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-

Monday, August 15, 2011

STUFF I MISSED: Holy Ghost + Michael McDonald

Maybe it shouldn't be surprising that New York electro duo Holy Ghost! has enlisted one of the big hitters of blue-eyed soul. After all, they're on the punky, funky, DFA label. But the wickedness of the musical combination blew me away when I read about it today. I had no idea this collaboration occurred. Leave it to Pitchfork to fill in the gaps.

The album came out in April but somehow I missed it. I'm sure I'm not the only one. At least check out the fantastic song, "Some Children" if nothing else. Michael McDonald sounds strangely at home on the track, a testament to the growing skill of Holy Ghost!

Moves like this show that despite the colossal hype that's been surrounding Holy Ghost since they went public with "Hold On" that they're far more than ephemeral club-kid zeitgeist of the 2000s.

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: The Wake - Harmony

It's always been fashionable to write off certain post-punk bands as Joy Division copycats. By rejecting a band in this fashion music critics get the opportunity to flex their muscles. They take a certain secret pleasure in the ability to make and break artist's careers. When a band receives a reputation like this it is difficult to throw off. The Wake is one such band that has been branded with this unfortunate mark and they are for this reason, I feel, under-appreciated.

True, they formed in 1981 Glasgow after the dissolution of Joy Division which helps critics make a case for them as JD wannabes but the music itself is still strong enough to merit a good listening.

But let us get the similarities out of the way, yes there are fantastic, galloping, post-punk, bass-lines throughout the "Harmony" but after 82 when Harmony was recorded it became a staple of the genre. For me that's the only thing that makes me scratch my chin and go, "Ah, Joy Division". Other than that the band is original as far as I'm concerned, they're just post-punk. They share a genre with JD so of course there are going to be similarities.

If anything, the vocals sound more like mid to late 80s Bernard Sumner vocals than Ian Curtis' and at this point in time New Order was still, to a degree, trying rip-off Ian Curtis' baritone voice on "Movement" and their first New Order BBC sessions.

"Judas" is a gem on the album with a palpable melancholy and vocals that sound like a Gothic Syd Barret. Of all the tracks on the album this one breaks with the JD method more than any other while still appealing to the same emotions. Another outstanding track is "Host" which includes actual backup vocals, some Vinny O Reilly type guitar-work, and dub bass. A nice snapshot in the evolution of post-punk.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Portugal. The Man - In the Mountain in the Cloud

I haven't heard much of the band's past work but "In the mountain in the cloud" initially delighted me because of its mild glam appeal. There are T-Rex strings on many tracks but the vocals are the standard, indie, super-harmonized, falsetto, kind. While there's some glam to be gleaned here there's no sultry Marc Bolan or David Bowie type singing, sadly. It's a bit of a tease.

It could be Miike Snow singing for all I know. Except for a few times on the album John Gourley's potentially soulful voice is overshadowed by aggressive production and a tendency toward an obnoxious high, indie, register. Sometimes (rarely though) this particular register does make him sound a bit Marc Bolan but often times it just makes him sound annoying.

The music goes back and forth between glam and psych and isn't unpleasant. It's dreamy and enveloping but the jarringly high vocals sometimes shatter that tranquility. Portugal the Man should lead the charge in freeing their vocalist from the usual, wall-of-sound, vocals treatment and let Gourley belt out some vocals sans overdubs or chorus. And maybe he could afford to sing in a lower key every once in a while.

Key tracks are "So American", "Once was One", "Sleep Forever".

Grade: C

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Horrors - Skying

"Skying" brings The Horrors even further into potential breakthrough territory. I don't mean breakthrough as in toward breaking through into producing good music because I believe they've been doing that since "Primary Colours". I mean breaking through into somewhat mainstream musical recognition. Less Jesus and the Mary Chain type feedback and more electronic textures. More harmony than disharmony. Maybe even a little poppy. This is immediately evident on the opening track, "Changing the Rain".

The first few tracks are enjoyable but guitar-less, synth-pop, but about two minutes into "Endless Blue" the loud guitars listeners are used to hearing return with ambush-like attack. Additionally, on "Monica Gems" the guitar starts in right away, including the old shoe-gaze tremolo that used to be so common. However, these moments are rare and the majority of the music is accomplished by synth, bass, and drum with guitars as merely a texture or an accompaniment than a lead melody.

With the uptick in the casual consumption of electronic music (see little kids listening to Passion Pit, bros into dubstep etc.) The Horrors may reach a new demographic with this record. People who like The Big Pink or other next gen shoe-gaze acts will get a lot out of "Skying" too. It's an interesting direction and a decent album but hopefully there's a little more fury on their next LP.

Grade: B

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Cabaret Voltaire - Mix-Up

"Mix-Up" is Cabaret Voltaire's debut and, not surprisingly, it's their least accessible album. Even though they ended up essentially founding the genre of industrial even casual contemporary industrial listeners are bound to feel alienated by this album at some point. "Mix-Up" is proto-proto industrial, to use as much critic jargon as I can.

The beats on this album are far more expansive and meandering than the tight, percussive, tones of industrial we're all familiar with today. The industrial nature of these tracks is found in the repetition and darkness rather than the production or tempo. Compare "Mix-Up" era sounds of Cabaret to bands like Suicide, especially on the organ-filled track "No Escape".

The marching, clockwork quality of industrial has not arrived yet at the time of "Mix-Up" but listeners can hear its beginnings in tracks like "Kirilian Photograph" which sounds, in its cadence, like the chugging of a demented locomotive.

While it's far less listenable than compilations like "Best Of 78/82" it does serve as arguably one of the first industrial albums and that's got to count for something.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

BestFest? Not quite yet..

This year, Houston will get another new festival and it's being thrown by everyone's favorite totally underground publication (I'm thereal, guys): Houston Press. The midtown based BestFest so far boasts a no more than "ok" lineup containing Cake, Bun B, and Deer Tick. Cake is pretty decent live and Bun B is fantastic but if these are the "it" attractions of the fest then Houston Press is going to feel pretty stupid when almost no one except hippie-ass Cake fanatics and hardcore Bun B fans show up. There's not a very wide appeal yet.

I don't think it's going to be able to touch Free Press Summer Fest as far as style and sheer quantity of outstanding music but- eh no buts. It's light years behind Free Press Summer Fest. Houston Press don't seem to realize yet that their latecomer status in the festival department means that we're going to necessarily expect more from them.
So far, BestFest is nothing to get excited about.

Fountains of Wayne - Sky Full of Holes

I don't think I'm the only one who finds this band hard to take seriously solely because of "Stacey's Mom" but it's been a few years. "Sky Full of Holes" shows that FoW has far more merit as a serious rock band than you'd guess from their only breakthrough hit.

"Richie and Ruben" is one of the album's more clever moments. It tells the story of a failing restaurant and although it's fraught with some questionable rhymes (Ruben and doin' for example) it comes across as a key track and a story-telling success.

There are even some genuinely tender moments like, "I hate to see you like this". The song, like much of the album, is heavily colored by piano and acoustic guitars. The band eschews the methods of its bratty, pop-punk, past for an approach that sometimes sounds more like adult contemporary or alternative country. And I don't mean this as a dig.

For me FoW vocals will always be sort of hard to tolerate but there are definitely some enjoyable power-pop ditties on this record. Worth a listen for anyone who enjoys artists like They Might Be Giants or Jonathan Coulton or even Cracker. There's a thread of silliness running throughout it but the band has become easier for me to take seriously after "Sky. . ."

Grade: B-

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Spotify: spotty at best

As an unlimited music-streaming service Rhapsody has had the market cornered for a while, and for good reason. Almost any artist you can think of is easily available with few licensing conflicts or missing albums. Catalogs are very complete for the most part and the mobile application makes them all accessible on the go, even if you're offline.

It's an important step in fighting music piracy while keeping insatiable audiophiles, like myself, supplied with a near unlimited supply of music for a low monthly fee. However, there is a new competitor in town called Spotify. The Swedish service mimics the Rhapsody but with. a significantly lower quality for a few reasons.

Firstly, there are inconsistencies in the streaming quality. Some songs are only available at a lower quality of 160 kbps. It also has a bevy of licensing issues and there are even murmurs that it doesn't always pay artists. That's sketchy, my friends. So is the fact that you can be "invited" and stream whatever you want for free. It would be awesome and tempting to be in on this secret if only there were less bugs, more music, and better sound quality.

Maybe the service is better overseas. In fact, I'll bet it's way better overseas but here it's no killer app yet. Far, far, from it. And that excuse does me no good when I'm sitting here dealing with a shitty, glitch-laden program.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Little Dragon - Ritual Union

Yukimi Nagano's vocals guaranteed from the get-go that this album would be at least listenable. She could probably sing over car horns or fighting cats and they'd be the better for it. However, the finished product of Nagano plus bandmates is what counts.

The album is carried by slightly repetitive electro beats that would otherwise be just OK but the synthesis is extremely successful.
Beats in songs like "Please Turn" and "Summertearz" are little more than backdrops for the lyrics but they serve that function extremely well.

Although there's a lot of soul on "Ritual Union" it's largely a work in minimalism. If you're down with that sound you'll like it but otherwise it might grate on the nerves. It's nice to listen to but it's nothing groundbreaking.

Grade: B

Peter Murphy - Ninth

It's pretty sad it took me this long to review a Peter Murphy album. It was released in June and now it's August. I'm a post-punk junkie. A glutton for goth. But now I've finally gotten around to listening to the whole thing and it's so good makes me miss Bauhaus slightly less.

Of course Murphy's solo material and Bauhaus (or Love and Rockets) are separate things but "Ninth" is an adequate enough goth fix for me to alleviate the still-smarting sting of the Bauhaus breakup. Instead of dabbling in soft, new-age, rock like he has sometimes in the past "Ninth" is a very heavy, guitar-driven album.

"Velocity Bird" and "Peace to Each" prove that Murphy hasn't yet become a softy in his old age. They hearken back to hard-edged gothic solo numbers like "In the low room" from 1992's "Holy Smoke" LP.
The strongest track is "The Prince & Old Lady Shade" incorporating mythic lyrics and chugging guitars with delicate strings.

In addition to the songwriting, Murphy's dramatic vocals also hold up surprisingly well given his advanced age. Murphy doesn't reinvent himself on the album and it's not at all surprising material. Instead "Ninth" is a confirmation of who he's proven himself to be over the years: the godfather of goth. Bela Lugosi is not dead.

Grade: A+

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Rival Sons - Pressure & Time

These days the term classic rock is practically useless in describing music because it means practically whatever the cadre of Clear Channel classic rock stations wants it to mean. When Bon Jovi and Soundgarden start to fall under the category of classic rock you know the term has been totally diluted. However, if classic rock is restricted to that magical time, that cultural crucible in the 70s, that allowed blues-rock bands like Canned Heat and Cream to blossom then there can be some clarity.

Rival Sons' July release of "Pressure & Time" can be somewhat described by this special, narrow, definition of classic rock. Of course, with time overdrive begets more overdrive like a snowball rolling down a steep hill and it's 2011 not 1970 but other than volume the band's second release is a complete throwback. There will be the undeniable comparisons to The White Stripes or the Black Keys but Rival Sons remains somehow even more meat and potatoes than either, not swayed by that pesky obstacle of modernity.

Key tracks include: "White Noise", "Pressure and Time", and "Save Me".

Grade: A-

Sublime with Rome - Yours Truly

If you're a stickler for original lineups Sublime with Rome is going to disappoint but that's obvious. However, even you're one of those rare hanger-oners who is willing to listen to a band with an entirely new vocalist you'll still feel betrayed by the surviving Sublime members' new work.

While you can hear remnants of the guitar and drums of Sublime proper the new vocalist's delivery is puerile and limp-wristed compared to the endlessly charming Bradley Nowell. As a ska record it's not irredeemably awful. The awful part about the venture is the fact that they're all capitalizing on the Sublime name and not calling it something else because it's just not Sublime.

Grade: F

Monday, August 1, 2011

Kelly Rowland - Here I am

Though she hasn't received as much exposure as Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland did not fall of the face of the earth after the dissolution of Destiny's Child. Like fellow member Solange Knowles, Rowland has quietly still been making music, enjoying some commercial success as a standalone without milking her early career. Her last album, "Ms. Kelly" received generally positive reviews and the same can be said for her latest work "Here I am".

The album is a parade of nicely arranged r & b songs but at times falls prey to the predictable electro-trance flourish that's been seeping into pop music of all sorts over the past two years. This is best evidenced in "Commander" featuring David Guetta and "Down for Whatever" featuring the WAVs. These two tracks are probably the weakest on the album for their kitschiness and references to partying and "the floor" (haven't heard that from anyone at all this year). Having a fairly strong r&b foundation Rowland doesn't need to pander like this, as if she's some no name upstart.

The album's strength rests in the more soulful, down-tempo, tracks like "Feelin' Me Right Now" and "Work it Man". In the trancier tracks Kelly's powerful vocals are crowded out by the booming synths and shallow "party-girl" lyrics. "Work it Man" is the album's strongest track, capitalizing on a short sweet flow from Lil Playy and Rowland's sexy, strong, voice.

As a whole, the album is not A+ material but for a return to music after four years it's not a bad sign. Like the title says, "Here I Am", Rowland is asserting her worth as a solo artist and that she's not just an extra in the history Beyonce's rise to fame.

Grade: B-