Brett Anderson-Black Rainbows.

Groaning and moaning Brett Anderson releases black rainbows. This is Former vocalist of Suede and the Tears fourth solo album. I wish I could say I am impressed due to my appreciation for Suede and Anderson’s ability to sing androgynously and pain fueled. However this style is much better suited for the groundbreaking Antony or PJ Harvey.

Black Rainbows is more or less perpetually uninteresting. Anderson’s voice range has reached the point of unlistenable and doesn’t invite listeners in with anything particularly interesting. Despite the at times respectable and heartfelt lyrics the album drowns in its own sour melancholy. This is particularly so in opening tune “Unsung” which would be better off unsung and “Actors” which is as pleasurable as a root canal. Other than that there are no high lights or singular lowlights as the album is a drawn out drive into sucker which was not as potent in Anderson’s previous work.

DeLuna Fest 2011 Day Three reviews

NICO VEGA:
   
I have been remiss in my duties as a music lover and a native Los Angeleno. Nico Vega was a name I’d always heard tossed around with positive reinforcement, but for some reason had slipped through my curiosity meter.
   
I repent!
   
Dressed as members of the chorus from Jesus Christ Superstar, the band took the stage in the afternoon sun and spread the good word. They make a lot of noise for having only three people on stage, and they infuse the air around with a curiously spiritual musical energy.
   
Whether banging on toms, busting a tambourine or striking a various number of iconic poses, Aja Volkman held command of the stage. And if it makes you feel any better, their whole dusty space age get up is not an onstage persona, but something they carried with them throughout the festival, whether chatting on cell phones or smoking weed out of a can in the pit for MUTEMATH’S performance. Trust me.
   
If you’ve been like me and neglected to check out Nice Vega, remedy this as soon as possible. And if you’re all, Duh man I’ve been listening to them forEVER, then why on Earth didn’t you tell me?!

ASOBI SEKSU:
   
Life can’t be easy for the opening festival acts. Hardly anyone is ready to trudge out to the stages by noon, so audiences are limited, worsening an already un-ideal situation for musicians, a breed not accustomed to operating at full until well past sunset. However, if Asobi Seksu was fatigued they didn’t show it (although lead singer and keyboardist Yuki Chikudate did mention it).
   
They graced the blazing festival sun with loud, eerie rock that shook lazy day three festers out of the midday slump. A wake up call in many respects, Asobi Seksu held one of the most unexpectedly successful shows the weekend.
   
It was clear that much of their audience was accidental, comprised of cries new arrivals wondering what that magical sound could be emanating from the other side of the Hampton Inn. What began as a smattering of curious onlookers quadrupled into a crowd of fans, which is exactly the kind of exposure you expect and hope for at a festival.
   
Most likely they were all wondering how somebody no bigger than a cat can contain such power and presence, leading the band with the ease of a long time heavy hitter like Patti Smith.
   
Perhaps, like a cat, Chikudate has been doing this for many lifetimes.

COWBOY MOUTH:
   
“Give me rhythm!” and “Are you with me?!” are the Southern rock mantras of Cowboy Mouth’s live show. Billed as the festival’s biggest local draw, the New Orleans based quartet seriously, yet amicably rose the the challenge of acquiring dozens legions more unlocal fans.
    Lead singer and drummer Fred LeBlanc, (most NOLA sounding name ever!) sat at the kit in gym shorts, which gave him the appearance of going pants-less. It also enhanced his heartily devil-may-care demeanor. All four rock solidly on their respective instruments and seem to relish in the whole rock starriness of their happy Southern lives. Something about their loud, proud good times had me craving giant belt buckles and hush puppies.
   
They perform without pretense, just diving into the crowd, pulling people closer to the stage and shouting about having a great time. If Burl Ives’ Big Daddy of Tennessee Williams’ imagination decided to form a touring Southern rock band, it would turn out to be Cowboy Mouth, and it would sound great. Which they do.

COLOUR REVOLT:
   
De Luna Fest was full of bands stemming from a local heritage, pleased as a peach pie to be laing for a hometown crowd. Colour Revolt was of this ilk, so pleased in fact, that they opened by introducing themselves as “fellow South Easterners.”
    Perhaps these guys practiced extra hard to impress the hometown crowd, but my guess is they make a point to play this well every time. You just don’t achieve this level of clickiness by cramming for the test. Barely looking at one another, the band executed tricky rhythms, sudden changes in tone and wildly oscillating noise levels from whisper to explosion.
    
All pieces of their indie rock puzzle solidly in place at this set, the stand out element lurked in Sean Kirkpatrick’s backing vocals. He offered a delicately nuanced layer to otherwise good, but typical, scenester music.

Bill Orcutt – How the Thing Sings album review

I have, for a long time, had a slight personal issue with the concept of ‘reviewing’ music because of music’s inherent nature of self-expression and my personal belief that no one should be able to tell another that their art is ‘wrong.’  That said, there are some albums; some bands; some genres; etc, which – by their very nature – tend to step outside of what’s considered to be ‘regular music.’  Bill Orcutt, former guitarist of influential experimental group, Harry Pussy, has always existed on the more questionable side of that line.

Free of vocals (save Orcutt’s orgasmic groans) and sounding as though it was recorded using a single microphone in someone’s hallway, his most recent, How the Thing Sings is a standing ovation to the purely expressional, raw approach to music – and more broadly, art.  Sporadically spaced bursts of note clusters in conjunction with vivaciously performed melodic patterns result in an emotional-if-not-frenetic exhibition of Orcutt’s talent.  Here, though, the concept in question is not whether it’s difficult to play in such primal form but rather one of artistic merit vs. purely self-indulgent musical masturbation. And perhaps more importantly, whether or not those two ideas are mutually exclusive.

The answer to that debate – in my opinion – is no.  Though this record is, without a doubt a clear example of self-satisfying musical gluttony, it also exists as a testament to the power of emotion when combined with musical talent.  When examined for it’s underlying emotional themes, there is much to be admired about this album: Nothing is watered down, nothing goes to waste for the sake of general palatability and there’s not a single thought given to ensuring the audience understands the intention at the risk of sacrificing honesty.

I won’t pretend that this is a great artistic feat, nor will I say it’s an essential addition of any music-lover’s collection, but it’s certainly a record worthy of a listen if for no other reason than to hear something different and possibly even find some bizarre fascination with abstract acoustic guitar music.

Dum Dum Girls – Only in Dreams review

Who runs the world? Yes, that’s right… girls, but more specifically, The Dum Dum Girls. The California quartet has returned with their sophomore album, “Only in Dreams,” a collection of up-tempo tracks typical of the West Coast, beach-happy characteristics possessed by many past and current bands of the pop genre. Yet, although some may say that it never rains in Southern California, the sunshine of “Only in Dreams” is overcast with clouds as the group delves into the emotional and dark topics of losing and longing for a loved one.

Contrary to The Dum Dum Girls’ first release, “I Will Be,” “Only in Dreams” features vocals from all four band members, resulting in a nostalgic sound reminiscent of The Supremes combined with the Beach Boys. Furthermore, in a music industry positioned far from an oversaturation of girl groups such as that which was present in recent years, an empowering tone is delivered through the classical harmony and acoustic, beat-driven flair that is displayed on the summer anthem, “Bedroom Eyes.” This continues throughout the album, and offsets the rhythmic balance, as lead singer, Dee Dee Penny introduces the lyrical content of the passing of her mother on “Hold My Hand,” a touching reflection of the last few moments that were shared with her. Yet, despite the sadness that is conveyed in the words, the upbeat, sunny California theme is not lost and shines through the strumming guitars and soft vocals.

“Only in Dreams” by The Dum Dum Girls is refreshing for two reasons. For one, there is a lightweight element portrayed in a sea of heavy subject matter, largely due to the fact that the band did not succumb to a variety of depressing ballads and instead opted to permeate a much more positive energy to the listener. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it renews my belief that the “girl group” is not just a remnant of pop history and that females still serve an important role in today’s music. If anyone thinks differently, I dare them to face four females armed with fierce vocals, guitars, and drums. Whoever is willing to do so is a big… dummy.

Mark McGuire – Get Lost review

Guitar player for the electronic band Emeralds, Mark McGuire is not shy when it comes to solo work. Boasting a back catalogue of over 30 releases, the 24 year old shredder takes the perceived notions of guitar playing to a completely new level. Many of the sounds present on this record are made through loop and delay pedals, all translating through a guitar. It’s always interesting when a musician finds innovative ways to utilize his or her instrument, this is a perfect example. On this solo record, Get Lost, we are introduced to some very vibrant material that stays with the listener for quite some time afterwords.

Ontop of very bright layers of sound, there are also vocals thrown into the mix on select tracks. The vocals aren’t as dominant as one might think, they’re more of a background noise, or another layer ontop of the pre-existing ones. The song Alma is a good, if not the best example. Many of the songs transition very slowly into one another, creating some anticipation. I thought this was clever in contrast to songs abruptly weaving in and out from one another, something I have come across many times before. Sequencing is very important. The final track clocks in 5 seconds under 20 minutes long. My love for the 10+ minute tracks can only go so far, and I believe they should stay exclusive to more progressive/experimental artists. There just isn’t a whole lot to hear in this song that can’t be heard in a trimmed down version. I appreciate the ambience that leads up to the more memorable parts of the song, but really, its a wasted effort in my opinion.

I think that Mark McGuire’s solo work is better appreciated by fans of his main project Emeralds, as people who are new to his work may not have the patience for it. I won’t lie when I say I was much more interested in trying to understand and experience this music after I learned of how it was made, and where it came from. Someone without this knowledge may not be as attentive.

Thrice – Major/ Minor review

Thrice’s new “Major/Minor” might be straight out of an early 2000s alternative station top 40. It sounds a little bit like Tool and a little bit like 3rd eye blind. Heavily distorted guitar solos accompany bombastic drums and Dustin Kensrue’s labored vocals. There are some vague lyrics about stones, birds, and bleeding. Dustin sings, “you don’t care/ you don’t care.” He’s right. This album might as well be ten years old. Having old influences is alright unless the genre is something as tired as early 00s alternative music. This stuff sounded nostalgic when it came out.

It’s impossible to tell what Kensrue is singing about, but it’s vaguely angsty so as to be applicable to anyone. It’s guttural, manly, and down-to-earth. Thrice’s angst is masculine. For those who miss the manly emotiveness of bands like Bush, Seether, or even early Nickleback, Thrice’s “Major/Minor” would be a good listen. They keep the beat simple, slow and dragging. It’s like an alternative version of a slow dance song. Soulful guitar is punctuated by a few beats on the high hat and Dustin Kensrue’s anguish. Despite its name, the album is mostly played in minor keys. The title of the album should probably be “Minor”. Hit three beats on the drum set, play in a minor key, repeat process.

The album is as tired as the name might suggest. Lack of originality is evident in this 10 year old new album. Hearing the same minor loops over and over again creates a depressive overtone to “Major/Minor.” The songs drag along over the course of fifty minutes. There’s plenty of self-righteous anguish, as Dustin Kensrue sings about relationship slights and misfortunes. In “Listen Through Me,” Kensrue declares that he speaks truly, and everything hangs on a word. Whatever this means, it’s loaded with special significance as the singer is apparently in anguish. It’s reminiscent of “now that we’re here, it’s so far away, all the struggle we thought was in vain.” Thrice is a vestige of a past fashion in alternative rock. Post-grunge is dead and so is “Major/ Minor.”

James Morrison – The Awakening review

Looking like Chris Martin and with a voice like Ray LaMontagne, English folk/soul rocker James Morrison writes songs about new love, lost love and everything in between. “You Give Me Something,” the only track from his debut album, Undiscovered, to go on the charts in this country, was an incredibly soulful power ballad reminiscent of fellow Brit Adele’s “Chasing Pavements,” with its symphonic backdrop.

Two years later, Morrison’s sophomore effort, Songs for You, Truths for Me, featured an epic duet with Nelly Furtado as well as the funky “Nothing Ever Hurt Like You.”

Morrison’s new album is a far cry from these previous projects. The musical competency of Morrison and his band mates is not in question. But Morrison seems to have run out of things to say after five years of churning out songs about nothing but the above-mentioned new love,lost love and everything in between. This formula has gotten old by the third album.

The poor quality of the songwriting is the main point of contention. Over the course of 13 tracks Morrison give the impression that he was really hard up for some better material, going about the construction of lyrics in a very amateurish, Dick-and-Jane fashion. By way of example, the first two tracks, “In My Dreams,” and “6 Weeks,” open in an almost identical manner. “Since you’ve gone nothing seems to fit no more. Nothing’s as it was before,” and “Six weeks since I let you go and I still feel the same,” respectively.

The only track I feel elevates itself above the mire is the second-to-last one, “Right By Your Side.” It features Morrison’s voice, a single guitar strumming a blues melody, organ, and smoky female backing vocals. Just those four points and no percussion. It’s a beautiful song. I’m not saying I could do any better. Not being a musician or lyricist, I know I absolutely couldn’t do better. But Morrison shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that, after a certain point, his fans will listen to anything he puts out simply because it’s by him.

Dan Mangan – Oh Fortune review

Departing from the folksy jangle and simplicity of his earlier work, including heralded LP, “Nice, Nice, Very Nice,” Vancouver’s Dan Mangan has opted to go for full orchestration on his third full length album “Oh Fortune.”  Some of his sense of humor has been lost among all the noise, although it still manages to peak out here and there.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with being overwrought.   I myself spend a good portion of each day in a state of overwrought-ness, but it would’ve helped me to relate to his mood more if I had a better sense of what his songs are actually about.  The lyrics are absolutely distinct aurally, and absolutely the opposite when it comes to content.

As an example, on “Rows of Houses” which I discovered is about Steven Spielberg’s movie “Stand by Me,” one encounters the lyric “the taste of something.”  And not just once.  “The taste of something” is repeated, leading this reviewer to wonder even more what that something might be.  That indistinctness must have been an attempt to evoke a quality of, um, something.  I’m just not sure what.  After all, I couldn’t taste it.

Musically, “Oh Fortune” is a solid piece of work, exceptionally produced by Colin Stewart (Black Mountain, Cave Singers).  And there’s some fine guitar work by Gord Grdina, especially his fast picking and elastic strumming on “Post War Blues.”  The instrumentation also stands out when the brass section breaks into an exuberant crescendo at the end of “Starts With Them, Ends With Us.”  Mangan’s vocals are heady with a subdued sense of irony, somewhat reminiscent of Thom Yorke.  This sensibility helps the subtle humor on closing track “Jeopardy” in which Mangan bemoans his emotional and real-world befuddlement.  “What day is it?” he asks.  “Where did I go?  What am I doing?”

Mangan has had a great deal of fame in the last few years, especially on the Canadian touring circuit.  He was on the shortlist for the coveted Polaris Music Prize, and has played on the same ticket as The Decemberists and other indie luminaries.   There has been some comparison to Mangan and freak folk wonders Bon Iver and fellow Canadian Chad Van Gaalen, but his earnest approach is less affected.

Jonathan Coulton – Artificial Heart review

Huey Lewis famously once said, “it’s hip to be square”. Culture, as is often the case, has gone full circle – being a geek is now cool as hell. Whether you like them or not, hipsters exhibit many of the hallmarks of nerds: thick glasses, bizarre fashion, and virtually unheard of bands that have legions of the scarf wearing weirdos. Similarly, computer programming, video game development, and blogging (hi!) are not only viable career choices, but enviable ones.

Jonathan Coulton has been championing the way of the geek since his 2003 album “Smoking Monkey”. Spurned on by They Might Be Giants (whom he toured with), his use of a full band on this outing really shines through, resulting in a slick, polished final work, entitled Artificial Heart. It’s quirky, fun, and upbeat; something that doesn’t take itself too seriously, while at the same time sounding professional and clean.

Coulton’s ability to paint a picture with his words is magnified by the piano in “Today With Your Wife”. It’s much like certain Ben Folds Five tracks, and the similarities are clear from the outset. His focus on the somewhat awkwardness of the situation is a feeling felt by the nerd culture most times – what do I say, do I say anything? This same superpower he possesses is also displayed in “Good Morning Tucson”, describing the morning waking up in a hotel (these phony living rooms and fake plants are killing me, this bad coffee’s filling me with equal parts joy and rage”), and the chorus breaks like a sunrise.

Many of the tracks share a vitality with the Barenaked Ladies, in both content and style. The best example has got to be “Je Suis Rick Springfield”: the song is entirely in French, and the lyrics, when translated, are as nonsensical as “A dog that wears a tie, like a man/I mean, the dog is like a man. Not the tie”, replete with harmonies and a tempo that the Canadian band would identify well with.

I had so much fun listening to this album. It’s just great. Neato, as the geek might say. It just puts you in a great mood, possibly because you revel in the sound and content regardless of what anyone else might think. The feeling of freedom, letting your freak flag fly, is a feeling unparalleled. So get into your fringe hobbies, whether it’s LARPing or knitting, because I just found your soundtrack.

Cerebral Ballzy – Cerebral Ballzy review

Cerebral Ballzy’s self-titled debut is less like a homage to the NYHC scene and more like an imitation of it.  Formed in 2008 and based out of Brooklyn NY, Cerebral Ballzy is an energetic, fast paced and precipitously mundane album from start to finish.

There is a fine line between being influenced by a certain movement and trying to imitate one, and Cerebral Ballzy are constantly teetering on the edge.  With a name like theirs, and song titles like “Puke Song”, “Sk8 All Day”, and “Cutting Class”, it’s quite obvious that this band is trying to convey a more flippant attitude, which ironically is perhaps their only saving grace.

Not taking this album seriously is the best possible way to enjoy it.  Cerebral Ballzy aren’t trying to achieve greatness, in fact, they probably loathe the idea.  Instead, the group seems to idealize the sort of brazen, careless and naive feeling that dominated the 80’s punk scene and yearn to capitalize on it. By showing less composure and more crass, Cerebral Ballzy aim to canonize themselves along such similar-minded bands like Circle Jerks and The Meatmen.  For all the slack and banality, Cerebral Ballzy is surprisingly well produced, which, given their certain style and circumstance, is something that seems out of place.

The problem with making an album like this isn’t that it’s already been done,  there are plenty of instances where bands have copied a scene to great reception, it‘s that they simply don’t have anything substantial to offer. Cerebral Ballzy have gained a sizable cult following due to their energetic live performances. Unfortunately, that energy doesn’t transfer too well on this recording, as the overall feeling falls abruptly short of their intended mark.

The worst thing about Cerebral Ballzy isn’t their name; it’s the fact that their songs have no substance.  Trying to take yourself less seriously is one thing, but being completely bland and unaffected is another.  A talented group, but a mediocre first release, there may be some potential for this group in the future, though it’s hidden amidst all the forgettable songs.