Saturday, October 21, 2006

Alex Nackman - Sunrise Falls

Everyone owes it to themselves to enjoy great music, even if you feel like it's hard to find. Consider this a Pre-Halloween treat I'm giving you on a silver platter per se. Alex is a great friend of mine, and an incredibly hard-working musician with talent to spare. His newest album Sunrise Falls came out 10.17.06. I had the privilege to hear the beginnings of a few of these tracks, and the finished product is sure to impress. Check out some of the tracks here

Track Listing:

1. Stay Where You Are
2. Losing The Glow
3. Sunrise Falls
4. Proximity
5. Made You Doubt
6. October
7. Dionysus
8. Hold The Line
9. And She's Beautiful
10. Unlock My Gate
11. Holiday
12. Venice

Friday, October 20, 2006

Andrew Bird...and his Eggs

I'd never heard of Andrew Bird nor his production of eggs until a friend gave me the album in a casual way. Although this album came out in the beginning of 2005 it still fits into today's indie musical landscape. Bird, a singer-songwriter and violinist, was originally a member of the band Squirrel Nut Zippers but usually worked with his group Bowl of Fire. He normally produced folk, swing, rock, and jazz inspired work, but this album sees him as a distinctive voice in the singer-songwriter field.

This isn't typical sounding singer-songwriter music. The most immediate realization is the orchestration and strings involved with each song. If I knew he was a violinist before listening to this album it wouldn't have come as such a big surprise. There are some pretty grand arrangements here. Upon doing some background reading on Bird, I find that he's pretty eclectic in fluences and production. For the most part this album finds Bird in a subdued mood with occasional busts of expression on tracks "Fake Palindromes" and "Opposite Day." This album is mellow, and intricatly woven with string accents among Bird's interesting lyrics.

This album sounds relatively easy-going but when you get down to listening to the interplay between Bird's voice, guitar and strings (violin, cello, bass) you come to realize that this is actually an ambitious record. It's amazing that Bird makes everything come to together so cohesively. This album will take a little while to sink in, and there is no way it can all be dissected after one or two listens. Don't hessitate to listen though, even if you don't want to understand the minutiae this will still be an enjoyable album.

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.§

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Troubadour 10.14.06

Saturday night I saw an amazing show at The Troubadour with Mark Ronson and Lily Allen headlining.

The great night began when Mark Ronson came on to spin a set. He DJ-ed for probably 30min. Mixing, scratching, and making everyone listen carefully for what he'd pull out next. Various samples of Coldplay, Britney Spears, and The Gorillaz could be heard alongside the likes of The Game, 50 Cent or even the Jackson 5. It was really quite cool to see and hear. I always wanted to learn how to DJ, but seeing Ronson do his thing was just crazy good. The key to being a great DJ is knowing what's hip but yet knowing how to piece lots of stuff together to make a new sound and sometimes mixing in old songs.

It was kinda weird that at the beginning of his set we sat in the balcony of The Troubadour where everyone was sitting, and below everyone stood there like statues just watching. No one was dancing, it was just weird. If it were a party in Vegas the crowd would be going nuts, but here people just looked on in awe.

The above picture is Ronson doing his thing. As well as below.

Lily lily oh my oh my. If you still haven't heard of her or her music, come out from under your rock and embrace this UK pop songstrist. She's cool, she's hip, she's cute, she's funny, and she's witty. There is really no one like her. When I tell people about her I usually compare her to The Streets but that's only because the way she "raps" is more like speaking on ocassion. Other times she sings infectious hooks with her beautiful voice. I was initially skeptical that her voice sounded better in the studio than it would live, but that thought was immediately dashed when she began her set that night. The girl can flat out sing.

The notion that I got to stand about 10 feet from the stage is amazing. The Troubadour allows you to be so close to the artist it's kinda crazy. We were RIGHT THERE. I wish I had the setlist in hand, but alas I don't. She sang all of the crowd favorites including, LDN, Smile, Alfie, Everything's Just Wonderful, and Knock 'Em Out. At one point during the set she stopped in between songs to comment on how everyone in the crowd was singing along and knew the words. She said, "You all know the words and the albums doesn't come out in the States for 4 can thank Capitol Records for that..." And the crowd began to booo which was hilarious because the whole upper balcony was reserved for Capitol Records V.I.Ps. So she told us not to boo and chuckled. At the beginning of the night she commented that some of her lyric sheets were missing and that whoever took them needed to give them back otherwise she's be a little lost near the end of her set. Not exactly the best thing to admit about your own songs. Yet on the flip side at least she wasn't lip-syncing.

Ms. Allen handled herself well on stage but still seemed kind of star struck by how adoring the crowd was of her. Pretty much everyone in the crowd was into her set. It was weird looking around between songs and seeing random hipsters that had the 'i'm-so-cool-that-i'm-trying-to-be-uncool' look to them. We were standing next to a writer who was wearing a beat up leather jacket, greying ponytail, and grizzled face who would take ocassional notes and looked totally unimpressed the whole time. I understand needing to be objective but lighten up or get out. I'd heard from my friend that Allen played a super-short set (like 30min.) and called it a night. This time was a little bit longer at 45 minutes. Admittadly she doesn't have a lot of material, and she made the most of her time. She easily chatted with the crowd and thank the audience multiple times for their support. Thankfully this wasn't the typical L.A. crowd that I've heard about where everyone stands around acting like they're too cool for school, and texting each other on their BlackBerrys. The crowd was younger and really got into it for the most part. I can't wait till she comes back to the States in 2007 to a much bigger house.