4.02.2011

The Saturday Symbol: Stanley Donwood

In honor of this week's physical release of Radiohead's 8th LP, The King of Limbs, The Saturday Symbol would like to recognize the guy behind every single one of Radiohead's albums since 1995's The Bends, Stanley Donwood. He's worked on his own, of course, but he is widely recognized with creating some of the most iconic album art in music history.

(Clicking on the image will direct you to his website)

4.01.2011

Friday's End Note: A Bay Area Original - Not Just a One-Hit Wonder

Third Eye Blind

Genre: Alternative

I wish you would step back from that ledge my friend/Cut ties with all the lies that you've been living in/And if you do not want to see me again/I would understaaa-aaaa-aaaand

These lyrics from "Jumper" (sung just as typed, and usually horribly) are the first thing most people think of when they hear the name Third Eye Blind. What an unfortunate mistake.

Along with "Semi-Charmed Life," the first single off their self-titled debut album, this is all a lot of people know or care to know about Third Eye Blind, a band that many dub a 90's one-hit wonder band in the vein of Everclear or Marcy Playground. In reality, they may have been more of a one-album wonder, with their proceeding albums receiving very little mainstream success. Again, I say this is unfortunate. I do so because Third Eye Blind has released some of the most honest work of the last decade and a half. Their lyrics are simple, not cryptic; their music instantly evoking emotion.

The following are what I consider to be the single best songs from each of TEB's four LPs:

"Motorcycle Drive-By" off Third Eye Blind (1997)




This heart-on-your-sleeve account of the crumbling of a relationship and the subsequent bittersweet feelings of lonely freedom crescendo to a catharsis that is unmatched in many so-called "emo" songs of the punk persuasion. The song ends on a quiet, tender note, returning to the sadness that is expressed at the beginning.


"Slow Motion" off Blue (1999)




Originally released in the US as an instrumental track only because of worries about its lyrical content, "Slow Motion" is a searing social satire of the movie-of-the-week treatment given to murderers by the media so readily during the 90's. Some of lead singer, Stephan Jenkins', lyrics can be taken as harsh, but as a work of art, they really make a great point.

"Blinded" off Out of the Vein (2003)




"Blinded" is a song with an absolutely irresistible level of energy. There's nothing overly complicated here musically; it's really one of TEB's poppier songs. But the sentiment in the lyrics is so genuine and speaks to the experience of attempting to operate on a platonic level with a former love in such a unique way that it becomes a standout track.

"Monotov's Private Opera" off Ursa Major (2009)


This track discusses that feeling as we get older of sorting out where we are, how we got there, and what it all means. It also showcases TEB's origin as a San Francisco band. The song has a laid-back, somewhat contemplative vibe to it, capturing the ethereal quality of the Northern California coast that is reflected so pervasively throughout the Bay Area.

-JB

3.31.2011

Crash Thursday: The Weeknd - House of Balloons


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

We're only three full months into the new year, and we've already had a plethora of familiar artists putting out some quite outstanding music, even if the music does sound a bit same ol', same ol'. Now comes an unexpected discovery called House of Balloons by an up-and-coming R&B outfit from Toronto called The Weeknd. I say discovery because I had only heard about this artist for a couple days, but if there's any indication that 2011 is the next big year in music, their mixtape helps to cement that notion in many ways.

To put it simply, House of Balloons is sinful bliss. Topics like drugs abound throughout this 9-track mixtape, and they could not sound any better when the moods are escalated by The Weeknd's wonderful production and experimental beats and hooks that place you directly into a world so majestic you may never want to leave. Sure, these lyrics are nothing new to a genre like R&B, but they take interesting paths amidst this dreary wonderland The Weeknd has in store for us.

The majority of the album plays like its album cover and title imply - it's black and white lyrically and the music floats above you but discusses topics that send you straight to hell. Basically, it's an album that plays off an idea of contradictions, and that's the band's greatest strengths. Sometimes songs like "Coming Down," "High For This," and the title track implement sounds that probably should not find themselves together at one time, but The Weeknd's indelible mixture of distance and closeness feel right somehow. There are moments where autotune are used, but even in those instances do I find myself entranced in the composition and conception. I'm reading up that the title track uses a sample of "Happy House" by Siouxsie and the Banshees, and even that feels contradictory given the overall mood of the song, but it's mixed very well to the point that The Weeknd makes it works.

House of Balloons also has some damn sexy songs, such as "What You Need" and "The Morning" that make the entire experience even more defining. I don't necessarily mean sexy in that the songs talk about sex, but that the overall ambience produces a texture that's ear-gasmicly inclined. I enjoyed the vocal arrangements melding into the synth pads and electronics that, while sounding almost computerized, give the song the much needed natural element. "What You Need", takes off to what is instantly an album standout.

The only thing that really makes this from becoming something more than just an R&B album is the insistence of applying the same techniques to each song to maintain a linearity. Yes, each song features the dissonances and contradictions as I discussed above and that's very unique, but even THAT becomes quite more expected over the course of the tracks and slightly wears off. However, I absolutely dig what The Weeknd has to offer, and I can see House of Balloons becoming something that warrants the time and the energy to listen to by the thousands. Given the great production, the catchy beats and hooks, and the dissonant if consistent moods, I think The Weeknd are ones to look out for in the near future.

4.25/5

The Weeknd - "House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls"


The Weeknd - "What You Need"


House of Balloons is self-released and is available for free over at their official website.

Crash Thursday: Radiohead - The King of Limbs


Genre: Alternative Rock
Origin: Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England

(The King of Limbs has been available since its release this past February as a paid digital download, but considering it's physical release nationwide on Tuesday, I thought I'd make an official review here)

At a short run time and only 8 tracks, Radiohead has found itself on the middle of a tightrope. They're coming off the heels of the remarkably successful In Rainbows, cryptically revealing new material that hearkens back to albums prior, and having fans just in reach of having any new material at all. Does that mean that by reaching the end of the tightrope they'll be able to achieve the fan base they've created? Absolutely not. I seem to recall a album similar that had the challenging job to overcome the hugely successful OK Computer, and wound up in a place of personal reflection and exploration. It was not an album that achieved notoriety upon release and took a good amount of time to realize the intimacy that was Kid A. Readers, The King of Limbs is in the same vein - more experience than normal listening.

If you don't already know Radiohead, all I will really say is that they always tinker and experiment in every way of musical production, from cryptic titling to ambiguous mixing. Like the song titles imply, beginning with the magnificently clouded "Bloom," the album does exactly both things listed, juggling the idea of growth both lyrically and sonically, as I'm sure the album will likely grow upon the listener. Also sonically obvious in this album starter is Radiohead's return to "Amnesiac" territory, utilizing non-centric beats that are very much in the foreground compared to any other instrument repeated. The looped piano adds to the frenzy, and by this point you're wondering if the rest of the album is going to be nothing like "In Rainbows". The thing is, Radiohead has always had the amazing ability to take what is incomprehensible and make it unbelievably real. "Morning Mr Magpie" makes a seamless transition, again relying heavily on beat-making than anything else, but the indelible Thom Yorke sings so wearily (as he often does) that it helps bring some insanity to a clean finish. It's quick, feisty, and just plain outstanding.

Tracks "Little by Little" and "Feral" round out a very textured and mysterious first half, with frenetic electronic drum beats and soundscapes that sound oftentimes lonely and lost. Radiohead seems to have aimed in a direction of truly finding oneself within the sounds, that is until reaching "Lotus Flower," which is by far the most accessible song on the album. The groove is representative to efforts on "Hail to the Thief," presenting the last half of the album with a greater sense of being found. It features some of Yorke's finest lyrical composition and provides us with more instrumentation than could be found in the first half.

"Codex" features heavy reverbed piano over glimmering sound effects and Ed O'Brien's oh-so harmonious wail. It's arguably this album's "Pyramid Song", featuring a piano melody that's very much in the same scheme, but overall in composition. It's the one tender piece this album needed to reinforce Radiohead's canny ability to create beauty within the chaos, and it helps to keep the flow of what is beginning to be a "Radiohead" second half.

"Give Up The Ghost" brings acoustic guitar into the mix, along with chirping birds to signify the album's overarching themes of light in the dark. It's a calm, peacefully frightening song, if that makes any sense. Thom Yorke sings, "Don't haunt me/Don't hurt me" along melancholy chords that don't necessarily build but keep steady to make contrast. The album closer "Separator" is just as melancholy but fittingly poetic, producing a sound that takes us to the end of the beginning of a journey into darkness.

I wouldn't necessarily call this a concept album, but if there was any way to discover what it is that Radiohead is driving, they've certainly made me want to spend the time searching. You can hear past influences living amongst the sounds here, but Radiohead's latest is one that will most certainly be challenging, considering it has to live up to the remarkably successful In Rainbows. Yet The King of Limbs excels in pursuing intimacy and texture in the vein of Kid A, another album trying to find its voice amidst the huge success of OK Computer. I'm certain The King of Limbs will find the limbs it needs to grow and become one of Radiohead's considerably better efforts.

4.5/5

Radiohead - "Morning Mr Magpie"


Radiohead - "Codex"


The King of Limbs is now available in physical from via TBD Records.

3.30.2011

Vid Break! Death Cab's Chris Walla Talks New Album

With Death Cab for Cutie's new single "You Are a Tourist" hitting the radio this week, I thought it would be the perfect time to share this video of BBC Radio 1's Zane Lowe interviewing DCFC guitarist/long-time producer, Chris Walla. Walla discusses the band's decision to use a third-party producer for the first time in their 13-year, 6 (and soon to be 7) album career as well as the minimalist direction they have chosen to take for their upcoming album, Codes and Keys, dropping May 31st.

Walla is eloquent and affable as usual, a reminder of the fact that Death Cab is one of the most intelligent and down-to-Earth indie bands out there today.


P.S. Here is the new single off Codes and Keys:

Death Cab for Cutie - "You Are a Tourist"


-JB

3.29.2011

Take 2 Tuesday: "I Ran Away" by Coldplay


As a B-side to the wonderfully hypnotic "The Scientist" from A Rush of Blood to the Head, "I Ran Away" makes a lot of sense. It compliments the former in both lyrical content and somberness in every way, but while both songs' outlook can be interpreted as deftly bleak, "I Ran Away" comes out as significantly immediate. There's no question what "The Scientist" does in retrospect to the core of the album, but "I Ran Away" is a slice of Coldplay that need not to be taken amongst the others. Tangled in it's dreamy yet nightmarish landscape, Coldplay succeed in taking emotions higher and spinning rock a new record. Take a closer look.

Coldplay - I Ran Away


-DJ

3.28.2011

In Case of the Mondays: Flaming Lips/Neon Indians ask "Is David Bowie Dying?"


Wayne Coyne and the Oklahoma psych-rockers known as the Flaming Lips have teamed up with chillwavers Neon Indian to produce a 4-track, 12-inch EP whose title has yet to be publicly announced. This is the first in line of what the Flaming Lips have touted as a big year of new single-based releases, and as such, this EP has already sold out. Luckily for us, One Thirty BPM has released the first track "Is David Bowie Dying?" on SoundCloud. It's quite obviously the Flaming Lips continuing the overtly radical and distorted sounds heard on their last album Embryonic, but there is definitely a note of gentler and more minimalist approaches that Neon Indian provides. It's a nifty track that I'm willing to just close my eyes to and tune out the rest of the world. If you ever have those kinds of Mondays, then that may be just what you need.

Flaming Lips & Neon Indian - "Is David Bowie Dying?" by One Thirty BPM

-DJ

3.27.2011

The Benchwarmer - Reissues Can Be An Issue

You know that Pink Floyd album that you've played to death on your record player? It's scratched up and sounds like it's been through two world wars, but you have to admit that you still love the thing for it's sentiment. It's also probably out of print, so you know that hanging on to it is still worth it, even if you can't really listen to how it sounds anymore.

Now, you've just found out it's been reissued.


Reissues are usually an attempt by companies to sell the same product either because they didn't sound right when they were first released or buyer interest has re-peaked. A lot of reissues are also "remasters," in which sound engineers try to take the original master recordings and re-press them for rerelease so that new consumers can have a brand new vinyl or CD and have it sound exactly as it did way back when. I know, there's a lot of "re-" prefixed words in this blurb, but I believe the intention is obvious - everything is done again to make you feel comfortable.

This could be a generational thing, as I stated above that companies like to branch out to newer listeners. Other times, though, there may have been a pressing that may have done justice using the original production techniques, but now existing on newer technology sounds pretty weak and needs a few adjustments here and there.

When am I getting to the question, you ask? No, that wasn't the question, but in all seriousness, I'm interested in this sort of stuff. I mean, I'm only in my 20's, and I have grown up with a lot of older material such as The Beatles, the aforementioned Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin to the point that I realize that all I've been listening to are reissued and remastered recordings. I understand that I'm probably going to get sound that is as great as it was back then, but something feels different. Something isn't clear.

SO, if you knew that what you were listening to was your favorite and most cherished, but then it was just reissued with superior audio or with new or unused song material, would you still buy it? Do you get the same feeling as you did the first time? That's this week's The Benchwarmer.

-DJ