Monday, March 30

Haiku Reviews #4

Artist: And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
Album: The Century of Self

Epic and complex
Rocks throughout but holds no hits
Best work still in past

Buy, Steal, Skip: Steal

Artist: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Album: It's Blitz!

Synth but not dance rock
Karen O still writes good songs
Everyone relax

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy

Artist: Dan Deacon
Album: Bromst

Still does same old tricks
Mature but fun, fills out sound
Deacon is the man

Buy, Steal, Ski
p: Buy


Artist: Wavves
Album: Wavvves

Fuzz punk songs are good
Total four good tracks, no more
Don't believe the hype

Buy, Steal, Skip:


Artist: The Black Lips
Album: 200 Million Thousand

60s garage punk
It's been done, but still sounds good
VU fans should like

Buy, Steal, Skip: Steal


Artist: Mi Ami
Album: Watersports

I like the idea
Flashes of good guitar work
Not a fun listen

Buy, Steal, Skip: Skip


Artist: Say Hi
Album: Ohhs & Ahhs

Weakest record yet
Too much indulgence, Say Hi
Get Ferocious Mopes

Buy, Steal, Skip:

Tuesday, March 24

Get It Now!: Oxford Collapse - Young Love Delivers

Oxford Collapse came to my attention from the most unlikely of places: the MTV corporation. The charmingly homemade video for "Young Love Delivers" flashed across my screen and burned itself into my mind. As I watched the band eat cheese burgers in a Delorian (no joke, this video was fucking system), I couldn't help but fall in love with the band's reckless and friendly brand of indie-rock. I strongly urge you to pick up Bits, the band's 2008 release on Sub Pop records. In a more perfect world, this is what the underground would sound like.

Monday, March 23

Get It Now!: Superdrag - Slow to Anger

While I know a shitload about 90s power-pop, my knowledge of that spunky also-ran Superdrag is minimal. What I do know is that "Slow to Anger," the opening track off Industry Giants, their fifth album and first in as many years, is a three-minute blast of strong, feelgood rock. With its simple song structure and classic-rock melodies, the track is not only a great "in-the-car-warm-weather" song, but also a template for fledgling rock bands; this is how to make a simple idea sound great. If only the entire album was this good...

Nerds and Hip Hop, Together at Last (In A Good Way, Not The MC Lars Way)

Artist: Team Teamwork
Album: Ocarina of Rhyme

Comments: While Danger Mouse didn't invent the mash-up on his copy write-violating 2004 record The Grey Album, he certainly propelled the art form into the public eye like never before. In the wake of his success, the music world has seen a slew of like-minded projects, from the good (Girl Talk's last two albums) to the not so good (LushLife's WestSounds, which brought the Beach Boys and Kanye West together with disastrous results). The relatively unknown Team Teamwork (whose Myspace page has less than 10k views at the moment) is the latest group to try their hand at mashing with their Ocarina of Rhyme mix tape.

Dorks and gamers will probably have a pretty good idea of what's going on already, but for the uninitiated, OoR is a play on The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, one of the best selling and most popular video games of all time. Team Teamwork's record takes selections from the game's score and pairs them with some of hip-hop's best lyricists (and Slim Thug).

To recap: music from video games + rappers = Ocarina of Rhyme.

Considering how ridiculous this looks on paper, the album's success to failure rate is surprising. True, the first few bars of the opening track, a mash of Clipse's "Virginia" with the "Lost Woods Theme," is a bit hard to swallow. Even someone with no Zelda familiarity will have a tough time rectifying the pairing of lighthearted flute with Clipse's ice-cold verses about laying suckers down. However, the song is a winning one, and the juxtaposition in styles will eventually sway even the most stalwart of naysayers.

Indeed, most of the album is legitimately good, pushing itself way past novelty and into the realm of legitimate work. Team Teamwork do little to the original songs, occasionally adding heavier percussion or outside instruments, but never ruining the original spirit of the songs or their concept. There are some truly brilliant pairings to be found on OoR. The mix of the "Hyrule Field Theme" does wonders for Pimp C, making the rapper sound much more triumphant and commanding than his own tracks can, and MF Doom's "Vomit" sounds right at home over the "Lon Lon Horse Race Theme," a pairing that makes almost entirely too much sense (I mean, odds are good that Doom would have wound up doing something like this on his own, anyway). The real album highlight is Aesop Rock's "No Jumper Cables" mixed with a drummed-up version of the "Goron Village Theme;" the minimal tribal beat gives weight to Rock's intricate wordplay and affords the track a level of punch that is shockingly missing from most mainstream rap productions.

Like any mash-up collection, the album is not without its misses. Common's "I Used to Love H.E.R" sounds just a little bit too playful mixed up with the "Hyrule Market Theme," and the combination of "Still D.R.E" and the "Getting Treasure" theme is an outright car wreck. While Team Teamwork is to be admired for trying to create a track from such a small and quick fanfare, the song is stretched way too far and collapses before even getting out of the first verse. But to be fair, it's a lot harder to make Mike Jones and Slim Thug sound elegant (which is exactly what happens when they are paired with the "Fairy Fountain Theme") than it is to make Dr. Dre sound any better.

Ultimately, mash-ups like Ocarina of Rhyme (and even The Grey Album) are only as good as the novelty of collaboration will allow. Once the combos become commonplace, the album usually falls to the wayside. The best that can be hoped for is a handful of legitimate tracks and a way to get your name out there. To that end, Team Teamwork's hip-hop nerd wet dream is a success. Not bad for a day's work.

Key Tracks: No Jumper Cables + Goron Village, Still Tippin' + Fairy Fountain

Download the album here from free.

Tuesday, March 17

Do We Really Need Another Band That Sounds Like Guster? No? Cool.

Artist: Fiction Family
Album: Fiction Family

Comments: Fiction Family, the collaboration between Switchfoot lead singer Jon Foreman and Nickle Creek guitarist Sean Watkins, is a classic example of a band that can do one thing (and only one thing) well. The group's self-titled debut album is awash with soft-spoken, gently strummed acoustic ballads that aim to couple nicely with Foreman's earnest prose and sincere delivery. Their familiar brand of emoting can be charming on individual tracks, but stretched out over the course of an album their one trick loses steam quickly.

Fiction Family is pleasant to a fault. The album utilizes a formula that hinges on Watkin's new-folk instrumentation and Foreman's coffee house croon with the aim of delivering both lyrical and musical charm. While this formula works in small bits (“Betrayal,” “When She's Near”), the album quickly blends into cliché on both fronts, reducing the record to little more than a pile of overused chords and horse-whipped sentiments about love.

Nickel Creek die-hards will no doubt hear Watkin's touch all over the album in the form of sitars, pianos, and violins melded into his folk arrangements, and while there are some nice structures to be found, lyrics like “You spend your life inside a box looking through stained glass / And dream about a better day and hope it finds you fast” quickly obliterate any musical goodwill.

The record is such a slave to its familiar routine that any slight break from the mold (like the catchy, loopy “Out of Order”) stands as a titanic success in the face of such willful, agreeable mediocrity.

For a certain group of people, the people who watch Garden State once a month, who can't forget the first time they ever heard Guster, whose play lists are riddled with acoustic singer-songwriters wailing about emotional gambits with the opposite sex, Fiction Family's self titled debut will likely be the album of the year. For the rest of the world, however, Fiction Family is nothing more than a bland collection of pleasant soft-pop, good for high school mix tapes, background music, open mic nights, and little else.

Key Tracks: Out of Order, Betrayal

Buy, Steal, Skip:

Friday, March 6

Someone Call Zack Braff! Scrambles Will Change Your Life!

Artist: Bomb The Music Industry!
Album: Scrambles

It doesn't matter how many times Fight Club comes on, nothing can prepare you for failure. Sure, heartbreak, lonesomeness and isolation are powerful, but there is no feeling quite like the exotic mix of apathy, self-loathing, bitter anger, and frustration that comes with hitting bottom. Finding oneself unable to live up to personal expectations, let alone the expectations of society at large, is a truly crippling thing. As an unemployed guy in his mid 20s living on the poverty line in a country falling apart from the inside out, I can understand the smoldering frustration and anger that threatens to boil over at any time. Forget high school, being on the brink of adulthood is fucking terrifying.

It's at times like this when punk rock is more important than ever. Regardless of how you wish to classify it, (as a movement, a genre, a lifestyle, etc), odds are good that we all got into it for the same reason: at some point it spoke not just to us, but for us. It gave us sense of belonging and kinship that was otherwise unavailable, not to mention a mouthpiece for the feelings we were too feeble to describe. Punk put the words in our mouths and spat them out as a defiant scream. It gave us strength when we felt weakest.

Well what was true at 16 is still true in your mid-20s. The world still makes no sense, and we still occasionally need someone to speak for us, to give our internal struggle a voice, something to sympathize, something that understands. No one comprehends this like Jeff Rosenstock, the ringleader of punk's finest musical circus Bomb the Music Industry!. Scrambles, the collective's latest album, is a testament to confusion and impotence on the doorstep of legitimacy and how we can find hope even in the face of such titanic self-doubt.

After four albums of kitchen-sink punk rock, Roesnstock's skills as an arranger and composer are fully honed and razor-sharp. Never content with simple sequences, Rosenstock has found a balance between his epic aspirations and conventional song structure, resulting in songs that throw everything together without ever sounding jumbled or unorganized. Where on previous albums songs were occasionally too excitable to be reigned in, Scrambles is a well-structured serving of fist-pumpin', boot-stompin' punk rock that manages to sound controlled without sounding limiting. Tracks like "25!" and "Sort of Like Being Pumped" are bursting with life and excitement, piling on layers of sound without ever getting too messy to enjoy. Even more scaled back tracks like "Saddr Weirdr" and "Wednesday Night Drinkball" spare themselves no indulgence without ever actually sounding indulgent.

In his book Nothing Feels Good, Andy Greenwald points out that Blake Schwarzenbach was idolized for his ability to write songs that were intensely personal yet able to appeal to a mass audience at the same time. Rosenstock also has this ability to speak for us all, to let his personal stories stand as parables and metaphors for our own lives. Scrambles finds him on the verge of becoming one of punk's most vital song writes, a low-fi Jarvis Cocker singing for the man-boys who are old enough to drink but still living in the gutter, unable to pull a life together.

The album features songs about party-going dance clubbers and their drugs of choice, losing friends when moving out of town and (of course) a track about the foolishness and hypocrisy that runs rampant within the punk scene. While these songs are certainly good, it is the ones about Rosenstock's life as a man-child living in the city that are the most impactful, the most essential to the album's emotional core. On "25!" Rosenstock breaks down burden of the late-bloomer with simple and elegant prose, cramming a lifetime of frustration and panic into a two and half minute piano stomp ("We got our ideals but no way to achieve them / We swallow our pride over piles of problems / We're reaching for answers like nobody's got 'em").

Of course, you don't have to be at a life crossroads to feel confused about what to do, and if the album was nothing more than a laundry-list of complaints and whining, it wouldn't be nearly as good. At the end of it all, however, Scrambles is an album about overcoming. Sometimes things fall apart. There are times when the rigors of life will beat down even the most optimistic of individuals. Scrambles is a life vest at those times. It is an album about spinning wheels, about hovering between adulthood and adolescence, and ultimately, about how even something as small as seeing the sunset from the back of a train can give you enough strength to carry yourself home.

Key Tracks: Stuff That I Like, It Shits!!!, 25!, Saddr, Weirdr, Young Mind Fresh Body, Sort of Like Being Pumped, (Shut) Up the Punx!!!

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy it now. In fact, you can download it for free at the band's website, but you really should donate some money (which you can also do from the website).

Thursday, March 5

Adult Nights Too Similar to Every Other Night

Artist: Wild Light
Album: Adult Nights

Comments: My first experience with Wild Light was not a good one.

See, I saw them open up for Tapes n Tapes a week ago, and they made me sick. While the band has been getting some pretty good press all over the place, all I saw was four guys in tight pants making stupid faces and playing what could charitably be called "synth pop" and more accurately called "generic dance-rock bullshit." I left the bar with one of their matchbooks (yeah, this band has got fucking match books, for chrissakes), fully prepared to rip their album Adult Nights to shreds.

To be fair, Adult Nights is not nearly as bad as the band's live show lead me to believe. First of all, their songs are much more synth pop and much less dance bullshit on the album, and it's always better to make synth pop than dance bullshit. In fact, some of these tracks, like the one-two album opening punch of "California on my Mind" and "New Hampshire" are pretty nice little pop songs. With strong vocals and catchy hooks that get stuck in the head the way good pop songs should, Adult Nights is a hit as long as you stop listening after the first two songs.

After those songs, however, the album quickly runs out of charm. Every song after the first two is either a retread of those first two or a reminded of other, better bands. At any given moment listening to Adult Nights, one will be reminded of Death Cab For Cutie, The Shout Out Louds, The Legends, Belle & Sebastian, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, even the Arcade Fire (of which one of the members of Wild Light is a former member). It's one thing to listen to an album and think "Hm, this reminds me of something else" and another to listen to an album and think "Hm, I wish I was listening to one of these other, better bands right now. I think I'll put that on!"

Still, Adult Nights is not at all the train wreck I hoped it would be. It's a perfectly fine album if you can't wait for the next Train album, or if you're a high school girl, or if you just really, really like average keyboard pop. Harmless and toothless, I'm sure this album will appeal to someone, but with some many better bands doing the same thing at a higher level, I'm just not sure who. The only way to really look favorably on Wild Light is as a springboard to better bands, which is a noble enough purpose, I guess.

Key Tracks: California on my Mind, New Hampshire

Buy, Steal, Skip: Skip

Tuesday, March 3

Get It Now #2: Constantines - On To You

(Get It Now! is a new segment at LOTD, and, as the title suggests, it is an instant recommendation of what sounds good in the moment. Act fast before the mood changes!)

The Constantines are a hard band to pin down. Their complex guitar layering avoidance of traditional song structure and gruff vocal delivery make them consistently interesting, if not always instantly successful with first time listeners. However, when these Canadian post-rockers put their mind to it, they can make one fine song. While they've never delivered a knockout album from start to finish, tracks like "On To You," "Young Lions," and "Shine A Light" off their watershed 2003 release Shine A Light proves that when Constantines get it right, it's time to sit up and listen.

Constantines - On To You
Buy Shine A Light Here

Indie Rock's Mustached Meatloaf Strikes Chords, But Not Without the Occasional Strikeout

Artist: Franz Nicolay
Album: Major General

I'll always have a soft spot for over-the-top balladeers like Meatloaf and Billy Joel. Say what you want about their theatrical tendencies and their ham-handedness, but when one makes their entire musical career about the trails and tribulations of love, mankind's most overblown emotion, there has to be a sense of presentation and grandness. It is this mentality, the idea of magnifying emotions through music, that drives Franz Nicolay's Major General, the first solo record from the mustached troubadour responsible for ivory tickling with The Hold Stead and World Inferno/Friendship Society.

The existence of this album doesn't make much sense, until one pulls back and realizes that Nicoaly, with his operatic voice and flair for the dramatic (I mean, have you SEEN this man?), is one of the few members of their band with enough character to support a solo album. And if there is one thing Major General has, it is character. In spades.

Nicolay must have been working on variations of these songs for years. The music jumps around in style so much that Major General is more a collection of ideas than an actual album. Some of the ideas are quite good, too. Take for example the album opener "Jeff Penalty," a punk smasher about Nicolay's time at a Dead Kennedys reunion show. The song builds toward a big multi-vocal breakdown that doesn't work as well as one would hope, but is still worth repeat listens. In the same vein is the excellent "Confessions of an Ineffective Casanova," in which Nicolay regales us with tales of his botched romances. Both songs might be a little bit too "Hold Steady" for some, but those people are just being dicks (on "Quiet Where I Lie," however, that argument is much more apt).

Of course, an album of just punk anthems would never stand for someone as quirky as Nicolay. The rest of Major General is all over the place, jumping from Joel-like character sketches ("Dead Sailors" and "Hey Dad!") to an honest to God smooth lounge track ("Do We Not Live in Dreams?") and every classic rock touchstone in between. All this jumping from style to style insures that the listener is never bored at the cost of robbing the album of any sort of cohesive flow or connection. And while Nicolay has a distinct voice, it does tend to waver at times, reveling why he's been a backup singer in most of his bands.

Major General
is a pretty decent collection of songs from a man who obviously has more ideas than his two bands will allow him to release, but probably too many ideas to ever button down and release a steady unified work. Still, if you've got a soft spot for the dramatic blowhards who know more about the human heart and aren't afraid to sing about it, there's a lot to like in Franz Nicolay.

Key Tracks: Jeff Penalty, Do We Not Live In Dreams?, Confessions of an Inefective Casanova, I'm Done Singing

Monday, March 2

Get It Now! #1: Wintersleep

(Get It Now! is a new segment at LOTD, and as the title suggests it is an instant recommendation of what sounds good in the moment. Act fast before the mood changes!)

Artist: Wintersleep
Album: Welcome to the Night SKy

Snow Patrol, The Fray, Keane, Travis, Belle & Sebastien, and early Death Cab For Cutie. Wintersleep could be mentioned in the same breath with any of these bands, as well as any band that makes mid-sized emotional pop music. The comparison wouldn't be wrong, especially considering how pleasantly unremarkable Welcome to the Night Sky is on first listen. Those who recognize the strength of the band and go back for repeat listens, however, will find a wealth of better-than-average pop songs that hit much harder than their soft-rocking brethren. Tracks like "Weighty Ghost" and "Laser Beams" have much better composition and structure than anything Snow Patrol has done, while mammoth album closer "Miasmal Smoke & The Yellow Bellied Freaks" is a post-rock turned soft titan, a beautiful and epic closer to an album that is as yielding and adventurous as the season that named them. Philadelphia is covered in snow. There is no better time to get into Wintersleep.

Sunday, March 1

Fight Seasonal Affective Disorder With The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Artist: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Album: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Comments:Despite the massive snow storm that will surely have destroyed us all come Monday morning, there is no doubt that Spring is well on its way. Soon enough teens will be falling in love, plants will rise to greet the new found warmth of our mother sun, and the music world will see a slew of sunny, poppy releases that will aim to match the bright and frivolous joy of the season. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart self-titled release is the first of many albums in this subgroup, and it might be the best one as well.

The band has seemingly been universally compared to My Bloody Valentine, and while touchstones like R.E.M, The Cure, The Cars and Polaris (best known as the house band for Nickelodeon's hipster training program The Adventures of Pete & Pete), there is something undeniably 80s going on throughout the record. It's not hard to imagine a parallel universe where TPOBPAH would sit snugly next to other sweet, fuzzed out love songs on some John Hughes movie soundtrack.

Breaking down an album like this on a song by song basis is pointless, as almost every track sounds identical to the one before it. The only honest to God standout on the record is the drum-less opening track "Contender," a song that sets the charming tone of the record but is still strong enough to operate on its own. However, while saying an album is similar throughout is often a bad thing, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart sidesteps this criticism by working fantastically as a whole record. Clocking in at 10 songs in just over 30 minutes, the album is the perfect length: not so long that it overstays its welcome but not so short that the listener feels gypped.

These punky, new-wavey, synthy, mildly fuzzy songs might not become the new anthems for teen love, they certainly make for nice music to listen to while walking on a spring day.

Key Tracks: Contender, This Love is Fucking Right, Hey Paul (Not that it really matters, it's all gravy - Ed.)