10 December 2010

Cee Lo Green, The Lady Killer (2010): Album Review

Thomas DeCarlo Callaway is no stranger to the music business. You might know him as part of the Southern hip-hop group, Goodie Mob—a bit of a “90’s thing,” of course, but still an entertaining blast from the past. Or you might recognize him as Gnarls Barkley—you know, the guy behind that immensely popular tune, “Crazy,” with one hella trippy music video? Yeah, don’t try and act like you don’t burst into song every time it comes up on your iPod. But now, you probably know him best as Cee Lo Green—that dude who croons out Motown-esque ballads like no other, one in particular entitled “F*** You”…ever heard of it? Anyways, he recently released a new album entitled The Lady Killer and I’m sorry to say, I was relatively disappointed.

Cee Lo begins the album with a spoken intro—setting up his indulgent and wild life as a so-called “lady killer” backed up with whizzing harmonies seemingly taken from the likes of The Incredibles. The first real song of the album is my absolute favorite, and is one of my most-played songs lately. “Bright Lights Bigger City” is catchy and suave with energetic horns and drums—introducing Cee Lo’s soulful, Motown sound exquisitely. The next tune is this past summer’s unexpected smash, and recently-dubbed Grammy-nominee—“F*** You.” I don’t think there’s a more delightful and whimsical anthem for lovesick individuals anywhere. If there’s one song on this album you should listen to, it’s certainly this one—it was the reason I got hooked on Cee Lo in the first place. “Wildflower” shows how Green isn’t as vocally commanding whilst singing in a higher register, but regardless, it’s a beautiful song both lyrically and melodically. The next tune, “Bodies,” employs simple, military drum corps beats, with a lot of heavy heaving and sensual conversation. Frankly…it was a little unnerving to hear Cee Lo talking dirty. Not a big fan. Luckily, he redeems himself with “Satisfied,” which retains the doo-wop panache we so enjoy from his songs—complete with Diana Ross-esque backup vocals. And while “I Want You” is an all-around fine song, this is the point in the album where every tune begins sounding the same. The sugarcoated, reassuring lyrics of “Cry Baby” get tedious; and although it has an off-kilter beat, it’s almost impossible to distinguish the words to “Fool For You.” I relatively enjoy the verses of “It’s OK,” but the empty shrieking of the chorus is enough to make my skin crawl. Although brimming with soul, “Old Fashioned” still feels empty and does not leave much of an impression. And it’s a wonder he would end the album with “No One’s Gonna Love You”—it doesn’t even have an upbeat or buoyant tempo to overshadow the mediocre lyrics, and at least end the record on a cheerful note.

All in all, this album was pretty hit-or-miss. I think I enjoyed the first half of The Lady Killer better than the second—it was much more bubbly and enjoyable to listen to. I think buying the entire record on a whole isn’t that necessary after listening to the entire thing, I’m not surprised the album sales have been lackluster at best. “Bright Lights Bigger City” and “F*** You” are the only two songs that are actually worth a second listen. This might seem so condemning to Cee Lo but hey…one song just got nominated for the “Best Song” Grammy Award; the other was recently released as a single and isn’t doing half-bad. Many artists don’t even get that kind of success from an album, so more power to him. Maybe try and expand your musical palette a bit next time, and dip into some fresh, new genres. Or go back to the old ways of Gnarls Barkley—I surely preferred that a bit more.

29 November 2010

Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010): Album Review

Kanye West. Arguably one of the most controversial figures of our time. From his “George Bush hates blacks” rant, to the over-publicized Taylor Swift incident at the VMA’s, to the current Matt Lauer debacle, Kanye can never keep on the media’s good side. He first stepped into the spotlight producing tracks on Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, and releasing his first album, The College Dropout, in 2004. He went on to release more billboard-topping albums such as Late Registration and Graduation, as well as pick up some Grammys and sell out tours along the way. Now, after months of releasing various singles and his musical film, Runaway, West has finally debuted his new record: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

An eerie narration by hip-hop queen Nicki Minaj introduces the listener to the story, which follows a beautiful young phoenix that crashes to earth (Although the songs themselves don’t directly address it, that’s the subject matter of his Runaway film). The chorus of “Dark Fantasy” echoes the question, “Can we get much higher?” and Kanye spits some of the wittiest rhymes I’ve heard from him. “The plan was to drink until the pain over/ But what’s worse, the pain or the hangover?” And what “Erase Me” might’ve lacked creatively, “Gorgeous” makes up for it as a perfect collaboration between West and Kid Cudi. Synth-heavy and mellow as they come, the two skillfully evoke their stoner mentalities with this instant classic. The next tune, “Power,” was released as Kanye’s first single from the album awhile back, and frankly, I thought it was terrible upon first listen. But as it often times goes, I rediscovered the tune in the depths of my iTunes a short time before Fantasy was released, and now I’m obsessed. Try not to get the echoing “ohs” and “ays” of the chorus stuck in your head. Please. The lyrics are also quite ingenious, with lines like "I just needed time alone with my own thoughts/Got treasures in my mind but couldn't open up my own vault." It’s easily my favorite song at the moment. And it’s my ringtone. Ahhellyeah. “All of the Lights” is a star-studded anthem featuring the likes of Rihanna, Elton John, Fergie, and others. It’s also one of the most catchy and upbeat songs on the album—featuring heavy drums, blaring horns, and soaring vocals by all parties involved. I can definitely see this being played at pep rallies and sporting events in the near future; it’s certainly up that alley. Next up is the 7th most played song on my computer, “Monster.” It features Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Bon Iver, and Nicki Minaj. All along side Kanye. Do you really get much better of a rap collaboration? It’s certainly one the best I’ve heard. With a particularly memorable verse by Minaj, she truly shows that she’s a force to be reckoned with in the game today. Crude, loud, and mean, it’s not difficult to discover different clever lyrics every time you listen to “Monster.” “Runaway” is also a heavily played song on my computer, and I believer that’s because of the sheer emotional sucker punch it delivers. With all the controversy surrounding Kanye this past year, I suppose this is his most personal tune yet.

“Let’s have a toast for the douchebags, let’s have a toast for the a*******, let’s have a toast for the scumbags…” goes the chorus, with verses echoing how he’s “gifted at finding what I don’t like the most” and “never was much of a romantic.” Not to get all sob story, but I really don’t know any songs that I feel so connected to, and this song alone garnered my utmost respect for Kanye. Despite all the haters, he’s an incredibly talented artist and this song is 9 minutes and 8 seconds of synth-blaring, piano-thumping proof. And while “Hell of a Life” serves as an angry vendetta against a lover, “Blame Game” is almost like a repercussion where he examines the anger and doubts that are so often put on the backburner in relationships. It also features a perfectly hilarious monologue at the end by Chris Rock that is worth the listen alone. And because he’s Kanye and dominates my most-played music along with Cudder, “Lost In The World” is the 9th most played I have and is frankly a pitch-perfect ending to the album. Like “Runaway,” it’s a thought-provoking confession—fully expressing his love for the phoenix that’s left him, and realizing his loneliness in our ever-changing, fast-paced society. “I’m up in the woods, I’m down on my mind/I’m building a still to slow down the time.” It makes me stop to ponder the world and the people I’m surrounded by, and I love every bit of it.

So like the Cudder and Florence reviews before this, this is pretty much another gushing love letter from me to Kanye. He has truly transformed the rap and hip-hop genre, and proves that it doesn’t just have to be about money, weed, and girls—even though, yes, those are involved. He truly grasps his position as a prominent artist—using it as a platform to make statements about society and the human race. Music does not only have to be enjoyable—it can be thought-provoking as well; I can definitely say this album has gotten me through some pretty rough times these past few weeks I’ve owned it. I have such an immense amount of admiration for Kanye, and truly believe My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a monumental achievement in music that should be heard by all.

23 November 2010

Kid Cudi, Man On The Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager (2010): Album Review

So, one might consider myself a Kid Cudi fan. Fan being a slight understatement. I have 127 various Cudder songs, remixes, and random mash-ups floating about my iTunes library. I paid $150 for a ticket to a sold-out show of his in New York City this past January. Kid Cudi tunes take up 6 slots in my “Top 25 Most Played Songs” playlist on iTunes; and in the 2 weeks I’ve owned his new album, I’ve listened to it over 25 times all the way through. In short, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager is the best album to hit shelves since…well, Man on the Moon: The End of Day last year. It is a work of artistic brilliance that may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but one would be foolish not to at least give it a listen.

The record begins with my favorite song, “Scott Mescudi vs. the World,” which is already the 6th most played song on my computer. With a catchy hook by Cee Lo Green (of the catchy “F*** You” fame), “Scott Mescudi” sets the psychedelic yet dark mood for the album. Next up is the Plain Pat-produced “RevofEv” which is the most played song on my computer, thanks to an early introduction to it this past summer. The stomping yet laidback anthem begs the question, “Where will you be for the revolution?” and carries on this same defiant spirit into the gloomy Mary J. Blige collaboration, “Don’t Play This Song.” “Marijuana”—which is conveniently 4 minutes and 20 seconds long—is a mellow love letter to that “pretty green bud” which Cudder is so very fond of. He goes on to expertly sample Danish group The Choir of Young Believers with “Mojo So Dope,” and soon segues into one of my favorite plays-on-words, “Ashin’ Kusher.” I think this is one of his most clever songs lyrically, with bits like “I don’t really worry bout a n**** tryna judge/who are you, Judy?” It’s also a breath of fresh air to have such a jovial tune on such a bleak record—about bud, no less. “Erase Me” is a complete 360 from what the Moon Man usually does, and serves as the lead single of the album. Sampling Duran Duran, he ventures into the old school of Hendrix-esque rock, while still maintaining that devious wit we’ve come to love so much about him. And hey…there’s a Kanye cameo. It doesn’t get much better than that. Another highlight of the album is “Maniac,” which Cudder plans to release as the next single from the album, and is currently collaborating on a musical film for it directed by film star Shia LaBeouf. The tune samples American songwriter St. Vincent, and follows him as he sits in the dark corners of his room and mind—stoned out of his skull, pretty much. I think the most depressing song of the album is “All Along,” which Cudi has opted not to discuss since it’s a very personal song for him. With the chorus wailing out “All along, all along/I guess I’m meant to be alone/Out there on my own,” I think it captures feelings we all possess at times—I know at least for me personally it’s the most poignant song of the album, and I really respect Cudder for putting himself out there like that. I wasn’t a big fan of “Ghost!” when I first heard it—with its almost Middle Eastern sitar-plucking sound, and slightly off-key vocals—but it’s kind of growing on me. Supposedly, it’s the new sound of Mr. Solo Dolo, and his next album will feature songs very similar to it, so I guess I’ll have to learn to embrace it. Finally, he concludes his journey with “Trapped In My Mind,” which laments exactly what the title states—“I feel like I’m stuck in rewind/Tho I’m looking forward/Damn I wish I knew what went wrong.” But truth is, Cudi really isn’t asking listeners to feel sorry for him; he’s at home in his mind where his darkest dreams and fantasies all become reality. “It’s a gift and a curse/since my birth/I’m in a prison/Oh I’m happy right where I’m at.” The Lonely Stoner is right where we left him, with a blunt and lighter in hand. And truthfully, we wouldn’t want him anywhere else.

Kid Cudi has proved once again that he is one of the most versatile and gifted musicians of our time. He in no way suffered the dreaded “sophomore slump,” but rather built upon his previous album—growing as an artist, and creating an ultimately better album. Although The End of Day may feature a few more upbeat, catchy tunes, The Legend of Mr. Rager is definitely a more personal side of Cudi that allows us to delve further into his psyche. And through this exploration, we as listeners are further able to examine our own selves. I can listen to Kid Cudi at any time of the day, in any sort of mood, at any point in my life, and always gain something valuable from the experience. And that, my far and few readers, is the mark of a true artist. All hail, Mr. Rager.

22 November 2010

Florence + The Machine, Lungs (2009): Album Review

So, Florence + The Machine released their first album in the United States in October 2009. It is currently approaching the end of November 2010, and I am just now writing an album review of it. Why might that be? Because slowly but surely, British vocalist Florence Welch and her merry backup crew have caught the attention of mindless Americans such as myself—performing on Saturday Night Live last weekend, the MTV Video Music Awards this past September, and slipping onto my playlists while DJing at the Blaze. Welch began performing in the clubs and pubs of Britain—going on to record an album with a band named Ashok, but soon branching off on her own. She released her debut record Lungs in the UK in 2009, which dominated the billboard charts and sold over 100,000 copies in the first month of release. Well, one more of those copies were sold to me via the iTunes Store only yesterday, and it’s certainly solidified itself as quite the worthwhile purchase.

The album kicks off with the most popular of their songs, “Dog Days Are Over,” which begins light and airy, but soon crescendos into a catchy, soulful powerhouse that is often stuck in my head for days on end. Welch’s unique voice is as strong as a steamroller, which is evidenced particularly in live performances of the tune (check out her rendition of the tune on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, if you’re ever bored on YouTube). “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” is another catchy tune heavy on mythical references and brimming with light-hearted sorrow. And yes, I know that makes very little sense, but while the tune is quite upbeat, lyrics begging the question, “Who is the lamb and who is the knife?” certainly turn some gloomy heads. Florence sets the mood rather dark with “I’m Not Calling You A Liar” and “Howl,” but her charismatic wails of distress and lost love keep me both glued and absolutely entranced. Especially with “Howl,” you never hear voices anymore that drip with so much passion and strength. Wow. “Kiss With A Fist” is an angsty anthem about violent relationships that ventures into the territory of clashing drums and screeching guitars not usually associated with Welch. Nevertheless, it’s an entertaining listen that is featured on the soundtracks for movies like Jennifer’s Body and stores like American Eagle. Not too shabby, really. She slows it down again for the odd “Girl With One Eye.” It is moderately reminiscent of a slinky, cabaret-esque tune that seems more suited for the likes of Dresden Dolls—but honestly, Florence can do no wrong, and I thoroughly relished hearing such a different side of her. “Drumming Song” is one of the sprightliest tunes on the album—with a rousing chorus, and witty lyrics like “sweeter than heaven and hotter than hell” that further a bit of Florence’s “bad girl” persona. And please…try not to feel uplifted and utterly astounded by her vocals in “Cosmic Love,” which sound strangely angelic. Complete with a harp, too.

One of my favorite songs on the album is “Hurricane Drunk,” where she belts her heart out about the joys of drinking oneself to death—which actually sounds like it could be delightful fun with pipes like hers. Finally, Florence ends the album with the fervent and poignant ode to love, “You Got The Love,” where she pulls out all the stops—raising her voice to earth-shattering heights. But come on…what else would you really expect from her?

So yes. I love me some Cudi. I love me some Kanye. I love me some Dave. Add loving some Florence to that list. I honestly can’t say I’ve ever heard such a distinctive and thunderous voice in my mere 18 years of life—one that stirs such a wide array of emotions inside me no matter how many times I listen to it. According to the ever-reliable BBC back in April, she isn’t even close to finishing her sophomore album. I could honestly say this is the worst news I’ve gotten all day. I would definitely savor some more Florence + The Machine in my life. But for the mean time, I will take great pleasure in every second of Lungs, and advise you all to do the same.

07 November 2010

Chiddy Bang, The Preview (2010): Album Review

Wiz Khalifa. Nicki Minaj. Sam Adams. All on the list of hip-hop’s most promising up-and-comers. Another name that should be added to the list is that of Chiddy Bang. The Philly-based hip-hop duo first gained fame the “old-fashioned” way—via songs featured on their MySpace page back in February of 2009. After releasing a mix tape, Chiddy Bang signed a record deal this past January and dropped their first single in April—a sample of MGMT’s “Kids” entitled “Opposite of Adults.” Now, they’ve released their first 8-track EP entitled The Preview and all I can say is, I cannot wait for their full-length album to drop next year.

“The Good Life” kicks off the record with a catchy, typical thug anthem that is sure to be played at pep rallies and cheerleading routines in the near future. The beat is simply infectious when they drop the first verse, and their lyrical prose is an absolute delight to listen to. “Truth” samples Passion Pit with a whimsical, trippy melody, where they reference everything from Bill Nye the Science Guy to the Empire State Building. The next tune spent many months on the Top 25 Most Played songs on my iTunes, and is honestly one of, if not the best remix I’ve ever heard. “Opposite of Adults” is a captivating boost of musical energy that I dare you to try and not get stuck in your head—or quote as a Facebook status like the legions of other young people that pop up on my newsfeed. This is the song that got me hooked on Chiddy in the first place, and is a true testament to their creativity as artists. They return to making their own original beats for “Here We Go” where they spit rhymes fast and mean, injecting a Latin flavor into the chorus as well. One lyrics states how “a hater tried to stop me on my way today” but honestly—I have no clue who could really hate them. Next up we have “All Things Go” which is by far my favorite tune on the album. Like “Opposite of Adults,” I heard this awhile ago, but never really got hooked until about a month ago. It’s currently the 8th most-played song on my computer, and for good reason. It’s a little slower than its musical predecessors, but is an expertly crafted song. It samples “Chicago” by Sufjan Stevens—making the vocals much higher-pitched and creepy child-sounding. And who can’t love a song with creepy child vocals? And although it talks about how “we be Peter Parker in love with the Mary Jane,” it’s one of those tunes that just makes me stop to think and reexamine my life. No idea why. But I love all 3 minutes and 9 seconds of it. “Nothing On We” isn’t the most original or catchy song of the batch, but that is still in no way a bad thing. This is that song about chasing dreams that people raise their lighters to during a concert, and integrates some light piano amidst their powerful lyrics about how “the only thing guaranteed in life is a casket.” As depressing as that may seem, leave it to Chiddy Bang to present it with utmost sincerity and witty exposition. “Bad Day” has an almost angry-techno feel, and features an insanely catchy chorus that belts out how “every day should be a bad day for you.” Not since “F--- You” by Cee Lo Green have I enjoyed a snarky, light-hearted tune about exes so incredibly much. The EP sadly ends with “Old Ways,” which features a crazy and unique melody that is as thought provoking as it is contagious.

No rap artists in recent memory have the lyrical genius that Chiddy Bang possesses. There was not one weak link on The Preview, and I could see every single one of those songs racking up some major playtime on my iTunes in the near future. This weekend alone I’ve listened to the album all the way through at least 3 times. Watch out for Chiddy Bang—they’re going to be the hottest artists in hip-hop before you know it. So go out, buy their album, and rejoice in the fact that you’ll be one of the fortunate few that heard them first.

05 November 2010

Bear Hands, Burning Bush Supper Club (2010): Album Review

Bear Hands are the very epitome of the word “hipster.” When asked about how they survive the chaos of music festivals, they simply state “Marijuana, sleep bag, granola bars.” These are definitely guys with their priorities straight. They began in Brooklyn in 2006—all messing around writing music and such, and soon enough playing small venues in New York City. Now, they’re headed out on a nationwide tour—coming to our very own Tucson, Arizona, on November 14th in celebration of their first, full-fledged album, Burning Bush Supper Club.

The thumping chords and screeching falsetto of “Crime Pays” give the record a satisfying start, with vocalist Dylan Rau crooning out the simple yet catchy chorus. And with opening lyrics like “At the gentle age of nine/I bought my first ‘45” and “I drink, I drink/I smoke a little weed,” the tune “Belongings” blatantly has “hipster anthem” written all over it. The instrumentals begin a bit lackluster, but prove to be quite gratifying mid-way through with some luminous guitar work by Ted Feldman. Straight from their EP earlier this year, “What A Drag” sounds quite electrifying but never truly takes off. The vocals in particular seem quite constrained, and I found myself just waiting for Rau to let loose complete with some crazy guitar solo. “High Society” defies my grievances though, and features a bumping 80’s vibe that is simply bubbling with energy. The next tune, “Tablasaurus,” is quite mellow throughout with a vast array of string and keyboard instrumentals, but does not leave a very firm impression despite its playful spirit. And despite it’s peculiar title, “Julien Donkey Boy” has quite dull lyrics even with all the epic drums and cymbals aside. Yes, whining “Julien, where are you? /Donkey, donkey boys are sold for 50 at the market,” does get a little repetitive after the 18th time. The beginning of “Wicksey Boxing” is eerily reminiscent “Violet Hill” by Coldplay’s opening chords. That is about where the similarities end, and that is by no means a condemnation. I really couldn’t articulate most of the lyrics of the song, but the melody is so haunting with its ominous guitar scales and brooding drum beats that I couldn’t help thinking, “Damn. This is a beautiful song.” It’s a different side of the band, and a real treat to experience. “Blood and Treasure” is a complete departure from its predecessor, and is almost like Ritalin in music-form. Loud, quality rock in its truest form, Bear Hands brings to mind the likes of The Fratellis and Kings of Leon here. My favorite song of the record would definitely be “Can’t Stick Em” which begins really slow, but quickly adds the drum kits and crescendos into an angst-ridden anthem about the importance of home. Sure, that sounds cheesy, but when delivered by the charismatic Rau, one can’t help but be both moved and overjoyed. Too bad his barely-audible vocals of the tedious “Camel Convention” are drowned out by earsplitting amps and guitar chords suffering from Tourette’s. “Tall Trees” is a short and pleasant tune to neatly wrap up the album and leave the listener on a happy note. Not much else to really say about it.

Burning Bush Supper Club was a mixed batch—while featuring some spirited and distinctive gems, there was its share of conventional and banal indie rock. I think their sound fits the style of the Blaze and other alternative-oriented enthusiasts perfectly, but certainly lagged some in the creativity department. Without a doubt, Bear Hands has tremendous potential, and will surely find their way into the hearts of iPods of hipsters everywhere.

04 November 2010

N.E.R.D.'s "Nothing" is Far From Nothing

It's his cadence. It has nothing to do with his lyrics; it is all about delivery to him. Pharrell has limited talent when it comes to being a lyricist with meaning, but what he lacks in talent he picks up in delivery and producing. It's been like that for a very long time, sometimes his words are great, for instance "Frontin'" one of my favorites, is great on the lyrics but that was in 2003. This is 2010, a new decade, a new N.E.R.D., and let me be the first to tell you, it's sick.

It all started in 1994 for Pharrell and Chad Hugo's Neptune's Productions, but the "geeks" behind N.E.R.D. met in high school, and started making music in Hugo's garage. They released their first album in 2001 and have been Gold ever since. The much anticipated, for people like me, album entitled "Nothing" is now here.

Nothing starts with a fast paced song "Party People" which goes hard on the beat but as I listened to it all I heard was "what i need, what i need is that girl there." Remember the lyrics problem? It's still here, but I do not care! Hypnotize U, teh second track on the album is one of my favorites, I saw them do this on David Letterman a few weeks back, and I stoked when i heard Daft Punk produced it, finding the time for N.E.R.D. while making the Tron Legacy soundtrack. "Help Me" has yet again brought into light the topic of bad lyrics; he talks about a snake in tall grass at one point, talk about random. Maybe the Nothing title means that the lyrics mean nothing! I decrypted the meaning! My least favorite goes to the 4th track on the list, "Victory." Not so much of a victory for my ears but who cares? I'm now going to skip a few tracks, since this is a large album and you will listen to it because I am loving it, and I will now talk about the best song on the setlist for Chad, Pharrell and Shay Haley. You have probably heard it before, and said one of two things, "Mom/Dad, can I please, please, please have a bass guitar?" or "I slappa da bass mon'!" This song is insane, of course it is "Hot n' Fun." The beat moves my entire body oh yeah and bumps my headphones as well, it just makes me want to replay it over and over. The best part though, the lyrics are good too! Pharrell you did it! First sick rap since he did a quick one with Snoop on "Drop it Like it's Hot." Wait, I'm leaving someone out, oh! Shay Haley, you rock too my man. Then after that song ends you get a great little shin dig of a guy filibustering on the track but it ends in 42 seconds so stay tuned because you get a great track to listen to "It's in the Air" this one has meaning to it and I like the entire beat and release of lyrics in it. "Sacred Temple" is sick, but....cadence again folks! "I Wanna Jam" the second to last track is a plethora of beats to be able to run to, very fast, and that is why I like N.E.R.D. they can make the simplest beat but make it seem like so much is happening. It all ends with "The Man" and the tympani drum in it is wonderful to bump to in your headphones and car, it's a great end to a great album.

All in all, I love N.E.R.D. to me it isn't the lyrics, it is the beats and the way they talk, this album is different from the older ones and that is fine with me, sometimes change is good, just ask the President.

03 November 2010

Casiokids, Topp stemning på lokal bar (2010): Album Review

Sweden has really taken the Europop genre by storm. ABBA, Roxette, Ace of Base—all Swedish pop groups that have achieved immense success throughout the globe. Norway is looking to change that, though, with their electro-pop quintet Casiokids. Formed in 2005, Casiokids were the first band to release a Norwegian pop single in the UK—both of which can be found on their new album, Topp stemning på lokal bar (loosely translated to “Great vibe at local bar.”)

The record blasts off with their first single, “Grønt lys i alle led.” It is a very cheery song with light and airy keyboards, and an especially impressive guitar hook. The language barrier is surely detrimental to my enjoyment of the song, but the joyful falsetto is enjoyable to listen to regardless. “Fot I hose” has a much more club-ready vibe than the first song with a heavy emphasis on the bass, and prominent use of the cymbals for a steady beat. There are no vocals whatsoever which allows for the instrumentals to show off front and center. “Verdens største land” is simply a plethora of sound and I love it. They skillfully use their keyboard here to reproduce sounds of bongo drums, a metronome, xylophone, among others—all mixed together with harmonic vocals to create a pleasant yet exotic tune. The next song “Finn bikkjen!” is a bit falsetto-heavy for my taste, but the beat is so funky and infectious I can’t help but be in a good mood listening to it. “Min siste dag” is a bit slower than its predecessors, but all the vocals complement each other quite nicely during the chorus no matter how much they appear to be straining their voices at times. “En Vill Hest” brings an African flair to the record with native chants and beats serving as the basis for the song, with lots of bells and whistles mixed throughout for a very unconventional sound. The next song “Gomurmamma” is another purely instrumental piece that is kaleidoscopic in proportions: thumping bass, cymbal repetition, and electronic noises that are reminiscent of R2D2 in my beloved Star Wars. Pretty crazy stuff. The record ends with “Togens hule,” which is the 2nd half of Casiokids’ UK single. All I can really say that it sounds so incredibly like anything else I’ve ever heard, it’s like an acid trip in music form. Couldn’t have ended the album in any better fashion.

On a whole, this was a pretty awesome album. Yes, I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but their music is so diverse and so distinctive that you kind of look past that. Casiokids and their album Topp stemning på lokal bar was truly a breath of fresh air to listen to, and I wish them all the best both overseas and (fingers crossed) in the United States sometime very soon.

Home Video, The Automatic Process (2010): Album Review

On Home Video’s Wikipedia page, there is a prominent picture of the duo—one staring at the ceiling submerged in a bathtub; the other, lying against the wall staring emotionless at the ceiling. After listening to their new album, The Automatic Process, I would not be surprised in the slightest if that is how this Brooklyn-based duo looked the entire time they were recording: withdrawn, blasé, and all-together bored as hell. Or were those just my feelings?
“Accomplished But Dead” starts off the album on a very mellow note that sounds pretty interesting at first, but grows a bit tedious after the first minute or so when the vocals and instrumentals all become muddled together. They don’t fare much better with the next track entitled “The Smoke” which actually has a pretty exotic beat to it, but the vocals sound so monotone that it’s impossible to stay interested for the upward of 5 minutes. “Business Transaction” is the first song I actually liked—they’re able to create a haunting melody here that actually features some powerful lyrics. I think “An Accident” could potentially be nice, but they way over-due it with a variety of synthesizers that make the tune more fit for elevator music than actual iPod tunes. “I Can Make You Feel It” makes me feel pretty frustrated, quite frankly—this band just can’t seem to get it right. The song has a fairly upbeat vibe compared to the rest of the record, but never fully takes off. I would just love for an instant for Collin Ruffino to actually show some excitement in his voice and act like he cares about what he’s singing. The tune “Beatrice” is actually a bit of a step-up for them—same hazy vocals, but infused with balanced instrumentals that actually compliment and don’t overshadow Ruffino‘s voice. “The Automatic Process” sounds like some trashy European club beat with some barely audible words added in. And not some cool words either—the same one-note whispers I’ve come to expect from Home Video. So what else is new? “Every Love That Ever Was” has a mystical beat featuring progressive drums and airy synths that remind me of something you might hear in a bad 80’s workout video. And that is meant in the fondest way possible. But the vocals are sleep inducing, and don’t exude any joy that comes from the feelings of love. And what is “Description of a Struggle” supposed to be? It was like a crossbreed between Enya that Celtic singer and music you’d hear getting some cheap massage on a cruise ship. Like geez, I don’t know what would ever inspire someone to play that by choice. “No Relief” lives up to its title as no relief from the poor quality of this album. Yes, enough witty commentary about that one. Finally (yes, finally) the record concludes with “You Will Know What to Do” which isn’t actually half-bad. As a friend sitting next to me commented, it sounds very much in the style of Radiohead. The same stirring, drum-heavy instrumentals with far-off vocals that create the perfect tune to completely simmer down with.

Overall, there’s a few songs that were halfway decent—yes, I might even say I liked them. But honestly, I will probably never listen to this record again (by choice, that is). It was uninspired, humdrum and dreary. There was a complete lack of energy all around—no one song showed an ounce of passion or musical finesse. Home Video will most likely go the way of their namesake, the VHS—out of style, stacked on a shelf, forgotten in a cardboard box somewhere. And yes, I know that’s awfully harsh, but The Automatic Process was an all-around painful record to listen to, and I do not recommend subjecting oneself to this level of lethargy.

01 November 2010

Of Montreal, False Priest (2010): Album Review

I think Of Montreal is a really cool band, plain and simple. Formed in 1996, singer/songwriter Kevin Barnes named the group after a former flame that was from Montreal, Canada. Talk about boss band name back-stories, huh? They’re also from Athens, Georgia, which earns them some major points with me—considering I have a ton of friends that go to UGA, and I’m from South Carolina myself. Their first album in 1999 was entitled Cherry Peel, and the band has since recorded 9 more—the latest being False Priest.

“I Feel Ya’ Strutter” kicks off the album with a catchy doo-wop feel that is reminiscent of “Grace Kelly” crooner Mika—yes, there’s even some falsetto involved. Janelle Monae makes an appearance on the next tune, “Our Riotous Defects,” which is an amusing speak-singing narrative following a hipster romance with a crazy chick. Monae’s presence, sorry to say, certainly brings down the momentum of the song, and seems hastily tacked on with no real value. And while there are some witty lyrics, “Coque Coquette” drags on a bit unnecessarily, and has a rock vibe that doesn’t suit the group so well. “Godly Intersex” had me a bit worried at the beginning with its sluggish pace, but picked up with some pleasant excitement in the last minute or so. The next Janelle Monae duet fares much better than the first—“Enemy Gate” has some dark energy flowing throughout, but is still quite catchy with some fine work by the drummer here. “Hydra Fancies” simply screams of MGMT with its funky electronic beats, guaranteeing a captivating, psychedelic listen. Vote for some of the strangest lyrics I’ve ever heard goes to “Like A Tourist”—“Unicorns eating baby meat/There’s a dragon rape if you want one/ One’s the loneliest number.” Don’t know what was in their pipe, but I’d sure like to try some. Although rather odd, reading the lyrics to this song definitely increased my respect for the group. The next tune “Sex Karma” features Solange Knowles (yes, the other half of that random chick you hear on the radio, Beyonce). I would say it’s my favorite of the 3 major duets on the record if not for the sole reason that Knowles’ voice blends perfectly with that of Barnes. It has a tarty-sweet beat to it, which segues right into “Girl Named Hello” flawlessly. While less intriguing than its predecessor, the tune still drips with energy that is impossible to enjoy. The band slows the pace down some for “Famine Affair” which isn’t a bad song by any means, but is simply not all that interesting. Uninspired beats, cliché lyrics, and vocals that are slightly grating to the ears. It at least has some more stamina than “Casualty of You,” which feels like the group was losing steam and decided on a melancholy tune ending in chaotic noise that was supposed to sound “desperate” or “woeful.” Woeful for the 3 wasted minutes of my life, yes. They luckily redeem themselves with the futuristic “Around the Way,” and finish off in style on the musical roller coaster of “You Do Mutilate?” Exploring multitudes of beats and genres within the near 7 minutes of music, Of Montreal reminded me of why I liked them in the first place.

Why is that, you might ask? Well…besides the fact they’re from Georgia and have a legit name. It’s because they have unique music that transcends the usual hipster mold of music and creates an all-around satisfying listening experience. Yes, there are a few weak links, but False Priest shows that even after 10 years, Of Montreal still has the contagious originality of a newcomer. And for that, I applaud them with my skinny jeans and Vans in tow.

27 October 2010

Arron Dean, Mpls (2010): Album Review

Here’s something I haven’t gotten a chance to review before: folk music. This may be mistaken with the country genre, but as I’ve learned about singer/songwriter Arron Dean’s past, the more I realize how foolish an error this is. Born on a farm outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, Dean soon moved to the United States—where he’s lived in cities like Boston, New York City, and now the inspiration for this particular album, Minneapolis. Arron has spent the last 2 years recording songs and working with various musicians to record these songs about the wonders of travel and home, and compiled them together on his album Mpls.

He begins with a quiet ode about finding a long, lost love in the small city of “Buffalo, SD.” Dean’s voice is filled with pain yet is joyful in getting the chance “to see you one more time.” He moves south a bit for “St. Paul On Mississippi”—also moving away from the banjo-like dobro with accentuation on the piano melody. Both the distant chords of the piano and his hazy voice give the song a very haunting feel that is slightly ruined towards the end with a multitude of screeching backup vocals. The title track “Minneapolis” is quite pleasant and upbeat despite its woeful lyrics of a lover leaving and the good times they shared together in the city. He picks up the tempo even more for the drinking song “Unannounced” which contains some remarkable lyrical choices—“There’s nothing wrong in picking scabs to open wounds/it’s the only way we know what we lose.” This tune in particular tells a story which is quite entertaining to listen to. “I Think I’ll Be Alright” is very slow (and frankly, quite boring) until midway through when the rest of the band is introduced and injects a little flavor. The next ballad “Happy Hour” is a plea for a woman to be his wife, and has an almost epic feel with the assortment of cymbals, organ, and violin playing throughout. While not the best lyrically on the album, Dean croons it out to the best of his abilities—making it one of the record’s better tunes. After the brief ditty “Nothing Owed,” Dean brings on the grassroots vibe in “Sleep Without Me.” Although a little too long for its own good, its entertaining to try and determine the lyrics’ meaning—is he talking about some common tramp, a lover of his, or both? Arron strains his voice a bit on the next song, “Empire,” but the lyrics are so sorrowful it almost works. “I won’t be this last disaster/ I could be the only one.” They don’t make complete sense written down, but when being sung they are truly disheartening. He picks it right back up in “First Aid For The Choking,” which isn’t the most emotionally intriguing, but features a vivacious melody that reminds me of the quintessential traveling song. He uses 1950’s model “Betty Page” as the basis for his next tune that begs the question, “Are you my pretty Betty Page?” While a splendid metaphor, the yawn-inducing tempo does the lyrics no favors. Dean ends the album on a chipper note with “Thorn In Your Side”—a lively song about everlasting love that merrily plucks away on the banjo and skids across the fiddle, leaving the listener in high spirits.

All in all, Mpls could be described as a pleasant listen. While not my preferred genre of music, it still has that mellow vibe I so enjoy from the likes of Mumford & Sons and Darius Rucker. There are no true standout songs, but Arron Dean produces a solid effort that would serve as an ideal soundtrack for those lazy, kickback days when one can just chill and let the fiddles whisk you away.

My My My, Leather Silk (2010): Album Review

You can find a lot of things on Craigslist—unwanted furniture, broken-down cars, and even one-night stands. What songwriter Russel Baylin found, though, was his band. Through the aid of both the Internet and friends of friends of friends, Baylin was able to form the band My My My during the winter of 2007 in Chicago, Illinois. This indie group has been playing throughout the Midwest ever since—blissfully expressing the throes of love, sex, and death. They’ve finally released their new album, Leather Silk, and I honestly have no words for what a brilliant record it is.

They begin with “A Shiny Brick,” which starts out quite lively although it becomes a bit repetitive midway through with the constant “oh-oh-oh’s.” The voices of Russel and fellow singer Sarah Snow mesh together wonderfully though, and are complimented by some gospel-esque backup that could come across sounding cliché, but actually aids the song tremendously. “White Lions” begins with the same kick that the first tune does, and is reminiscent of the style so associated with Florence and the Machine—wailing female vocals by Ms. Snow, with rousing but difficult-to-distinguish lyrics. “Be My Bianca” has an easy-going vibe on a whole but features foot-stomping shouts of teenage angst mixed throughout. It gets especially joyful towards the end when the entire group begins chanting together—and damn, Sarah has a voice that can raise rafters. It’d truly be awesome to hear her perform live. The title song “Leather Silk” has a really funky sound to it—beginning with choppy, upbeat piano chords, and merging into more classic rock terrain. I don’t even know what to say, except that I was completely entranced the entire 4 minutes and 26 seconds of the tune—certainly the best song of the album, which is saying a whole lot. This exhilaration is carried into “Swoon,” which sounds like ABBA got stuck in some haunted house with a drum kit and guitars. The song evokes some really eerie beats, but is also quite cheerful at the same time. “Jackie’s Rebellion In Furs” is fine but wasn’t my favorite song for no particular reason…it just doesn’t have the whimsical qualities of the many tunes preceding it. The group more than redeems themselves with “C’mon Let’s Make X’s With Our Feet.” With all the cool electronics and stirring chorus vocals aside, it really made me happy to hear Baylin get to show off his extraordinary vocal finesse. He is frankly better than all those other “wailers” out there, and I rather hear him howl out a tune any day over the likes of Daughtry or Nickelback. And how fitting it is to get to hear Russel and Sarah belting their hearts out on the duet, “The Loudest Summer.” I know I keep saying this over and over, but their voices together are perfect—I can’t think of a more ideal duo. They bring in the entire group for “Thespian,” which is another pulsating melody dripping with defiance and unruliness that can’t stop from bringing a smile to my face. Sadly, the album has to come to an end with “1987, ”which is both exciting and bittersweet. It’s not really a sad song by any means, but something about all the tune’s elements flawlessly crescendoing together tugged at my emotions—there is no better possible way they could’ve ended the record.

All I can really say is “wow.” I was completely not expecting to love My My My this much. I highly recommend this album to anyone and everyone. I definitely can see myself listening to this on a regular basis—and not just a few of the songs, the entire album on a whole is magnificent. I would be thrilled to see them in concert someday, and cannot emphasize enough the thrill I attained by listening to Leather Silk. Do your ears a favor and follow suit.

26 October 2010

Platform One Entertainment: Compilation Review

Platform One Entertainment out of Chicago, Illinois, has put together a compilation of 23 songs. With the exception of Kid Cudi, I’d never heard of any of the artists before. Cudder begins the set with his new single “Erase Me” featuring Kanye West. Being a diehard Man on the Moon fan, I love this song and the departure from his usual rap here. He goes for a more old-school rock feel here, with a really catchy chorus to boot. The song is the 5th most played song on my iTunes, so if that doesn’t sum up how much I enjoy it, then I’m not sure what does. Paradise Fears’ “Hear Me Out” is a really energetic tune that is a step above most alternative music these days, but lead singer Sam Miller’s voice leaves much to be desired. The word is “out” not “oot,” please go to speech therapy when you get a chance. On the other hand, he sounds great in the next song “Now or Never,” which reminds me of the soft-spoken, pleasant tunes of fellow alternative rockers The Academy Is… But the problem here is primarily the lyrics. “And you were like the ocean/perfect is your motion.” Really? Oh well, the crazed preteen fan girls must eat it up, so I guess mission accomplished. Next up we have Sapient with “Glorious Days” and “Universal Diorama.” I think he’s a really cool artist—kind of like a young Asher Roth, but with the funky beats so often associated with the likes of K’Naan or Mike Posner. I think the better of the two is “Universal Diorama,” for the simple reason that it’s unlike anything I’ve heard, but both have peaked my interest in Sapient as an artist. “Roll Up” by T-Razor is a fine song—the raps and rhymes aren’t half-bad, but the chorus is a bit on the boring, R&B-esque side. The compilation branches off here into more rock territory with “Burn It Down” by Awolnation. Although it’s slightly catchy, it gets pretty repetitive a minute in, and his rough, screamo-wannabe vocals become grating on the ears. And “Miracles” was a mere blip on my radar—nothing special about this acoustic, angsty tune. You’re an alternative artist—chill out on all the screaming, dude. “Be My Guest” is fairly decent in its rap verses, but is a little too Abercrombie & Fitch bad club music otherwise. FameCity Boiz’ next song, though, is quite awesome—has a bit of a gospel, jukebox flair with a modern, R&B twist. The song is upbeat, and I’m sure could become stuck in my head quite easily. “On My Way” by Izabo has a psychedelic Western sound, but the unique vocals don’t really pique my interest. And I couldn’t even get past the stupid “whoa-oh-oh’s” of the first 30 seconds of Kadawatha’s “Agape” before I switched the song. So obnoxious, and alternative music at its most mundane. “Airstrike” by Nick Dragisic is my favorite song of the compilation thusfar. Slow and simple, but with powerful lyrics about growing up and perfect vocals to boot. Train Company’s “Change,” is pretty cool—very bluesy and verging on reggae. The kind of music that’s relaxing to listen to while eating in a restaurant or local pub. Their next song, “Otherside,” is pretty dull. The vocals are very distant and difficult to decipher—maybe it was recorded live or something? Regardless, the instrumentals drown out lead vocalist John Zozarro‘s voice, although to their credit, the band itself really shines here. “Guilty Filthy Soul” by Awolnation is also another favorite of mine—too bad he did so terribly on “Burn It Down,” I never would’ve even known they were the same artist if I hadn’t checked my computer. “Soul” has the classic 70’s rock vibe with an infectious and foot-stomping chorus, and I can’t help feeling happy listening to it. The Primary slows the compilation down some with their song “Until Then,” and I love every minute of it. Blaring guitar, woeful lyrics, and soaring vocals—the perfect mellow, rainy day song. Put Coldplay in a time machine to the days of classic rock and this would be them. And while “Smile” is a catchy song, the whiny and unbalanced vocals make the tune rather obnoxious. What’s with alternative songs and saying “whoa-oh-oh?” Geez. Same could be said with Kadawatha’s “Gonna Stay”—perfectly catchy song ruined by unnecessary shouting and ghastly falsetto. Just calm down and sing the song for what it is. ‘Tearing Me Down” is a really cool tune—it sounds like it’d be a chill, mellow song, but with the twang of a guitar becomes a trippy journey into the throes of love. FeelAbouT concludes the compilation with 2 songs. The first, “Stop,” has a really unique, electronic beat that is quite a toe-tapper. And although the vocals leave a little to be desired, it’s a fun song regardless so the screeching voices can pass by. “Break Even,” on the other hand, is a loud, rash rock tune that where the vocals frankly bug me quite a bit. She seems completely out of her range here, and is struggling with way over-kill on the vibrato in her voice. It’s quite the headache to listen to. She slurs all of her words, and the instrumentals don’t mesh—making the song just a big mess. Overall, the compilation is pretty hit and miss, and is at its strongest when not relying on the alternative set. I found some great discoveries through listening to it, and appreciate Platform One’s efforts in putting it together.

No Age, Everything In Between (2010): Album Review

No Age is a two-person rock band that hails from Los Angeles. Consisting of guitarist Randy Randall and drummer Dean Allen Spunt, the duo was originally part of a hardcore punk band called Wives but soon branched off to form their own band. They’ve recorded three studio albums since, the most recent being Everything In Between. I picked it out of the music bin because I thought it looked really cool—sadly, the music doesn’t live up to the hip style of the cover, and is a huge disappointment.

The album gets off to a fairly exciting start. “Life Prowler” begins with the repetition of a single drumbeat, and then builds as the song commences—introducing the guitar, and finally the vocals. The lyrics are quite interesting, actually—discussing the wonders of self-discovery—but judging by the excitement of their voices, you would never think this was some great event. “Glitter” is also a very energized tune with the heavy blaring of the guitar, but towards the end becomes a mess—making it very difficult to distinguish between the different elements of the song. They turn things around though with “Fever Dreaming” which is reminiscent of an OK GO-style song…but what is with the random earth-shattering screams throughout? When the next song “Depletion” began, I was pretty excited for a slower, hopefully more audible tune. But then they kicked in the instrumentals and I couldn’t understand a word of what they were saying. “Common Heat” depressed me even moreso. This is a slow song, and finally I could hear their voices perfectly clearly. But honestly…they can’t sing. Like, I understand speak-singing, but they are honestly tone-deaf, I almost feel bad for them. The introduction to “Skinned” sounds pretty trippy—as if the listener is in some psychedelic rainforest—and then, as every song thus far, it goes downhill from there. It actually wouldn’t be too bad, but the drums sound beyond terrible. Are they supposed to sound like gun shrapnel or raining pouring down on a gutter pipe? Because that’s all I could make of it. And I was about to write how I think “Valley Hump Crash” is the best song on the album—the guitars and drums are especially infectious—but the tone-deaf vocals particularly in the beginning are really difficult to ignore. They do serviceable vocal work in the next tune “Sorts,” but the instrumentals are all over the place. Some bits sound like a chain-gang marching song, while others sound like the electrical-light parade at Disneyland. Not to sound like an old geezer, but this song was a headache to listen to. “Positive Amputation” finally highlights some much-needed piano into their repertoire—too bad it’s way overshadowed with blaring guitars and heavy over-production. I don’t know how the guy that produced this CD wasn’t seeing major red on his soundboard. “Shed and Transcend” sounds like something you’d hear on Rock Band—not the actual songs, but what your wasted friend is desperately trying to play with their little plastic guitar. This tune is pure empty noise with some inaudible vocals heard in the last minute or so that just make the song messier than it already was. Finally, the last song “Chem Trails” introduces some new vocalist—is it a girl or a guy? —but it keeps up with the band’s usual awfulness. Sounds like some kind of love song—not like I would know though since they haven’t gone to their speech therapy sessions yet this week. I will give them some lively action on the drums, though.

Overall, I came in with decent expectations for the album—it looked like a nice, hip album from the cover and design aspects. Most of the music I’ve reviewed thusfar has been at least quality, even if the genre isn’t to my taste. I’m not sure how this band ever garnered an audience—let alone produce three studio albums. I don’t even have any suggestions on how they could improve. Their voices are awful, and their instrumental work is mediocre at best. There is not one song on this album I’d ever choose to listen to again, and is a mere waste of space in my iTunes library.

Sundried Truth, Underdog (2010): Album Review

I don’t know much about the band Sundried Truth except for 2 things: they hail from Madison, Wisconsin, and I am not their biggest fan. Their debut album, Underdog, feels so full of promise during the first title track. It’s both energetic and catchy, wails with raspy rock vocals, and the guitar work is especially impressive. But then…the second song begins. Entitled “My America,” it sounds like your loud, quintessential rock song. But then Pete Gargano starts singing, and the lyrics are truly forgettable and quite frankly, lousy. “Topless bars with those f***ing fast cars/that’s my America”—believe me, nothing wrong with either of those things, but how long did it take to write those lyrics? All of 5 minutes? Doesn’t fare much better with the next tune, “Walk Away,” either, where I started counting how many times they said “oh yeah” but simply lost count out of boredom. The worst offender? “House arrest just might be the best” on their tune entitled “House Arrest.” Shocking, right? The sad thing is, their music is really upbeat and enjoyable to listen to on a whole. It’s quite a thunderous, solid effort on the guitar and drums, with that underground rock vibe you could just chill and listen to while enjoying a beer with some friends. I might even be inspired to buy their music, if they either A) hired a new lyricist or B) had no vocals whatsoever. I don’t mean to be a complete DJ Downer, though, and the album isn’t entirely bad. “She’s Not Right” is a very catchy song, reminiscent of “You Make My Dreams” by Hall & Oates infused with some heavy guitars and drums. And although it falters midway through when it becomes a little too loud for its own good, “Tonight” is a slower tune where --- seems to channel Jon Rhys Meyers in the film August Rush. I know this is only their first album, so Sundried Truth certainly has a long and promising career ahead of them. Their rock n roll formula is pitch-perfect, but they would be very wise to direct some focus at the lyrics if they wish to grow as artists.

Painkiller Hotel, Afterglow (2010): Album Review

Painkiller Hotel is a pretty little known band—I mean, they don’t even have a Wikipedia page for crying out loud. They’re a bit more prominent than one might think, though. Their songs have been featured on such television shows as MTV’s The Hills and Real World. They’ve been compared to such bands as Live and Tonic, and played over 200 shows while touring the Midwest last year. Starting out in the underground music scene of Chicago, this rocking quartet broke out with their album Black Roses last October. Less than a year later, they’ve released their sophomore effort Afterglow. Although a bit uneven, Painkiller Hotel delivers an enjoyable, if not generic, listening experience.

“I Understand” gives the record a very energetic beginning. The first thing I could think of when I heard them was the band Cavo or Lifehouse. While not a very unique voice these days with the whole Daughtry-style music that’s being cranked out these days, Prez is obviously a very powerful vocalist with a bit of a country vibe. Although he starts well, his voice loses its luster midway through—as if he’s just ready to get the song over with. “Afterglow” sounds very much like a Rob Thomas-esque backwoods tune. Although I don’t particularly enjoy country, this one is quite nice. It’s a slow-tempo yet very pleasant ditty with creative lyrics, the main one being “You were like the sunset/and I’m the afterglow.” Some may call that cliché, but I found it quite nice. And while not quite as eerie or depressing, “Take My Hand” has that same distant quality that I love so much about “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden. Except, you know, with some funky country mixed in. “Can’t Have It All” has a haunting melody, but the lyrics are a bit on the typical love song territory. “You’re terrified/from all these lies/I’m feeding you/to hide the truth.” Yeah, not my favorite song on the album, but still not terrible. The band departs from the usual country for a more alternative sound—with light, skippy guitar and fast-paced drums. “Crave” is a raunchy yet slow-paced tune where he lets his vocals really shine, working the scales like a master. “If I Only Knew” reminds me of American Idol alum Kris Allen, maybe just because of the whole happy, upbeat song talking about death (Allen’s way over-played “Like Like You’re Dying”). Although his voice sounds good, I just don’t find the lyrics appropriate with the heavy metal and funky rock qualities of the song. By this point, I’ve come to realize that Painkiller Hotel has abandoned their old country tunes from the beginning of the album, and are moving into Daughtry territory where all the songs sound the same. “Already Dead” is the perfect example of this—Skillet, Nickelback, Shinedown, so many artists could have sang this song and I’d never know the difference. Not to mention his vocals sound weaker than usual here. Just as I was losing hope, “Life’s Gonna Bring You Down” came on—and while still rock-heavy, the lyrics exude misery, and the song has a nice balance of rock and simple lyric-driven guitar melodies. The final song “Wait For Me” is a bit of a letdown—it channels Daughtry’s “September,” minus the commanding vocals which allow the song to soar. It is simply one-note, and while nice, does not transport the listener whatsoever.

As surprised I am to say this, I think the band is strongest when they dig into their country roots. I’m not a big fan of the genre on a whole, but Painkiller Hotel delivers in that medium. When they go into the ballads dripping with sappy inspiration is when they are at their weakest, and don’t reach their full potential. I’ve gained a lot of respect for Painkiller Hotel by listening to Afterglow, and hope they don’t sink into the generic pit of pop singles like so many before them have.

The Vampire Diaries: Original Television Soundtrack (2010): Album Review

The Vampire Diaries. That’s the title of the latest in the slew of vampire-related media flooding our society today. While I’ve never seen the show (and quite honestly, never intend on watching it either) I’ve still reveled in my own share of the latest craze. Yes, I have seen the Twilight movies (with large groups of friends, if that helps redeem myself). And yes, I am an avid fan of True Blood on Showtime (despite the less-than-stellar third season). The most exposure I’ve had to Vampire Diaries, though, is the album lying on my desk at this precise moment, which frankly isn’t half bad.

It starts out with a haunting tune entitled “Stephan’s Theme”—written by Michael Suby—which is the typical broody music you’d expect from a teen vampire flick. The next song, by British alternative band Placebo, is a quite slow but enjoyable listen. It has some interesting electronics and piano chords throughout, and lead singer Brian Malko has a unique voice, which suits the song well. Silversun Pickups suits their name well by speeding it up ever so slightly with “Currency of Love,” featuring intense guitars contrasted well by the mellow vocals. “Hammock” is a bit of a funky tune that echoes of “Eye of the Tiger” in some parts, and of Southern gospel in others. Smashing Pumpkins make an appearance on the CD with “The Fellowship,” that has the anarchistic cries of Green Day with the mixed electronica of Ratatat. And while Bat for Lashes has a distinctive voice, her shrieking out the chorus of “Sleep Alone” made me switch the song before it even finished. The remix of “Bloodstream” by Stateless is a beautiful song. It features some very depressing lyrics about love and loneliness, with bits like “And the silence surrounds you/and hunts you/I think I might’ve inhaled you.” As weird as it sounds, it is definitely at the top of my list for songs to listen to next time I’m in a bad mood. “We Radiate” by Goldfrapp reminds me of a version of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” sung by Little Boots. It radiates that same 70’s discothèque vibe but with a more alternative sound. “Obsession” sounds the most radio-ready song on the entire album, as if it was written with Katy Perry in mind. It’s not a terrible song, but definitely throws off the mellow, alternative vibe the whole record has going on. Digital Daggers put us back in the mood with the gloomy “Head Over Heels,” which could be a bit boring had it not been for Andrea Wasse’s bubble-gum vocals. “Down” is an awesome song, although I feel like it was ripped off the A Walk To Remember album. It has a really catchy chorus despite the slow nature of the song, and Jason Walker’s voice meshes perfectly with the airy lightness of the female singer (that Google didn’t help me find the name of). Mads Langer sings my favorite song of the album, “Beauty of the Dark.” Again, another broody melody, but with an almost uplifting chorus that I think perfectly captures the essence of the CD as a whole. “Cut” was kind of a stupid song, but Plumb’s voice is out of the ballpark on this one. The lyrics leave quite a bit to be desired, and I was ready to switch the song, but then Plumb’s voice soared and my jaw dropped. Definitely worth a listen just to hear her, she has one set of pipes. “All You Wanted” is a good song, but brings to mind the Academy Award-winning song “Falling Slowly” except way too amped up with guitars. It would’ve served the vocalists and lyrics much better if the band didn’t drown out their pleasant voices with drums and hokey back-up vocals. Finally, Gorillaz concludes the CD with the fairly catchy but all together forgettable “On Melancholy Hill—starts out well, but gets pretty tiring for the ears after about the first 2 minutes.

Overall, I thought this was a solid album. Kind of like the previous Twilight albums, it has a few standout songs (“Supermassive Black Hole” on the first one, or “Chop and Change” on the third one). On the most part, though, the songs generally sound the same, which I think serves such a record just fine. It’s all kind of moody alternative rock for the frustrated, hipster teen-set, but at least it’s quality. Although this won’t be the next Lazerbeak album where I play it over and over, it’s a great album to mellow out with and chill.

Jimmy Eat World, Invented (2010): Album Review

One of the better-known bands to come out of the area is the alternative rock band, Jimmy Eat World. Hailing from Mesa, Arizona, these former preschool friends came together in 1993 and have since then recorded 7 albums, including their latest entitled Invented. Their music was first classified along the lines of the punk rock and “emo” genres, but has slowly transitioned to a folksier, more alternative sound. The band didn’t really reach any commercial success until their 2001 album Bleed American, which was soon certified platinum and contained 4 singles featured on the Hot Modern Rock Top 20. As they head out on a European tour next month, Jimmy Eat World hopes Invented will bring them continued success with new legions of fans. While I can’t guarantee the success aspect, they have certainly garnered a respectful fan right here.

The album kicks off with “Heart Is Hard To Find,” which has an almost country-feel to it, featuring bare strings and a steady beat. Lead singer Jim Adkins really lets his vocals do most of the work, which brim with earnest yearning and lyrics full of searching and remorse. It’s an interesting but satisfying choice to use as the first song of a record, considering it’s much less upbeat than the rest of the batch. The next tune “My Best Theory” plays like a less-whiny Panic at the Disco! with some dark but incredibly catchy undertones. “Evidence,” has very soft-spoken vocals and interludes of heavy metal-- all of which conjoin perfectly within the last minute or so. “Movielike” returns to the mellow feel of the first song, but is much more upbeat despite the woeful lyrics of how love will never get any better. “Coffee and Cigarettes,” although it doesn’t have the smartest lyrics, is certainly my favorite song on the record. It’s very loud, very catchy, and contains a wonderful cameo by bass guitarist Rachel Haden. Although the song expresses the joy of the simple things in life, I love how Jimmy Eat World pulls out all the stops for this song and does it big. The next two songs, “Stop” and “Littlething” both have impressive instrumentals, particularly in the guitar/bass arena, but can oftentimes sound like the whiny alternative bands I detest so greatly. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with whining about a girl—don’t we all? —but one’s voice doesn’t need to go all shrill and on-the-verge-of-crying when doing so. The next tune, “Cut,” is pretty much the perfect rainy day, sad song. It relies primarily on Adkins’ vocals along with the drums, and quite frankly, has a very epic, gloomy vibe about it. “Action Needs An Audience”…certainly the worst song on the album. Maybe this is what their old punk rock sound was like, but it brings to mind some sad rip-off of Fall Out Boy and Green Day—trying to appear rebellious and angsty, but just…failing. The title track, “Invented,” is a whopping 7 minutes long, and would serve as a great song to fall asleep to (in the nicest way possible.) It has an especially distant, world-weary feel, and is quite nice until the climax when they briefly break out the loud instrumentals. And “Mixtape” is an awesome song to end the record with, playing out almost like a wave—starting out very slow and soft, crescendoing in the middle with soaring vocals, and ending gently just as it started.

So, all in all, I’d say I have mixed feelings about Invented. As with any album—there are songs I really liked, and some I wasn’t really feeling. I definitely admire the band though, and feel they are much better than most alternative rock bands out there. Coming into reviewing this album, I was highly cynical and expecting the usual, whiny excuse for rock produced by all those boy bands at Warped Tour these days. While some of that is still apparent here, Jimmy Eats World exceeded my expectations, producing a solid album that can appeal to a multitude of audiences.

Diet Kong, Beautiful Blackout (2010): EP Review

Not a whole lot can be said about Diet Kong. According to their MySpace page (yes, people still do use that these days), they come from Brooklyn and the Catskill Mountains in New York. They’ve been members of the site since February of 2006, so they’re not exactly newbies to the music business. And their genre? Alternative, indie, and live electronics. There are three members, and list their major influences as Modest Mouse, Depeche Mode, LCD Soundsystem, among many other obscure bands. I really like their style—the brightly colored artwork plastering their page, and the simple quote, “I want to live and I want to love. I want to catch something that I might be ashamed of” which prances across their status box. They debuted with their album Coma Motor Inn back in 2008, and have recently released their sophomore effort entitled Beautiful Blackout. And I must say, this 5-song record is definitely a welcome addition to my iTunes library.

“Shoot The Freak” kicks off the album to a pulsating start. The bass thumps as if the listener is in some posh, big-city nightclub, but soon introduces the guitar and drums—giving us a reminder that this is alternative music at its very best and most thrilling. “A Forest” is quite psychedelic—featuring screeching guitar chords and hazy vocals echoing the woes of losing control of one’s head. The next tune, “Skin Color Crayon,” brings to mind a classic Beatles song, but reincarnated with the raspy vocals unique to groups like Kings of Leon. The trio slows it down a bit with “Open”—pulling out all the excess electronica, and replacing it with the classic kind of rock one might’ve found the Grateful Dead or Janis Joplin crooning out to during a concert. To top it off, “Beautiful Blackout” returns to the pounding beats of the first tune, but not with near as much energy. They possess the same distant, out-there voices, but both the weak lyrics and vocals could’ve used a kick from some extra electronic tones. Not to fret though, every album has its weak spot.

Overall, this was a great surprise of an album, and I honestly wish there were more than just a mere 5 songs on it. I can’t see the group ever going mainstream or making an appearance at the Grammys, but I don’t think that’s their intention. They serve as the perfect soundtrack for the hipster crowd that’s looking to go out and have some fun—and I could only imagine how surreal it would be to see them in concert. Although Modest Mouse, Depeche Mode, and LCD Soundsystem may influence them, I personally like them better. Diet Kong is a funky, hip, and adrenaline rush of a band to listen to, which their album Beautiful Blackout perfectly exemplifies.

Tricky, Mixed Race (2010): Album Review

Mixed Race is the 9th studio album from English musician Adrian Thaws, better known as Tricky. After releasing his first CD over 15 years ago now, Tricky has had some modest success on the UK radio singles chart, and has collaborated with everybody from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Yoko Ono. He is most known for his dark, spoken-song lyrics, as well as his mixture of both rock and hip-hop. Well, I’m not sure if Mixed Race is supposed to be going in a new direction or something, but it’s a lot closer to folksy dreck.

The very first song, “Every Day,” is the perfect example of this. Quite honestly, I feel like my ears are slowly bleeding and losing my sanity when I listen to it. It’s like some tone-deaf Southerners in rocking chairs somehow made their way onto the album (no offense to Southerners, I’m from South Carolina myself.) Next up, we have “UK Jamaican.” You know that song “Technologic” by Daft Punk? The little robot voice chanting, “buy it, use it, break it, fix it” over and over again? Yeah. Imagine a really poor rip-off of that and you’ll have “UK Jamaican.” Another song called “Early Bird” just sounds like an extremely sloppy jazz song, if it even qualifies as jazz. It’s just a big jumble of horns and piano and drums with creepy, gravely whispers throughout. And while the strings do sound pretty cool in the tune “Ghetto Stars,” the boring and uninspired vocals really bring down the entire song. “Hakim” has a very exotic feel with some interesting tribal-like chants intertwined, but it’s not the kind of song you open your iTunes to play—it’s the kind of song you hear in an elevator and most likely wouldn’t even acknowledge. The next song, “Come to Me,” resonates some slight hip-hop in some parts, but most of the time is just chill electronic guitar that we’ve heard before from the far superior Ratatat. “Murder Weapon” has a catchy beat and simple chorus that mostly consists of repeating the title, but other than that the lyrics leave much to be desired. And if “Time To Dance” is exclaiming how the listener should get up to dance, why is the song so slow and boring? In “Really Real,” Tricky channels both Mike Posner and Muse, which sounds like an odd combination…and it is. The main difference is that he lacks both the lyrical prose Posner possesses, and the commanding force behind Muse’s instrumentals. To conclude the CD, Tricky actually decides to incorporate some real hip-hop into the mix, and I’ll admit, I like it very much. It’s that kind of streetwise rap you hear from the likes of K’naan, spitting fast rhymes with funky sounds to boot.

My one question is why did he wait till his very last song to show off his rap skills? That was honestly the only song on the entire album I could ever see myself listening to again, and I would be interested to investigate his earlier work to see if he has more similar tunes like that. Overall, I would say it was a terrible album—I understand the whole effort of trying to be diverse and unique with one’s music, but I feel like it wasn’t even one cohesive album, it was just a big mess of music genres that was on a whole painful for the ears. I’m sure this one album isn’t going to make or break his career—but I would certainly consider Mixed Race a far step back for Tricky, and recommend that he return to form if he wants to produce better music in the future.

Lazerbeak, Legend Recognize Legend (2010): Album Review

Legend Recognize Legend is the first full-length album by Lazerbeak, otherwise known as Aaron Mader. A prominent member of the Doomtree crew—essentially, the Young Money crew of Minneapolis—the now 28 year-old recording artist has been making music since his early days of high school as a member of the band The Plastic Constellations. After joining and touring with Doomtree the past few years, Beak began working on his own record—doing everything from writing to singing to playing his own instruments. That is how Legend Recognize Legend came to be, and a mighty fine debut it is.

The album begins with a simple piano tune entitled “Dream Team,” which sounds like the lovechild of Passion Pit and Kid Cudi in a sense. And just in case you can’t tell, that is an enormous compliment. Many of the songs have that feel to them, really. “Land’s End” is eerily similar to Cudder’s new track, “Mr. Rager,” but with an even darker melody that is amplified by a melancholy string section and some electronica. “Let It Go” features a vast array of sounds—the almost-military beat of a drum, harmonic whistling, and the grand crash of cymbals at regular intervals. There are so many elements of the song, you really need to listen to it multiple times to get the full effect of it. “Bound” is a very somber tune that employs both the piano and strings to make an otherwise depressing, potentially-boring song. The genius of Lazerbeak, though, decides to add a perfect electronic dance beat to the mix that simply enhances all the other elements of the song and creates something whimsical. For “Wild Life,” Beak brings a brief flavor of Africa with some basic chanting that is, of course, enfused with rousing electronic beats. “Salt and Sea,” while not the best of the tunes, is some lighter fare—very much in the style of Matt & Kim, and brings to mind something you might hear while perusing the shelves of stores like American Eagle or Urban Outfitters. Beak shows off some raspy vocals in “Pearly Gates,” where the airy beats and deep horns give the song a floating sensation, all the while offering some thought-provoking life poetry. And who doesn’t want some quality life lessons during a song? “Cannon Falls” has an especially funky beat and a very simple hook backed by a chorus of voices repeating the words “round and round” repeatedly. As grating as it can get on the ears, it is indisputably catchy and is fun to groove to. Beak returns to his darker tones on “Tempest,” with a heavy emphasis on drums and other-worldly vocals—again, ones that would make Cudder proud. And for the final song, “Foothills,” he resorts to a simple, acoustic guitar in the beginning—building up to a soft electronic and bass-kit beat. This might be the best track on the album—although it’s a slower song, it combines all of Beak’s best elements, with not-too-shabby lyrics to boot.

Not to take a ginormous stretch here, but I wouldn’t be hesitant to call Legend Recognize Legend a near-perfect album. While I don’t know exactly what Beak was going for while creating it, he has created a very mellow, enthused record up there with the likes of Ratatat, while still adding his own unique and very trippy spin, might I add. This album is a real find, and I honestly can’t wait to hear more music from him in the future.

Maroon 5, Hands All Over (2010): Album Review

Maroon 5. We’ve all crooned to their hits “She Will Be Loved” and “Won’t Go Home Without You” on the radio with the windows down and stereo up. Originally known as Kara’s Flowers, this group of Los Angeles high schoolers struggled to find success throughout the mid-1990’s. It wasn’t until 2002 when they changed their name to Maroon 5 and released their debut album, Songs About Jane, that the band exploded—dominating the Billboard charts and winning the Grammy for “Best New Artist.” Their sophomore album, It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, brought the group even more acclaim—shattering iTunes sales records, and transforming them into international superstars. Now, we anxiously wait to see where the new album entitled Hands All Over will take the group. Recorded in Switzerland in 2009 with the help of Robert Lange—producer for such bands as AC/DC and Nickelback—frontman Adam Levine has described the album as a “hybrid” of their last two; highlighting the best elements of each, while branching out into some rock and even country territory.

The album begins with “Misery”—the funky single released earlier this summer, bringing to mind the feel-good thumping of their early hit “This Love,” with a bit more of a disco-esque flair. “Stutter” brings a taste of twangy rock to the album, while still maintaining that breezy, light-hearted feel that Maroon 5 is so well loved for. Another tune, “Don’t Know Nothing,” almost has a 50’s jukebox feel to it; although a solid effort, I could only imagine how it’d sound if the likes of Amy Winehouse got a chance to tackle it. “Never Gonna Leave This Bed” is the quintessential morning-after ballad with sweet and simple lyrics, which are highlighted even moreso in the acoustic version featured on the Deluxe Edition of the disk. The title track, “Hands All Over,” features a bit of an angry rock edge very similar to that of “Wake Up Call” on their previous album. The best track on a whole, in my opinion, is definitely “How.” The group lays off the heavy guitar riffs and drums to showcase the piano some more, bringing Levine’s impressive falsetto and the catchy earnestness of the chorus to the forefront. And I guess entitling your song “Runaway” automatically makes it good—first Kanye with his new tune at the VMA’s, and now Maroon 5 with their upbeat song of the same name which showcases some gospel influences. The band slows it down with some easy bongo drum beats for their surprisingly good country collaboration with hot new artist, Lady Antebellum—perfectly meshing together Levine and Hilary Scott’s stellar vocals. The bonus tracks included on the Deluxe Edition are also all very worth the extra 5 dollars paid for the album. “Last Chance” plays like a dark tango ballad, while “No Curtain Call” is yet some more gloomy fare about the crumbling of a relationship with a lively, catchy chorus. The acoustic version of “Misery” is also definitely worth a listen and helps wrap up the album on a mellow, soulful note. Like any album, Hands All Over is not without its weak links. Their second single“Give A Little More” seems more suited for the 70’s discothèques of the ABBA generation, and “Get Back In My Life” just has a very strange vibe with no definite chorus or song structure in general.

So, do I think this is an album worth buying? Absolutely, and I’ve already listened to it nearly all the way through 4 times since I’ve purchased it. There are no real “standout” songs, which serves good for the album on a whole, but doesn’t bode so well for its future on the radio waves. Levine has also stated his plan to make 1 more album with the band before dismembering. Already 3 for 3 in my book, let’s hope for a solid finish to the irresistible and catchy era of Maroon 5.