Tuesday, July 31

Far From Crime - By John Adams

Artist: Against Me!

Album: New Wave

Comments: New Wave is the first cd put out by Against Me! since switching from Fat Wreck Chords to Sire Records and the common complaints are all over the internet, people say Against Me!’s latest effort is over produced and it doesn’t even sound like the same band any more. I can agree with one of these statements. The cd isn’t over produced, that’s just what cds from major labels sound like, it’s a much cleaner production. As far as Against Me! being a different band, I completely agree, sure there are elements that remind you of their folk-punk past but now Against Me! is just a rock band.

The cd opens up with the title track, one of the faster and more upbeat songs on the cd. "New Wave" and "White People for Peace" are the only two songs that come close to reliving the sound produced on Reinventing Axle Rose and As The Eternal Cowboy. The title track is more or less the mission statement for the cd, it lets the listener know that the band is looking to broaden their horizons and expand both their music and their fan base. A reoccurring issue on the cd is about going out and making the music that you want to hear and what you think is good, songs like “Up the Cuts”, and “Stop”.

The song that really makes you realize that Against Me! isn’t the same band any more is “Borne On the FM Waves of the Heart”. “FM Waves”, tends to sound like a New Pornographers song especially with the guest vocals of Tegan Quin of Tegan and Sara, and the style of the guitar playing. The only song on the album that is really optimistic is “Piss and Viniger” which showcases Gable’s anger with the way people in the music business tip toe around what they really think of records just so no body is mad at them.

The last two songs on New Wave really compliment each other well, "Animal" has a slow pumping tempo for the tail of a troubled relationship and the cd is finished of with the confessions of what Gable fantasizes life would be like if he could have had things the way he wanted from the beginning. Looking back, Against Me!’s last release( Searching For a Former Clarity) on an independent label, Fat Wreck was the (fitting) eulogy for the way the band used to approach music and writing. People should no longer expect folk-punk anthems from Against Me!, from now on people should expect just plain old Rock and Roll.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Key Tracks: New Wave, Borne on the FM Waves, Piss and Vinegar, and The Ocean

Worth The Money: yes

Monday, July 30

J-Direct is Here to Save us All

Artist: J-Direct
Album: Live & J-Direct

Comments: Despite the popularity of artists like Common and Kanye West, Chicago is not considered a force in hip-hop music. Unlike New York and LA (and to a lesser extent Atlanta and Huston) which have long standing identities in hip-hop, the flag ship city of the Mid-West has never had its own signature sound to define it. New York has its innovations ( like scratching) and roots in rock and blues, and LA has long been rooted in samples and funk influence, but Chicago has never really had a style to call its own. The closest thing they’ve got right now is the hyper-sampling of soul tracks that made Kanye West so famous, but that’s more an individual style than a city anthem. Chi-town is a city without a definitive voice in the hip-hop world.

This is a fact not lost on Chicago native J-Direct. He addresses it directly on the opening track of Live & J-Direct (I gotta ask / Does Chicago really want new shit? / Or do you want to ride Atlanta or New York’s dick?). “Marvelous” serves as both a brief history of J-Direct and as a two fold mission statement. This man is here to put Chicago, and himself, on the map.

Bringing oneself up is hard enough, let alone putting a whole city on one’s back. The only rapper to do that in the last 15 years is Eminem, and he was blessed with an almost unmatched lyrical skill and a rock-solid sense of rhyme. J-Direct doesn’t have that same level of skill, at least not yet. The first few tracks on Live & J-Direct play more like freestyles than album tracks, as both the production and the delivery sound unsure and tentative. On these first four tracks, J-Direct is not glued to the beat, but it sounds more like inexperience talking than designed nonchalance. The production is sloppy and unremarkable; it sounds like the kind of thing first timers would make on a Casio keyboard.

However the album is better than the opening stumble would let on. “What is Better?” is the first track on the album where J-Direct’s swagger is given the proper supports. The production this track is most definitely lo-fi and independent, but it is none the less clean and plays to J's natural, relaxed flow. J is at ease and confident on the track, and over old-school strings it isn’t hard to believe when he says hes “the heart of this town.” “Hand be Free” is another standout track highlighting J-Direct’s values, namely integrity, hard work, and that he’s the guy whose going to bring Chicago into the game.

Live & J-Direct stumbles out of the gate, but once it gets into a groove the quality of the tracks rarely dips. Some tracks just sound less planned than others, which can be good, but it doesn’t play out well on this record. It remains to be seen if J-Direct will be the next big thing to come out of Chicago. He has the work ethic and the swagger to make it out, and with some more lyrical and development of flow, it isn’t hard to imagine him making it big. A little more consistency will raise J-Direct from an blip to a force. But for now, Live & J-Direct is an interesting, if not transcendent, record that tries to put Chicago on the hip-hop landscape for good. J-Direct aims to put the whole city on his shoulders, and while he isn't able to carry the weight just yet, he should be applauded for trying, and no doubt he will only get stronger over time.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Key Tracks: What is Better? Hand Be Free, Here to Save you All

Worth the Money: Fans of hip-hop should check this out

Wednesday, July 25

Doing the Whirlwind

Off the top of my head, I can think of at least 10 CDs that I would like to review. 10 CDs that I did not even look at during the two week vacation I just took.

I'm going to be reaching out to Max and Paul and perhaps a few others for help in recovering the damage. But in the meantime, just know that the hiatus is almost over, and Left of the Dial will be coming back very very soon.

Here is all I can promise for the week:

Hot Club De Paris - Drop it Till' It Pops
Ryan Adams - Easy Tiger

We're coming back, just hang on a little longer....


Friday, July 13

BRMC Show Maturity on Baby 81 - By Paul Tsikitas

After venturing into the world of acoustic blues, Black Rebel Motorcycle club is back to their electric sound with their latest album Baby 81. Unlike many of the other bands from the garage rock movement like the Strokes and Franz Ferdinand, BRMC has been able to develop, evolve and mature—to an extent. Their past albums have all had a twist of the basic garage sound, but never venture to far from the sound they established on their self titled debut. Howl, the critically acclaimed departure, brought in a taste of the blues and folk that refreshed the band’s sound. Now, on Baby 81, we see a band fully formed and matured and ready to make an impact on rock music once again.

First things first, you may be wondering what Baby 81 as a title itself may mean. This may trump the Yo La Tengo album title from last year in stupid album titles. Apparently, “Baby 81” is the name given to one of the Tsunami victims from 2004. What this has to do with the album is beyond me, but look past the strange title and give it a listen.

The album kicks off with the grungy track “Took Out a Loan.” The track sounds straight out of 1991 with heavy guitars, a pounding beat and an amazing outro noise jam. The first single “Weapon of Choice” starts off sounding like an outtake from the Howl sessions with acoustic guitars and tambourine, but quickly transforms into a melding of loud guitars and fuzzy vocals. The second single, “Berlin” has a jumpy drum beat that makes it a summertime rock track worthy of blasting while jetting down to the highway.

The album follows this sound for the most part, which many may find tedious or repetitious. However, the few divergent tracks are a good break-up of the pacing of this album. Songs like “Windows” starts off with a piano intro and then piles on the fuzz of guitars and scratchy vocals. “All You Do Is Talk” has a more ambient feel for the album with an ethereal hum over the vocals. The sound of drums and guitars comes in halfway through the track and builds upon the atmosphere created.

The lyrics are laden with references to youth rebellion, love lost and rock and roll mysticism. With lyrics like “Turn your eyes from the window so you won’t see this world/The walls are closing inward, there’s nowhere left to turn” shows the band’s overall feeling of angst, fear and trying to forget what really goes on around the world. This is not what rock and roll used to drive home. Before it was songs like Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers” or MC5’s “Kick out the Jams” which were anthems of activism. The disillusion of the American rocker is now pretty evident in the lyrics throughout the whole of Baby 81.

Overall, the band doesn’t do a whole lot to make each track standout. The soundscapes created flow together nicely in a sea of fuzz that only calm down for a moment or two before the songs flare back into a hazy controlled chaos of guitars, drums and vocals. As a rock and roll record, Baby 81 works well. As a thoroughly ground breaking, mind expanding or new venture in rock and roll music, it falls a bit flat. That being said, rock bands don’t need to be blowing minds each outing. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club writes decent rock songs that are worthy of a listen, but not mandatory in the grand scheme of rock records.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Key Tracks: “Took Out a Loan”, “Weapon of Choice”, “Windows”, “666 Conducer

Worth the Money: Fans will like it and rockers will like it. Give it a whirl if you want.

Thursday, July 12

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted...

Hey all,

Left of the Dail is going to be going on a break for the next two weeks while I work on another project that's going to be demanding a lot of my time. I don't want to give anything away yet, but it'll be good.

Either way, I've got a few guest reviews lined up, and I'll try to post something small whenever I can, but if anyone is interested in writing for the next two weeks. Let me know. Stay tuned...


Monday, July 9

50 Year Old Women's Rights Activists Make Porn Music

Artist: Beastie Boys
Album: The Mix Up

Comments: The Mix-Up has got a lot more in common with recent Beastie Boys records than one might think.

The Beastie Boys have been putting out music since 1986, but in my opinion, they haven't put out anything truly worth while since Ill Communication. Hello Nasty was overwrought, and Through The Five Boroughs took itself too seriously to be any fun at all (although “Intergalactic” was a ballin' ass song). Still, a hip hop act with this kind of longevity is a rare thing, especially considering how the Beastie Boys have been able to evolve (almost to a fault) and avoid tarnishing their legacy with really terrible records. Even on bad albums, the Boys have been able to maintain a level of credibility and sincerity that many top 40 rap acts could never hope to achieve. As on of the most successful rap groups of all time, they have nothing to prove to me or anyone else.

At the same time, not many people are rushing to Wal-Mart to listen to three 50 year old men rap about women's rights and equality. As noble as those pursuits are, they don’t sell too well. So on The Mix-Up the Beastie Boys have fallen back on what has supported them throughout their career, which is their musical abilities. What we get is an instrumental record that is not bad, but totally unnecessary.

Something interesting about the Beastie Boys; since their days as a punk band in the early 80s, the boys have been using their own instruments to make beats for their music (not to forget the whole sampling debacle of 2003, but a lot of their stuff is self made). Which is why The Mix-Up makes more sense than people think. It isn’t like the Beasties just picked up instruments for this record, they’ve been playing for years. And to their credit, it plays through on the Mix-Up. The band works as well together as a funk-soul-rock trio as they do as a rap trio.

Still, The Mix-Up is not really anything too special. It makes for good background music, and I think it would sound good as the soundtrack to a 70s kung-fu movie, or maybe a classy remake of “Debbie Does Dallas”. The whole album is just minimal funk lounge music, never straying into uncharted waters and pushing itself, and never sounding sloppy or slack. Really, it is a pleasant album to put on while you do something else, which is a compliment in itself in some circles.

So what does an instrumental soft-funk record that features no rap what-so-ever have in common with records from one of music’s longest running and most successful rap groups? All of them are good records that don’t embarrass the artist, and both are totally non-essential. If you get The Mix-Up, you wont be disappointed and you won’t be overwhelmed. Still, if there was one act in all of hip hop that has earned this right, it is the Beastie Boys

Rating: 5 out of 10

Key Tracks: There’s no reason to single out a track, but I did like the opening track “B For My Name” more than most.

Worth The Money: No

Friday, July 6

New Logo

Check out that hot shit up to the top left of the page.

See it?

Hell yes!

The fancy new LOTD logo is sure to bring a level of class to this site that an over-weight, pimply, nerdy man in his mom's basement like myself could never dream to attain. The man responsible for this fine work is none other than Stu Romanek, THE digital arts man that all the taste makers have been going on about. Get some learning at howromanek.com and see what all the fuss is about. Huge ups to Stu for the help.

Updates will resume on Monday. Sorry about the delay, I had too much hot meat on Wednesday.

- Mr. Dogg

Monday, July 2

Half Way Home: The Best of the First Six Months in 07

When it comes down to it, 2007 so far has been kind of strange. A lot of bands that I was anticipating new albums from seemed to have released stale efforts. New bands and some classic artists of the glory days of alternative have stepped up to the plate to bring the goods of musicology to the table. One thing still gets me is the fact that a lot of artists I love have released stuff and, well, frankly I just don’t know if I will ever get to listening to it. So far, I’ve realized a lot of the albums I thought were new from this year are actually late releases from last year. Regardless of the weak efforts, the lackluster start to what I thought would be a year ripe with good tunes, here is my best of 2007 so far.

10. The Sharp Things- A Moveable Feast- A valiant recording, this hodge-podge of baroque rock and straight up pop is definitely an indie rock fans dream. Overall a well structured album, The New York based collective writes great songs that will be some of the best tracks offered this year. The album features two short tracks from Franz Nicolay of the Hold Steady playing accordion. It’s mild mannered and laid back indie rock that doesn’t ever get too pretentious.

Standout Tracks- Don’t Hold Hope, Through With Love, Don’t You Leave Me This Way

9. Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start- Worst Band Name Ever- The boys from South Jersey who like to write nerdy math rock with silly lyrics have released another stellar disc. Following up their Girls Names EP and Internet EP, Worst Band Name Ever is a 10-song romp of just a little under a half an hour of music. With lyrics like “If you think making out on a pool table is hard, then try dating girls with no car”, you know these guys enjoy the sillier side of what their music typically sounds like. Steve Poponi’s blissful vocals soar over the ultra nerdy time signatures of jaunty guitars and drum beats. A short, sweet disc, Up Up Down Down deserves some props.

Standout Tracks- Gas Station Hair, I’ll Thank You Later, Boise

8. Fountains of Wayne- Traffic and Weather- Not gonna lie, I have a soft spot for Fountains of Wayne. When it comes to pop music, FOW writes decent songs. Catchy riffs and lyrics with funny stories, Traffic and Weather is another good addition to the bands catalogue of pop rock. A band that never really wants to be taken seriously, but often times gets hated on for being goofy, takes another turn at silly, but ultimately relatable stories basted in catchy rock grooves.

Standout Tracks- Yolanda Hayes, This Better Be Good, Someone to Love

7. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club- Baby 81- After a stint in folky, Dylanesque songs, BRMC is back to what they did before, strapping back on their electric guitars and writing great classic rock songs. Borderline shoe gazing rock songs and the raspy vocal performances reminiscent of The Jesus and Mary Chain add some of the best rock and roll tunes the band has put out. 2005’s Howl was great and all, but it’s not to see the band back to their old tricks.

Standout Tracks- 666 Conducer, Cold Wind, Weapon of Choice

6. An American Chinese- Panic Pilgrim EP- Is it bad for me to claim that my cousin’s bands EP is one of this years best musical excursions? I’d say no. Just like many other indie rock bands like Tapes N Tapes or The Coral., An American Chinese writes catchy tunes with Beatlesque melodies and jaunty structures. Sadly, only four songs (plus a bonus alternate version of the standout track “No No Like That”), it’s still a good taste of what’s to come (which is a full length album sometime in the near future.) Definitely check out the band’s myspace page to get a glimpse of one of South Jersey’s finest new acts.

Standout Tracks- No No Like That, Jersey Claw

5. Wilco- Sky Blue Sky- Tweedy cleaned-up is not necessarily the best thing for Wilco as they lost some of their edge. However, the no bones about it honesty his songs have turned into has lead to a lighter side of Wilco that is welcomed. Never will fans of Wilco be satisfied after getting a masterpiece such as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The songs on Sky Blue Sky are so ripe with honest lyrics and clean guitar riffs that it’s hard to see why some fans are disappointed. Songs like “Impossible Germany” still have the sprawling jams that any song off of A Ghost is Born could offer, and yet minus all the spacey distortion, it sounds even better then some of those songs. Wilco offers up yet another slice of Americana that any music fan should enjoy.

Standout Tracks- Impossible Germany, Side With the Seeds, Shake It Off

4. Arcade Fire- Neon Bible- The sophomoric effort from the Canadian wonder group is nothing out of the ordinary. With grandiose arrangements including a giant pipe organ and other baroque instruments, Arcade Fire continues to soldier on with their pomp and circumstance blend of indie rock. What is lagging a little bit in this album is the sense of urgency that their first record had. A little bit darker of a tone then Funeral, Neon Bible is a definite good follow up showing that although a little bloated at times, the songwriting is still solid, catchy and fun to listen to.

Standout Tracks- Intervention, Black Wave/ Bad Vibrations, Keep the Car Running

3. The Shins- Wincing the Night Away- Finally arriving, the third effort from the New Mexican based Shins is definitely a good one. Although it has some lagging moments, when this album shines, it truly shines. The album of dreamy pop songs based upon lead singer James Mercer’s rampant insomnia is standard Shins fair. Coming off the heals of their radical success thanks to Zach Braff launching them into infinity with his film Garden State, it’s nice to hear that the songs don’t try to pander to anyone but follows a comfortable progression for one of today’s finest pop rock bands. Although The Shins don’t offer anything groundbreaking or new here, they still offer.

Standout Tracks- Sea Legs, Australia, Split Needles

2. Dinosaur Jr.Beyond- The triumphant return of Dinosaur Jr. is one of the most exciting rock records of the decade. Ten years since J Masics last recorded under this fossil of a band and 20 years since its original line-up last recorded, Beyond packs a heavy nostalgic punch. From start to finish, Masics, Barlow and Murph do what they do best—create an atmosphere of chaos and catchy riffs. The guitar soloing on this album is some of the best I’ve ever heard. The trio shows that rock and roll has a chance to survive the tests of time. There isn’t any filler on this disc and every song soldier’s on at a furious pace.

Standout Tracks- Pick Me Up, Crumble, This is All I Came To Do

1. The Earlies- The Enemy Chorus- Psychedelic rock is making its comeback. Thanks to the likes of the Flaming Lips and now The Earlies, the psychedelic sound of the late 60’s is back, but with a twist of sophistication. The Enemy Chorus has some of the best arrangements from a pop record in a long while. With a great woodwind and brass section piercing through the swirling synthesizers and marching drums, the diversity of sound this album brings to the plate will leave you refreshed. Following up their acclaimed These Were the Earlies disc from 2004 took a lot of time, but the long wait was well worth it. Unlike a lot of bands as of late, the word Sophmore Slump could never come into the picture here. With Beach Boys harmonies, intricate percussion sections and diversity, The Enemy Chorus is by far the standout record thus far.

Standout Tracks- Foundation and Earth, The Ground We Walk On, Burn the Liars, When the Wind Blows

By Paul Tsikitas