Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Raconteurs - Consolers Of The Lonely

Jack White's side project otherwise known as The Raconteurs released their second album without any promotion a mere 3 weeks after it was done being recorded and mixed. This move by the band was highly unprecedented considering the stature of White and the band as a whole. Basically, the band wanted to get the music into the fans' hands before critics had a chance to dissect least that's what they said. You got to give them some credit for trying to shake up the norm. Clearly the norm needs to be changed in the music biz because the normal patterns haven't been working as well. While not every major band can pull off this type of ploy it's not surprising that Jack White wanted to do something like this. I'm sure the higher-ups at Warner Bros. Music weren't thrilled even if he was saving them a large chunk of change by not throwing money at advertising and promotion. So, did the ploy (gimmick?) work? Personally, I think it's been a mixed bag. I had no clue the album was released until a couple weeks after it came out. But there definitely was a bit of buzz when the album kind of appeared out of nowhere. No fanfare. No radio spots. No posters. No strategic placement in TV shows or movies. Just:'s a new album.

I didn't take The Raconteurs seriously when their first album came out because I figured it was just Jack White needing another outlet to write/make music that somehow wasn't getting out with The White Stripes. I guess sometimes a band becomes so known for one thing or comfortable with that sound they can't sufficiently explore new territory. There is no doubt that White is a prolific songwriter with a ton of ability and inspiration considering the amount of music he's turned out in the past number of years. Consolers of the Lonely is a different story. While it still has White's signature guitar sound that's like a worn-in rusty guitar that has such a crunchy, raw sound. It's a feeling like ripping duct tape off someone's face. I'm not sure that makes sense but it just feels like what rock guitar should sound like. This album has some really really good rock songs and some country-twanged numbers that were probably influenced by recording at White's studio in Nashville, TN. Overall, this album is quite good. It has a clearer identity than its predecessor which is enjoyable. It doesn't feel like the expanded White Stripes. It finally feels like it's own entity. While the sound is similar the spirit is more definitive. After the initial release this album feels like they figured out what they wanted to achieve and were free to just go with their ideas to make an occasionally rousing follow-up.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Coldplay - Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends

At this point, Coldplay's new album Viva La Vida has been reviewed to death: 4.5/5, 4/5, 3.5/5, 6.5, and here. So, you may be wondering something like, "Ethan, what are you going to say that hasn't already been said?" or "Ethan, can you really put a different spin on your review?" The simple answer is, I certainly hope so. Every pair of ears is different, and certain ears have hidden agendas that really run the gamut from wanting to be a masochist (Thank you Pitchfork) to just loving everything by a hugely popular band (usually RollingStone's job). My ears try to take as much information into consideration as possible, filter out all the BS and come to an unbiased conclusion. Does this always work? Not always. It's hard not to give the benefit of the doubt to bands you really enjoy. At the same time, giving a fair shake to something I normally don't enjoy can be a tough task as well. I happen to like Coldplay. There, I said it. If I'm not mistaken there was a time when saying that would ellicit various reactions. Early on, it could be, "Cool. Who's that?" Then it progressed, to "Yeah, I guess they're pretty cool" to "That song 'Yellow' is really awesome" to "That song 'Yellow' annoys the shit out of me" to "That new album Rush of really fantastic" all the way to the extreme of "Dude. You're an idiot. They suck ass." Basically, Coldplay have progressed from unknown it band to one of the biggest bands in the world. Some would call the rise "meteoric" and I would concur. I would say a lot of the negative stigma towards a band like Coldplay is due to the ideas of "selling out" or generally changing their music or just writing music that is perceived as soft, then claiming to be a rock band. All of which is somewhat valid. Or you could just not enjoy the music. That's fair too. It's undeniable they have a penchant for writing the hookiest of hooks in popular music. Certain melodies stay with you for days, if you want them to or not.

Now that I've rambled on (thank you Led Zeppelin) let's get to the album at hand. Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends is actually a great representation of the album as a whole. There are multiple songs that see the band switching halfway through to almost a new song entirely. It's not that they can't make up their minds, but many of them seem to be a natural dichotomy that they want to explore. They make a statement and then instead of stopping the "Record" button, they just go on and make another statement that flow nicely into each other. Whether they are mixing things up in the live show and performing them "out of order" I have no idea. Are Chris Martin's lyrics still a bit trite at times? Yeah, sure. But then again they're not layered to an effect that you have no idea what he means or what he's feeling. As for the music, it has a different luster thanks to some high-priced producers; namely Brian Eno (U2, Paul Simon, David Bowie) and Markus Dravs (Björk and Arcade Fire). There are a couple recognizable changes on this album. Firstly, Chris Martin frequently abandons his trademark falsetto for a melodic chest voice further down in his large vocal range. This feels more personal and less bombastic than previous high-flying anthemic songs. The anthems are still intact but they are more streamlined and carefully constructed under the watched eye of Eno. Another thing that you'll notice is the lack of piano. The piano is a staple that Martin loves to employ to the point where albums become recitals. Here the piano is used for some melodies but it's not used as the root basis for all the songs. Overall, I really enjoyed this album. More than the previous effort which could have just been a dedication to Gwenyth. Thankfully, this album marks a step in a slightly different direction for Coldplay. Their essence hasn't changed, but the way their music is made has. Gone are the days of Parachutes and it's more indie-acoustic guitars mentality. After all, it's hard to rock 20,000 seat arenas with an acoustic guitar. Right?

B-side: "Death Will Never Conquer"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Weepies - Hideaway

Here is another band that I've written about way back when (2006!) and have a new album out. For a refresher I said: The duo is comprised of Steve Tannen and Deb Talan and this (Say I Am You) is their major-label debut. They stick to what they produce best which is sentimental, folky-pop. This also includes vocal and guitar melodies that are harmonically simple, yet pleasant. Just as a random thought, I don't think I've ever directly quoted myself. That's kinda fun. Moving on. How about a little updated background. Since we saw them last, Steve and Deb toured successfully in support of Say I Am You, in 2007 they got married, wrote some new songs, contributed songs for Wild Hope (Mandy Moore movie), and to top things off they had a baby. Mazel Tov. But the flurry of activity hasn't dampened their catchy, melodic, pleasant folk pop skills.

The newest effort is titled Hideaway (2008) and represents another solid effort. It's no better, no worse than their previous album but it does sound more polished (thank you Nettwerk cash!). It's fitting that this new album's cover art is shades of blue with a huge whale. The record is bluer and deeper than the previous album. The majority of the songs deal with unrequited love, loss of innocence (thank you new baby), and general romantic disillusionment (thank you marriage?). Either way, The Weepies deliver on their established brand of music. There are no letdowns on this album and you get exactly what you'd expect after hearing their previous work. This is a continuation of their career which should see them continue to make great music together.

"Can't Go Back Now"