Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Phoenix Foundation - Horsepower

Sometimes being mellow is a good thing. In the case of The Phoenix Foundation's US debut Horsepower it's quite a good thing. This band from New Zealand, not to be confused with the only other one Americans know (Flight of the Conchords...hilarious by the way), decided to re-release their 2004 debut Horsepower with a couple additional tracks for their Stateside debut. Immediate comparisons can be made to early (acoustic) Coldplay with elements of the The Shins. While I was optimistic that the album wouldn't be a sobbing and mopey journey, it's hard to escape that feeling after a few listens. On the other hand, sometimes it's perfect for the mood.

Horsepower clearly shows promise from a band already very well known in their homeland. They've already played in some of the country's largest festivals including Big Day Out. I was really hoping for more than just a couple upbeat tunes. For a band that grew up listening to the likes of Pantera and Slayer this type of music seems like a total contradiction. Gentle harmonies, and falsetto crooning are the norm on this effort. They maintain a spacey, playful, and even whimsical feel throughout most of the album. Especially atmospheric tracks include "Sister Risk" and "St. Kevin." The Phoenix Foundation should have little trouble finding a spot on any number of melodramatic TV shows here in the US. Essentially, a music supervisor's dream since they're unknown and would provide a perfect paring for a gray sky or melancholy afternoon. If you're looking to chillax and contemplate life, Horsepower would be a perfect album for that endeavor.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Galactic - From The Corner To The Block

As pointed out previously, the fusion of two artists is sometimes a touchy task to pull off well. On the other hand, the marriage of various genres all too often loses something when melded into one. The New Orleans band Galactic proves this stereotype wrong in many ways. This fact is especially true on their newest album From The Corner To The Block (Aug. 2007). One of the best ways to describe Galactic is by saying they incorporate elements of funk, jazz, hip hop, and rock. In addition, they can jam with the best of them.

On From The Corner To The Block the instrumental sextet gather guests artists ranging from Chali 2na (Jurassic 5), Mr. Lif, Gift of Gab, Boots Riley (The Coup), and Lyrics Born. Each of these artists takes a turn with the band. Galactic is a tight sounding band with enough horns to fill a smokey jazz club and funky bass to make George Clinton happy at the same time. The whole album sees the band at it's tightest without missing a beat. It's a funk/hip-hop album that makes the case for itself to be seen live rather than through blind speakers. Surely, Galactic sound infinitely better live since they actually come from a performance background. The guests MCs do a masterful job blending their lyrical prowess with that of the band. Some tracks are standouts while others kind of struggle to find their way. There are also a couple instrumental jams thrown in to reassure older fans of Galactic that they haven't totally changed their stripes. At their zenith, some songs surpass The Roots best offerings, while others need some more polish.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Eames Era - Heroes and Sheroes

Do you like sweet indie pop that bursts with energy and exuberance? If you answered "yes" then you'll most likely enjoy The Eames Era. If not, you could enjoy them anyway for their upbeat, infectiously singable tunes...maybe, maybe not. Anyway, The Eames Era was formed in 2002 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by two high school guitarist buddies; Grant Widmer and Ted Joyner while enrolled at LSU. Joined by drummer Greg Gauthreaux and bass player Brain Waits they originally called themselves The Double Zeros. The missing piece to the puzzle came in the form of songstress Ashlin Phillips. With the quintet complete they changed their name to The Eames Era in honor of celebrated designers Charles Eames and Ray Eames (who designed famous pieces like this and this).

The second full length release Heroes and Sheroes follows their debut Double Dutch which saw significant airplay on college radio and earned them spots on Grey's Anatomy and Falcon Beach with the song "Could Be Anything." Self-released back in April 2007, the album Heroes and Sheroes is 17 tracks that flow seamlessly together, causing anything from head bobbing to toe tapping. The sweet vocals of Ashlin Phillips is a perfect combination of Jenny Lewis and Emily Haines. She provides depth and sincerity when keyboards, handclaps, and the ba-ba-ba-ba's boarder on twee-pop cliché. At no point do the clichés sound trite or out of place. They're fully aware of their sound and manage to turn the clichés into strengths. If more proof is needed, Ms. Phillips' backing band can play with the best of them, giving crunch and and a kick of soul to their melodic arrangements. This album could be described as irreverent, lively, and energetic. As a whole, the album is very enjoyable. There are a couple weaker songs, but none are of the throw-away variety. It's relatively easy to hear which are the strongest tunes. One of these is below, entitled "Fake Do-Gooders", which has a great hook and catchy melody.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Blue Scholars - Bayani

This is smart hip-hop. This is thoughtful hip-hop. This is passionate hip-hop. DJ Sabzi and MC Geologic have helped put the Pacific Northwest on the Hip-Hop Map with their brand of underground hip-hop. Joining forces at the University of Washington (Seattle) the group focuses on social and political issues of both local and national importance. The quality of their production is also an amazing virtue of their second full-length album Bayani. Most importantly, this hip-hop isn't concerned with album sales, drugs, sex, misogyny or rims.

MC Geologic flows, "spits", rhymes, and everything in between, but always with clear pristine vocals. Geologic has no need for flashy things, as he imparts humility and honesty into his lyrical content referring to how he's “Got holes in the soles of a third of my socks” on “Ordinary Guys." These conscious lyrics are coupled with Sabzi's deft beat making skills. There is enough space and funk injected that gives his beats a decidedly "old-school" flavor. The music created isn't easily pegged down, and as their press release says it exhibits, "Poetic lyricism with beats you can dance to. Marxist theory mixed with Baha’i spirituality. Musical influences ranging from Thelonius Monk and Aphex Twin to Marvin Gaye and J Dilla." All of these qualities are put to the forefront on the track "North by Northwest." Geo talks about their roots in the Pacific Northwest, ranging from wet weather to the Seattle Mariners. Their geography allows them to defy typical East Coast or West Coast hip-hop trends of yesteryear. But clearly, the Blue Scholars are here to serve notice that there is a burgeoning scene in the top left corner of the USA.