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