Tuesday, January 20

Okay, Let's All Calm Down About This New Animal Collective CD

Artist: Animal Collective
Album: Merriweather Post Pavillion

Comments: It's never as easy to review a groundbreaking band as it is to review an average band. The latter can be given context, where the former can only be judged by its own merits with no benchmarks or guidelines to follow. Because of this, I understand the recent critical clamoring recieved by Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion, even if I do not agree with it.

Judged against the rest of the independent music world, MPP is a triumph. The four goofs in Animal Collective continue their streak of creating starkly original music so dynamic and dense that it defies genre. People like me struggle to wrangle them in with vague and weak labels like "expansionist" and "psychedelic," but these uninspired platitudes fail to capture the scope of what AC are creating. They are an indispencible band that must be listened to to be understood, and that alone is worth praise.

However, when judged within the scope of their past releases, when measured up to themselves, MPP is a lacking record. Countless others have referred to this as AC's "pop" album, a designation I will not dispute. There are certainly elements of pop on this record, soundscapes and movements that follow the simple patterns and hooky harmonies that are the essence of pop music. However, these moments seem to come scattered throughout a mostly uninspired swamp of repetitious noise clouds and meaningless sonic meanderings. Songs take too long to develop with too little to sustain them, turning flashes of song into bright spots in a dense cloud of sound. Where last year's Strawberry Jam was a record of forward motion, MPP is a collection of wandering, building toward nothing and taking its time to get there.

Which is not to suggest that MMP is un-listenable, just less inspired than previous outings. "My Girls" is a pleasant enough track until it folds in on its own lack of development. "Summertime Clothes" and "Daily Routine" both have admirable sections within them, but both fall apart before anything more than cursory interest can set in. The album's closing track "Brother Sport" is the only one with any backbone, and even at its best moments its little more than a reminder of a much better collection of songs, those found on Strawberry Jam.

Let me not understate the importance of Animal Collective. In a time when even indie rock, a source of eternal originality, seems to be collapsing in on itself, AC is one of the few bands putting out unmatched and non-repeatable music. However, even the great bands have to answer to their past works, and Merriweather Post Pavilion cannot match up the band's previous heights. It might be more interesting and original than 75% of 2009's potential albums, but its not even half of what it should be.

6.5 out of 10

Key Tracks: My Girls, Brother Sport, Summertime Clothes

Buy, Steal, Skip:

Monday, January 12

Parts and Labor Recieves a :(

Artist: Parts and Labor
Album: Receivers

I tried really hard to love Receivers, the latest from Parts and Labor. I read all the blogs hyping them as a band to watch in '09. I listened to the album for weeks, hoping for something to spark and grab me. I spent hours looking for angles to expand into stories. After weeks of trying, I just have to realize what's been in the back of my head this whole time: Receivers is not great, its just OK.

It's a damn shame I can't drum up more to say about it. Parts and Labor have an interesting sound. They make indie rock heavy on keyboards and synthesized sounds with as little guitar as possible. Their sound combines the ascetic of Wolf Parade with the collective mentality of Akron/Family and the European hilly feel of Big Country, one of the least appreciated bands of all time. Basically, this band makes assessable fuzzy noise rock and that shit is right in my wheelhouse.

And yet, nothing sticks. Sure, the seven minute fuzz out of "Satellites" makes for a compelling listen, and the mountain stomp of "Wedding In a Waste Land" is top notch thumpin' music reminiscent of a hipster version of The Who. Sure, the smaller scaled tracks like "Nowheres High" and "Little Ones" are charming numbers that use the band's noisy buzz to create a warm listening experience. But for some reason, it isn't enough.

Maybe the songs take too long to get to the payoff (cough, "Satellites" cough), languish too long in their own noisy self indulgence without ever making it worth it to the listener, noise for noise sake. Maybe its the sometimes jarring voice of the lead singers, almost painful on "Mount Misery." Maybe there's just too much flash and not enough substance.

I still like Parts and Labor, and I like Receivers. I'll get their next album as soon as its out. I do hope they become an "it" band in '09, and I wish them nothing but the best. But I can't pretend to love Receivers any more. Too much of it just leaves me wanting.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Key Tracks:
Satellites, Wedding in a Waste Land

Buy, Steal, Skip:

(Listen to Big Country, goddamnit!)

Sunday, January 11

Scotts Out Coldply Coldplay

Artist: Frightened Rabbit
Album: Midnight Organ Fight

Comments: Even before the turn of the new year, I was late to the Frightened Rabbit party. I first heard them shortly after college while staying with a friend, their Scottish voices and large-minded soft rock coming from his little brother's speakers. I offhandedly asked what it was, feigned interest and forgot all about them. A few weeks later, that same friend came to me talking about their songwriting and how "just fucking cool" their music was. Because I am wretched, I ignored him, too.

It wasn't until the waning moments of 08 that I finally got on board and got Midnight Organ Fight, a decision that I regret only for my tardiness. Frightened Rabbit's second album is a combination of Coldplay and Shout Out Louds, merging stadium readiness with smart pop construction for an album rich with well written anthems melodramatic matters of the heart. This album is one Garden State away from ruining teenage love lives across the nation.

The first three tracks on the album are so good that for the first week of having the album, they are all I listen to. "I Feel Better" is the most rocking of the three but the least substantial despite its excellent delivery of rather uninspired lyrics ("I feel better / and better / and worse and then better). "The Modern Leper" and "Good Arms vs Bad Arms" are the real killers though, the kind of mix tape fodder that serves as the soundtrack to high school pining when love is still new and indestructible in its powers. The kind of songs that will be popping up in AIM profiles and Myspace pages and episodes of Grey's Anatomy and anywhere that emotion is mined for years to come. The former is a self deprecating love song that paints the portrait of a man in decay and the woman who loves him regardless and is both charming and a little embarrassing.

The real magic, however, is the titanic crush of "Good Arms vs Bad Arms," a song about what happens in the aftermath of a relationship devoid of a clean break. Brushed drums and simple background harmonies hang above a repeated guitar line for four minutes, building up to an almost tragic decrescendo. All this would be for nothing if not for the fantastic lyrics that capture the frustration, anger, and melancholy of being the one left behind, the foolish and crazy things it makes you want to do. ("I'm armed with the past/ and the will / and a brick / and I don't want you back / but I want to kill him") It's a near perfect five minutes that is so daunting that it makes the listener almost beg for the album to be over.

Of course, there are ten tracks to go from there. Most all of them are fantastic, and I could paw through songs trying to find more examples of the moving lyric writing, but half the fun of Midnight Organ Fight is finding them and given them their own meaning. It's that kind of album, a cathartic guide to modern love. I'll highlight "The Twist" and “Keep Yourself Warm” as other personal favorites, tracks that denounce the shark lifestyle and looks down at the notion of jumping from person to person for warmth and meaning, but favorites shift depending on mood.

This is by no means a perfect album. The 13 songs on the album are more or less repeats of the first three, causing the album to blend into a giant mess of dramatic soft-pop when taken in one sitting and none of the songs ever match the skull-crushing heartbreak of “Good Arms vs Bad Arms” (although”Keep Yourself Warm” comes close). However, when taken on a song-to-song basis, it's hard to recall a more well written, well performed collection of love songs than the ones found on Midnight Organ Fight. Get on board now, before Frightened Rabbit becomes a household name and Zach Braff is exploiting their magic for his self-absorbed vanity projects.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Key Tracks: Good Arms vs Bad Arms, The Modern Leper, The Twist, Keep Yourself Warm

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy

Wednesday, January 7

Hair Jordan Shoots, Scores

Artist: Black Ladies
Album: Hair Jordan EP
Myspace: http://www.myspace.com/blackladiesband

Comments: Of all the rock duos to grace my stereo over the last several years, none had as much punch and staying power as the heartbroken robots in Death From Above 1979. You're A Woman, I'm a Machine was not only of the best albums of 2004, but still remains the strongest duo album of all time. Now, in their awesome wake, the Black Ladies have stepped up in an attempt to fill that particular void.

Musically, the bands don't have much in common, yet the comparison is hard to avoid as both groups consist of only drums and bass. However, the tracks on the Black Ladies Hair Jordan EP are not so much about relationships and lust as they are about destroying the world. See, the Black Ladies have more in common with attack bands like Lightning Bolt and Hella, groups that are not about message or meaning, only destruction. While the EP never reaches the same chaotic heights as the other two bands, the songs are far and away more user friendly.

The EP opens with "Hair Jordan," a wordless three minute blast of sixteenth notes and punishing drums, both airtight and locked into each other. This trend of relentless sound is carried into the EPs other two tracks, "Ace of Fades" and " Skullcaps," with only the occasional change in tempo and the fuzzed out vocals that briefly show up on the last track to make a difference.

Hair Jordan is the kind of EP that is best heard and not described. I am not a good enough writer to convey the power and brutal fun of this music. At about eight minutes long, the EP never wears out its welcome, although I could see an entire album of this getting a little old without some more accompaniment besides the drum and bass fuzz. Regardless, Hair Jordan will fill a rocking duo hole in your heart and make you believe in the power of two.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Key Tracks: Hair Jordan, Ace of Fades

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy

Tuesday, January 6

Parks Kind of Cool, Like Vanilla Ice Cream

Artist: Cale Parks
Album: Sparklace

Comments: Sparklace is the worst kind of album to review because I have no strong feelings towards it either way. It is a startlingly above average album, by no means good and definitely not band. It is the vanilla of electronic music: it will sometimes make you want to dance and sometimes you will not even notice that its on, but it will never challenge or elate you.

Tracks on the album go one of two ways, atmospheric drone and weird, Brian Eno-esque dance music. I find the sequencing of the album odd, Parks chooses to put most of the more active tracks ("Two Haunt Me" and "Some Sew, Some Find" especially) in the back half of the CD while the first few minutes are thick with more subtle and ambient fare ("Train Lady" and "Every Week Ends") The album begins and ends with electronic interludes that are not much more than audio experiments. The eight tracks in between are strangely charming and almost instantly forgettable. This is the sort of album I would only put on while I was doing something else.

Initially, I felt guilty about my assessment of Sparklace. When I saw Parks open for Ted Leo a few weeks back, he preformed admirably in the face of a largely ambivalent crowd. In the 30 seconds I spent talking to him, he seemed like a nervous, likable guy who just wanted to make low impact dance music, and I found that charming. After some brief research, however, I realize Parks doesn't need my support. Besides his solo stuff, the dude is active in Aloha and White Williams, two bands with more than enough indie love. The last thing they need is more blog buzz.

While I cannot recommend Sparklace to anyone, I also would never chastise someone for picking it up. There are some neat sounds to be found (the wind chimes on "Age of Reform" are hella peaceful) and the whole thing is largely enjoyable. It just lacks any and all staying power.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Key Tracks: Every Week Ends, Two Haunt Me, Some Sew, Some Find

Buy, Steal, Skip:
Steal, I guess.

Sunday, January 4

Come on, How Do You Think I Feel About This New Fall Out Boy Album?

Artist: Fall Out Boy
Album: Folie à Deux

Comments: Part of me wonders if there is any merit in reviewing a Fall Out Boy album. I am aware that most, if not all, of the people who check this blog have already made their minds up about the band and no review will change their opinions. So I suppose it is under the weak guise of journalism that I tell you all about Folie à Deux, the latest from your tween cousin's favorite hit-makers.

Some may be surprised to hear me say this, but after spinning this album a few times, its not void of merit. What sets FOB apart from other flash-in-the-pan pop acts is their apparent desire to grow and develop their music. Most pop bands put out one or two albums of samey, meaningless drivel before falling apart under their own lack of substance. Folie à Deux does find the band trying to push emo-pop in new directions, which is more than can be said for 90% of radio bands. For that, the boys deserve some praise, however small.

Of course, the goodwill this created is almost immediately betrayed by the overall shittness of the record. The band strives for change, not within songwriting or structure, but within hyper-clean production and over-the-top studio additions. Considering that FOB has lived and died on their (often overblown and occasionally mediocre) dramatic choruses, for them to add string arrangements and orchestral elements to songs already about to fall apart at their own ham-handedness is like over inflating a truck tire. Recipe for disaster (and sever tire damage).

The moments on this album that aren't over the top garbage are just downright strange. Lead single "I Don't Care" sounds like a Rhianna song without the benefit Rhianna's unexplainable Midas touch. Also puzzling is "What a Catch, Donnie" which climaxes with literally every chorus from all the band's previous hit singles dating back to their first album. While I assume there is some kind of explanation for this, all it really does is showcase how interchangeable and benign the band's work has been.

Is Folie à Deux un-listenable? Not at all. The songs are catchy and mindless and occasionally border on clever. Odds are good that if you liked the band's previous efforts, you'll like this. But this album won't change any minds, and despit good intentions does nothing to lift Fall Out Boy's punchline status in the world of "serious" (read: pretentious) music listeners.

(PS: Lil Wayne makes an appearance on this album, furthering my belief that his is the most brilliant and insane public figure in some time and that drugs will take his life within the next 10 years.)

(PSS: This video has nothing to do with this album. It just cracks me up)

Rating: 2 out of 10

Key Tracks: None

Buy, Steal, Skip: Skip