Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Houston Press Music Awards: My Take (the right one)

To say I don't like bitching about things would be a lie. I'm a music critic. I love a good bitch session but at the same time, I love my city. I don't like to cut down anyone who represents Houston to the outside world but Houston Press has made some serious booboos in their 2011 music awards. But to give them (and voters?) credit for their successes, let's start with what they got right.
  • Local Musician of the Year: Robert Ellis
  • Best Jazz: Free Radicals
  • Best Miscellaneous Instrument: Geoffrey Muller
  • Best Blues: Little Joe Washington
  • Best Zydeco: Zydeco Dots
Ok those make sense. But here's where they (or we) fucked up a bit:
  • First of all, the best music store was Guitar Center. Their headquarters are in CA and they are all insufferable douchebag fuckheads. Of course, there are some douchebags who work at local music places like Rockin Robins for example (not talking about the majority of employees, just one or two specifically) but seriously, are you going to sell out your city like that? You couldn't find one local business to fill the bill? That's laziness.

  • Secondly, touching on a similar theme, the best music venue was House of Blues. This is a true what-the-fuck moment. House of Blues is over-priced, a national chain, and has the worst parking ever. Is this really what people want to represent the city of Houston? A place that serves 10 dollar jack and cokes?

I didn't get to vote so I won't bitch too much more but I just hope that these last two things don't happen again. Because they're not really Houstonian in origin, they probably shouldn't have even been on the ballot.

Awarding either of those two is like saying that Pizza Hut serves Houston's best pizza: yes, you could theoretically reach a consensus like that with enough votes but why was it an option in the first place? Houston has way more to offer than Guitar Center and House of Blues, both of which are related to authentic music as much as hugging is related to HIV.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

David Lynch - Crazy Clown Time

"These are my friends" rings of the same sad list-making in "Is there anyone home?". Behind the dusty hissing of brushed drumbeats and chorus-bathed guitar Lynch lists the things that comfort him and his friends much in the same way Waters croons that he's got a "spoon on a chain".

"Speed Roadster" tells the story of a maudlin stalker in Lynch's quavering voice. While it's disturbing, Lynch's in-song personality is a lonely one and deserves some pity. He gets you to sympathize a little each verse but shatters it each and every time he repeats, "I guess you could say, I'm stalking you."

The title track carries the same grotesque weight as the rest of the album, maybe even much more. The scene Lynch describes in the lyrics doesn't even seem to be fully possible. There are so many missing pieces to the situation that you never really understand what Crazy Clown Time is. It's more like a drug-fueled nightmare or a hallucination during a heat stroke. This quality is only enhanced by the buzzing insect-like drone of the crescendoing lap steel.

It doesn't have a wide appeal but for listeners who appreciate outsider music like Daniel Johnston or Jandek, it's a nice little treat.

Despite the creepy tone of the album, the music could easily serve as a palliative for the person not having the "Good Day" that Lynch begs for in the album's most talked about single. It's cold comfort but comfort nonetheless.

Grade: B-

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Black Sabbath reunion almost inevitable

It's been a shit past few years for reunions. We watched Led Zeppelin fail to reunite. We watched Pink Floyd fail to reunite and then Richard Wright died making it impossible. Same thing for Bauhaus and Pavement. This coming Friday though, Black Sabbath finally break the cycle.

Courtesy of Ultimate Classic Rock blog, there will be a press conference at 11:11 on 11/11/11 (this Friday) with all members of the original Black Sabbath in attendance. Naysayers will claim that I can't call it so soon but seriously, why the hell else would they all come together for a press conference? To announce that they won't reunite? That makes no sense!

Stay tuned.

Proof that I am a psycho-fan

Oh Lord, am I fucking exhausted. Why you ask? Because I stayed up ALL night waiting for the Radiohead pre-sale to start.

I refreshed my browser dozens of times and on top of that at least once every hour on the hour.

Instead of sleeping took a series of oft interrupted micro-naps.

Ultimately though, I prevailed.

At around 6:16 AM, the "buy ticket" button magically appeared before my bleary, bloodshot, sleep-deprived eyeballs and for a moment, I didn't know what to do. GA or Reserved Seating. Type credit card number. Email address. Pesky card number on back that's like three digits long. Get confirmation. Save confirmation page. Fall back asleep.

For everyone who didn't attend the electronic vigil I did, tickets will go on sale for Radiohead's Houston date at 10 a.m. Saturday on Live Nation.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

People like it when you fail - Art Institute

It came out in September but it's never too late to review a good album, especially a release from a real, live, Houston post-punk band.

There's normally two directions modern post-punk bands will take and those are: goth and classic, Wire style post-punk. The Art Institute has opted for the second and on "People like it when you fail", they do it in a no nonsense, stripped down fashion.
The first track, "Addicted to the drug of nostalgia" certainly sets the tone for the remaining tracks with the militant, paranoid, Gang of Four-like lyrics, "all we are is in the ether, never trust the memory of others, addicted to the drug of nostalgia".

Like aforementioned luminaries, AI shows a willingness to explore the weighty themes of dependence and dystopian landscapes without sounding like a bunch whiny teenagers. The complaints levied are wry and tactful. "Your vote is but a token, and I'll use it when I need it" carries more weight than the score different ways other punk influenced bands have broached the same issue.

On tracks like "Lord Jim" and "Disharmonics" the band channels classic American post-punk bands like Mission of Burma by using mostly classic punk instrumentation of bass, single guitar, and drums. There's not the kind of obscurantist, navel-gazing, some revivalists employ but instead it's very palpable and fleshed out.

This isn't a post-punk pastiche or a tribute to post-punk, this is one of those rare acts that sounds like and feels like a bonafide continuation of the corpus of post-punk music.

Grade: A

Monday, October 31, 2011

Post-Punk pick of the week: The Hospitals

I have no idea whether they're still together and it looks like they haven't done anything in a while, but I stumbled onto The Hospitals last week and I've fallen in love. It's some of the thickest noise I've heard in a while that remains, somehow, melodic. It's basically harsh noise with a discernible beat and that's a wonderful boon.

They hail from San Francisco and have a cryptic, almost non-presence on the web but if you can dig up mp3s, please give them a listen. Here's some live stuff.

Divine Providence - Deer Tick

The drunken snarl of Deer Tick's latest is almost worthy of Black Lips status. Growling, nicotine-stained vocals and twanging garage guitars inform the album with a brutal honesty that you just couldn't fake. Add to this the twinkling of an old grand piano and you have pure, main-lined Americana.

"The Bump" carries the same picaresque bad-assery of "Bad Kids" mixed with a dash of "Don't Mess Around with Jim". Much the same for "Clowin' Around" which despite the flip title, talks of sharing a life with the devil.

Grade: A

Misfits - Famous Monsters

In honor of Halloween I'm going to do a review of an album that's by no means new but is certainly close to my heart. While Glen Danzig is indisputably the best front-man for the Misfits, Michael Graves' short-lived custody of the sacred office of Misfits front man wasn't too shabby either.

I remember when this album came out while I was in Middle School and it's proved to be a cool re-imagining of the Misfits sound.
There's a far more metal/hard-rock bent to this one as opposed to the punchy punk of the Danzig days but it somehow works really well.

Without "Famous Monsters" there would be no "Saturday Night", a slow crooning rock song that's been adopted enthusiastically as a post-Danzig Misfits classic.
Graves sonorous whole notes and beautiful punk melisma show through on songs like, "Scream" which is almost better than "Saturday Night" in my opinion. Other showstoppers include, "Hunting Humans" and "Dust to Dust".

As long as you're not one of those dickheads who will squabble for hours and hours over punk purity and how I'm pissing on the grave of Danzig's Misfits contributions then you owe it to yourself to sit back and put on this fun new chapter in the band's legacy. Critics have trashed this one up and down but there just approaching it with the same shitty attitude Danzig is known for having about nearly everything. It's not even close to their best work but it's a lot better than you'd expect.

Soon I'll review the band's latest, "Devil's Rain".

The Dead Revolt - Vanixer

[FOR POSTPUNKD READERS: If you haven't heard of The Dead Revolt, they are an up and coming local Houston band. Go here to be fans.]

Chugging diligently away, The Dead Revolt have already released their second album and it sounds wiser and more developed. Still working within an aggressive prog rock framework, the music is more focused with less rambling despite the still-impressive track lengths.

"Vanixer" employs a greater number of truly iconic and anthemic licks instead of bowing to the very real prog rock temptation of being pretentious and inconsistent. The noticeably short track (well for this band, anyway) "Indigo Fashion Show" is prime example of economic repetition and thematic riffing.

Another shining example of this is the delightfully Steve How-ian solo about four minutes into "Day of the Dead". The drumming is very Yes as well. It's nice to hear the neo-classical prog-rock sound is still prevasive throughout their second album as well. For more of that counterpointalism, listen to the intro of "Chili the Kid".

This is the best possible sign of progress from a band that shouldn't feel the need to impress anyone.

Grade: A-

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Saxobeats - Alexandra Stan

I was pretty surprised when I saw that euro-dance sensation Alexndra Stan had actually gone through the effort of putting out a bonafide LP. Most of these kinds of artists are satisfied with putting out one or two singles and spending the rest of their days racking up producer and collaborator credits. However, I'm not surprised at the quality of the album.

The bubblegum sound would probably be thrilling to people not steeped too heavily in the wide world of electronic actually out there but for me it's just more club kitsch. At times the sounding is endearingly sweet and naive in a cute way but the unrelenting sax loops and vapid lyrics eventually take their toll. It's really all a bad stereotype of parochial, behind the times, Eastern-European dance music. It makes me want to exclaim in a terrible Romanian accent, "In Soviet Russia, sax beats you!"

Instead of "Saxobeats" this album would be more aptly titled as "Sax-o-craps". Blech. At least Stan's beautiful face makes for an enticing album cover.

Grade: not my sort of electronic music, so I'll give Ms. Stan an incomplete

M83 - Hurry up, We're dreaming

While lacking the concise hits of "Saturdays=Youth", M83's new album succeeds because it is so thoroughly listenable is its own musical universe. There aren't any real standouts on this LP because it is so album-oriented in nature. That should be apparent even just from the impressive two-disc length.

Previously, "Kim and Jessie" signalled, at least for a minute, a move toward a more concrete song structure when compared to the indefinite and boundary-less songs of past albums. Much the same for the long-winded but slightly pop-rock structured "Skin of the Night".

However, for M83 the pendulum has swung back toward pure electronic and kraut-rock psychedelia, like on "Shades" only a bit louder. Echoing and pulsing with brightness, "Intro" sets the tone for the entire album, introducing washed out lyrics, celestial synth pads, and a lack of definite refrain. The far happier mood works out to be very Sigur Ros. See the quiet, "Wait". "Splendor" is by far the most distinct and beautiful, boasting choral arrangements and strings.

The most accessible numbers in a non-album setting are the highly promoted, "Midnight City" single and "Steve McQueen". As for the rest, don't rush it. Listen to the entire thing.

Grade: B+

Monday, October 24, 2011

Justice - Audio, Video, Disco

Justice's latest release is by no means Cross pt. II. That should have been clear when the surprisingly eclectic single "Audio, Video, Disco" was released a few weeks ago. Although there certainly was a part of me that hoped naively that their sophomore LP would be chock full of immediately accessible goodies like "Let there be Light" or "DVNO". The truth is, resoundingly, that this is not the case.

Cross boasted songs that you could easily slip into a DJ's playlist at any club without a drop off in dance potential. AVD instead allows the duo to showcase their experimental abilities instead of just introducing more stuff that's instantly gratifying. "On'n'On" starts off at a crawling pace, featuring a full set of lyrics that develop over the course of the song in a very rock fashion as opposed to the repetition of bite sized house phrases.

The neo-classical disco theme is still very prevalent on the album with dramatic key shifts and much pomp as on "Canon (primo)" which is the theme for "Canon". "Brianvision" is heavy on these loved Justice tropes as well but with far more guitar than most are used to hearing. "New Lands" also brings a lot of guitar distortion and bombastic rock style to the record and a hard-rock coda that could have been played by Tony Iommi.

Fairweather fans will not be as entranced as with "Cross" but the songs "Audio, Video, Disco", "Civilization" and "Helix" excel at capturing at least some of the same house mastery the duo is best known for. For the most part, the noodling and experimentation succeeds in showing the Justice is capable of evolving and trying new concepts.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

VHS or Beta - Death and Diamonds

Everything I hear from this band lately is kitschy but that's not to say it isn't fun. On their third record, "Death of Diamonds" VHS or Beta ditch the Futureheads, Killers, post-punk revival rock style for a hard-edged House/dance inspired electronic construction.

I was blown away at the sheer lack of Rock music, even just on the first track "Breaking Bones". Lyrics are super-charged with emotion and dramatism, (breaking bones just to prove I can feel) to create the catchy instant satisfaction of repeated House-music-type phrases. In House there's not the opportunity to build up concepts throughout as much as there is in rock because there otherwise would not be time for the necessary repetition that characterizes the genre and gives it its hypnotic power. So, fusing these two sounds isn't that easy to do with the high quality VHS or Beta manages to do here.

This sort of transition from rock to electro isn't terribly uncommon these days and you can observe it in the difference between Friendly Fires' first record and their second. In fact it reminds me of James Murphy's clever "I heard that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables" line in "Losing My Edge".

The band repurposes house and club sounds for a slightly more rock purpose to create tracks like "Everybody" that could easily be put into a rock arrangement but simply have a different aesthetic. Instead of being lead instruments, the guitars on this track are made into light rhythm and accompaniment taking a backseat to piano and synth.

I poo-pooed this album at first but it's growing on me.

Grade: B

Monday, October 10, 2011

Feist - Metals

Metals is deliberate and sobering as anything Leslie Feist has ever released. The bright, twee, bubblegum sound of "1234" and "I feel it all" has mostly evaporated leaving behind the remaining quiet melancholia that makes up the other part of Feist's overall sound. A very necessary experiment for Feist.

The brightest track on the record is "How Come You Never Go There" and even that is weighted down by a degree of heaviness and slowness. "When the circle married the line" is also bright compared to most of the other work on Metal but with no indie tropes, only booming orchestral accompaniment.

Metal's most chilling and powerful track is "Caught a Long Wind". It's understated but not underwhelming.

Grade: A

Thursday, October 6, 2011

DJ Shadow - The Less You Know, The Better

From a critical standpoint, this my favorite DJ Shadow album thus far. "Entroducing.." has now of course reached legendary status in the music world and it was a strong release for sure but there were moments on the record that felt very meandering, probably due to some of the track lengths.

On "The Less. . ." Shadow is able to pump out a number of shorter, more self-contained tracks that won't draw from anyone the criticism of being rambling or pretentious. This is a comforting sign of maturation even now, from someone as skilled as Davis who could easily just rest on his laurels stylistically as he sort of did on his previous "The Outsider". That album had so many cameos it was difficult to distinguish them from his actual work.

There's a great deal of variety here. "Border Crossing" which features chugging guitars is followed by old school hip-hop "Stay the Course". Tom Vek makes an appearance on the album too, singing like he's a goth Brandon Flowers. While there's a fair amount of collaborators here it doesn't feel like Davis leans on them quiet as heavily as before.

"Give Me Back the Nights" is perhaps the most interesting track which includes the maudlin ramblings of what sounds like a strung out drifter. "The Less You Know, The Better" is certainly much more original than his last release.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Balaclavas - Snake People

[the band in this review is, I proudly add, from Houston Texas]

The pitch-black noise rock of Balacalavas only continues to mature on their sophomore LP “Snake People”. Much like“Roman Holiday” the band relies on the core rhythmic drive of drummer Charlie Patranella and a complete disregard for the trappings of contemporary rock music.

The highly stylized music on “Roman Holiday” is continued on without missing a beat. In addition to heroic gothic drumming, the music still echoes with the sounds of grinding guitar feedback, doomy bass lines and synth tones buzzing with the ominous oscillations of a chorus of sizzling tesla coils.

Tracks on “Snake People” vary in length from two minutes and sixteen seconds to over nine minutes. “Snake People”, the latter of these two, completely disregards structure. Rim drumming like “Bela Lugosi's Dead” combined with Tyler's dramatic cries makes for a feverish nightmare-scape that would make Peter Murphy shit his pants. This staple track also includes a number of delightfully Cabaret Voltaire tape samples in the beginning, only adding to mood.

This is not to say that the shorter tracks are not just as good. “Down and Loose”, the album's second shortest song, is highly organized and far more structured with cryptic but vivid vocals like, “tight black leather boots, smoking cigarettes, with no regrets”. Even on the less lengthy tracks, Balaclavas sets the mood.

Grade: A

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Blink-182 - Neighborhoods

This has the possibility to be a very contentious interview, especially for readers my age. But don't worry, I won't savage this album just because I listen to different things than I did in 2000. Despite the fact that must of us who grew up with them now know that Blink-182 and pop punk bands are not really universal enough to do many great things musically, there will always be that inexplicable nostalgic force that pulls us back to them from time to time.

On "Neigborhoods" the band has stuck with the formula that catapulted them to fame during the 90s and the early 2000s. The band tries to break out but falls a bit short of being anything they haven't in the past.

For example, bonus track "Snake Charmer" has more tame moments than I'm used to hearing in a blink track but with all the usual angstiness. The super-phased guitar intro sounds slightly shoe-gazey but then is slammed back into chugging power-chords. Little blips like this definitely inform a sadder overall mood than anything we've ever heard from them but then again, before they were bubble gum so it's not really that sad, overall.

While the pop-punk flavor still exists, songs like "Up all Night" and "Ghost on the Dancefloor" have an updated sound including electronic swishing and textures. These are predictable given the musical climate and while they aren't examples of over-production, don't change the band's sound all that much.

The cover art and the title of "Neighborhoods" (strikingly similar to titles like "The Suburbs") show that the band at least is trying to go a more post-modern angle, even if only very superficially.

There are a few tracks that could have been pulled off older releases (like "Natives") and there are some slight experiments as well. Judging the band by its own merit, "Neighborhoods" is a nice walk down memory lane but little more. Really though, how can you expect more from a band with such a stylized sound?

Grade: C+

Thursday, September 29, 2011

SuperHeavy - SuperHeavy

We haven't had a good super-group in a long time. And it looks like we'll have to keep waiting because when members of SuperHeavy collaborate they end up sounding more like a bunch of lightweights.

A good band should greater than the sum of its parts but this is where SuperHeavy fails. Despite the star-power of Mick Jagger and the contribution of fantastic Indian film-scorer A.R. Rahman, SuperHeavy sounds less like a band and more like a bunch of people trying to get their respective points across by interrupting each other.

The eponymous opening track is probably the best example of why the album sucks. There aren't a lot of original ideas in because the lyrics are more about each celebrity (except Rahman) wanking their egos ("we heavy, super heavy" ad nauseum) than anything else. It feels like a joke. It reminds me of this.

"Unbelievable" contains bits of Jagger trying to wax philosophical, "life is an illusion and it's so unjust" but it's hard to know exactly what the fuck he's talking about. And Joss Stone kind of just mimics what everyone else is saying which just provides backup stupid.

Some of the music on the album is beautiful and if there is any great value here it's in Rahman's contributions. But normally the predictable, faux-deep lyrics suck all the fun out of it. SuperHeavy is going to have to go back to the drawing board on this one. I say kick everyone else out but Rahman.

Friday, September 23, 2011

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy

The echoes of St. Vincent's days as a member of the whacky Polyphonic Spree are not yet gone from her recordings. In fact, on "Strange Mercy" they're more sonorous than ever. Clark's new album benefits from the bleeps and bloops of wonky synths and occasional drum machines while still being very listenable as a serious work far beyond the only momentary appeal of indie-pop.

"Surgeon" is a serene chorus-filled recording driven by warbling synths, strings, and recurring Yes-like guitar-lines. The song ends with Clark stabbing through the mix with stacatto oohs and ahs over a Wakeman-esque Moog solo.

The frank lyrics of "Cheerleader" deal with the problem of being a yes-woman (neologisms are sometimes neccessary) in a bad relationship.

Grade: A

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

ACL Wrap-Up

I am from Houston and I am primarily interested in Houston but let me just wrap up my ACL adventure now that I'm back. It'll be the last word about Austin for a while. I promise.

Here are some of the disappointments:

CULTS- This band was not one I was super excited to see anyway since their album material is little more than weak twee/indie pop to begin with. Seeing them live just confirmed that opinion for me. If their album was stronger their performance would have been too. Overall, a giant disappointment as the first act I saw this weekend.

FOOL'S GOLD- Now with Fool's Gold their performance was ok but it wasn't as awesome as I had expected. After the first few songs it began to drag. Maybe it was just me realizing that the band's two albums are a little lacking in variety.

Highlights were:
STEVIE WONDER- This almost goes without saying that he was the major highlight of the fest but it bears repeating that his voice has not suffered at all for the years. He even played scorching keytar solo which involved him getting on his knees then playing on his back. The best song that night for me was "Higher Ground".

COLD WAR KIDS- This was an upset for me because I've never been especially fond of CWK but their performance has made me totally reconsider them. Nathan Willet's souful vocals carried well at Zilker and made me realize how much talent the band has. Definitely the biggest surprise for me.

EMPIRE OF THE SUN- I've long looked forward to seeing these guys live and was thrilled when I learned they would be at ACL. The garish, bright, glammy performance was all I'd hope it would be complete with head-dresses, dancing swordfish girls, and guitar heroics by front man Luke Steele.

REPTAR- Often branded as rich white kids making expensive-sounding music, Reptar actually rocked extremely hard. The members used electronic beats but did not lean on them. They sounded exactly like themselves and no one else. Although their electro-rock, they're far beyond their more widely known peers like Foster the People who I've promised not to rant about again.

Now back to reality. Expect more reviews and normal content starting tomorrow.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Albums of ACL: Phosphorescent - Here's to taking it Easy

There are not a lot of country/folk influenced artists these days that can straddle the line between roots rock and outside influences the way that the Grateful Dead in their time. Whether you love or hate the Dead they created a sound that took the groundedness of true, traditional, country, folk, and blues and artfully combined it just a pinch of the psych zeitgeist around them to create something truly American.

Swimming in a sea of indie bands that take pride in not being grounded in anything other than self-indulgent experimentation and their own tumid egos, Phospherescent quietly do their own thing but not in any sort of anachronistic way. While a general listen of "Here's to taking it easy" will conjure more images than country and folk than anything else there's a certain dynamism to it that ensures the band has potential to win a wide audience.

"Nothing was Stolen" is a wide expanse of beautiful country rock and is probably the best showing of the band's roots-oriented craft with its piano and country chorus vocals imploring some far off sweetheart to "love me foolishly".

"Los Angeles" sees Matthew Houck creating a delicate tapestry of psychedelia as members sing in unison over mournful, molasses-thick slide tones like the crying of whales. Lyrics suggest the tension between his country upbringing and the challenges of his professional life.

"Hej, me I'm light", easily the most recognizable song, breaks with the very American country sound. Houck repeats the title lyrics throughout the entire song with an almost raga-like melody. It builds from the starkness of vocals plus acoustic guitar to a booming symphony of colorful eastern percussion and flutes. Absolute breakout songs like this show that Houck can do anything he wants and still remain tied strongly to roots rock. Neither Brooklyn nor LA have taken the Alabama out of him.

Still, the music suggests that he still has a lot ahead of him and is continuing to search for that hard to grasp synthesis between his country influences and contemporary music.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Albums of ACL: TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light

Despite the death of bassist Gerard Smith there's something quiet and serene about Nine Types. It's not necessarily what I would call outright happy but maybe more like warm, instead. There's less torment and angst than you'd normally encounter and instead a dreamy almost sentimental glowing.

A good example of the hard to describe feeling is on, "You" with its shimmering synths and ethereal lap steel phrases. "Killer Crane" imparts this beautiful floating feeling on the listener too. Tunde's silky voice rings through the mix as ebullient but manly against the twinkling of guitars and flutes.

As far as the key tracks go, for me, "Will Do" seems to have the most potential as standalone with love-themed lyrics and advice. The song, like the others, has that quality of radiant mirth punctuated with just a hint of distant sorrow. See potentially sad lyrics like, "I think we're compatible, I see you think I'm wrong". The second track I'd recommend to anyone looking to experience the genius of Nine Types is the slightly frantic and markedly more claustrophobic "Repetition" with a palm-muted guitar lick that sounds pleasantly similar to Radiohead's "Morning Mr. Magpie".

The band continues to move further away from the punky ferocity of early songs like, "Wolf Like Me" but that's ok. It's just natural maturation and it sounds very dignified to me.

Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost

Girls' 2009 debut "Album" was not a bad start but it was hard to tell the direction for the future. They stuck to a palatable, low-fi, rock sound with a strong throw-back quality to it. But on this album, Girls' ditch the minimalism and continue to go forward without any indie gimmicks or BS.

"Father, Son, Holy Ghost" is jarring at first when compared to its predecessor because it's actually a bit of a concept album as far as a band like Girls is concerned. There are definitely some songs on here that I wouldn't immediately identify with the band if I heard them on a mix-tape. The most puzzling experimental track is, "Die" which is five minutes long and sounds like Queens of Stone Age, Sonic Youth, and Flaming Lips, in that exact order. It's nearly instrumental with the exception of a few vocals in the middle but anyway it's something that sounds so not the indie-rock stereotype. There are solos! Color me surprised.

Another breakout track is "Jamie Marie" that builds on Owens' cool Jonathan-Richman-style quiet song-writing (see "Lauren Marie" off of "Album"). It consists of a quiet first few minutes of just Owens and his guitar and ends with serene Bob Dylan organs. Another 60s style pastiche on the album that succeeds in similar way is "Love Like a River" with its doo-wop guitars and Patsy Cline piano chords. These songs speak to the timeless nature of Girls' music despite the ephemeral label of "indie" they get all too often.

This LP is a damned masterpiece and there's nothing like it right now. It's just too bad we didn't get a taste of this at Summer Fest since Girls ended up pulling out.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Albums of ACL: Twin Shadow - Forget

Twin Shadow is one of those acts I passed up for a while just because of how "over-hip" the guy looked. Yes, of course, that's a shallow reason but hey- I'm a moody, disloyal, temperamental music critic. Once I got around to giving Twin Shadow a good listen though I decided that he was an act worth the time.

Twin Shadow is a dark but majestic electronic artist that in many ways embodies the spirit of many post-punk acts I admire. Here the goth maxim of "dark but danceable" definitely applies as George Lewis croons delicately over a series of infectious electronic beats. Despite all the Morrissey comparisons, Lewis' voice really reminds me of another English rock luminary: he sounds much like golden-age Peter Gabriel on tracks like, "Tyrant Destroyed" where he the vocals are really more like melodic, gravelly, whispers.

Poppy numbers like "Shooting Holes" give Twin Shadow's music a scope beyond just some obscure indie niche. This is another Gabriel-esque tune but also includes disco guitar and drum beats, something you'd have a hard time finding on "So" or "Security".

The danciness and darkness seem to work well together but it's hard to make too many other style conclusions based on the music of "Forget". It's all very good stuff but I'm looking forward to Lewis' distilling from his music an even more individual style on his next release. This is still very much a concept album but this was released in 2010 and it's almost 2012. It will be interesting to see if there are any new developments in his ACL performance.

Grade: B-

Friday, September 9, 2011

Albums of ACL: Fool's Gold - Leave No Trace

With Austin City Limits only a week away, I plan to review the most recent albums by the artists I'm most excited to see. I'm kicking this off with "Leave no Trace" by world-music indie band Fool's Gold. Much like their first album, Fool's Gold produces a very agreeable brand of bright pop music by using all sorts of exotic musical instruments and influences. This time though, it's all a little more approachable being sung mostly in English.

Luke Top sings in a joyful, yelpy, style somewhat reminiscent of Ezra Koenig or Sting. The scales used on the album are not the standard pentatonic blues type that always seem to go with western rock music. Though there's a variety of flavors the music has an African and Caribbean feel. This is best demonstrated on "Narrow Sun" which includes vintage organ tones and saxes. The constant saxophones give the whole thing a mildly reggae sound.

The way it's recorded, the album is not by any means a "singles" type endeavor. It's very album oriented and very immersive.To get maximum enjoyment play the whole record but the standout numbers are; "The Dive", "Wild Window", and title track.

Grade: B+

The Red Hot Chilli Peppers - I'm with You

There's just no more spice left in the Red Hot Chilli Peppers but hey, I've know that since "Stadium Arcadium". Rick Rubin, who's definitely lost his touch by now, flattens out this already flat pancake of an album by brutally murdering any subtly or sense of dynamics.

The content itself is just as lackluster with the same ol' Anthony Kiedis refusing to grow out of his annoying white-boy-funk-rapper vocal style. This comes to an absolute head of obnoxiousness when in the song "Ethopia" he keeps repeating the weird scatted phrase "E-I-O-I-E-I-AY".

"The Adventures of Raindance Maggie" in addition to having a stupid, pretentious name, is another point on the album that shows that the Chillis have settled comfortably into "Stadium Arcadium" sound. The lyrics are really what make the album so insipid though. "Tick tock I want to rock you like the eighties, cockblocking isn't allowed." No depth WHATsoever.

The cover is even stupid. It's a close-up shot of a fly perched on top of a pill bearing the album's name. Am I supposed to think that's deep or meaningful or something?
I think it's the worst album cover since this one (which at least was a good album):

As always, it's a pleasure to hear Flea's fantastic bass lines but that, in the end, is really the only appealing thing about this record.

Grade: F

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Album of the Week: Flipper - "Generic Album - Flipper"

This is one of those albums that everyone should listen to, whether they embrace experimental music or not. Even the most vanilla rock listeners should be capable of tapping into at least some of the raucous punk energy of "Generic Album [. . .]" because of its toned down speed and extremely audible lyrics.

The silly, experimental, "Sex Bomb" is often considered the most recognizable track with its honking saxes and glissandoing slide whistles but the entire record is worth a listen. Sludgy bass-lines and Rollins-like spoken vocals make it markedly different than what most people would call orthodox punk or noise. The band never just plays punk, or just plays noise, or just plays metal. This quality gives "Generic Album [. . .]" immense replay value.

Some songs to start with are, "(I saw you) shine", "Living for the Depression", and the amusingly misanthropic "Ever".

The Road to ACL: My Schedule

I officially have three days off work, I've secured a parking space via Craig's List, and have made a schedule. I'm more than ready to book it to Austin for ACL. Here are my selections:

Cults 11:45
Ha Ha Tonka (replaced Theophilus London for me) 12:30
Reptar 1:20
Fool's Gold 2:30
Smith Westerns 3:30
Beardyman 4:30
Cold War Kids 5:10
Bright Eyes 6:10
Santigold 7:10
Coldplay 8:10
Telekenesis 11:45
The Antlers 12:30
Twin-Shadow 1:15
Phosphorescent 2:00
Allison Krauss and Union Station 4
Wanda Jackson 545
Cut Copy 6
TV on the Radio 7
Stevie wonder 8
Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr 1:30
The Walkmen 2:30
Broken Social Scene 4:30
Death from Above 1979 5:30
Fleet Foxes 6:30
Empire of the Sun 7:30
Arcade Fire 8:30

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

RUNNER-UP Album of the Week - "A Trip to Marineville"

Often times the line between post-punk and punk is blurred, especially in the late 70s, early, early 80s. There's often a dichotomy drawn between post-punk bands' punk and post-punk periods and I think it's a meaningless distinction.

Swell Maps is one band that you might be tempted into dividing in this manner but the straying away from purely political themes, variable tempos, and the lack of minimalism make this a band that was post-punk from the release of their first LP.

Their first studio album (one of only two) is colored by lots of bar-chords, sounding at times very orthodox punk. But the song lengths should indicate that though they'd been together since 1972 the band had moved beyond first-wave. The music contains lots of droning Velvet Underground noise-making which adds a psych dimension but gets tiresome after a while. Maps use this method both to their credit and to their detriment on "A Trip [. . .]".

On tracks like "My Little Shops" the band goes completely avant-garde, abandoning any quality of punk and Kevin Godrey sings a creepy little jingle over jangling, dissonant guitars. It's a very short track but a testament to how conceptual the album is and sometimes how pretentious it can be. "Ripped and Torn", which can be heard on the bonus-track edition, is another example of this.

Swell Maps never went on to make anything fantastic but this album has moments where the band successfully reincorporates certain lost parts of first-wave punk back into post-punk like on "Another Song" and "Harmony in your Bathroom". This fusion of first-wave and post-punk is what makes some Maps songs a valuable listen.

The Drums - Portamento

Brooklyn indie-pop band The Drums have returned with a new album that more than lives up to their debut. The band has built on top of their twee style by forging further into post-punk and psych within an easily consumable indie-pop format.

Further comparisons of the band's musical style to New Order are inevitable with songs like "I need a doctor" which includes a punchy bass line, drifty guitars, a short electronic sample, and classic post-punk percussion.

Unlike New Order though, the vocals, like the last album, are in most instances super-harmonized, a little like Rogue Wave. But with their sophomore release, there is some evolution of this style in songs like, "In the Cold". It showcases more instances of stylized solo vocal parts. Jonathan Pierce croons like Mark Kozelek of Red House Painters and is eventually replaced by ethereal Echo and the Bunnymen-ian (?) acoustic guitar solos. Other high points include "Days", the very goth "If He likes it let Him do It", and "Money".

Bands like The Drums are deceiving at times because if you only hear one song they might just sound like a competent but generic flash-in-the-pan act. However, a complete listen-through of either their first or second album reveals some very original and immersive music.

For those of us who live in Houston, The Drums will return to Fitzgerald's on October 24.

Grade: A

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Audio, Video, Disco

I've longed bitched about how Justice is taking their sweet time in getting us new material. Four years after "Cross" we still have no new album. Yes, the Civilization single is very fine and dandy but seriously..

Well, I have half a reason to complain less now that they've put out a new video (courtesy of Pitchfork). The video is cool of course but it contains a new track, which is the real important part. "Audio, Video, Disco" is an instrumental with electro-choral vocals and a chugging bass line. It's only a so-so song but it's certainly whetting my appetite for the album's October release.

Album Mashup No. 4

Beirut - "The Riptide"

"The Riptide" provides more of the same majestic brass-filled music that listeners enjoyed on "The Flying Club" but this time more quiet and mournful than its predecessors.

"A Candle's Fire", "Goshen", and "The Peacock" all sound a little bit too melancholic and understated to be on "The Flying Club" but for those reasons they are exceedingly beautiful. With that being said, the album as a whole is more minimalist than "[. . .] Club" but the restraint shows Condon's sophistication rather than any lack of enthusiasm.

The only part of "Riptide" that was surprising was the jaunty, electronic track "Santa Fe". Maybe this will foreshadow a willingness of Condon to embrace synths in the future. Who knows?

Grade: B+


The Rapture - "In the Grace of your Love"

Though The Rapture have become closely identified with dance-punk on "In the [. . .]" the band seems to drift away from the genre. The album is definitely not as strong as their most recent release, 2006's "Pieces of People we Love". There seems to be a thinness, a frailness, that constantly makes the album feel like its missing something.

The song titles and the lyrics are extremely derivative and the band uses far too much repetition.
The shallowest moments are tracks "Roller Coaster" and secondly "Miss You", a song with one of the most pedestrian titles imaginable. On the former, front man Luke Jenner compares life to a roller coaster. The only way that could be less original is if he compared life to a highway. Seriously.

The album has a few passable moments but overall it's extremely disappointing given the amount of hype it received. It was put out on DFA but it's not worthy of being associated with the major players on the venerable label.
Five years is a long time between releases and it seems like they've lost their touch in that time. Maybe they'll rebound with their next LP.

Grade: F

Lil Wayne - Tha Carter IV

Even if you're in love with Weezy, you'll have to admit that there needs to be a change to the carter formula. The fourth carter is more of the same Lil Wayne with nothing new to set it apart. Rhymes are just as ridiculous as you remember and Carter still gives off the vibe of trying way too hard to be clever at the expense of any real sincerity.

But then the one moment that Carter tries his best to say something without overly-silly rhymes it's hard to know just what the fuck he's talking about. Auto-tuned r&b track "How to Love" shows that the only lyrical ability Lil Wayne has
is the silly kind.

The consistency is a double-edged sword though of course because hard-core Lil Wayne fans will probably eat this up anyway and their input certainly counts but there's no pushing of the envelope here. It's definitely appropriate to keep naming albums in a serial fashion (Tha Carter 2, 3, 4, etc.) because they feel so repetitive.

Grade: D

Thursday, September 1, 2011

David Guetta - Nothing but the Beat

When judging the worth of an album it's important not to let high price collaborations dazzle the ears. Remixing songs and providing a platform for other artists is a skill in itself but it is not the same as generating original material. That's why David Guetta's new album takes a lot of thought to fully critique.

When he's not leaning on other artists to provide source material the album drags. The six original songs feel like they could have been put together by anyone. The have pangs of Justice, dashes of Daft Punk, and various other artists. The worst, most derivative songs are "Sunshine" and the completely listless "Toy Story". There's very little organization and it all just ends up sounding like video game soundtrack.

Maybe it's not just Guetta but it seems like with the massive demand for house music we are quickly reaching the genre's limitations. When everyone and their brother is trying to get in on the dubstep and DJ craze there are only so many original ideas to go around and now it would seem that there is nothing new under the house sun. That is until someone truly proves me wrong, which is always a possibility.

It also doesn't help that all the artists he collaborates with are your usual top 40 crew. This one is a big stinker, seriously. Some people will love this but I'm not one of them.

Grade: D

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

ALBUM OF THE WEEK - Liquid Liquid

Due to the short life of the band's original lineup and the nature of their releases, it's best to encounter NYC post-punk quartet Liquid Liquid on their eponymous 1997 compilation.

Working with a stripped down configuration of bongos, bells, drums, bass, vocals, and samples, Liquid Liquid gave the world a unique sound that would later reach more people under DFA Records artists like the Juan Maclean and LCD Soundsystem. It's interesting that there barely any guitars.
The music is highly repetitive funk and dub with a minimalist punk feel. Most tracks have the feeling of a very controlled jam with only a few breakout moments to add the necessary spice.

The band reformed in 2008 to play some shows but it's not clear to me what the status is now. Hopefully I'll catch them someday.

Lil Wayne cheat sheet

Lil Wayne ate some serious shit at Sunday night's MTV VMA awards. He sounded like a rapping robot held underwater, ran around like a lunatic, and even momentarily strummed a vanity guitar. It was awful.

It seems like everything is just getting worse and worse for Weezy. People are wising up now that the 4th "Carter" is out and realizing just how bad at rapping Lil Wayne really is. These are some of his greatest hits. I'll be reviewing "Tha Carter IV" despite the negative media.

Van•i•ty Gui•tar // van-i-TEE Gi-TAHR N. A guitar worn around neck by performers who wish to appear rock savvy but don't actually know how to play more than a chord or two. Often smashed on ground in attempt to get more rock cred.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Lenny Kravitz - Black and White America

A perpetual flower child, it's not always easy to take Lenny Kravitz seriously. He's got a killer image but sometimes that seems like all that's going on. He acts like Jimi but all he seems to produce is forgettable, mainstream, rock music. However, he does have an excellent voice and some serious guitar chops so it's still an event when he puts out and album after three, almost four, years of silence.

On "Black and White America" it's almost as if Lenny realizes that his catalog is missing something or that he's done the same thing over and over again in the past. Instead of trying to be a straight rockstar Lenny brings a healthy dose of funk to "Black. . ." Lenny has supplemented a lot of the guitar playing on the album with synthesizers and a more layered approach, like any good funk album should. Although you still hear some hot licks, Lenny's voice is much more important. Instead of constant power chords and overdrive there are a few carefully chosen guitar solos which is a much better trade-off.

Highlights include "Come on get it", "War", and the fantastically funky "Superlove". Finally Kravtiz's music matches his groovy 70s persona. Kravitz finally made some music I like. He should stick with funk. Maybe collaborate with someone like N.E.R.D.

Grade: B-

Friday, August 26, 2011

CSS - La Liberacion

CSS has not produced a bad album yet. They were doing electro-pop before it went mainstream in 2007 and that should count for something. With that being said, Lovefoxxx doesn't take the band into any surprising directions on "La Liberacion" but the product is still satisfying.

Gagacore "City Grrl" is one of the few songs that places the band firmly in 2011. It features Ssion who gives a annoyingly catty Jeffree Starr spoken intro. The JS image sticks even more when Lovefoxx mentions pink hair.

Another track that sounds a little different from the rest of the catalog is "Partners in Crime" which is also surprisingly pop-rock. It features Ratatat's Mike Garson on piano and sounds a little more grown-up.

My personal favorite track is the very first: "I Love You". It has a bright electronic feel combined with the usual Kim-Gordon-singing-Tom-Tom-Club-covers vocals. The song, like the album, is good but doesn't break any molds.

Grade: B

Thursday, August 25, 2011

LOCAL: Balaclavas plan October release of second album

This Houston band is one of the darkest acts I've ever listened to or seen live. Using feedback, doomy synths, and tribal drum beats Balaclavas create a sound with no peers. It's like noisy psychedelia for people who appreciate goth.

Balaclavas plan to release their second LP, "Snake People", on October 18 and there are only 500 copies available. Each pre-ordered disc also comes with a poster. Go here if you're interested. I've already placed my order.

Here's a medley of their SXSW performance for anyone not familiar with the band.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Road to ACL: Reptar / Empire of the Sun

While I sort of savaged Foster the People for being so predictably electronic in a time where electro is becoming increasingly passé, there are two electronic bands I'm really looking forward to seeing for the first time at ACL. The first of these is Reptar which avoids the same trap Foster is caught in by being decidedly more weird.

It's shallow to favor a band just for being stranger than its peers but Reptar manages to be weird by avoiding some of the cool-kid indie clichés I've bitched about for so long. There is actually some individuality in the vocals and a noticeable contempt for pop structure. Songs like "Phonetics" off their August EP "Oblangle Fizz Y'all" show a willingness to break with the safety of electro-pop and make momentary forays into normal rock.

Sometimes I get the impression that bands like Foster wouldn't have nearly the swagger without being bathed in a constant supply of flanging, phasing, and artificial harmonies. However, Reptar can also hold their own with the best of current indie, electro-pop bands, evidenced by tracks like "Blastoff". The song includes strange odd "Graceland" -like chants and constant changes in song structure that you'd never hear from amateurs.

The other band I'm very excited to see live for the first time is Empire of the Sun. They've been around since 2006 and blew up in 08 with the undeniably infectious "Walking on a Dream".

The duo combine lush electronic textures with jingling acoustic guitars and glam-like vocals that actually come down to a mid to low register occasionally, capturing all the aspects other glam-o-phile bands like The Smith Westerns or Portugal the Man. never seem to fully nail. It doesn't hurt that the band has a reputation for mind-blowing light shows and outrageous costumes.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Active Child - You are All I see

If this were the 90s people would be calling this "new-age" music, you know, one of those weird genre titles that never really caught on. But I wouldn't blame them. The heavenly sounds produced by Active Child are really hard to describe. Today, it would probably be acceptable to categorize them as chillwave.

The singing isn't the usual indie-kid falsetto that's so popular nowadays but instead it actually sounds like Pat Grossi could easily step on as an opera understudy. Adding to the opera theme, many of the melodies are created with the help of Grossi's twinkling harp.

After a few quiet tracks the album lurches into a booming witch-house number (Playing House) with bass stabs that would sound right at home on a Salem record. Grossi rests his voice on the bright instrumental "Ivy" and closes it all out with the dramatic "Johnny Belinda".

Grossi's unique blend of electronic and theatrical music is sort of like a more hip, male version of celtic artist Enya, who also happens to be fond of the harp. I look forward to seeing Active Child play for a second time at Fitzgerald's on the 3rd.

Grade: A-

Natalia Kills - Perfectionist

We've been long due for a steady torrent of Gaga copyists and the first gush is here. . .sort of. At first face, Natalia Kills seems like she might be trying to ride this gravy train. For example, "Break You Hard" sounds painfully Gaga albeit with more soul.

This slightly more r&b bent of Kills music does help distinguish her, to a degree. For example, it would be hard to confuse "Love is a Suicide" with Gaga as far as music goes but again, there is something that is reminiscent. The recurrent themes of blood, violence, and darkness have gotten popular for a lot of pop princesses but it seems like Gaga has a veritable trademark on them.

It's no longer that ironic for a pop diva to be "dark". Even though she was certainly not the first, Gaga used this method while it was still relatively fresh. When Gaga started it was quasi-edgy to be morbid as a reaction to fluffy, pink, pop divas like Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson. Kills is just starting her career with this dark diva persona even though it's been done to death over the past three years. Maybe it's just bad timing rather than lack of originality but songs like "Love is a Suicide" make me groan a bit.

The non-Gaga tracks succeed well enough as standard, radio-friendly, pop. "Broke" and "Wonderland" show she's got her own style. It will be hard to judge exactly what is going on until her sophomore release.

Grade: C-

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Road to ACL: Foster the People

I initially hated this band because of their unmistakable resemblance to more veteran electro bands Passion Pit, MGMT, and Miike Snow. However, I was actually right in this initial assessment because after listening more closely to their music nothing changed.

I've griped about this phenomenon here before so I won't go too much further but there are a glut of electro bands with seemingly identical, high falsetto vocals and some of them sound like they're just trying to hitch a ride on the Passion Pit bandwagon. The music of Foster the People isn't terribly executed, it's just without a whole lot of substance. It's a lot like cotton candy: the listener is attracted by bright colors and seemingly lively presentation but when the true experience begins, the songs melt away quickly on the tongue like puffy masses of pink sugar. The banality of the lyrics is what really annoys me.

The almost rapping vocal style and the oh-so-ironic white kid trying to be soulful shtick is no longer working for me. I'm sick of the Maroon 5 ish register of these made-to-order indie acts. There are moments where the band is catchy and maybe I'll eat my words if the band makes it onto my ACL schedule but Foster the People seems to me like little more than an accumulation of indie electro zeitgeist. It's been done to death.

I am craving a real, strong, reaction to MGMT and Passion Pit and the inundation of electronic indie bands rather than more of the same. This is not to say that I haven't enjoyed this bloc of electro bands but the same tried and true formula isn't doing it for me any more.

As far as I'm concerned, stupid songs like "Pumped Up Kicks" show that the band is committed to not doing anything interesting. The way that kid sings I can actually picture the "I think I'm so cool" look on his face while he sucks his own dick in self-adoration.

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: The Mekons - The Mekons Story

The Mekons are a prolific post-punk band that remained underground for most of their career. While they don't have the same name recognition as Gang of Four or Delta 5 they were formed in Leeds around the same time and have been together without interruption since the late 70s.

The huge number of musicians involved results in an ever-changing sound ranging from straight punk to highly experimental conceptual music.

This album is a compilation but even despite that, it's incredible to think that it's the same band throughout. It has the feeling of a post-punk variety hour.

Despite the minimalist nature of the genre there's a playful psychedelia. Songs like "Not a bitterman" combine growling punk bass with echoing vocals and velvet underground guitars. "1st guitarist" is equally psych. "Car-Men" and "I'm so Happy" take the weirdness even further. The album is truly unpredictable.

But then at times the band goes back to straight punk in a Wire like configuration. Like early Wire, and even late for that matter, the record contains over a dozen shorter songs rather than tightly arranged standalone tracks. The album cover cheekily proclaims that there are over 20 great songs in 60 minutes of play time. An open mind is absolutely required to appreciate The Mekons Story.

Even for post-punk it's odd. There are Mark E Smith-ian ramblings, haunting bouts of music concrete, and absolutely no songs I'd call singles. If you enjoy this album you'll definitely get a kick out of Ohio post-punk group Pere Ubu but that review is for another week.

The War on Drugs - Slave Ambient

This is a busy album. Kraut-rock is an obvious influence on "Slave" with its swirling, ever-moving, synth melodies and cavernous reverb. The prevalence of this dreamy atmosphere makes for few standout tracks but an overall decent listening experience. Splashing, operatic, lyrics give the music a bright psychedelic color but don't expect to understand what front-man Adam Granduciel is saying.

Again, it's not very useful to point out key tracks on "Slave" because it's just so heavily album oriented but that also means that, in a sense, all the songs are equally good. If you're in need of a pleasant musical distraction, turn this one up. Listen closely and you'll lose yourself in ebbing and flowing of the warm tides of "Slave". It's a refreshing dip.

Grade: B-

Friday, August 19, 2011

LOCAL: Robert Ellis - Photographs

Young Houston upstart, Robert Ellis, is finally getting the sort of recognition we all knew he would. In July he hit the ground running with a highly-touted debut for the rest of the world. If you've been with him from the beginning, the tracks won't surprise you. There are no gimmicks or desperate ovations. It's Ellis being himself.

I heard "Bamboo" for the first time a few months ago while at the Free Press office. It was the dead of night, maybe 2 or 3 o clock, and I was feverishly trying to meet an imminent deadline but as the song started playing I stopped writing. Delicate finger-picking and lyrics about our memories being thrown asunder by the steady march of time made it impossible not to listen.

It's hard to express again the lack of cheesiness or forced sentimentality in Ellis' music. He's more of a timeless bard than a country artist. These are not your typical modern country ditties about dead dogs or why he's proud to be an American. Ellis, instead, is far more like story-telling country legends like Hayes Carll or Townes Van Zandt (who both also hail from the Houston area). It's a rare revival of classic country.

Key tracks include: "Photographs", "Bamboo", and "Two Cans of Paint"

Grade: B+

Friendly Fires - Pala

Their eponymous debut was far more standard dance-punk: heavy on live bass lines and live percussion. But with "Pala" Fires have turned a corner onto a decidedly more electronic avenue. It's so different that at time it's almost hard to recognize them as Friendly Fires.

"Pala" employs a seemingly indistinguishable mix of live and sampled material similar to British producer and recording artist Bibio. The first two tracks are consummately electro but track three "Running Away" is a little more live. It brings them back a little to the first album but only momentarily.

The vocals are, as I read another reviewer describe them, dramatic and "priapic". They just scream bright lights, discotheques, and ecstasy when coupled with the band's galloping bass beats and shimmering synths.

It's hard not to feel warm inside after playing through this.

Grade: B+

Thursday, August 18, 2011

LOCAL: The Mathletes - #$@% You And Your Cool

Houston act, The Mathletes just released their second full-length but I don't have a copy of that yet so I'm still jamming their first record, "#$@% You And Your Cool".

The album's title is itself a foreshadowing of the content within. The Mathletes channel a clever and cheeky awkwardness that listeners should recognize from nerd-rock bands like They Might Be Giants. The lack of concern over "cool" gives them room to experiment more than the average, vanilla, self-conscious, indie-rock band. In fact, the band openly mocks this obsession with image on "My record collection".

"#$@% You" is filled with horns, organs, and synths making it vastly more colorful than what I'm used to hearing from most local bands. "Opening Number (Hollywood Version)" uses the horns and bright vocals to create a beautiful Kinks/Beatles-like pastiche that sounds, despite the title's protestation, cool as hell.

The Mathletes are a powerful gust of fresh air and I cannot wait to hear their latest when I get around to it. Other great tracks on the debut are the KTRU version of "Asteroids!!!" and the punky "Pinocchiobot Rock". You can pick this one up on iTunes or stream it with a Rhapsody subscription.

Grade: A+

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Glee The 3D Concert Movie (Motion Picture Soundtrack)

For a very long time I've racked my brain over why exactly this phenomenon is appealing to anyone. The TV show I can sort of understand. It's like Degrassi. It's a guilty-pleasure, teen, melo-drama. Dawson's Creek type crap. I get it. It's a moneymaker.

However, I don't understand why anyone would waste money paying for a soundtrack which consists entirely of very similar-sounding covers. They're not even good covers. Yes, these people hit all the notes, with or without the help of auto-tune (not gonna go there) but they're all done in the same shrill, teeny-bopper, timbre and register.

Cover albums don't normally sell well unless they're done by a variety of artists. Take for example Peter Gabriel's "Scratch my Back". People begin to say, "Ok, great. Now when does the original material start?" At least that was my reaction.

Anyway, Glee clubs have never impressed me. I remember even in high school I would say to myself (never out loud for fear of being labeled as anti-arts or something lame like that) why would anyone join choir and sing covers when you could go home and write something original, something that requires independent thinking. Yes covers take a degree of technical skill but if your voice sounds like your average, American Idol, dime-a-dozen, diva's then it's not going to be interesting. And that's what glee clubs encourage: conformity.

I know this is more of a rant than a review but after making my point I will say that this soundtrack did nothing to change my opinion. It's bland. Bland. Bland. It's Kidz Bop for adults.

Mister Heavenly - Out of Love

When I interviewed Nick Thorburn of Islands (And formerly of The Unicorns) last year he said something about doing a collaboration with Honus Honus, lead singer of the fun, freaky, Philadelphia, experimental band Man Man. Of course, I presumed it would be a single track on Islands' next studio album but instead it turned out to be an entirely new side-project. Mister Heavenly was born.

Yesterday the band made another step toward concreteness by releasing its first full length. The genre has been called "Doom Wop" by Thorburn who described it in another interview as "[. . .] low frequency, and extremely slowed down music atop traditional doo wop harmonies. Or something". This description sounds more to me like Doo Wop chopped and screwed which isn't what the record sounds like but there's definitely a golden-age r&b influence with love lyrics and backup vocals aplenty.

The most noticeable vocals contributions are from Honus. Parts of the record sound very much like lost Man Man recordings while other parts sound like Islands b-sides. The title track is the best example of Thorburn and Kattner working together. Synths beep and Honus roars.

I don't know if this was just a one album stint but there seems to be enough chemistry between these two front men for another.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gang Gang Dance - Eye Contact

GGD is very hard to categorize because the song-writing is so liquid. On "Eye Contact" GGD will take the words "pop form" and erase them from your memory with this album because everything about its composition is so non-standard. Choppy, sample-laden beats shape the record, along with live synths and the arcane and beautiful voice of Liz Bougatsos. Besides those three attributes, there is little else on "Eye Contact" one could call "constant".

"Romance Layers" is a sexy, down-tempo, jam with R&B vocals and is probably the most (air quotes here) normal track. The rest of the album is a protean musical mass of ever-evolving beats building upon and erasing each other. By the time a track ends it is barely recognizable as the track you started listening to.

The mood ranges from warm and familiar on songs like "Chinese High" to frantic and alien on others such as "Thru and Thru". But despite the constantly changing nature of the album, Bougatsos and her band make the material cohesive and captivating.

Grade: A-