Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Two for Tuesday

I've been trying to post more regularly as of late, and decided to rip off a radio station back home near D.C. that on Tuesdays used to play two songs by the same band back-to-back throughout the day. So, in a personal twist I will try and review two albums on Tuesdays. If not, I'll make it up to you later with Sunny Sundays, Moody Mondays, or even Thrifty Thursdays. Something. Anyway, onto the two for today. I'm starting out with another much-hyped album by The Hold Steady titled, "Boys and Girls in America" released Oct. 3rd.

Like other artists, I had listened to The Hold Steady's previous album "Seperation Sunday" and came away somewhat indifferent. The lead singer's (Craig Finn) voice is totally different from anyone else in mainstream rock. It's not a shout, it's not usually melodic, and its tone was kind of grating on my ears during 'Seperation Sunday.' I held this against them for no real reason. I didn't really track their progress over the past years because I found other bands that I liked more and were easier to get into. When this new album came out I got it on the heels of the hype but was timid about listening to it. Am I going to like it? What will happen if, in fact, I do end up liking it? I'll have to reevaluate what I was thinking. Or god forbid, jump on a quickly filling bandwagon (that's a terrible accidental pun). With trepidation I listened to the beginnning of the album on my Sennheiser studio headphones.

After the first track the headphones were unnecessary. This album was destined to be listened to on something louder than headphones. What is immediately striking is not only the great guitar sound but the addition of a repetitive piano layered in with the classic rock sounding band. The keyboard was absent (from what I remember) from 'Seperation Sunday.' It's a great added layer, and really creates greater depth during Finn's refrains. It may go unnoticed by music novices but the keys are a great touch when used correctly. This album uses them masterfully. This album is what The Killers were trying to do. Finn is an amazing story-teller, and doesn't worry about anyone but himself, which in turn makes his stories and lyrics universal in scope. It's not a concept album like its predecesor, but it doesn't have to be. This album will suck in anyone like myself who was iffy about the band.

'Boys and Girls in America' is an achievement and made my ears perk up passed Finn's unconventional delivery. He creates drama, suspense, and genuine feeling on this record. Stand-out tracks include: Chips Ahoy, Hot Soft Light, and Massive Nights (and check out the great harmonica solo on the closing track 'Southtown Girls'). This record wshould be welcomed with open arms because of one reason: it's REAL rock & roll for the current generation. Finn explains in both first, and third person the meaning of growing up here and now in suburbia. He is filled with angst, but brushes it off with equal parts humor and a band that really knows how to rock out. This doesn't have to be considered an "indie" record for it to be "cool" or "hip." With any moniker, it's just damn good.§

The second album is by a newish artist by the name of Mat Kearney. I originally heard this during Grey's Anatomy or something. Either way, it caught my ear as familiar but slightly different from the cookie-cutter male singer-songwriter genre. I have to admit that I like this genre, even if it's usually aimed at teenage girls ("like, totally, like, you know). There is just something about it that, when really good, is sincere and good listening. For a little background, Kearney is from Eugene, Oregon but went to college at Cal State U, in Chico where he became interested in music while studying literature and playing soccer. He took a trip with a buddy and producer to Nashville and recorded a few tracks. Soon he was getting offers, and

Admittedly, this is an album my mom would love. I look out for good music for my mom, and I know she'd enjoy this. Kearney has almost an identical voice to Chris Martin (Coldplay). This reason alone probably helped him get a record deal. Just because his voice closely resembles Coldplay's frontman doesn't mean he's producing pop anthems. On the contrary, he displays his vocal dexterity on tracks like, "Girl America," "In The Middle," "Can't Break Her Fall," and "Wait." The rap-speak is one of the things that seperates Kearney from the norm. He is equally comfortable singing or speaking his mind.

One of the things that usually holds a sing-songwriter's album back from being good is that all the songs tend to sound the same. Thankfully this is not the case on Kearney's. He employs the normal guitar strumming on some tracks, but otherwise he mixes in synths, interesting guitar effects, and original melodies. The rapping recalls Jason Mraz without the light emotion. The also stand out in between the sung verses. The rarely seem at home in the music, but they're interesting and a risk. It's not a failure it's more something that has to be honed.

The standout tracks for sure are: "Undeniable," "Crashing Down," "In The Middle" and "All I Need." So, overall I wouldn't say rush out and buy this album, but it's worth checking out when you have the time. It's enjoyable and something new. On the other hand, you most likely will be hearing a lot of Mat Kearney on the radio considering he's already made multiple TV soundtrack appearances this season. That's usually good karma. It will be interesting to see where Kearney goes from here.§

No comments: