Saturday, November 29

Iceland: A Nation of Nap Musicians

Artist: Johann Johannsson
Album: Fordladia

I'll be the first to admit that my last few reviews haven't really been up to snuff. A big part of it is my personal lethargy, combined with a fear of losing my fastball and the lingering effects of some crippling self consciousness issues. A smaller part of it is the natural aging process, specifically the fear of losing touch.

You have to understand, it's a daily struggle not to be wretched.

I'm trying to combat this by keeping tabs on whats going on, doing whatever I can to stay ahead of the curve. I check the blogs. I ask my colleagues what they're listening to. I scan release sheets. A big resource is, a fantastic location for anyone who likes to quantify pop culture at large.

It was this at this media nexus that I came across Johann Johannsson and Fordlandia, his album of classically arranged atmosphere music.

(Between Johannsson and Sigur Ros, Iceland has the market cornered on dramatic orchestral music. I'm not exactly sure what it is about that country that makes people want to craft epic background music, but after watching that Sigur Ros DVD, I'm not surprised. 10 minutes of landscape still shots and I'm ready to pick up a cello and find a woodwind section.)

It's hard for me to give Fordlandia a proper review. I am not classically trained. I'm know very little about music theory. I'm just some loudmouth in a sea of loudmouths all spouting the same opinions. I am barely a journalist. I can't comment much more on Fordlandia other than I enjoy having it on while I'm doing something else.

Maybe I'm just a philistine, but I have a hard time engaging classical music. I understand that Beethoven and Bach and Schumer and Mozart were brilliant geniuses who wrote indispensable music, but I'm never just putting them on to listen to them. I put them on to write or talk or snuggle, but the music is always secondary to what I'm doing.

Does Johannsson's blend of modern classical deserve to be mentioned with the past greats? Probably not. But the point is that I can't tell, so I can't really review this album properly.

Johannsson's latest album (his 6th) falls into this category. Fordlandia is a lush, pretty album that will pass the time while you write a paper or an email and I'm fully open to the possibility of this totally consuming the right person. Both the song titles and the musical arrangements suggest that Johannsson has a story to tell, but for a low class brat like me, the best stories are told with words. The hype has this being one of the years best album, but in my ears, its just a pretty soundtrack the mundane.

If you are interested, has a pretty good breakdown of Fordlandia. Just in case, you know, ACTUAL reviews are your thing.

Wednesday, November 26

Five Card Draw #4: Sub-par Rap and Guitar All Over The Place

Five Card Draw: In which we'll have a friend of LOTD put their ipod on shuffle and write about the first five songs that play. One skip is allowed, so use it wisely. This idea is pretty much the exact same thing as something the City Paper does, so any and all credit should go to them. This week, the man behind Johnny Business and lead singer of The Percentages Johnny O gets his brit-rock on.

1) Stereophonics - I Miss You Now (You Gotta Go There to Come Back, 2003)
Slow and sexy, Kelly Jones' raspy voice, accompanied by a repetitive cymbal tap and cool rock organ, makes for a pretty cool track. Nothing to write home about, but nothing to sneeze at either.

2) The Arctic Monkeys - A Certain Romance (Beneath the Boardwalk, appears originally on Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, 2006)
Catchy and fun, textbook Arctic Monkeys. Kudos for good lyrics and a rather unorthodox melody.

3) The Strokes - What Ever Happened? (Room on Fire, 2003)
Underrated track off of an underrated album, the monotony of the opening guitar riff is perfect. Great guitar breakdown as well….hell, just great guitar all over this song.

4) Gorillaz - All Alone (Demon Days, 2006)
A rare crappy track by Gorillaz, especially since Demon Days is practically flawless. The Donald Duck-esque voice is creepy and the track doesn't really go anymore. The rap is also sub -par. Boo.

5) The Wombats - Kill The Director (A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation, 2007)
Shameless Britpop is my Achilles heel, so naturally I love this song. Ridiculous but charming lyrics nestled between choppy guitar riffs and a thumping kick drum make for a tune all can dance too. Say what you want about The Wombats, but this track is just plain fun.

Tuesday, November 25

Bad Cars and Women : More in Common Than You Think

Artist: Women
Album: Women

Recently, I rented a PT Cruiser for a 300+ mile trip from Philadelphia, PA, to Rochester, NY. After spending over four hours with the damned machine, I am confident when I say that the PT Cruiser is the worst fucking car I've ever driven.

Released by Chysler in 2000, then again in 05, the Cruiser was launched as a retro style wagon for a new age, a modern reinterpretation of a classic. Upon their release, the hype along was enough to generate interest in the car buying public, with resulted in a lot of people driving these monstrosities and regretting it for the rest of their lives (or so I assume).

It's not that the car itself is especially terrible. Its not an altogether a dysfunctional machine. It will get you from A to B. It's the little things that ruin this car and make it a disaster.

Here 's a laundry list of design problems, just off the top of my head. The lack of cruse control. The window controls being located on the radio console (this little foible had be groping around the car like a thumb-less teenager dealing with a bra strap when it came to pay the tolls.) The interior light gauge is located on the steering column, making it impossible to change brightness without flashing the turn signals. The headlights are weak. The car as downright laughable acceleration. The mirrors are adjusted with little sticks on either side of the car, so god help you if you are driving alone and want to change your right-hand mirror.

The point (which took me four paragraphs to get to) is that the PT Cruiser can get you around if you are willing to put up with a lot of nonsense that will just remind you of other, better cars.

I mention all of this because I feel the same way about Women's self titled debut album. The Calgary four-pieces' album is a throwback to sixties touchstones like The Beach Boys and Pink Floyd with a modern low-fi production similar to bands like No Age and Japanther, and while poppy, psychedelic low-fi might sound good on paper, Women falls short at every turn.

The album is a reminder of other bands who are doing the same thing better. Women is full of watered down moments from other bands who have perfected the craft that Women are stumbling to create. Echoes of Animal Collective, Panda Bear, Liars, Brian Wilson era Smile and the aforementioned 60s psych-pop are littered throughout the album, but never with the strenght or the success of the source material.

Women's sole successful moment comes on the one minute album opener "Cameras," which is able to combine low-fi surf pop, rich with cavern-deep drums and ghostly vocal melodies, with slight dashes of experimentation and psych. The song is a 60 second joy, excellent for the first track as it excites the listener and makes them want more. Sadly, it's all down hill from there.

Like the PT Cruiser, Women will get you from A to B, but with so many better options, so many better ways to enjoy the ride, the only real thing that will carry either is hype.

4 out of 10

Key Tracks: Cameras

Buy, Steal, Skip:

Monday, November 24

Bloc Party Continue to Attempt to be The Cure, Get Intimate

Artist: Bloc Party
Album: Intimacy

Few bands understand the pressure to produce like Bloc Party. After Silent Alarm, a legitimately good album that got blown out of proportion by expectations and the passage of time, people began a clamor for them to repeat that has not stopped since. The flawed, underlying equation behind this idea looks like this: If Album X was this good, then album Y will be even better. No one likes to think that their first work is their best work, however the release of Intimacy seems to suggest that Bloc Party's best days might be behind them.

Not to say that this is a bad album. Intimacy is leaps and bounds better than the band's sophomore release, A Weekend in the City, which was sick with ill-advised production, nickel-and-dime love songs and new-wave leanings. Ironically, where Weekend was more of a bedroom album, Intimacy is a rock album that looks to strike the same rocking post-punk chord that the band achieved on their first album.

And at times, the album succeeds. "Zephyrus," "One Month Off" and "Ares" are some of the bands more rocking numbers, falling in line with tracks like "She's Hearing Voices" and "Luno," although the former never really reach the breakout recklessness of the latter two. "Ares" is especially interesting. The song scurvies on the band's standard of zip lock tight percussion and angular guitar work despite having no real chorus to speak of and a rather unimpressive lyrical output from Kele Okereke (turns out he's not a fan of war).

A big part of Silent Alarm's success was its production. The music on that album was obviously rooted in modern music technology without being overt about it. Sure, there were loop machines, moogs, modulators, overdubbing and any other number of studio tricks but the songs were never reliant on them. Despite all of the wizardry, there was still an impression that this was rock music first, studio experimentation second. The music came first, then the fuzz. Intimacy continues the band's love affair with production, but in a more overt and less satisfying way. Lead single "Mercury" is a good example, with its heavily over-dubbed vocals. Sure, you can loop that sort of thing live, but there's no romance in it, no heart.

For a band like Bloc Party, a group that made their beds by playing stirring, grandiose post punk, having no heart is a big problem. There's nothing here to rival the band's best anthems save for last track "Ion Square," which is a good song despite its overproduction that creates a separation between the listener and the song. "Signs" shoots for "Modern Love" 2.0, but lands closer to Sigur Ros than anything else, and "Biko" would be a lot better if it didn't feature some shockingly cheesy canned drums.

Intimacy is a rock record that looks to wash away the unsatisfying taste of Weekend, and in that respect it is a success. It makes a much more satisfying follow up to Silent Alarm, and is much more listenable than their actual sophomore album. The band's key elements (attacking drums, exciting guitar work, charismatic vocals) are still intact. However, the hints of new wave that marred Weekend, along with the shift away from any kind of anthem that mixes the band's softer side with their angular roots means that precious few tracks will stick to the ribs. Two albums later, the pressure is still on for Bloc Party to repeat. Sadly, it's starting to look like they might not be able to.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Key Tracks: Ares, One Month Off, Ion Square

Buy, Steal, Skip: Steal

Tuesday, November 18

Haiku Reviews #3

It's been a long time since this dusty 'ol claptrap of a blog got some loving. In the interest of catching up and getting back into the swing of things, here's a blast of house cleaning haikus.

Artist: N.E.R.D
Album: Seeing Sounds

Occasional funk.
Mainstream club and soul dance tracks.
Creative, clumsy.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10
Tracks: Everyone Nose, Yeah You

Album: Paper Trail

Going to prison,
T.I's reflective tracks sound best
"Numa" sample sucks

Rating: 6 out of 10
Tracks: Ready for Whatever, On Top Of The World, No Matter What, Whatever You Like.

Artist: The Clash
Album: Live At Shea Stadium

Open for the Who.
Triumphant, friendly and strong,
Band on top of world.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Tracks: London Calling, Guns of Brixton, Clampdown

Artist: Don Caballero
Album: Punkgasm

Percussion surrounds
Dark math rock, little humor
Good listen, background music.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Tracks: The Loudest Shop Vac in the World, Bulk Eye

Artist: Mates of State
Album: Re-Arrange Us

Candy-sweet pop songs.
Love fest, goes down too easy,
Nice songs to hug to.

5.5 out of 10
Tracks: The Re-Arranger, Get Better, You Are Free

Artist: My Morning Jacket
Album: Evil Urges

Mountain man jam rock,
Z part two. Real strong album,
Track three, worst of year.

Rating: 8 out of 10
Tracks: Evil Urges, I'm Amazed, Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Part 2

Artist: Okkervil River
Album: The Stand-Ins

Literate folk rock.
Does not grab like Stage Names did,
Strong songs from "It" band.

Rating: 8 out of 10
Tracks: Lost Coastlines, Singer Songwriter, Pop Lie