Tuesday, March 28

Matisyahu Praises God, Beatboxes

Artist: Matisyahu
Album: Youth

Comments: From the moment I first laid eyes on Matisyahu, I knew he and I would cross paths whether I liked it or not. My hope is that he would remain an underground college act, and he would never actually be popular enough that he would warrent my attention. I remember watching his video for "King Without a Crown", hoping I would never have to buy his album as he beatboxed and bounced around in full religious garb.

Why the concern? I was worried because when I saw him, I immediatly made three asumptions about his music. First, I was concerned that he was nothing more than a gimick or a schtick, no better than William Hung and just as disposable (Jesus, what a bad idea William Hung was. I didn't even pay for it and I want my money back). My second concern was that he wouldn't play actual reggae, but some sick twisted version that would make Bob Marley roll about in his weed covered grave. I assumed it would be something like Sean Paul and 311 mixed with a big spoonful of awful. Once I learned about Matisyahu's strong religious tones, my third concern was that all the god talk would be a distraction.

Judging a book by its cover is never a good idea, and Youth is proof of that. What could have been nothing more than a gimmicky one tirck pony release turns out to be an album with substance and general passion in it. Matisyahu is not some joke, he is an actual MC, and proves it on tracks like "Fire of Heaven/Alter of Earth" where he spits his rhyms with a quickness and authority that dares you to follow him without getting lost. If words aren't enough, he even drops some respectible, if not incredible beat boxes on a few tracks, most notibly "Shalom/Saalam".

The unstrumentation on the album is not reggae in the strictest sense of the genre, but succeeds none the less, as it builds and adds to the sound, making something new but still familiar. Surprisingly, Matisyahu sounds his best not when he is rocking out and ripping rhyms at fast pase, but when he and his band calm down and get more intimate. Songs like "Late Night in Zion" and "What I'm Fighting For" not only slow the album down, but also bring the listener closer to the music and the message, and lets the listener choose to accept it or not. But either way, it sounds nice.

The big problem on this album is similarity. While the standout tracks do stand out, the rest of the album has the tendency to run together, making hard to tell some songs apart. Also, the overall relgious message of the album can be a deturent for some people. The entire album is about faith and god, save for one song about his wife and one song about drugs. And while the single "King Without a Crown" is full of pop and energy, the rest of the album doesn't really deliever on that particular promise. I also have a problem with the band itself; at times the musicians seem to try to play outside of their range. The make a good reggae band, but not a good rock band at times.

Overall, this album took me completly by surprize. I am happy to report that Matisyahu is not a gimmick, but an actual artist with substance, and if Youth is any indication he plans to stay around for a while. I hope so, because the best part about Matisyahu is his passion for what he is saying. Whether or not you agree with his message, you have to respect his sincerity. In a time when losing a girlfriend is sold as deep and meaningful music (cough VICTORY RECORDS cough) anytime something with feeling behind it is put out, I'm on board.

OVERALL RATING: 8 out of 10
WORTH THE MONEY: Yeah, unless you don't like reggae even a little bit, then don't bother
KEY TRACKS: "Dispatch the Troops" "Late Night in Zion" "King Without a Crown"

Wednesday, March 22

Old 97's Frontman Doesn't Quite Convince

Artist: Rhett Miller
Album: The Believer
I'm a pretty big fan of the Old 97's. My uncle turned me on to them and within a year they became one of my favorite bands. For those of you who aren't familiar, the Old 97's are an alt-rock band who specialize in mixing country twang cowboy love songs with pop rock and punk. For some it's a little hard to swallow, but if you give it a chance it’ll sweep even the most hard headed of listeners off their feet (trust me, I once said I would never like anything even remotely country). When I heard that the voice and primary writer behind the Old 97's was putting out a solo album, I was pumped. I bought “The Believer” the day it came out.

"The Believer" by Rhett Miller has got a few problems. One of them being the music. While it is always sharp and precise, it is never edgy or adventurous. This is the problem with studio musicians in general, in my opinion. All of their stuff sounds like anyone could play it; there is no life to it, nothing in the music to distinguish "The Believer" from any other adult pop record. Not to say that the music isn't well played or well arranged, because it is. But overall, it feels impersonal and generic, which is never a good thing to sound like. Another problem I have with this album is that it feels overproduced at time, most notably on "Question", although it is present on "My Valentine" as well. It’s too slick, so much so that it loses its personality. Miller sounds best at his most stripped down and natural and the overproduction hurt him because it draws away from his strength, which has always been song writing.

That being said, the saving grace of this album is the man himself, Rhett Miller. Miller has always had away with words, and has already proven himself to be one of the best songwriters of the last 20 years. This album just serves as more proof of this fact. Through his words he can take on any roll and play it convincingly, from a sly heartbreaker, ("Sex in war-time is sweeter then peace Yeah, it’s the one sweet thing about war") to a lovesick fool ("Love gets you in the gut Takes the top off of your head"). The title track is the album's best; a somber and emotional tribute to Miller's long time friend Elliot Smith, who recently committed suicide. And it is on this goodbye that Miller is at his most true and most charming, even with such dark subject matter. Rather than overstate his case, Miller keeps it simple and in a way, says more about his friend by saying less.

This is a solid pop album with a lot of smart, catchy pop songs on it. With the right band behind him (cough OLD 97S cough) this album could really have taken off. But the impersonal nature of the music itself is a real turn off. For those looking for some toothpaste pop with a smarter edge to it, this might be for you. It serves as a way to introduce a new audience to Miller’s brand of smart and charming song writing. Regardless of your opinion of this album, don’t dare write of Rhett Miller, because with the right landscape for his poetry, he can make a believer out of anyone. I’m proof of that.

6 out of 10
WORTH THE MONEY: Only for adult pop music junkies and Old 97's enthusiasts
KEY TRACKS: "The Believer" "Brand New Way" "Help Me, Suzanne"

Saturday, March 18

Mr. Dogg Classics - Relationship of Command

Another Mr. Dogg classic. I'm doing this because I want to give the new Rhett Miller album another listen before it goes to the block. So without further ado......

ARTIST: At The Drive In
ALBUM: Relationship of Command
YEAR: 2000

COMMENTS: I am still mad at At The Drive In. I'm mad at them and I may never get over it. The kind of anger and sadness that I get when I think of this album would give every band at victory records 3 albums worth of material. But my anger is justified; these guys were supposed to save rock and roll. They were supposed to make it dangerous and edgy again. They were supposed to breath creativity and life back into an old and dying genre. They were supposed to bridge gaps between completely different styles of music. And I am mad because on "Relationship of Command" showed that At The Drive In could pull it off it they wanted. And then they broke up.

In a way its fitting that it happened. "Relationship of Command" is an example of a band walking away on their own terms, at the top of their game. Because make no mistake, they were at the top of their game on this album. The album opens with "Arcaresenal"; a blast of driving bass and intertwining guitar riffs that are a big part of At The Drive In's signature sound. By the time the vocals kick in, they already have you by the short hairs, and they don't let got anytime soon.

The album just keeps rolling from there. Songs like "One Armed Scissor" and "Sleepwalk Capsules" keep the pace with their fast passed driving drums and more guitars. It's not until "Invalid Letter Dept." that At The Drive In slow down, and the make or break point of the band is fully displayed. Vocalist Cedric Blixer uses a kind of stream of conscious lyric style that would make alot of sense if you were on acid, but ultimately means absolutely nothing at all. (Go ahead and try to tell me something like a vivid dissection that mocked the strut of vivisection semi-automatic colonies and a silencing that still walks the streets means ANYTHING) While this may bother some people, At The Drive In are good enough at their craft that the music more than makes up for the bizarre words. In short, they pull it off.

The album just gets better and better. While the band maintains their hard rocking post-emo-post-everything style, it never gets stale. Songs like "Enfilade", "Quarantined", and most notibly "Cosmonaut", which gets my vote for best song on the album, make sure that no track get skipped, and no face is left unrocked.

"Relationship of Command" could have just been the beginning. It could have changed everything about modern rock and roll. It could have, to use the cliché, saved it. But listening to the album, one gets the sense that At The Drive In never really bought that. And maybe, in the end, that is why they broke up, even though they made an album as good as "Relationship of Command". Maybe it was their way of saying rock and roll didn't need to be saved, it just needed to be refreshed. Mission: Accomplished

RATING: 9.5 out of 10
TRACKS: "Cosmonaut" "Enfilade" "Quarantined" "Arcarsenal" "Sleepwalk Capsules" "One Armed Scissor"

NOTE: Sorry about this Rhett Miller CD taking so long, I've been busy. But I promise I will have it up before friday, and maybe even another CD up by Friday. But look for the Rhett miller by friday at least.

Sunday, March 12

Those Crazy Brits Are at it Again

ARTIST: Arctic Monkeys
ALBUM: Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
COMMENTS: About two thirds of the way into the first track of the Arctic Monkey's first album, there is a moment of silence. A short 3 or 4 second pause that makes you think the song is over. It way seem pointless, or it may seem like a gimmick, but what it is really is a moment for the Arctic Monkeys to catch their breath. The opening track "The View From the Afternoon" features some tight drumming on the high hat, and the best kind on intertwining guitars, using a surf rock kind of sound. Not only is this one of the stand out tracks, but it also sets the pase for the entire record; fast, loud, fueled by youth energy, beer, and sex drive. No wonder they need to catch their breath.

From that first track, the album launches into an attack of fast drums, driving bass, and the perfect combination of surf rock and grunge. This is a formula, and as such has its pros and cons. The pro of this is that it paints a pretty convinving picture; you get the feeling that this entire album is set in a dive bar somewhere in the slums of England, and it comes of sincere, which is always nice. The problem is that it makes it hard to pick out a difference between any of the songs, and the monkeys come off sounding like one trick ponies with no varation in their sound, all be it a good one. By the time they slow it down on the seventh track (Riot Van) most people will find themselves tired out.

But those who have the engery to go on will be rewarded. Late tracks like "When the Sun Goes Down" and "From the Ritz to the Rubble" maintain the fast pased rock and roll, but feature better than average song writting, and only drive home the working class, frustrated youth theme that the Arctic Monkeys have worked an entire album to portray. Not all the songs are jems though, especially the poorly titled "Perhaps Vampires is a Bit Strong But..." which is thinly veiled metaphor for record compaines, a topic that I know that I am sick of.

The Monkeys have alot going for them. Good song writting, and I love the surf guitar sound that is found throughout the album. It's easy to see how a country fell in love with this CD. The major flaw with this album the repetiton and uniformity of the songs. You never want to have the feeling that if you've heard one song, you've heard em all, which is exactly how I feel after this album is over. What pulls the Arctic Monkeys through is their ability to bring the listener into their world; the authentic feel of the album is what saves it.

RATING: 6.5 out of 10
WORTH THE MONEY: Rock music fans should like this one, I'd say its worth the coin.
KEY TRACKS: "View From the Afternoon" "I'll Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor" "When the Lights go Out"

PS - This issue of LISTEN UP! is probably full of spelling errors that I am just too lazy to deal with. I beg forgivness. Also, looks for another review this week since I didn't get to one last week.