Monday, November 15, 2010

KanYe - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

How do you write a review for an album that hasn't been officially
released and has already been reviewed by anyone and everyone-two-three? The praise being heaped upon Kanye West's newest album endangers inflating his massive ego to astronomical proportions...that is, if it wasn't already on that level.

My personal affection for 'Ye/Yeezy/Kanye/et al. runs all the way back to circa 2005 in between College Dropout and Late Registration. In fact, I even reviewed Graduation waaaay back in 2007. Before all of his public relations nightmares. Before the slight detour with 808's and Heartbreak (pretty sure I'm in the 2% of people that actually enjoyed that album). Before the most entertaining Twitter feed ever created.

Look, I understand if you don't like the guy as a person, mainly because he's said and done some stupid, stupid stuff. But, he's never been put in jail for carrying around a cache of weapons or drugs or dead hookers. It's the fact that it seems like the guy has no inner-monologue, no filter for his thoughts that makes you despise him. And he's a ratings/media goldmine; people love controversy, and there aren't many artists that have the name recognition or global reach as Kanye does. No matter what he's saying or doing.

With all that being said, the guy produces great track after great track. If he didn't have any talent he would have been a has-been five years ago. In addition, there aren't more than five or so
artists in a any genre that I still go to Best Buy to buy the physical CD. Does he need the money at this point? Hellz no. But every track you can literally hear how much time and effort went into crafting the song. The beats, the samples, the strings, the lyrics, the arrangements. All of it while pushing the boundaries that he has helped create. Just when you think you've heard him at his limit, he goes in a different direction to the Nth degree. He's actually an artist, (I know people throw the word around and think it's even weirder to call a hip-hop MC/producer one) just think about it. You may not like the music, but he's taking risks, being creative, trying new things, taking old things and making the seem new. The musical world is his grab-bag of ideas. And the way
he can pull out seemingly disparate musical ideas and put them together without sounding gimmicky is truly unique.

One of the best examples of this is the second to last track called
"Lost In The World". It begins with an identical sample of Bon Iver's "Woods". Which, if you're not familiar was on Bon Iver's Blood Bank - EP (2009) and begins with him (Justin Vernon) singing solo with the help of auto tune. Kanye let's the tape roll for about the first ~50 seconds without any alterations. Then the auto tune bends a little more and cuts off, and there's this great moment of tension where you know something is going to happen and then this propulsive techno-dance beat drops in and
kicks you in the face to make your head nod for the next 3+ minutes. It's similar to Kanye pairing with Chris Martin, but even more random because Bon Iver is by no means a household name when compared to Coldplay.

Kanye is truly an artist who you want desperately to separate from his public persona but it's impossible. His persona is part of what helps him make such awesome music. It's also what adds fuel to the fire. Just be thankful that you get to listen to the music at all, and hopeful that he pulls out something even cooler than his performances on SNL ("Power" and "Runaway") and the VMA's for the next Grammy's in February.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The National - High Violet

Well, this is the one everyone has been waiting for (especially the NYT). But if you're expecting The Boxer, Part II you may be disappointed.

I'm pretty sure The National's new album could have just as easily been titled: "Where did we go from there?" Which is basically the question to be asked after the huge success of The Boxer 3+ years ago. Upon finishing the previous album you were not only left wanting more, but thinking, "What do you do when you reach the top of the [artistic] mountain?" and the inevitable answer is you come back down. How fast that decent occurs varies drastically from one artist to another.

For The National it's thankfully at a slower pace but the momentum is unfortunately downward. High Violet is truly a tale of a two-sided album, where the second side/half is more enjoyable than the first. There are fewer instantly memorable songs on this album. Maybe it's meant to grow on you after all the time and meticulous attention to detail that went into the album. Either way, the album is an achievement that could have seen the band go in a totally opposite direction or become completely complacent. Thankfully they didn't. Maybe this album will continue to grow on me.


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights - Pardon Me

Dear Rock 'n Roll,

Occasionally I think you've been murdered. Not literally, but maybe your core ideals have changed too much over the last 30+ years to the point you're unrecognizable. The shirtless guys with long hair, too-tight jeans, et al. now look like posers trying to recreate a time before they were even born. Juicy guitar riffs are such a rarity, that when I hear a good one (let alone a few on one album) I have to play the track back just to confirm that I heard it correctly. Maybe you're just in hibernation. Maybe you're saving yourself for those more "worthy". Maybe I'm living in the wrong decade. In any case, thank you for bestowing some of your goodness on Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights. Their new album Pardon Me is a pretty great rock record, filled with blues-tinged rock as well as some slow-burning jams. Some tracks may be weaker than others, but the really great ones make up for any shortcomings.

Don't be a stranger.


P.S. Just listen to how this song "Bright Energy" builds. Can't you imagine this as a set-opener? The lights are basically off and they start playing this kinda noodling-dreamy refrain, it builds slowly as the bass drum goes from pounding out 1-2-3-4 to hear the guitars sustain and fade and then the {CRACK} of two sticks hitting the snare, the lights come up and this monster riff starts. And let the show begin.

Bright Energy:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ben Sollee & Daniel Martin Moore - Dear Companion

What do you get when two singer-songwriters team up? What about when one of them performs with a cello instead of a guitar? Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore may seem to only be related by the fact they're two of the more celebrated young indie folk artists in the last few years, but they're both from Kentucky and love mountains. Literally.
Written in remonstration of the heinous form of surface mining known as mountaintop removal, Sollee explains in the liner notes how this type of coal mining is devastating the mountains and woodland areas that he grew up loving. His eagerness to do something about the situation led him to contact Moore and record Dear Companion; all of the proceeds benefit

Not only is the record socially conscious, it happens to bring together two exceptional talents that may not have otherwise worked together for more than a one-ff single or something. Sollee was named one of NPR's Top 10 Great Unknown Artists in 2007, and Moore basically holds one of the few winning lottery tickets of musicians that have submitted an unsolicited demo tape to a major (Sub-Pop) label and be called in to sign a record contract. The songwriting duties alternate from track to track and aren't without weak spots, but it's also about more than just mountains. Unfortunately, this album may be like the mountains they love; only enjoyed by those that take the time to stop, admire, and breathe in the fresh air.

Little & Ashley - Stole My Heart EP

You may have seen some cool new commercials for the Amazon Kindle (#1 and #2) and thought to yourself, "who the hell sings those songs?!?" Well, glad you asked. Little & Ashley is an L.A. based duo consisting of Annie Little and Marcus Ashley. Annie is an actress/model/singer having appeared in numerous commercials, TV shows and fashion magazines. Marcus is also an actor/musician who has been in commercials, movies and TV shows. The duo came together to record "Fly Me Away" (#1 above) to accompany an Amazon commercial contest entry (which also starred Annie) that was shot in a single seven-hour day back in the summer of 2009. The commercial ended up winning both the Jury and Audience awards. The other two songs on the EP are equally enjoyable but have yet to appear in Amazon Kindle commercials.

Jakob Dylan - Women + Country

The best decision Jakob Dylan made for his second solo album was ditching Rick Rubin's production for the man that put him and The Wallflowers on the map way back in 1996 with Bringing Down The Horse: T-Bone Burnett. The same man that helped secure an Oscar for Best Song with Ryan Bingham. Why he stopped working with him I have no idea and it's not important. At this point in Dylan's career he's not a rocker, he's more the stripped-down songwriter. The new album has many Country tinges with slide guitars by Marc Ribot and walking (sometimes thumping time) string bass lines. Women + Country is delightfully hazy in the way you feel once the headache of your hangover has gone away. It takes a little longer to recognize things or put two and two together, but as you go along things start to come into focus. It takes a couple listens for the songs not to blend together and hear Dylan's strong writing come through. Not to be forgotten are his featured (8 of 11 tracks) backing vocalists Neko Case and Kelly Hogan who provide depth and warmth with their harmonies to Dylan's soulful lyrics.

Kate Nash - My Best Friend Is You

Somewhere in the world of Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse rests a girl named Kate Nash whose lyrics are just as brash and voice is somewhere in the middle in terms of raw talent. Seemingly out of nowhere she landed on the musical scene with her breakout debutMade of Bricks and had a lot to prove on her eagerly anticipated sophomore effort My Best Friend Is You. I don't think it's a stretch to say this album finds Nash totally in love and quite a bit happier...mostly. There's still a Parental Advisory label on the front in case you were worried she'd cleaned up her sweet yet dirty mouth just listen to the rant that begins "Mansion Song." There are plenty of songs on this album that will satisfy various segments of Nash's fan base. You have the pop stuff on "Side A" and a few more independent thinking tracks on Side B. Naturally, it would be interesting if she eventually makes a whole album full of songs that weren't concerned about getting excessive play on the radio.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Hold Steady - Heaven Is Whenever

This is the third consecutive album by The Hold Steady that I've taken the time to mention over the last few years. It took me a while to warm up to Craig Finn and his unique (some would say harsh) delivery that is somewhere between singing and stream of consciousness speaking, but I've been on the bandwagon for a little while now. The biggest news leading up to the release of this new album was the fact that their quirky, mustachioed keyboardist (and backing vocalist) Franz Nicolay was leaving the band and wouldn't be involved with the recording. On the surface, this may not be the most integral part to the band, but his keys on Boys and Girls In America were what took that album to the next level. Heaven Is Whenever is a bit more straightforward and guitar-driven than previous albums but still manages to retain all the elements that make the band great. A few less wailing, sing-along choruses, but they already have a ton of those in the bag and didn't need to harp on that trope. But you know what, one of the songs with that tried and true chorus is one of my new favorites. Check it out below.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Preview of May's Best

2010 is already turning out to be one of the best years for music in a while. So far, the year has already seen releases by Beach House, Eels, Four Tet, Corinne Bailey Rae, Spoon, She & Him, Surfer Blood, Vampire Weekend, The Soft Pack, Yeasayer, Frightened Rabbit, and Gorillaz. That's just to name a few; some expected and some not. Even with all those names, May is shaping up to be a HUGE month (and we haven't closed out April yet). A few of which are detailed below.

May 4th

The New Pornographers - Together (Matador)

In the past, I've professed my affection for Neko Case in no uncertain terms. These feelings do not just encompass her solo work. No. Make no mistake, The New Pornographers also hold a special place in my heart, and they would be sorely lost without their songstress. On their anticipated new album they deliver some of their best songs to date.

Josh Ritter - So Runs The World Away (Pytheas)

Josh Ritter has been evolving for the last number of years from little-known indie/folk troubadour to what some critics call a modern hybrid of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. I tend to stay away from such hyperbole, but there are few artists that produce enough quality music to back up that type of hype as Ritter does. It's taken three years for his next studio album to come out, and while it has a more mature feeling to it, the music feels like a natural evolution of an artist at or near the top of their game. All the elements fans fell in love with from The Animal Years and The Historical Conquests are combined and refined to create his newest effort.

Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record (Arts & Crafts)

Maybe one of the best groups making music today, it's sometimes a challenge to get all the integral members together to record a new studio album (since most of them now have solo careers), but when they This new album is really a pleasure from front to back.

Meet Me In The Basement (and on this track they don't need to sing to be pretty epic)

May 11th

Gayngs - Relayted (Jagjaguwar)

I really don't know how to classify this group or album. So I'll steal this from AMG: "Atmospheric, 69 bpm-obsessed dance-pop collective Gayngs craft impeccably rendered, R&B-infused electro-indie pop" with 25 different performers across the album, you'd think it would be disjointed or make no "sense" whatsoever, but somehow they pull it off. It's definitely an album that begs to be listened to multiple times, with each listen being a new discovery.

May 18th

LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening (Virgin)

This is probably the album everyone has been waiting for (outside of The National's new one). Maybe James Murphy's biggest musical success to date; growing from self-titled through Sounds of Silver. It's unfortunate that this will be his last under the LCD pseudonym, but it's always best to go out on top. There's really only one "radio-friendly" cut (in terms of length) on this album and it's "Drunk Girls"...which is probably why it's the lead single. But, dear lord, just listen to the first track and you know you're in for a good time. I know it starts slow/boring, but wait until around the 3-minute mark. At which point you'll probably have to pick up your brains from the floor since your mind will have been blown.

The Black Keys - Brothers (Nonesuch)

My favorite blues-rock duo from Ohio is back with a more focused album than Attack & Release. Only one track on this new album is produced by Danger Mouse. I consider this a good thing. The best part about The Black Keys is their raw energy and blues influences. Danger Mouse seemed to remove a small part of that, which is thankfully back in force on this new album.