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.