Thursday, September 15, 2011

New Music Review: Gotye – “Making Mirrors”

Gotye

Gotye's “Making Mirrors” is such a genre-bender, it hardly makes sense to understand the music listening track by track. Australia is sure familiar with one of the tracks, though, as “Somebody That I Used to Know” has peaked at #1 for five weeks, hence the 5+ million Youtube views on the video. The attention is deserved, as the marvelously poppy, passionate, yet still slightly and delightfully weird track is a masterpiece. Building out of a breakup, a confused and wounded Wally De Backer goes toe-to-toe with New Zealand singer Kimbra in one of the year’s best tracks.

The goodness does not stop there on “Making Mirrors”, one of the most fantastically strange albums of the year. And by strange I don’t mean purely experimental. I mean strange in that the genres here are so all over the place, but also so marvelously executed. Hearing “Somebody That I Used to Know” may lead you to believe you’re about to hear a pop album, but contrast that against the pulsating, moving alt rock on “Save Me”, the soul of “I Feel Better”, or the electro touch on “State of the Art”. Truly, it is almost unbelievable that the same person is responsible for both the soaring “Eyes Wide Open” and the acoustic guitar-based “In Your Light”.

What is impressive on “Making Mirrors” is how Gotye stream together all these tracks in a manner that works. Granted, on some tracks he is more successful than others. “Save Me” wears its heart on its sleeve, with De Backer bearing his anxieties in his soul with a soaring tenor. “Giving Me a Chance” takes it down a level, stripping the sound down to its most beautiful, simple level.  However, “State of the Art”, despite its interesting sound, employs a computer-aided vocal that is downright unpleasant. Meanwhile, “Don’t Worry We’ll Be Watching” meanders along for a meaningless 3 minutes. The missteps are few and far between.

Here’s an album that came out of nowhere for me, despite Australia’s apparent penchant for it. “Somebody That I Used to Know” and “Save Me” alone will end up being two of 2011’s best, if you’re more interested in spending $2 than $10. But if you want to try something new, here’s a good place to start.

Friday, September 9, 2011

New Music Review: Mat Kearney – “Young Love”

★1/2

The good news is that Mat Kearney returns to his more distinctive talk-sing style that he employed on his outstanding debut album and then abandoned on his weaker second album. The bad news is he does so less effectively and less consistently. A solid start to the album brings about hope, but the album is front-loaded and provides no memorable tracks in the second half. However, the first half of the album does have some very solid tracks, led by the melodic, singable “Chasing the Light”, which utilizes Kearney’s storytelling strength and a very pleasant chorus. “Sooner or Later” expands on some sonic ideas as well, using more pronounced percussion and synth that’s almost borrow from hip-hop club music. “Ships in the Night” is a good bet for a single, providing a perfect choice for a pleasant VH1 track in the mold of The Fray or OneRepublic, but probably a little better.

Other than lead single “Hey Mama”, there’s just not much else here, though. The second half is merely forgettable, though never bad. Sonically, “She Got the Honey”, provides some interesting ideas, but the song just never quite grabs you. Final track “Rochester” loses its story concept potential with shruggable execution.

I grabbed the album for $5 on Amazon, and it was probably worth that, since there’s about 5 good songs on the album. It’s not bad, it’s not great, it’s nothing special, and it gets the average review it deserves. However, I wouldn’t skip it entirely, and you’ll be well off to own the better tracks on the album.

Monday, September 5, 2011

New Music Review: War on Drugs – “Slave Ambient”

Raise your hand if you miss The Verve. *Derek raises hand* It’s hard to believe The Verve had so few albums, considering when they finally do make music they make just about the most perfect, semi-psychedelic alt rock. But what does this have to do with War on Drugs?

Every year I wonder who will release an album I fall in love with. Sometimes a favorite band will have a new album that I see coming, and hopefully it meets expectation. Every year, though, an amazing release is put out there by a band I’ve never heard of. 2009 Derek would not have predicted 2010’s list would be populated by the likes of Freelance Whales or Mimicking Birds. This year’s addition to that category is War on Drugs, a Pennsylvania alt rock band that combines the soundscape of The Verve with the Americana of Bruce Springsteen with exceptional results. And I’m glad that getting a taste of Comin’ Through off their EP led me to buying the full new album.

Slave Ambient is shorter than it appears, with only 8 of its 12 tracks being non-instrumentals. Those eight tracks, however, have much to off. The best is found on “I Was There”, with it’s slow piano, distant vocals, and soothing sound. I consider it to be one of the year’s best tracks. “Brothers” showcases the Springsteen side of things and guitar licks. When frontman Adam Granduciel muses “wondering where my friends are going/and wonderin’ why they didn’t take me”, his delivery is contemplative and moving. The driving “Come to the City” is perfect for the car on a summer’s day, and “Baby Missiles” is a close second.

All in all, this is a truly outstanding album, and I expect to be playing it for some time to come. “I Was There” joins “Comin’ Through” as two of the more can’t miss tracks that I could recommend. Check it out and enjoy!