Sunday, April 17, 2011

New Music Review – The Strokes “Angles”

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★1/2

I am prepared to commit Strokes heresy: this is The Strokes’ best album. Somewhere out there a Strokes purist whose heart lives and dies by the generally assumed greatness of “Is This It?” just died. I did a little homework and it appears that “Is This It?” registered a super high 90 of 100 on Metacritic. This album registered a 71. But I guess that’s why I get to write my own reviews right? I liked “Is This It?”. I liked “Last Nite”, the most famous song The Strokes ever put out. But as years go by I certainly don’t give the album a lot of attention. Same goes for the not-quite-as-appreciated “Room on Fire” and “First Impression of Earth”.

I bought this album with a little bit of faith, having heard the fantastic opening track “Machu Picchu” online. I have, since that point, decided that, 4.5 months into year, “Machu Picchu” is the year’s best song so far. And it doesn’t stop there, as “Machu Picchu” gives way to “Under Cover of Darkness”, which immediately gives the album back to back stellar tracks. I’m always aware of the dangers of judging a frontloaded album, but by the time you hear the guitar hook on “Two Kinds of Happiness”, the gritty “You’re So Right”, and the catchy “Taken for a Fool” you’re five songs deep into enough good songs to fill up most bands’ entire albums.

There probably is no better example of the transformation of “Is This It?” era strokes to “Angles” era Strokes, where the synths work as the primary drivers and Julian Casablancas’ voice soars rather than growls. I imagine a diehard Strokes fan would have a problem this. And apparently I’m not a diehard Strokes fan. Old school fans may have to take solace in also-awesome tracks like “Gratisfaction”.

Words like “transformation” and “growth” can be hard to peg. If you read my Cold War Kids from yesterday I spoke negatively of their so-called growth because their transition moved away from what made them special towards what made them just one of many. The Strokes certainly had a distinct style when they burst onto the scene, but the difference here is that these changes do not once sacrifice great sounds or guitar hooks. I might be a Strokes heretic, but to me this just sounds like an even better version of an already good band. Thus, as we sit here at the one-third juncture of the year, The Stokes can be proud to own the year’s best track and best album. We can hope that it gets bested as I will never complain about getting more good music, but for now they’ve set the bar high.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

New Music Review: Cold War Kids – “Mine is Yours”

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★1/2

Sometimes the hard part in assigning a rating to an album is figuring out the context with which something should be judged. Should I judge this album against the alternative rock community at large or against Cold War Kids’ previous work? I suppose the best thing to do is, when there exists a disparity between those two contexts, is just to explain both. So here it is: compared to past Cold War Kids work, this is by far their least interesting and least unique. Their style migrates away from their distinct gritty barroom piano-pounding romp and towards a more traditional alt rock feel. Lyrically there’s just not the same captivating and fascinating ideas that permeated their first two records. But let’s be fair. Overall, the songs here are good (albeit not great) and they’re still one of the better bands out there that can pleasantly toe the line between alternative and mainstream rock. They are, and will remain, one of my first recommendations to someone who is looking for something new. I will, however, be recommending albums #1 or #2.

Album #3, Mine is Yours, may lack that something special that “Robbers & Cowards” had, but it’s not without its good tracks. The title track ushers in a slightly more anthemic style, but does it in a way that leads to positive feelings that not every change is for the worse. It works in other places too, like the catchy “Royal Blue” or the pleasantly melodic “Skip the Charades”. Still, overall there’s something missing. In the past where the delivery has allowed lines like “I give a check to tax deductible charity organizations” to come off as witty and amusing, the delivery fails on unfortunate lines like “I will take out the garbage/I will squeeze your juice/so nice to be making scrambled eggs with you” in “Cold Toes on the Cold Floor”.

The album is fine on its own, but it does mark a troubling transition for one of my favorite standbys. I’m sorry to think that, if this is part of their natural progression, that if they continue to “progress” much more, they really won’t be the same band anymore. Until then, let’s enjoy what we’ve got.

Friday, April 8, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge…Five Days at a Time (Pt. 1)

So I’ve decided to do this 30 Day Song Challenge that’s been floating around the net. But it’s hard to ask people to have the patience to read your stuff, let alone ask them to click on 30 different things, so I’m breaking this down into five day segments.

Day #1 – Your Favorite Song

For the last year this has been a tossup between LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” and Band of Horses’ “Detlef Schrempf”. Both are introspective pieces, although the moods are slightly different. For now I’ll still have to give the favorite song nod to “All My Friends”, which also contains my favorite lyrics: “You spend the first five years trying to get with the plan/and the next five years trying to be with your friends again”. It’s a song that means a lot to me as my job has taken me further and further away from the people I care about, and I slowly realize that by the time I get back they won’t all be there anymore.

Day #2 – Your Least Favorite Song

I have to make some assumptions from this category, and the main one I’m making is that the question refers to a popular song that I don’t like. I can’t just pick any old mess. And although I’m tempted, I won’t pick the now-famous “Friday” by Rebecca Black, because the song makes me laugh too much. Instead I’ll have to go with the Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps”, which always annoyed the tar out of me.

Day #3 – A Song That Makes You Happy

Went with an oldie here. The Beach Boys were kings at capturing the sunny Southern California energy, and nothing captures happy Summer spirit quite like the song “I Get Around”.

Day #4 – A Song That Makes You Sad

This one was easy, as thing song has gotten to me ever since I first heard it. It did 11 years ago, and it does now. This is Nickel Creek’s “When You Come Back Down”.

Day #5 – A Song That Reminds You Of Someone

Growing up I took a lot of trips to California to visit my grandparents and stay with them for the Summer. I’d play a lot of cards and Scrabble with my Grandma, who’d always be humming something and saying some awesome phrase when I played a good word (“I’m gonna send ya to the moon!”). For the rest of my life I’m going to think fondly about my Grandma and those times whenever I hear “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?”

Friday, April 1, 2011

New Music Review: Justin Bieber – ”My World 2.0”

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★1/2

Where do you start when reviewing Justin Bieber? Do we skip straight to the music or do I start by acknowledging his 4-star head of hair? Channeling his inner Donald Trump, Bieber sports a head of hair that one day could charm the nation into considering him for the Republican ticket for President. But for now young Bieber is simply a music factory, turning out smooth pop hits and making fans out of little girls and 25-year old Air Force officers.

“My World 2.0” is the second album to be named “My World” by Justin. Inspired by Microsoft, Bieber plans on releasing update packets for the 2.1, 2.2, 2.3 and so on versions before releasing a whole operating system/album with “My World 3.0”. No word yet on when “My World Vista” will hit the shelves. The first song off the album, “Baby”, is already a smash hit, and features Ludacris, who once worked with Academy Award winners in the feature film “Crash”. This puts Bieber just two degrees of separation from Ryan Philippe, who was married to Reese Witherspoon, so at least Bieber is only four degrees from Reese, who is super cute. On “Somebody to Love” Bieber threatens to “write you a symphony” and even use violins. If he did this it would be the first time Bieber wrote a song. Next up is “Stuck in the Moment”, which is appropriately titled because you will undoubtedly always remember the moment you got stuck listening to this gorgeous tune. When Bieber hits the falsetto here he channels his inner Charlotte Church. On “U Smile” Bieber begins yet another song by belting a sensitive “ooooh yeeaaaah” over otherwise pleasant music. The layered vocals add another touch here, giving a high voiced Beiber on top of a higher voiced Bieber for your listening pleasure.

Bieber takes a surprising turn on his next track. One track after lamenting letting his girl go, Bieber drops the hit “Never Let You Go”, proving that Justin is the kind of guy that makes mistakes, yet never makes the twice. “Overboard” features teen-pop sensation Jessica Jarrell, who, despite not having her own Wikipedia page, gets billed as being “featured” in the track title. Perhaps the most impressive part here is that Jessica’s voice is lower than Bieber’s, meaning that the male/female vocal balance is maintained. The song is not without it’s troubling parts though. “I can’t swim on my own”, Bieber sings, foreshadowing a troubling aquatic future. I also take issue with “Eenie Meenie”, since it portrays a girl negatively for picking guys based on the “eenie meenie miny moe” system, thereby giving everyone an equal chance. Poor Bieber might not like the competition—being that he’s gorgeous—but I assure you this reviewer prefers my odds with an eenie-meenie-miny-moe girl than hoping I get picked straight up against a hottie like Justin. The second to last track is “Up”, which is full of ambition. “We can make the sun shine in the moonlight”, Bieber croons, proving that Bieber is bigger than science. “I know it’s hard, but baby believe me”, he pleads. I believe you, Justin.

The final track on Bieber’s album is the ultra-sensitive “That Should Be Me”, which just makes me angry. Whoever broke this kid’s heart should be ashamed of herself. He saw you at the movies! He knows you don’t care! It’s heart-wrenching. Of course, as he ends the song with the refrain “never should have let you go”, it’s clear Bieber has learned nothing from track #6. Overall though, it’s another solid track on a brilliant album.

Happy April Fools Day, everyone!