his band was good, and he still has a decent voice. He looked like he was having fun, and that's really all that matters. He made a number dirty old man comments, and talked about his "ladycrippling" guitarist way too much (to the point that the guitarist was visibly uncomfortable), but it's all good. He's old, and I give him leeway.
She & Him took the stage to massive applause...the lead singer is a movie star, after all. Once they started playing, the noise died down, and you could actually hear the music...which was nice. They had a wonderful backing band, including a guitarist who looked like Billy Connolly, a drummer who looked like The Boss, an extremely pregnant bass player, and a space cadet for a back-up singer (who I found out was Becky Stark, aka Lavendar Diamond. She sang one of her songs, and it was terrible...glad she wasn't the opening band).
Zooey was fantastic. Her voice sounded just as good (if not better) than it does on the album. She was nice and smiley and seemed genuinely happy to be there, which was pretty cool. She didn't move a whole lot, but she liked to rock the tamborine quite a bit. She played the piano on a couple of songs, too, so that was cool. She also jumped up and down like a crazy person during "Sweet Darlin'". She was smiling so big you couldn't help but love it.
M. Ward was probably my favorite part of the show. He knew he wasn't the main attraction, so he just kind of slunk around in the background at first. As the show went on, he ventured out onto the stage a little more. When he rocked out his guitar solos (which he did on occasion), all eyes were on him. He had a look on his face the entire time, like he was surveying the crowd and saying to himself, "I'm better than that person, and that person, and that person...". It killed me. By the end of the show, people seemed to be less focused on Zooey and more focused on the band as a whole.
While I don't remember the exactly setlist, I do know that they played everything on their album, as well as some other songs. They played a new song (I don't remember the title), and they also did a cover of Joni Mitchell's "You Turn Me On I'm a Radio", and that was pretty cool. They came back out for the encore with some friends, including Jack White's model wife (no...not Meg). During the last song, David Rawlings crept onto the stage and started playing guitar. It wasn't until halfway through the song that anyone knew they were there. By the end of that song, Gillian Welch had appeared out of nowhere. Because of their new friends, they launched into one last impromtu song. It was a little rusty, but everyone looked to be enjoying themselves.
Great show. It was well worth the paltry $20 they were charging. Good times all around.
Attendees: Me, Ben
We got there a little late, and found out that parking was free. Always good news. We got into the venue (outdoor) after being searched and whatnot, and found that the opening act, Grizzly Bear, had already started. The last time I had seen Radiohead, we drove to Wisconsin, got there late, and missed Steve Malkmus & The Jicks due to the extreme unorganization of the people putting on the show. I was mad about that. Coming in late for Grizzly Bear? I really didn't care. I know a lot of people like them, but I really don't. The majority of their set (what we heard of it, anyway), was more background music than anything. There were a couple of occasions where I actually got mad at how bad the song was. I had purchased Yellow House when it was released, based on all the good reviews I had read. When we got back from the show, I took it off my shelf, put it in a bag, and sold it to CD Central within 5 days. That's how unimpressed I was with Grizzly Bear's live show.
Fan note: directly in front of us were two high school kids, a boy and a girl. I think they spent more time sucking face and sucking cigarettes than they did actually watching the show. At one point, I looked down to see them on their blanket. He had a cigarette in one hand and a Slim Jim in the other. She had a cigarette in her hand. I watched him take a bite of the Slim Jim, then take a drag from his cigarette. She also took a drag from her cigarette. They exhaled, then promptly began making out. My face twisted in disgust. I guess I just don't understand kids these days.
It took Radiohead a little bit to get to the stage. It was getting dark by the time they started playing, but it was well worth the wait. I have never left a show and said to myself, "Wow...now that was a good light show," but I did after this show. The screens and lights were more artistic than any other show I had been to. They weren't distracting; in fact, they seemed to add something to the show.
They kicked off with "15 Step", then broke into "Bodysnatchers", which led to Ben and I looking at each other and wondering if they were going to play the entire In Rainbows album in order. But then they played "There There" and dashed that thought. They still played the entire In Rainbows album, but just not in order.
Highlights: "The Gloaming" was surprisingly great. This was never one of my favorite songs off of Hail to the Thief, but there was a different kind of energy in this version. "Climbing Up the Walls" was completely unexpected...and utterly mindblowing. The sound that came from that song seemed to fill up the entire area we were in...and it was an outdoor venue! I always preferred the live version of "Idioteque" to the album version, and this time was no different...only this version of "Idioteque" is the best one I have ever heard. There was a breakdown at the end that seemed to come out of nowhere. "Karma Police" is always great, and it was no different here. They played "Bangers and Mash", which I liked pretty well on the album, but this version (once again) had a whole other level of energy in it. So good.
About halfway through the show, they played "Videotape". Ben and I were back quite a ways, but we could still see mini-Radiohead playing on the stage. The sky was gorgeous: there were clouds, but they were lit by the lights of the stage, giving them an eerie sense of movement. I found myself staring at the clouds as the song came to its crashing climax. I imagined a comet coming down through the clouds and smashing into the stage, while the sounds from the song continued to fill up the air. As the song gradually died down a little bit, I was still staring at the clouds. The song ended, and everyone erupted into applause. Ben looked a little dazed. He turned to me and said, "You know...I could die right now and not have a single problem with it."
"I feel the same way," I responded.
I'm going to try to get back to writing more. I figure I'll start back up the Band of the Week (we kind of got stalled), and try to write some short reviews of stuff I've been listening to. There's just so much great music out there.
Thanks for reading.
Friday, August 01, 2008
The members of this band (John Dragonetti and Blake Hazard) dated for a while. Before recording their first album (Declare a New State), they broke up, so they recorded the album in shifts…never in the studio at the same time. After recording the album (filled with songs about their relationship and break-up), they realized they still loved each other. So they got back together and got married (awwwwwww!), then recorded their second album.
2006 Declare a New State!
2008 Honeysuckle Weeks
Fantastic, summery pop music. The instrumentation is fun and inventive. We like their first album better. We love how their voices sound together, and there’s not too much of that on the second album. The second album is good, but it's just not as good as the first one.
“Peace and Hate”, “Hope”, “Darkest Things”, “Maybe”, “Xavia”
Our band for next week is: The Daysleepers.
2008 Drowned in a Sea of Sound
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Background Ramblings: Synth-pop band from
Discography: 2007 Monomen LP
However, it's also pretty repetitive. It has some great moments on it, but there are also some songs that I just want to skip every time they come on. Most of these songs fall towards the end of the album, so at least they're fairly easy to avoid. One of these songs is a nine-minute instrumental track that doesn’t really go anywhere. Who thought that was a good idea?
The songs that are good are extremely good...but the songs that are bad are pretty bad. It's not a bad album...just terribly uneven.
Favorites: “Neon”, “Drum of Glass”, "Stand Still Jane Fonda"
Least Favorites: "Stand Still Jane Fonda Part II"
The band for this week is The Submarines. Some info...
Background Ramblings: The members of this band (John Dragonetti and Blake Hazard) dated for a while. Before recording their first album (Declare a New State), they broke up, so they recorded the album in shifts…never in the studio at the same time. After recording the album (filled with songs about their relationship and break-up), they realized they still loved each other. So they got back together and got married (awwwwwww!), then recorded their second album.
2006 Declare a New State!
2008 Honeysuckle Weeks
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Every week, we will decide on a band to listen to. We'll listen to their albums, talk about what we like/don't like, and post our thoughts on this blog.
We would like for you to join us. We will post which band we'll be listening to. You are invited to listen to them for that week as well, and post your thoughts in the comments. It's like a book club...with less reading.
We did the first week ourselves, but we'll post the next band at the end.
Our first Band of the Week was She & Him. We're going to see them in Nashville at the end of the month, so we thought it would be a good place to start.
Members - Zooey Deschanel & M. Ward
2008 - Volume One
I like her voice - it has a good, oldies sound. I also like when M. Ward sings...I wish he sang a little more on the album. The music has a good oldies sound, which I like, but it also sounds a bit unoriginal (even though I know they wrote the majority of the songs).
Musically, this album covers a lot of genres: jazz, county, girl group pop, and just "regular" pop. Zooey's unique voice fits all these styles perfectly. This sounds like a classic album, only recently unearthed.
"Sentimental Heart", "Change is Hard", "Sweet Darlin'"
There you have it. If you have thoughts on She & Him, post them in the comments.
The Band of the Week for next week is:
Here are some notes to get you started.
Synth-pop group from Norway (not to be confused with the Mono Men: a garage rock group from Seattle in the 80s and 90s).
2007 - Monomen LP
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
1. Here Comes Your Man - Pixies (from Doolittle)
A great pop song with a perfect surfish guitar line from the great Joey Santiago. I don't know that the Pixies will ever quite catch on with the masses, and that's a shame. They're one of the greatest (and most influential) bands of all-time, and this song comes from my favorite album of theirs.
2. Melatonin - Radiohead (from Airbag)
A bed of laid-back 80s keyboards saturate this song. By the time Thom starts singing, you can't imagine anyone else singing this song. Short and light and perfect for nighttime listening.
3. Keep Your Head - The Ting Tings (from We Started Nothing)
This song seems pretty much par for the course for The Ting Tings. They can sound pretty obnoxious and childish and borderline unlistenable at times, but that doesn't stop them from being extremely catchy. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I haven't been able to answer that question yet.
4. Watching the Wheels - John Lennon (from Double Fantasy)
The majority of Lennon's solo stuff is pretty hit-or-miss. That is definitely the case for this album...and this song fits squarely into the "hit" category. A good song with a great chorus.
5. The Old Account Was Settled Long Ago - Johnny Cash (from Live at San Quentin)
I love when Cash can take an old gospel song and make it his own. He definitely does that here.
6. It's Not So Bad At All - Matt Pond PA (from Last Light)
This song pretty much sums up my feelings on Matt Pond PA. It's nice, but there's nothing really memorable about it. Yeah, it sounds pretty good, but I never really think to myself, "I really need to hear some Matt Pond PA." It's good to have on in the background, though.
7. The Beast in Me - Johnny Cash (from American Recordings)
A dark song made darker by Cash. There's a hint of sadness and contemplation in this song that comes across by his voice alone. I am amazed how much emotion Cash is able to convey solely through his voice.
8. Don't Go Say That - Grand Theft Bus (from Made Upwards)
This is the first time I've listened to this band. First impression? I'm not really too impressed. It sounds like an emo band that is desperately trying to change its sound, but it's not really taking. Maybe I'm missing something. Maybe I need to give them a couple more listens. Perhaps I will...but it's not doing anything for me at the moment.
9. Can't Truss It - Public Enemy (from Power to the People and the Beats)
I have a hard time believing that this song came out in 1991. The beat is fantastic, and there's really nothing like hearing Chuck D in his prime. By listening to this song, it's easy to hear how big an influence Public Enemy continues to have in the world of hip-hop.
10. Deep Dark Well - M. Ward (from Transistor Radio)
I know that M. Ward is a relatively young guy. Still, every time I hear one of his songs, I can't shake the thought that he has been around since the 50s, honing his sound of blues/folk. I don't always love his stuff, but this song is great.
Friday, May 09, 2008
Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs
What was I to expect of the new Death Cab album? Transatlanticism was the best album of their career (slightly edging out We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes). Then they got signed to a major label, released Plans, and got boring. It isn't necessarily a bad album...in fact, there are some fantastic songs on it. But, all in all, it's just sort of - for lack of a better word - blah. So where would this album land: in the land of creativity or the land of complacency?
As it turns out, it lands somewhere in the middle. It's a good, but not great, pop album. I like pretty much every song on the album, which is a good start. I'm not crazy about "I Will Possess Your Heart": who thought it was a good idea to make an eight-minute track, the first five minutes of which consists of an instrumental section that goes pretty much nowhere? Oh, they add some instruments here and there, and they try to bring a sense of building to the music, but it just doesn't seem to fit. They nailed the instrumental section perfectly on "Transatlanticism", so I know they're capable of good things...they just weren't able to pull it off here.
Another knock is that, on first listen, there aren't a whole lot of songs that stand out from each other. Multiple listens definitely bring out the intricacies of the songs, though, so keep listening.
The production is top-notch...it's a pretty slick sounding pop album (but not in a bad way). I think this is what they were going for when they made Plans, but weren't (for whatever reason) quite able to pull off. It has a great pop feel to it, but they are still able to show off the creativity that made so many people fall in love with them in the first place.
As it stands now, this is my third favorite Death Cab album. Looking at the strength of their catalog, that's not a terrible place to be.
Final Thought: If you're already a fan, you'll be extremely happy with it. If you're not yet into them, this isn't a bad place to start. It's a good album that gets better with every listen.
Favorite Songs: "Cath...", "Talking Bird", "Pity and Fear"
Scarlett Johansson - Anywhere I Lay My Head
I have been intrigued by this album from the first time I heard of its planned release. A covers record is usually a pretty tough sell. A covers record of an artist like Tom Waits would be an even tougher sell. Trying to sell a Tom Waits cover album to his fanbase with a Hollywood starlet singing the songs? You're sure to raise curiosity, but I doubt there were a lot of people looking at this album and saying, "You know, I bet that will be good and not in the least bit gimmicky."
Then trickles of information started coming out. It's being produced by Dave Sitek (from TV On the Radio). David Bowie signed on as a guest vocalist. Nick Zinner (from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) was on board.
I started getting excited. I started to talk myself into it. "She has a deep voice...maybe she can pull this off."
But nothing really prepared me for what I heard. It was...good. Perhaps even slightly better than good. They went an extremely smart route with this album. Instead of trying to recreate the songs as they were originally recorded, Johansson and company completely reimagined the songs. The starkness in these songs has been replaced by lush arrangements; the gritty vocals replaced with Johansson's striking baritone.
Scarlett Johansson's name may be on the front of the album (and will likely draw the majority of the sales), but this show belongs to the production of Dave Sitek. He does an absolutely fabulous job with the arrangements, keeping the imaginative spirit of Tom Waits in the songs, while adding a touch of creativity himself. At times, the songs are backed with a massive wall of sound ("Falling Down"), while other times, the instrumentation is fairly minimal, but still drenched in enough reverb to give it a lot of depth ("I Wish I Was in New Orleans"). A bit of '80s dance/synth-pop even finds its way on to the album ("I Don't Want to Grow Up"). Sitek's talents are on full display, and he doesn't let us down.
And, of course, hearing Bowie's voice on a couple of the songs ("Falling Down" and "Fannin" Street") is fantastic.
In fact, if there's one knock on this album, it's the lack of emotion in Johansson's voice. Waits conveys emotion through his voice in a way few artists know how to do. Listening to Johansson finding her way through these songs in a voice that is darn close to monotone at times is a little rough. At times, Sitek's production threatens to make Johansson's voice nothing more than a background instrument, which wouldn't always be a bad thing. If she decides to follow a singing career, she will definitely grow as a vocalist. This is a great starting point for her. I can't wait to see what she does next.
Final Thought: It's better than you think it is. Strip away the fact that Scarlett Johansson is a well-known actress, and you still have a pretty good album on your hands. Don't overlook it just because an actress is involved.
Favorite Songs: "Falling Down", "Anywhere I Lay My Head", "Who Are You"
The Black Keys - Attack & Release
The Black Keys have always been kind of a one-trick pony. These two guys from Ohio play some of the dirtiest, nastiest stomping blues that you have ever heard in your entire life. Through a number of albums and tours, they never really evolved; they opted instead for perfecting their dirty brand of blues.
All that changed sometime last year.
There had been word for quite some time that Danger Mouse was going to be producing a new Ike Turner album. Then a rumor started that The Black Keys would be Ike Turner's backing band. To get ready for the album, the Keys wrote an entire album's worth of material, and, with the help of Danger Mouse, recorded it. They even laid down some scratch vocals to give Ike an idea of what to do. Sadly, Ike Turner died before he was able to start on the project...but the Keys had an album that was pretty close to finished. So they went back into the studio, re-recorded the vocals, and released the album.
I'm not sure how much of that is true, but, seeing as how I've heard it from a couple different sources, I'll believe it.
It all amounts to the best album The Black Keys have ever released. They're still a blues band; no doubt about that. But it's easy to hear their evolution. Where once they released nothing but straight blues songs, with a man on guitar and one on drums, now they have a bit more depth. Banjos. Flutes. Organ. Atmospheric guitars. It's nothing too drastic, and it's not overblown, but it's a definite change in their sound. After years of releasing straight blues albums, it's great to hear a slightly tweaked sound coming from them.
It's unclear how much of this shift came from their own evolution and how much of it came from Danger Mouse's influence. Frankly, I don't care who is responsible for it. I just hope to see more from this bluesy, creative and soulful Black Keys in the not-too-distant future.
Final Thoughts: A blues album for people who think that all blues albums sound the same. There's a freshness and creativity to this album that I haven't heard from a blues band since The White Stripes broke away from the genre. Highly recommended.
Favorite Songs: "I Got Mine", "Strange Times", "Psychotic Girl", "So He Won't Break"
Check back next week for an old-school rap battle.
Friday, April 25, 2008
With that in mind...let's play two!
British Sea Power - Do You Like Rock Music?
I had briefly heard one British Sea Power album in the past, and I wasn't overly impressed. However, I listen to pretty much everything, so I thought I'd give this album a shot. Also, the cover looks awesome.
Much to my surprise, I loved it. From the very first track, I knew I would enjoy it at least a little bit. By the time "Lights Out for Darker Skies" hit, I was in full-blown awe. They have a way of creating a great atmosphere to their music. The songs are all great, and they're backed by a wall of guitars and thundering drums. This album feels huge, which I am a fan of.
There are moments where it sounds a bit like an Arcade Fire album. "No Lucifer" definitely fits this description, right down to a chorus of people singing/screaming lines in unison. It kind of reminded me of "No Cars Go". It doesn't sound like they were copying Arcade Fire, but there are some similarities.
"A Trip Out", meanwhile, feels kind of like an outtake from Sonic Youth circa Daydream Nation, which is never a bad thing.
There are a couple of instrumental tracks that I kind of zone out during, but they're not really bad, just kind of forgettable. The last track, "We Close Our Eyes", is a longer reprise of the first track, "All in It", full of static and organs and voices. It's not bad as a closer, but it's not necessarily that great of a song.
Final judgment: Great album. Big songs. Check it out, especially if you like Arcade Fire.
Favorite Songs: "Lights Out for Darker Skies", "Waving Flags", "No Need to Cry"
The Raveonettes - Lust Lust Lust
I liked Pretty in Black, the last album from The Raveonettes. Apparently, I was in the minority. Either they heard the mass criticism loud and clear, or they decided to try something different just because. Whatever the reason, they recorded the best album of their career.
This album is chock full of distortion, reverb, and hip-hop(ish) beats. If you're not sure how that would sound, just give the first track, "Aly, Walk with Me" a listen. It took me all of two-and-a-half minutes to love this album. The track kicks off with a hip-hop beat, followed by a mass of distorted guitars and the reverb-drenched voices of Sun Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo (who sound great together, by the way). A little after the two-minute mark, the singing stops, and the guitars whip themselves into a massive, distortion-soaked frenzy, like some unholy mix of Sonic Youth and the Jesus and Mary Chain. Eventually, the mayhem subsides and the singing continues...but it isn't long before they break into another round of noise, this one lasting to the end of the song. It's wicked and crazy and utterly perfect.
The rest of the album follows along this path of distorted guitars and reverb-soaked vocals, but it's not nearly as crazy as the first song. They still wave their 50's and 60's rock influences around, but they are now covered by a layer of fuzz and awesome. Wagner absolutely nails the guitar lines on this album (as he does on every album). There are times when he sounds like Scotty Moore playing through a massive amount of fuzz (that's a good thing, by the way).
Final judgment: Do you like lots of distortion? Do you like the sound of a man and woman's voice blending together beneath a layer of reverb? If yes, check it out. I love it.
Favorite songs: "Aly, Walk with Me", "Dead Sound", "With My Eyes Closed"
Monday, March 31, 2008
The first track, “Charity Case” kicks off the album in grand fashion; a wicked bass line laced over a 60’s surfish-pop groove. When Cee-Lo starts singing, you’ve already forgotten what decade you’re currently living in. “Run (I’m a Natural Disaster)” also fits pretty nicely into this description; upbeat, complete with handclaps and a pretty cool organ hanging out in the back.
There are enough songs in this upbeat vein to make the soccer moms flock to buy this CD in the same way they bought St. Elsewhere in droves after hearing “Crazy” (“Run” is the first single), there are a number of songs that don’t fit that mold.
“Would Be Killer” sees Gnarls Barkley as dark as they have ever been (yes, even more so than on “Necrophilia”), both musically and lyrically. By the end of the song, I was looking over my shoulder, making sure this killer wasn’t lurking somewhere behind me (this could also be due to the large number of Dexter episodes I’ve watching lately).
Even with “Would Be Killer” on the album, “Open Book” is, far and away, the least accessible song on the album. It’s a song that, upon the first couple of listens, seems to have no formation whatsoever, save for a spot in the middle. It consists of a skittering beat, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Radiohead remix album.
“Whatever” is definitely the worst song on the album. It is sung from the perspective of a teenage outsider, whining about his life and yelling at his mom. It wouldn’t be so bad if Cee-Lo didn’t insist on singing in a whiny, teenage voice. It’s not terrible, just a little obnoxious.
The rest of the album stays pretty true to the soul singer singing 60’s pop side of things; some songs (“Surprise”, “No Time Soon”) stick to this a little closer than others (“Neighbors”, “A Little Better”).
While Cee-Lo has an amazing voice (he fits this style perfectly), this show belongs to the production talents of Danger Mouse. Without his creativeness, Gnarls Barkley wouldn’t be half the band that they are.
Rating: With more listens, this album could be better than the first one. A fantastic album if you’re looking for a creative, genre-bending album in the soul-pop vein.
Favorite Songs: “Charity Case”, “Going On”, “Surprise”, “Neighbors”
The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely
I liked Broken Boy Soldiers (The Raconteur’s first album) at first. Even now, there are some songs I love on it. But, unfortunately, it didn’t really hold up all that well. I don’t know what it is, but I haven’t been able to listen to it straight through for a while now. So it was with excitement and trepidation that I listened to this, their new album (announced only a week before its release date).
And...I love it. Granted, it’s only been a little less than a week, but this album seems a lot more creative than the last album. On Broken Boy Soldiers, they were just putting feelers out there; seeing what they could do. On this album, they have really gone all out. They’re mixing Brendan Benson’s pop songwriting with the overall-creativeness of Jack White, and throwing in the blues of their Greenhorne rhythm section. I can hardly believe the massive strides they have made over the course of just one album.
The title track shows off Jack’s talent and influence, with the stop-and-start blues hitting overdrive rock for the verse, then kicking back into a blues breakdown for the chorus. “You Don’t Understand Me” and “Old Enough” show off the pop songwriting of Brendan Benson, who sounds a bit like McCartney at times.
Along with the obvious blues and pop influences, they also show off some bluegrass roots on “Top Yourself” and the beginning of “These Stones Will Shout”.
There are, of course, some pretty obvious Zepplin influences (“Rich Kid Blues”) to go along with some Stones (“Many Shades of Black”).
The stand-out track (to me, anyway) is the last track, “Carolina Drama”. It’s a story-song, which starts out sounding a bit like “Take Take Take”, but it eventually makes its way from a smoldering, slow-rock tale of a dysfunctional family to an explosive, violent climax. Words can’t explain how fantastic this song is; just listen to it a couple of times, and you’ll understand.
This album goes to show that rock music can still be creative and inventive; you just have to know what you’re doing.
Rating: Fantastic, creative, and epically relistenable. If you’re depressed about the state of rock music, this album is for you.
Counting Crows – Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings
I am a Counting Crow fan. I don’t apologize. There’s no need to. Over the years, they have made some great albums.
Counting Crows have been known for writing great pop-rock songs, as well as some gorgeous piano ballads. So what could be better than splitting an album down the middle? One half would consist of their upbeat side (Saturday Nights), while the other half would consist of their piano ballads (Sunday Mornings).
Well, as it turns out, a lot could be better than that.
It’s not that there aren’t good songs on here; there are. “Cowboys” is the best song on the album, and it brings to mind their rockers like “Angels of the Silences” (which is never a bad thing). “1492” also fits into this vein, as does “Insignificant”.
Then there’s the rest of the album. It’s not that the rest of the album is bad, there’s just nothing spectacular about any of the songs. “You Can’t Count on Me” is nice enough, but it’s just kind of there; nothing to love or hate about it.
I always enjoyed the slower songs and piano ballads on their previous albums, but none of these songs really stand out. Again, they’re nice enough, but none of them really stood out to me on this album.
And that’s the story of this album. It’s fine...but not there aren’t many songs that stand out and demand to be heard again.
Rating: It’s not a bad album. In fact, it may even be a good album. But, for now, it’s just a kind of blah album. There’s enough on here to warrant a purchase if you’re already a Counting Crows fan. But, if you’re not already a fan, I doubt this album will make you one.Favorite Songs: “1492”, “Insignificant”, “Cowboys”
Monday, March 17, 2008
Up until this point, I have been rating albums on a scale of 0 to 10...yet I never said what those numbers mean. Obviously, a 10 is better than a 0, but I never explored it. Also, I kind of lost track of how high to rank something. I really like it...so does it get a 9.5? Is a 9.5 too high? Maybe I should give it an 8.7...but maybe that's too low. And why do I have these decimal points, anyway?
So, in an attempt to break away from a confusing rating system, I'm stripping it down to something basic.
I'll write a closing thought, in which I will talk about how much I liked it, and, I hope, how much you will like it.
I've also toyed with doing a "Requested If You Like" section, but I'm terrible at those. I've never been able to make comparisons all that well, unless they're fairly obvious. Plus, whenever I heard a comparison like, "They sound like if the Smashing Pumpkins went to a party, and got into a fight with The White Stripes and Abba, while Stevie Wonder threw punch on them. While this is happening, The Strokes and Iron & Wine are watching and laughing. It sounds like that," I just roll my eyes and walk away more confused than I was in the first place. I may do stuff like this occasionally, but it's not going to happen a ton.
I don't know if you care, but I thought I'd let you know what's up.
And now, here's a cool picture (just 'cuz).