Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Bees - Octopus

A band that has the ability to transport you back in time may sound "vintage" or "old school" or even unoriginal. The Bees (or A Band of Bees as they're marketed in the U.S.) don't feel like they're from this decade, or this generation. Their musical influences are tied closely to 60's rock; incorporating blues patterns, layers of guitar and shuffle rhythms. They can sound like the Kinks or the Beta Band among others. But for all of these '60s influences, the group manages to sound current, yet they're willing to cherry-pick from artists and styles they admire when necessary. The Bees were started around 2001 and hit the ground running; starting with their Mercury Prize-nominated debut Sunshine Hit Me. But in the years since, I would say they remain relatively unknown outside their native U.K. which is somewhat unfortunate.

On their third release Octopus there is nary a bad track. They all range from the enjoyable to almost exceptional. Managing to take the best of their influences and create a wonderfully tasty stew with elements of rock, blues, R&B rhythm, and a dash of psychedelia. Octopus is (thankfully) an album you can put in a just push play. No need to jump from track to track (except for the last track in which they try too hard to be something they're not). Rock music now often has too many lyrics. Meaning, artist feel the need to fill gaps with words rather than showcasing their instrumental skills. Although, maybe all the singing helps disguise the fact they may not have a creative instrumental bone in their body. Of course this isn't always the case, but should be noted that The Bees make sure to leave room for some instrumental gymnastics. Octopus is a great success on many levels. They have matured and sound exceptional, moving from being a multi-instrumental duo to a sextet of great musicians. The reason they don't sound like just another band with similar 60s/70s influences is way their songs are crafted and arranged. The combination of instruments, and the interplay between them gives a freshness to their music that sounds vintage, yet up-to-date and current.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Burial - Untrue

Firstly, I have to apologize to all my loyal readers (close family and friends) who have been missing, and yearning for my return to the written word. Thank you for your loyalty and support. I've been lazy. It's not just writing that goes on here. I listen to the music, let it settle and jingle in my head for a bit, do background reading (so that I sort of know what I'm talking about. or at least give that illusion), read others' reviews (just to see where I fall on the opinion-meter), formulate, and finally try to make sense of it all. Some artists/albums are easier than others and come more naturally and organically. But overall, I've been lazy. Hopefully, I can right the ship. Thanks for your patience. Let's get crackin'.

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Admittedly, I know very little about dubstep but will try to enlighten the small masses. The almighty Wikipedia defines it as being, "distinguished by its dark mood, sparse rhythms, and emphasis on bass." This doesn't help much. Let's try and dig deeper. It's electronic dance music that originated in London out of its garage scene and has been around for less than 10 years. Rhythm and bass are two of the key ingredients for successful dubstep music. The rhythm is usually of the syncopated and/or shuffle variety, and deep bass propels the music with it's quickened tempo. The layers of sound often come from samples on top of each other and repeated and mixed in a variety of ways. For example, you may have a vocal sample that you repeat in a variety of ways, stopping at different points for emphasis and variation. I could go on, but that's a pretty good outline to go on.

Burial (the artist) is an anonymous dude in London making incredible dubstep albums. His debut was released just back in 2006 and was critically praised across the board. He returns (per se) with his equally exceptional (better, actually) follow-up titled Untrue. The album is not something to enter into lightly. You have to open your mind and let the music flow around you (hope that isn't too snobby). But seriously, it's one of those albums where you put it on your stereo and just lay down on a couch or bed, close your eyes, and listen. Imagining how to piece together the various elements and sounds. Some tracks are more up-tempo than others but the albums flows quite well from track to track and doesn't really become monotonous. The way Burial incorporates vocals into the album is really why this is almost on masterpiece level for the genre. The vocals pitches are bent, they're stretched in length and shortened when need be. It feels more real than it actually is. Through these vocal techniques Burial is able to convey more emotion that is typically absent from most dubstep work that is produced for dance purposes. For a more pretentious evaluation check Pitchfork. Sorry for no pictures of the guy, but as he's said in an interview with his label, "only five people know I make tunes." It's got to be kinda cool to be anonymous.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Radio Moscow

Radio Moscow are the real deal. This is the reincarnation of blues-rock. Balls to the wall, heavy guitar riffs, simple lyrics, and heart-pounding rhythms all coming from a power trio straight out of...Ames, Iowa??? Do not adjust your computer screen. Yes; middle of the country, corn fields, Iowa. While groups like the White Stripes or the Black Keys have a modern take on blues-rock, Radio Moscow seem to have forgotten they're making music in 2007 and not 1977. They don't sound exactly like Jimi Hendrix Experience or Cream but they definitely could have opened for them. Radio Moscow's break came after going to a Black Keys concert and giving their demo tape to Dan Auerbach (member of the Black Keys). He was so impressed he invited them to his home studio and offered to produce their debut album. He also managed to get them signed to the same label.

Radio Moscow is a vicious romp through hearty blues rock of both instrumentals and songs with lyrics. While the album isn't very long, it is more than satisfying. This a band that yearns to be heard live. There is plenty of time for guitar solos throughout the tracks, all of which sound focused and ramble just enough to sound completely free-form and improvised. It's incredible to think that guitarist/vocalist Parker Griggs is merely 23 years old. He plays with the precision of someone at least 10 years his senior. While the structure of the songs are simplistic, there is a passion that exudes from the band that sounds effortless. Griggs isn't just trying to recreate past blues guitar heroes he's using them as a starting point. He shows off his chops that range in influence from blues, to rockabilly, to punk, to metal, and back to rock all in one song on occasion.

Sally Shapiro - Disco Romance

From all accounts the vast amount of music classified as 80's Pop is extremely dated and even hard to listen to 20+ years on from the time it was produced. If I had never heard a note of 80's music or watched a minute of VH1 shows like Why I Love the 80's, I would think Sally Shapiro's Disco Romance was the soundtrack to a prom from 1984. Let's back up for a moment. Sally Shapiro is a pseudonym for an anonymous Swedish singer whose main influences are 80s Eurobeat and Italo disco. Shapiro is extremely closed off from any publicity (except for a rare interview with Pitchfork), and rarely performs live. The album was produced by Johan Agebjörn and takes its cues from those previously mentioned genres but mostly stays on a emotionally melancholy level.

Disco Romance is a pretty transparent record that harps on nostalgia and the feelings of having loved and lost. While others have praised this album for its deep meaning, and even its creativity, I must be listening to a different album. While Pitchfork gave it an 8.5 how can anyone decipher meaning from a review that includes sentences like this: "If verbalization is inherently reductive, then writing about music is a way to encode the moment loss-free." Really? C'mon. Just because I'm an English major doesn't mean I want to diagram a sentence and flip through a dictionary to read a music review. I want to know if it's good, what it sounds like, and maybe an analogous mainstream artist. That should be pretty simple. Disco Romance isn't all it's cracked up to be. Is it pleasant to listen to? Yeah, I guess so. Is it terribly creative in its production? No. Does is make me glad I don't live with 80's music now? Certainly. The record is pretty monotonous. It doesn't all sound identical, but it's pretty close. To offer out "standout" tracks would be superfluous. It's 80's music brought back from the dead and slightly modernized to meet Gen X's emotional angst. If that sounds appealing, all the more power to you. Would it make my hypothetical Best of 2007 list, not likely. Will it make most of the other Big Names' lists, probably.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The 1900s - Cold & Kind

Firstly, some of my 8-15 readers may be wondering why certain songs I post are 30 seconds and others are for the full duration of the song. The answer is that IMEEM (mp3 hosting / community) has deals with labels and artists that dictate the length of streaming songs. Some labels let you stream entire songs, while others only want 30 second iTunes-ish clips. If you are like Michael Scott in The Office, 30 seconds may be all you need to get by. On the other hand, if you'd like to hear the song in full...well, I'm working on that....

The 1900s are a self-described "seven piece psychedelic pop group from Chicago." While this may be their term, it's not wholly accurate. Indie/folk pop is probably closer to the mark. All of which can be taken with a grain of salt, as they're all partially true. While they officially formed in 2004, their relationships vary in length, with some going back to grade school. Their debut EP Plume Delivery from the spring of 2006 was recorded before they had played any live gigs together, and news quickly spread around Chicago and further outward. They landed sold-out shows and eventually opened for the likes of Midlake and Iron & Wine, which then got them an invite to play at SXSW, which then begot them an invite to Lollapalooza. While it most certainly was a precipitous rise to acclaim, the journey has only begun.

On their debut full-length album Cold & Kind the band create something special. Their atmospheres, arrangements, melodies, vocal harmonies, and lyrics are hit the right spots. It is an incredibly strong debut that should stand out in a crowd. With seven members, they have 2 main vocalists in Caroline Donovan and Jeanine O'Toole, but occasionally have assistance from Edward Anderson. The manner in which they blend together is warm and inviting. In the same turn, each lady isn't afraid to step out into the spotlight to take her own turn with a solo. Often times when bands have multiple vocalists or complex arrangements (as they do with strings, horns, various keyboards, and tambourines) they can't find balance in their sound, or they forget about the lyrics, or don't pay enough attention to detail. Thankfully, The 1900s manage to avoid those pitfalls to produce a rich album that is equally at home being quiet and thoughtful (the Simon & Garfunkel-esque "City Water") as they are being rollicking and free-flowing ("Two Ways"). One of the most poignant reviews of the record comes from Tim Sendra at AMG who says, "Cold & Kind is the kind of record that will capture the heart of anyone lucky enough to discover it, a glittering jewel of well-written, perfectly recorded, and heartbreakingly honest and true music nestled in the trash heap of product that floods that market each week."

Monday, November 12, 2007

Okkervil River - The Stage Names

If you're a connoisseur of Russian literature and enjoy short stories written by Tatyana Tolstaya you may know where the Okkervil River is in St. Petersburg or you may be familiar with an indie rock band from Austin, TX. The band formed in the late 90's, originally consisting of Will Sheff, Zach Thomas, and Seth Warren. All of whom went to high school together back in New Hampshire but relocated to Austin. After some early shuffling of members the lineup now consists of Patrick Pestorius, Jonathan Meiburg, Will Sheff, Travis Nelsen, Scott Brackett, and Brian Cassidy. While their third full-length album Black Sheep Boy put them on the outskirts of the indie radar it is the follow-up The Stage Names that has successfully planted them as a new fixture to the indie rockstar map.

The Stage Names was released August 7, 2007 and almost immediately received critical acclaim from the likes of Pitchfork and even The New York Times. Make no mistake, this album is a joy to listen to. From front to back there aren't really any throw-away tracks, and by the end actually have you wanting to hear more. Boiled down, Mr. Sheff is the true genius behind the music as he is the writer and arranger of the tunes. He is noted as a smart lyricist, but the music would be far less enjoyable and believable if not for the music the envelops and gives structure to Sheff's message. The sound vacillates between a folk-rock aesthetic and riff-heavy rock but never gets too close to either extreme. Sheff's slower ballads fit nicely in between the tunes that demonstrate the band's full-boar sound. Given their prior trajectory, if this album is any indication of where the band is headed, their next effort should be off the charts.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Lyle Lovett - It's Not Big It's Large

Lyle Lovett has been around making music since before I really knew what music was. While not extremely familiar with his music throughout the last 20+ years, I've heard him here and there and always had a respect for him as a talented songwriter. He was born in the rural town of Klein, TX that was named after his great-grandfather who was a Bavarian weaver. He didn't become interested in music until he was in college at Texas A&M where he performed covers and folk tunes in small venues and festivals. Soon after Nanci Griffith performed a song he wrote on an album of hers Mr. Lovett signed a record contract with MCA/Curb in 1986. His self-titled debut was an instant hit on the Country charts. But from the outset Lovett wasn't content to be labeled as strictly a "Country" artists. His musical influences ranged from jazz, to pop, to blues, to folk. All of these genres found their way into songs where Lovett created his own personal musical melting pot. With each successive release Lovett moved away from his country roots, and lost country fans but gained more mainstream approval. His brief (1993-1995) marriage to Julia Roberts catapulted him to being more of a household name than he had ever experienced before. Between then and now he focused on touring and writing when he wasn't making movie cameos. All in all, It's Not Big It's Large marks his 11th release and is probably one of his most eclectic sounding records to date.

It's Not Big It's Large begins by showcasing none other than: the band. It's an instrumental big band number that sounds more like Count Basie than Hank Williams. You know why? Because "Tickle Toe" was written by the great jazz tenor saxophonist Lester Young who was a member of both Count Basie's band and later Fletcher Henderson's orchestra. The album has tunes that cover various influences from blues to country with both up-tempo and slower ballads. The catchiest song is "Up In Indiana" which is posted below. Overall, the album gives a good cross section of where Lyle Lovett comes from and where his influences have placed him today. It's not outstanding, but is well worth a few spins.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Born Ruffians - Hummingbird EP

Well, after a too long hiatus, ongoing writers strike, and just lack of inspiration I'm back. Sorry to the 8-15 people who read this for the delay.

Born Ruffians are another Canadian indie rock band trying to find their niche in the mainstreaming indie scene. The trio is comprised of Luke Lalonde (guitar/vocals), Mitch Derosier (bass), and Steven Hamelin (drums). Their Hummingbird EP was released in October on their new label WARP and showcases an evolving sound. While the release contains only 3 songs, they each demonstrate where the band is likely going with their release Red, Yellow and Blue, which is scheduled for release worldwide on WARP records in February 2008.

Born Ruffians have a "jaunty mix of shifty guitar riffs and hyper-chic vocals for a Pixies-esque shredded kind of sweetness" according to AMG. This is only a snippet of what Born Ruffians are about. Their sound is kind of like Vampire Weekend in it's playfulness, sing-song lyrics, and fresh eclectic sound. Not to mention their lead singer sounds similar with his higher-pitched voice and vocal style. They've opened for the likes of Caribou, Hot Chip, and Peter Bjorn & John. This EP will only make the full-length release more anticipated, and if they can assemble ~10 songs that are as good as these three they'll have others opening for them in no time.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Alexi Murdoch - Time Without Consequence

Imagine for a second, listening to a reincarnated version of Nick Drake (Pink Moon era) updated for the 21st century. Granted, you have to know who Nick Drake is to begin with, but even still, it should raise interest from any self-respecting music lover. Alexi Murdoch is the embodiment of that indie folk artist. The London-born, but Scottish-bred Murdoch moved to Los Angeles and almost immediately had a prodigious meeting with trend-setter Nic Harcourt on his Morning Becomes Eclectic at KCRW. That occurred in 2003, and soon after that major labels and savvy listeners were taking notice, with executives lining up at his door to sign him to a record deal. When the right deal failed to materialize Murdoch continued to tour in support of his EP Four Songs. Still without an agreeable deal he took it upon himself and recorded his debut full-length Time Without Consequence on his own. It should be noted that Murdoch was not waiting for a huge monetary deal. Supposedly he was (and still is) looking for one that is true to his artistic vision, and allows him to compose unshackled by major label requirements of producing hits rather than whatever he sees fit.

The fact that I didn't find Time Without Consequence (2006) until recently makes me feel like I'm late to a secret show at a small venue. I'm standing at the back of the room, and wishing I had been there from the beginning so I could be sitting in the front row. Either way, I'm there but can't necessarily brag about having a great view. On the other hand, Alexi Murdoch won't stay much of a secret for long. His most popular song "Orange Sky" (below) has been featured on The O.C., House, Prison Break, Ugly Betty, and most recently Dirty Sexy Money. Murdoch's music is typified by his powerfully restrained and halting voice, in addition to his understated beautiful guitar picking. The album is absolutely beautiful from beginning to end and really shows an artist seemingly on the brink of becoming a household name. His lyrics are heartfelt without being contrived. The arrangements are simple boarding on sparse. Alexi Murdoch will surely find a home at a label sometime soon, and he most surely has his pick of the litter. One can only hope that his artistic integrity is allowed to continue to blossom and develop.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Minus the Bear - Planet of Ice

Hailing from Seattle, Washington Minus the Bear are known for some quirky song titles. But before they are cast off as a novelty, one should consider their polished, smartly arranged songs with a closer listen. Finger-tapped guitar riffs mixed with catchy melodies and unexpected time changes are sure to keep things interesting and entertaining for most fans.

While they have released a few EPs and a debut LP (Menos el Oso, 2005) the release of Planet of Ice is really their grand entrance to the indie music scene. Up until this point the band has been circling the local wagons and creating a fanbase in the pacific northwest. Planet of Ice is a solid effort from a band that is still learning and growing. While not at their peak yet, you can see bursts of special ideas coming through on many songs. Unfortunately, this lack of cohesion is a blessing and curse on the album. When listening through, they sound like one band here or another band there without trying to hard. The blend of electronics, synths, guitar riffs, and swooning vocals create quite a landscape for the album. On the other hand, each of these reminders detracts from an identity they're trying to construct for themselves. Once they capture the exact direction and vibe they want to have consistently, they could really break through. If not, Minus the Bear will probably continuing making listenable albums, but nothing to be remembered for more than a few years. But, while they are rising, this album will give a great sense of what they are capable of achieving.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

When the lights go out in the city...

It is necessary to note today in the annals of internet music history along side Napster 2000. Whether you were a member, user, et al. OiNK is no more. Various bits of news coverage from around the Net.

Mudd Up!
BBC News
The Northern Echo (UK)
more news & opinions...
Seattle Times

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Pharoahe Monch - Desire

If you haven't read this article from Slate today it is highly recommended. It has to do with indie rock going away from classic rock's roots in blues and other originally black music. While it points out that examples given are chosen carefully the overall article gives some great facts about the progression of the indie scene, in terms of ethnomusicology.

Pharoahe Monch, from Queens, NY is best known in hip-hop circles for his complex delivery, internal and multi-syllabic rhyme schemes and has gone relatively unnoticed until recently. His debut, Internal Affairs, debuted in 1999 and over the next 7 years released singles and tracks for movies. He kept himself in the game by creating successful singles, and ghost-writing tracks for others such as Diddy. The long layoff between albums is interesting and at the same time curious. Without being familiar with the debut album, it's easy to hear the latest release with fresh ears and not expect to hear something similar to 8 years ago.

On Desire, Pharoahe Monch creates an album that is laced with his signature lyrics and flow, while using authentic gospel, deep funk, and silky soul. With all of this thrown into the stew Monch has an crisp, tight feel that track-to-track is one of the best hip-hop released in the last year. These tracks are bold, brash, bright, insightful, and occasionally brilliant. While the vast schism in time between albums would take most off their game, Pharoahe Monch has come back stronger and clearly has honed his craft. The production throughout the album is varied and inspired. It's not fractured or all over the place, but rather demonstrates various influences, while staying true to Monch's style and interests. One of the best lyrics comes from the title track below where Monch spits "Slave to a label, but I still own my masters." Stating clearly that he is independent at the end of the day, and will make music the way he sees fit. One can only hope it doesn't take another 8 years for him to concoct another albums worth of original material; although at this rate it would be well worth the wait.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew - Spirit If...

Broken Social Scene is a fantastic indie chamber pop group that typically has anywhere between 8 to 20 musicians performing at a given time. One of it's founding members Kevin Drew has never been the most marketable individual to emerge from the Canadian gang; that has been left to Leslie Feist, Emily Haines, or Amy Millan. With their solo careers burgeoning, Mr. Drew concocted a plan to eventually showcase the members with the help of the rest of the band. Essentially allowing each lesser-known member to step into the spotlight. Kevin Drew grew up in Toronto and got his creative start attending high school at the prestigious Etobicoke School of the Arts where he also met future friends and BSS members Ms. Haines and Ms. Millan. The best description of how BSS typically sound is a collection of all the members influences which are too numerous to name, but they tend to have an enormous sound, complication orchestrations, unique song structures, and interesting (to say the least) production from David Newfeld. They employ violins, guitars, horns, woodwinds, drums, keys and everything else but the proverbial kitchen sink.

As a Kevin Drew coming out party, Spirit If... really sounds like a BSS album, as should be expected. While not quite as beautifully chaotic as previous BSS works, Spirit If allows Kevin Drew the freedom to direct and arrange things how he would like, rather than yielding to the whims of the masses. While this is merely supposition, the album speaks for itself. Mr. Drew is at the forefront of almost the entire album and with his name plastered on the album art it's safe to assume he took great care in presenting this as solely his idea backed by his friends and bandmates in BSS. Recorded over the course of two years with members flying in and out to record various pieces, it's pretty astounding that this pastiche of sound making can be puzzled together to create such an excellent expanse of music. In addition, the 60+ minute length should be celebrated as it has become a rare sight to have bands fill more than half of a typical 80min. cd. While the amount of music is not necessarily indicitive of quality, Kevin Drew allows himself the freedom to experiment with songs ranging from 3 to 7 minutes depending on his message (no matter how convoluted it may be). While his lyrics occasionally make little sense, the choruses are almost always blunt and elementary. For example, on "Bodhi Sappy Weekend" mind-bending lyrics include, "With our clothes on fire/ I guess we both can wait/ I built an ark for sure," while the refrain explains, "please don't scratch me out" which is heart-breaking in its candor as it brings the song back to Earth. All in all, Kevin Drew has essentially created another great BSS album in which he can finally receive credit, where credit is due. Album reviews from Pitchfork, AMG, and Stylus.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Dizzee Rascal - Maths + English

The 22-year old, Mercury Prize-winning, East Londoner Dylan Mills was at the forefront of bringing the genre of "Grime" to public consciousness. Otherwise known as Dizzee Rascal, Mills was born and raised in Bow, East London by his single mother. Without much success in school, Dizzee found his calling in a music class that saw him making and experimenting with productions on a classroom computer. He made these early off-kilter tracks for personal use to MC over due to the fact he didn't find suitable tracks in the garage scene. His unique vocal style is exemplified by his thick accent and fast delivery to the point where his lyrics are sometimes difficult to decipher. His production now is still equally disjointed which is juxtaposed to his lyrical flow. It's not typical hip-hop in the least that is easily danceable. With eclectic elements ranging from garage, metal guitars, drill and bass, and music samples from all over the world Dizzee Rascal albums have a sound all to themselves.

While his coming out party was made clear with his smash Boy in Da Corner (2003), his follow-up Showtime (2004) was not quite the same hit as it's predecessor. It was with great anticipation that he released Maths + English (2007) with quite a few collaborations in tow. The production on this newest album is more eclectic yet more accessible than his previous efforts. While not as monumental a success as Boy in Da Corner, this effort was nonetheless nominated for the Mercury Prize and has received very positive reviews from both Pitchfork and AMG while Stylus wasn't as happy with it. Stylus' main point is that it's "inconsistent" since there are more collaborations than on previous Dizzee Rascal albums, but these performances show an artist growing and expanding his horizons. This is an understandable progression for such a unique artist. One such collaboration with UK darling Lily Allen is below.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Explosions in the Sky - All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone

Upon listening to Explosions in the Sky you'd think the band would be perfect for scoring a movie. You would be right. In fact, they composed the soundtrack to the film adaptation of Friday Night Lights. Before doing this, the kids from Austin, Texas gained a grassroots reputation for their intense live performances where their staple is the magnitude of emotion in their act. They defy most conventions with instrumental rock since they are incredibly dynamic. While not every song is a hit (and some can be quite boring), they have the ability to really strike emotional chords with listeners. While it may seem corny or cheesy that instrumental rock could have such emotive power, it certainly says something about the skill and breadth of the band. What they seek to demonstrate is mostly that beauty requires tension prior to being resolved, and can be discovered within apparent chaos.

On their newest effort All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone (2/20/07) they hit on their normal style of swirling guitars and heavy snare and symbol drummed rhythms. Their maturity shines through this album which requires patience from its listeners. With tracks ranging from 4 to 13 minutes in length, songs are allowed to grow, fester, rattle, and reach their zenith organically. Their sound is definitely distinctive, with their particular guitar timbre and and sometimes frenetic drumming. One of the things that makes the music emotionally compelling and successful is Explosions' mastery of the crescendo. Few bands have such dramatic and perfectly timed rises in both volume and intensity that Explosions manages to carry out. Some bands get very quite only to come back blaring the speakers, but within the gradual dramatic increased volume allows them to accomplish varying degrees of emotion. While some may find Explosions in the Sky boring or tedious or uninteresting, their music is nonetheless interesting. They manage to create emotive instrumental soundscapes, which is rare in the world of rock music and should be applauded.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Listen to the new Radiohead - In Rainbows below (apologies for them only playing 30 seconds at a time, there seems to be something wrong with the hosting). It is available for digital download here. If not for any other reason, give support to the digital music revolution.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Percee P - Perseverance

It took John Percy Simon (aka Percee P) long enough (20 years) to be properly introduced to the music world. Percee P has been rapping since the early 80's during the dawn of rap and hip-hop in the South Bronx where his mother moved the family when he was a young boy. While he made his own recordings he struggled to get any serious attention from record labels, and survived by selling mixtapes outside Fat Beats Records in Brooklyn. He's had additional success with numerous guest appearances on records by the likes of Vakill, Jedi Mind Tricks, Aesop Rock, and Cenobites, among many others. It wasn't until 2003 that Percee P finally landed at the trailblazing California-based hip-hop label Stones Throw that he had the opportunity to make his long-awaited (aptly titled) debut Perseverance.

Perseverance gives an extensive crash course in Percee P's ornate rhyme scheme and highly developed delivery style. His flow is definitely unique and hasn't changed over his many years in the business. This is another incredibly respectable quality about Percee's music. He hasn't bent his "old school" ideal where lyrical content is imperative to producing quality hip-hop. On the whole, Percee P spends the 54 minutes of his debut album going back and forth between boasting about his superior skills and his lack of recognition up until now. Normally, this lyrical content would be tired from other artists, but Percee P has earned this opportunity to stand on his own soapbox and he delivers throughout. Most of the production is left to fellow labelmate Madlib whose semi-experimental beats are juxtaposed with Percee's old school flavor. This pairing of old and new schools requires an amount of trust from both MC and producer, but on this particular album their collaboration was certainly worth the wait.

Eclectic collaboration with Four Tet:

Monday, October 08, 2007

Hard-Fi - Once Upon a Time in the West

Sophomore albums are quite the Catch-22 for highly acclaimed new bands, since they point to both where the band has been and where they could be going. Unfortunately, a lot of times they tend to go down and are sometimes forgotten about until they produce a more redeeming third album (if they get that chance at all). On the other hand a solid 2nd album can catapult a band to further stardom and place them on the musical map for years to come. Hard-Fi is a band that encountered this conundrum recently. The quartet from Staines, Surrey, England made one of the most talked about albums of 2005 with Stars of CCTV. Their music is a mix of post-punk, indie rock with a splash of Clash-esque verve. All wrapped up into a debut album that had the UK in tizzy. Their fame reached a fever pitch when they played 5 consecutive sold out shows at famed Brixton Academy from May 14 - 18, 2006. The only other bands to have done this are The Clash, Bob Dylan, Massive Attack, and The Prodigy. Not to mention Hard-Fi are the only ones to do it off the success of their debut album. With popularity reaching critical mass, their follow up effort Once Upon a Time in the West (Sept. 3, 2007) came highly anticipated.

Stars of CCTV was a really enjoyable album that showed a fresh sound from a rather normal suburban London band. The album was raw and full of energy that didn't gloss or shine with a huge studio budget. In essence, it really showcased what the band was about. Has fame gone to their heads? Has fame given them too much money for orchestration and studio gimmicks? Has fame gotten Hard-Fi away from what they do best? The answers to these questions seem to be a resounding 'Yes' when you consider the sophomore effort Once Upon a Time in the West. The album is pretty mediocre coming off such a great initial effort. There are a few songs that demonstrate the same swagger the band become known for. In its place for the remainder of the album are over-thought and over-produced songs with the same ideas, but presented with much less gusto. In an effort to sound like their idols The Clash, they effectively forget what they're all about and fall on their faces. Hard-Fi attempt to mix their influences together and really over-analyze what they want to do rather than going with gut reactions and emotions. They began making music because they weren't hearing any music that spoke to them about their lives. Now that they're (presumably) rich and famous their ethos of being regular suburban kids complaining about life doesn't seem to hold much water anymore. Time to sack up and make the grand gestures of the emblazoned "lack of" cover art equal to the music.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Tony Lucca & Friday Night Lights

In preparation for the season premiere of the best show on TV that is critically acclaimed and (hopefully up until now) rarely watched, Tony Lucca's "Devil Town" is posted below. The show in question is none other than Friday Night Lights. Not only is Tony Lucca a somewhat obscure artist but his song "Devil Town" which is featured in FNL is perfectly befitting of the show. It's ambling southwestern rock sensibilities relate perfectly to the fictional town of Dillon, TX. FNL is fabulously written, and gives some of the most accurate depiction of real human emotion seen on TV. Every reaction, emotion, insult, kiss, touchdown and pickup truck is felt as real. The characters are fully developed people that feel incredibly real. When people question whether high school football is that big of a deal in Texas, they probably just don't understand there are places in state that are probably even more extreme than the town of Dillon. High School football is no joke. It brings the town together and binds them. The characters that shun the social ramification of football often have other things they despise about the town and its psychology. While the season premiere is getting good reviews, there is some plot twist that is supposedly out of character, and hopefully the do-it-all Peter Berg knows what he's doing. Catch the reviews at Variety and ESPN. Until shown enjoy a familiar sound to FNL

Bloc Party - Flux

In case you missed it, the ever evolving Bloc Party were on Conan O'Brien last night (10.04.07) debuting their brand new song 'Flux'. While the video below isn't pristine quality, I thought it's better than nothing. Hope you enjoy. Love these guys.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Patrick Watson - Close to Paradise

California born, Canadian bred, and newly anointed 2007 Polaris Music Prize winner Patrick Watson resembles an eclectic mix of M. Ward's hushed tones and melodic sensibilities, Jeff Buckley's symphonic feel, and Coldplay's (X&Y version) electronica tinged pop. If this all sounds like too much at once, well, it isn't. On the newest effort Close to Paradise, Patrick Watson and his band are able to meld the various musical forms he explored when he was younger going through school to create a clean indie pop record. Certain songs tend to swirl around in atmospheric ways but never drift out of touch with reality, and that restraint is something to be commended. Guitar lines pull back simple chord changes riffed on the piano at the perfect times. The entire album plays out as if it has a story to tell, much in the same way a great soundtrack to a movie carries a narrative. Some were incredibly surprised this album took home the honor of the Polaris, considering it was up against stiff competition with the likes of The Arcade Fire, the darling Feist, and Junior Boys. Instead the committee chose to help out an underdog with its $20,000 prize. In this case it was a great decision, since upcoming music deserves to have a spotlight shed on it from time to time. There's a video for the song below, here.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Liam Finn - I'll Be Lightning

Following in the recent tradition of New Zealand artists, it's Liam Finn's turn to shine. The Kiwi comes from a rock pedigree thanks to his father Neil who is a member of Crowded House and therefore, at age 23, is further along in his musical career than most can say at the same age. In his home country, he is most known for being the frontman of Bectchadupa, but his debut solo album I'll Be Lightning came out there this summer. The U.S. won't see it released on Yep Roc till 1/22/08, but thankfully there are ways and means around that seeming snafu. He graced the stage at Coachella this year with his father and Crowded House without much fanfare. This would have certainly been different had the masses heard this debut release.

I'll Be Lightning is a spur of the moment album that was recorded and produced entirely by Mr. Finn over the course of two months at his father's recording studio named Roundhead Studios in Auckland. After gathering and cultivating musical ideas over a period of time Mr. Finn thought it was time to get everything recorded and out of his brain. On his website he says he took the entire project upon himself because he "didn't want to compromise or collaborate." This is totally fair considering his artistic vision as he explains, "I wanted to record these songs the way I heard them in my head. And I had a very clear idea of how I wanted them recorded." Usually this could spell trouble without any experience, but with his pedigree Mr. Finn was clearly up to the task. In addition, he wanted the songs to sound a bit more raw and authentic so he recorded entirely on old fashioned analog gear. This choice was made since, "It's like the difference between digital video and film...there's just something you can't capture on computers." This album is definitely a breath of fresh air, and unlike most solo albums currently out there. Some elements are familiar and others are not which makes for an interesting and unique listening experience. Every instrument track is played by Liam, which is impressive in and of itself. During his live shows he accomplishes this through guitar loops and lots of quick movements back and forth between guitar and drums, which can be seen here. Otherwise, enjoy the track below entitled "Wise Man".

Note on Radiohead

Strangely enough, I didn't like Radiohead early on. I was admittedly scared of diving in to the same pool as some old friends with questionable musical taste. But after a couple years of procrastination I dove in head first. Now, Radiohead is one of my favorite bands of all time. Their creativity and consistency is rarely seen at any point in the last 50 years of popular music. Ever changing, adapting, and blazing new trails others don't dare to begin. Without much ado they are doing it again. Only this time they mean business...the music business, that is. Time to shake things up. No label. No huge advertisements. No promotion except for a simple blog post saying their album (titled In Rainbows) would be released in 10 days (Oct. 10). When saying this is unprecedented, it's not an overstatement. If it was just about the lack of a label and marketing that would be minor compared to the announcement the music industry is buzzing about. They're letting fans download the release on the day it comes out for as little as they see fit to pay (+ credit card fee...about $0.90). This new model flies in the face of everything big whigs have been thinking about doing to save the music industry. The fact of the matter is, heads of labels need to take a step back and realize it's no longer the age of a million+ album sales in a debut week. It's just not going to happen. Kanye West, the self-proclaimed master of all things, got to 950,000+ which is a staggering number in the new age of music. The music industry needs to embrace the fact they're in the middle of a enormous paradigm shift. It's just a matter of figuring out the best way to go and accepting that expense accounts are going to shrink, and they may have to downgrade from a Bentley to a Porsche. Why not go back to focusing on the music.

Focus on artists that can produce full albums rather than one or two singles. If they keep snatching artists for one of two songs all they're doing is exploiting the artists and using them for a summer hit and throwing them back into anonymity. There's little commitment to grooming artists, and nurturing them into actual careers. Wouldn't people rather purchase an entire album of songs rather than an album with one or two good songs? Of course. I know that's one of the reasons I stopped buying actual cds. I just wanted the hits. Everyone wants to make mix cds, which is made much easier when there is only A hit on an album. The iTunes music store is bringing this 'singles rule' mentality back to the music industry in a big way that has always been there, but before the iTunes you still had to buy the whole album to get those few goodies. Now, with little tech savy you can get those singles from iTunes or the newly launched DRM-free AmazonMP3 store. Now it's time to see what will happen with another daring Radiohead experiment (no doubt the actual music will be fantastic). My guess is that the site/server to download will be excruciatingly slow and/or crash. But only time will tell on Oct. 10th.
LA Times
Radiohead - In Rainbows

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Bruce Springsteen - Magic

Bruce Springsteen is quite a polarizing figure in American rock music. The Boss is either adored and praised as one of the greatest ever, or loathed and ridiculed as a phony purveyor of Americana due to the guiding hand of longtime manager Jon Landau. It's hard to fall in the middle or not understand the valid argument for the latter after reading something like this. It's hard not to buy into his message and themes of the heartland, cars, the open road, sweeping girls of porch swings, the Man, and bitter relationships. He has been singing mostly about the same things for the better part of 25+ years. There is also no doubt when coupled with his E Street Band he takes on a distinctive sound and songwriting format.

Magic is the newest offering with both the Boss and E Street Band in tow that comes out today October 2nd. The entire album is classic Bruce with his familiar band. Many of the song sound like they could be off any number of older albums. One of which ("Livin' In The Future"), in fact, sounds exactly like "Hungry Heart" from The River in 1980 right down to the wailing Clarence Clemons saxophone. This album almost doesn't feel like new material. It feels recycled. It feels reworked. It feels revised. The Boss is not blazing any new trails here. It's kind of sad in a way. You know exactly what you're going to get, and he delivers. Not that the music is terrible, because it's much better than most, but there is no element of surprise or discovery. This is the real drawback of Bruce Springsteen in the 21st century; he's going to hit the same note every time with the E Street Band, and you have to pray for a diamond in the rough. On the other hand, Magic is a high energy American Rock 'n Roll album that others still dream of creating.

DMB - Hollywood Bowl 10.01.07

Last night I got to go see Dave Matthews Band at the Hollywood Bowl. I've seen him a few times before, and always have great luck with him and the band. I have friends that have seen him on both great nights and sub-par nights. Luckily, the few times I've seen him it's like he knows I'm there because he has either brought out new songs or songs they haven't played in years for the first time at the show. In addition, I had the most amazing seats in the center front row of the terrace boxes almost directly behind the soundboard. Easily some of the best tickets to a concert I've ever had the privilege of having. That could not have been without an amazing favor from a very close friend. Last night at the Bowl my string of DMB luck was no different. When you talk to die hard DMB fans they always want to compare setlists, and what was the best they've seen or certain versions they've seen. It's all done in a pissing contest type way. It can be somewhat annoying. Either way, the clear highlights of the show last night were "The Stone", "Bartender", "Jimi Thing", and "So Much --> Too Much".

One Sweet World *
Pantala Naga Pampa *

Rapunzel *
Dream Girl *
#27 *
Everyday *
Ants Marching *
The Stone *+
Satellite *+
Corn Bread *+
Eh Hee *+
Bartender *+
Louisiana Bayou *
Jimi Thing *
Stand Up [For It] *~
So Much To Say *

Anyone Seen The Bridge *

Too Much *


Grace Is Gone *

(Black Water) *
Tripping Billies *

Show Notes:
* Rashawn Ross
+ Danny Barnes
~ Joe Lawlor

Monday, October 01, 2007

Ryan Bingham - Mescalito

Ryan Bingham deserves an introduction as gritty as his indie country rock music. The 25 year old Texan comes from a difficult upbringing that saw him move with his parents back and forth from California to Texas and a few places in between. Due to certain circumstances he was forced to live by himself starting in his mid-teens. He traveled between Southwestern boarder towns and relatives' homes, and was no stranger to sleeping in his truck after small rodeo gigs. Mr. Bingham learned guitar at 17 from a mariachi neighbor and began entertaining friends with his songs. His rustic influences range from Bob Dylan and Marshall Tucker to Bob Wills. These greats were heard by Bingham in the jukebox while frequenting his uncle's roadhouse saloon named the Halfway Bar. His genre-bending mix of blues, mariachi, zydeco, and alt-country give his music a unique sound even if his lyrical content is occasionally predictable for those familiar with this type of music. Luckily, Mr. Bingham's personal history is infused into both his music and lyrics to give the songs an unmistakable verisimilitude. This realness is one of the things that separates his debut album Mescalito from other aspiring alt-country artists. He's not singing about certain things just because they're musical stereotypes, but rather as life-altering personal experiences.

Mescalito is generally engaging and a pleasure to listen to. Upon hearing the first words out of Mr. Bingham's mouth you get a sense of his utterly unique voice. It's as if he has medium-grit sandpaper lining his vocal chords. His voice isn't raspy or weak, but rather exhibits characteristics of age and miles ahead of his 25 years. The whole album feels like it was recorded in a studio with a sandy dirt floor with a sign saying "No Shoes Required / Beware Rattlesnakes" on a fencepost outside the door. The best tunes see Mr. Bingham and his band the Dead Horses dig their heels into grooves and really jam with a mix of slide guitar, banjo, bass, and fiddle. While most are of the medium tempo variety, there are a few heartfelt ballads sprinkled throughout. Maybe the album as a whole isn't laser-focused, but it gives an incredible introduction to a burgeoning alt-country artist bursting with talent who is already wise beyond his years.

Friday, September 28, 2007

VHS or Beta - Bring on the Comets

Writing scathing reviews isn't as easy as it would seem since you really need to loath the topic/album in question. It's probably easy for some to hate VHS or Beta, but they're an entertaining dance-punk band that have been flying under the radar for a while but have surged onto radio with their newest album Bring on the Comets. Instead of staying with what they do best on this album they decided to focus on songwriting and squeaky-clean production. This album is kind of like jumping into a time machine back to the 80's pop charts with different guitar sounds. The sweeping choruses, synthesizer arpeggios, catchy hooks all just end up sounding tired on repeated listens. The album isn't bad and it isn't great. It's actually decidedly mediocre. It seems like there is too much polish on each of the songs that leave the listener begging to see if there's anything rough around the edges. It's hard to get into the album when each of the songs sound similar. You know the synth is coming in here or there, you know the sweeping chorus will be executed with precision, you know all of these things after listening to 2-3 songs. Maybe they're trying to be like Daft Punk or channeling The Killers and missing the mark. The single below "Can't Believe a Single Word" sounds like another song but can't figure out what. They need to find a true identity before anyone should say, "Hey put on that VHS or Beta disc."

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Band of Horses - Cease to Begin

Hailing from Seattle, Washington, Band of Horses saw a rapid rise to indie-rock stardom with their debut release Everything All The Time (2006, Sub Pop). Combining dreamy guitars, alt-country, and ethereal voice of Ben Bridwell they are most often compared to My Morning Jacket. Upon listening to their debut it was shocking how their voices sounded so similar. In a short amount of time in 2006, Ben Bridwell and his friend Matthew Brooke went from opening act (for labelmate Iron & Wine) to performing on The Late Show with David Letterman. With this much lauded debut also came unexpected changes to the band before recording the follow-up Cease to Begin (Oct. 9, 2007). Matthew Brooke left the band to pursue a solo venture and a couple other members moved away to be closer to their families.

Early reviews of Cease to Begin have been saying this effort is severely lacking. This is only partially true. There are also some differences that are a pleasant surprise. Cease to Begin is less "indie" and more accessible in its directness. Certain hushed or restrained elements on their debut are stripped away to bring Ben Bridwell front and center. It's hard to say this album isn't distinctly Band of Horses in its beauty of sound, but it's less circuitous and more on the straight and narrow. Some say this is a downfall; but that is all they've known. The band has mutated their stripes but hasn't lost them. There are fewer epic songs like "The Funeral," and Mr. Briwell's normal lyrical punch is dampened on a many tracks. His plaintive sighs aren't nearly as interesting as when he's belting out his feelings. Speculation could be that whenever a close band member is no longer around certain dynamics change. What these dynamics were for Band of Horses are a mystery, but from this album it's safe to say Mr. Brooke probably contributed some songwriting depth that leaves Cease to Begin enjoyable but feeling a tad bit thin.