9.29.2011

PREVIEW: The first 2 hours of The Flaming Lips 6-hour song

So The Flaming Lips have been very active lately with collaborations with artists Neon Indian and Lightning Bolt, as well as delivering these songs in ways that are rather unorthodox (a USB drive contained in a gummy skull?). Their latest endeavor has been to create a six-hour song titled "I Found a Star On The Ground" featuring John Lennon and, for a price, you could have paid to have your name mentioned somewhere in those six hours. Today, we now have a two hour preview of the song via SoundCloud for our entertainment. See how long you can last!

The Flaming Lips - Found a Star on the Ground [Part One of Three]

9.06.2011

REVIEW: Passed Up - 5 EP


Genre: Hip Hop
Origin: Las Vegas, Nevada

You almost have to take today's generation of hip hop with a grain of salt. Don't get me wrong, it's usually still good to listen to, but it's such an infiltrated and widespread genre at this point that it's pretty difficult to find outstanding artists that break from the mold. What's the mold, exactly? Well, the idea of hip hop now being as popular as it is, popularity seems to be the name of the game. As long as it follows successful formulas and not really adding anything else to the table, then you've got yourself a hip hop record. Again, it's successful because it features the stylings of a potentially great tune, but sometimes the void isn't really filled.

For instance, upon listening to "New Shh" on Passed Up's debut EP, I am instantly reminded of "Wait (The Whisper Song)" from The Ying Yang Twins. Not the most original hip hop song in the world, but perhaps it's within the title's telling statement "New Shh" as another way to tell you what's in, or perhaps it's reason to believe a new hip-hop duo is trying to one-up their superiors with an additional outtake that doesn't have its own voice. Though "New Shh" talks about something drastically cleaner and ups the vocals a few decibels from whispers (which I suppose doesn't "say" much), the overall construction - from the smooth tempo featuring a thumping house beat, high hat and vocal content - is eerily similar. As the kick off track to a debut EP, this can either raise eyebrows or shake heads. You decide.

But one might reconsider the Vegas natives' objectives in order to see through to their production. The Ying Yang Twins had a dancey tune that was immensely popular and grew into a radio hit, and that feeling of riding the popularity train is found throughout the duo's 5 EP. It doesn't necessarily have the slickness of a highly popular single, but just the way songs are formulated like "3 Minutes," "I Heart Nerds" and "Watch Me (Ima Do It)" give you a sense of urgency, as if these are NOW hits, where you should listen to them NOW because they are a sign of the NOW times. These songs are perfectly capable of attracting listeners into a club playing Top 40 where as long as you can dance to it it's acceptable, but for it to stand on its own through earbud headphones can be somewhat difficult.

To call them derivative would be taking it a little too far, but their showing of 5 does walk a fine line. Passed Up look to give you candy that tastes good but won't won't fulfill you, and if you're more interested in being at the party than being the one hosting it, then they have seven tracks that are dancey and catchy for the time being. Time being, mind you. The duo is probably capable of making music that can last beyond our years, but what's in is in, and they know it.

Passed Up - "New Shh"


Passed Up - "Catch Me In The Rain"


Passed Up's 5 EP is available on CD Baby, Amazon, and iTunes through the JaHMa record label.

8.31.2011

REVIEW: Turn Off Your Television - Turn Off Your Television


Genre: Indie Rock/Pop/Folk
Origin: Malmö, Sweden

Turn Off Your Television is a Swedish band that becomes the distraction rather than the medium referenced in their name. Instead of allowing music to become the victim of "background" or resulting in someone responding with "I'd listen to it but not actively listen to it," this band demands your attention by bringing you out of the visual realm and into the auditorial world, solely because visuals are a distraction. While you can agree or disagree with this interpretation, it seems to me that few bands would go so far philosophically to bring attention to their craft that Turn Off Your Television becomes vibrantly fresh upon each listen. The only thing I would be distracted by is the music they play, and I'm pretty sure that's the point.

Am I distracted enough by their debut self-titled album? Each track certainly makes a good case for it, with relaxing guitar melodies, gentle vocals and solid song construction. It doesn't particularly have me wooing for its lack of deep lyricism or straight-to-the-heart emotional delivery, but its that kind of "at ease" sound that doesn't look to overpower you. Singer/guitarist Jon Rinneby offers a Sparklehorse-like vocal style that, just based on that description, gives you the idea that the album decidedly slows down the tempos so you can take in every lingering strum and pick. Basically, it doesn't aim to change or break ground, but you'll be more than welcome to obtain the sounds it produces.

It does take its gentle time to properly evoke Rinneby's vocal style and give us a dynamic sampling of said genres. "I Just Cleaned The Floor," "Never Rustling Symphony" and "Southern Lights of Home" play like rock records that go for harmonious pleasure the way artists Gus Black or Grandaddy do, while managing to showcase their instrumental talents. That idea doesn't change too much throughout the rest of the album, maintaining this linearity that listeners will undoubtedly appreciate, even if its a bit of the same, but maybe that's part of the distraction the band wants us to diverge into.

For its solid 42-minute runtime, Turn Off Your Television is pretty harmless rock/pop/folk, to say the least. The sweet melodies do the job of setting us up for the sounds once put forth by such similar outfits like Band of Horses or the aforementioned Grandaddy, but where those bands effortlessly construct anthems that the independent scene could more or less embrace for their raw power, Turn Off Your Television makes a less defining case. It soars to heights that are only as high as it wishes to maintain, but never peaking higher than that. The result can come off as tame fare that could have gone the extra distance to be different and doesn't, but it still maintains a linear sound that comes as being appreciative.

Turn Off Your Television - "I Just Cleaned The Floor"


Turn Off Your Television - "Never Rustling Symphony"


Turn Off Your Television is available digitally through the band's Bandcamp Website, Amazon and iTunes.

8.25.2011

REVIEW: Fereshta - Global Citizen


Genre: Rock
Origin: Afghanistan; Los Angeles, CA

It's not very often that you hear about an artist whose roots spawn to war-torn Afghanistan. While Fereshta has been in the U.S. for quite some time now, there appears to be a sense of longing for the nation on Global Citizen, perhaps to go back to those roots and make sense of what it's like there versus here. This isn't reason to provide comparison or contradiction, but rather to bring a sense of unity to the table, that maybe she wishes to see through everyone and everything that we are all the same on the inside. Such is the case in her lyrics on this album - in the works for the last three years - which proves that she has the emotional drive to determine to herself that she must find meaning amidst the current chaos. Admirable, but does it help bring her out into the musical realm?

Fact of the matter is, her lyrics are pretty serious. I understand that she wants to be the "Global Citizen" and represent the people as a unity than a separate entity, but at times the message comes off as more politically charged than emotionally realized. I'm not suggesting that artists can't or shouldn't use such messages to drive their lyrics, but as suggestively straight-forward as they are found here, the creative or more natural expressive elements about them sort of take a sidestep in favor of telling you exactly how it is.

And while her lyrics provide underlying serious undertones, everything else about Global Citizen is rather generic. She makes continued references to the "Motherland" and the oppression of people on tracks such as "Untie My Hands" and "Human Frailty," but given that her vocals are subdued in the style of PJ Harvey or Heather Nova, the themes come off as more laid back and less empowering, as if to assume she has something to say about it, but not necessarily do something about it. Not to say that her performance flatlines, but there come points where her emotion comes misconstrued. The ultimate goal of her lyrics are now more restricted to a style that doesn't deem them the opportunity to shine.

Her supporting musicians, too, offer a range of rock that's all over the board without feeling different, sounding something similar to nightly performances at the House of Blues. These sounds are fine if the mood is appropriate, but they don't support Fereshta's lyrical position. She prides on "peace and love," but the title track or "Wonderlust" are these rockabilly numbers that only offer to provide reason to give Fereshta a proper single, as if the rest of the album was deemed too serious in tone. They give you the feeling that the heart was in the right place, but not nearly enough of it was there to sweep you away with it. The aforementioned track "Untie My Hands" is more of an exception to this case, which at least provides a better blend of different instruments and balanced levels of instrumental use.

The musical elements are on par at best, but Global Citizen is clearly marked by her lyrics. As mentioned above, they provide listeners with a sense of the singer's emotional toll based on rediscovering her roots, and at times they can deliver. Using her influenced delivery, however, she somewhat turns it into more of a laid back political message than a wholly creative and expressive experience, which I can imagine might keep some listeners held back looking for more good ole-fashioned rock. Considering her vocal style matched with her supporting musicians' consistent if predictable rock sensibility, her writing feels a little mismatched, but as a debut artist looking to find a voice of her own, I believe she has and will have the ability to pull it off in time.

Fereshta - "Motherland"


Fereshta - "Untie My Hands"


You can find the rest of Fereshta's Global Citizen through Amazon or iTunes.

8.20.2011

REVIEW: The Weeknd - Thursday


Genre: R&B/Experimental
Origin: Toronto, Ontario

Earlier this year, Toronto-based Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, gave us a surprising Spring mixtape called House of Balloons - released digitally for free - that provided some heavy R&B with slick production and some pretty undeniable beats. With said elements and a hint of mystery surrounding the release, it may have possibly been some of the best indie R&B of the last year, resulting in word-of-mouth and underground success partially in thanks to the great endorsement from recording artist Drake. Now that we are more than half-way through the year and deep into Summer, The Weeknd has released his latest mixtape called Thursday (without question, released on Thursday, Aug. 18th). Does this new mixtape match the surprise that was House of Balloons?

Let's first take both mixtapes at face value. As stated in my review of House of Balloons, its album cover is decidedly black-and-white, almost as if to lyrically be so explicit that the beats became a hard-putting behemoth of sinful bliss. Thursday is quite the opposite, featuring some kind of color spectrum and three pictures with Polaroid-like quality, and like its brother before it, elements heard on Thursday are further reflected in this imagery. Jumping right into business with "Lonely Star," the beat and key is much brighter than anything found on House of Balloons, as if maybe The Weeknd were going to approach a newer, different direction. "Life of the Party," too, feels like it might be taking what The Weeknd had to offer up before and bring it into more color and light.

Admirable, of course, but as lighter as they are, the more we see the weight of this thing. Once you reach the epic 8-minute "Gone," you might realize something feels less urgent, less applicable, and less special.

It's just as arousing as its predecessor, but it's also less immediate. It still provides the same sleek production quality and Abel taking center stage with similar lyrical themes like overpowering sex and fighting his demons, which is fine, but the idea that this particular sound is more inviting and more accessible doesn't entirely match up. This isn't really a bad thing considering there are (very) good beats found on this thing, but given what Abel has to say and what is now musically in store, I'm more appreciative towards House of Balloons being unwelcoming and a harsher affair, where his marriage of hard-hitting lyrical content and darker beats felt not only appropriate but deeply complex.

Maybe I'm comparing them too much. Maybe there are those of you who have just found Thursday and want to stick solely to this mixtape for review. Well, quite frankly, the true merits of Thursday as its own record remains to be seen on a majority of the tracks. While the beats are good as I previously stated, they often meander into slow tunes that don't really go anywhere, to the point where they may present themselves to be great for having sex to but not for everyday hearing when you're MOST LIKELY going to be listening to it. Tracks like the aforementioned "Gone" and "Thursday" just seem directionless given the stellar quality of the production, and they're just a lot more grounded on slower energy than you'd find on its predecessor. There I go again with the comparison, but can't you tell which one you might want to listen to first?

I digress. The tracks here are still better than a majority of songs being played in today's community, especially two of them. The tracks "The Zone" featuring Drake offers a nice break from The Weeknd's vocal highs and "The Birds" (Parts 1&2) is rather reminiscent of something found on House of Balloons with it's darker aplomb, which gives the listener a better sensibility about where The Weeknd might be going. It's not that the other seven tracks found on here are any less that nature, because these two mixtapes really have been somewhat of an experiment that I'm more than willing to go along with, but at least these couple of tracks offer greater qualities that will make me want to come back to them more often than not.

So the mystery and surprise has somewhat faded now that The Weeknd are making a name for themselves, and that might've helped make House of Balloons a greater affair in comparison, but that hasn't stopped Abel from continuing his line of work. Even if Thursday ends up being more of the same in more ways than one, it just means we have more of The Weeknd to go around, and that isn't a bad thing whatsoever. The excellent couple of tracks and stream-lined flow are enough to warrant a download and, while I might come off as disliking the mixtape overall, it's still better than a great percentage of music floating around these days. After all, it may just be the next addition to Abel's experiment that we hope gives R&B a run for its money on the third mixtape (reportedly out this fall), and we'll be here to listen.

The Weeknd - "The Zone" feat. Drake


The Weeknd - "The Birds Part 2"


Thursday is self-released and is available for free over at their official website.

8.19.2011

REVIEW: Viv and the Revival - And Then The World EP


Genre: Pop/Rock
Origin: Philadelphia, PA

Pop music artists are like landscape artists: the land is practically provided for them, but there are those that want to change things up by touching it with their unique sensibilities and then there are those that want to continue its current trend and keep things safe and quanit. Whether they feel they need to stand out from the crowd or become a different but identifiable entity of the genre, the artists that strive for the former don't have to provide such a temporal atmosphere where they rise and fall based on what is happening temporarily, as is the case for artists in the latter case. It's thankful to say that artists with those better pop sensibilities do exist, and fears can be put to rest by listening to this handful of potential from up-and-comers Viv and the Revival.

Yeah, the name "Revival" should already be your first clue. It's not so much a clever play-on-words with band leader Viv Peyrat, but it's also the intentional effort of the band to bring pop a much needed sense of lasting flavor. If the band's name wasn't just as obvious of its intention, Viv sings "I want to live forever...I'm just afraid to be forgotten," on the opener aptly titled, "Forever." But this shouldn't come off as anything to scour or scold. In fact, I would think credit is due to artists that don't beat around the bushes and rather provide a direct attack to their goal. It might be stereotypical that pop music uses such a method, but it's a trick that catches on rather quickly and works effectively, and Viv does a stand-up job. There's no denying that he has a sense of direction, too.

This six-track EP features really well-kept production values, as any considering and serious pop music should. It's not what you might call "squeaky-clean" as the band allows some rough corners with distorted guitars and tight instrumental interplay. Songs "Shook Up" and "Wonderful" provide such a gesture, with some good hooks and cranks that take Viv's vocals from standard fare to an energetic stage-like presence. Perhaps the best mixture of balance lies on "Tonight We Live As Kings," with a composition and arrangement that sidesteps away from convention and lets Viv really handle the perspective the band is thriving for. Sure, each of these songs can be considered radio-friendly, but this drives into interesting territory.

The EP does justice to the pop music genre by being the same and not being the same. It follows the landscaped formula that pop music lies on, but it does so in a way that sets Viv into a greater sense of where he wants to take it, instead of letting it take him. It's admirable, to say the least, to see artists go for the attack and be straight-forward in their direction and execution, which results in well-produced and finely knit tracks. Viv and the Revival have a solid EP on their hands with potential to hit the stride that I know they want to achieve, and it's hard to stop their force when they have the tenacity to keep on going.

Viv and the Revival - "Tonight We Live As Kings"


Viv and the Revival - "Wonderful"


You can check out Viv and the Revival and the And Then The World EP over at their official website, available via Red Goat Music.

8.15.2011

REVIEW: Dale Turner - Mannerisms Magnified


Genre: Alternative/Multi-Instrumentalist
Origin: Los Angeles, CA

Here's an album that was released last year, yet I received it this year and it feels completely fresh. Not that music has drastically changed in a year's time, but it's hard to find artists like Dale Turner these days. Amidst the infiltration of overly layered beats and innocuous teen idol drudgery blocking true musicality comes the talented singer-songwriter Turner, a multi-instrumentalist in the vein of Jon Brion who seems to find the perfect marriage of musical arrangement and composition, creating this kind of leveled harmony that your ear drums gladly give you thanks. He's clearly got a good ear for what needs to be said and performed to achieve said marriage, and his true "solo" album, Mannerisms Magnified, showcases his talent and penmanship for creating alternative music.

In reading his biography, this album took four years to produce. That's got to be a lingering amount of time to get an album out for a debuting artist, but the results are very fine tuned. This is all done by Turner himself, which is mightily impressive when you hear every stem as if it were performed in-house by performing musicians. But nope, this is Turner's field, even going as far as to engineer the album to provide exactly what he wants. If that's not talent, then I don't know what is.

And the music itself? It begins with "Brian On The Brain," which appears as an homage to Brian Wilson-esque vocal harmonies, and then it rushes fully into "Bad Seed." We're at track two and I feel as if I've started listening to the late Jeff Buckley's Grace. It's not so much the way Turner softly but effectively vocalizes, but even the intricate, mellow guitar work that so hauntingly marked "Grace" and "Last Goodbye" are apparent here. This isn't a case of an artist simply imitating Buckley, but rather showcasing his passion for such an influence. Mind you, again, this was created stem by stem, all by Turner.

Things spread out across Mannerisms Magnified to the point where - even though you may think you know where it's going - you can't easily predict its direction. To put it simply, this really is just a great set of songs over 42 minutes. Turner provides a little of everything here like slower melodies "Hiding Place" and "Five Things" and upbeat tunes such as "Morality Rule" and "Exit Wound", but he still retains an alternative sensibility throughout, always leaving behind a trail of great 90's influences like Elliott Smith and early Radiohead. It's hard to find fault here, as hearing each track is like listening to an artist so hard at work, and the work so eloquently paying off.

Mannerisms Magnified may be the perfect title to such a record that's ambitious and yet feels so close to home - yet another feat from Mr. Turner's creative abilities. It's a surprising breath of fresh air that really brings a new voice forward through the heavily impacted world of music, and for good reason. This is a calm and collected batch of alternative music that doesn't really require much other than to admire and behold, and I believe Turner is going to head into new territories once this gets the exposure it deserves.

Dale Turner - "Bad Seed"


Dale Turner - "Morality Rule"


Mannerisms Magnified is now available through CD Baby, iTunes, and Amazon via Intimate Audio.

7.29.2011

PREMIERE: "Otis" feat. Otis Redding by Jay-Z & Kanye West


Today's rap icons are encapsulated in two individuals: Jay-Z and Kanye West. There's no doubt about it. I mean, really, have you heard The Black Album or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy? With every new release of theirs, we're always prepared for something hard-hitting, controversial, down-right gritty, and/or grandiose. It was a only a matter of time before the two would figure some way to collaborate on a project.

Hence, Jay-Z and Kanye West are now appropriately known as The Throne, and their debut release is called Watch The Throne, dropping August 8th. As a way to promote the album, they've released the single "Otis" featuring a sample of Otis Redding's "Try A Little Tenderness," and it's pretty impressive. It's good hearing their voices on the same record, especially if you've got the two rappers playing around in what comes off as a duel, each one given a verse here and there, and Otis Redding to boot. It's more in the style of something reminiscent to Kanye's The College Dropout, so if you're into that record (you know, "Old" Kanye), then you'll probably enjoy this.

We can only speculate how great Watch The Throne will be for about another week, but listen to "Otis" below and get your fill in the meantime. If you're liking it as much as we are, pre-order the album on iTunes here.

Otis feat. Otis Redding by watchthethrone

7.26.2011

REVIEW: George Ellias - Self-Titled EP


Genre: Folk/Acoustic
Origin: Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles doesn't have too many folk acts coming around these days, but L.A. native George Ellias appears to want to be the exception. Why, you ask? It's hard to say. Folk can be troubled waters to tread since the wealth of that genre has always relied on underground sensibilities, retained to giving the average listener a second thought. It's not entirely something attainable in a city like Los Angeles where rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers and Silversun Pickups have a huge following.

But to George Ellias, folk is here to stay. It's understandable, too, that this notion Ellias charges at us with is very much the vision of an artist well-deep into his influences. That isn't to say he's purely imitating, but rather he is providing the music we once loved, a kind of nostalgia that seems to be recurring throughout current popular music such as 70's soul punchers Fitz and the Tantrums (an L.A. act, no less). Perhaps that is key to the possible success of his niche and, of course, timing. Timing is everything.

We get his first foray into the music world with his self-titled EP, which does a pretty good job of giving us a glimpse into certain possibilities of ol' folk. Reinvigorating the days of Bob Dylan with spot-on lyrical playfulness and guitar-picking intricacy, he's able to withstand that sound without being generic. Lyrically, he benefits from relying on messages that spark the same kind of interests of Dylan's followers and possibly even today's listeners. The song "Ghost Town" insinuates the lost lifestyles of old, which is perhaps a summation of what folk is all about in the first place. Kudos to that.

The rest of the EP steers its course in a similar vein, even if they play off as more of a showcase than a concept. We get the somber "A Farewell Song" and we get a lively "Stand Ashore," and we get these tracks as merely accepting Ellias' talents. If that is the thread that defines the EP, it can appear somewhat flat, but this reviewer is willing to find that his pros outweigh this small issue.

The EP mostly stays in tune for its seven tracks (six if you don't include the outtake of "Wonder Babe"), varying in terms of "quality." Songs like "Stand Ashore" and "Take My Advice" have a more "produced" approach, while songs like "Wonder Babe" and "A Farewell Song" are of lower fidelity. Either way, the use of reverb gives each song a very live, acoustic feel, and his track placement is finely interweaved as to not make the overall sound become counterbalanced.

Ellias gives a fine number of songs to link us to fonder days. As this is only his first EP, one can only imagine what his full-length will consist of, but this EP provides us with enough optimism. Each song brings us closer to classic folk, and whether or not that is Ellias' prerogative, he's managed to make us feel good about it.

Check out two tracks from the EP, and if you like what you hear, make sure to visit Amazon, iTunes, or George Ellias' Bandcamp webpage.





George Ellias' EP is available now from End & Co. Records.

7.25.2011

VIDEO: Bjork - "Crystalline"

Bjork is known for her wild excess, but it's good to see her back with "Crystalline" from her new album Biophilia. The album is creating some kind of media-frenzy, as in it's appearing in other digital forms like an iPad application. As for the song? "Crystalline" is exciting and very - how should I say - now, and it's hard to deny how optimistic we are for when the album drops pretty much everywhere on September 26th.

We can also be thankful that she has once again collaborated with genius filmmaker Michel Gondry (The White Stripes' "Fell In Love With A Girl", Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) for the music video. He always seems to understand the visual style of her music down pat, and "Crystalline" is no different, featuring otherworldly themes using varying types of animation and in-camera effects.

Make sure to check out the video below and let us know what you think of it (cause we think it's pretty badass). Also check out Bjork's updated website for some HTML 5 fun.

7.01.2011

PREMIERE: Radiohead's new 12'' remixes

Happy July everyone! On this start of the month, alternative masterminds Radiohead have streamed remixes of the two tracks "Little By Little" and "Lotus Flower" from their 2011 effort, The King of Limbs. The remixes feature Canadian recording artists Caribou and Jacques Greene, respectively. The two tracks are just the start of a series of intended 12'' releases of remixes from the album, available on the Ticker Tape record label. This particular release won't be made available until Monday, July 4th (or Tuesday, July 5th in the U.S. and Canada), but you can hear both tracks now thanks to Dead Air Space. Listen to them down below and tell us what you think!

6.27.2011

NEWS: Arcade Fire's "Scenes From The Suburbs" is now available!

Arcade Fire is an indie band no more. The band broke the mold when last year's The Suburbs won the well-deserved Grammy for Album of the Year. With their newfound success, Merge Records is intending on rereleasing a one-year anniversary deluxe edition of The Suburbs on August 2nd with two additional tracks (one featuring David Byrne), an 80-page booklet and the Spike Jonze-directed short film, "Scenes From The Suburbs," inspired by the album.

For those of you like me who either loved the album and/or already own it, you must be pretty psyched, but you'd have to be a pretty major fan to dish out again for practically the same disc. The two tracks will most likely be available for download, and thankfully, MUBI.com has made the 28-minute "Scenes From The Suburbs" available to stream online. If you enjoy Spike Jonze and his off-beat cinematic style mesh together with the music and themes of The Suburbs, then you're in for a treat. Check out the Spike-Jonze directed music video of the song "The Suburbs" below, taken from the film, and the actual film here.

6.26.2011

Review: Coldplay - Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall EP


Genre: Post-Britpop
Origin: London, England

If you've been to the site before, you'll know that I once reviewed a B-side to Coldplay's single "The Scientist" from A Rush of Blood to the Head and very much enjoyed it. It maintained the impressive hooks and somber vibe the album itself purported without clawing away to grab your attention. Part of what makes Coldplay's studio records even appealing to me is the way they don't try to be epic or shoot for beauty - they just are that way. Oh where has that appeal gone?

In revisiting the supposed single from Coldplay's fifth studio record after countless listens from radio and internet radio stations, I have yet to find anything really redeeming about it. With its grand-scale pop monotony and happy-go-lucky lyrical approach, it plays like the perfect song to perform at the Super Bowl Halftime Show with the likes of The Black Eyed Peas, which is fine if you have very little expectations. The repetitive synth pads and drum beat feel outdated against Chris Martin's sing-songy approach and it doesn't celebrate so much as it drain you from the sheer amount of more-is-better attitude.

In other words, it works as a pop song without the craft that we're so used to experiencing listening to Coldplay. Or maybe it's just disappointing to know these are the same guys that produced "Yellow" and "Warning Sign," aimed to those looking for answers to questions no one asked of them, and now it's come to simplistic drivel now that they're be-all, end-all in the vein of U2's current pop status. They shine for the face of current pop culture instead of defining it, and it's way too glaring.

B-side "Major Minus" only does slightly better. It has Chris Martin singing through what sounds like a megaphone, but at least it has a better pop sensibility. His singing style, along with the guitar riff and brighter chorus is unmistakably a Dave Matthews Band construction, another band whose current pop status has arena rock on its heels. It's simple, but it knows that it's a pop record without trying.

"Moving to Mars" could have very well been a B-side to any track from Viva la Vida and is really the only track to come back to on this EP. A very jazz-lounge piano opening solidifies into a soft rock hook, as Jonny Buckland's airy sustained notes and Will Champion's mellow drumming ease the tone. This feels more like a Coldplay track than the other Coldplay tracks here just by having core values, looking through me rather than showering me with gloss.

Coldplay is back with a new spray-painted look with "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall." What are they trying to cover up? In trying to attempt other pop artist's success at the world stage, they've more or less lost themselves here in their own music. Maybe I'm being way too harsh on a couple of songs, but their past four records have been exponentially more colorful than what we have here. Considering that you have a choice on iTunes to purchase individual songs, I suggest you buy "Moving to Mars" and call it a day. There are fans looking to obtain the latest Coldplay tracks to add to their library of studios albums, B-sides and live recordings, but two of the three songs don't exactly cut it. If "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall" is what we plan to expect on their fifth studio album, I can only try to embrace what they may try to do on their sixth. Until then...

2/5

Coldplay - "Moving to Mars"


Coldplay's Every Teardrop is a Waterfall EP is available from Parlophone Records via iTunes.

6.23.2011

Album Review: In Flames - Sounds of a Playground Fading


Genre: Melodic Death Metal
Origin: Gothenburg, Sweden

You probably won't find a whole lot of metal reviews on this site, but understand that once in a while we have some inner urges to want to crank the volume to 11 and headbang until the neighbors feel the need to complain about a possible domestic disturbance. This is definitely one of those occasions. Today we have In Flames' tenth (tenth!) studio album, Sounds of a Playground Fading.

Melodic death metal probably wouldn't have happened without In Flames. The boys from Sweden have arguably been the starting force behind said genre, and they have turned it into what is known as the "Gothenburg Sound" with other artists At The Gates and Dark Tranquility (a potential "Big Three"). While the band has forged through some pretty major line-up changes, including the recent departure of founder Jesper Strömblad, they've still managed to get through ten records without a hitch.

But seeing as Sounds of a Playground Fading is their tenth record, you'd probably think that they'd make an album worth celebrating. Well, it simply isn't. It's another shoot in the barrel, following a direction first admittedly seen on Reroute to Remain, five albums ago. The genre for this band has been questionable since this isn't the In Flames that brought the intricacies of The Jester Race or the hugely enjoyable sounds of Colony, but rather an alt-metal In Flames for the 2000's and beyond. And even though this isn't the same band fans cherish for creating such a sound, it's still hard to deny that the new direction is still pretty good in its own right.

In the pantheon In Flames have created for itself, Sounds of a Playground Fading does justice by a thin margin. As has occurred on their past four albums, the band takes a decidedly different path that more or less strays away from their older, more "true" melodic death metal material for a cleaner and more-produced sound. That sound is no different from this record, utilizing the same structural technique from vocal arrangements and processed effects to the evenly paced guitar harmonies. It's even tonally in familiar territory, playing like a Soundtrack to Your Escape 2.0. The pulse pounds and the rhythm takes some tight turns, but it doesn't necessarily separate itself from its contemporaries. For those fans continually expecting a "return to form," there is no question that they will once again be let down.

However, for any newcomers or fans of this newer direction, they can expect to be quite satisfied. Tracks like "Deliver Us," "All For Me," "Ropes" and "A New Dawn" keep in the same ballpark that has worked for In Flames for some time now. They don't present anything new, but they bring a fulfillment like chocolate does for a sweet tooth. You could say these are "singles," but they admittedly work to the point that they themselves around what makes these kinds of sounds accessible to any metal listener. Sure it's a little close for comfort, but they still rock to their hearts' content. The 13-track record displays Anders Friden's now growl-less vocal style that's just as clean as it's been the last few albums, though Björn Gelotte's writing leaves little to take away with.

I must note that as the last track, "Liberation" is strange and relentlessly poppy, perhaps the pop-iest construction In Flames have ever belted out. Instead of really summing up what the album sonically goes after, the sounds sort of plead with us that the band wants to deviate from themselves and it somewhat throws you off. Whether or not that's implied by the title, the echoed guitar strumming and revelatory choral section come off like a spoof of the genre in the vein of Russell Brand's Infant Sorrow or a borderline alt-rock band such as Cold. Repetitious and too serious for its own good, we can only be so thankful that the twelve tracks prior do enough to leave this track off any playlist.

Sounds of a Playground Fading does nothing for the In Flames canon other than to exist in it, and that's really okay. Like the four albums before it, Sounds continues to follow in the same musical direction that has more or less branded In Flames for the foreseeable future, but even without the band's founder in the realm, the music still streams along. It may stick a little too close to formula, but with some fine tracks and continuing trends, Sounds rarely fades as its title implies. For those listeners getting their first taste of In Flames, the album will come off as appealing, but for those clamoring fans out there, don't get your hopes up.

3/5

Tell us what you think of In Flames and Sounds of a Playground Fading, now available from Century Media Records.

In Flames - "Deliver Us"


In Flames - "Ropes"

6.21.2011

Album Review: Bon Iver - Bon Iver


Genre: Folk/Indie
Origin: Eau Claire, Wisconsin

As the lyrics to the first track on the album “Perth” go, Bon Iver is “breaking new ground” with their second full-length album, inviting us to join them in exploring new sonic territories. “Perth” summons our attention with its war-like drumbeat. Departing from extensive use of acoustic guitar, Bon Iver still offers us a dreamy and smooth breath of relaxation with this album. The first track alone is like waking up rested and ready to take on the day.

Bon Iver has grown from their first album and their development as a group is demonstrated through their eponymous album. With each song flowing effortlessly into the next, this album is guaranteed to satisfy, if not, surpass the expectations of fans, with a deliverance of more intricate song progressions, still holding onto their minimalist roots, such as in the second track “Minnesota, WI.”

With the refrain “never gonna break” repeated throughout the song, “Minnesota, WI” offers a struggle and overcoming, with delicate finger-picking and saxophone, coming together seamlessly. It sounds like water dribbling down a brook, celebrating the beauty of simplicity.

“Holocene,” the third, and longest track on the album is the perfect representation of what this album’s all about. It returns to the Bon Iver we once knew and cherished yet reveals a growth, a maturity that only comes with time and reflection. Listening to this song is like riding along a peaceful journey toward whatever the listener most desires, a quest for self-identity, peace of mind, love, stability, family and friendship, it all comes together in this song. This song is like realizing how small a person is in the world and letting the knowledge become empowering, as when Vernon croons, “and at once I knew I was not magnificent.”

This album is nourishing to the soul. It shows off what Bon Iver can do, even what you may not expect. With such tracks as “Towers” more upbeat and with a faster tempo most Bon Iver songs yet executed just as well. “Hinnom, TX” on the other hand might have took the experimentation a little too far, but it’s still better than the average crap we hear on the radio these days. “Calgary” chosen as the first single, does exemplify the departure to a new kind of sound for this album, yet other tracks drown it out in their power and magnitude.

And just when you think the album starts to lose momentum, “Wash.” saves it and once again, delivers what fans crave from Bon Iver. A stripped down sound, leaving the bare essentials, echoing, traversing through the inner workings of the mind, coming out the other side with a new perspective. “Wash.” is the ah-ha moment, when the light bulb goes off and one has a sudden realization, an epiphany. Just like “Bon Iver” plays on the French term “good winter,” this track hones in on the fragility of new life, renewal, among the desolation of a long winter, in a barren field.

Approaching the last song "Beth/Rest," listeners may be surprised at how out of place this track feels. This is the kind of song one could imagine playing at the end credits of a cheesy '80s or '90s romance film. In addition to and may be as a result of that, when the song/album ends, it leaves off on a question mark without much resolution. It kind of leaves you hanging and questioning if this is really the end of such a (for the most part) solid record. Despite this, when it ends the album and some of the more memorable moments linger in the mind leaving the listener wanting more. But don’t worry, fans and first-time listeners; if this is only the second album for Bon Iver, imagine what’s in store for the future.

4.5/5

Bon Iver - "Holocene"


Bon Iver - "Calgary"


Bon Iver's full-length second album is available now from indie record label Jagjaguwar.

-SS

6.17.2011

Album Review: Battles - Gloss Drop


Genre: Experimental/Progressive/Post-Rock
Origin: New York City, NY

What's important to know about Battles' sophomore effort, Gloss Drop, is that it knows where it's coming from. You've got a band whose main steel support, in the form of guitarist/vocalist Tyondai Braxton, decided to quit after the critical success of their debut LP, Mirrored. With the remaining three members left in the dust and without a true "voice," they do what what any band should do once an important band member just gets up and leaves: say "Fuck'em" and continue making music anyways.

This method doesn't always work (see Liam Gallagher and/or Beady Eye), but this, in essence, is what partially makes Gloss Drop a much more impressive and kind of satisfying outing than their debut. It shows that these three musicians have the ability to move forward without hesitation and the right attitude to produce an album that feels more like a "comeback" than just another release from potential yet unfortunate washouts due to inner struggle (see Chinese Democracy).

First and foremost, Gloss Drop is quite stellar. Without Braxton, Battles make up for certain tracks with featured guests, and these tracks are some of the best on here. "Ice Cream" featuring world artist Matias Aguayo was born to be a single, bringing the most accessible elements the band has provided yet. I don't imply that it's a "mainstream" song, but it definitely brings Battles unique sound to a new table. It allows the new three-piece outfit to fit into a finer groove and gives them an opportunity to relax, given the situation. "My Machines" featuring new wave guru Gary Numan flows seamlessly as the centerpiece of the album, and "Sweetie and Shag" featuring Kazu Makino, like "Ice Cream," is just as sweet as the album cover.

The rest of the album is comprised of instrumental tracks. Mirrored featured a wonderful blend of experimental and progressive/post-rock influences so technical that it became the epitome of the so-called "math rock" genre, and, surprisingly, Gloss Drop doesn't stray far away from that same sound. I would go as far as to say it mostly relishes in them. Opener "Africastle" and tracks like "Futura," "Wall Street" and "White Electric" display a kind of epic musicality represented in the dark bass and keyboard and the sometimes heavy drum work, almost within the same vein as Mogwai or even Dream Theater. Thankfully, Gloss Drop is not solely restricted to this sound, in that it variably and thoughtfully balances between tracks as if to form some bigger experiment at play.

And play is what Battles do. There's no looking to make an impression on anyone or vying to achieve greatness here. On Gloss Drop, they're playing because they want to, not because they have to. Fact of the matter is, Battles just so happen to showcase talented and revered musicianship, and the compositions that follow suit just so happen to almost always work. They may sometimes sound like they're shooting to the stars to get your approval, but that isn't Battles prerogative. That sound actually is that good.

Let's not forget the quality on this thing. When Battles want you to hear everything, you hear EVERYTHING. Every nook and cranny is satisfied with clear instrumentation, and the effects have this natural progression that make the experience feel lofty without pretentious notions. It doesn't bombard your ears too much, though luckily their catchy harmonies make-up for it. It's also not so much a new or inspired direction from these guys or anyone in this genre, but it does make for an admirably realized and produced outing, to say the least.

Gloss Drop isn't entirely the apex of experimental rock, but the word "joy" instantly comes to mind with just one spin of this record. It's certainly an outstanding effort from a band that you would think, given the situation, would be found left with failed potential. Battles have overcome their mishap by still providing the same attitude, effectiveness and mind-boggling musicality found on their debut, while also composing some of the most accessible tracks the band has put out yet. It doesn't confine you to its sound, but it will most likely have a grip on you from start to finish.

4.5/5

Take a listen to a couple tracks below and let us know what you think of the reformed Battles and Gloss Drop, now available from Warp Records.

Battles - "Ice Cream" (feat. Matias Aguayo)


Battles - "Wall Street"


-DJ

6.10.2011

Album Review: Black Lips - Arabia Mountain


Genre: Garage Rock/Punk
Origin: Atlanta, GA

The cover of Black Lips latest release, Arabia Mountain, has the band posed in obnoxious outfits amidst floating, vivid, almost drug-induced clouds and half-naked women wearing masks. This is and always has been the attitude of Black Lips, a band that doesn't take things too seriously. From the lo-fi and raw productions to the "Let's have a drink and sing a song" vibe, they've seemed to capture an essential "spirit" found within the comfort of just rocking the fuck out in their own undivided space. Nothing entirely odd about that, right?

Yet on this cover, the band looks out into the distance, as if fixated on an object or a person. Perhaps the thing in question is Mark Ronson, the hot-shot producer looking to give Black Lips a discovery of clean production while still maintaining their eclectic attitudes. You would think this move toward a more "pop" production status would be commercial suicide, but thankfully, with the brighter sound, better atmosphere and more intelligible lyrics, it may be the smartest move the band has made yet.

Arabia Mountain is set out to give you a break and have a drink, bringing along your friends for good measure. There is a lot more coming out of Black Lips' amps than you'd originally think from their past albums like 200 Million Thousand or even Good Bad Not Evil, especially now that you can hear close to everything from the flowery guitar and drums to the saxophone and theremin (courtesy of one Sean Lennon). Nothing is inherently lost by going through this bigger method of maintaining quality if they can still bring the fun, punk personality. Black Lips greatly succeed in that regard.

There are just a lot of great hooks on these tracks. "Modern Art," "Mad Dog," "Bone Marrow," "Mr Driver," to name a few. They provide a kind of "Summer Mixtape" for those looking to spend their days by the pool and have their friends attend. Even "Spidey's Curse," perhaps the most "pop" song on the album, features some really chill vibes even when talking about Peter Parker and Spider-Man. "Dumpster Dive" is also equally lyrical, in that it really talks about what the title implies - living in a dumpster.

Most of the songs on here are pretty good, though there are a few that range somewhere from good to merely decent. Songs like "Raw Meat" and "New Direction," as fine as they are sonically, just sound familiar. They come off as some kind of song you'd hear off a greatest hits compilation of The Ramones or The Clash. The influence is understandable (if that was even their aim), but they don't make the songs fit in their own realm.

Although about 90% of the songs do not run longer than three minutes, Arabia Mountain still feels long at sixteen tracks. There are fantastic tracks toward the end of the album, including the aforementioned "New Direction" and the explosion of joy in "Noc-A-Homa," but the sound does somewhat lose steam. That isn't to say that any of these songs are "filler" because all of the songs on here are fine additions to the album, but it almost makes you wish an EP or new album was cut from it.

Either way, Arabia Mountain's pros greatly outweigh the cons. It's by far not an album a Black Lips fan should doubt in any case. Black Lips keep what they've always had and store it at the core, but now it sounds like this is what they've been trying to achieve since their start. Garage rock or not, cleaner production and personal freedom in partial thanks to Mark Ronson, Arabia Mountain is admirably celebratory.

4/5

Black Lips - "Modern Art"


Black Lips - "Mad Dog"


Arabia Mountain is now available from Vice Records.

-DJ

6.08.2011

Indie Premiere: The Sound of Sunsets

Genre: Indie Folk/Acoustic

Watching the sunset is a bittersweet experience. One can feel many different feelings rushing through them as they stare at the massive star that brings life to our little, isolated corner of the universe. As it slowly and gracefully dips below the horizon we, as humans, are presented with a very direct challenge to our understanding of our daily lives. In simplest terms, watching the sunset is an existential experience that, under certain circumstances, can verge on spiritual. Though this may not be the intent of The Sound of Sunsets, it is certainly what I take away from their eponymous debut album.

The Sound of Sunsets is the work of San Francisco Bay Area musician Zack Hunter. The first thing that gleams off of this album is the quality of the production. Recorded, mixed and mastered over the course of 3 months in Hunter's bedroom during a busy final semester at college, the smoothness of these tracks is pretty impressive. From a casual listen, the album could be derided as a collection of similar, easy-listening songs; but that would be giving very little credit to what is a valiant first effort by a young indie musician making his introductory wave in the indie scene. Rather, the album carries a consistent theme of searching for hope and meaning in a dark reality, much like the existential crisis brought upon by staring up at the starry sky at night, or by watching the sunset for that matter. Just as these crises tend to carry a certain spiritual weight to them, so too does The Sound of Sunsets. One of Hunter's writing inspirations is his Christian faith and it is clear on some level in many of the songs on the album. It is important to note that this is by no means Christian worship music; the songwriter's faith is simply an important aspect to his emotional experience and so it is reflected in his lyrics.

SoS sounds like an indie collaboration between The Fray and Iron and Wine, with some songs resembling one more than the other. Two tracks that really stand out on the album and also demonstrate the sound that Hunter has crafted are "Stumble" and "Around Me." The former sounds like it could have been taken off of The Fray's How to Save a Life. It leads with haunting and innocent guitar picking and finishes with the notes of a gentle piano. "Around Me" falls on the Iron and Wine side of the SoS spectrum. Hunter's vocals are soft and almost whispered as he taps into a feeling of restlessness: "Is this the same, or is it different? Why can't I live a life consistent?" These two tracks act as the cornerstones of the album in that they establish the two sounds that SoS seeks to coalesce, though they are also distinct sounds unto themselves, both vocally and instrumentally. This combination works very well for the kind of vibe that SoS works to create.

The Sound of Sunsets is nothing revolutionary but it is a great piece of work from a new artist entering the scene with an interesting musical voice. The tone that this first album has set for Hunter and his future work is a promising one. As one listens to the album, great potential seems to have a pulse just beneath the surface. SoS' sophomore effort is definitely something to look forward to if this early work is any indication.

Crashing Symbols reviews are regularly accompanied by a number rating out of 5. However, given that this is the debut work of a local indie band, I have chosen to abstain from this black and white standard in favor of letting the review speak for itself, along with the sample tracks below.

The Sound of Sunsets - "Stumble"


The Sound of Sunsets - "Around Me"

The debut album from The Sound of Sunsets is available for purchase now in the iTunes Store.

-JB

6.03.2011

New Coldplay track - "Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall"

Those Britpop wunderkinds are back with a track off their up-coming follow-up to the world-wide success of 2008's Viva La Vida. It's called "Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall."

Yeah. If you didn't think the title was enough to make you do a double-check, just look at some of the lyrics:

I TURN THE MUSIC UP, I GOT MY RECORDS ON
FROM UNDERNEATH THE RUBBLE SING A REBEL SONG
DON'T WANT TO SEE ANOTHER GENERATION DROP
I'D RATHER BE A COMMA THAN A FULL STOP


Maybe you should actually listen to the song before assuming the worst, but then again, I can't say I'm digging that either. We're looking at one of the biggest bands on the planet, and we've had three years without a record, so check it out for yourself and tell us what you think.

6.02.2011

Album Review: Foster The People - Torches

Genre: Indie Rock/ Pop
Origin: Los Angeles, CA

I can remember the time and the place where I first heard “Pumped Up Kicks.” It was the middle of my last semester of college. I was sitting at my school’s pub debating whether I’d be more productive studying as I ate or eating, then studying. When I heard this song; my head started bobbing, feet tapping, and transporting me out of my surroundings into the fun summer just a few months away. Life’s mediocrities aside, hearing this song made me decide to put my book down, enjoy my food, and not to take life so seriously.

I’m not saying “Pumped Up Kicks” changed my life whatsoever. But it’s exactly what I needed during that stressful time between midterms and finals when you realize, soon you will be shoved out into the real world with years of schooling and you’re either going to sink or swim. With the full-length album release just a few days ago, called Torches, does LA-based Foster the People deliver the light to fiend off the mosquitoes this summer? Not completely, but it’s a start.

The album starts off with a carpe diem attitude, with one of its catchiest songs, “Helena Beat.” With the foremost lyrics: “Sometimes life it takes you by the hand / It puts you down before you know it / It's gone and you're dead again,” you know you’re in for a chilled-out yet upbeat ride to kick off your summer. My favorite track on the album really hits home with the lyrics: “You know those days when you wanted to choose / To not get out of bed and get lost in your head again.” It doesn’t say everything’s going to be alright, but it offers the possibility.

Most of the songs on this album are hit-or-miss, but there are some tracks that really stand out. “Call It What You Want” offers another dancey tune to shake off your burdens, while “Color on the Walls (Don’t Stop),” hints at the more annoying tendencies of pop with a repetitive cookie-cutter pattern we have already heard many times before. The reason why this album is not getting five stars would have to be the repetitive lyrics and patterning in its songs, as well as a lack of originality. Songs like “Waste,” while quite enjoyable, it is plain to see that this group is channeling what MGMT has already done before, that seemingly fresh, off-kilter pop aesthetic, for an alternative audience.

“Houdini,” the second single off this album, offers another well-crafted tune for the summer. It may not be killed on the radio through too much airplay like “Pumped Up Kicks” though. This track is more nuanced and complex than the previous single, with more variation in both the vocals and instrumentation. Though the groups channeling of MGMT is even more pronounced here, when have we dismissed a pop song for being slightly unoriginal?

Another track that stands out would have to be “Miss You.” With lyrics nearing poetry, once again touching upon the psyche of one who needs to ‘just let go’ for a little while, this song truly lets you get lost, or on the flip-side, immersed in the self-reflective present. With a characteristic push-pull drum beat, beautiful vocalization, vivid lyrics, and energetic instrumentation, this song, like many on the album are like the flames of torches. Like the transitory nature of fire, or summer, Torches, while not perfect, is fun while it lasts.

3.5/5

Foster the People - "Helena Beat"


Foster the People - "Houdini"


Torches is now available on Columbia Records.

-SS

6.01.2011

Joint Review: Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys


Genre: Indie/Alternative

For this particular album, both JB and DJ offer their opinions. Take from them what you will.

For those new to Death Cab, the prevailing energy on their previous albums has been one of 80% hopelessness, 20% hope. Lead singer Ben Gibbard pretty much set the mold for 21st Century indie heartbreak songwriting. Each song felt like the sentimental movie that plays in the head of a recent dumpee; but always with the hint that love wasn't dead, it had just taken a break for the time being. It was this child-like teaspoon of optimism that kept Death Cab relatable and heart-wrenching because at the end of the day we've all been there. However, with their 2008 effort, Narrow Stairs, Gibbard found himself in a very dark place. He recently came clean about his struggles during the writing and recording of the album; he was wrestling with alcoholism and felt totally defeated. The album lacked the taste of hope that is necessary for music to be poignant and the album suffered for it. In three years time, Gibbard has made a 180º turn in both his personal life and, consequently, his creative efforts. He has kicked the bottle to the curb and made indie film sweetheart Zooey Deschanel his bride. For the first time in their 13-year careers, Death Cab have released a happy album about the joys of love, not the bitter pitfalls.

From start to finish, Codes and Keys, seems to tell a story. It is by no means a concept album but the order of the songs and their content are interesting and worthy of taking note. The album opener "Home is a Fire" suggests a longing for something different. The song ends with the line "Nothing's the same as yesterday," signaling the start of something new for our incurably longing and introspective protagonist. The next few songs seem to chronicle the disintegration of a past love (or life) and the cautious progress towards finding a new path. The album really hits its stride surprisingly on first single, "You Are a Tourist." As Gibbard has stated recently in interviews, the song is really a collection of affirmations; as the first verse states: "If there's a burning in your heart, don't be alarmed." This optimistic outlook is really the message of the album. At this point, Death Cab does something surprising. The following track "Unobstructed Views" begins very dark and slowly builds to an extremely positive lyrical exclamation of "just our love, just our love!" It drifts along with a haunting piano base that grows with beauty upon each successive listen. From this point on, Gibbard takes us on a 3-song flight of storytelling-as-lovesong, then a declaration of living completely in the moment on "St. Peter's Cathedral." Codes and Keys finally comes to a conclusion with "Stay Young, Go Dancing." Easily the most explicitly positive title in all of DCfC's music, this is a song that hammers in the final message of enjoying love and life because they are truly one in the same when done right.

Guitarist Chris Walla's arrangements and production are silky smooth in a manner befitting of a love letter album. Drummer Jason McGerr and bassist Nick Harmer provide a solid rhythm section perfectly complementing an album so lyrically-focused. The bottom line is this: on Codes and Keys, Death Cab for Cutie pushes their music into a new space both sonically and thematically. This is what a band looks like as it grows up. This is what a band looks like as its sound evolves beautifully. This is what a band looks like when it is in perfect sync with its songwriting. And to my fellow Death Cab fans, this is what Ben Gibbard sounds like when he's happy. I have to say I, for one, couldn't be happier for him.

4.5/5

-JB

Another Take:

"We are the same," says singer Ben Gibbard on the track "Underneath The Sycamore" on Death Cab for Cutie's seventh studio album, entitled Codes and Keys. It doesn't feel too far off as a generalization of the album, as it tries to sonically change things up without ever embracing it, giving tracks a sense of concept without the execution expected from a band that usually pulls it off. For many fans of the band, Codes and Keys may probably be considered as a slight step-up from the directly same-ole, same-ole musical approach of Narrow Stairs in 2008, but for occasional listeners like this reviewer, it may only somewhat satisfy their fill of Death Cab for the entirety of the record.

There's no doubt that Death Cab for Cutie sounds good here. Their sound is what has made them a homestead in the alternative rock world, utilizing intricate songwriting from singer Ben Gibbard and implementing cathartic atmospheres and sounds that can confound any average listener. Songs like "Transatlanticism" and "We Looked Like Giants" didn't pretend to show their colors, allowing the band to find inner-balance and seek a freedom from ordinary musical trends. It is these situations in which Death Cab breaks the mold and works best.

This is somewhat weaved throughout certain tracks on Codes and Keys, such as on the soothing album breaker "Unobstructed Views" and the aforementioned "Underneath The Sycamore," but for the most part, Death Cab seem to be undercooking their potential. Album opener "Home Is a Fire" starts off well enough, almost with the promise that this may be the album that finds Death Cab finding new sonic direction, but it never quite lives up to that promise. As catchy as "Some Boys" may be with its Depeche Mode-influenced hook, it doesn't really acquire a lead-up to anything transitional or revelatory like in some of the band's earlier work. There's no true sense of "change" that one might expect other than the possibility that the majority of songs can achieve greater potential. The only sense here is one of wanting more with each listen, and not in quantity.

Why they decided to not take the extra step to give these songs the breadth necessary to make them full and promising is somewhat disappointing, but it's still hard to complain that they don't have proper musicianship. There's nothing entirely wrong about Codes and Keys as far as what sounds they create and themes they discuss. Those qualities will remain with Death Cab until they really decide to shake things up, but in the meantime, Codes and Keys turns out to be a temporary blessing, with a few standouts here and there that stay true to Death Cab's earlier efforts on other albums, but that don't entirely change the game as one might've expected.

3/5

-DJ

Check out the tracks below and see what you can make of Codes and Keys, now available at all major music retailers from Atlantic Records.

Death Cab for Cutie - "Underneath The Sycamore"


Death Cab for Cutie - "Stay Young, Go Dancing"

Vid Break! The Grand Rapids LipDub

This video has been making the rounds ever since famous film critic Roger Ebert hailed it as "the greatest music video ever made." His point is a valid one - the video features what appears to be the entire town of Grand Rapids, MI in a 10-minute, one-take lip dub of Don McLean's "American Pie". The video is in response to Newsweek calling Grand Rapids a "dying city," but it's pretty apparent from this video that the city is filled with people who love and take care of one another. Appropriate, then, that this is the song that's chosen because the song is about death and dying, and the video is easily a call to life and living.

As for the video itself, this is no simple feat. The steadiness of the man behind the handheld camera throughout the entire one-take is impeccable, and it rides and moves with fluidity riding backwards down a street, turning to see a wedding and a concert and eventually landing on a scooter and into a helicopter. It feels like the build-up to something grand (hence Grand Rapids?) and then goes even further by the video's end. It's a fine moment in music for sure, but an even finer one in choreography and direction.


-DJ

5.31.2011

Album Review: My Morning Jacket - Circuital


Genre: Southern/Alternative Rock
Origin: Louisville, Kentucky

You've got yourself two album releases on this day, May 31st, that come from two big names in alt-rock: Death Cab for Cutie and My Morning Jacket. No, this write-up is not meant to compare the two, but it's worthy to note that they both inspire some of kind of musical transition. While one appears to be switching things up a bit by opting for a more electronic and upbeat tone, the other is channeling and reconfiguring their previous (and better) efforts with more variation. It sort of sounds like they're both headed in different directions, but that also appears to be their main similarity. Deciding which is the better album and which band better understates or embraces the change? That's entirely up to you.

But here we are with Circuital, the latest from My Morning Jacket, and they've done quite well with themselves. This is their sixth LP in twelve years, and overtime it has become quite obvious that they are ones to offer a variety of sounds and instrumentation with each forthcoming record. Even if those efforts were a little off-base on their most recent outing (2008's Evil Urges), My Morning Jacket have never once acted as if they've doubted their sound. And why would they? Their Southern influence in the alt-rock world has only made for more interesting textures in the realm, and Circuital doesn't stop in bringing that to us.

Then again, that also doesn't stop Circuital from feeling like a little more of the same. The whole "return to roots" approach that fans are clamoring to is a rather useless sentiment or intended pun because this is a band that tries out something new all the time. To expect anything less would be unorthodox, but to expect anything more would almost be overkill. In this regard, Circuital is another notch in MMJ's belt, providing some nice tunes but nothing out of the ordinary. It may try to be channeling Z moreso than Evil Urges, but the ballpark still has the same turf.

Band leader Jim James also seems to be having a little more "fun" this go-around. His songwriting talks about drugs and prison on "Outta My System" that are so on-the-nose it's somewhat laughable. It works because the sound is lively and reverberated, and that's mostly where Circuital finds the mold. "The Day is Coming," even if a little more "serious," plays off rather splendidly because his words blend within the confines of the music they provide. The first half, for the most part, is just generally pleasing.

"Holdin On To Black Metal," the album's splitting point, is where things go afloat. While sonically appealing, it doesn't mesh the same way that the album has already established for itself. It let's the air out of the balloon by taking whatever flowed before it and instead fumbling with it. More importantly, if James's lyrics talk about the darkness of the genre, why do we hear bellowing horns and harmonizing children? The song becomes more of a confused and conflicting effort than a realized one, and it's quite a turn off in the scheme of things.

The second half is just a neutral affair. Songs like "You Wanna Freak Out" or the sardonically titled "Slow Slow Tune" sort of straddle along in their influences. It's understandable that bands utilize a genre or artist's influence in their music - there's almost no way not to these days - but this half of the record almost teeters on self-mockery. They sound close to many other songs in their genre, right down to James vocal style. It's just plain, and that's somewhat of a cheated feeling, is it not?

Circuital isn't necessarily a "rebound" since their use of variety doesn't actually change anything this time around, but it generally defines and correctly titles their continued use of it and the balancing act that ensues. It's the kind of hit-or-miss record that MMJ usually releases, so nothing's different. It remains true to what they've done in the past, though sometimes it lacks lyrically and musically. It's not necessarily a case of laziness, but sometimes it doesn't take the opportunity to take some initiative.

3/5

My Morning Jacket - "The Day Is Coming"


My Morning Jacket - "Outta My System"


Circuital is now available on ATO Records.

-DJ