Wednesday, July 30

Tha Carter III is Crazy, Brilliant

Artist: Lil Wayne
Album: Tha Carter III

Comments: Lil Wayne needs an editor. Some of the ideas he develops in Tha Carter III never would have made it past the planning stages if Wayne had someone in his ear, someone who could wrangle and focus his obvious talent and emphatic delivery.

“Phone Home” is one such bad idea fleshed out, a song in which Wayne raps about being a Martian. “Mrs. Officer” is another flounder; Wayne’s fantasies about bedding himself a lady cop might be awesome and vivid to him, but to everyone else it’s just boring story telling.

Of course, part of what makes Tha Carter III such a fun and engaging listen is being able to see an obvious genius run unchecked, indulging himself in almost every way. Despite the two bad ideas listed above, it’s hard to blame Wayne for trying to operate creatively within the often unoriginal genre of mainstream hip-hop.

“Comfortable,” a Kanye West produced smooth jam with “single” written all over it, is an love song / warning from Wayne to the woman in his life; don’t take me for granted. “To the left, to the left / if you want to leave be my guest / you can step,” Weezy says to his girl. After all “If you don’t love me / somebody else will.” It’s a hard truth, but it plays more honestly than any other current song of its kind.

Another good idea successfully run amuck is the engaging “Dr.Carter,” in which Wayne plays doctor and tries to fix the rap game, with minimal success. With smooth jazz production and a laundry list of good vibe and smart moves, it’s a cunning dig on the state of hip-hop that calls out no one and everyone and paints Wayne as some kind of Winston Wolf like savior at the same time.

Sure, bravado is nothing new in hip-hop, but Wayne actually earns the right to be so proud. His lyrics, while not always mind blowing, showcase a man who has studied hip-hop, and as such can switch his flow and delivery, often times in mid verse; its as if Wayne has so much on his mind, he has to struggle to get it all out. He bobs his voice up and down, at times sounding like the king of the mountain (“Mr. Carter,” “Let The Beat Build”) and other times sounding like he’s ready to leap from a building to end the pain (“Playing with Fire,” “3 Peat). The album never gets boring, because Wayne never gets boring.

And so, even after repeat listens, I keep coming back to Tha Carter III. Its an album over-loaded with original ideas, some obviously better than others, and with enough twists and turns to keep a listener engaged for a long time to come. Wayne spends a majority of the album claiming his title as one of the best rappers currently active in hip hop, and listening to this work of cracked genius, it’s hard to disagree.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Key Tracks: Mr. Carter, Dr. Carter, Comfortable, Playing with Fire

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy

Monday, July 28

The Black Kids: Dance Tunes that Drag

Artist: The Black Kids
Album: Partie Traumatic

Comments:
If there is one thing college taught me, it was that it’s okay to like dance music. It took awhile to for me to come to terms with this idea, but I like the thumping bass and the swanky synthesizer and the repetitive choruses that are staples of any good dance band. I like the count ups and the count downs and people shouting “Dance!” all over the place.

The Black Kids’ Partie Traumatic has all of that. And it makes for some pretty great songs. But the more times I listened to this album, feet prepped to make an uncoordinated scene in my bedroom, the less I actually wanted to get up and dance. The excitement of this album faded as quickly as it had arrived, and by my third time through I was ready to dig out some Go! Team and properly recover.

(One!)

Partie Traumatic has a few songs that make it worth stealing. In “Hurricane Jane,” the most provocative of Black Kids’ songs, singer Reggie Youngblood will make any dance kid weak in the knees as he delicately croons, “Jane I’ve seen you at the club/ You were tearin’ up the rug with no regard for form/ You’re such a brute.”

Single “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You,” is hands down the number one track off this album. Accelerated and fun, the ladies in the band are in charge of the chanting choruses while Youngblood shouts in indignation at how poorly your man moves.
Partie Traumatic’s other capstone arrives with the end of the album. Closer “Look At Me (When I Rock Wichoo) plays with an energy as solid as anything off the Go! Team’s renowned Proof of Youth. But lines like “When the party says stop we’re all gonna drop,” is a sentiment that should have been shared earlier in the CD. When the two strongest songs aren’t played until the last four tracks, who is still going to be listening to hear them?

(Two!)

The Black Kids aren’t breaking new ground with this album. Though at times the group raises the question of whether Partie Traumatic is really from a bunch of hip kids from Jacksonville, Florida or an ‘80s group that fell through a time warp, there’s no resounding push to bring listeners something spunky and different. “Partie Traumatic” and “I Wanna Be Your Limousine” are good, typical dance tracks, but there’s nothing making them stand out against the throngs of other 80s-esque music someone could reach for.

Other than the aforementioned hits, the Black Kids isn’t delivering anything lyrically spectacular either. Not that most dancers are listening for sophisticated lines, but the band isn’t helping their case here for creating anything besides average dance tracks. Verses range from the cute to the mildly absurd, with first song “Hit The Heartbrakes” opening with a knock-knock joke about calling ghosts in your underwear and “I’ve Underestimated My Charm (Again),” about a girl who can’t let go and is caught in the park giving head to a statue. Black Kids, what are you talking about?

(Three!)

With Partie Traumatic, the Black Kids have pulled off an interesting feat of versatility. They’ve put out an album that is good as background while stocking shelves, walking, and, like most well-executed dance music, getting in the mood. They’ve got numbers that are perfect for shaking your hips, but as a whole the album just can’t deliver. When it comes time actually to hit the dance floor, I’d suggest reaching for a different CD first.

-Liz Wagner

Rating:
5.5 out of 10

Key Tracks: Hurricane Jane, I'm Not Going to Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You, Look at Me (When I Rock Wichoo)

Buy, Steal, Skip: Steal

Friday, July 25

Lykke Li Big on Intimacy, Not Much for Spelling

Artist: Lykke Li
Album: Youth Novels

Comments: Lykke Li is a name that I have heard echoing across the indie scene, and based on this Swedes name I assumed her sound would be full of boring string arrangements and weak ambient music (like Final Fantasy, or something dreadful like that). Thankfully I was proven wrong, as Youth Novels is anything but boring.

With the exception of two tracks the album is full of good, well-thought out music. Li ‘s music branches out, not limiting her album to one general concept of sound. Tracks jump from jazzy reggae to joyous sing-a-longs to a smooth 50’s inspired doo-wop tunes. The lyrics are solid; every word seems completely organic, like it was something ripped out from Li’s own personal diary. This gives the delightful feeling that she is singing at you, telling you all of her thoughts. In Youth Novels, (because her life could read like a novel, get it?) no pretentious air can be found; everything presented is real and extremely personal.

The first chapter is the uber-intimate “Melodies and Desires.” The title speaks for itself as breathy synths waft as Li’s small, child-like voice slowly reveals “Love is the harmony, desire is the key, love is the melody, now sing it with me.” It’s a bit strong for a first-tracked song, but still it gets the diary-like ideal of intimacy across.

Which is not to say Youth Novels is full of A-grade sappiness and electronic music. It’s something bigger and brighter than that.

“Dance Dance Dance,” which is a shoulder moving, toe-tapping tune, kicks things up a notch. Li’s precious voice is met with a fuller background sound, thanks to a brassy, playful trumpet, cowbell, and a warm bass string, which keeps a nice pulsating beat. Female background vocals, like something out of an 80’s reggae tune, happily sing in sunny unison “Dance, dance.”

Things develop into razor sharp pop tunes like the piano-and-hand-clap-driven “I’m Good I’m Gone.” Songs don’t get catchier than this. The chorus is the best part of the song, boasting supreme production skills. Everything gracefully builds together, creating a glorious crash of simple instruments and sassy vocal overdubs.

Youth Novels grows more mature as the album progresses. This isn’t necessarily a great thing, as it breeds weak tracks like “This Trumpet In My Head” or in the nonsensical idea of a song that is “Complaint Department.” The song consists of her telling everyone (everyone!) that she is not a complaint department. It would have been better if Li cut out these songs; they muddle the already genre jumbled flow of the album.

Youth Novels is a fantastic gem of sweet music, well-written lyrics, and diary-like intimacy. It’s the perfect album for those who want to get away from the harshness day to day life.

-Erin Mae Szrainkowski

Rating:
8 out of 10

Key Tracks:
Dance Dance Dance, I’m Good I’m Gone, Let It Fall

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy

Thursday, July 24

New Album is Positivly Hold Steady

Artist: The Hold Steady
Album: Stay Positive

Comments: The Brooklyn-based band The Hold Steady is a lot like the Boston-based television series Cheers. A hard-working man's concept that is very familiar, often touching on irreverent topics but every so often makes profound statements, separating the two from being run of the mill. These moments are what make them great.

I don't know if The Hold Steady's new album Stay Positive establishes or continues this illusive greatness that eludes many promising bands, but it doesn't really matter. I find myself consistently amazed, touched and enamored with what I am hearing on this album. Whether it's the roaring intro on "Constructive Summer," the chanting loveliness on "Sequestered in Memphis," lead singer Craig Finn's infatuation with Christ, a great piano hook on countless songs, or what is becoming my favorite guitar solo on "Lord, I'm Discouraged," The Hold Steady is getting closer to that moment of rock and roll perfection.

Close, but not there yet. While it is no chore to listen to the whole album front to back, there are some boring moments. The middle is a little hollow to me, but, hey, even donuts have holes (See "Yeah Sapphire" and "Navy Sheets"). "Yeah Sapphire" turns me off because it lacks the patented hooks or clever lyrics synonymous with Finn's pen. "Navy Sheets" avoids the lyrical lameness, but the electric keyboard sounds like The Hold Steady is trying to sell some records. I understand that making a sound outside the band's comfort zone like "Navy Sheets" is needed for growth, but I just didn't dig the tune. The same goes for the talk-box solo on "Joke About Jamaica."

But enough with the objectivity, let's get back to how awesome this album is.

Stay Positive touches upon different stages in life and really reflects the maturity of Finn's writing. It also works well with theme of, well, staying positive.

The album depicts teenage anthems that make tomorrow possible, ("Constructive Summer"), drunken hook-ups reeking of desperation ("Sequestered in Memphis"), and even takes the risk of doing a Zeppelin-themed song "Joke About Jamaica."

Often, I think Finn invented the chorus. Check out "Magazines," ("Magazines and daddy issues/I know you're pretty pissed/I hope you'll still let me kiss you") or "Sequestered in Memphis." Don't be drawn in too much by the sheer rock and roll value on "Constructive Summer" (like I did), to recognize what a poetic and catchy track two "Memphis" is.

Interestingly, it's almost as if the album's title is The Hold Steady's statement on their mediocre album sales. With lyrics like "Cause the kids at their shows/They'll have kids of their own/The sing-a-long songs'll be our scriptures/We gotta stay positive," with albums like this, there are a lot of things to stay positive about.

So while Cheers has faded into the annals of DVD sales and Nick at Nite re-runs, The Hold Steady prepares to ready to pounce on the world. Of the summer albums floating around, this is the one that I realistically had the most hopes for (goddamn you, Weezer), and they did not disappoint. Like that episode where Cliff went on Jeopardy!, Stay Positive lives up to expectations.

-by Sam Fran Scavuzzo

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Key Tracks: Sequestered in Memphis, Lord I am Discouraged, Magazines, Stay Positive

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy

Wednesday, July 23

The Best Sale is the Bake Sale

Artist: The Cool Kids
Album: The Bake Sale EP

Comments: In a world of constant motion, we find that some things do not change. Most will agree that it is hard to find something new in music. That isn’t the kase with the Cool Kids. They have found a genius way of delivering hip hop by paying konstant homage to the genre’s early fashion and style of flow, while bringing some of the hottest lyrics over new and fresh beats.

A real music pioneer might not know what to do with themselves after hearing the Cool Kids for the first time. Can you truly remember the feeling you got when you heard something totally different yet totally amazing? That is the feeling I guarantee you will get from listening to The Bake Sale.

Let me break it down. When it comes to the beats, you will hear some of the kraziest bass and mixing ever put on one CD. You’ll find that the beats are simple but have enough of a twist on them to keep your head bouncing before a word is even said on the song. The Cool Kids are definitely the premier group of the year and will gain even more attention just because their musik and style will never conform or become commercial; what you see is what you will continuously get.

We then come to the lyrics, which I find to be just as retro as their style. If two rappers from 1988 were frozen in a tube and released in 2008, that would b the Cool Kids. They have a great sound that can easily be marketed to any fan of hip hop, whether it’s the guy that used to jam to Rakim all day on his stoop, or the guy who just bought Kanye’s latest album. Whoever it is, they will truly appreciate the old skool theme over new skool beats.

I can only hope that more Mc’s take a look at their style and learn because if they do not then they will get lost in the breeze. These days fans are becoming more and more kritical of the music they hear, they aren’t afraid to go against the grain and say a CD sucks. This puts a lot of pressure on artist to put out pure kreativity and kraftsmanship on their albums. The Cool Kids have found that perfect mixture; I give this album an 8. I want more than 10 songs, even though those 10 songs are hot. I want more for my bucks; let me see more of what you can do.

- by Kyle "KB" Banks

Rating: 8 out of 10

Key Tracks: Blag Mag, Mickey Rocks, Gold And a Pager

Buy, Steal, Skip:
Buy

Tuesday, July 22

Ratatat is Back-tatat

Artist: Ratatat

Album: LP3


Comments: Despite what I may have drunkenly told rave chicks at parties in college, I don't know a whole lot about electronic music. I like the idea of using modern technology to create new soundscapes, but for me most electronica falls into one of two categories:

A) Amped up dance music for drugged out Euro-folks and sexy ladies or

B) Atmospheric mood music for decompression naps or heist-planning.

Are these two categories just broad generalizations for an entire genre that might hold the key to the future of music? Sure. Does this breakdown put music into terms of functionality over expression? Possibly. The bottom line is that I've always been more of a guitar man, and as such electronica has never truly held sway over me.

Given my love for guitars, it makes sense that I'd have a soft spot for Ratatat, the electronica duo who specialize in Sega Genesis-sounding music that is often riddled with tweaked axe solos. On their third album, the sensibly named LP3, Ratatat offer up a warm serving of electronica which utilizes both traditional guitar and piano. This resuls in an album that straddles the line between dance and mood without ever tipping too far into either category.

LP3 isn't a huge departure from Ratatat's established sound of video game electronica. They continue their streak of making mid-level music that would sound good backing rappers, as if each of their albums is a cry to indie rhyme-sayers everywhere. Their music, never quite relaxed or never over the top, is not fit for naps or coke parties, but finds a solid middle ground as the kind of thing you can throw on and absently enjoy at parties between close friends.

Sometime the duo are able to construct some above-average melodies and layers, like on "Shempi," LP3's most dance-ready track. "Mirando" recalls flashes of Fatboy Slim, and the atmospheric "Flynn" is as close to trance as the dudes get on the record. The album's standout track is the almost twee-sounding "Black Heroes," which calls to mind chirping birds and sunrises, but not in a cheesy, “happily ever after” way. It's a mature, well structured song that's too laid back for the club, too textured for an afternoon snooze, and perfect for a good listen.

"Black Heroes" proves that Ratatat can occasionally overcome the broad categories of electronica and rise to be something better. Doing such consistently, however, still seems to be beyond the group’s grasp. A good electronica album, LP3 won't break your heart or rock your party, but it'll sound good as background music among buddies having drinks.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Key Tracks: Black Heroes, Shempi, Mirando

Buy, Steal, Skip: Steal


Thursday, July 17

Abe Vigoda Lives With Skeleton

Artist: Abe Vigoda
Album: Skeleton

Comments: Recently, there has been a refreshing breeze of new, more creative music entering into the indie scene, reestablishing needed cred. "Smell" scene veterans Abe Vigoda (no, not that actor seen parodied on Late Night with Conan O’brien), is one such band, tackling the musical world with their third full-length release Skeleton.

With all my positive reviews about L.A. bands, it must seem like I'm some kind of "Smell" scene fan-girl. In a way I am, but when music this good keeps surfacing, it's easy to ignore what scene or club it originated in. Forget the scene, this is just good music.

Skeleton combines spunky 80’s music with the swagger of the Strokes and the radical surf style of the Ventures (See: the surf-tacular song “Wipeout”) for a pretty rad collective sound. Songs are short, packing a lot of ideas and noise into a quick run time, making it good for those who enjoy quick listens and like to dismiss the ideal of the four minute pop song.

The first track, “Dead City/ Waste Wilderness.” is a perfect introduction. After a brief second of silence, a gate of sound opens up, as if the song is being played on the beach with live electric equipment and crashing waves. That’s how it is throughout the entire recording.

The beginning of “Cranes” sounds like a blast from a time where surf music was more appreciated, and then in a quick stop and go motion all instruments come together weaving in and out of each other, bringing the 60’s back to the millennium. One thing to note is the obvious presence of repetition. It’s an OK effect but it does get old, hearing the instrumental pallet being recycled and all. At points in the album, however, this redundant technique does give Skeleton more of a dance-y feel, which can definitely be appreciated.

“Lantern Lights” is just plain neat. As I mentioned before, it feels like this entire album is being recorded on a beach, well this is no exception. If you listen closely you can even hear the waves (AKA spaced- out cymbal crashes) in the background of “Lantern Lights.”

There is no subtlety surrounding the album. Abe Vigoda’s natural eagerness is easily traceable and is the trademark of the band. “World Heart” in my mind, has the most sustenance to offer. Everything about it flows and no drum fills are necessary to make the body of the song. Each instrument plays its own part in the song, creative a colorful tropical portrait of music.

By the end of Skeleton, a delightfully sleepy buzz lingers, putting the album to a rest, allowing Abe Vigoda to come out victorious with the knowledge they have a pretty solid album. Skeleton can endlessly lurk in the brain for hours, so beware before you listen to this classy, soon-to-be indie gem…it’s kinda catchy and just plain good.

- Erin Mae Szarinkowski

Score: 7.5 out of 10

Sweet Tracks: Bear Face, World Heart

Buy, Skip, Steal: Buy

Tuesday, July 15

Coldplay Turn It Up To Seven


Artist: Coldplay
Album:
Viva La Vida


Comments: At the very least, I can say that I never actively disliked Coldplay.


Sure, I made fun of them like anyone else might. I thought their mopey sap-rock was the stuff of high school crushes and deep, intimate naps, but they've always been a relatively harmless rock entity. In fact, I've downright liked some of their singles. “Yellow,” “The Scientist,” “Clocks” and “Speed of Sound” were all catchy soft-rock tracks, both well written and pleasant on the ears.


Of course, I would never refer to the inoffensive, soft spoken British dudes as a rock band. In my mind, they were closer to easy listening. I wasn't alone in this, as Coldplay was once named “Band Most Likely To Put You To Sleep.” Whatever the group was, soft rock or easy listing or low impact pop, they were not a rock group.

It's this distinction, that the group is nothing but a band of whiny man-girls, that Coldplay seems to be trying to shake on Viva La Vida, their fifth studio effort. And while the album does rock harder than past releases, the band still has a long way to go before their edge can cut anything harder than warm butter.


Viva La Vida opens with “Life in Technicolor,” a quick, cathartic song driven by ambient hums and guitar riff that sounds like it's being played by the world's most rocking sitar. The song is pure anthem, all the way down to the “Whoa-oh-ohs” that briefly flirt with the tune. It's all over too quickly, but it sets the tone and implies that things might be a little different on this outing.


The track is followed by “Cemeteries of London,” which is a drum-driven outing that uses the band's usual “U2 meets Radiohead” sound. Lead singer Chris Martin talks about underwater cities, God talking to him in a garden, and leads a ghost choir in a chorus of “la da da da leeey.” While it doesn't exactly rock, it's much less flaccid than most Coldplay fare. The album is consistently drum and keyboard heavy, which works out very well in some places (like “Cemeteries of London”) and just comes off as played on others, like on the go-nowhere “Lost!.”


The band put so much emphasis on not being a pack of lame wusses that every song is pushed to its rocked-out limit. “42” starts out like a standard piano-driven Coldplay song before lapsing into symbol crashes and guitar riffing while Martin sings “You thought you might be a ghost / you didn't get to heaven but you made it close.” It's a shame that the first half of the song is such lame, standard schlock, because the second part, if fleshed out, would have sounded awesome.


Song come and go from that point, bleeding into one another without any real separation. The band never strays far from their grandiose, stadium snooze tone that is their signature. Martin's delivery stays constant, his croon only changing occasionally from “quiet” to “a little less quiet.” Lyrically, the words are broad and meaningless, but folks aren't going to Coldplay for the poetry.


Viva La Vida is not a bad album by any means, but it isn't as different as one would hope. While this is Coldplay's “rock” album, it does little to break up the atonal monotony that is, sadly, this band's trademark. Even when things are turned up, the songs still bleed warmly into one another, making sure that nothing stands out apart from the whole. Hyper-dramatic, pleasant and grand, Viva La Vida is more of the same from England's finest sandmen.


Rating: 6 out of 10


Key Tracks: Life in Technicolor, 46, Viva La Vida


Buy, Steal, Skip: Steal

Friday, July 11

Creepy Tunes for Creepy People

Artist: Thee Oh Sees
Album: The Master’s Bedroom is Worth Spending A Night In

Comments: Creepy is not usually a positive description when it comes to music. However, Thee Oh Sees make creepy work on their long-windedly titled The Master’s Bedroom is Worth Spending A Night In, causing the average listening experience to become heightened, like something out of an eerie Quentin Tarantino flick. It may sound wild and unsettling, but in its explorative manner, it allows for some interesting tunes. And of course, drugs. Lots of drugs.

Despite all the trippy vibrations, more detail is paid to a straight sound rather than a constant chaotic vibe (which is more prevalent on Thee Oh Sees 04 release Sucks Blood), but all you kids who dig on that lo-fi sound the MTV seems to love so much these days should not cower behind your Times New Viking vinyls. The record still sounds like it was recorded using two tin cans and a string, all is still OK with the world.

The first track of The Master’s Bedroom is the catchy “Block of Ice.” Dual Singers Brigid Dawson and John Dwyer (who also plays guitar) combine their echoed vocals together clearly reciting “I am one, you are two, we are three,” whatever that means. The final touch is the slightly screechy guitars, which add to the pseudo-surf sound, like a 1960’s beach blanket flick gone horribly wrong.

Speaking of out-dated teenage digs, I’ll spoil it for you readers; there is a “Grease” and ”Grease 2” on The Master’s Bedroom. But due to the messed up priorities or “art” of Thee Oh Sees, “Grease 2” comes before “Grease”. I guess the band never took the time to compare the two movies (even though these tunes deal nothing about the movies themselves). Obviously, the original Grease is better than its sequel, it’s a known fact. Anyway, “Grease 2” in this case, is an amped up spazzy country-pop tune, while the latter “Grease” is slower in tempo and more interesting in its’ sleepy musical mannerisms.

As stated previously, The Master’s Bedroom is much like a Tarantino film, any of them, really. The best track to exemplify this parallel is the warped “Ghost In The Trees.” A cruising surf-like is laid down by drummer Mike Shoun while the helium induced vocals of Brigid and John combine in an unsettling unison, like a choir of specters who never got the message that the Civil War is over.

In addition to this ghostly presence, there is also a female presence on the record that you won’t find on any previous Oh Sees release. The Master’s Bedroom Is Worth Spending A Night In gives Brigid a chance to show-off her vocal presence. The downside to this track, and the majority of the other songs, is the fact the vocal parts of the sound recording are naturally speedy, which often creates a jumble of gibberish. This may add to the overall feel of drug-induced hazyness prevalent throughout most of the record, but it lends a sort of cosmic insight to the album.

To end the The Master’s Bedroom is the white-noise lullaby of “Koka Kola Jingle.” With that the album ends on a quiet note, leaving a startling chill behind, waiting for something to happen, but nothing does. Like with any Quentin Tarantino movie.

-Erin Mae Szriankowski

Wednesday, July 9

Breaking up With Bastard Offspring


Artist: The Offspring
Album: Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace

Comments: I need to learn how to let go.

Most of the punks let go of The Offspring after Ixnay on the Hombre, their last consistently good album, the last that balanced pop-radio hooks with their So-Cal hardcore, “fuck it all” attitude. The rest of the world let go sometime around ’99, right around the same time “Why Don’t You Get a Job” fell off of MTV’s top-10 countdown TRL. Indeed, it seems like Americana was the last time any sane person gave a shit about The Offspring, even if that album served as a nail in the coffin to the punk set, pitching the band as little else than novelty.

Of course, I am not a sane person. I still dreamed of the better days, the days of “Elders” and “Dirty Magic” and “Come Out and Play” from the Smash era; you know, back when the band was still making punk music. And so, like a stupid person, I stuck with the band through the crappy Conspiracy of One and the sometimes-but-not-thoroughly crappy Splinter. No matter how bad the band got, no matter how much they began falling back on jokey, novelty songs based on pop culture trends in an effort to recapture their “Pretty Fly (For a While Guy)” popularity, I couldn’t let go of this band. This band that I used to listen to on the school bus, before basketball games, after dinner, before bed; I had to stick with them.

Now, almost 20 years since the band’s debut, I can finally let go. Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace has pulled me from madness, slapped me in the face, and allowed me to let go. The Offspring I love are gone.

Where Splinter was somewhat of a revival of both spirit and sound, Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace sounds like a surrender. Easily the most produced album of the band’s career, there are no sharp edges or rough patches to this music. Everything is as glossy and superficial as a used car salesman’s haircut. Cuts like “Half-Trusim” and “Trust in You” have more in common with modern top 40 rock radio, say Daughtry or Nickelback, than they do with “Self Esteem” or “All I Want.” The guitars are boosted, the drums are standard 4/4 snare and hi-hat fare, and lead singer Dexter Holland’s eternally nasal vocals are as auto-tuned as the next Cute is What We Aim For album.

The songs are generic and formulaic in their stadium, rock radio ready way before even taking into account the lyrics, which are generic and sappy and offer almost no emotional truth whatsoever. Everything is discussed in vague, clich├ęd terms, be it the state of the world or the state of relationships (the very average ballad “Kristy, Are You Doing Ok?” is one of the best on the album, and that is not a good thing).

Also worth noting is the horrible, horrible “Stuff is Messed Up,” a 15-car-pileup of a song This track features the worst kind of verbal diarrhea. The content and presentation of this “protest” song is so abysmal that it makes me want to go back through the entire Offspring catalogue and see if they’ve always been this deplorably immature and ill-spoken. “Stuff is Messed Up” is easily one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard, so repulsive and empty that I want to turn my Offspring discography into a series of $15 coasters.

There is one tolerable song on the album. “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid” is a dance-punk song. The lyrics aren’t bad, the hook is catchy, and the band has always operated well within a dance-y setting. If there is anything worth taking away, it is this one song; a familiar, safe retread of well-worn ground.

Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace
is my pardon, my final way out from a band I once loved. I can only hope that this is it. Let this last album, this final embarrassment, be a footnote in the career of a band that peaked early and spent the rest of their career fighting the good fight, trying and failing like so many to prolong the magic. Whether or not the band goes on, I can promise this: this is the last Offspring album I will ever spend money on. Godspeed and farewell boys.

Rating: 1.5 out of 10

Key Tracks: You're Gonna go Far, Kid

Buy, Steal, Skip: Skip

Tuesday, July 8

Summer Jams from Mash-up Man


Artist: Girl Talk
Album: Feed the Animals

Comments: Forget the stupid fashion, the faux-intelligence, the holier-than-thou attitude and the general douchebaggery of the hipster culture. At the end of the day, all the bespectacled, scarf wearing people of the world really want to do is dance.

This is where Girl Talk comes in. A DJ who specializes in the subtle, copywrite-violating art of mash-ups, Girl Talk set the indie world on fire two summers ago with Night Ripper, an album full of rapid fire amalgamations of current and recent mainstream pop hits (Ludacris, Lil John, T.I., Amarie, etc.) and rock songs ranging from the hyper-popular (Boston's “More Than a Feeling,” for example) to the more obscure (Neutral Milk Hotel's “Holland 1945”). Of course, trying to describe this album on paper is to rob it of its magic; Night Ripper is more of an experience than anything else, a project that appeals to both misanthropic music nerds and sexy people who like to rub their bodies together.

On Girl Talk's most recent album, Feed The Animals, it's more of the same. Take, for example, the opening track “Play Your Part (Pt. 1).” Just listening to it casually, one can hear the Purple Ribbon All Stars, The Unicorns, Boston (again!), Temple of the Dog, “Walk it Out,” Pete Townshend, Twisted Sister, Ludacris and Birdman living together and thriving as a dance track. If it sounds kind of like a mess, that's because it is. But as far as messes go, it's as well coordinated and tightly structured as any mess I've ever heard.

Like Night Ripper, the best parts of Feed The Animals aren't the individual tracks, but individual sections of songs. Because the whole thing has a strong “pop music with ADD” feel to it, it's impossible to pick out where one track ends and another beings, and as such one has to listen to the movements that last more than 30 seconds to provide hints as to how the album progresses. For example, I couldn't name more than two tracks of Night Ripper, but I can tell you the best listen on the album is the collision of Elton John's “Tiny Dancer” and Notorious B.I.G's “Juicy.” It's an absurd moment, but one that works because of sheer bravado.

And there is plenty of that on Feed the Animals. Take, for example, the aforementioned mash up of Temple of the Dog and Birdman, the later giving the former a level of grand triumph and a sense of humor, which is one of the cooler movements of the album. Elsewhere, Jay-Z and Radiohead meet up, combining “Roc Boys” and “Paranoid Android,” into one dense boast of a song. This all makes for a very fun listen. Dorks and average folks alike can have a lot of fun just listening and trying to pick out as many references as possible.

That being said, Feed The Animals fails somewhat as a dance album. While just as overloaded with music as it's more successful predecessor Night Ripper, Feed the Animals is a more laid back album. Which is not to say that it is slow or boring, just that it feels less urgent. The songs being mixed are more mainstream this time around, heavy on Ludacris, Lil Wayne, and various stadium rock acts like Bon Jovi, Styx and Journey, but even with more universal points of reference it's hard to imagine people really getting down to this. I am aware that we live in an ADD culture, but I'd like to think people have the patience to listen to a three minute pop song.

So as a project, a puzzle to be observed and figured out, Feed the Animals is great fun. I can see myself playing this for the rest of the summer, putting it on at parties impressing my friends. Hell, I can even see them dancing to it. I just won't be surprised if we don't make it more than four tracks in. Hipsters want to dance, but not as much as they want to be in their rooms alone with their headphones.

Rating: 7 out of 10
Key Tracks: What's the point?

Buy, Steal, Skip: You can download the album now from illegalart.net. Girl Talk is currently offering the album using the Radiohead “Pay whatever the fuck you want” model.

Wednesday, July 2

Fratellis Forget the Fun


Artist: The Fratellis
Album: Here We Stand

Comments: In my life I have encountered a few things that bore me. They include:
1.T.V. Dinners
2. Being stuck in traffic on the PA Turnpike
3. People who won’t dance
4. Here We Stand by the Fratellis

I guess the reason I am disillusioned by this release is all the expectations I had for this second album from these swashbuckling, British bar-boys and their innately fun, albeit incoherent nonsense. After Costello Music stormed the shores of the U.S. it became the go-to drinking, dancing, sing along (if you could figure out the words) album of the past two years. I expected no less this time around, but it seems the Fratellis have succumbed to the infamous sophomore slump that music coinsurers lament about with teary eyes during late nights at the bar.

The opening track, “My Friend John,” starts with someone asking the listener, “If you were a shape, what shape would you be?” Seems like a perfectly ridiculous way to start off the album. The song isn’t half bad, either. One can believe the album will only go up from here.

The Fratellis have all the right material set out in Here We Stand. “A Heady Tale,” offers a chuckle with the lines, “won’t you please forgive me/ But you know cold-blooded women make me sneeze.” The drunken lady woes are all there. The chorusing “la’s” that make the band so much fun to sing to are prevalent throughout most of the album.

But from here the album begins to flat-line. Mellow songs like “Look Out, Sunshine!” and “Jesus Stole My Baby,” tend to drag before their finish. There are no breakouts, no crazy shouting or wailing harmonicas that make you want to jump up onto the table, slug a pint and do the jitterbug. At best, you might you will nod your head along with the songs. Maybe.

The band has grown up. The harmonics are spot on, the music is all structurally sound. You can actually tell when a song ends. But the youthful swagger associated with the Fratellis has faded. The rampant energy has been traded in for a more professional feel, and though the album is well put together, it’s just not all that fun to listen to.

This doesn’t mean Here We Stand is a total loss. The frantic piano and Costello-y pace of “Mistress Mabel,” makes the tune totally capable of being the background music for a pub brawl. “Shameless” tells the story of a lady trading in for a younger model, one of everyone’s secret fears as the years creep up. “Lupe Brown,” is my favorite of the more mellow tunes, offering the most variety in tempo throughout. Though it would still benefit from being about 30 seconds shorter.

The album’s closer, “Milk and Money,” is half slow dirge about the monotony of radio music (which would make more sense if that wasn’t, essentially, what this album felt like), and half peppy piano that makes you wonder where they’ve been hiding that during the rest of the CD.

If you liked the musical sedation that Interpol created with Antics, you will appreciate Here We Stand. But if you’re looking for a repeat of the brash young Brits who churned out Costello Music, you are, sadly, out of luck.

-Liz Wagner

Rating: 4.5 out of 10
Key Tracks: Mistress Mable, A Heady Tale
Buy, Steal, Skip: Steal

Tuesday, July 1

Haiku Reviews

So despite all the help I've been getting, there are still a backlog of albums that need reviewing. In an effort to clean some house, here's four albums in one shot, all in the ancient Chinese (Japanese? maybe?) art of haiku. Enjoy. - Mr. Dogg
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Artist: The Futureheads

Album: This is Not The World


Hooky pop-rock songs.

Energey, but not that fun.

Futureheads, improve!


Rating: 6 out of 10

Key Tracks: The Beginning of the Twist, Walking Backwards, Think Tonight

Buy, Steal, Skip: Steal

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Artist: Wolf Parade

Album: At Mount Zoomer


Side projects are gone

Catchy, slow burning album

Next favorite band?


Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Key Tracks: Soldier’s Grin, California Dreamer, Language City

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy

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Artist: Ponytail

Album: Ice Cream Spiritual


Noise punk with a smile

Karen O, collective screams

Blast of lo-fi fun


Rating: 7 out of 10

Key Tracks: Beg Waves, Celebrate the Body Electric

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy

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Artist: Less Than Jake

Album: GNV FLA


Band wants to come home

Horns return, recall past times

Bland, but moving up


Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Key Tracks: The State of Florida, Abandon Ship, Conviction Notice

Buy, Steal, Skip: Steal