12 October 2011
18 April 2011
TV on the Radio has consistently cranked out well-reviewed albums packed with catchy, socially conscious songs that have established the quintet as one of the most potentart-rock bands of the last decade. Yet despite SNL appearances, incredible melodies, and a member that resembles a perpetually stoned teddy bear, the band has failed to join the ranks of other contemporary indie giants like Arcade Fire. 9 Types of Light, TVOTR’s most recent record, is the latest in a string of excellent albums that will be adored by many, but fail to thrust the band into headlining status.
Like their previous work, 9 Types of Light is full of intricately layered tracks that incorporate funk, horns, hand-claps, industrial bangs, angular guitars, triple layered vocals, driving drums, and plenty other crafty sound effects that offer the band an incredibly expansive soundscape. On this album, producer/ guitarist/ token white member Dave Sitek effectively incorporates these sounds into songs that are less dense, but just as engaging as anything else the band has released. By allowing the tracks to breath, the songs are more patient and less jittery. That isn’t to say this album is boring however, just smoother. This new approach reflects the band’s move from the densely packed Brooklyn to the sprawled-out Los Angeles, where the album was recorded. When compared to previous albums, the more subdued tracks comprising 9 Types of Lights are essentially the same as other TVOTR songs, but without the claustrophobic static. I found myself nodding with the majority of the album and the songs are generally more dance-friendly because of the omission of certain production eccentricities. But the new production approach isn’t the only change from the band’s last album. The lyrics are much more straightforward and the love songs are more traditional. Sexy too.
The cynicism that defined earlier TVOTR love ballads is absent; in its place is a healthy serving of sincere, plainspoken romanticism. The track “You” has the line, “You're the only one I ever loved.” “Will Do” has Adibempe crooning, “I'd love to collapse with you/ And ease you against this song” (D’awwwwwwww). Other album highlights include the up-tempo “Repetition,” a song that charges throughout and eventually crescendos with a cyclic chorus. “Caffeinated Consciousness” is an enjoyable track that includes arena-tuned guitars and lyrics like “Gone optimistic/ We're gonna survive.” In fact, this album is decidedly more positive than previous offerings, and marks the band’s most accessible work to date. Album opener “Second Song” aptly conveys this spirit and is another standout track. Overall, this album is a completely new TV on the Radio record, both in terms of sound and content; yet it is undeniably an album made by the same guys that put out Dear Science, Return to Cookie Mountain, and Desperate Youths, Bloodthirsty Babes. I always enjoy seeing bands shift and grow, and it appears that TVOTR is in a healthy period of change; one that sees the band maintaining their core elements, while shifting themes and adding a new layer of accessibility through their lyrics and sonic clarity. Nearly every track is solid, and I was rarely bored – something I can’t say for Dear Science. Definitely check this out if you are a fan of the band, or good music in general.
RIP Gerard Smith
TV On The Radio's bassist, Gerard Smith, passed away on April 20th, 2011 after battling lung cancer. He was 36 years old. The band announced his passing on their website and added, "We will miss him terribly."
04 April 2011
I’ve never liked Blink-182, The Aquabats, or The Transplants. But I’ve always thought Travis Barker was a very cool drummer. So while I’ve never really been into the bands he’s backed, I have always enjoyed his drumming and can understand why he would want to make a solo album displaying his talents. Unfortunately, his recent drum-infused rap remixes were wearing thin by time he decided to crank out Give The Drummer Some, an album made up entirely of percussion heavy rap tracks. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing however, and the CD highlights some of the best elements from the Rap-Rock genre.
For those of you that thought Rap-Rock met the same fate as backward fitted caps, Dungaroos, and good Tony Hawk games, you were wrong. Because like a mighty Phoenix ascending from a smoldering plane crash, Travis Barker is here to remind us why the genre was awesome (and also a little about why it isn’t).
Despite Jada Pinkett Smith’s efforts, kids are still interested in music that dates back to a time when Steven Tyler was kicking holes through Run Dmc’s walls. And while Barker’s album is specifically drum-focused, it is is a classic example of that genre. Unfortunately, most tracks sound like drum-infused remixes, and not bona fide songs. For every song that is clearly built around Travis’s presence, there are five more where his drumming sounds like an unnecessary layer atop a fully developed track. The many guest rappers featured on the album probably realized this and drop occasional shout-outs as reminders to the fact that the album is centered around a drummer. In fact, both Rick Ross and Lil’ Wayne lazily drop the line “Travis on the drums,” in the same song. Without such reference lines it’s easy to hear the album as a compilation of sessions of Travis playing his drums while listening to a mix of songs his friend sent him.
The lack of vocal coordination highlights the absence of focus and purpose of the album. Many lyrics are lazy and seem more like 1st-draft verses that didn’t make the cut for other work. This is especially true for artists that are already established and currently hot. Other rappers, like Twista, Raekwon, Bun B, and E-40(!) are clearly trying harder, and their verses are generally much better than their track mates. The same cannot be said for Cypress Hill, who close out the album with a terribly boring song full of cliche rhymes and verses that only highlight their age and irrelevance.
With that said, the album does have its strong points. Songs that incorporate rhyme schemes built around Travis’s drumming and work within the established parameters of the Rap-Rock genre are generally the best. “Carry It,” which features 90’s all-stars RZA, Raekwon, and Tom Morello (of Rage Against the Machine) is one such song. The Tech N9ne and Bun B featured track, “Raw ****,” is another. The other top songs are ironically the same one’s were Travis’s drumming is less at the forefront. “Knockin” is one such example. The speed rap showcase track featuring Busta Ryhmes, Twista, Yelawolf, and Lil John, “Let’s Go,” is another. Travis’s drumming is undoubtedly impressive throughout the entire album, and its nice to hear him incorporate all the sounds available on his expansive drum set. Unfortunately, without a real sense of collaboration between drummer-producer-rapper, many tracks fail to highlight the talents of those involved. In the end however, I actually enjoyed this more than I thought I would. If you move beyond some of the cheesiness and accept the CD as a collection of tracks, and not a comprehensive album, Give The Drummer Some is actually a lot of fun.
31 March 2011
This is a band I admittedly don’t care about. The last time I listened to the majority of an Against Me! - I’m sorry - Rise Against album was in the backseat of my friend’s Jetta; and I couldn’t help but notice the irony of two middle-class suburban kids decked out in foreign made clothes semi-listening to some angry, progressive rock music. I think that experience aptly sums up the average listener: they like the music, but are generally oblivious to the message beyond some vague sense of “injustice sucks dude!” I mean, the kids who the lyrics actually speak to are generally way beyond listening to anything so ‘mainstream,’ and I’ve found that there is a huge disconnect between what the audience for the band should be, and what it actually is. With that said, I kind of dug this album. The tracks are fairly polished, which will undoubtedly be a drawback for many fans, but I think it adds some accessibility and general pop-awareness that was previously missing. This album reminds me in many ways of Against Me!’s breakthrough album, New Wave, the album that thrust the band into the mainstream and saw the group embrace more pop elements into their soundscape. And while many longtime fans hated Against Me! for partially abandoning their punk roots, many listeners (me being one of them) thoroughly enjoyed the new sound and direction. Same thing here. Songs about global politics, injustice, and the general shittiness associated with modern society are all intact, but so is a more conscious attempt to arrange songs in new and exciting ways. This results in discernible distinctions between tracks (which is more than I can say for most new Indie releases, I’m looking at you Best Coast), although the second half finds the band falling back into the same routine.
This album definitely draws from the zeitgeist of America being a falling super-power and many songs explicitly deal with the end of the American empire. In fact, “Survivor Guilt” begins with a brief exchange about the failing of the U.S. and would probably best serve as an introduction to the album. Endgame begins to wear thin around this point however; and while the songs themselves are still individually unique within the world of their established sound, it becomes difficult to sit through songs like “Broken Mirrors” and “Wait for Me” simply because of their repetition. Also, the signature combination of earnestness and sincerity gets pretty old. I wish the band would, at least for a few songs, sing about something different. At multiple times I felt like I would be much more into this CD if there was just one song that was totally removed from any of the previous ones. Mainly though, the music rocks. And I say that seriously. I find that a lot of ‘rock’ music lacks the ability to actually get my heart rate up or include guitar riffs/solos that I remember beyond the first listen. That isn’t the case here; the music is fast-paced, fairly creative, and compliments Tim McIlrath’s unique voice. Oddly enough, and this is something I’ve found with all Rise Against songs, the choruses are very sing-along friendly. I can’t help but imagine this band playing huge arenas because of their inviting harmonies, and I hope this album moves the band closer to that.
In the end, I actually found myself partaking in what bothered me so much about every Rise Against fan I’ve met. I was pumping my fist along with the music and focused my energy towards some vague feeling of angst and wrongdoing, pretty much ignoring the majority the song’s lyrics. But I guess that’s their thing. This band is so good at getting you amped up, that only upon listening to the album a second time do the deeper song meanings come to the surface because you aren’t so distracted by the band’s energy. This is a good thing, and I retract my previous judgments about fans of this band. Although this sound still isn’t my cup-of-tea, it has enough rock, and now pop, sensibilities for most to enjoy. And while the album lulls right after the midway point, it ends on a high note. As much as the band probably intended for this album to be consumed as one piece, I would recommend downloading the following and not worrying about skipping the rest: “Architects,” “Help Is On the Way,” “Make it Stop,” “Midnight Hands,” and the 90’s bass totin’ “Endgame.”