Tuesday, February 24

Despite Serious Star Power, N.A.S.A Can't Quite Touch the Sun

Artist: N.A.S.A
Album: Spirit of Apollo

If fantasy sports, all-star teams, super groups, and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts have proven anything, it is that America loves the idea of collaborations. The idea of the biggest and brightest coming together to make something is always enticing, especially in the world of music.

Given this inclination for collaboration, N.A.S.A's Spirit of Apollo is a music dork's wet dream. Founded by L.A producers Squeak E. Clean and DJ Zegon, N.A.S.A (which stands for North America / South America) is a vessel for uniting people of different genres and cultures together under the universal idea that making music is cool. As if this hippy, free-love ideal wasn't enough on its own, Spirit of Apollo contains some of the biggest and best names in both hip hop and indie rock. Including artists like Kanye West, Karen O, Chuck D, David Byrne, RZA, Santagold, Ghostface Killah and Tom Waits (Tom Waits!), on paper this album is the best idea of all time, ever.

The album even lives up to this insanely high standard on occasion. Listening to Ol' Dirty rap from beyond the grave while Karen O sings the most adorable hook of 2009 on "Strange Enough" is both compelling and tragic. "Spacious Thoughts," which pairs Kool Keith and Tom Waits, is another genius track that can only come from two innovative artists combining forces for a 4 and a 1/2 minute march of awesome (Tom Waits really can't do any wrong, it seems). "The Mayor," which pairs Ghostface's drunken-master prose with the endless confidence and smooth delivery of the The Cool Kids, is far and away the strongest track on the album and a definete candidate for "Song of the Year."

Sadly, Spirit of Apollo can't live up this unreasonable expectation forever. The sad truth is that the majority of the tracks are little more than novelty. It's interesting on the first listen to see who is paired with whom (kind of like prom), but by the second and third spins, the album's flaws being to stand out. Too many tracks are samey and poorly produced, too many songs suffer from their ham-handedness, too many tracks collapse under the weight of their stars, and too many songs are forgettable. "Money" features a rare uninspired verse from Chuck D and a nonexistent contribution from Seu Jorge (he of The Life Aquatic fame), and "Gifted" featuring Kanye West, Santagold and Lyyke Li is an absolute mess from start to finish.

While Spirit of Apollo does yield some truly good tracks, most of the songs are only as good as long as one's fascination with the collaboration's last. Still, no album could ever match up to the collaborations in the heads of listeners all over the country and N.A.S.A's heart is definitely in the right place, so maybe the album deserves a break. While it's worth checking out, it'll never replace the fun of mixing and matching bands in your own head.

Key Tracks: The Mayor, Strange Enough, Spacious Thoughts

Buy, Steal, Skip: Steal

Monday, February 23

OK, So Maybe This Is a Picture of a Dude, but Still, Freaky.

Artist: Antony and the Johnsons
Album: The Crying Light

Comments: Music as art is sometimes cumbersome to listen to. Luckily, one of the years first truly awesome musical releases blends the line of artistic expression and beautifully crafted songs into a listening experience of a lifetime. Antony and the Johnsons latest album, The Crying Light, takes it's inspiration and amplifies the beauty into some incredibly sublime music. Antony Hegarty's muse is not another musical act, but a 102 year old Japanese Bhuto dancer, Kazuo Ohno (who graces the cover of the album.) Hegarty was so moved by the lyrical dance of this frail but incredibly passionate dancer , that the album exudes an air of gentle beauty that seems at any moment could break. The album is simple, but it dazzles from start to finish. The music floats above the air and Hagerty's voice takes front and center stage and shoots the music to the limits of the sky.

The album opens with "Her Eyes Are Underneath the Ground" which starts immediately with a trembling Hegarty delivering the lyrics at such a beautiful, melancholy timber that it's almost impossible to not be moved by the song's first few seconds. The arrangements are simple and not overpowering, but add another element of beauty to an already gorgeous melody. Hegarty's voice is reminiscent of Nina Simone and Tim Buckley giving it a very ethereal feel. It adds so much to the songs. "Epilepsy is Dancing" takes a physical condition that is restrictive and makes it into a beautiful art form. Strange, yet it is a beautiful image to say that a physical ailment could actually be a wondrous piece of art. The ideas of death, physical restriction and art are definitely a theme on this album.

Running just a little over a half hour, the album seems like a sweeping epic even though it's over quickly. All the praise goes to the centerpiece of Antony Hegarty's voice. The most up-tempo and musically flowering song, "Kiss My Name", is really the only time that the music stands up to the power of the vocal performance. It's a fast waltz of sorts with very snappy drums and elegant flute and string arrangements that flutter about your ear drums. Other than that, it's all Hegarty's beautiful bravado. Luckily it's not just baseless vocal show boating. The lyrical content is poetic and poignant. During the title track, Hegarty delivers one of the most romantic lines I have ever heard in: "I was born to adore you/As a baby in the blind/I was born to represent you/To carry your head into the sun/To carve your face into the back of the sun." Something about this line screams dedication and sheer love for someone and Hegarty's delivery here shows that passion and amplifies it by 100. "One Dove" also has this element of poetic beauty that gains value with its master's voice. It trembles along as Hegarty begs for "mercy" from the tracks guiding force. It's genuine.

One thing for sure is that Antony is more important then the Johnsons here, but this is not to say that the music isn't fit for the style and mood of the album. It's subtle and quiet and somber and is the perfect balance to his voice. It's like Meg White of the White Stripes. It's not that shes a bad drummer (Come on dude, she totally is - Ed.), but the bravado and flashy eccentricity of Jack White's guitar and vocals needs something simple but a good backbone. The Crying Light is a triumphant record. It's some of the most beautifully poetic music you will ever hear and it does not get tired or old. The unique voice of Antony Hegarty is filled with utter desperation and melancholy, but instead of it being overbearing or cumbersome, it's somber and gentle and inviting. Rather than alienate the listener with something so artistic, The Crying Light invites you to share with the emotions and the grandiose-yet-simple structures of the songs is what makes this record excellent. It will make you weep at times and it will fill you with a romanticism that music rarely does.

- By Paul Tsikitas

9 out of 10

Key Tracks: Epilepsy is Dancing, One Dove, Kiss My Name, The Crying Light

Buy, Skip, Steal:

Thursday, February 19

Clean this Goddamn House! (Pictures and Links Comming this Afternoon)

OK, so I am obviously really far behind on my reviews. In the interest of getting back to business, here are some really, really short reviews of albums that have come out this year, in alphabetical order as they appear on my itunes (journalism!).

Get Guilty by AC Newman

I never listened to The Slow Wonder, but I imagine it sounds quite a bit like this. Fans of The New Pornographers, especially their last album Challengers will find a lot to like here. Newman specializes in the kind of pop music that is smart and catchy, but not always constraining itself to 4/4 time or set patterns like verse / chorus / verse, which can sometimes get a little grating. Its not hard to see Newman making this kind of good, not great album every four years for the rest of his life.

Noble Beast by Andrew Bird

I saw Andrew Bird in concert once, and it was far and away my best experience with him. Watching him build loop layers and harmonize with himself is captivating. Sadly, that performance didn't transform into an appreciation for his album work. I get why people like his soundtrack-ready chamber pop, it's pretty and soft and nice to listen to, but too much of it runs together for me. A friend of my mine compared him to Sufjan Stevens, which is accurate if you take away Steven's prose and replaced them with a lounge voice and a killer set of whistlin' lips. More of the same from Bird, so if you were on board before, you'll be on board now.


The Last Pale Light in the West
by Ben Nichols

By all accounts, Cormack McCarthy is taking the demise of the American frontier harder than everyone, but Ben Nichols of Lucero is a close second. Inspired by one of McCarthy's novels (I'm too lazy to look up which one), Pale Light is one of the better offerings of the year. Nichols strums an acoustic guitar, sings in his lonesome raspy way, and makes an album of somewhat tragic, somewhat good country-alt-folk-punk songs. I'm a little confused as to why this is a solo EP and not a Lucero album since they sound fucking identical, but whatever, it's a good listen. Put in on when you are sad and it'll make you want to go to Montana.


Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future
by The Bird and The Bee

Boy girl electro-dance-pop. This is what happens when you listen to too much Jenny Lewis. If you like this, you just aren't trying anymore. Music for idiots.


Liferz by Blood on the Wall

I suspect this is a pretty cool album, but really I haven't taken enough time with it. Whenever one of their songs comes up on my shuffle, I usually skip it. When I don't I am treated with some low budget indie punk that never leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but never really hits me hard enough to come back to it. I guess the jury's still out, but in the back of my mind I don't really see myself ever listening to this album more than once. Sorry, Blood on the Wall.


Working on a Dream
by Bruce Springsteen

In two songs, Springsteen obliterated all the good will he had built up with me with The Rising and Magic. Those two songs are "Outlaw Pete" and "Queen of the Supermarket," the latter being one of the worst Springsteen songs ever and the former being one of the worst rock songs ever, probably in the top 20. Turns out Springsteen is one of those songwriters who can't operate without something to push again (like the Bush administration). I see two more albums like this, followed by some long hiatus and one final old man album that Rolling Stone praises as the finest piece of music of all time, ever.


Gutter Tactics
by Dalek

The reminds me of one of my favorite albums ever, El-P's I'll Sleep When You're Dead, and as such gets much love from my ipod. Not really a rap record, seeing as the vocals are fuzzed out and pushed way back in the mix, Gutter Tactics is a producer's record all about immersion and oblivion. The opening track, featuring an exert from that crazed priest that gave Obama trouble last year, sets an urgent and Dystopian tone that is appealing as fuck to me. "We Lost Sight" is one of the only tracks not about how fucked we all are, and it's about how fucked rap is. Not a feel good record, but definitely an early highlight.

Already Free by The Derek Trucks Band

Dave Mathews Band type horse shit. If you like Mathews, The John Butler Trio, or any other of those "chill" frat bands, this shit will appeal to you. Also, please get better taste in music.


by Franz Ferdinand

Another early highlight, Tonight is the disco album than answers the question "What would happen if the guys from Franz Ferdinand spent the last three years fucking groupies instead of writing an album?" Thank god these guys are so good with hooky pop music. With it's drums and bass much more pronounced and obvious and their guitars scaled back for a more synthesized sound, this is about as well made a party record as you'll find this year I suspect.

Major General by Franz Nicolay

I'm actually going to flesh this out tomorrow. In the mean time, check this dude out.

Glasvegas by Glasvegas

More hyper-pop from the Scots. If you liked Frightened Rabbit or The Shout Out Louds, you'll probably like this. Is it wrong of me to lump all these Scottish bands together into one cloud? No, since they all make pretty pop music in varying degrees of coolness. Glasvegas is the weakest of the three, I wouldn't recommend it unless you REALLY like Scot-pop or unless you REALLY love the idea of mixing Coldplay with The Killers.


The Mountain by The Heartless Bastards

It's hard for me to recommend this given my deep distaste for The Black Keys, especially since both these bands make blues revival rock, but fuck it, The Mountain is a pretty cool record. The lead singer has a really neat voice, the guitars sound cool, the bottom end is as heavy as it should be, and you can listen to the whole goddamn thing without changing a track and have a pretty good time of things. The Mountain is a great sitting around record.

For(n)ever by Hoobastank

Hoobastank is still making records?!


S/t EP by Iwrestledabearonce

You ever hear one of those hardcore bands that all play at the exact same time as loud and as sloppy as they can while someone grunts and screams along with it and you can never really tell exactly what is going on and you suspect that it's all very technical and professional musicianship but who the fuck cares because how can anyone tell in this tangled swamp of assault noise? That is what this sounds like, expect different than the rest of the bands. I mean, don't get me wrong, if that sentence above made any sense to you, you've got a pretty good idea of what to expect, but something about Iwrestledabearonce stands out to me, makes me think they might be a little better than the rest of the noisemakers. I don't know, get this if you like Dillinger Escape Plan and punching yourself in the face.


Fantasy Black Channel by Late of the Pier
Fantasy Black Channel is definitely hipster dance music ala Does it Offend You, Yeah?, but a little more interesting. LOTP seem a lot more occupied with trying new arrangements and changing directions mid song then they actually are with making people dance. Kind of a fun listen, but nothing to get too occupied with.

Ludacris - Theater of the Mind
Mi Ami - Watersports
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - S/t

I'll flesh these out. I love me some Luda, and Mi Ami is too weird not to be discussed. As far as Pains goes, I'll get to them.

Well, that's about all I feel comfortable covering right now. Hopefully, regular broadcasts will resume by next week.