Monday, April 30

May Notes

Hey All,
It was just around this time last year (Christ, this site has been up long enough for me to say that?) that I went into the woods of upstate NY to grow a beard, eat nuts, and do a vision quest. None of that nonsense this year; updates will continue throughout the summer as often as I can put them up. And seeing as I have already had one unannounced leave of absences (i.e - the entire month of April), updates will be coming soon. Here's the list for this week:

Wednesday - Indie Rock Quick Hits
Friday - The Nightwatchman
Monday - Arctic Monkeys

As usual, any comments, questions, or guest submissions can be sent to

Thursday, April 26

Get Ready To Feel The Illinois

Artist: Illinois
Album: What The Hell Do I Know?

Comments: Who the fuck has ever heard of Bucks County, PA? Unless you’re from the county in question, chances are you’ve never heard of the suburban / rural-ish area of PA (if you’re from Philadelphia, you might know the name as nothing more than a coffee company). Indie rock four-piece Illinois is hoping to change that, and put their little know hometown on the map. And with the buzz they’re starting to generate amongst the internet tastemakers, not to mention some good career breaks (singing with Ace Fu Records, opening for the Hold Steady, playing Lollapalooza this summer, ect.) it looks like they might not be too far off from doing that. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that their first professional release, What The Hell Do I Know, is a catchy, smart, and sweet little pop record.

It’s a good thing that this record is as tight as it is. With only seven tracks and total runtime of just over 20 minutes, it can’t afford to be sloppy. Then again, tight doesn’t mean there can’t be a little life in the music. Take for example the banjo plucking, hip hop pop of “Nosebleed”. This is a messy little track with distorted bluesy vocals, a catchy as hell rhythm and some pretty sharp lyrics. Front-man Chris Archibald croons “I know what you need/ and it’s a good nosebleed” like an grandfather on his porch yelling at those damn kids to get off his lawn and turn that damn rock music down, but with a wry smile and a charming air to him. The bluesy backwater feel returns again on the catchy “Screendoor”. “Screendoor” is the kind of songs the Kinks would have written if they came from backwater Louisiana instead of suburban UK. And the borrowing / covering of Soup Dragon’s “Bad Day” is an under-produced, over drummed mess of a song that tells the charming narrative of a slacker protagonist who is every post grad in the country.

The rest of the album is less unique and more polished pop, but it is no less personal and inspired. “What Can I Do For You” plays like a Ben Folds song without the self satisfaction, or Keane with more sincerity. “Alone Again” sounds like something we would hear from The Fray, but without all the screaming girls and cliché. Of these glossy pop tracks, the one that works best is “Headphones”, which is about escape through music. It follows the quiet-LOUD-quiet dynamic of late 80s-mid90s rock, but with a tender and restrained touch. Archibald tells us the he “feels so lonely when I talk / can’t I just put the headphones on?” It’s a very personal and modern twist on a very public and widespread emotion, which is feeling lonely even when surrounded by people.

This seven song LP is a good start for this promising young band. Time will tell if they can keep the balance of smooth pop and down-home country electro-rock, but as things stand, this is a very strong release from the next big thing. If they can keep this up, Illinois just might put Bucks County on the map.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Key Tracks: Headphones, Screen Door, Alone Again, Bad Day

Worth The Money: Yes. Get on this train before it leaves the station to Hype-Ville.

Wednesday, April 25

An Overdue (and Overblown) Review of Modest Mouse

Artist: Modest Mouse
Album: We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank

Comments: This record has been out for well over a month. It’s gotten tons of press from all sorts of publications, and no one needs to hear more about it. However, as a Modest Mouse superfan in the making, I feel compelled to give my two cents about the album. Still, I do so with trepidation; from the day I started this site, my goal has always been to present music as honestly as possible. Considering how much I worship the notes that Isaac Brock and his band of merry men create, this seems especially challenging to me. Never the less, I will press on with a track by track breakdown of the titanic record that is We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank.

If there is one thing that listeners can always count on from Modest Mouse, its kick ass opening tracks. "March into the Sea"maintains this trend with an accordion driven harmony and fierce, snarling vocals from the Brock, the drunk captain of this cursed pirate ship. It’s defeatist, powerful, raw, and undeniably addictive. Not to mention, it’s one of the most rocking songs MM has recorded since “What People Are Made Of”. And what’s more, the quiet-LOUD structure of the end of the song is the perfect segue into the first single…

…which is the horn sprinkled disco groove of “Dashboard”. Pitchfork called this song the Las Vegas version of “Float On”, and that is about as good a description as can be given. Like it’s poppy brother, the song features unusually upbeat lyrics and a dance-y melody that will be stuck in the brain for days. I wasn’t too keen on this song at first, but it’s definitely a grower song, and the perfect glass of milk to the spicy chicken wing that is March into the Sea.

The first two songs are followed by the disappointing “Fire it Up”. This song really doesn’t have too much going for it, other than a goofy quasi-stoner title. It is the first misstep on the record; it’s instantly forgettable. The instrumentation offers nothing outstanding, and it’s missing those painfully obvious but starkly brilliant life observations from Brock. Still, it’s unmistakably Mouse in its layered vocals. This is the first song on the record where Johnny Marr’s influence can really be felt

"Florida" – Now this song has a few interesting points to it. It starts in an angry flourish of synth effects and angular guitar, before transforming into longing pop, and then into a quiet, beautiful, and listless chorus. This song travels more ground 3 and a half minutes than some bands’ entire cataloge. Also, this song features vocals from Shins lead singer (and Brock’s next door neighbor) James Mercer.

"Parting of the Sensory" is the crown jewel of the record. Up until this point in the record, Brock had been nothing more than a howling madman; none of his drunken observations on the futility of life or red neck poetry were really present. "Parting" is classic Brock in that every line in the song can have double and triple meanings, making even the most mundane and commonplace palpable with depressing meaning. The song is a slow funeral march, starting out with only an acoustic guitar and base drum before finally exploding into a wall of sound, fulled by guitars, drums, mandolins, and Brock’s triple vocal attack. Brock screams “someday you will die/ and somehow something’s going to steal your carbon” like a man tearing his chest and howling into his own grave. It’s powerful, emotionally draining, and damn near perfect.

After the workout that is “Parting”, “Missed the Boat” is a natural song to come down to. It’s sweet, catchy, and easy on the ears, once again bringing in Mercer to bring the pretty. It still features more of Brock’s poetry, only it is a little less dramatic and apocalyptic here than it was on “Parting”; this song is more micro than macro (“Our ideas the held no water / but we used the like a damn.”). This song works both in the context of the record and as a track on its own. This is a strong candidate for second single, since it is on the softer, more poppy end of the Modest Mouse spectrum.

The second half of the record has more filler, after the mostly excellent A side. Songs like “We’ve Got Everything” and “Education” have nothing wrong per-say, but just don’t stick, either because Brock’s lines just don’t work, or the sound like other, better Mouse songs. “Fly Trapped in a Jar” is a standout. It starts of with a herky-jerky mocking tone before melting into a Farnz Ferdinand / disco dance groove (honest to god, Modest Mouse is making disco dance grooves now). The song works largely because of Marr’s more focused and accomplished guitar, which is a good match for Brock’s drunken kung-fu style of playing.

"Little Motel" is at the same time one of Modest Mouse most soft and personal songs, and one of the biggest departures from their established sound. Ever since “Lonesome Crowded West”, MM has been evolving from a spastic, lo-fi three piece into a multi-layered, pop minded, orchestral collective that is more concerned with the flaws in beauty than strengths in being angular, and no song better embodies this growth better than "Little Motel". Soft, inviting, and personal, this song will be a tough sell to old mouse fans. Hopefully, the jumpy distortion of "Steam Engenius" or the throbbing eight minutes of "Spiting Venom" will appease them.

The album that came in as a lion becomes a lamb again crossing the finish line, with the sloppy and uninspired "People as Places as People", before trying to make up for it with the soft explosion of "Invisible". "Invisible" is a good track, full of forceful vocals and jaunty guitar. The rhythm section is especially tight on this song. Still, it’s got the same tricks as the other hard tracks (like "March" or "Florida") and by the time this song comes along, the album has already run it’s course, so it feels like an afterthought.

So what the hell are you supposed to make of all this nonsense text I just layed down? After a song-by-song breakdown, what have we learned? We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank is both exactly like every other Modest Mouse album, and like no other before it. Like every other album, it has got it’s standout tracks, but it doesn’t hold up as an album. However, Brock’s observations and vocal styling are beginning to sound a little too similar, it’s almost like he’s running out of material. Still, this album is a hell of a grower if you let it hang around, and it serves to show that Modest Mouse might be one of the last great American rock bands.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Key Tracks: March into the Sea, Florida, Parting of the Sensory, Little Motel

Worth the Money: Yes

Tuesday, April 24

Mims Tells Us Why He's Hot

Artist: Mims
Album: Music is my Savior

Comments: It doesn’t take much to get a song to number one on the charts. A minimal snap-drum, a keyboard melody, some boastful lyrics and viola, you’ve got yourself a platinum single. Just so long as the people can dance to it, it doesn’t matter what you say, what you put into it or even if it makes sense. No one knows this better than NYC rapper Mims, and the fact that he is willing to embrace this makes him both the smartest and most polarizing rapper to emerge in 2007.

On his debut record, Music is my Savior, Mims has got a lot going for him. Instead of putting down the money for big name producers for his first record, Mims opted to use unknown street producers from his area in NYC. This, to me, is extremely commendable. The fact that Mims is able to achieve success and bring along some of his friends says a lot about his character, and gives him credibility. The man is keeping it real. And, love it or hate it, it has the powerhouse single “This is Why I’m Hot”. No one hates this song more than I do, but it’s a smart single because it showcases that Mims can play the game as well as anyone else. He knows that his song is shallow, under-produced nonsense, but he also knows that it’s going to make him a household name, not to mention boatloads of money. It may not be the most intergritous move of all time, but a job is a job, and we all gots to get paid.

Most of the tracks on this CD are just the normal, boastful sort of self promoting that chokes the life out of most mainstream, single based hip hop CDs. In other words, much of this album sounds like filler lumped around a few singles to make some extra money. Besides “This is Why I’m Hot”, which is the front-runner for my coveted “most played out song of 07”, “Big Black Train” and “They Don’t Want to Play” would make pretty good singles. The former is a catchy, proud song about, well, how hot Mims is, while the latter is the typical, “don’t mess with me” track, although the production is pretty sharp.

Much of the album follows these two motifs; either Mims is the best MC on the planet who might take you girl, or he’s the MC that will knock you out. While these themes break no new ground, for the most part Mims’ confidence makes you believe that maybe, just maybe, he might be the best. And there are a few songs on the album that suggest that there may be something deeper to Mims than money and women. Cuts like “Where I Belong” and “Don’t Cry” are able to touch on social consciousness personal turmoil, while still maintaining the sincerity and confidence that runs thought the record.

Music is my Savior is an uneven release by an artist who needs a lot of work to be anything more than a flash in the pain. At the same time, if anyone this year has the chance to establish themselves as an actual force in hip hop, its Mims. However, he’s going to have to learn how to rhyme better, tap into his more reflective and intelligent side, and he has to keep up his confidence. A lot of rappers claim to be the best; Mims’s strength lies in the fact that he actually believes it. And he’s no where near the best yet, but he could get there.

Rating: 4.5 out of 10

Key Tracks:
It's Alright, "Where I Belong" "Big Black Train"

Worth The Money:

Check back tomorrow for more updates! I'm going to make up for the recent lag in reviews in a big way.