Thursday, August 23, 2012

Late Summer/Early Fall Music Preview

We’re about to get into a couple of months that should be nothing short of spectacular for music if track records mean anything. Here’s a group of bands coming out with albums in the coming months:

Yeasayer (21 August): Yeasayer just released their third album a couple days ago and I haven’t gotten the chance to enjoy my new purchase yet. Coming off the fantastic sophomore album “Odd Blood”, the more consistent follow-up to hit-and-miss “All Hour Cymbals”, Yeasayer has developed into one of the better experimental-but-not-too-experimental alt rock bands out there.

Minus the Bear (28 August): After a series of top notch albums, including Planet of Ice—a personal all-time favorite—Minus the Bear try to follow up “OMNI”, an unfortunate dud with a few good moments but an overall feeling of disappointment. Minus the Bear always have potential for some the best alt rock out there.

Animal Collective (4 September): Following up an album that just about everyone loved (Merriweather Post Pavilion”) and song that topped just about every chart (“My Girls”) is going to be tough, but if I learned any lessons from that album to apply to the new one, it’s that I need to listen about 9 times before I cast judgment.

The xx (11 September): The xx’s last album took indie music by storm, with it’s chilled out moody tunes becoming the soundtrack of night. Here’s to hoping they catch lightning in a bottle twice.

Grizzly Bear (18 September): How in the world do you follow up “Veckatimest”, another personal all-time favorite? I guess we’ll find out. Trying to lower my expectations, because “Veckatimest” is one of my most consistently played albums in the last few years.

Muse (18 September): There was a day when Muse was my favorite band, and I still have a huge soft spot for them, especially their music from “Absolution”. Their last album certainly had it’s moments, and their new album hints at a dubstep flavor. One thing’s for sure: good or bad it will certainly not fail to be interesting.

The Killers (18 September): It’s been a slow decline for The Killers over the years. “Hot Fuss” is a masterpiece, “Sam’s Town” was good and underappreciated, “Day & Age” was merely okay. I hope the pattern doesn’t continue, because good music by The Killers is about as good as it gets.

Band of Horses (18 September): Everyone know “Funeral” and their album “Cease to Begin” contains four five-star songs. Their last album was also great, and I’m confident I can count on BoH to keep releasing a stellar balance of northwest indie and alt-country.

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Green Day (25 September): I’m not a huge Green Day fan, but I’m probably enough to check out the new album. Or make that album. On September 25th Green Day comes out with the first of a three-part series of albums to finally follow up the massively commercial success of “Jesus of Suburbia”.

Freelance Whales (5 October): Their lukewarm live performances soured me a little bit over time, but there’s no denying I want gaga for Freelance Whales’ debut album. Looking forward to seeing what they come up with for their sophomore try.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Passion Pit – “Gossamer”

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Passion Pit’s 2010 “Manners” was one of those albums that just about everyone liked. You had the rousing “Moth’s Wings” and the infectious “Sleepyhead”. It was fun to listen to; poppy and catchy but thoroughly unique. The downside of “Manners” was its inconsistency. For every winner there was a loser, and my play counts tell the story of an album with songs warranting three years of repeated plays and songs essentially ignored. But here in 2012 Passion Pit reemerges with “Gossamer”, an album full of stellar tracks at a wonderfully consistent level. Frankly, there really isn’t a bad song here, and kudos to Michael Angelakos for this stunning album.

There’s a lot to this album, though. Behind the surface of sunshiny melodies and soaring vocals is a heavy lyrical content, and this combined with the cancelling of Passion Pit shows due to Angelakos’ mental state show that there is an abundance of heavy depth to the tracks. A lyric like “I’m so self-loathing that it’s time for me to see” or “my pain is wasting and I feel like I’ll explode” is normally better reserved for your local emo band. Angelakos wraps these lyrics up in a different kind of package though, whether that be the declaration that “I’ll be alright” or using a chorus of group vocals to state in a unified voice “we all have problems”, which turns out to sound more reassuring than anything.

Some of the best songs showcase Passion Pit’s incredible talent for a hook. On album opener “Take a Walk” Passion Pit present a foot stomping, swarming song wrapped around the story of an immigrant. It’s one of the years best. “Love is Greed” might show Passion Pit’s ability to develop a hook the best, with a chorus designed to be sung along too and stick with you for the rest of the day. “Constant Conversations” is mind-blowingly catchy as well, sounding unlike any other Passion Pit song previously, and in a good way. “Where We Belong” is the most over-the-top song, taking a page practically from Sigur Ros by the end.

All this still neglects to mention “Cry Like a Ghost”, “Hideaway”, “On My Way”, and “It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy” or any other great song here. The fact is that “Gossamer” as an album is a triumph for Angelakos and I wish his mental state the best. It’s among the year’s best albums and it’s an album worth owning.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Frank Ocean – “Channel Orange”

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★1/2

It’s hard to ignore reviews this good. Pitchfork--stingy Pitchfork—bestowed a 9.5 out of 10 rating on this album. Metacritic, the critic aggregator, shows a 93 out of 100 average rating across all critics. Nothing short of outstanding.

Frank Ocean has an intriguing backstory. In sum, he’s the crooner in a shock hip hop group, he recently came out of the closet on his tumblr, he’s written for Justin Bieber, and he gave away his debut album for free online after getting angry with his record company. Then he blew up online. That’s a lot for a guy only now releasing his first true studio full length. His debut album was the mixtape “Nostalgia, Ultra” was slotted at my #12 of the year last year on the strength of some absolutely drop dead amazing tracks. “Strawberry Swing”, “Swim Good”, “There Will Be Tears”, “Novacane”, and “Songs for Women” showcased a singer immensely talented and immensely interesting. “Strawberry Swing”, the Coldplay-borrowing track, was my #5 song of the year.

So you may notice that at the start of this review I dropped a fairly normal three and a half stars on this album. Three and half stars is good. Three and a half stars is not at all bad. Three and a half stars is not great. So what’s the deal? Channel Orange is emotive and interesting, and coalesces well as a whole. It’s good for night driving. It genre-shifts and even features a nearly 10 minute song. It’s an interesting album, no doubt. But it also lacks too many amazing tracks. One of the best of the bunch is opener “Thinkin Bout You”, with Ocean’s falsetto asking “Or do you not think so far ahead?/Because I’ve been thinking about forever”. Also very strong is the 9 minute, 53 second long “Pyramid”, a hazy storyteller and a crowning achievement for Ocean. “Pink Matter” and its distant guitar is also stellar, and when Ocean hits his high point mid-song, it’s the album’s best moment. “Lost” is funky in a good way, and “Bad Religion” is soul-bearing and moving.

The rest? Amongst the filler (five tracks are basically just spoken bits or quick bits of instrumentals, although “White” sounds pretty sweet) are tracks that have interesting sounds but don’t stand very well alone. “Pilot Jones” is one of the cooler sounding tracks, but it doesn’t go anywhere. Songs like “Sweet Life” and “Sierra Leone” contribute to the overall mood, but don’t warrant too many repeat listens.

(As an aside, curiously “Super Rich Kids”, good in it’s own right, has a piano progression eerily similar to Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets”. I did a Google search just now and found out I’m not crazy. It really does. I guess it’s intentional? Never mind.)

Expectations can be a funny thing. I’ve written about them before. Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange” is a strong, good album that warrants attention. Maybe I’m alone though, but I don’t see enough strength in the tracks to warrant the absolute monster amount of praise heaped on it. Don’t read that as a criticism though. The album is good, and songs like “Thinkin Bout You”, “Pink Matter”, “Bad Religion”, and “Pyramids” should be heard. But I can’t help but think that the four strongest tracks don’t even stand up next to the four strongest tracks from the “Nostalgia, Ultra” mixtape. But that’s more a critique of the critics than of the album itself, and “Channel Orange” is a great album to accompany you solo on an evening drive.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Bloc Party is Back, Maybe

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Back in college I first heard Bloc Party’s “Helicopter” and even had a chance to see them live. In those days Bloc Party was a new band on the block, and their debut album was good enough to put them on my favorite bands list. I likely had visions of anticipating every Bloc Party album for the rest of my life. However, this was not to be. After “Silent Alarm” came the disappointing “Weekend in the City” and even more disappointing “Intimacy”. I can’t speak for their newest album, yet to be released, but their softer, moving new track “Day Four” is probably better than anything on their previous two albums.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

If You Like Short Reviews More Than Long Reviews, This Is The Blog Post For You

I’m going to blame my absence primarily on an intense Beach Boys obsession, which I think will eventually lead to a blog series once I head out on a work trip to Alabama that will leave me by myself in a hotel room for two months. But the release of the recent amazing Passion Pit album got me thinking how I couldn’t even think about reviewing it until I get caught up on a lot of the things that I haven’t got to. And since I think people mostly like the quick and dirty anyhow, I give you the summation rather than the whole scoop on the following album released recently:

Santigold – “Master of My Make-Believe”

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Santigold’s genre-defying brand of music works once again, but probably not to the same amazing four-star level she displayed on her previous eponymous album. Despite it’s inconsistency, there’s still amazing tracks here, primarily “Disparate Youth”, featuring an irresistable guitar riff over the chorus. “Go!”, featuring fellow female powerhouse Karen O, and '”Big Mouth” round out a powerful trio of winners, but the rest of the album falls a little flat.

Lowers Dens – “Nootropics”

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I practically bought this album on strength of lead single “Brains”, and then went and made it official when I heard “Propogation”. Lower Dens’ brand of atmospheric indie rock won’t be for all, and the album tends to blend together in it’s weakest moments, but there’s something undeniably great about the hazy atmoshperics on “Propogation” or the Thom Yorke-ish power on “Lamb”. The best of the bunch is almost certainly “Brains” though, a racing, building track coming to year-end lists near you.

Regina Spektor – “What We Saw From the Cheap Seats”

regina-spektor-what-we-saw-from-the-cheap-seatsMy love affair with Regina Spektor started from the moment I first saw a video of the Russian cutie’s “Fidelity” years ago. Her blend of quirk and pop is immensly loveable, and she has won me over time and time again. That said, I feel this is her weakest effort, which is disappointed considering the first track I heard (“All the Rowboats”, an ode to inanimate museum objects) is one of her best. But beyond that, only really “How” and “Firewood”, a couple of softies, really grab attention.

Bear in Heaven – “I Love You, It’s Cool”

★1/2

bearSynths! So many synths! Straight out of the 80’s, Bear in Heaven are an indie rock band caught in the wrong decade, but that’s fortunate for us when they’re at their best. Their best is “Reflection of You”, a song most surely to be in the running for my top 5 songs of the year (“I wanna run to you/but my legs won’t respond”). They continue their powerful, moving blend of synth rock on “Sinful Nature” and “Kiss Me Crazy”. Unfortunately the album lacks a lot of diversity, dragging it down a few pegs. But those three songs are worth the attention.

Ellie Goulding – “Starry Eyed”

Ellie-Goulding-Lights-498717This review is way behind, but her slight emergence in popularity has motivated me to write the review. This is mostly because as close as Ellie is to being pure pop, I want to throw in my own endorsement, for what it’s worth. Not everything is perfect here, but Ellie’s unique (and strangely attractive) vocals and fascinating craftsmanship on song’s like “Starry Eyed” and “Under the Sheets, as well as pop gems like “Lights” show great skill. She even manages to sucker me in on a song like “The Writer”, which is a simple, standard pop song I’d otherwise ignore except for Ellie’s touch.

That’s it for now, folks. Full reviews for Frank Ocean and Passion Pit forthcoming. It’s also worth noting that personal favorite The Antlers released a good four-song EP. It won’t warrant a full review, but it’s once again full of good songs, since The Antlers were blessed with a superpower that prevents them from knowing how to write a bad song. (Seriously, PLEASE spend $2 on “I Don’t Want Love” and “Kettering”! This blog has been trying so hard to convince you. It’s sad. Humor me!) Thanks for reading!