Sunday, November 20, 2011

New Music Review: Jack’s Mannequin – “People and Things”



Andrew McMahon has been a part of my life for a long time. Much like Jimmy Eat World, I have a connection to his music that transcends simply enjoying the structure of songs. Something Corporate’s debut album and song “Konstantine” (truly an all-time great song) were high school staples. “North” was a college staple. Then McMahon battled leukemia in the aftermath of debut Jack’s Mannequin album “Everything in Transit” and dealt with it lyrically in “Glass Passenger”. McMahon’s struggle is one of the few celebrity afflictions that I have felt personally moved by.

In many ways this newest album, “People and Things”, is the album that begins to move past the leukemia battle lyrically. “Glass Passenger”, the best Jack’s Mannequin album, was heavy and dark though bolstered by hope. According to McMahon, this album is about relationships, which makes it very much like many other records in the world. Perhaps that’s why it comes off a little more generic and average. “People and Things” is unfortunately fine, but not special. There are good tracks and okay tracks, and not much better or worse.

“My Racing Thoughts” and "Release Me” give the album a strong start, and the tracks harken back well to the debut Jack’s Mannequin album, which a renewed energy at the foundation of the tracks. Other tracks like “People, Running” and “Platform Fire” are strong suits as well, with “Platform Fire” effectively bringing it down a notch. The album’s best track is the classic McMahon venture “Casting Lines”, which displays McMahon’s knack for thoughtful lyrics and melody.

Unfortunately, many tracks here are also filler, doomed to take up space on my iPod, but never be played. It’s a worthy add-on if you’re already a fan, but not the place to start if you’re working through the McMahon discography. In fact, of the five major albums McMahon has made, it’s the last place I’d start. Since there are still many good tracks, this is as much an insult to the album as it is a compliment to his entire discography.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Some Random Tracks to Brighten Your Day

Rather than a full review today I thought I’d pop in to talk about a few singles that have caught my ear lately. Thanks to Spin’s free November playlist, I came across the band Gauntlet Hair for the first time, and their reverby alt rock sounds pretty great to me. Check out “Top Bunk” below and click on the link above to download it for free yourself so long as it’s still November.

This video is starting to make the rounds, and it should. What an amazing piece of work by an amateur photographer. He managed to practically give me chills when they hit my home state of Washington. But I also really noticed the song, a track called “The Sounds” by Waking Lights.

For some stripped down, mellower stuff, check out these two tracks. The first is Gotye’s “Giving Me a Chance” and the next is the very basic yet loveable song “Television” by You Won’t.

If you are using Amazon’s music service, here’s a link to a free download of Milagre’s track “Glowing Mouth” as well.

Hope you found something you liked!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Music and Thoughts and Mini Reviews Intertwine

It’s starting to get a little colder as we transition from Fall to Winter here in Ohio. I love Fall here so much. The leaves change and it hangs around 65-75 degrees. Some people like it cold, some hot…I like where I basically feel like Troy in last week’s Community episode.

It’s amazing how a certain place or time can make you feel like an album. Minus the Bear should be played in Salt Lake City when it snows, or Something Corporate should play driving on I-5 north of Portland. For me cold Ohio means Mimicking Birds. An album I listened to on repeat last winter and then haven’t touched all summer suddenly feels perfect again. And really, how could it not? I mean, listen to it.

Anyhow, I’m trying to write a thesis these days, which can be a little overwhelming. At all times I feel like I’m either writing or I should be writing. But it’s also hard to just sit down and do it. I mean, what exactly do I “do”? Not like I can just sit down and crank out 10 pages as if I know what to write next at all time. Because of this I’ve fallen behind on the blog again. I don’t know why I feel guilty about such things, but sometimes I feel like a blog should either be updated constantly or not at all. Maybe that’s just me. To deal with it, I’m going to be all about the mini reviews, which some may prefer reading anyhow. For example:

Boy & Bear – “Moonfire”

Boy & Bear come at you from Australia, though their sound is more reminiscent of the American indie folk movement or a diet Mumford & Sons, ampersand and all. If you strip away the bombast of Mumford and add a dash of heart you get Boy & Bear, who may be destined for a hit someday themselves as well. I would suggest that that hit would be “Feeding Line”, the catchiest song on the album, complete with my favorite instrument: the mandolin.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – “Hysterical” ★1/2

A very hit and miss album where many of the tracks sound pleasant on their own, but the overall album doesn’t have the feel of anything memorable. However, “Misspent Youth” is a glorious, heart-wrenching track that deserves all 99 cents of your attention, while “Same Mistake” and “Yesterday, Never” might just deserve another 198 cents.

Clap your hands say yeah -03 Misspent Youth by wilcow

Switchfoot – “Vice Verses”

I’m tempted to say this is their best work since “A Beautiful Letdown”, and looking back at their other album I think it’s possibly true from the overall perspective. Solid across the board, well balanced between energy and the soft content they excel at, and home to a couple standouts like “Restless” and “Where I Belong”, it’s a welcome addition for any Switchfoot fan.

Until next time!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

New Music Review: Coldplay – “Mylo Xyloto”


Some albums are good at grabbing you right at the first listen, but get relegated to backup status quickly. Others seem merely passable, before repeated listens draw you in to the details. Albums like Spoon’s “Gimme Fiction” or The Shins’ “Oh, Inverted World” come to mind as albums that initially sounded little more than “pretty good” to me, but now I list as all-time faves. Sure, we’re only a week removed from the release of Coldplay’s fifth album, but I’m happy to say it’s grown with every listen.

The Coldplay on “Mylo Xyloto” is not entirely indistinguishable from the Coldplay of “Parachutes”, but it sure is getting close. Save for a couple restrained moments, like “Us Against the World” or “Up in Flames”, the mellow melancholy that defined Coldplay is mostly gone. Brian Eno’s production has clearly led Coldplay to explore new arenas. But while evolving sound may lead bands to depart from who they are, “Mylo Xyloto” finds Coldplay tinkering/progressing while still sounding like Coldplay.

Where third album “X&Y” is practically universally acknowledged as being Coldplay’s most poppy album, it’s actually this album that brings the most obvious pop song concept: a collaboration with Rihanna. I’m wagering that opinions about that concept must be wide-ranging, with some cringing at the idea and others excitedly paying 99 cents for it. But frankly, put together with the electro of “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” and the wonderful guitar-driven elements of “Major Minus”, the idea seems daring and well-placed and, most importantly, well-executed.

What I most liked about this album is the depth of some of the songs. Save for the immediate satisfaction that “Paradise” offers, many of the other tracks get better with time as they reveal their details (I submit other listeners may hear these things the first time, but I can only share my experiences). On “Charlie Brown” it’s the guitar line that backs the song and on “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” it is the pulsating kick drum. On “Princess of China”, the aforementioned Rihanna collab, there’s a distant keyboard that comes in at the 2 minute mark, and on “Up in Flames”, an otherwise softy is kicked off with a surprising bass. Guitar work is particularly strong on this album as well, backing the upbeat and soaring “Don’t Let it Break Your Heart”. “Major Minus” is marked by a stellar combination of acoustic guitar and electric guitar, but don’t forget to notice the subtle piano that creeps in at 1:05. Details give the songs a depth that, if you’re not careful, you can miss if you quickly dismiss them.

But you know, sometimes you just want some vintage Coldplay. The kind that, if you’re my age, takes you back to age 17. For me that song is the closer, “Up With the Birds”. Save for a couple fantastic experimental touches, the song is a throwback: soft beginning building to a soaring ending that is probably pure magic live.

Through some weird twists of fate, Coldplay has become one of the most divisive bands in the world: too indie for some popsters, and too pop for some hipsters, yet somehow they might be the biggest and most consistent band in the world. Time will tell how the world perceives “Mylo Xyloto”, but I for one am liking it more and more with every listen.