Tuesday, September 30

While I was running around like an eight-year-old in a Toys R Us in Grant Park, Chicago this past August at Lollapalooza, ambience was the farthest musical feature from my mind. I wanted Bloc Party. I wanted the Go! Team. I wanted to dance and shout and make a scene.

But, contrary to my initial plans, the first morning of the show had me swaying in front of the Citi stage to the quiet croon of Sofia Talvik, tapping my foot lightly and thinking that maybe pretty love songs weren’t so bad after all.

And this soft-spoken Swede did nothing to dissuade me from this thought with her August release Jonestown.

I don’t know much about lady singers other than Collegian favorite Hop Along, Queen Ansleis, but Talvik’s breed of syrupy-sweet music of the folk-pop persuasion is something I can feel myself getting behind with every listen. Never riled, she carries through this album with a collected serenity usually reserved for librarians and Zen Masters.

“As summers pass” sets off the mood of Jonestown not with a jolt, but with the soft trickle of Talkvik’s lyrics. They don’t make you perk up in surprise, but rather creep up on you. You relax, you close your eyes, and then you realize that it’s the music that’s loosening up your shoulders.

One song flows to the next without much ceremony, but Talvik does so in a way that keeps the music-goer tuned in. You won’t be surprised with what’s coming up next, but you don’t have to wait during the two seconds of transition in concern that you aren’t going to like what you hear. If you make it to “My James Dean,” you’ll make it to “Prove Me Wrong” without noticing the passing of time between.

None of her songs pack a punch, but that’s not what Jonestown was created to do. From the horns in “Something Good” to the lilting piano in “Burning Fields,” Talvik reels you in, plugs her warm, somber music straight into your frigid heart and turns up the heat. Listeners emerge from Jonestown as if waking up from a trance, mildly disoriented but happy with the fuzzy memory of what just happened.

Though none of her songs break too much from the placid bubble she’s created around this album, “Clown” is the most rogue of the pack. With jumpy percussion and light trombone blats, Talvik takes on a more risquĂ© demeanor as she describes a non-existent circus and chastises the man her man about acting like a clown. Well spoken, Talvik.

My only qualm with Jonestown is the eventual monotony of a dozen mellow tracks. This drag comes with any album that keeps the same place through its duration. Sometimes I’m ready throw in the towel and switch on some dance tunes halfway through the Cd. I’m not normally one for love songs, so this album can really slide me out of my comfort zone if I don’t put it on with an open mind.

Overall, Talvik’s delicate harmonics and light instrumentation keep a listener tuned in to Jonestown with a subtle interest. You’re so at ease by the time closer “Jonestown” fades out that it will take a minute or two before you even notice the album is finished. Jonestown is an album perfect for naps, writing papers, being in love and unwinding after a long day.

Monday, September 29

Mr Dogg vs Ra Ra Riot

Artist: Ra Ra Riot
Album: The Rhumb Line
Myspace: www.myspace.com/rarariot

Comments: As much as I try to be the Fox News of record reviews (fair and balanced, motherfucker!), getting me to listen to a new band can be like pulling teeth. Based on my stubbornness, which is mule-like, and my shitheadiness, which is K-Fed like, shaking me out of my preconceived notions can be a bitch.'

Exhibit A: Ra Ra Riot's The Rhumb Line. Despite this band naming their debut album after a truly bitchin' rock club in Gloucester, Mass, I wrote them off as nothing more than Vampire Weekend-come-lately. The comparison isn't entirely without merit, as both bands utilize strings and soundtrack-ready harmonies to create summer jams for the beach going crowd. However, rather than giving The Rhumb Line the listen it deserved, I gave it the blow-off (along with my friend Mandy, who suggested the album to me).

It wasn't until weeks later when my friend and VP of common sense Jared slapped the stupid from my teeth (thanks Jared). On a late night drive, Jared and I swapped radio duties (well, I hogged the radio until Jared said “Let me play something, you goddamn ninny”) until he played a rollicking pop song sick with strings and sublime, substantial drums. “If I go to Gloucester / You know I will wait there for you / The Rhumb Line is waiting there too / You know it's worth the nights we wait there / It all falls apart” went the song, and I was instantly hooked.

And so, the heart-moving lead single “St. Peter's Day Festival,” along with the quiet obviousness of my friends, Ra Ra Riot made their way back into my brain.

After a few spins, the connections between Vampire Weekend and The Rhumb Line are still there, but Ra Ra Riot maintain a less frivolous, more mature edge to their music. These are not songs about walking across the campus. There is weight here, there is depth to both the lyrics and the music. Vampire Weekend will top the best-of lists, but I wouldn't be surprised if Ra Ra Riot proved to be the band with a future when all is said and done.

Fast, fun, a little dark and a little dramatic, The Rhumb Line is summer music for the winter time, The Empire Strikes Back to Vampire Weekend's A New Hope. Whatever happens, “St. Peter's Day Festival” is one of the best songs of the year, hands down.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Key Tracks: Ghosts Under Rocks, St. Peter's Day Festival, Winter 05

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy “St. Peter's Day Festival” and steal the rest.

Tuesday, September 9

Rochester Hardcore from Sakes Alive!!

This review appears on Delusions of Adequacy

Sakes Alvie!!
Album: Act 1
Myspace: Sakes Alive!!

Comments: Rochester NY's Sakes Alive!! may not be reinventing the wheel, but their blend of Kid Dynamite-meets-Paint it Black hardcore, given life by the guttural snarls of lead singer Chris Vandeviver, gives credence to the old saying “if it ain't broke, don't fix it.” Their second EP, Act 1, is only three songs long, clocking in at just under seven minutes total run time, but that's more than enough time for the band to tear your face off and kill your dog.

“I'm Religious” sets the EP's tone with its air-tight rhythms and almost metal-like guitar riffing, all while Vandeviver howls with a madman intensity usually reserved for the criminally insane. Things proceed quickly and with little change. “Relax” and “Staff Meeting” make up the other 2/3rds of the release, and they are just as unrelenting as “I'm Religious.”

It would be nice to hear some more songs, and the breakneck speed of the recording leaves questions about the band's ability to maintain over the course of an entire album; it's almost impossible to imagine a whole LP's worth of songs this tough. And while some might knock the band for their rather obvious Dan Yemin influence, the songs are good enough to stand on their own.

As is it, Act 1 is a too-short blast of top-notch hardcore that will raise a few eyebrows and inspire a few circle-pits around the punk scene. Well done, Sakes Alive!!, now give us a full length.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Key Tracks: There are only three songs man, what's the point?

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy

Thursday, September 4

Video: J.Fox - "Boombox Batteries"

This reminds me a lot of those lo-fi videos that early 90s alt-rock bands used to put out. The world always needs more technicolor, I say.

J. Fox MySpace
We're Happy to Be Here on LOTD

Thinkin' Bout the Wombats

Artist: The Wombats
Album: A Guide to Love, Loss and Desperation
MySpace: www.myspace.com/thewombatsuk

Comments: Recently, a buddy of mine asked me to put together a list of my top 10 brit-pop albums of all time. This is what you do when you are a music snob who hates his job. You make lists of albums and compare them with your friends. High Fidelity was dead on in this respect.

Anyway, our two lists differed. We both had The Stone Roses at number one, but while my friend probably legitimately likes the Stone Roses, I just put them on there because that's what any serious music critic is supposed to do. I haven't actually listened to the album the whole way through.

Me being terrible aside, a big point of contention was my inclusion of the Fratellis' Costello Music on my list at number 10. My buddy called me out on it, claiming that Costello Music is nothing more than a flash in the pan pop record with nowhere near the longevity of, say What's the Story, Morning Glory?, Silent Alarm or The Bends.

I can't dispute that claim. The album is nowhere near as memorable as any of those other records, but it's way more fun than most of them. Sure, "Price of Gas" might be an incredible song, but when's the last time you threw on Bloc Party while drinking with some friends? Costello Music is full of low-impact, feel good music rich with cheap thrills and easy comedy. It's the audio equivalent of Anchorman; stupid and fun and easy to play over again.

I feel the same way about The Wombats and their album Proudly Present a Guide to Love, Loss, and Desperation. The album is cleverly written, the way all snotty young UK songwriters seem to be these days, and full of short blasts of catchy pop-punk in the vein of The Fratellis, Dogs Die in Hot Cars and The Futureheads (seriously, is it some kind of requirement that all brit-pop bands be good at harmonizing?).

The WombatsThe two lead singles are "Let's Dance to Joy Division," which is about exactly what it sounds like, and "Kill the Director," which boats a Bridget Jones shout out and one of the most concise summaries of pop-punk I've heard in some time ("With the angst of a teenage band / here's another song about a gender I'll never understand.") "Director" sticks more for me but that might be because I never took a shine to Joy Division.

The album is predictable in its content, but witty in its delivery. The best songs on the album are about falling in love with the most inappropriate women (a therapist on "Dr. Suzanne Mattox PHD" and a stripper on the album-best "Patricia the Stripper") and drinking too much and making mistakes ("Backfire at the Disco," and "My First Wedding"). All these songs are found on the back half of the disk, making most of the first seven songs totally passable.

Of course, if you play the whole thing front to back, you won't be disseminated. A Guide to Love, Loss, and Desperation is exactly what it wants to be; catchy love songs for fuckups. Time will tell if these guys have got anything more in the tank, and Hot Club de Paris is still the best UK brit-pop band operating, but you'll be hard pressed to have more fun with an album this fall.

-Mr Dogg

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Key Tracks: Patricia the Stripper, Backfire at the Disco, My First Wedding

Buy, Steal, Skip: What the hell, why not buy it? Don't you like fun?