Thursday, May 20

Department of Squandered Good Will: Streetlight Manifesto Edition

Artist: Streetlight Manifesto
Album: 99 Songs of Revolution

Comments: For a minute there, Streetlight Manifesto was poised to become the one ring of ska bands. One horn to rule them all, one horn to bind them.

The Sauron, the dark master of this strained metaphor, is Tomas Kalnoky, band leader and brainchild of both Streetlight and Catch 22 before them. After the success of the group's super-tight 2003 debut Everything Goes Numb, an album that succeeds with no small thanks to Kalnoky's songwriting and flair for punk-ish arrangements, the group developed a cult-like following who was chomping at the bit to buy whatever ska-morsels the band saw fit to throw their way.

Then things...got weird. Like, totally bat shit weird.

Three years after Numb, the band opted to release a remake of Keaseby Nights, Kalnoky's other ska classic with Catch 22, enleau of a new album. The group eventually got around to putting out a proper followup in a year later, the diminishing-returns-factory of Somewhere In Between, a record that sounded just like their first one in all the wrong ways.

Now, after baffling moves and unreasonable delays, the few faithful have been rewarded with...an album of ska covers! Woo.

If nothing else, 99 Songs of Revolution proves what many suspected after the band re-released Keasby Nights: Kalnoky is out of ideas. Creatively, the man has been treading the same ground since 2003, and putting out an album of covers isn't going to do much to reverse that perspective.

As far as the album goes, it's exactly what one would expect: fucking ska covers of popular songs. There's a Radiohead cover (now with horns!) and a Paul Simon cover (now with more horns!) and a Postal Service cover (with, you guess it, horns!). Truth be told, the cover of "Such Great Heights" is pretty good, if only to hear the band replicate the frantic opening techno notes with brass instruments. Otherwise, this album is a wash.

I mean, if you were waiting for a band like Streetlight Manifesto, a band totally capable of putting out classics, to get back to the business of making rock music, would you give a shit about their cover of "Punk Rock Girl?" Of course not. You'd put on Everything Goes Numb and imagine they broke up immediatly after its release. It would have been a much more graceful way to go.

Key Tracks: Punk Rock Girl

Buy, Steal, Skip: Skip



I'm not linking to the covers. Let's pretend it's 2003.

Wednesday, May 19

The Swedes Won't Stop Making Pop Music, No Matter How Many Small Animals I Kill


Artist: The Radio Dept.
Album: Clinging to a Scheme

Comments: The Swedes make good pop. The Radio Dept. is a Swedish pop band. Put two and two together. Review over.

...

...

...

...

...


OK, fine.

Clinging to a Scheme is the band's third album, and it's a dreamy little affair. Their tunes are not forceful or overly-bright as much as they are hazy and warm, free of urgency, with simple, almost lazy hooks. There aren't much drums to speak of, outside the occasional canned computer beat. Still, the lack of percussion suits the light, airy nature of the songs.

The album's best tracks, however, are the ones that are less simple strings of pleasant music and more straight-forward songs. Take, for example, the second single "Heaven's On Fire:"once one gets past the asinine quote about "capitalizing on you youth culture," the song kicks in with flirty guitars and a bouncy, easy keyboard melody that will set twee-hearts a-cuddlin'.

Things are a little childish on Clinging to a Scheme, never getting deeper than the skin, never getting darker than slightly overcast on moodier numbers like "Domestic Scene" and "The Video Dept.," and the sunny disposition of the album can get a little over-bearing at times. Still, its a fine album to just throw on and go about one's day with. It's so sweet and well-made that, when the occasional real song comes along a sticks to the ribs, it feels like an added bonus more than anything else.

And, come on, complaining about the twee-pop record being too cheerful is like complaining about the ocean being too wet.

The Radio Dept.'s latest is well-made, feel-good music for people who like to feel good. By no means a meal, it makes for a fine snack at any hour of the day.

Key Tracks: Domestic Scene, Heaven's on Fire, This Time Around, David

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy

Tuesday, May 18

Crime In Stereo's Challanging Little Success


Album: Crime In Stereo
Album: I Was Trying To Describe You To Someone

Comments:
As far as post-hardcore goes, no band is currently more true to the genre than Crime in Stereo. They used to play hardcore, and now they don't. It doesn't get much more straight forward than that.

Still, trying to pinpoint the sound on I Was Trying To Describe You To Someone is a fool's errand. The album is unlike any other I've heard in some time. It stretches the ideas of punk in new directions, resulting in something that sounds very modern and cerebral while still maintaining an aggressive edge through vocals and guitars.

So, yeah, this is a punk rock record. But it's a punk record the same way that OK Computer is an alternative rock record, or the same way that Illinois is a folk record. These albums, while technically just simple genre pieces, are actually much more for what they accomplish and how different they sound than anything else like them. I don't think Describe You will fall into the same game-changing category of the other two records, but it's just as good.

Patches of this album are downright melodic. This record has been out since February, and I'm still listening to the guitar melodies and vocal hooks of tracks like "Type One" and "Drugwolf." Indeed, the vocals are a big part of why these songs work. Singer Kristian Hallbert doesn't do much more than scream, but he has a real sense of melody, and, along with the band's skill of playing off the quite-loud dynamic, his hooks are a big part of why the record is such a success.

Vocal dexterity aside, this is a guitar record. I've never seen Crime in Stereo live, but I'd imagine that its guitar players are some of those guys who have dozens of pedals at their feet. There is a lot happening from the six strings, and, honestly, I'm not sure how a lot of it is happening. There are a lot of little electronic, ambient touches, like on “I Cannot Answer You Tonight,” that are difficult to pinpoint but are paramount to the album's success. The straight forward riffs are mighty good, too.

I Was Trying To Describe You To Someone
is a fitting album name. It is nearly impossible to explain this record's greatness on paper. Punk rockers who come into it blind, expecting some straightforward rock in the vein of Bear vs Shark or Polar Bear Club will be disappointed. However, forward thinking rock fans will be decoding this mysterious gem for months to come, enjoying it all the while.

Key Tracks:
Drugwolf, Exit Halo, Not Dead, Type One, I Cannot Answer You Tonight

Buy, Steal, Skip:
Buy

Monday, May 17

Jim Ward is Pretty Good, Too


Artist: The Tallest Man On Earth
Album: The Wild Hunt

Comments: I don't usually go for singer songwriters. Too often I find their music to be self-indulgent, repetitive, devoid of ideas and delivered in a voice that is either emotionally absent, or so overwrought that I want to hurl my fist into someone's face. I don't like to chill out, man, so take that flaccid bullshit back to the beach bonfires and high-school basement parties.

Of course, there are a few exceptions to my distaste. Take, for example, the sparse and powerful tunes of The Tallest Man On Earth, whose latest album The Wild Hunt is like honey for my ears. By combining simple, enigmatic lyrics with an ethereal, almost rustic songwriting sense, the album is both familiar and excitingly new.

No, TTMON isn't re-inventing folk music; it is still just a man and a guitar singing about love through the lens of observation and fantasy. Still, it is hard to remember anyone doing it as convincingly, as enjoyably, as free of excess or pretense.

Maybe it is simpler than even that. Maybe there is just enough joy to be taken in a man who sings bravely and strongly, taking no time to whimper or whisper or wail. Surely one can just draw on the guitar playing, which is confident and firm despite its relative simplicity. Maybe it's just enough that the pretty songs are pretty, the rocking songs rock, and the lyrics are specifically ambiguous enough to apply to any situation.

Still, I say there is more. There is a comfort in The Wild Hunt, a domesticity, like meeting an old friend and finding them exactly as they were. And while the album will not yield new surprises on repeat listens, it will settle into your bones with all the warmth of November apple cider. Take note, young acoustic guitar players: this is what to shoot for.

Key Tracks: King of Spain, Love is All, You're Going Back, Troubles be Gone

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy

Friday, May 14

I'm Going To Brooklyn This Weekend, But I'll Be Back For NBT

I hope I see these guys:



Or this dude:



Maybe I'll get to do coke with these cats:



I'll probably run into at least one of these dudes:



Jared will probably be there:



But don't worry, I'll be back in time for this

Thursday, May 13

I Don't Need To Write Rhymes, I Write Checks

The video for Diddy's "Hello Good Morning" was released earlier today. Keeping in line with all of the producer / rapper's other hits, the song is a catchy piece of pop-candy with a video that looks more like a movie than a companion to the song.

Now, I've got a lot of problems with Sean Combs, but there is no denying the man's gift for making boatloads of money off of mediocre talent, and his penchant for making over-the-top, hyper-stimulating videos. Below are a few of his career highlights, ranging from songs that are actually good (Black Rob, whatup!) to songs that are just catchy nonsense (...uh...Ben Stiller?).

Hello Good Morning - 2010



What's more impressive: Rick Ross suddenly being able to rap without drooling on himself, the soupy, keyed beat being saved by some solid drums, Diddy not changing his dance moves or rapping flow since 1998, or that Diddy can stiff afford explosions and helicopters in his videos (A HELICOPTER? In this economy?). Still, the track isn't bad. It falls apart in the third to an extend, largly because it doesn't have T.I or Rick Ross to pick it up, but it'll be another notch on Diddy's hit-belt.

COME TO ME - 2006



Considering that this track reached the top 10 in Billboards Hot 100 back in '06, and taking into account that Press Play debuted at number one, going on to sell over 100,000 copies in an increasingly world-weary music landscape, I suppose I'd have to call "Come To Me" a hit. Regardless, this is the first time I've heard this totally benign song. Further proof that Diddy should stay behind the mic. Oh yeah, there is a Pussycat Doll on this song. Fun.


I NEED A GIRL PT 2 - 2002



This song, however, I do remember. Quick story: I used to play football in high school, and one of the more, ahem, feminine of our wide receivers used to play this song all the time in his Escalade (yeah, I went to the kind of school where kids had Escalades. Not me, of course. I used to ride around in my buddy Mannion's two-door coup, listening to Tha Block Is Hot and Bringing Down The Horse on a boombox in the back seat.). Incidentally, that same wide receiver used to get blow-jobs almost gratuitously in his car, usually with this song or one like it playing. If that doesn't make it a hit, fuck if I know what constitutes "a hit."

BAD BOY FOR LIFE / LET'S GET IT - 2001





Now we're getting somewhere. "Bad Boy For Life," with its Travis Barker and its Ben Stiller and its Dave Navarro and its Scooters, was a super-mega hit, far outdistancing the superior "Let's Get It" in popularity. Its a shame about "Let's Get It," which is still, to this day, one of my favorite rap songs ever. If there is one thing the world needs more of, it's nasty mugs like Black Rob. Even G-Dep comes off like a champ on the song, spitting my favorite line ever: "Shit I was born ready / And I was already on fish and spaghetti." Amen, G-Dep. What ever happened to him?

DIDDY - 2001



Another single off The Saga Continues..., an album that was way more huge than I originally realized. I could talk about The Neptunes beat, a marker of the group's fast-approaching high water mark, or I could talk about how, once again, Sean Combs needs to get off the mic. But I'd rather talk about how much time it took for me to find this video on YouTube (try searching "Diddy" on there and see how long it takes you).

Satisfy You - 1999



This track is off Forever, also known as The P-Diddy Album That Time Forgot, and it really only worth mentioning because the beat is great. So great, in fact, that I wish someone, ANYONE else was rapping over it. Sadly, we get Diddy. The man can make a hit, but he cannot rap to save his life.

Victory / Mo Money Mo Problems / All About The Benjamins / Been Around The World - 1997 (Aprox)

Listen...I'm not sure what to say about "Victory" other than it is the most extravagant, over the top, extreme rap video of all time. It should be required viewing for anyone over the age of 10, and is the benchmark against which all bat-shit insane videos should me measured. Truly a work of art, truly a classic.

Here is the video, and another with just the audio, in case you want to hear the music over the EXPLOSIONS!

The rest of Diddy's 1997 hits range from Iconic (Mo Money Mo Problems) to Hilarious, but listening to these songs, it isn't hard to see why dude made so much money. Dude was, and is, a hitmaker.




Music Videos by VideoCure








This rock remix is...just...the best lil' video. Things start out insane, then get EVEN MORE INSANE.

Wednesday, May 12

Ratatat - Party With Children (And Other Things Worth Looking In To)

1) Ratatat are at it again.

The electronic-duo are gearing up for the release of their fourth album, the aptly named LP4, and have released a video for the album's lead single, "Party With Children."

It is, far and away, the best anti-video since "Bastards of Young."



2) Jay Electronica released a new song last week.

"The Ghost Of Christopher Wallace," is really good for a couple of reasons:

A) The beat is, as the kids say, bananas
B) It features Diddy shouting a bunch of nonsense, which is always fun.
C) It's a new Jay Electronica song, idiot!

Speaking of Diddy, some might say his presence on this track, as a close personal friend of BIG, is a blessing to Jay Elect to use his name. Some other, more cynical people might say it is a continuation on the part of Diddy to cash in on his dead friend. I'm not going to weigh in, but I think its the second one.

Either way, good song.


Tuesday, May 11

Drake: Possibly Bitch Made?


Its hard to know what to make of Drake. On one hand, its very possible that he might be a legitimate dude to watch, rap-wise. On the other hand, he might just be an R&B jokester with a little heat, benefiting from the Lil Wayne vaccume.

Either way, here's his new video for "Find Your Love," presumably a single from his forthcoming album. The song isn't bad: it has a prototypical Drake R&B beat, but the vocals owe a lot to both Rhianna's singing on "Run This Town," and Kanye West's 808s and Heartbreaks album. The video is a mini-movie about Drake trying to find a hot woman he likes in a country of foreign origin. It even has a twist ending!

So, yes, this song will probably be popular, as will his soon-to-drop album. But, will it be another pop record, or will it be a worthwhile piece of hip-hop? Too soon to tell, but I'm leaning towards the former.

Monday, May 10

Sorry, Dudes. My Bad



So, I haven't been updating this blog in the last week or so.

My blast.

Been working on some shit, trying to get a job an all that chocolate hobnob.

So, with the whole "being unemployed" thing, I don't really have much money to buy new records. At the same time, with this new computer and all, I'm not in a rush to go out and pirate shit, either.

So here's the plan. I'll borrow CDs from friends. I'll listen to streams. I'll write about the backlog of shit I've got on my to-do list. I'll try to do news updates. I'll link to other, more successful blogs. Whatever.

The people will have Left of The Dail!

Is...is this fan-made video of a Say Anything song a good enough apology?



No?

Fuck you, then!

You'll see! You'll all see!

Wednesday, April 28

Diamond Eyes Doesn't Develop, Dissapoint


Artist: Deftones
Album: Diamond Eyes

Comments: Like New Found Glory, the Deftones are a band that time forgot. Their fall from grace is not due so much to a decline in the quality of their music as it is due to a changing of society's taste. For the Deftones, the world turned and left them in 2000, when the band released their career high water mark White Pony at the same time that the rap-metal genre they were (unfairly) lumped into began to collapse. By the time all us grade school metal heads were listening to The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand, the Deftones were an afterthought.

Of course, no one bothered to tell the Deftones they were old hat. The band released two more albums, a self titled album and their so-called “comeback” Saturday Night Wrist. Both records were received with somewhat mixed reviews. As if being passed by the public wasn't enough, in late 2008 Deftones bass player Chi Cheng was in a car accident that has rendered him comatose to this day.

And so, with little to no widespread attention and a man lying mostly-dead in the hospital, the Deftones have released Diamond Eyes, a holding-pattern album for a band with no motivation to hold pattern.

It is important to note that none of the songs are particularly bad. Most tracks follow the same trajectory the band set out on White Pony, especially “Rocket Skates” and “CMND / CTRL.” Nu-metal kids and hardcore fans will probably find things to like. Chino's vocals are as dexterous and as punishing as ever, and the band isn't hurting musically for the loss of their bassist.

I'll level with you: I have no desire to tie this band to a tree and bash them with my pretension stick considering that their only crime is operating in a stale genre. The album is good if you like the Deftones, but if you are some high-school nostalgic looking to get back into your former heroes, Diamond Eyes will be a disappointment.

Key Tracks:...

Buy, Steal, Skip:...

Monday, April 26

Pretty Much Every UK Band I Ever Liked Is Mentioned In This Review


Artist: Let's Wrestle
Album: In The Court Of The Wrestling Let's

Comments: One of the ramifications of the Internet's strangle-hold on our lives is the hyper-acceleration of culture. More specifically, sub genres come and go from the public eye faster than ever before. Sometimes, this shortened attention span works in favor of the world at large (so long, Rap-Metal! Hasta La Vista, Reggeton!) but it also robs us of some better ideas that need more attention. I'm sure that, somewhere in the UK, pub-rock is alive and well. I just wish we had more bands like the Fratellis to pump out radio-friendly, upbeat drinking music here state-side.

What we do have is Let's Wrestle, a young new trio from some such country in Europe. The band's debut In The Court Of The Wrestling Let's merges indie-rock guitar strumming with the humor and good-natured youthfulness of the Arctic Monkeys or Hot Club De Paris, resulting in a sort of Strokes-meets-Wombats monster for the new millenium.

While groups like Louis XIV played their music like cock-sure fuckheads, Let's Wrestle are much more comfortable fumbling through their youth like awkward bespectacled soccer players. Instead of killar riffs and sexy lixx, the band uses the drones and echo tones of 80s American college-rock to illustrate the frustration and comedy of being someone young, stupid and in love. Most of the album sticks in this indie-minded middle gear, resulting in some pretty agreeable tunes like “My Schedule” and “I'm In Love With Disaster.” The former almost sounds like a 50s pop song, while the latter dissects the failings of young love without getting all wimpy, which is nice.

However, when the band does decided to kick shit up past 6 and actually play their guitars, the songs do get pretty fucking good. Album opener “My Arms Don't Bend That Way, Damn It!” and “Song For Old People” both sound better with a little spine behind them, and record highlight “We Are The Men You'll Grow To Love Soon” is a bonafide pop-rock hit in the grandest booze-drinking tradition.

At the end of the day, however, Let's Wrestle aren't a pub band as much as they are a “drinking with a few friends in a second floor apartment” kind of band. They walk the line between frivolous drunk music and indie rock swirling well enough that one never needs them to fall on either side. In The Court Of The Wrestling Let's has its share of good songs and there is more than enough present to make this band one to watch out for.

Now, if we can just get Europe to make some kind of Libertines / Hold Steady hybrid, we'll be guzzling pints like there is no tomorrow (wait...they already did!?).

Key Tracks: We Are The Men You'll Grow To Love Soon, Song For Old People, My Schedule, I'm In Fighting Mode

Buy, Steal, Skip:
Steal

Sunday, April 25

How Do You THINK This New Flobots Album Sounds?


Artist: Flobots
Album: Survival Story

Comments: Let me get my praise for Flobots out of the way early. There are a few tracks (well, two tracks) that work pretty well. “By The Time You Get This Message” and “Airplane Mode” both have pretty good flow and instrumentation. They are above-average songs with above-average beats. They will probably make you bang your head. Any lyrical missteps come quickly and lightly enough to be forgotten. However, as these songs are in the middle of the album, one would be forgiven for not sticking around long enough to find them.

Now then.

The latest album from Flobots, A.K.A Rage Against The Machine-lite, A.K.A My First Coup album, A.K.A Rap for 9th Graders Who Like Cake is a big pile of unfocused, vaguely political bullshit rap-rock for a fan base that doesn’t exist past age 16.

Quick story: I used to work at a restaurant. Sometimes, when I was at work, a group of lawyers would come in and eat. While there, they would “talk” about politics. What I mean by this is that they would spout off the most half-assed, cliche commentary on current events that anyone has ever heard. They spoke loudly, like idiots often do, about things which they very clearly had no idea about outside of the sound bite someone told them. They were the worst kind of dangerous, because they are half-informed. At least the uninformed keep their mouths shut (They should have spent more time with the Ministry).

Survival Story is like this. The Flobots message is anti-war, anti-government, standard teenage rallying cry of “Let’s smash the system” with no clear idea or message past that. To cop a line from the Joker, they are like dogs chasing cars, with no idea what to do with one if caught. But at least the Joker was interesting. Flobots are benign and irritating. They are a tea-bagger rally. Do not want. Avoid at all costs.

Unless, you know, you are 14 and you like rap-rock.

Then, by all means, suck this swill down.

Key Tracks: ...Please.

Buy, Steal, Skip: Skip

I'm not going to support Flobots by putting their music up. Instead, dig on these songs. You know, music ACTUALLY worth listening to.



Saturday, April 24

Pay Attention!: 400 Bars


A new Game track recently showed up on the web. It features "400 Bars," a 20-minute long class on how to flow outrageous. Bonus points for the whole thing using Jay Electronica's "Exhibit C" beat, which is still probably the most head-knocking jam of the last two years. The track isn't as incendiary as "300 Bars" is, but considering that one can count the number of rappers capable of this kind of display on one hand, this shit is something.

I'm officially excited for Game's forthcoming album. Needless to say, if you at all like rap, or even words in general, this is one to behold.




Thursday, April 22

Earth Day 2010 / Rap Video Thursday

Protect the planet, ya dicks!

We want everything to be nice so we can get more videos like this!



...And this!



...And more or less everything that happens in this movie!



Listen, I'm no activist, but let's at least make an effort to not be cocks to the environment. Turn off lights, take the bus, pick up some litter, etc.

********************

As I'm sure many of you have heard, GangStarr might Guru passed away earlier this week. This is a shame, not only because he died so young (49), but because hip hop has lost a top-notch MC. Too few dudes are making music like this, and it is always sad to lose one. R.I.P. Guru.

Wednesday, April 21

Eat A Dick, Williamsburg!


Artist: Drink Up Buttercup
Album: Born and Thrown on a Hook

Comments: Once upon a time, there was a Philadelphia band named The Teeth. The Teeth were awesome. They made 60s style pop music but with a scary, drugged out feeling to it. Which is to say, if one were to have a bad trip at Cirque De Soleil, the Teeth's broken carnival pop would have made an excellent soundtrack.

Now, does Drink Up Buttercup sound exactly like the Teeth? No, not exactly. I just want to point out that Philly has the market cornered on warped Beach Boys / Beatles-style tunes for the new millennium. Suck on that, Brooklyn!

Now, if you are thinking “Well, fuck, man, does the world really need another band that's making music inspired by 1963 – 1973?,” you do make a good point. Born and Thrown on a Hook isn't exactly reinventing the wheel. But here's what I'm saying: sometimes, its enough to just make a really good fucking wheel.

Of course, there is more to this record than period-aping. These songs are much darker in spirit than anything the sun-pop crafters of our collective heyday were ever keen on making.



There is something sinister hanging just behind the curtains in every song, as if Drink Up Buttercup are nothing more than siren organ grinders, calling young children from their beds to be devoured by wolves.

This dichotomy is apparent on “Little Ladies,” a track that mixes a fun, poppy hook with sinister minor chords and vaguely threatening lyrics. Indeed, the subtle sense of danger that lies in the underbelly of the album is one of band's strongest attributes.

Of course, dangerous weirdness will only get you so far. At some point, motherfuckers have to actually write songs. Born and Thrown on a Hook, thankfully, is more than thunder and noise, boasting some varied, catchy numbers that run the gamut of 60s favorites from Beach Boys pop music (“Young Ladies”) to keyboard driven Brit-rock stock (“Even Think”), hitting every stop in between. The best two songs on the album, “Lovers Play Dead” and “Mr. Pie Eyes” even manage to stand on their own, sounding totally original amongst other tracks that could, at worst, be tagged for being derivative.

So here's what it come down to: Drink Up Buttercup's first album is a mass of old-time pop ideas repackaged with weirdness and apprehension to maxim effect. Indeed, those who can get past the thin layer of weirdness that covers Born and Thrown on a Hook will be rewarded with a pop / rock album that offers more than the usual touchstones to a better era. Also, if you like the Teeth, you'll like Drink Up Buttercup (eat a dick, Williamsburg!).

Key Tracks: Mr. Pie Eyes, Lovers Play Dead, Little Ladies, Even Think, Seasickness Pills

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy

Tuesday, April 20

Striking Out With Kaki King


Artist: Kaki King
Album: Junior

Short Review: High on talent but low on ideas, Junior is a well-made non-factor of an album.

Long Review: True story: I had a friend in college who was the worst with women. I mean, just absolutely, mind-fuckingly terrible. It was as if this guy would go out of his way to shoot himself in the foot when it came to meeting ladies. In fact, to this day I can only remember him ever having what could be charitably referred to as a “girlfriend.” Really, she was more of a one-night-stand that he couldn't let go of. You might be surprised to hear that their relationship, such as it was, didn't last more than a month.

I bring this up only because this overly-polite young woman was enamored with Kaki King. The one awkward time I hung out with the two of them, I ended up asking about music as a means to shatter the uncomfortable, The Office-like queasiness that had settled in the room, and was rewarded with a dissertation on how awesome Kaki King was.

After listening to Junior, King's fifth album and first on Rounder Records, I can sort of see where the obsession could come from. Which isn't to say that the record is especially good (because it isn't), just that King has potential.

Junior shifts between two phases: paranoid, narrative rock music and wandering ambient guitar strumming, two subgenres she is able to handle with ease. There is no questioning her chops as a guitar player, as the woman can play a mean lick. Her style is reminiscent of fellow she-rocker Marnie Stern, though King is much more composed and less rawkus than Stern. For example, Stern would never play something as restrained as “Everything Has An End, Even Sadness,” an example of one of the album's better ambient works.



Then again, Stern's albums never get boring, either. Rocking tracks like “The Betrayer” and “Spit it Back Into My Mouth” are solid, but by “The Hoopers of Hudspurt,” she's run out of ideas. And as far as the ambient stuff goes, ones enjoyment will depend on how much moody guitar riffing one can handle before that shit gets old. Me personally, I can't take much of it.

What is frustrating about Junior is King's obvious talent. It is clear that this is a woman capable of a level of musicianship most artists can't achieve, yet she seems unable to do anything more with it than repeat a few good ideas with diminishing returns. While the album isn't bad by any means, it isn't stand-out in any way. For super fans, like that would-be girlfriend of my luckless pal, the album might be enough to hold over until the next release. For average folks, however, there is too little to get excited about.

Key Tracks: The Betrayer, Spit It Back In My Mouth, Everything Has An End, Even Sadness

Buy, Steal, Skip: Skip

Monday, April 19

Record Store Day Recap


Saturday, April 17 was Record Store Day, the national holiday celebrating independent and local record stores across the country. Artists and labels of all types use this day as an opportunity to release limited edition, hard to find tracks to the world, as a way to say thank you to both the stores that carry their music and to the people who buy their music in the age of digital theft.

It was my first record story day. I came home with $130 dollars worth of vinyl.

Admittedly, I went a little nuts. But, hey, at least I stimulated my local economy. And I get to add a few inches to my indie-cred dick.

What follows is a description of what I picked up and whether or not it was worth it. All records were purchased at Repo Records in Philadelphia, my favorite place to buy punk music.

**********

Ted Leo and The Pharmacists 7in Single:


This little number, which features two non-album tracks from the band's latest, LOTD-approved The Brutalist Bricks, was one of the more exciting buys of the day. Sadly, it was also one of the more disappointing. The two tracks, “The Oldest House” and “North Coast,” were clearly left off Bricks for a reason, as neither of them is very good. Of the two, I prefer “North Coast,” which at least has some pretty solid riffing going on. Both are straightforward punkish-rock songs, and neither of them leaves a very strong impression.

Worth It?:
Nah

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs Skeleton 7in:

While the record has grown on me some, It's Blitz is still my least favorite YYYs album to date. “Skeleton” is a pretty good track, though, and the live cut of the song on the single's b-side is hauntingly true to the original recording. It is fun to hear how much breathier and warbly Karen-O is in real life, and the live cut does pack a little more energy into the song than the album cut does. While no means an essential piece of the collection, its still a neat lil' single, perfect as a gift for a girlfriend or an effeminate friend who thought Show Your Bones was too punk rock.

Worth It?: Just Barely

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Passion Pit Little Secrets Red 7in:

Full disclosure: I didn't actually buy this one, my girlfriend did (but I totally would have if she hadn't). “Little Secrets” is probably my favorite song off of Passion Pit's excellent Manners, so having a single of it is a pretty nice little addition to the (her) collection. The Felix Da Houscat remix is also pretty good, though with a song as dance-ready as “Little Secrets,” a remix does seem kind of redundant. Still, this doubles as not only a good get but the prettiest record of the day.

Worth It?:
...Yes.

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Japandroids Art Czars 7in:

Another pretty-looking piece of vinyl, this Japandroids single takes a cut from one the band's pre Post-Nothing Eps and pairs it with a cover of Big Black's “Racer-X.” The cover is a little lacking; without a full band behind it, the cover fails to reach the brutal heights of the original. “Art Czars,” however, is a bitchin' tune that finds the band bringing more punk than drone. All told, this is a fun little single from this decades Death From Above 1979 that is getting me giddy for their eventual second album.

Worth It?:
Totally

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Against Me! I Was A Teenage Anarchist 7in:

Speaking of building momentum for a release, here's the single for “I Was a Teenage Anarchist,” a track from the band's forthcoming White Crosses album. This song is going to piss off the Against Me! purists, as it strikes the same stadium-ready, pop-leaning songwriting style that the band nailed on New Wave. Still, if you like big-ass pop-rock and aren't brain dead, you'll probably be into this song. And, for all you folk-punks out there, the single includes a stripped-down acoustic b-side that is also pretty good. My friend Joe Pelone had a problem with this single, though I'm not totally sure what it was. Maybe you should as him about it? Either way: good single, totally pumped for White Crosses.

Worth It?: For big fans, totally. For average shits, nah.

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I also got this cool looking Built To Spill single, but I can't listen to it yet because I'm kind of an idiot. I'll get more into that later.

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Pavement Quarantine The Past

Different track listing than on the CD. Double vinyl. Custom artwork. Pretty great stuff. Since I have all the band's music already, I will admit that shelling out for a best-of might seem like a lame idea. My defense is two fold: 1) Now I can play this for my friends without having to worry about tracks like “Hit The Plane Down” turning them off and 2) Fuck you, I love Pavement. I'm pretty excited to get drunk sometime this week and bust this puppy out, close my eyes and pretend it is 1995.

Worth It?: Again, not for super-fans. However, if you were ever looking to get someone into Pavement, this is as good a gateway record as any.

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Modest Mouse The Moon And Antarctica 10th Anniversary Reissue

Truth be told, this was one of my two reasons for wanting to get involved with Record Store Day (the other being a rumored Hold Steady silk-screen advance of their forthcoming Heaven is Whenever that I couldn't find) and I couldn't be more excited to have it in my collection. Not to sound like some kind of elitist dick-mouth, but I love the sound this record puts out. The beauty of having it on wax is in the subtle sound changes that just don't get picked up on the digital version. There are new loops and layers that are missed when listening to the record on an ipod. Modest Mouse and vinyl seem to just be meant to be. Pitchfork has a rundown of everything cool about this edition, but really it just comes down to the fact that the shit sounds better coming out of a hi-fi.

Worth It?: Absolutely

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Days like this remind me why I want my record player in the first place, and how fun the process of actually holding something in your hands can be. God bless you, Record Store Day. I'll see you next year.

Now I gotta go find a job so I can justify spending a week's groceries on music.

Thursday, April 15

Broken Bells: Meh


Artist: Broken Bells
Album: Broken Bells

Comments: A few nights ago, a friend and I decided to get drunk on his rooftop porch. We discussed myriad things (Mike Tyson Punch-Out, girls with flat stomachs, rock bands, which direction South was), but the most compelling conversation we had was about collaboration.

Artists and creative types will go on and on about how important collaboration is to the creative process. And, yes, there are plenty of examples to back this up. However, no amount of collaborating can ever substitute for clear creative vision, and sometimes team-ups are nothing more than people coming together to mix talents that don't naturally run perpendicular to each other.

Broken Bells, the new project featuring the Shins' James Mercer and Gnarls Barkley's Danger Mouse, is an example of the second kind of collaberation. Their self-titled debut album isn't so much “bad” as it is “unnecessary.”

The record is a moody pop affair, sounding somewhat like the emotional, brooding little brother to Danger Mouses' other, more fleshed out albums with Gnarls Barkley. At its best moments, the album is able to combine Mouse's soulful dark soul music with Mercer's finer pop sensibility, resulting in songs that are sad, but pleasant ("Your Head Is On Fire"). At its average moments, it sounds like Gnarls Barkley b-sides ("The Ghost Inside").

What the album lacks is focus. Broken Bells is an album of electronic sad-pop made for no other reason than the boredom or stagnation of the primary artists' other gigs. There is no drive, no greater idea past “Danger Mouse makes a song, and Mercer sings on it.”

Does it make for good music? Kind of, but it is never so good that you will really care about it.

Key Tracks:
Any of them, I guess. This is such a benign album that I don't even have the energy to go back and see what I like.

Buy, Steal, Skip:
Skip it.


Tuesday, April 13

Regarding This New, Shitty Gorillaz Album


Artist: Gorillaz
Album: Plastic Beach

Comments: I am not British. I prefer my rap music to have dominating, narrative driven lyrics or unique vocal delivery (and If I can get both, well fuck it, I’m sold). My interests in electronic music don’t go much further than well made dance music, engaging ambiance or all out audio-fuckery. Keep these things in mind when I tell you that Plastic Beach is a lame album.

I would understand if you didn’t believe me. Almost every source of meaningful critical output has raved about this record. BBC Music called the album “a new benchmark for collaborative music” in its review. The hipster taste-makers over at Pitchfork gave the album a more-than-solid 8.5, making it their favorite Gorillaz album to date. Even my buds over at No Ripcord loved this damn thing, giving it a perfect score and calling it one of the best albums of the year (not like that really matters, people are handing out 9’s and 10’s over there like they were free kittens). It is entirely possible that I am missing the point.

Fact remains, though, that this is my least favorite Gorillaz record ever. It is the least fun to listen to and the least rewarding to spend time with.. Plastic Beach takes everything I liked about the project and flips it around. Instead of having cartoon-y, goofy funk beats over spirited alt-rap verses (like on the excellent “Dirty Harry” or “Feel Good Inc”), this album is full of wiggly, overwrought production devoid of any engaging rapping to be found outside of “White Flag.”

So pretty much anything catchy or fun has been replaced with more serious and “creative” endeavors this time around, resulting in an album that serious people love, at the expense of anything an unwashed shit like me can use. The whole thing ends up sounding like a Radiohead album if Radiohead were a “rap” group instead of a “rock” group.

Look, I understand that, as an artist, the ultimate goal is to push oneself further and continue to evolve in one’s own craft. I get that stillness is death, and anyone not moving forward isn’t really moving at all. That being said, Gorillaz used to be able to manufacture off-center pop music that defined a clear genre and still struck a chord with the masses. Plastic Beach does not do this. I promise you this: when the year-end best-of lists are released, this album will be on all of them. However, you will be hard pressed to find five people who can honestly say they enjoyed this album more than Demon Days or Gorillaz.

Key Tracks: White Flag, Stylo

Buy, Steal, Skip: Honestly, it could go either way. I bought this record. I expect that I will probably play it three or four more times trying to find the secret to its success before it fades into background music and gets sold to Repo. So let's go with skip.


Cant find a video to embed right now...so...let's all listen to Crazy Train!

Monday, April 12

FANG ISLAND FOREVER

(Ed's Note: This is, far and away, the goofiest review I've written. It is rotten with hyperbole and probably not very good. That being said, I cannot stress enough how excellent Fang Island is. It is not only a must-have record, but a mortal lock for everyone's Top 20 lists at the end of the year. Get this shit today.)



Artist:
Fang Island
Album: Fang Island

Comments: Fang Island's latest album both begins and ends with the sound of fireworks going off. Never in the history of music has an album had a more fitting preamble and epilogue.

Fang Island is, hands down, the most fun rock and roll to come out since Andrew W.K.'s I Get Wet forced us to party back in 2001. Until some manner of audio-controlled force-feedback vibrating codpiece is invented by science pervs, no album can offer the same level of satisfaction.

Listening to Fang Island is like eating a giant, mixing-bowl size serving of the most decadent ice cream conceived by man. No indulgence is spared, no whim not exercised. This record is everything that your 15 year old mind wanted in rock music: guitar solos so intricate and catchy that they could be used to wrangle and tame Dinosaurs played as speeds so blazing that it could only be preformed by some kind of human-robot hybrid from the future, returning to our own time to teach us how to love.



Fang Island sounds like a metal band that decided to play the entire score to a fictional Sega Genesis game that I wish existed. Never before have guitars and keyboards come together so beautifully to slam-fuck your ears.

Seriously, I cannot stress enough how much of a pants-shedding good time this album is. If you are at all, in any way, a fan of upbeat music overflowing with positive energy, this record is a must buy.

Did you ever like pro-wrestling? Ever? Did you ever want to be a firetruck or a spaceship when you grew up? Do you like roller coasters, summer time, playing wiffle ball or jumping off a high ledge on to a trampoline, only to bounce into a big warm lake with all of your friends from grade school? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, Fang Island is required listening.

Do you like the technical skill of DragonForce but wish they didn't play speed-metal about JRR Tolkien? Do you wish your pop-punk had a few more guitar solos? Fang Island, my man, Fang Island.



Detractors will detract. Cynical, negative shit-mouths will say it is too light-hearted. Attention deficit speed-freaks will bemoan the lack of traditional lyrics and vocal delivery, as Fang Island chooses to use group vocals and prefer to let its message live in its music rather than what some front man spouts. Fuck those people, they clearly have given up the better part of themselves a long time ago.

Fang Island is a time machine, weather machine and Prozac pill all in one. It will take you to a better, warmer, happier place as long as you are willing to keep up and let your seriousness go for a half hour or so.

If you are ever lonely, sad, friendless or bummed, this album can save you, pull you out of it, make it seem like a cheering audience is waiting just behind your stereo to hug you, pick you up, keep you going.

The last song putters away into fireworks. The first one picks up with the same. Clearly, this is an album meant to be listened to on repeat. There is no reason not to. Fang Island forever.

Key Tracks: Careful Crossers, Daisy, Life Coach, Treeton, Davey Crockett, Welcome Wagon, Dorian

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy.

Monday, March 29

All You Need Is Love Is All


Artist: Love is All
Album: Two Thousand and Ten Injuries

Comments: Considering how quickly the turnaround from indie superstar to trend has-been can occur, it is nice to have a band one can rely on.

Love is All is such a band. Their third album Two Thousand and Ten Injuries continues a trend of quality and reliability that surpasses any other blog band around.

A quick history: the band emerged with Nine Times That Same Song in 2004, a record that mixed 50s girl-pop with fuzzy art-rock and featured songs almost exclusively about relationships and the like. Their followup A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At Night came out in 08 and while it featured a few more disco numbers, it was essentially the same album.
Two Thousand isn't a big departure, sound wise.

Lead singer Josephine Olausson is still as vocally dexterous as ever, warbling adorably when need be and giving her Swedish accent a harsh punch when the song calls for it (doing the former on "Never Now" and the latter on "Bigger Bolder"). Nicholaus Sparding still anchors the band with his jumpy guitar licks and well-placed backup vocals. Songs still sound like they were recorded in a reverb factory, jumping from mopey sadness to righteously indignant at the drop of a hat. Sure, there aren't as many horn songs this time around (A Hundred Things was horn crazy in the best way), but that only means the guitar gets a bigger slice of the rock-pie.

The untrained ear might be tempted to write off Two Thousand as more of the same. While there are occasional songs that sound like re-treads, by and large this album represents a strengthening of what makes the band great.

The 50s doowop vocals are as strong as ever, making Love is All sound like some kind of bizzaro Beach Boys (especially on "Early Warning" and "Kungen.") The lyrics are tightening up, too. No one does heartbroken like Olausson; her songs have an honesty and simplicity that other bands would be wise to take a que from.

While slightly more rocking than previous efforts, Two Thousand and Ten Injuries is no stadium rock record. Rather, it is a different take on the bedroom album. Good as a heartbreak-balm, an above-average way to spend a night in bed or just something to dance with your special lady / man / whatever to, Love is All's latest proves that they can be counted on to bring quality pop, no matter what.

Key Tracks: Repetition, Less Than Thrilled, Kungen, Never Now

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy

Sunday, March 28

Low-Class Victory Lap


Artist: Drive By Truckers
Album: The Big To-Do

Comments: Fresh off their 2008 career revitalization album Brighter Than Creation's Dark, The Drive-By Truckers are back with The Big To-Do, an album of beer-swilling southern rock music that suggests everything will be OK even when the lyrics remind the opposite.

Seriously, if you ignore the lyrics, this is one shit-kicking, good time record. Classic rock arrangements, complete with Lynard Skynard guitar solos, pop hand claps and Springsteenian keyboards explode out of the tracks, giving way to images of crowded clubs packed with sweaty, dancing people chugging bud light and trying their damnest to have a good time. Half the fun of The Big To-Do is getting to hear the band do its thing: there are too few rock band left that can play this sort of music, and even fewer that can play it as well as The Drive-By Truckers.

The other half of the fun, however, is in the unfolding of lead Trucker Patterson Hood's tragic stories. Turning his focus from his own personal life (a subject he covered pretty well on Creation's Dark), Hood tells stories of a sexually abused preacher's wife ("The Wig He Made Her Wear"), a boy waiting for his “pilot” father to come home ("Daddy Learned To Fly") and a criminal who better be dead, or else ("Drag The Lake Charlie").

Like all great storytellers, the Truckers succeed in the little details. For example, the excellent "Drag The Lake Charlie" would be a sweet little pop song even without snapshots like this one: “Remember what happened last time Lester went on the make/ I heard it took the cleaning crew two weeks to clean the bar / they never found that teenage girl, they never found her car.” Dark touches like that one really sell the stories, make them something more than simple pop songs, something closer to actual literature, or at least one-act plays set to the best bar band you've ever heard.

As The Big To-Do unfolds, with its swelling solos and stories of tired strippers and trophy wives, it does tend to run out of steam. Out of the album's 13 tracks, the last three are the weakest. But of the other 10 tracks, no less than seven are dick-swingin', beer chuggin', life crushingly depressing romps through lower-class America.

Indeed, this music isn't so much about location (Southern Rock / Northern Rock, whatever) as much as it is about the haves and the have nots. Right now, there isn't a band alive that understands the struggles of the latter quite like the Drive By Truckers. There isn't a band around that makes their trials sound more fun.

Key Tracks: Daddy Learned to Fly, Drag The Lake Charlie, The Birthday Boy, (It's Gonna Be) I Told You So

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy

Thursday, March 25

(Indie) PROG ROCK!

Artist: The Besnard Lakes
Album: The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night

Comments: Before the Besnard Lakes came along, I was sure that I knew what prog-rock was.

Not that The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night has really changed my total perspective. I still think that, by and large, prog-rock is a genre sick with technical prowess and little regard for what actually sounds good to human ears (it's that old jazz argument: you have to listen to what they AREN'T playing to truly understand!). However, the Montreal four-piece's third album has shifted my beliefs some.

Roaring Night is progressive, to be sure. Tracks often meander into the six and seven minute range, locking in on tight grooves and peppering in a guitar solo here, a blast of welcoming fuzz there. Songs like “Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent Pt 1: The Innocent” uses this Yes-meets-Arcade Fire pattern to maximum success, resulting in a sprawling song that never feels tired despite its simple arrangement and repetitive nature.

Indeed, this isn't your Uncle's prog-rock. Gone are the overwrought keyboard solos, the odd time signatures and the greek mythology / space exploration back stories that choked the great Prog dinosaurs of the 1970s. This is indie-prog, my friends, full of harmonies, restrained pop sensibilities and sound layering. So, yeah, if you were looking for the next Rush or King Crimson, one would be better off with the latest Mars Volta record.

Indeed, the Besnard Lakes are much less Yes and much more Yo La Tengo, making guitar heavy shoe-gaze rife with band-wide vocal harmonies, walls of fuzzy sound and a general sense of grandeur that suggests some great big sunrise awaits us all just over the horizon. Roaring Night isn't a game changer, but it makes for excellent late-night soundtrack fodder, and it offers a little more complexity than the average indie rock album. At the very least, it'll hold us over until the next Broken Social Scene album.

So, no it doesn't change the prog-rock game. It does, however, make the shit not only listenable but relateible as well. Besnard Lakes deserve credit for that, if nothing else.

Key Tracks: Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent Pt 1: The Innocent, Albatross

Buy, Steal, Skip: Worth listening to, but not worth paying for. Steal.