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.