Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mysterious Mysteries - s/t

Mysterious Mysteries self titled EP is perhaps the most cohesively written pieces of music I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. Even though lyrics are scarce, and there are no repeated musical or lyrical themes, there seems to be a strong plot that strings each song together without them morphing into one composition. This EP plays like a novel that while short, is extremely interesting from start to finish.

Opening track “Chapter One” serves as an introduction to the scenery where the story will take place. Reverberated guitars drone ominously as an eerie bird-call echoes on the air. This seems to cleanse the musical palette, as a lilting finger-picked bassline fades in until it reaches full volume, and second track “Chapter Two” begins. The drums and bass lock tight together and lay the foundation for vocalist Jade Soto’s soft, throaty croon. Soto possesses a smoky tone that seems to channel jazz singers of old. Both the vocal melodies and those carried by the guitar are simple, yet memorable. Towards the end of the track, the band gains momentum, and conflict builds into a monstrous wall of dissonance until the clash is gloriously resolved, and the track rides out on a major chord and all-around good vibes. As the plot thickens, “Chapter Two” showcases a conflict which is ultimately resolved as the parties go their separate ways and to quote Soto “say their goodbye.” Of special note is the amazing slide guitar that closes out the track.

Track three paints an image of a sunny, spacious scene with a bright guitar cadence and smooth vocals. A new character is introduced when bassist Brandon Musa lends his voice to provide a new dimension to both the sound and the plot. It is now clear that “Chapter Three” outlines a passionate love story. The anecdote is told with clever metaphors comparing the choosing of a lover to picking fruit from a tree. But be careful! There is no way to tell if you’re fruit is fermented until you take a bite!

As track three fades to a close, we are met with the interlude of “Chapter Four.” Simple ukulele and bells serve as accompaniment as Soto sings of a longing for the past. “Chapter Five” opens with a western-styled guitar lick, painting a picture of a lonely desert road. As the track wears on however, the plot evolves to include a triumphant and climactic march.

I won’t spoil the final two tracks, or “Chapters” as the band calls them, but you would be doing yourself a favor to check out Mysterious Mysteries. With a sound that draws from the theatrical leanings of Mogwai, the shimmering buildups of Explosions in the Sky, a little bit of the experimental side of Deerhoof, and an emotional intensity all their own, there are nuances to their sound that will please even the pickiest of critics.

This is as much of a story as it is a piece of music, and considering this is the band’s first release, there is no reason to believe that their next record will be anything short of breathtaking. Does the story end in triumphant fanfare, or in a fateful dirge? In either case, the suspense created while listening for an answer keeps the ears attentive until the very last note.

Noyes - s/t

Noyes is the brainchild of guitarist Victor Villarreal, former axe-man of a number of legendary Chicago indie bands like Cap’n Jazz, Ghosts and Vodka, and OWLS. Villarreal has pioneered his own unique approach to guitar. His finger-picked riffs are beautifully melodic, and at times almost hypnotizing. This album is a joy to listen to. The guitar work is complex in execution, but when layered and repeated, as Villarreal does on this disc, it can’t be described any other way than just plain pleasant. Hints of OWLS can be heard throughout, but Noyes presents a more subtle and cerebral approach than the past works of Villarreal. Bands like Algernon Cadwallader, Them Roaringtwenties, and others clearly owe a lot to the work of Victor Villarreal. It is interesting to point out that while these newer bands owe a great debt to him, the mimicry of his style has morphed from complex finger-picking into frenetic finger-tapping. Noyes offers up a laid back indie rock album filled with charm and emotion. If anything, Noyes has more in common with the lyrical guitar work and eloquence of American Football than it does with the spazzy Cap’n Jazz. There’s some sparse vocals, some keyboards, and even a breakbeat or two, but the centerpiece remains the enthralling musicianship of Victor Villarreal. And rightfully so!

Hearts of Black Science - The Ghost You Left Behind

When people think about the musical output of Sweden, two things usually come to mind: death metal, and ABBA.You can clearly imagine my surprise, when I learned that Hearts of Black Science were from Sweden. The band plays a well executed style of electronic indie-pop. A heavy current of downtempo electronica can be heard throughout The Ghost You Left Behind, and a lot of the glitchy drum patterns sound similar to Telefon Tel Aviv. The only two acoustic instruments utilized are guitar and voice, but they are integrated with the electronic elements of the band’s sound flawlessly. Some of the instrumental sections of the album sound like Scottish instrumental band God is an Astronaut jamming out with electronic legends Boards of Canada. The vocals act as an extra instrument, and add to the overall spooky vibe of most of the bands songs. One track which stands out is “Driverlights” which uses a distorted guitar riff as its centerpiece. The song has tons of energy, despite the relatively slow tempo, since the atmospherics and live guitars meld together in a smoldering, slow-burn .The Ghost You Left Behind is good enough to overshadow some of the horrible death metal and glam-pop that has come out of Sweden over the years, and that is a truly good thing.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Giraffes? Giraffes! - More Skin With Milk-Mouth

This quizzically named duo offers up a healthy dose of mathematics with their instrumental rock. Giraffes channel the early work of math-rock pioneers Don Caballero, and layer on top of that a playful experimentation that morphs each song into a stylistic sketch all its own. The first track “When the Catholic Go Camping, Then the Nicotine Vampires Reign Supreme” repeats a thematic finger-tapped riff before exploding into a spacey, psychedelic freakout, complete with blistering guitar solo. Similarities to fellow instrumental rockers The Fucking Champs can be heard once the song is truly pushed over the edge. The second track “The Ghost of Eppeepee’s Ghost” is a free-jazz inspired number that would be completely at home on the last Fridge album. “Emily Sagee’s Secret” draws on the dissonance and rhythmic variation of the band Dysrhythmia in it’s first half, before breaking into a hauntingly simple groove punctuated by eerie-sounding bells. The EP is rounded out by Giraffe’s best and most unique track “A Quick One, While She’s Away.” A triumphant, lyrical guitar riff drives forward, only to morph seamlessly into a flowing theme driven by acoustic guitar. Then, Giraffes hit the distortion, and rock out to a disjointed, abrasive stretch, before returning back to more finger-tapped guitar wizardry with the agility of a jackrabbit. Bottom line: Giraffes? Giraffes! Combine some of the best elements of many instrumental bands and add their own flavor to create something that will please anyone with an ear for the unusual.

Bob Mould - District Line

The latest solo album from Bob Mould, formerly of ‘70s punk stalwarts Husker Du, is possibly his best yet. . Bob Mould’s solo work could be best described as an updated 90s rock sound, with a few electronics thrown in as accents. Honest lyrics are delivered in Mould’s classic powerful tone, on top of driving and creative rock backdrops. As opposed to some of his earlier solo work, District Line doesn’t feel dated, or repetitive. Opener “Stupid Now” channels the punk edge of Mould’s adolescence, while thoughtful tunes such as “The Silence Between Us” utilize a lyrical maturity that is a true rarity in music today. There are no groundbreaking musical developments here, resulting in un-cluttered songs that are easy to listen to. Mould does not attempt to re-create the wheel, and instead turns his attention to assembling tunes which are enjoyable from start to finish. Mould sounds truly vulnerable on District Lines, but without sounding depressed or sappy. Instead, the listener is offered a glimpse into the personality of a man, and insight into a few of his life experiences. This is personal quality, coupled with the top-notch songwriting, make this a must-hear.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

They Might Be Giants – The Else

Clever wordplay, interesting song topics, and melody, melody, melody are the centerpieces of the newest album from They Might Be Giants. Recorded with a full band, TMBG has departed from their older style of quirky electronic songs in favor of a more straight-forward format. TMBG brought in The Dust Brothers (Beastie Boys) to produce the record, and their presence is felt in the fuzz-laden bass and crunchy guitars. The shining point of The Else are the melodies. Ringleaders John Flansburg and John Linnell craft hooks that will be stuck in your cranium for days on end. The result is a record that is just plain fun to listen to from start to finish. I mean how can you go wrong with lyrics like this? “We're the Mesopotamians/Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh/This is my last stick of gum/I'm going to cut it up so everybody else gets some/Except for Ashurbanipal who says my haircut makes me look like a Mohenjo-daroan”

Lite – Filmlets

This Japanese instrumental band must take great notes whenever they listen to music. Lite blend the pioneering math-driven intensity of Don Caballero with the arpeggiated style of Tristeza and the force of Pelican. What’s scary is that in many ways, they do it better. Clean guitars dance around on epic melodies while the bass and drums push the songs forward and prevent them from going stale. Lite’s songs are at the same time coldly calculated, and emotionally driven. Filmlets is an album that will stay in your CD player for weeks on repeat, and never get old.

Meniscus – Absence of I

Great music pops up in all corners of the globe, and Meniscus is testament to that fact. Hailing from Sydney Australia, Meniscus put a most unique spin on the post-metal style. Yes, you can hear the influence of Isis and at some points Red Sparrows, but the ordinary formula stops there. Meniscus opt for a more straight-forward approach, moving quickly between themes and letting no riff sit long enough to grow stale. In this respect, they draw more on Deftones during their heavier moments than their obvious post-metal peers. But the element that tips this four song EP over the edge is the drumming. The drummer has a unique style, blending African and Latin beats into places you would’ve thought impossible. The result is a refreshing new take on the genre. The guitars, when not being pummeled into a state of overdriven submission, also add unique quips here and there, be it wah-wah, or tasty overlapping delay. Not many people may know who Meniscus is right now, but if this is an indication of what’s to come from the group, that will change very quickly.

The Fall of Troy – Manipulator

Throw Coheed & Cambria, Hot Cross, Underoath, and RX Bandits in a blender, and you’ve made yourself a hellish smoothie known as “The Fall of Troy.” You may think that a combination of the above mentioned bands would likely result in a tasty musical endeavor, but you’re completely wrong. Think of it this way: pizza is awesome, ice cream is delicious, and kiwi is delectable. All those foods are great, but for different reasons. Combine them, and somehow the best traits off all the foods are lost, and you’re left with turd soup. That’s The Fall of Troy in a nutshell for ya! On Manipulator, the bands sophomore release, they occasionally show flashes of brilliance in many areas. There are spots of great guitar riffage, great vocal melody, and odd time signatures. But for every thing The Fall of Troy does right, they do ten things wrong. The most blatantly obvious is the childish and pointless screams found throughout the bands songs. It works for some bands, but not here. There are also moments where the actual singing seems way too sugar-coated in falsetto to be taken seriously. The result is a mish-mash of influences that don’t really compliment each other in the least. If done right, you’re left with a delicious musical creamsicle, but left to the wrong hands; we’re right back to turd soup.

A Wilhelm Scream – Career Suicide

They say most things get better with age, and the old adage holds true with respect to A Wilhelm Scream. What started out as pop-punk band Smackin’ Isaiah has since evolved into a thrash-punk powerhouse. A Wilhelm scream blend elements of skate-punk, 80’s thrash, and modern metal to create songs that are both fast and fascinating. Career Suicide sees the band take their sound to new territories, where some songs are slower and allow the group to explore and utilize a groove to great effect. This record is the perfect soundtrack for hitting the gym, punching a hole in the wall, skating, and basically anything else you can think of. When those triple integrals start giving you a headache, thrown on career Suicide to let off a little steam before you punch your calculus homework in it’s inverse-trigonometric face.

Algernon Cadwallader – s/t Demo

Say it with me now: "al-jur-non kad-wall-uh-der" The name is hard to say, but this band is extremely easy to fall in love with. Algernon offer uplifting rock songs with a twist. Each tune is propelled by swirling and intricate guitar melodies. The finger-tapped guitar interplay alone is reason enough to love this band. Singer Pete bears a striking vocal resemblance to Mike Kinsella, and much of the bands instrumentation could be compared to a more complex and melodic version of Cap’n Jazz, with a tad of Faraquet thrown in for good measure. Weather it’s the bright guitar tones, swift drumming, or strained vocals, there is just something about Algernon Cadwallader that makes the listener feel optimistic. They make you want to get out of your chair, go outside, and do something, anything! Best of all, this demo is available for free through their myspace: Go have a listen and you’ll thank me later.

The Silver Mt Zion Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band – 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons

NOTE:I know I have lost a buttload of "scene points" with this one, but I can NOT bring myself to like this band. How anyone can actually enjoy this is beyond me! But hell, I barely even like Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

Ouch. That describes the first twelve tracks of this album in a nutshell. For no apparent reason, the dozen “songs” (and I use that term loosely) that lead off this album are six second snippets of high-pitched, atonal screeches. And unfortunately for the listener, it doesn’t get much better after that. The four remaining tracks average fourteen minutes in length apiece, and oh! The agony! This is music run amok. If these songs were condensed even into 8 minute tracks, they might stand a chance. Guitars, strings, and chanted vocals drive forward like a broken record. Atmospheric sounds litter the audible landscape as TSMZO&TLLB strive to craft the perfect climax. Problem is, it never comes. I can’t imagine many who would have the patience to sit through this album in its entirety by their own accord. Then again, I can barely think of anyone with enough attention span to make it through their name! The abbreviation alone is mind boggling!

Dead Meadow – Old Growth

Dead Meadow found their amps at your grandparents garage sale. The sounds of ancient vacuum tube amplification is the centerpiece for their album Old Growth. Dead Meadow play a slow, groove-laden brand of rock with a heavy southern swagger. The band even venture into the realm of psychadelia, prompting some to file them under “stoner rock.” Dead Meadow fall upon a most unusual circumstance however. They duplicate the sounds of 60s and 70s rock so well, that they serve no purpose. If you wanted to hear this kind of music, you would do better to dig up your parent’s old vinyl than to waste some hard earned dough on what is essentially a musical replica of the real thing.

Vampire Weekend - s/t

Somewhere along the line, unbeknownst to the parties involved in the conception, The Beatles and Gang Of Four had a love child. It’s name is Vampire Weekend. Blending the pop structure and knack for melody of the former, and the creative punk edge of the latter, Vampire Weekend make for a truly interesting listen. The band comes across like a delicious flavored toothbrush. They’re just sweet enough not to give you a cavity, and just aggressive enough not to cut your gums. They make your mouth tingle and please your taste-buds. An unexpected influence emerges halfway through the album, when island style guitar is met with African style drumming much akin to the solo work of Paul Simon. The second half of this album is a ménage a tois of the three primary influences of the band. The end result is a handful of unforgettable melodies, and the utter disbelief that anyone would ever make music that could be described as a candy toothbrush. But trust me, it’s true! Vampire Weekend is Proof!

The Mercury Program - s/t

This 1999 debut from The Mercury Program still sounds as fresh as if it were released yesterday. The band brings an intelligent blend of post-rock, jazz, and punk to the table. Borrowing ambient and jazz elements of Tortoise, the loudness of Don Caballero, and the daydream-like soundscapes of Explosions In The Sky, there is little here not to like. Occasional vocals punctuate the songs, being delivered in a style that is almost spoken-word poetry. Distorted guitars, open drums, and earthy bass come together to bring an intensity and delicacy that is a rarity in music today. The addition of vibraphone adds a haunting new dimension to many songs. There’s even a sweet bossa-nova jam thrown in just for good measure! This is an album to listen to with the lights dimmed, watching the depressing Rochester snow fall across the window. It gives the listener a sense of calm hope that is the perfect deterrent to winter depression.

Monday, February 18, 2008

My interview with Victor FREAKIN Wooten

The instant that a musician gains mastery of their instrument, a phenomenon occurs where that musician instantly becomes a subject of idolatry. Everywhere that this musical giant travels, their skill and precision leaves nothing but devoted followers in the wake behind. Victor Lemonte Wooten is aiming to shatter this phenomenon. He is at the same time a master, a teacher, a friend, an intellectual, and most importantly a human being just like you and I.

Known by most as the bass player in famed fusion group Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Victor Wooten (or Vic for short) has released five solo albums to date. He has also studied and played with legends such as Bootsy Collins of Parliament Funkadelic fame, Stanley Clarke, and Larry Graham. Perhaps most renowned for his amazing slap-bass stylings and rhythmic fret board wizardry, Vic has fast become a rising star in the music scene today.

With bass guitar in hand Vic made a stop in Rochester on his “Soul Circus 2006 Tour” in support of his solo album of the same name. Following a packed clinic at the “musical Mecca” House of Guitars, I rode with Vic from there to the German House Theatre where he would perform later that night, and got the chance to ask him a few questions.

Evan: For anyone who is not familiar with you, could you describe yourself in a few sentences?

Victor Wooten: Most people would know me as a musician, bass happens to be my instrument. I’m one of the few that gets to travel around the world and make a living doing what I love to do.
E: How has the tour been going so far?

V: Wonderful! Good response, great crowds… We had a great band called the Lee Boys with us far a while. It was a great inspiration having them around for a few days.

E: Philosophy seems to be a big part in the way you approach music and life, in contrast to many musicians who strive for just technical ability. Could you expand on this?

V: I think most musicians have their own philosophies, but not all of us talk about it. A lot of the times when we go to play music we forget about our philosophies and get right into the technical aspect of it. But I try to look at music like a language, and we don’t look at speaking a language technically. We just do it! The most important thing is having something to say. When speaking, we know our technique so well, that we rarely, if ever, think about it. The focus stays on having something to say through language. My approach to music is the same.

E: You have had the opportunity to play with many great musicians. How do you approach playing with people with different styles and abilities?

V: I approach it the same way as if I were going to sit down and talk to them. You have to listen to what they have to say to know what you want to add, and at the same time I want to be myself. I believe those guys want to play with me because of who I am, not because they want me to play like someone else. Even if we come from different backgrounds, or speak different languages, we still speak the same language and can communicate. We have to look for that common ground that allows us to communicate effortlessly. When I play with different people we try to find that common ground where the music just flows out.

E: If you could raise the dead and play music with anyone, who would you choose?

V: The first name that comes to mind is Miles [Davis], but it would be something I would want to think about. I’d love to hang out with Jaco [Pastorious]. I don’t feel the need to play with Jaco because I’ve heard him play so much, but just to hang out. Jaco had an energy that I loved.

E: That would be interesting since a lot of people compare you to Jaco [Pastorious].

V: The only way I compare myself to Jaco, besides being a bass player, is in the spirit, the energy, the fun he had when playing that instrument. He put his whole self into that instrument every concert.

…But I would love to spend some time with some of the great classical composers. Stravinsky, Mozart, Beethoven. The thing that we don’t realize about those guys is that they were good improvisers. We have to remember that they didn’t approach classical music the way we approach classical music. The same way Miles [Davis] and ‘Trane , didn’t approach jazz the way we approach it. We’re trying to learn jazz while they were creating jazz! Jazz was their lifestyle, so now we’re trying to preserve it. They were the rogue musicians of their day, the same with the classical composers.

E: What music have you personally been listening to lately?

V: I’ve spent a lot of concentrated time listening to Chick Corea lately since I had to learn some of his music for a week long gig in New York City. I got to play as the bass player for the Elektrik band at the Blue Note. But right now, I’m away from music. When I'm not on stage, I’m not putting something on to listen to. I really try to look at music as a language. If you want something good and meaningful to say, you’re not going to sit around in a room and talk all day. You’re going to get out and have experiences. Music is the same way. So for me to get on stage and have something meaningful to say, I don’t get that from practicing all day. I gotta get out and have some fun! And then when I get on stage, wow, I’ve got something to talk about!

E: So the bottom line is that there is more than just music out there?

V: Oh I hope so! But yes, there definitely is.

Later that evening, Victor Wooten, along with two of his brothers manning guitar and keyboards, a drummer, a second bass player, and a vocalist, would take the stage at the German House Theatre. The air was heavy with excitement as fans of all ages, races, and walks of life poured into the room. The space filled quickly, and with still 45 minutes to show time, the theatre was already packed full. If you listened closely, conversations could be heard throughout the crowd about music; from classical to jazz, and everywhere in between.

As the lights dimmed and the band took the stage, the crowd erupted with cheers and applause. The band blazed through a tune which introduced the band members musically, allowing each an opportunity for a short solo. At this point it became apparent that every person on that stage possessed enough power to melt your face and rock your socks with a mere flick of the wrists.

Watching these musicians, it was apparent that they had fun doing what they did, and that they loved it. This feeling fed into the crowd’s reaction through the next four songs, which were from
Victor’s Soul Circus album.

The second half of the concert is the stuff of legend. The band left the stage after Victor introduced his brother, and guitar player, Reggie Wooten. Reggie displayed his unique style of finger-tapped guitar work and astonished the audience with perhaps the only “slap-guitar” ever played. The band gradually came back to the stage to join Reggie in renditions of “Roller Coaster of Love”, Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” (complete with overdriven, Marshall-fueled distortion) Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire”, closing with a James Brown styled shout chorus freak-out, complete with an impressive guitar flip.

The closing half of the show saw solo performances from Victor’s older brother Joseph Wooten on keyboards and vocals, and a blistering drum solo from Derico Watson. Vic then took the stage to display just why so many see him as a musical icon. Weaving in Christmas tunes such as Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and classic Amazing grace, Vic let loose a beautiful amalgamation of sound and vibration which was nothing short of breathtaking.

At the concert’s close, the band stuck around for over an hour to mingle with fans while breaking down equipment. There was not a single annoyed look when each band member was asked to sign hundreds of autographs in succession. As the house lights came up, it became clear what makes Victor and all of these musicians so special. At the end of the night, they are still people, just like you and me. They are as far from the stereotypical rock star that one could possibly get, and that is a refreshing sight.

Victor Lemonte Wooten occupies a special place in the music world. He dwells not in the practice room, backstage, in the recording studio, or on the tour bus. He resides in a place where he can connect with his audiences night after night, forever avoiding that phenomenon which can turn musicians into inaccessible idols of worship.

The Recieving End Of Sirens

The Receiving End Of Sirens – And The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi

Sometimes, bands get the bright idea to write a concept album. Nine times out of ten, the idea actually isn’t so bright. But if there is any place where an album based on sixteenth century astronomer Johannes Kepler’s theory of the tonality of the solar system would fit in, that place is RIT. The Receiving End of Sirens try their hardest to impress the listener on this disc, but no matter how hard you scrub the eyeliner off of an emo band, they are still crying on the inside. However, TREOS (excuse the awkward abbreviation) bring some welcome changes to the typical emo style. A heavy Cave In influence is apparent not only in the spacey electronic interludes, but in the vocals as well. But this just isn’t enough. The songs blend together, lacking any memorable or unique moments that could have saved this album from the doldrums of familiarity. For more of the same, but with electronics, The Receiving End of Sirens is your band.

Paint It Black – New Lexicon

We all get pissed off, but by the sounds of it, the three guys in Paint It Black get pissed off A LOT. It’s the only way to explain what fuels the endless stream of aggression from start to finish on their latest album New Lexicon. Paint It Black have a loud sound that draws as much from the 1980’s Washington DC hardcore scene as it does from old-school Bay Area thrash metal and the discordance of modern hardcore bands like Botch. And if you listen really close, you can hear a slight classic rock swagger that gives New Lexicon a great attitude. The songs are short, and to the point, with lyrics touching base on everything from poverty stricken youth, to religious missionaries and drug abuse. Paint It Black delivers punk rock gold with this disk, blending memorable guitar riffs, meaningful lyrics, and an unrelenting, good ‘ole fashioned punk rock attitude.

The Mars Volta – Bedlam In Goliath

After a duo of disappointing releases in Frances The Mute and Amputechture, The Mars Volta have finally brought an album to the table that isn’t watered down with electronic drones and other methods of musical auto-fellatio. The band have returned to a form similar to their stunning debut De-loused In The Comatorium. The album is another breath of fresh air into the stagnant state of music today. One of the most notable improvements over their past work is a newfound ferocity that is blatantly obvious throughout the album. Sure, there are still some annoying points, principally that the lyrics are so jumbled and cryptic that the album should really come with a decoder ring. The band sometimes resorts to what can only be described as “musical noodling” merely for the sake of noodlings sake, leaving the listener scratching their head for a number of seconds until the real music emerges again. But other than that, Bedlam in Goliath is a solid release from a band who had two other tries to get it right……and failed. Third times a charm!

The Kidcrash – Jokes

The Kidcrash have come a long way since the release of their previous album New Ruins. They have abandoned the parts of their sound which were so predictable, namely the pop-punk and mid-west indie leanings, and have kept their math-rock tendencies. This turnaround is a welcome one. With guitar work clearly inspired by the now-defunct Hot Cross and also-defunct Norwegian hardcore innovators JR Ewing, not to mention the long-dead Saetia, The Kidcrash bear the torch of bands before them. They do so splendidly, blending largely instrumental and guitar driven post-punk with forceful vocals that truly capture the emotion of the band’s sound. A little noisy, a tad mathy, and a truckload of sincere, Jokes is a great listen from start to finish.

El Ten Eleven – Every Direction Is North

El Ten Eleven are an instrumental band that was apparently too lazy to find a second guitarist. Instead, the band opts to center their songs around live guitar and bass loops that are layered in real time to create the driving force behind their songs. Part indie rock, part dance, part post rock, and part ambience, El Ten Eleven throw in a little of everything on their newest album. While the live loop construction would probably be amazing to see in a live setting, the songs on Every Direction is North tend to become a tad repetitive around halfway into the album. Things are spiced up from time to time with truly awesome guitar effects, but the tracks tend to lack identity. Fans of the band may also note some recycled riffs from their first self titled album, such as the clean guitar line towards the end of the new album’s title track. The band has certainly grown since then however. The addition of electronic drum beats and some keyboards are a welcome change from the standard guitar/bass/drum format.

The Heliocentrics – Out There

The Heliocentrics , better known as the backing band for DJ Shadow, are making moves to step into the limelight. Out There is an instrumental hip-hop that album showcases the bands ability to take grooves from drummer Malcom Catto and morph them through the lenses of jazz, funk, breakbeat, and even downtempo electronica. And they do so with breathtaking results. The only downside is the distribution of pointless electronic noodling between many songs. Once the groove starts, prepare for a unique treat. Live Guitar, bass, and samples give this record a refreshingly authentic sound in a hip hop scene that is all too often guilty of relying on fruity-loops for canned beats.

The Old Soul - s/t

All music must have a purpose. Whether it is to inform, rebel, proclaim love, deliver hate, let loose angst, or just to have fun, there is an intention that lies at the heart of every great band.

After repeated listens of their self titled record, I am convinced that The Old Soul is a band with no purpose at all. Each song jumps styles and genres without explanation. It sounds as if the 10 person band were let loose in the high school band room and this is what popped out after 48 hours of no sleep, and plenty of hallucinogenic drugs.

Anyone who tries to find any sort of meaning in the lyrics of frontman Luca Maoloni is in for an uphill battle. Anyone who can find purpose or meaning in such lyrical gems as “Take that jackknife to the protein shake, I know you same. You bleed through your eyes like the first one fallen over” deserves the Nobel Prize for code-breaking. Perhaps it’s just me, but I have trouble relating to lines such as “And it don’t cost much when you’re made of spades. You’ll eat out of the freezer.”

Distorted punk power chords in one song are traded for mariachi horns in the next. Accordions swap with harpsichord. Piano does the tango with synthesizer and an entire saxophone section. Vibraphone and violin run amok. Sound clips of chickens are morphed inside-out. I may have heard a spaceship, but it seems doubtful. On the other hand it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

Perhaps the purpose of this record is to completely confuse the listener. If that was The Old Soul’s aim, then bravo, hey hit it right out of the park. Whether or not that constitutes good music is for you to decide.

Soulsavers – It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s How You Land

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you probably haven’t ever heard a band that sounds anything like Soulsavers. Odds are, this is the only band out there with the ability to combine gospel, hip hop, classic rock, country, and post-rock into a sound that drips with feeling and emotion.

It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s How You Land opens with “Revival,” a tune that combines church organ and industrialized drums into the backdrop for gut-wrenching gospel vocals. Singer Mark Lanegan channels Tom Waits and Johnny Cash with huge success. His soothing yet abrasive croon draws you in, while the lyrics grab you and keep you engaged until the song draws to a close.

“Ghosts of You And Me” utilizes a backdrop of eerie guitar noises to showcase thick hip-hop beats similar to those of rapper and producer Madlib. To say “Ghosts of You and Me” has an infectious groove would be a gross understatement. If you can listen to this song without shaking your head or tapping your foot, you must not be human. “Paper Money” is perhaps the only song known to man to ever successfully integrate hip-hop, western blues, and guitar driven rock. The choruses burst with an energy one might hear in a Jimi Hendrix Experience jam session, while the verses smolder with steaming hot drum beats.

Instrumental track “Ask the Dust” rides on a solid drum and bass groove while a piano adds sparse embellishments. Guitars are gradually layered in, and the thick result sounds like it would fit well on an album by Black Heart Procession. The band’s cover of “Spiritual” by Josh Haden is a glimmering post rock masterpiece, a la Explosions In The Sky. Vocalist Lanegan does it again, with his simple lyrics and melody adding a new dimension to a song which otherwise would sound flat and predictable.

“Kingdoms of Rain” is a song meant to be sung by men on a chain gang. Mark Lanegan’s depressed drawl drags behind it the sounds of piano and acoustic guitar as a vapor trail of strings follows.

All of the tracks on It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s How You Land have both musical and lyrical roots in religion. However, Soulsavers avoid the clichés of many concept albums of the past by not winding the theme too tightly. The band leaves room for the songs to breathe, and any single song stands on its own very well. In that sense, the listener is allowed to create his or her own concept for the album, a feature which will likely keep people coming back for more.

This is not just an album. It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s How You Land is a story told with vivid detail. The common medium of vocal communication has been morphed into a series of soundscapes that tell an extremely gripping story about a fascinating dynamic character. The specifics of the story are left out, allowing the listener to fill in the blanks on their own, opening the floodgates for scores of different interpretations.

Simply Red - Stay

This past Friday, while loading my car to travel home 3 hours on the legendary I-90, a most unfortunate thing happened. A compact disc which will remain nameless was hanging halfway out of the slot of my car’s CD player, and was severed in half when I plopped a bag of dirty laundry onto my passenger seat. The CD player, perhaps momentarily possessed by a demon spirit, sucked the remaining half of the compact disc into the player, and proceeded to spin it around in futility. My CD player was broken and I would now have to rely on FM radio to hold my attention for 3 hours. I was no happy camper.

Amidst my quest to find a bearable radio station, I came across many channels which were labeled as “Adult Hit.” Michael Bolton, Elton John, Norah Jones, and other mind-numbingly boring artists were featured on these stations. The album in question this week “Stay” by Simply Red would have fit like a glove on any of these “Adult Hit” radio stations.

The first cut of the record “The World and You Tonight” provides a great overview of all the sounds featured on the record. Strong pop undercurrents drag Simply Red through a rip tide of soft island rock, swanky pseudo-porn riffs, middle-aged love ballads, and predictable hooks that are sure to make anyone over 40 nod in approval.

The front man of Simply Red doesn’t have that bad of a voice. It is smooth and slightly smoky, gliding easily over mid-range notes and hitting higher notes with ease. When his powers are employed for the evil act of creating such awful music, however, one can’t help but cringe.

There is not one cliché that is not present on this record; tambourine, whistling, cowbell, synthesizer, harpsichord, children’s choir, a fake string section… name it, and its all here! As you listen to the record for the first time, you will be sure that you have heard it a thousand times before. Perhaps this familiar quality will be a great selling point of the album to an older generation, but it’s harder than that to pull a fast one on smart-assed college students.

We won’t easily be fooled into recycled music that fits splendidly on the “Adult Hit” radio station. We will be the first ones to turn the dial. Hell, most of us would rather turn the radio off altogether and drive in silence. I know that’s what I did!

Radiohead - In Rainbows

To download, or not to download. That is the multi-million dollar question, and it’s not going anywhere any time soon. Among the tech-savvy Generation-Y community, the answer may be an enthusiastic “Yes,” but downloading is not without it’s pitfalls, including that it is (technically) against the law.

Well, for those of you who sit on the fence of the pirate vs purchase debate, Radiohead have answered that question for you. The critically acclaimed band is releasing its next album, In Rainbows, on CD December 3rd. However, what makes this release unique is that, starting October 10th, anyone can download the album at a price that is determined by You, the buyer and the listener. You can pay as little as $0.00, or as much as….. well, I don’t know how deep your pockets are but that’s not the point.

So what do you get for (potentially) zero dollars?

In a nutshell, you get one of the most coherent records of the year. In Rainbows hides common musical threads within all of its songs that make the album an easy straight-through listen. Each track maintains its own character, while staying within the boundaries of the album. It is quite the neat little package.

The entire album is hypnotizing. It rolls from one song to the next before you know it, and is full of interesting music to be fascinated by.

In Rainbows starts off with the energetic tracks “15 Step” and “Bodysnatchers.” Driving up-tempo drum beats and a soaring flurry of clean guitar are propelled by deliciously fuzzy basslines. Thom Yorke provides his signature croon, lending a great dimension to the tunes, and adding to the momentum of the album right out of the gate. His voice soars flawlessly over every song on the album, and is a real treat to listen to.

In Rainbows then shifts toward a slower theme centered around arpegiated and finger-picked guitar lines. “All I Need” grooves on downtempo drums, electronic bass, and guitar swells to produce something that could be found easily on a Boards Of Canada album. “Faust Arp” combines acoustic guitar and a string section to produce a charming cinematic folk song. “Reckoner” keeps the arpegiated guitar theme going while disguised under reverberated drums, tambourine, and piano.

“Jiggsaw Falling Into Place” quickens the pace as the album nears its end. This song possibly rocks the hardest out of any on the album, despite the guitars being acoustic. In Rainbows closes with “Videotape,” a delicate and engaging dirge which leaves the listener craving more.

To download or not to download, the answer is not important in this situation. Radiohead has decided that you should pay whatever the hell you think they deserve for their newest album. There is no guilt in dropping a whopping sum of zero dollars and zero cents on some new music.

And hey, if you hate it, at least you got your money’s worth.

Portugal. The Man - Church Mouth

When I make a sandwich I usually use white bread. I was raised on white bread, and it provides a comforting foundation on which to place any combination of meats, cheeses, or even PB&J. But every once and a while, I get adventurous. I reach for two slices of rye or sourdough, or perhaps potato bread to provide an exciting new backdrop for my lunchtime extravaganza. However, not everyone shares my adventurous spirit. There are some too afraid to be rid of their comforting white bread, and eat nothing but the stuff until the day they die.

Portugal.The Man fall into the latter category. Their latest album, Church Mouth, is a mesh of classic rock riffs, blues-tinged vocals, and wailing vocals. Guitarist and vocalist John Gourley is clearly a graduate of the Jimmy Page School of guitar playing, and his vocals are a spitting image of Page’s Zeppelin band mate Robert Plant. The bass and drums hold the steady groove well throughout the album, and if you close your eyes and listen, you might just think this album was written in 1972. The production on this disk sounds truly authentic, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the instruments were recorded to analog tape, as opposed to a computer hard-disk.

The band play close to their comfort zone throughout the album, with songs around the same tempo, and vocalist Gourley staying in his limited vocal range. By the 5th song “Shade” Portugal.The Man’s formula starts to get a bit boring. The songs lack memorable moments and start to blend together. Their sandwich needs to be spiced up a little. Portugal.The Man needs to reach for some marble rye. They could really turn some heads if they did, but alas, they never do. The band wants their musical sandwich served on white bread, with the crust cut off, and won’t accept anything else without a tantrum.

Church Mouth is an album that sounds its best blaring out of a boom box at a house party. While the band don’t have a very memorable sound, they sure are fun. There are plenty of chances on Church Mouth to bang your head, shake your fist, and even do that weird little hippy dance that people used to do. Gourley’s vocal melodies aren’t the best, but he makes you want to hear what he is singing about. However his lyrics are somewhat abstract. This could be bad if you want to find deeper connection to the music, or it could be extremely righteous if you want to find deeper connection to the music through the use of various “substances” which may or may not be legal to possess in New York State.

Church Mouth shows the listener what kind of songs Portugal.The Man are the most comfortable making. What separates this from a great album is the fact that they never step outside of that comfort bubble. If their sandwich is not triangularly sliced, they will flip out. But hopefully, in time, they can learn to love the wonderous flavors of sourdough or potato bread. Trust me, that would make for excellent sandwich………….album.

Menomena – Friend and Foe

One of the hardest tasks associated with making a good album is finding a balance between a bands influences and their own unique sound. On Friend and Foe, Menomena do just that, which is an impressive accomplishment by the sheer volume of influences that can be heard throughout the record.
The ugly tune “The Pelican” calls to mind the vocals of TV on the Radio, but once the band comes in a groove much akin to the more experimental moments of Led Zeppelin takes the reigns. “Wet and Rusting” sounds like an Arcade Fire song put through a coffee filter, while the eerily soulful groove on “Air Aid” channels the motown era through the use of bari-sax and piano. “Rotten Hell” sounds like a song the members of Coldplay would’ve written while they were still in high school. Menomena give the most obvious head-nod on the album to Neil Young in the form of “My My”, in which the vocalist emulates a the wavering tone and inflection of Young’s voice.
Taken at face value, the descriptions above would lead someone to believe that this album is nothing but a hodge-podge. However Menomena successfully rescue this album from the pit of failure by always letting their unique style shine through. Every track possesses a minimalist groove with huge, open-sounding drums. Menomena’s arrangements are concise, yet interesting as best illustrated by the start/stop feeling in the album opener “Muscle’n Flo” It was hard for me to find a moment on this album that didn’t make me tap my foot. Simple, yet memorable vocal melodies keep the music grounded, despite some passages which contain a hint of avant-garde.
Menomena’s Friend and Foe is a unique album, well balanced from start to finish, that has a little piece of something for virtually everyone to latch on to. Weather you’re into jungle music, or classical piano, Menomena, like a musical “big brother”, still hasn’t left you out of the loop.

Melee – Devils & Angels

A particular online dictionary provides us with this definition of the word stale:

stale [steyl] adjective
not fresh; vapid or flat, as beverages; dry or hardened, as bread.

musty; stagnant: stale air.

having lost novelty or interest; hackneyed; trite: a stale joke.

having lost freshness, vigor, quick intelligence, initiative, or the like, as from overstrain, boredom, or surfeit: He had grown stale on the job and needed a long vacation.

Law. having lost force or effectiveness through absence of action, as a claim.

See also: Melee

As evidenced by their latest album Devils And Angels, Melee are the flat coke in the refrigerator that is the modern music scene. They display practically no creativity, innovation, or spin whatsoever on their typical radio-rock sound.

Melee ride on the coattails of Elton John, as the main melody is carried by the vocals and piano playing of frontman Chris Cron. The piano playing is something that everyone has heard before in the background of many pop tunes. The only difference here is that it is found louder in the mix, which wouldn’t be a problem if the piano playing was worthy of being a focal point of the album, but sadly it is not.

Every cliché is present. 90% of the songs about girls: check. A track worthy of Monster Ballads? “Can’t Hold On” and “She’s Gonna Find Me Here” provide two big ‘ol checks here. Gang Vocals? Look no further than “My Biggest Mistake.” Swanky 70’s throwback tune? “You Make My Dreams.” Bee Gees style falsetto? Check. String Section? Present and accounted for in “Drive Away.”

Melee call to mind 3rd Eye Blind in the guitar department, and Maroon 5 in the rhythm section. If you’ve lost your copy of Songs About Jane, you may want to consider switching it out for Devils & Angels.

Devils & Angels is pop music. The same pop music that Fall Out Boy and countless other bands have capitalized on as of late. The sound is formulaic, bland, and altogether uninspired. Melee sounds like a band that could be played on the John Tesh radio show and fit right in. If that doesn’t scare you off, then Melee might just be your new favorite band.

If the band set out to make an album that will get played on the radio and pleased their managers at Warner Brothers, then they have certainly succeeded. I mean no disrespect to the music that Melee has made, but this is an album full of the same songs we hear on the radio everyday, only this time they are repackaged with the piano a little louder than before.

I am sure there are loads of people who will love this band. They’re the same people who jumped off the Backstreet Boys bandwagon just to get on the ‘N SYNC train, and when that locomotive crashed, they had already moved on to hip-hop, or Hawthorne Heights, or whatever the next trend was.

To take a line from the very deffiniton of the word bland, Melee have grown stale on the job, and probably could use a long vacation.

Loney, Dear – Loney, Noir

Mix 1 cup of sincerity with 2 tablespoons of introversion. Fold in half a cup of melody, and sprinkle with equal parts indie pop and folk. Bake at 350 degrees for half a lifetime, and out comes Loney, Noir, the latest album from Loney, Dear.

Loney Dear is the solo work of Emil Svanängen, who writes and records most of the music captured on disk himself. When performing live, he is aided by sometimes up to eight musicians. Acoustic guitar and introspective vocals take center stage on this album, which may be best described as indie pop with deep roots in acoustic folk. The songs are at the same time uplifting and full of melancholy. Right off the bat, Loney, Dear calls early Death Cab for Cutie to mind, as vocalist Emil Svanängen sounds at times similar to Death Cab’s own Ben Gibbard. However Svanangen often extends into an upper range style which owes much to the Bee Gees. The overall folky feel of the album draws some parallels to singer/songwriters such as John Denver, but with a modern flair.

The high point of the album is the use of orchestral arrangements which include everything from flute, clarinet, and string bass to harp. This creates a wonderful backdrop for Svanangen’s smooth voice to paint a wonderful emotional picture. Another surprise on this record was the somewhat abrupt introduction of electronics in “I Won’t Cause Anything At All,” which lies at the end of the album. Svanangan seems to channel Ben Gibbard once again, but this time his work in The Postal Service is paid homage.

This record sounds as if Svanangan toiled for years over it, meticulously choosing lyrics, and fitting each puzzle piece perfectly into the musical jigsaw which he has created. The end result is a catchy, emotionally driven album, accented by tasteful use of less-than-usual instruments.

Fujiya & Miyagi – Transparent Things

Remember that guy from the late ‘70s that claimed disco was dead? You wouldn’t happen to have his phone number, would you? Because after listening to the latest album from Fujiya & Miyagi, I feel inclined to give him a ring to tell him he was wrong.
Although disco arguably has lived on through the influence it has had on many contemporary artists, I can’t say I’ve ever heard an album which owed such a substantial amount of its sound to the genre. Transparent Things, the latest album from Fujiya & Miyagi, has its roots firmly planted in the disco era. A clean guitar is delicately strummed over a fat, groove-laden bass line, which interlocks with simple-yet-effective programmed drumming. Occasionally, a synthesized string arrangement can be heard, and sometimes a keyboard or organ snatches the main melodic duties from the guitar.
What makes this album work is the personality that Fujiya & Miyagi inject into otherwise standard disco tunes. “Cylinders” has a heavy indie pop lean, while “Reeboks in Heaven” showcases a super-funky bass lick that Bootsy Collins would be proud of. The vocals are often whispered, sometimes falsetto, but always entertaining. The lyrics may be nonsensical and/or incoherent at times (in “Collarbone” he proclaims: “trip over my shoelaces/gotta get a new set of shoes/to kick it with me/to kick it with you”) but never lose sight of the all important fun-factor. This album is flat-out danceable. It is the perfect soundtrack to any happenin’ party.
I don’t know exactly why I like this album, but I do. To tell you the truth, I think most disco was and still is horrible. But Fujiya & Miyagi have performed enough trickery here to make me ignore that. This album will take you out of your funk and put you back out on the proverbial dance floor.
Oh, and while you’re out there dancing it up, I’ll try to find that guy’s phone number

Anais Mitchell – The Brightness

Do you remember going to Halloween parties as a kid? If you have, you surely remember reaching your hand into a dark box filled with cold spaghetti, skinned grapes, or something else disgusting. What made those boxes so fun was the mystery of what may be inside.

New music can be looked at in the same way, the CD case becomes the proverbial “dark box” whose contents are unbeknownst to you. As I put The Brightness by Anais Mitchell into my computer, I was excited and filled with hopes that what may lie inside my dark box would be a new favorite artist

In many aspects, I was not disappointed. Anais Mitchell makes music centered around acoustic guitar and her unique vocal style, which is often harsh and nasaly. Comparisons to early Jewel material come to mind. This would probably be a deterrent if Mitchell’s voice did not contrast so well in the upper range, sounding sweet and smooth as it tackled the high notes on the album with ease.

Another strong point of The Brightness is the number of seemingly unusual instruments featured throughout the album. “Of a Friday Night” has a distinct lounge feel, as a result of the acoustic guitar being traded for a grand piano. The saxophone on “Namesake” is nothing short of brilliant, and left me wanting to hear it incorporated more. “Shenendoah” features a banjo, giving a tinge of country to the song. Mitchell’s vocals on the track also introduce a hint of gospel into the mix.

Unfortunately, The Brightness starts to grow stale towards the middle of the record. Mitchell’s vocal melodies start to become repetitive and, despite interesting instrumentation, the songs start to blend together and sound the same. Many of these songs have no clearly defined verses or choruses. As a result, there is not much to that stands out. This album may be great as background music, but when left to stand on its own, it has a tough time.

Despite the songs all being well executed, I found myself bored very frequently. The Brightness by Anais Mitchell successfully grabbed my attention, but throughout the course of the album, my auditory attention deficit crept back into control.

Boy oh boy!

Wow, it has been a while since I have posted on this thing! However, that doesn't mean I have stopped writing reviews! On the contrary, I have kept up quite well and have a crapload to post.

I guess, since nobody really reads my blog, it has a limited function. Hopefully when artists I review google themselves, they can be directed here. I suppose the same could happen for fans of bands that I review.

Lately, I have condensed the format of my reviews. I am not going to lie and say I like it, but it really makes things quicker to do. I hope to get back to the longer format soon.

Until then, Ill start posting some stuff. enjoy, whoever you are!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Our Lady Peace - A Decade

It should be noted that in the term “greatest hits” the word “hits” is plural for a reason. It assumes that there is, in fact, more than one hit on the release.
A Decade by Our Lady peace is the bands latest release, featuring a collection of “greatest hits” and a few bonus tracks. However “Somewhere out there” is the only “hit” song on this disk. This begs the question: should this be called a “greatest hit”album?
For those not familiar with the bands previous work, Our Lady Peace play a brand of radio-ready rock that Clear Channel eats right up. And why wouldn’t they? The bands songs can be appealing to soccer moms and pre-pubescent children alike; they can finally agree on something to listen to on their morning drive to the junior high!
The bands sound is frankly contrived and predictable.The singer is clearly a card carrying member of the Eddy Vedder fanclub, and the rest of the band takes cues from Pearl Jam as well. However, where Pearl Jam were writing songs with meaning, Our Lady Peace seems content to write songs about absolutely nothing at all.
The bonus tracks on the record give us a glimpse into what a more creative version of this same band would sound like. The opening riff to the unreleased “Kiss on the mouth” draws to mind later generation U2, but that quickly drops out to make way for the bland vocal delivery once again. The Final unreleased track is perhaps the albums only saving grace. Vocals aside, this song finds more in common with The Killers and The Strokes than with Soundgarden or Pearl Jam, which is a welcome change.
The bottom line is that this record has come 15 years too late. Its post-grunge sound, while heavily watered down, would have likely drawn legions of fans in the early to mid 90’s. But alas! We are forging ahead into a new millennium, while Our Lady Peace seems content with the days of ripped jeans and flannel shirts.

Overall Rating: 4.5

Tenacious D - The Pick Of Destiny

When most people think Jack Black, they think Tenacious D. They don’t typically think King Kong, Orange County, or School of Rock, and they certainly don’t think Nacho Libre.
The Pick of Destiny, the new album from Jack Black and Kyle Gass (more affectionately known as “The D”), was recently released to coincide with a full length movie of the same title. A Rock Opera of sorts, this album comes out with guns blazing. The music on the disc is extremely catchy and well executed complete with face melting guitar solos and cranium-exploding vocals. The band also opted for a more electric approach this time around in contrast to the raw acoustic stylings of their first album. The same classic-rock meets metal sound is loud and clear, taking cue from the likes of Dio, Styx, Boston, and other legends of that era. Unfortunately, it seems that this is where the improvements from 2001’s self titled effort end.
The most disappointing aspect of this album is the fact that the story itself is so hard to follow. If someone has not seen the Pick of Destiny movie, then much of the plot will be lost on them. For example “Papagenu (He’s My Sassafrass)” comes out of nowhere, with an out of place Polyphonic Spree-esque 70’s pop throwback. Little do listeners know that at this point in the movie, Jack Black has stumbled upon some psychedelic mushrooms and is on a crazy drug trip with Sasquatch! Also, the second to last song “POD,” which explains about the pick of destiny should have been placed in the beginning to enlighten the listener of its importance to the plot. Last track “The Metal” is completely unrelated to anything else on the disk, and frankly just is not funny. Since this album was not at all billed as a soundtrack it should be able to stand alone, but without the movie it falls flat on its face. If a small explanation of the storyline was provided in the liner notes that might have eliminated some confusion, but alas, all that is found in the liner notes are photos from the movie.
The comedy throughout the album also leaves something to be desired. Gone are the gut-bursting skits and outrageous lyrics of the earlier self titled album. It seems that busy schedules kept Jack Black and Kyle Gass from spending as much time on this album as it deserved.
However the album is not completely devoid of great material. The best example of what Tenacious D can do is found in the song “Beelzeboss (The Final Battle). Here, “The D” find themselves faced with Satan, and challenge him to a rock-off. What ensues is nothing short of brilliant.
What I feel people forget is that Jack Black has become quite a desirable actor since Tenacious D’s 2001 debut. He has gone from bit parts in High Fidelity and Orange County to starring and supporting roles in King Kong and School Of Rock. We as listeners must understand the fact that Jack is a busy man these days, and that although we might like to think so, Tenacious D is not all that he does. After all, rock ‘n roll don’t pay the bills!


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Cricket Spin - Grans of Salt, Grains Of Sand

I will admit I was a tad apprehensive before I put Cricket Spin’s album Grains of Salt, Grains of Sand into my CD player, mostly since the name evokes images of a bluegrass band complete with suspenders and corncob pipes. However I was in for a pleasant surprise from band leader Ben Yonda and company.
The band’s sound draws from so many directions, that a single description would do nothing but injustice. At times the group explores simple folk-rock structures while peppering them with orchestral arrangements of woodwinds, xylophone, and more. Front man Yonda’s voice oozes with sincerity, harkening to a less whiney Bright Eyes in the upper range, and a less growling Tom Waits in the lower. Combining the pop sensibility of early Elvis Costello and The Beatles, Cricket Spin weaves an album that is simply fun to listen to.
The first two tracks “Our One Day Lives” and “Last Night Lovers” are bright, driving songs which propel the disk right off the bat with passionate electric guitar, eloquent keyboards, and chilling female backing vocals. The following track, “Vanishing Point” shifts to an almost minimalist acoustic format, reminding me periodically of the acoustic work of Neil Young. This song is but one example of how the band can take a simple folk-inspired riff and captivate the listener. The upbeat “Exclamation!” sounds as if it were written at a house party, with friends providing hand claps as the lone acoustic guitar takes center stage accompanied by tasteful tambourine.
Grains of Salt… returns to an electric format for the lovely Melanie Wonderful, which hearkens to Spike era Elvis Costello (minus the dated drum machines and synths). The drums on the album have an organic feel which does much to tie the plethora of instruments together. The slightly wavering tempo of the drummer gives the album a lo-fi character not found in the world of pro-tools and major labels.
This is an album full of heartfelt lyrics which draw you deeper and deeper into the record as it progresses. Cricket Spin flexes their creative muscle frequently on this disk, providing tracks ranging in feel from sorrowful dirge, to triumphant celebration. Their originality and sincerity keep Cricket Spin from becoming just another derivative folk-rock band. This album is not a “throwback”; in contrast it is a leap forward, showing just how much love can be packed into a single album.
The only gripe that I have is that the second half of the album lacks the energy of the first half. While all the songs are well written and executed, I could easily see people being lulled to sleep by the time closing track “Kittery” comes along.
Ben Yonda, as well as 2 of his band mates are graduates of our lovely RIT: two with degrees in New Media Design, and one in Film. Ben has since moved the operation to Brooklyn where the band now resides, playing shows regularly in and around New York City.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Saosin - s/t - Capitol Records

Well here I am again, back reviewing. Iill be posting reviews here I do for the magazine Reporter here at the Rochester Institute of Technology where I am currently attending school for engineering. so...... here you go, a nice new nugget of review, for your reading pleasure!

The major label debut from emo/rock outfit Saosin is the band’s first recording since the departure of their frontman Anthony Green, who now handles vocal duties in the critically acclaimed Circa Survive. While Green may be gone, in a way he never left. Filling his shoes is Cove Reber, who sounds almost exactly like green, high voice and small vocal range included.

The sound on this album sees Saosin tipping their hats to the sounds of earlier Thrice (minus the screams of course, I mean this is a major label record!), later Thursday, and oddly enough, themselves. Much of the music featured sounds merely like rehashed versions of songs from their last EP, Translating the Name. Crunchy and calculated guitar riffs are adorned with occasional harmonics, while the drummer bashes away happily, peppering each song with fancy fills and fast beats. I had trouble hearing the bass at all, which may either be due to mixing problems, or the fact that the bass player usually just finds and plays the root note, getting lost in the beefy guitar tone.

The bottom line on this record is that it is well executed emo-rock (I know, I cringed when I said it too) that has been overproduced and studio-polished to perfection. The biggest problem with this release is that all the songs are so forgettable and similar that the album lacks direction. Sometimes I forget wheather I was listening to the first song, or the third song, or wait, was it the seventh song? Oh well, I’ve already lost interest anyway…