Thursday, November 19

Tweens, Twilight and Cell Phone Lighters: It Must Be Paramore

Artist: Paramore
Album: Brand New Eyes

Comments: At the end of September, Paramore released their third full-length album, and I’m just now picking it up from my local branch of the Philadelphia Free Public Library. Does this say something about Paramore or me?

I guess I should preface this post by admitting that I have fallen off the ‘keeping-up-with-new-music’ bandwagon, which I’m not proud of. In my defense, however, Paramore’s Brand New Eyes is an album that makes me think that I haven’t missed all that much.

Upon breezing through the CD only three songs really stuck out to me, apart from "Ignorance," the first single that has plagued Radio 104.5. The three highlights of the album are surprisingly the slower paced songs. When I think Paramore, I think fast-paced pop punk and I visualize tween-led faux mosh pits. Instead, these songs make me think of actually listening to their lyrics and I visualize tweens with cell phones waving in the air in place of the badass lighter effect.

With these three songs, lead singer Hayley Williams stretches her vocals and reminds fans that underneath it all, she has a gorgeous voice. Plus, the slower songs explore a musically-matured side of the band as a whole. Check out "The Only Exception," "Misguided Ghosts" and "All I Wanted" if you don’t believe me.

As far as the other songs on the album go, it’s your typical Paramore pop-punk. The first single is catchy, but doesn’t have much sticking power. The second single off the album, "Brick by Boring Brick" features a clap along at the close of the song, which is practically a signature for the band. A surprise, however, was that one of the track’s choruses threatens that “next time you point a finger I might have to bend it back/or break it break it off.” Yikes! Hayley and the boys are gonna pull out a can of whoop ass!

Oh, and just in case you are one of those "obsessed with Twilight" people (I think they are calling themselves ‘Twi-hards’ now or something equally weird), know that Paramore’s single for the movie is NOT on this CD. I repeat, NOT on this CD.

Overall feeling on Brand New Eyes? Not terrible. Not the band’s best work, either. I still say that Riot! is Paramore’s best full length, but then again, that was released in 2007 when I was probably still on that bandwagon with all the tweens and their cell phone “lighters.”

Key Tracks:
The Only Exception, Misguided Ghosts, All I Wanted

Buy, Steal, Skip: Steal

By Mary Elizabeth Sullivan

Wednesday, November 18

Now this, THIS is 50

Artist: 50 Cent
Album: Before I Self Destruct

There are a few spots on Before I Self Destruct where 50 Cent sings, and he is just fucking terrible. Like, remarkably bad. What’s more, he doesn’t hide his off-key warbling with auto-tune or any kind of studio magic. Still, he keeps right on singing, oblivious or unaffected by his bad voice. Pure, tone-deaf balls.

It’s refreshing to hear. Balls, after all, is what has been missing from 50’s music since his firecracker 03' debut Get Rich or Die Tryin’. The time spent since that landmark release has been spent making uneven and uninspired albums littered with too many b-level guest spots, half-baked club jams and a handful of successfully vapid hit singles.

And, sure, dude made millions of dollars in the process. However, America didn’t fall in love with 50 because of hit capacity for radio-friendly hits. What made the man so compelling was his bravado, his swagger, his fucking confidence. Sure, he wasn’t the best lyricist and his persona is nothing new to gangster rap, but motherfucker had conviction, had the voice and delivery to make you believe. Real or not, 50 sounded hard, and his songs were like mule kicks.

Of course, it's been a long time since 50 Cent sounded like that. Which makes this album's strength all the more remarkable.

Self Destruct is 50 Cent reborn: the story of an older, more jaded, more isolated gangster returning to battle-ready mindset missing from his work for far too long. Like Marlo Stanfield, 50 is returning to what raised him with balled fists, the streets.

Most of the early album is about beef, a notion so antiquated in the modern rap scene that it’s almost refreshing. On “So Disrespectful,” 50 speaks on his uneasy relationship with Game and Jay-Z, even throwing an odd line or two at Dr. Dre, who produced a handful of the album’s better cuts. Pure balls. He saves his most telling attacks for Young Buck, hinting that, perhaps underneath all of his anger, there is more hurt there than he cares to admit. Regardless, 50 comes out cutting close to the bone and sounding all the better for it.

Other early standouts include the soulful Wu-like banger “Strong Enough” and the Dr. Dre produced “Death to my Enemies.” The former is a hungry, mournful track that paints 50 as ferocious and bloodthirsty as he’s ever been, and the latter is the first evidence that Detox might not be as terrible as common sense would indicate. Both tracks are pure bangers, villainous music from a confident gorilla flexing muscle for the first time in years.

If the album were limited to the first nine songs is would be an instant classic. As it is, the back half of the record is loaded with more of those soupy love songs and faux-club bangers people have come to expect from 50. Nothing really worth getting into back there, though it should be noted that “Baby By Me” would be a pretty good song if not for Ne-Yo.

It’s hard to imagine a multi-millionaire living in a Connecticut house previously owned by Mike Tyson feeling backed into a corner, but there is an element of caged animal to the best tracks on this album, as if 50’s recent loss of allies has made him more aggressive and lonesome.

Motivations and weak club tracks aside, what will stick are Before I Self Destruct’s darker moments. The bangers, the battle tracks that prove the 50 of old can still bring what made us love him in the first place: the invincible swagger and bravado of a real life hood-raised gangster.

Call it voyeur. Call it artificial. Call it exploitative. Just don’t call it boring. It’s the first 50 Cent album in some time that can boast that.

Key Tracks: Death to my Enemies, Strong Enough, So Disrespectful

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy, for the first time in a while.

Tuesday, November 17

Rap Video Tuesday!!

Ok, so there is a finished review I need to post, but I just sent it to Noripcord and I didn't want to post it here before it showed up there, and I need to take a shower before work, and I don't have time to make links and...and...

Shit. Sorry guys.

On the bright side, this is probably my favorite rap video ever:

Monday, November 16

LOTD Invents a New Genre!

Artist: The Chinese Stars
Album: Heaven on Speed Dial

Comments: Ever since the untimely breakup of Death From Above 1979, indie rock has suffered from a lack of a hyper-specific genre of music, a style I am going to call Fuck-Core.

What is Fuck-Core, you ask? It's a brand of overly masculine and aggressive music that is entirely about dirty, depraved sex with strangers. It is the kind of music one would play if they were to bang a stranger on the bathroom sink of a bar, high as a kite on stimulants, ala Micky Rourke in The Wrestler. It has a focus on heavy, driving rhythms, cocaine-fueled guitar riffs and a general sense of being as emotionless and primal in lovemaking as possible. You're a Woman, I'm a Machine is Fuck-Core. Most of the Blood Brother's stuff is Fuck-Core.

While the genre might sound kind of unsavory, it does have its place. Considering how wimpy and limp most indie-rock comes off (too concerned with style over substance), a healthy blast of macho confidence can be refreshing. However, this only works if the artist can walk a fine line between being actually sexy and just being some coked-out weirdo.

Sadly, The Chinese Stars Heaven on Speed Dial walks that line about as well as a one-legged circus clown on a high-wire in downtown Chicago. In roller skates.

The album is nine songs of gritty guitar driven dance music that recalls both the Blood Brothers and DFA79, but never doing as well as either. Tracks range from Liars-esque anti music (the bracing album opener "Rabbit Face") to blatant attempts at decadence (the cringe worthy "Lick it Clean"). Lead singer Eric Paul's vocals are a bit of a drag: every song is sung / screamed in a high-pitch wail that is occasionally effective but often just an irritation. The guitar work, which is the signature element of the band, is equally problematic, inspiring more cringes than sexy grinding.

The album does yield a few worthy tracks. Those with an ear for noise will like "Rabbit Face." Tracks like "No Car No Job" and "Slow Children" are legitimately groovy, showing off a rock-solid rhythm section. The slow build of "House is Burning" takes over four minutes to fully mature, and the restraint makes the track the best on the album, one of the few tracks where all the band's elements work together.

However, these few chestnuts and glimpses of quality are few and far between. Most of Heaven on Speed Dial comes off as low-class and creepy, the audio equivalent of that dude at a rave who sells Ecstasy to high school girls only to watch them from the wall of the warehouse, waiting for his moment to pounce on their chemically-enhanced hormones. No one likes that guy.

That guy isn't sexy, he's just a drugged out weirdo. This album isn't sexy or decadent: it's just kinda bad.

Key Tracks: Slow Children, House is Burning

Buy, Steal, Skip: I'd skip it.

Thursday, November 12

Rap Video Thursday!!

I've really tried to be a Freeway fan, but between getting decimated by Cassidy and his crazy uneven albums, he's just a lot of wasted talent.

At least we'll always have "What We Do," one of his best, most quotable tracks to date.

(Sorry about the ad in this video. "I'll try to find a better one after work.)

Wednesday, November 11

...I Mean, It's Better Than That Say Anything Double Album, Which Was, Honestly, Really Shitty

Artist: Say Anything
Album: Say Anything

Comments: A while back I had this pipe dream idea for an audio project. I wanted to follow around some of the homeless people in Suburban Station and record them as they spoke.

I'm not talking about your average down-on-his / her-luck homeless person, either. I mean the ones who are obviously suffering from mental disorders of some kind, the ones that spoke to themselves in hushed and hurried tones, as if they were discussing the secrets of the universe with some unknown, invisible deity.

Now, I will never follow up on this idea. I know that it is exploitative and inconsiderate. I realize the using someone's disability for my own perverse interest is as callous and sinful an act as I could commit. And I really don't want to get stabbed. Still, there is a part of me that will always be fascinated by people with no filter for their thoughts and emotions. I find that kind of rambling freedom intensely fascinating.

Which might explain why I even bothered to pick up Say Anything's self titled new album.

Say Anything lead singer and primary songwriter Max Bemis is about as close to my dream of listening to vagrants as I am going to get. Bemis is well documented for his social anxiety problems, struggles with medication and his often unhinged vocal delivery, which are so rambling and ripe with palpable emotion that boarder on madness. And while these traits are compelling in and of themselves, Say Anything have also turned out some really catchy emo-punk tunes in the past, especially on their proper debut ...Is A Real Boy.

However, taking voyeuristic pleasure in another man's unbalanced life isn't enough to save Say Anything. Bemis and Co abandon their pop-punk leanings on this album, instead relying on their pop instincts to produce an album of occasionally interesting but ultimately empty radio-ready jams.

Now, I know what you are thinking, and fuck you for thinking it. There is nothing wrong with radio-ready rock music, especially if its made well and is more well written than most, which cuts like “Do Better” certainly are. However, too much of this album just sounds like stale versions of songs they've already done better on previous albums or self indulgent bullshit aimed at “enlightening” adolescents.

On the bright side, Bemis does make with the crazy on a coupe of tracks (“Eloise” and “Mara and Me” are particularly ridiculous and awesome), and this record is way better than that double album monstrosity of In Defense of The Genre. But, really, its just one kinda sucky record instead of two kinda sucky records.

I don't know. Maybe I'm just no fun. Maybe I'm just getting too old for this shit. I found Say Anything a lot more fun when they wrote punk songs. These new pop tracks aren't really bad. They are just kind of bland and nondescript, and no amount of unhinged insanity can really fix that.

Key Tacks: Fed to Death, Do Better, Eloise, Mara and Me

Buy, Steal, Skip: Steal it if you must.

Monday, November 9

Tegan and Sara Get Sad, Happy, Canonized

Artist: Tegan and Sara
Album: Sainthood

Comments: I want to buy Tegan and Sara Quin a beer. They come off as such unhappy women, I bet they could use a drink.

It seems like every song they've ever written has been about being in love, falling out of love or the damage that falls somewhere between those two extremes. Even if one isn't listening for lyrics, the music itself (while coming quite a long way since their tampon-rock folk days) has an element of melancholy: an intangible quality of sadness that would dampen spirits even if the lyrics were about trampolines and puppy dog ice cream parties.

It should come as no surprise then to learn that the best tracks on Sainthood, the duo's latest album, are the ones that don't make you want to put a gun in your mouth.

Take, for example, the album closing “Someday”: a cheery guitar riff hums beneath a downright triumphant keyboard melody as the sisters Quin encourage the listener to “Move Up!” and “Reach Out!” before confidently reminding that they “Might write something that I want to say to you someday / mark my words I will be something someday.” This kind of well crafted feel good music is a long way removed from weepers like “Knife Going In.”

While the positive attitudes are welcome when present, mopers will fine plenty to get angsty about on Sainthood. Tracks like “Don't Rush” and “Hell” are the kind of dark fare that they duo perfected on their moody high water mark, 2007's The Con.

The overall mood of that record was palpable enough to let some lesser tracks slip by unnoticed, but the same cannot be said of Sainthood's duds, like the overly dramatic “Red Belt” and the Chris Walla-y “On Directing.” The album's better tracks, however, combine the sad-sackery with slick pop arrangements and solid song structure (see “The Cure,” the hurried "The Ocean" and the Sleater Kinney biting “Northshore”).

At its worst, Sainthood comes off like second-rate Death Cab For Cutie from a female's perspective. However, when it hits its stride, the record is a fine collection of mature, forward thinking indie pop that can be enjoyed by the heartbroken and the unmolested alike.

On the surface, Sainthood maintains Tegan and Sara's reign as the progressive poet laureates of relationship-related malaise. However, the real triumph of the record comes in the realization that if these gals can keep sharpening their pop senses and lyrical chops, they are going to put together a modern classic sometime soon.

Key Tracks: Someday, The Cure, The Ocean

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy