Friday, December 21

Mr Dogg's Top 25 of 07: 5-1

5) Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
In ’07, indie rock’s most grandiose and dramatic band returned, grander and more dramatic than ever before. With its sweeping choruses and lifting arrangements, Neon Bible is a true album, consistent in quality, feeling, and theme. As far as quality goes, tracks like “Neon Bible,” “Keep the Car Running,” and “Intervention” are on par with their fines work, while the awe-inspiring swell of “(Antichrist Television Blues)” is not only their most well crafted song, but one of the best songs of the decade. The theme and feeling of the album, one of loss, foreboding, fear and trepidation, but not without a sense of hope, carries throughout the record. Sure, Neon Bible might blow the bad times out of proportion, but not without harping on the good that may come.

Don’t Miss: Intervention, (Antichrist Television Blue), Keep the Car Running, Neon Bible, Ocean of Noise, No Cars Go

4) Dan Deacon – Spiderman of the Rings
Who would have thought an album influenced by 8-bit Nintendo samples and frozen computer blips would also be the most sincerely fun album of ’07? Shockingly, Spiderman of the Rings is just that; a tour-de-force of wacky, fractured dance music. Deacon is a bit like Willy Wondk, a cracked genius inviting the listener to tour his factory of high pitched whines, cat synths, and Saturday morning cartoon character samples. Sure, it’s a little scary at first, but if allowed, Spiderman of the Rings will coax you into a glass elevator of sound and invite you to a place where everyone plays drums and sings.

Don’t Miss: The Crystal Cat, Wham City, Trippy Green Skull, Snake Mistakes, Pink Batman, Jimmy Roche

3) Against Me! – New Wave
It’s getting really hard to defend these guys against the increasingly loud “Sellout!” shouts coming from the punk community, what with their MTV commercials and their upcoming tour with stadium all-stars and ticket price increase inducing Foo Fighters.

Perhaps the best weapon in Against Me!’s arsenal against these naysayers is New Wave, the best punk / rock / punkrock record of the year. Butch Vig’s grungy gloss not only gives the Florida punks more push, but takes nothing from their give-em-hell attitude and their “stand for something” attitude. From the opening notes of “New Wave,” its obvious that all the commercials and tours and record gloss and major label singings don’t mean a god damn thing; New Wave is the sound of a band hitting their stride, and challenging the rest of the world to keep up.

Don’t Miss: New Wave, Thrash Unreal, Borne on the FM Waves of the Heart, Piss and Vinegar, The Ocean, Americans Abroad

2) LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
When Ben Folds said “everybody know / it sucks to grow up,” he did it with his tongue in cheek as a catchy one-liner for a piano ballad. When James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem say the same thing, the spend an entire album doing it, and making one of the most heart-wrenching dance albums of all time in Sound of Silver. There’s a lot to get down on here; tunes like “Watch the Tapes,” “Get Innocuous,” and “Us v Them” are all so tight and dance floor ready that you’d be shocked to hear it was made by people and not machines. Murphy’s dry wit is still present on “North American Scum,” a track that both pays tribute to this fine section of the hemisphere while taking the piss out of the more electro-friendly folks in Europe.

However, it’s the two song movement of “Someone Great” and “All my Friends” that make this record such an emotional triumph and stylistic statement. The former, an 80s influenced track about dealing with loss while the world keeps spinning, is as poetic and accurate a depiction of suffering one will find in pop record. The latter, a piano lead locomotion of a song that is the best single of the year, is a melancholy diary entry about growing old and losing touch with those we came up with and, in essence, ourselves. Lines like “you spend the first five years trying to get with the plan / and the next five years trying to see all your friends again” cut to the bone of the reluctant adults everywhere. Sound of Sliver is a painful, accurate, and beautiful success of an album, one that will stay with you, long after it’s left the CD player.

Don’t Miss: North American Scum, Someone Great, All my Friends, Watch the Tapes, Us v Them, New York I Love you but You’re Brining me Down

1) El-P – I’ll Sleep When Your Dead
2007 was not a good year. The globe is heating at an alarming rate, yet those in a position to make a change are too busy debating gay marriage and lambasting misguided pop stars to make a difference. The most powerful country in the world is losing a war and losing friends around the world, turning themselves into an international rallying point for the evil of the world, yet the bigger concern seems to be that there will be no new TV shows next season. It is a dark time, dressed up in electronic denial; we would hear the horns of Gabriel if not for the Ipod ear buds in our ears.

None of this is lost on El-Producto, the author of this year’s most brilliant record, the pitch black I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead. El-P, for better or worse, refuses to turn away from the realities of the world. Instead, he looks into the gaping maw of the oncoming destruction and screams at it, both in defiance of what is to come and as a prophetic wake-up call to the rest of us. To call this a rap record is to belittle what El-P has made; it’s a mirror being held to our faces, forcing us to look what is coming, whether we are ready for it or not.

As compelling and dark as the album is, it wouldn’t be nearly as impressive if El-P wasn’t a top notch producer and rhyme-sayer. He lyrics, as dark and dense as the front page of the New York Times, flow in and out of the songs, not caring about where they fall as much as how they sound and frame the song. His ADD flow is sharp when entwined with his beats; his work on “Drive,” “EMG,” and “Up all Night” is as dark and twisted as anything else in the album; so complex and grand a puzzle that it takes multiple listens before you figure out there is no answer, that El-P holds all the keys,

The few guests on the record all give their best for El-P. The kooks from the Mars Volta, who produced the epic “Tasmania Pain Coaster,” find their focus for the first time in years, while label mate Aesop Rock lends his syrupy slick flow to the awesome “Run the Numbers.” But perhaps the most telling and brilliant moment on the record is found, not surprisingly, at the end of things. “Poisenville Kids No Wins/Reprise (This must be our Time)” produced by El and Cat Power, is the last stage, acceptance. Because in El-P’s world, there is no hope, only acceptance of what we must all go through together, for better or worse. “If I have you live / you have to live / weather you like this shit or not.”

Maybe it’s not too late. Maybe we can still save ourselves, but you’ll have to forgive El-P for being a pessimist. As it stands now, I’ll Sleep When Your Dead is the perfect album for modern life; dark, perverse, hard, and honest. If the world ended tomorrow, this would be the album that was played the day after, a giant "I told you so" and "what now," addressed to the wretched survivors and the roaches.
Don't Miss: Tasmanian Pain Coaster, Up All Night, EMG, Drive, Run the Numbers, Habeas Corpses, Leauge of Extraordinary Nobodies, Poisenville Kids No Wins/Reprise (This must be our Time)

Thursday, December 20

Mr Dogg's Top 25 of 07: 10-6

10) Travis Morrison Hellfighters – All Y’all
Forget the Dismemberment Plan; they are gone forever. The good news is that the Hellfighters are here, and with Travis Morrison at their helm they are sure to provide equally great tunes. Indeed, if All Y’all is any indication of where Morrison’s song writing is going in the coming years, there is a lot to be excited about. An album full of witty observations and cautious commentary about growing older and making music, All Y’all is full of t mix-tape fodder for that guy who is a little to smart for his own good. Knockout tracks like “Saturday Night,” “As We Proceed” and “Just Didn’t Turn me On” offer top notch lyrical turns, beautifully backed by the always tight Hellfighters. All Y’all may not exercise all of Morrison’s D-Plan demons, but definitely a big step in the right direction.

9) Bomb the Music Industry! – Get Warmer
With a live drummer taking place of a drum machine and new keyboard lines replacing pre-recorded samples, Get Warmer is the most polished and produced of any in the BTMI! catalogue. It’s the writing of Jeff Rosenstock, however, that will command replays. Rosenstock chronicles his move from Long Island to Athens, GA with smart observations, fresh metaphors, and a self deprecating charm that makes him an everyman and a poet for anyone whose ever felt stupid or spoiled. Get Warmer is all about seeing the imperfections in life, and finding joy in the fracture.

8) Los Campesinos! – Sticking Fingers into Sockets (EP) Sometimes, a record contains such pure joy that it makes one feel as if anything is possible. Such is the case with Sticking Fingers into Sockets, an EP from young UK upstarts Los Campesinos! Packed with so much fast-paced excitement that it’s hard not to get caught up in it. Full of innocence and wide-eyed wonderment, it’s truly an EP for you and me, full of the kind of fast pop twee that is too good to be ignored. Don’t be turned off be the scene skewering and sharp tongue, at the end of the day, Los Camp just want you to feel good. Not to mention, it boasts one of the best songs of the year in “You! Me! Dancing!”

7) Kings of Leon – Because of the Times
Looser and more grand than past releases, but still with moments of soft tenderness, Because of the Times has been called the Kings of Leon’s U2 record. More accurately, it’s the sound of a band who has come into their own and are trying to push themselves further. It’s not grandness or substance the band is going for, it’s an overall theme of life, and songs big enough to capture it. Sure, it’s as tight as ever (“McFearless”), and it’s got some real rockers (“My Party”), but it’s the grand, swooping anthems (“Knocked Up, “Ragoo,” “Arizona”) that will stick to your ribs and keep Because of the Times in your disc changer for weeks.

6) Modest Mouse – We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
No longer and indie rock secret, Modest Mouse has come out the other side of major label stardom with their integrity intact. More importantly, they’re still writing fractured, lonesome, expanse-rock, this time taking the listener to the depths of the ocean on We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.

Sure, Johhny Marr makes for some nice guitar licks, and Shins lead singer James Mercer’s sweet chirp plays well off the harsh, rocky angles of the band, but it’s Isaac Brock’s madman howl and painfully honest pen that is the engine of the doomed ship in question. Still as sharp as ever, Brock’s pessimistic view of people, life, and all that lies beyond make for haunting, daunting, and sometimes painfully beautiful works of sonic art. Songs like “March Into the Sea,” “Parting of the Sensory,” and “Spitting Venom” are fierce and defensive, but is the quieter moments like “Little Motel” and “Missed the Boat” that suggest Brock’s struggle for understanding outweighs his eye for destruction.

Still, by further exploring the lonely depths of the soul through the last frontiers of man, We Were Dead is another record about looking for isolation in a world too crowded for elbow room.

Check tomorrow for 5-1!

Wednesday, December 19

Mr Dogg's Top 25 of 07: 15-11

15) Illinois – What the Hell do I Know? (EP)
Seeing as the band is from Bucks county P.A., some folks might consider me a homer for putting Illinois in the top 25. They would be right, too, if not for the near perfect blend of ’60 pop and backdoor, dirty-country porch bluegrass on What the Hell do I Know?. Old gems like the funky hip-hop of “Nosebleed” and the homemade pop harmonies of “Screendoor” are nice, backed by the banjo twang and deep percussion that is the band’s trademark. Still, it’s new, more glossy pop songs like “Headphones” that stand out on this recording, pushing the band past their trademark sound to keep them fresh. If Illinois can keep walking this line without falling on either side, they’re going to be an exciting band to watch in the coming years.

14) Japanther – Skuffed up my Huffy
Japanther, a drum and base duo that play fast punk tunes, sing through telephones, and use extensive sampling and Casio noises to pepper their lo-fi pun attack, are currently the toast of Brooklyn, NY. Listening to the rough-around-the-edges good vibes on Skuffed up my Huffy, it isn’t hard to see why. The lo-fi feel goods are all over this record; tracks like “River Phoenix” and “Challenge” pulse with a youthful energy all to absent from most traditional punk setups, while the dense audio mud of “One Hundred Dollar Cover” and “Funeral” are more than worth slugging through. Sure, it’s art-house rock, but Skuffed up my Huffy is the silliest and most relaxed art-house rock has ever been, and a must have for anyone with even a slight interest in lo-fi music or punk rock.

13) Tegan and Sara – The Con
The Con is not so much an album as it is a 14-part character sketch of romance, loss, love, youth, and the faded promises of love. At times heartbreaking, at times inspiring, Tegan and Sara have managed to take heartbreak, a theme that is crushingly personal and universal at the same time, and bottle it into an explainable feeling with an accuracy that’s almost scary. Those willing to open old wounds and look at what can be learned would do well to check out “The Con,” “Knife Going In,” and “Like O Like H.” But if all this reflection and depth ain’t your scene, The Con makes for a great background listen, you cowards.

12) Menomena – Friend or Foe
From the opening vocals of “Muscle’n Flo,” it’s obvious that Menomena’s Friend or Foe is a team effort. Some parts outshine others, but only for an instant. Like a long running game of Jegna, remove one piece and the whole damn tower falls apart.

Friend or Foe is full of the kind of sharp arrangements and musical depth that usually comes from looping songs over and over again. The great thing is that there are no loops; its humans making music with other humans. Robots zero, humans one. Still, the thing that’s most impressive about Friend or Foe is how new everything sounds while still seeming familiar. Even when something feels miles away from everything you’ve ever heard, it still brings you back to safe place. Menomena won’t change your life, but they might make it a little better.

11) Do Make Say Think – You, You’re a History in Rust (Winner of the "Best Album Title of the Year" award)
A drum kicks in; fast, tight, but with no sense of urgency. There is no panic here, only skill. Come what may, it can be handled and it will be taken care of. Later on, voices arch high; not orchestral, more like friend around a bonfire struggling to hit a high note, but struggling together. No worries about sounds ok, we will make this sound together, in safety. Later on, sound flies at a breakneck pace, horns rising with the tide as drums drive the opening of a flower, the birth of a life, the sparks of a universe. Elsewhere, at the edge of a dark wood, stings and soft voices beckon you to come, not in fear but in hope.

So go the songs on You, You’re a History in Rust, Do Make Say Think’s tightest, and yet most cathartic album to date. While staying in their jazz roots, DMST have allowed their songs some time to grow, finding the quiet beauty in echoes and the controlled chaos in crescendo. Possessing moments of pure madness and beauty, it’s a mammoth of an album that takes the listener over miles from where they began. While not as emotional as Explosions in the Sky or as prophetic as Godspeed! You Black Emperor, You, You’re a History in Rust thrives in the quiet moments between scenes; as much as in what is implied as what is said.

Check tomorrow for 10-6!

Tuesday, December 18

Mr Dogg's Top 25 of 07: 20-16

20) Smoke or Fire – This Sinking Ship
Serving up another batch of hardcore-sprinkled pop-punk, This Sinking Ship is a sharper and cleaner, but no less fierce sound for Smoke or Fire, whose first record Above the City was the best punk album of 05. While those who give the album only a cursory listen will not find much to distinguish SoF from any other punk band of the day, those in the know are aware of the socially-conscious-but-not-soap-boxing lyrical prowess of Joe McMahon and the band’s ability to write the kind of pop riffs that get stuck in the brain long after the CD is done spinning. Sure, maybe its just pop-punk, but listening to “The Patty Hearst Syndrome” or “This Sinking Ship,” one realizes that no one is doing it better than Smoke or Fire.

19) Liars – Liars
If ’06’s Drum’s Not Dead was peyote-fueled journey exploring the duality of the creative mind, Liars is the morning after, struggling to recover from the euphoric dreamscape before life and time catches up. This is a tense album; from the terror-striking drive of “Plaster Casts of Everything” to the calming resolution of “Protection,” Liars plays out like a man struggling to grip his own mortality. Turns out, Liars aren’t demi-gods after all. They are men. They bleed, feel, and worry just like you and I, and this record is a fantastic statement of that fact, both defiant and terrified. Needless to say, not a party album.

18) Band of Horses – Cease to Begin
Something is very right in the great woods of the Northwest where Band of Horses call their home. Back with more of their Neil Young-esque vocals and My Morning Jacket influenced expansive nature-rock, Cease to Begin finds Band of Horses taking there time and letting their songs breathe. Tracks take their time to develop, and blossom into masterworks that capture the simple beauty of everyday living (“General Specific” “Marry Song”). Still, the albums finest moments come when Band of Horses decided to pick it up and have some macho fun with their breathy jam rock. Tunes like “Is There a Ghost” and “Islands on the Coast,” while not as deep, are twice as fun and prove that Band of Horses is more than just indie-rock stoners.

17) Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – Living with the Living
For the last seven years, Ted Leo has been a pillar of sincerity decked out in trappings of pop hook catchiness and punk rock aesthetic. That reputation is maintained on Living with the Living, an album that walks the line between political and populous with great success. Besides one lame protest song and one poorly planned Clash rip-off, Living with the Living boasts some of Leo’s catchiest tunes since “Me and Mia.” The rollicking “Sons of Cain” and the classic rock-pop of “Who do You Love” are sure to get the people moving, while less apparent tracks like “La Costa Brava” and “The Lost Brigade” will yield new delights after repeat listens. And if you think you’re man enough, try to sit through the ball-smashing “C.I.A” without pumping a fist. Living with the Living never re-invents the wheel, but it makes for a great listen for the beach-bound or the socially minded.

16) The Go! Team – Proof of Youth
Some bands you really need to see live to understand. Artists like Man Man and Andrew W.K. are great on plastic, but you won’t really get it completely until you see it live. I’m tempted to throw The Go! Team into that category, but that would imply that Proof of Youth is only good live, which is a filthy lie. “Grip Like a Vice” grabs you and pulls you out the chair. “Doing it Right” laughs in your face when you try not to dance. “Titanic Vandalism” and “Keys to the City” scoff at your attempts to ignore their 70s funk samples and driving rhythms. An album best played at full volume to a room full of party people, listening to Proof of Youth is like being 8 all over again, finding joy in jumping rope and playing freeze tag with friends. Crack for the ears, it’s the kind of album that inspires, at the very least, smiles from all who hear it. Get up and dance.

Check Back Tomorrow for 15-10!

Monday, December 17

Mr. Dogg's Top 25 of 07: 25 - 21

25) Minus the Bear – Planet of Ice
Gone are the silly song titles. Gone are the softer, dance songs that made Minus the Bear fun to get stoned and sway to. Planet of Ice finds a new, more focused Minus the Bear playing their calculated rock with more edge and more focus, albeit at the expense of sense of humor. Still, when songs play out as well as the time-shifting “Ice Monster” and the frantic pacing of “Dr. L’Ling” one can forget the overly tense moment. Surf-rock never sounded so good.

24) Ryan Adams – Easy Tiger
As the name might suggest, Easy Tiger is a more relaxed effort from prolific singer/songwriter/dickhead Ryan Adams. Older, wiser, and maybe even a little less confident, it’s the softer tracks like “Oh my God, Whatever, Etc” that bear Adams’ bones and suggest a depth and control not found since his fantastic breakout album Heartbreaker. A little heavy on the country and featuring at least one song with miserable lyrics (“Halloween Head”), Easy Tiger is still the most focused and honest of Ryan Adams’ recent glut of records. Makes you wish the guy would let himself get centered more often

23) Arctic Monkeys – Favourite Worst Nightmare
No, there isn’t anything as defining and cutting as “A Certain Romance,” but the Arctic Monkeys have managed to do what most bands fail to do on their second record; reprise their established sound without over embellishing or repeating past sentiments. The band is still as sharp as ever (“Brianstorm”), and still possesses a lyrical sharpness and a keen eye for the perils of post-adolescents acting like children (“Fluorescent Adolescent”), but what is new is the bitter, somewhat jaded edge to the songwriting that turned off many. While easy to write off as defensiveness, it’s given the Monkeys a new harshness that makes for smarter songwriting and suggests that the band can be more than post-collegiate chroniclers.

22) Kanye West – Graduation
This is an album that I wrote off after a few listens based on my disappointment with West’s lyrical development; sure, “Stronger” has got great production, but people deserve more than phoned in nursery rhymes to go over the beat. Still, there is no denying the step forward West has made on Graduation, his most well produced record to date. And there are even some lyrics worth repeating here and there, like the celebratory boasting on “The Glory” and the self-reflective-yet-edifying “Can’t tell me Nothin’.” If West could just stop side stepping and develop as a lyricist, he’d be a really special artist.

21) Silversun Pickups – Caravans
Taking the nearly-defunct genre of droning guitar melodies over driving low end pioneered by bands like My Bloody Valentine and Yo La Tengo now known as shoegazing and mixing it with the pop sensibilities of early 90s grunge acts, Caravans found near universal acclaim from every indie outlet and quasi-underground publication. Not like the accolades aren’t deserved, the record is a great listen; the kind of album that can be played from start to finish without skipping a track. Those looking for dissection would be well served to check out the driving thump of “Lazy Eye” and the cautious fuzz of “Common Reactor” to see what all the fuss is about.
We'll be back tomorrow with 20-16!

Monday, November 5

Ear Candy Lands Days Away Back on their Feet -- by Nick DeLorenzo

Artist: Days Away
Album: Ear Candy for the Headphone Trippers

Comments: The Philly born and bread boys of Days Away thought they had hit it big after their debut album Mapping an Invisible World was released by Fueled By Ramen in 2005. While the album was well received, landing them spots on tour with such headliners as Circa Survive and the Rx Bandits, the band was dropped by the label in late 2006. It is unknown who broke up with whom, but something tells me that Fueled By Ramen didn’t see the “star quality” they wanted in Days Away. After all, they are used to pumping out mega-star pop acts like Fall Out Boy, Panic! At the Disco, Gym Class Heroes, and Paramore like it’s nothing. Either way, it didn’t take long for Days Away to get back in the scene.

The band returns to their roots with Ear Candy for the Headphone Trippers, an EP that delivers to their fans the promise it makes in the title. Unsigned for now, the band self-released this 5 song mini-journey that shines on the bands strengths and is a surprisingly delightful improvement from the impressive Invisible World.

Their up-beat style can be described one of many ways, whether is prog-punk, experimental-pop, or stoner-indie. Call it what you will, this style has been well established in the almost 10 years the band has been together, and it is apparent throughout the EP. The tight drums, heavy yet subtle guitar and psychedelic melodies blend together in true Days Away fashion. As one of the more vocally talented men in the business, Keith Goodwin doesn’t disappoint. His lyrics are simple and easy to relate to, which can be often overlooked in today’s music.

With fun and catchy singles like “Wish” and “Talk it Over” mixed in with the sweet, dramatic ballad “I’m Sorry I Told You All of My Problems” along with the stellar grooves of “Being Apart of You” and “I’ll Be Lost”, Days Away captured a pretty nice formula for an enjoyable EP.

Ear Candy should do more than enough to hold off anxious fans until their anticipated second album is released in near future. It will be their first album without their old record label, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the band couldn’t be happier about that.

Rating: 8 out of 10

-by Nick DeLorenzo

Wednesday, October 31

Tankian Leaves his Running Mates at Home on Solo Record

Artist: Serj Tankian

Album: Elect the Dead

Comments: Back in 2001, when their second album Toxicity was tearing up the radio, System of a Down’s lead singer Serj Tankian stated in an interview that his lyrics were not political. Despite references to prisons, evil governments, suicide, and child abuse, Tankian maintained that his lyrics were strictly auditory; he said this stuff because he liked the way it sounded, not because the words were symbols for something else.

Six years later, Tankian completely balks on this claim with his hyper political solo album Elect the Dead. To go through all the personal politics on this album would be an exercise in futility; there are so many causes being taken up on this record that it would confused even the most staunch political observer. With titles like “The Unthinking Majority” and “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” it’s safe to assume that Tankian slants pretty well to the left. Because every song is it’s own little public service announcement, Elect the Dead suffers under its own bombast. No one likes being preached too, at least not on a hard rock record.

However, those who can find their way past the soap boxing and propaganda will find a pretty decent hard rock record that fits in somewhere between Toxicity and Hypnotize /Mesmerize. Tankian has always had an interesting voice; it was made for the quite/loud mentality of System of a Down’s spastic throat rock, and he is belting out the jams all over this record. The majority of the songs just have him in his usual fast-talking speak sing; this trope is used best on the album opener “Empty Walls.” Still, he shows his chops on tracks like “Sky is Over” and “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” which allow him to do more than just pontificate over power chords.

Fans of System of a Down’s earlier albums will find a lot to like here. The crazy time signatures are back, as well are songs that seem to slow and speed up with almost no warning. Still, where the album falters is not in Tankian’s self righteous politics but in the music itself. The studio band that Tankian grabbed for this record is no doubt accomplished; they are able to handled his blinding time changes with relative ease, but the band never establishes themselves. What makes SOAD so good is how no one part of the band is ever the main focus, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. On Elect the Dead, it’s all Tankian. But then again, this is his solo album.

At the end of the day, Elect the Dead is a hard rocking album that will leave the listener confused. Sure, the songs are good and yes, Tankian sounds as good as he ever has, despite his recent foray into vocalizing his politics. Still, one has to wonder what these songs would sound like with a proper band belting them out. If the rest of SOAD came along for the ride, I have no doubt in my mind that this album would be in a completely different class. As it stands, Elect the Dead is a good album to waste time on while people wait for the next System of a Down album.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Key Tracks: Empty Walls, Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

Buy, Steal, or Skip: SOAD fans won't regret buying this record

Monday, October 29

Japanther Plays the Hits but Can't Stick - By Stu Romanek

Artist: Japanther
Skuffed up my Huffy

Comments: I'm going to be up front about this: I'm not a writer, and I don’t pretend to be. There was a point when I weighed it against other options, but as I sit here in a Starbucks across from a highway in beautiful Bensalem, I think I made the right choice. Something about the girls to my left yapping about the painfully corporate Starbucks artwork hanging on the walls makes me want to forget I agreed to do this. But as the warm fuzz of Japanther’s latest effort Skuffed Up My Huffy pushes them to the background, I press on.

There are a few things to note about me and Japanther that might make this article a little biased. First of all I’m a sucker for duos. Japanther is a two piece from Brooklyn relying on super fuzzy bass, spazzy tight drums, and what is probably a second hand Casiotone. Oh, did I mention both members sing through telephone receivers? On paper I was already in love with the band, but I’m a man who’s had his heart broken before. Would Japanther squander the perfect DIY low-fi setup?

As the rapid fire bursts of dance punk chug through the headphones, I don’t really have a chance to consider it. Japather is busy playing a brand of low-fi pop punk that’s as toe tapping as it is smart. Coupled with the Wu Tang-style movie dialogue bits in the intro of almost every song, the band makes a musical aesthetic that’s sadly being forgotten in a time of all-too-serious indie rock. There is something about Ice Cube telling some "motherfucker" he "aint no criminal. He can read" is happily disarming as the drum driven "Cable Babies" kicks in. The song itself demonstrates Japanther’s ability to take the stripped down instruments and influences that often result in abrasive noise rock (think DFA1979, Lightning Bolt) and turn it into a fuzzy, saccharin sweet pop tune. ‘One Hundred Dollars’ mixes up tape loops of the band messing around over-top hip hop bass beats and miscellaneous scratch samples only to revert, jarringly, back to the drum and bass chug they’re known for. Their ability to keep the listener on their toes works well for the track but falls flat in tracks like "Vagabond" and "Tender People."

So by now you might be thinking “I’m totally stealing this album!” or “Hey Stu, how about not writing anymore reviews, okay?” and that’s all well and good, but there’s always a catch. Japanther’s is that they don’t lay down roots. Almost every song would fit on a party playlist or a mix cd, but Japanther would still be that band you only have a handful of tracks of on your iPod. None of the tracks really make you yell, “This is fucking awesome!” except for the first one you heard.

In terms of an album, Skuffed Up isn’t one. The band’s website calls the album ’13 new songs’ and a more fitting description, it could not be. Go ahead, mix up the order, play it backwards; it doesn’t matter. In fact, by the time you figured out the track list was wrong the album would be over and you’d already be looking up the band’s tour schedule. Continuity aside, Skuffed Up makes your remember a time when you didn't have to pour over music for hours on end to decide if you really like it or not. From start to finish this half hour long gem will keep your head bobbing and your mind wondering who the hell in this age would dare to make something so simple and have it seem so fresh? Go ahead, impress your friends by slipping some of this into rotation and remind them music is fun again. Just don't expect to find in on their a few months down the road.

Mix CD tracks: River Phoenix, Challenge, One Hundred Dollars

- by Stu Romanek

Thursday, October 25

Band of Horses Cease to Excell

Artist: Band of Horses
Album: Cease to Begin

Comments: Band of Horses is the answer to a question that no one ever asked; what would happen if My Morning Jacket and U2 had a baby? Taking the woodsy jam rock of MMJ and the grand guitars of the Edge, Band of Horses found success on their 2006 release Everything All the Time, an album that somehow managed to have a stadium grandness while maintaining a soft, intimate feeling one might find walking in the woods alone. That album could be played at parties or at late night snuggle-fests with equal success. One year later, the equestrienne collective have returned with Cease to Begin, an album that doesn’t detract from their sound, but doesn’t do much to move the band forward sonicly.

The album has a promising start, opening with the rocker “Is There a Ghost.” The grunge groove of the song sounds triumphant, as if Band of Horses has never been more confident in their craft. Lyrically, it’s a turd of a song, but the celebratory nature of the track makes it one of the best on the album.

With such a rocking opener, one would expect the album to be nothing but fist pumping anthems of love and success. However, after that first track, the album falls into a droning funk of groovy tunes that all sound nice, but never establish themselves. This has been the problem with Band of Horses; too many of their songs can run together. On Everything All the Time it wasn’t much of a problem because there were always standout tracks that would break up the muddy drone of the guitar. Sadly, there are no such songs to break up this four song mire on Cease to Begin, and the album progresses with a sense of repetitive acceptance. It isn’t that the songs don’t sound good, they just all sound too similar to matter.

The plus side is that the songs that break up the monotony on Cease to Begin sound even better in stark contrast with the droning middle of the album. Islands on the Coast,” for example, is a hurried little rocker that propels the sometimes sluggish album. Elsewhere, the jumpy folk of “The General Specific” is a treat for the ears. Driven by a 60s style handclap beat and the yearning Neil Young-esque vocals of lead singer Ben Bridwell, “The General Specific” is a country sing-a-long for city living, and one of the most fun tracks on the record.

While not a step forward, Cease to Begin is a good second album for Band of Horses. By maintaining their lush sonic density and earthy tenderness, the band is able to grow up some in their music, even at the loss of some fun. What is really impressive about Band of Horses is how they are able to capture the subtle beauty of nature in their music. If Everything all the Time was a snowstorm that blanketed the woods, Cease to Begin is the morning after. Long, smooth, sometimes daunting, but always beautiful, Band of Horses is able to stay the course. Still, it wouldn’t hurt the band to stop admiring the snow so much and just make some friggin’ snow angels. After all, what’s the use in beauty if you can’t enjoy it?

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Key Tracks: Is There a Ghost, The General Specific, Islands on the Coast

Worth The Money: Nope, but I recommend their first album, Everything all the Time.

Wednesday, October 10

Vedder Can't Tame Wild Soundtrack

Artist: Eddie Vedder
Album: Into the Wild: Music from the Motion Picture

Comments: When deciding how to score his recent film Into the Wild, first time director Sean Penn had to try to find someone who could convey the lonesome, sometimes oppressive beauty of the natural world in a purely auditory medium. His answer to this paradox was the lead singer of the prolific rock powerhouse known as Pearl Jam, the often moody but always talented Eddie Vedder. Vedder’s Into the Wild: Music from the Motion Picture, while no doubt an adequate companion to the film, fails stand on its own as an independent work.

While this is a soundtrack / film score, it is also Vedder’s first solo album, with “solo” being the main idea both thematically and in practice. Besides two cover songs and two guest vocalists, Vedder wrote every piece, sang every line, and played every instrument on the album himself. The arrangement of the album is very stripped down; most tracks are just acoustic guitar, minimal drums, and Vedder’s voice. This minimalist sentiment in songwriting is not only miles away from Pearl Jam’s usual grandiose stadium grunge, but serve to remind the listener that this is an album for a film about a man crossing the country alone.

Still, it is telling that the two best songs on the album are the ones that sound the most like Pearl Jam. Album opener “Setting Forth” is a restrained song that serves very well as a starting point for an album about isolation. “Hard Sun” is a mid-tempo rock track with minimalist drums and a classic folk-rock guitar riff that allows Vedder’s voice to draw in the listener and keep them interested. The song is, hands down, the anchor of the album as it allows Vedder to stretch his vocals some, and it is the only song on the album that really has the time to develop.

Still, the small scope of the album does more harm than good for Vedder. His styles have always been more breathtaking in grandness than in restraint. Most of the tracks on Into the Wild are pleasant and agreeable, but often too much so to be anything more than white noise. The only song that sticks out is the over-trebled “Rise” which works by playing Vedder’s low growl off a high pitched mandolin. Another problem is that most of the songs on the album don’t break the three minute mark, save for “Hard Sun” and “Guaranteed.” While length is not usually a problem with Vedder, the brevity of the songs hold them back, keeping potentially good songs from growing and forming. The most obvious offender is “Tuolumne,” which takes an excellent folk riff and cheats it out of greatness by making it nothing more than one minute interlude.

In spite of all this, it’s hard for me to fault Vedder for such an underwhelming album. After all, this is not so much a solo album as it is a film score, and for a movie about man finding his way in nature, Vedder’s folk songs are the perfect soundtrack. But a good soundtrack and a good album aren’t interchangeable, and without the support of the film Into the Wild is nothing more than a hollow collection of nice folk songs. When Penn asked Vedder to score his film, he probably thought he was doing Vedder a favor. What he did was cheat Vedder and Pearl Jam fans across the globe of a proper outlet for the rock front man. One can only hope this isn’t Vedder’s lone solo attempt; he deserves better.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Key Tracks: Rise, Hard Sun
Worth The Money: Nah. For what it is, you can get better easy listening, soft rock albums

Sunday, October 7

No One is Passing Aesop Rock

Artist: Aesop Rock

Album: None Shall Pass

Comments: In the realm of hip-hop, few artists are as verbally dense and original in their delivery than the mighty Aesop Rock. The NYC MC, long known in the independent hip-hop world for his complex wordplay and delivery that is equal parts confusing and rewarding, returns with None Shall Pass, his first album since 2003's Bazooka Tooth.

Those looking for a run-of-the-mill hip-hop album to throw on as background music should look elsewhere, as Rock's music require a more refined ear to appreciate. Rather than rely on commonplace boasts and obvious self-referencing, Rock uses complex literary and pop culture references in a non-linear delivery to convey his message. In other words, his lyrics are so dense and layered that it takes a few listens for everything to sink in.

That isn't to say there are no immediate successes on the album. Lead single and title track "None Shall Pass" finds Rock juxtaposing a relaxed tone with an accelerated delivery. He sinks into the production, making his syrupy lines harmonize with the woodwind and bass of the beat. "Catacomb Kids" is another song that strikes right away, dancing the line between somber reflection and boastful acclimation, guided by a fuzzy beat featuring some nifty guitar distortion. It's also one of the few songs on the album that features a proper hook.

The production on this album is top-notch. Each beat serves as a sonic setting for Rock's riddles and musings on everything from other rappers being wack to the planet formerly known as Pluto. Rappers returning is old hat as far as topics go, but Rock's octopus flow gives the subject new legs, proving that interesting style can make anything worth a listen.

Where None Shall Pass falters is in the demands it puts on the listener. Because there is so much going on, it can be hard to take everything in on one listen. Some of the best tracks on the album ("Fumes" and "Citronella") are slow-burning growers that people may not have patience for.

Still, hip-hop fans who are willing to stick around will be treated to one of the year's finest efforts. Dense without ever seeming crowded, and deep without ever seeming pretentious, Aesop Rock's None Shall Pass is another success from underground hip-hop's best.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Key Tracks: None Shall Pass, Catacomb Kids, Fumes

Worth the Money: Yes, but I'd recommend Labor Days if this is your first experience.

Wednesday, October 3

Freak Folksters Want You to Love Everyone

Artist: Akron/Family

Album: Love is Simple

Comments: The popular new trend in indie rock music is the movement toward collective, freak-folk music. In other, less pretentious words, the new hotness is to use multiple people, chant style vocals overtop of back-woodsy, acoustic guitar led music. If a group of monks decided to live in the words, take mushrooms and make music with guitars and keyboards, they would probably end up making freak-folk music. The latest band to be hopping on this trend is Brooklyn, New York’s Akron/Family. On their latest effort Love is Simple, the band finds themselves walking the line between accessible country rock and nonsense ambient chant.

The record has a definite tone to it, and that tone is “Be excellent to each other.” From the starting line, this album has a compassionate, friendly tone to it; when the band tells the listener to “go out and love / everyone” on the opening track, the keenly titled “Love Love Love (Everyone)” one gets the sense that the band really means it. Musically, the track is a slow, quiet pop song that is not at all in touch with the rest of the music.

For a band that is making a name for itself using a collective style of music, much of Love is Simple is based on more mainstream elements. Songs like “I’ve Got Some Friends” and “Phenomenon” would be straight up classic rock songs if not for the occasional chorus in which everyone sings, or the spastic folk breakdown in “Phenomenon.” Elsewhere, on the quiet pop ballad “Don’t be Afraid, You’re Already Dead,” which sounds more like the Beatles and Devandra Barhart, the band reinforces their “love first” mentality, claiming that it can overcome even death.

These songs are nice, but one’s opinion on the album will be made or broken on the two songs that make up the middle of the album, and serve as the band’s declaration to all things collective. The first of the two, “Lake Song/New Ceremonial Music for Moms,” starts out as a neat little folk song, the kind of thing you would head at a campfire, before melting down into a chanting drum circle that is either poetry or madness depending on personal preference. This hippy chant-fest turns into the slow rocker “There’s so Many Colors.” The two songs are set up so that the end of the first seamlessly combines with the beginning of the second, making it one 15 minute long artistic statement. For some, this middle section will be the best thing they’ve ever heard, but for most it will just be too much of nothing.

That being said, this album does yield one song that gets it right. While the middle of the album may fail to combine collective freak-folk with mainstream convictions, the seven-minute country bump of “Ed is a Portal” succeeds in all the right ways. The song opens with a room full of people clapping and chanting before kicking in with the danciest banjo melody I’ve ever heard. Drums follow soon after, as the entire band chants the chorus and turns the song from formless chant into bluegrass boogie. Featuring two separate breakdowns before returning to the main riff, “Ed is a Portal” is not only the best song on the album, but it’s a song that is infectious enough in its message of love that anyone, anywhere could listen to it an enjoy it.

While the overall album may leave people baffled, the good vibes theme of the album, combined with the presence of one of the best songs of the year make Love is Simple an album worth looking into for those with any interest in folk or collective music. If Akron/Family can improve upon this work in years to come, don’t be surprised to find them creating their own fad instead of working off of one.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Key Tracks: Ed is a Portal, Don't be Afraid You're Already Dead, Phenomenon

Worth the Money: Yes

Monday, October 1

Irish Punks Band Together for The Meanest Times

Artist: Dropkick Murphys

Album: The Meanest Times

Comments: Longevity is not a word that people used when talking about punk bands. A genre based on living fast and dying hard, thousands of punk bands implode into themselves every year. The ones that don’t break apart under their own intensity often hang around far too long, becoming sad shadows of their past selves. This fact only makes Dropkick Murphys’ The Meanest Times more impressive; it may not re-invent the wheel, but it maintains level of consistency that the Murphys have been able to maintain since 1998. Rather than a return to form, The Meanest Times is a re-commitment to their craft.

Meanest Times finds the Murphys once again balancing their punk anthems with Irish sensibility, although this album leans much more on the Celtic side of the line than past efforts The Warrior’s Code and Blackout. The one two punch of “Famous for Nothing” and “God Willing” both feature prominent bagpiping that will stir up the red-haired drunk inside everyone. Both songs are pure fist-in-the-air anthems, one about being famous for nothing and one about the dearly departed, which set the scene nicely for the shit-kicking thump of “State of Massachusetts,” a modern reworking of the Irish protest song.

If those three songs tire you out, you had best buckle up. The album rolls at a breakneck pace, going at light speed for nine songs before finally slowing down on “Fairmount Hill.” What the song lacks in speed, it makes up for in weight. Mandolin cries along side guitar as the band unfolds a tale of nostalgia and the tyranny of both time and distance. Things cool off again on “Rude Awakenings” which is about rude awakenings. The song is one of the best on the album, delivered with the force and sincerity of a dockworker signing at a bar after hours.

Fans of the band will know what to expect from this album, and the band delivers on all fronts. The dual vocal attack that is trademark to the Murphys is all over the album, as is the “Pouges-meets-Sex Pistols” punk sound that is their trademark. Still, some might be turned off by the frantic pace of the album, which does give songs a tendency to run together. The album also features one pretty lame song, the poorly managed “Johnny, I Hadley Knew Ya,” which takes the tune of “When The Saints go Marching In” and turns it into a faux-funeral march. The song marks the only time on the record when the Murphys’ Irish pride sounds manufactured instead of sincere. There are also some pretty lame quasi-political songs on the album, with the biggest offender being the unfortunate “Shattered.”

As the album draws to a close with the piano ballad “Forever,” one can’t help but appreciate how consistent the Dropkick Murphys have been since their inception in 1995. For a band to maintain such a high level of quality music for over ten years is a hell of a feat for anyone, let alone a band operating the volatile world of punk rock. With The Meanest Times, an album about family, friendship, history and the passing of time, the Dropkick Murphys show that they will always produce, come whatever.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Key Tracks: Forever, God Willing, Famous for Nothing, Loyal to No One

Worth The Money: Yes, but barely.

Friday, September 28

Bomb The Music Industry Fills out and Gets Warmer - John Adams

Artist: Bomb the Music Industry
Album: Get Warmer

DIY’s finest are back with the late summer release of Get Warmer. BTMI’s latest release is everything you could hope for from the band and more. Get Warmer is full of all the sing alongs that made BTMI shows so fun, but with better production than on past albums. For this album, Bomb The Music Industry tried a few things out for the first time. The most noticeable change is the fact that this is the first BTMI cd to feature a full band. The first three releases were all done by the brainchild of BTMI, Jeff Rosenstock. Rosenstock would record the bass, guitar, keys, and vocals in his apartment and use a drum machine (or at times household objects) to provide the beat. This is also the first Bomb The Music Industry cd to be released to the public for purchase (through Asian Man Records) and released (like the first 3 records) for free on the band’s website.

Get Warmer is a hopeful CD. Rosenstock’s lyrics reflect all the small problems that came with moving to Georgia, and how he’s working to overcome them. The CD deals with anything from finding a job to getting back in shape. Although the songs are about simple problems, Rosenstock seems to make them into metaphors for solving all of life’s bigger problems. The first track “Jobs Schmobs” starts quiet, but by the end of the song lets you know how the rest of the CD is going to go. The second track, “493 Ruth”, is a medium paced sing along that introduces “Bike Test 1 2 3”, a fast catchy anthem about perseverance. Rosenstock uses a story about riding his bike in Georgia telling everyone about how he broke his bike the first time he tried riding his bike to quickly up a steep hill, and then not being able to control himself as he goes down, and then his success after trying to ride his bike on the hill multiple times.

“Unlimited Breadsticks, Soup, and Salad Days” is a catchy song with a chanting chorus about how the problems he has are just small inconveniences that everyone shares at one point or another. The next track “No Rest For the Whiney” is filled with frustration of getting over-run with debt because of school or your first credit card because you can’t get a job, but still has the “get back on the horse” mentality. The sixth track, “25 Hour Goddamn Telethon” is Jeff Rosenstock acknowledging that he creates his own problems and his gratefulness for his friends, for sticking by him through all his troubles.

The second half of Get Warmer starts with the ska song “Depression is No Fun”, where Rosenstock boasts about no longer letting his problems getting the best of him and is followed up by one of the biggest highlights of the cd. “I Don’t Love You Anymore” is just a fun upbeat song, with a blaring, everyone sing, kind of chorus. The best part about the song is that it doesn’t really sound like anything else BTMI has done. The next two songs “Pizza Clause is Comin’ to Town” and “Never Trust a Man Without a Horribly Embarrassing Secret” are punk-ska songs about more of the same, everyday problems, and missing old friends with a hint of a new self dependant resolution.

The cd ends with the title track and “The Last Party (Foul)” and are the only two slower/acoustics songs on the cd. “Get Warmer” is a nostalgic song about missing all of his friends, and the parts of everyday life that Rosenstock misses from New York and is the only song on the cd that isn’t upbeat. Then “The Last Party (Foul)” is an acoustic song about the appreciation of friends through the hard times. All in all Get Warmer is more of the same from Bomb The Music Industry that is a good listen for old and new fans.

by John Adams

Rating: 8 out of 10

Key Tracks: Bike Test 1 2 3; Unlimited Breadsticks, Soup, and Salad; I Don’t Love You Anymore; Get Warmer

Worth the money: No question (it’s free!)

Wednesday, September 26

Curtis Pays the Bills, but Leaves 50 with Little Change

Artist: 50 Cent

Album: Crutis

Comments: At this point, enough has been said about the Kanye vs 50 Cent build-up that I don’t need to go over it here. In the weeks leading up to the Sept. 11 release date for the two records, 50 Cent went on a PR blitz, appearing in magazines and newspapers across the country promoting his album, his retirement gamble, and himself. In each publication, 50’s confidence was the main element, present in every interview. After listening to Curtis, one can see why 50 Cent was so confident, even if that confidence is somewhat unfounded at times.

Curtis is a step forward from 50’s uneven and disappointing sophomore record The Massacre in almost all respects. With no skits or pauses in music except for a brief introduction, 50 Cent is all business. While his professionalism in his music might be a detractor for some, 50 sounds best when he is focused and on topic and he is most certainly focused on his third record.

The album opens with “My Gun go Off,” a crunchy number that has 50 coming out of the gate fast and hard. With a faux southern drawl and frantic pace, “My Gun go Off” is a return to form for 50, who sounds more serious than he has since Get Rich or Die Tryin’. When he makes threats and boats on the track, one is inclined to believe him. It sounds like he cares about rap again. That song gives way to the more relaxed but no less threatening “Man Down.” The two violent songs form an excellent one-two punch that show 50 in some of his most aggressive light. This isn’t the CEO, this is the hungry mix-tape all star making real threats.

As usual, 50’s record is ripe with guest contributors, however 50 outshines most of them. Akon contributes his first big flop on “I’ll Still Kill” with 50’s delivery outshining Akon’s unique voice as the defining characteristic of the song. Eminem adds a verse on “Peep Show” that sounds more obligatory than enthusiastic. Tony Yayo helps out on “Touch The Sky,” but that guy has always sucked. The success of this record is all on 50.

Sadly, all the fault lies with him too. Outside of those first two tracks, the rest of the album is somewhat flaccid. Tracks come and go with no standouts to the point that it all starts to run together in one big, boastful statement. 50 wastes the excellent production of “Ayo Technology” by laying down some lazy sex talk that wouldn’t excite a nymphomaniac. “Amusement Park” continues 50’s trend of referring to his body as some kind of playground for women, and is his worst attempt at a club song yet. “Follow my Lead” is lounge schmaltz and “All of Me” shoots for R&B crossover but is wrecked by an uninspired Mary J. Blige singing the hook.

Sadly, Curtis features the worst 50 Cent song yet, the profoundly unfortunate “Straight to the Bank.” Lazy delivery, third tier production, and an awful hook (50 Cent laughing, presumably all the way to the bank) make this song a total flop.

It’s always more interesting to hear about someone struggling to make it than hearing them boast about arriving. That might be the one fatal flaw in Curtis. Having spent so much time trying to make money and trying to find success, now that he has it there is nothing else for him to talk about. As a result, 50 falls back on telling the same stories over again. Thanks to some good production and different delivery, 50 is able to hold on for one more record. But he’s holding on by his fingertips.

Rating: 5.5

Key Tracks: My Gun Go Off, Man Down, Touch the Sky

Worth the Money: Buy the first two songs of the net, then forget it.

Monday, September 24

LOTD talks about Kenny Chesney

Artist: Kenny Chesney
Album: Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates

Comments: In the media whirlwind of Kanye vs 50 Cent it was easy to forget that country star Kenny Chesney was also releasing an album in September. Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates, Chesney’s 10th studio album doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises, but will give listeners a pleasant, if not always consistent listen.

Chesney is a smart man. He knows what his audience is looking for and he plays to those expectations. On album opener “Never Wanted Nothing More,” Chesney uses solid lyrical imagery with a gentle hand with great success. Painting pictures of moments of youthful euphoria, “Never Wanted Nothing More” is bound for adult-rock Valhalla. He uses his words well later on “Wife and Kids,” a track about the man’s desire to settle down and start a family. Chesney handles the subdued ballad with dignity by avoiding over the top sentiments and whiny exclamations. The piece comes off as wistful regret, and avoids being country emo (let’s all hope that genre never forms).

Chesney’s pro-family stance was a bit surprising to hear. His obvious admiration for family life sets him apart from other singers in his genre, making him more universal. Even more surprising is his spirituality. Throughout the album, Chesney makes reference to the Lord and how awesome it is to be with him. Considering the “get drunk and screw” mentality of much country music, it was both refreshing and confusing to hear.

Chesney’s tendency to pander to his audience is the downfall of the record. Too many songs sound insincere and forced, like Chesney is trying way to hard to appeal to his friends. It sounds like he is trying to describe situations he never understood, like a kid trying to describe War and Peace by reading the dust cover.

Even when Chesney is hamming it up, he’s still charming on all but two truly awful songs. The first, and less offencive of the two, is the hokey “Dancin’ for the Groceries” which is about just what you think it’s about. What was supposed to be a ballad for single mothers everywhere plays out like a Weird Al track instead. Chesney’s lyrics really fail him here as he tries to convey the pain of stripping with the same personality and familiarity he caries on songs about being young, and it makes the song sound ridiculous.

Still, “Dancin’ for the Groceries” is Beethoven compared to the downright deplorable mess of noise “Shiftwork.” This “song” combines slow western stroll music with Caribbean percussion in an almost terrifying way. I don’t know why people like Jimmy Buffet, and I don’t know why country artists think that island music would sound good with a yee-haw twang, but it goes down like broken glass every time and this song is no exception. I couldn’t even tell you what it’s about, my ears start to bleed 15 seconds into the song.

Despite the two giant turd sandwiches, Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates is a charming album full of character sketches that will appeal to the nostalgic in all of us. I can’t say I would ever buy more Kenny Chesney records based on the strength of this album, but fans of the man won’t be disappointed.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Key Tracks: Never Wanted Nothing More, Wife and Kids

Worth The Money: No

Sunday, September 16

The Go! Team Prove They Rock the Party

Artist: The Go! Team

Album: Proof of Youth

I’ve long had a theory that, despite the best efforts of Andrew W.K, we in American do not party hard. Oh sure, we’ll show up for a few drinks and a game of strip-scrabble, but our country is seriously lacking when it comes to putting the lampshade on our heads and dancing until the sun comes up. Then again, we don’t produce bands like England’s The Go! Team. An American artist would never put out something so undeniably funky, so brazenly fresh, so damn good as Proof of Youth.

Influenced by late 70s B-boy rap, mid 70s funk, and cheerleader pep rallies, The Go! Team’s music is the soundtrack to the best day of your life. They have the power to make even the most uptight of curmudgeons want to pop and lock like a giddy 12-year-old girl. On their first record, Thunder, Lightning, Strike, the band took horn samples from their favorite funk songs and mixed it with lightning quick fuzz guitar, thundering drums and schoolyard double-dutch chants to make one of the most fun records ever pressed to plastic. Rather than mess with success, The Go! Team made the same album again, and it is awesome.

From the opening notes of “Grip Like a Vice,” it’s clear that Proof of Youth was made for basements and house parties. Guitars lead the way while female vocalist / rapper Ninja bites Grand Master Flash and raps about God knows what (my guess? candy). The song samples a police siren, funk horns, and hand claps while the band plays along and dares you not to dance. Later, on “The Wrath of Marie,” the band takes the banjo and turns it from a redneck bluegrass joke to an essential instrument in rocking the house on one of the best breakdowns I’ve heard in a long time.

Tracks like “Doing it Right” and “Keys to the City” are like giant hugs for the ears. The music is so upbeat and positive; it’s almost like The Go! Team recorded the songs just to tell the listener “Hey, it’s going to be OK! You’re the best! We should totally break dance right now!” Even the more hard edge tracks have lighthearted charm to them. The most excellent “Titanic Vandalism” is the kind of song one would expect to find in an old kung-fu movie where two ninjas are doing battle on the back of a dragon. On an unrelated note, it’s a most excellent song to exercise to. Even Chuck D, legendary MC of Public Enemy and well document grouch can get behind the manic Prozac music of The Go! Team; he does guest vocals on the crunching “Flashlight Fight.”

If the album has any problems, it’s almost too much fun for our lame American selves. The pace is only slowed down once, on the beautiful two-minute interlude “My World,” which sounds like one of those songs they played back in movie theaters in the 70s. Some might also complain about the production of the album, which is very muddy. Instruments bleed together in a jumble where it’s hard to figure out which instrument is making what noise. However, this just makes the album that much more fun to listen to, every time one goes back, there’s a new sound to discover to bring a smile to the face.

And so, with the energy of a grade school hopped up on Pixie Styx, Proof of Youth proves to be one of the best records of the year, party or otherwise. Once again, Americans everywhere are forced to swallow our pride and admit that Europe is much better at parting than we are. All we can do is forget tomorrow, put the lampshade on our heads, and pretend we’re from the UK for a night.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Key Tracks: Grip Like a Vice, Titanic Vandalism, Doing it Right, Wrath of Marie

Worth The Money: Yes

Sunday, September 9

Morrison Asks All Y'all to Grow up and Dance With Him

Artist: Travis Morrison Hellfighters
Album: All Y’all

God forbid you ever become famous. God forbid you ever start a band that people connect with and give them a voice for opinions and emotions that they’ve always felt, but never had the words or the wit to express. Heaven help you if you ever make something that people are fanatical about, if you make something that they grow to like and love and obsess over until they make t-shirts, draw pictures, tattoo themselves with passages from it and use it as a philosophy for life. God save you if you ever decide to move in a new direction and try something new, because those very same people who worshiped you as a hero-poet for the voiceless will tear the flesh from your skin and suck the breath from your lungs. God save Travis Morrison.

When Morrison and The Dismemberment Plan parted ways in 2003 to peruse new interests, people weren’t ready. People were heartbroken. People became bitter. When Morrison released his first solo album, Travistan in 2004, critics and fans alike blasted the album as waste of money, time and plastic. After a three year gap, the controversial singer / songwriter is back with a band (Travis Morrison Hellfighters) and a new record. All Y’all is another album that will have Dismemberment Plan acolytes crying in protest, completely missing the fact that All Y’all is a good album in its own right.

Those familiar with the Dismemberment Plan know what to expect from All Y’all; dance-rock for people who will never dance. It’s a shame, because there are some downright funky tracks on this album. Lead single “As We Proceed” is a steady, bongo-loving rocker that showcases Morrison’s unique songwriting, his ear for catchy tunes and his taste for rhythm. The bongos show up again on “Just Didn’t Turn Me On,” another track that would be ideal for bumping and grinding if rock kids weren’t so angry / self conscious / whatever.

Elsewhere, on “East Side of the River,” Morrison displays some of his best lyrical imagery in years. A slow groove built around a lazy bass line, Travis describes a distant shoreline where there are padlocks on the playgrounds and nothing is free. The song continues, and Morrison tells a story of love and loss in the small details of interaction opposed to the big, obvious, dramatic flashes that are the stuff of narratives. “If there’s someone that you’d rather be / go find them and bring them back / I’ll love them just the same,” he sings, before reminding that “you can’t put your arms around a memory.” While it may not look like much on paper, “East Side of the River” is a deep song that covers romance better than the most overt Leonard Cohen song.

Sadly, the album is not always this good. “Catch Up” is the soundtrack to ADD; the song moves in more directions and covers more topics in four minutes than some bands have in their entire careers, but with none of the focus. Because of its spastic nature the song never really settles in, and just frustrates. “You Make Me Feel like a Freak” is a herky-jerky mess of noise about hooking up. Too abrasive to be fun and too unfocused to strike a chord with most people, it’s a throw away.

The real tragedy of this album is that it will be slammed because it doesn’t re-create Emergency & I, or because it’s not as complex as the Dismemberment Plan, or it’s not as lyrical clever as his older stuff. The reality of the situation is that All Y’all is a good listen with a few missteps that will get blasted because it doesn’t stand up to an impossible standard. If people could let Morrison make music and stop asking him to catch lightning in a bottle again, maybe it wouldn’t take him three years to release another solo record. Morrison left the Dismemberment Plan because he didn’t want to sound stale; he wanted to grow. It’s time for his fan base to grow up, too.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Key Tracks: As We Proceed, East Side of the River, Just Didn’t Turn me On

Worth The Money: Yes

Thursday, September 6

Poppers Lose Some Power and Gain Some Perspective

Artist: The New Pornographers
Album: Challengers

Comments: Despite their R rated name (for adult themes, adult content, and brief nudity), the New Pornographers has been delighting families with their sugar-sweet-but-tooth-ache-free brand of power pop since the turn of the millennium. The Canadian group has been gaining steam since their spirited debut (the wall-of-noise joy-fest of Mass Romantic) and their well received follow-up (the sterile cleaning power of Electric Vision). After their fantastic 2005 album Twin Cinema, The New Pornographers were poised to break out of indie rock and take over the world, which is why Challengers is such a disappointment.

There is nothing wrong with the most recent effort from the New Pornographers, per say. Challengers is more of what people have come to expect from the band; power pop focused on vocal harmony, lead by stadium guitars, and powered by ambiguous, catchy songwriting. The starts off slow with “My Rights Versus Yours,” an excellent song that won’t rock you like a hurricane or lull you to sleep; it’s the definition of mid-tempo. Elsewhere on the album, “Myriad Harbor” kicks things up a notch with some serious rock harmonica and lyrics about pretty girls being pretty.

In fact, there are a lot of good songs on this record. The problem is that these songs seem to exist in a vacuum. While the album is on, Challengers is a good an album as any other New Pornographers album. However, once the disc stops spinning the music fades from thought. Besides the two songs listed and “Mutiny I Promise You” which sounds like a Twin Cinema b-side, there isn’t a single song that will bury into your brain and hold you in its twisted clutches. If a pop record can’t get stuck in your head and stick with you it can’t be great because that is what pop music is supposed to do.

If there is blame to be placed, place it on the songwriters. Too many of the songs on Challengers are slower, less powerful numbers that turn the amps back from 11 and offer to tuck you in for a night of reading by the fireplace. Songs like “Challengers” and “Unguided” are nice, but lack the punch need to stick to the ribs. Even the rockers like “All The Things That go to Make Heaven and Earth” and “Entering White Cecelia” are edgeless and hollow.

While not a bad record, Challengers is a disappointment in how disposable it is. For a band like the New Pornographer who made their name on giving weight to a genre so often slammed for being shallow, for them to make an album that sucks the power out of their pop is to take away the thing that makes them such an important band. Challengers is a fine album to play for a quiet, safe night in, but the Pornographers sound better when they’re out on the town, singing their lungs out, and daring you not to sing along.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Key Tracks: My Rights Versus Yours, Myriad Harbor, Unguided, Mutiny I Promise You

Worth The Money: Only just

Tuesday, September 4

Liars are Human After All

Artist: Liars
Album: Liars

Comments: Since their dance-punk debut, the long winded-titled They Stuck Us in a Trench and Threw a Monument on Top (which, I admit, I have never heard), Liars have put out two albums of noisy, artsy, sometimes unbearable, and sometimes beautiful progressive music and established the band as dudes trying to push music forward even at the expense of the listener. Their first foray into expansionism is the Harry Potter inspired They Were Wrong so We Drowned, which was followed by Drum’s Not Dead. While They Were Wrong only flirted with enlightenment, the empty desperation and push-pull concept behind Drum’s Not Dead (a concept album about the struggle between creativity and self doubt) made it one of the most challenging and most rewarding albums of 2006.

Following those mind-fuck albums with a more conventional rock album may seem like some what of a step backwards, for a band as obsessed with development as Liars it is the perfect move. Instead of trying to expand minds and move thoughts about what can be considered music, Liars commits itself to a genre, and works within the confines of it to change perceptions of what Rock music can be.

The album opens with “Plaster Casts of Everything” which is as straightforward a song as Liars have ever done. Lead singer Angus Andrew croons distinctive overtop distorted guitar and pounding drums, letting the listener know he wants “to run away / I want to bring you too.” By the time the second guitar melody arrives, one already knows that, even within the confines of rock music, Liars are still as weird as they’ve ever been. “Plaster Casts” gives way to “Houseclouds,” who’s programmed pop drums would sound downright contemporary if not for the dual vocal attack and ambient drone of synthesizers. Still, it’s not nearly as abrasive as it looks on paper, as “Houseclouds” is a good song to come down off of drugs to.

Not all the songs on the record are as good as the first two. No band can walk on the edge without falling off once or twice, and Liars are no exception. “Leather Prowler” plays like a flaccid Drum’s Not Dead b-side. Elsewhere, on “What Would They Know,” the band ends up mining their back catalogue a bit too much, making a song that sounds like the missing link between They Were Wrong and Drum with none of the success. Album ender “Protection” strives to reach the same cathartic grandness of “The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack” and falls short, landing on the wrong side of cheesy. This may be the biggest failing of the album, in that there is never a moment where we get a look at what’s going on inside the minds of these madmen. Also, the pattern of putting the cathartic, slow song that is starkly tender in the face of the brutality of the album threatens to stale.

Still, this album does contain what might be Liars’ best song, the dance-rock-noise-mood-chant stomp of “Clear Island.” Like “Plaster Casts,” this song is a rocker, but it moves around and touches on more brilliant ideas than most bands accomplish in the span of their careers. With droning synth, jumpy guitars, and the instantly recognizable Lairs vocal drone-layering, the song both sounds familiar and fresh at the same time.

Even when making a rock record, Liars still sound miles away from everything else. On other efforts, where the band gave itself no restrictions and free reign to do whatever came to their warped little heads, Liars finds the band choosing to confine themselves to a genre and push it as far as it can go, even it rips at the seems. Despite the convention on this record, Liars are still a bunch of space cadets who make interesting music that is sometimes beyond comprehension and sometimes devastatingly beautiful.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Key Tracks: Plaster Casts of Everything, Houseclouds, Clear Island

Worth The Money: Just barely, but know what you’re getting into.