Jane’s Party – Hot Noise album review

If you live in the Toronto area and enjoy good music, you have more than likely heard of Jane’s Party. Jeff Giles, Devon Richardson, Tom Ionescu, and Zach Sutton are the indie-rock foursome that makeup Jane’s Party. Their brand new album titled Hot Noise is set to be released in stores in early June, followed by a tour across eastern Canada.

Being an Indie lover myself, I fell in love with the band the moment I heard the slow, but not too slow tempo, the calming vocals, and the rock and roll guitar style. With just a quick listen, it’s hard not to be infatuated with this band. Their song Hot Noise, which is also the title of their new album gives you a great feel for what you should expect from the rest of their album – their classic Indie tone mixed with a little rock and acoustics.

The song ‘Til You Got Yours can also give you a great feel for the album. The sound showcases their rock side and smooth vocals. The clearness of the tone keeps you listening.

Meet Me Half Way is another song that showcases their rock side of the album. Just imagine Franz Ferdinand meets Death Cab For Cutie. Very smooth and not over done.

Jane’s Party is the kind of music that you crank up on those warm, summer nights and have a margarita with some good friends. It’s the kind of music that can draw you in with just one song and have you coming back for more. Each band member is also a song writer, so they did a great job of blending their individual personalities and creating an enjoyable, smooth sound that suits them all very well.

It has been a while since Jane’s Party has released a full length album. They are notorious for releasing singles and mini-records. However, with the attention and positive feedback of their newest album Hot Noise, I would hope that the foursome continues releasing full length albums. A quote from Devon Richardson (bass/keys/vocalist for Jane’s Party), “There is so many different routes you can take. Some people say scrap the album and just release a single every month for the rest of your life to keep your fans coming back. Some die hards say that the album is the true essence of art. You just got to go with what feels right in your gut. For us, doing a single to tie people over until the EP and now this EP to tie us over till May. There is no rules or formula to it…”

In my opinion, releasing EP’s and singles from time to time can only take you so far in the music industry. If these guys want to see their name in lights one day, I’d suggest they keep the full length albums coming. I agree with the fans that the album is “the true essence of art.” It captures the emotions and inspiration the artist feels when making the album. With each new album brings a new story to tell and a new story for listeners to understand and fall in love with.

And if you’re anything like me, being female that is, all four band members are very easy on the eyes. Jane’s Party is the kind of party you’d want to be invited to.

Implant – The Productive Citizen album review

Belgian electronica/industrial/psychedelic producer “Implant” (brainchild of Len Lemeire) has made a name for himself internationally, and has developed a passionate cult following. The overarching concept of his music seems to revolve around a nitty gritty, realistic, straight to the core view on modern life, presented through a lens of robotic electronic industrial music. He recently released an album entitled “The Productive Citizen,” and the title enough should give you an idea of the humor and irony that is behind the blips and squarely shaped drumbeats presented in the music.

The first track, ‘Lord Knows I Tried (Album Version)’, kicks the album off with a fantastic vocal soundbite about electronic music that certainly arouses suspense and suspicion of what’s to come. Claus from the band Leatherstrip sings with Len on this track, this song has a bit of a punk essence, as the music is reminiscent of a gruesome machine, out to get you. The second track, ‘C.C.C.P.C.C.T.V.’ contains growling and devilish vocals, with a well mixed drum beat to nod a head to, and a pop hook that feels angry and ironic – and it works. ‘Scanned’ is a higher tempo track that would get a dance floor moving. This is a perfect example of a mixture of gothic attitude, 80’s vibe, and industrial flair.

‘The City’ is where the album starts to lose momentum. It is a mid tempo song that largely falls short of the album’s previous tracks. It doesn’t have that focused quality that propels the previous tracks.

‘Jour Nucélaire’, containing a German voice over and affected vocals, is another dance track that’s value comes from a danceability factor rather than a “sit down and listen to” quality that some of the other tracks have. The synth line is very repetitive and the only way to truly appreciate it is likely in a room full of raved out party-heads. ‘I’m in control’ is a bit slower and seems to be a musical homage to Nine Inch Nails.

The rest of the album follows this basic pattern of danceable, underground-clubby tracks that would give an average pop listener a headache and anxiety issues, but for a specific type of person, this is most certainly a gold mine. Implant is definitely an artist that you either love or hate, since he seems to be a strongly musically opinionated individual, and doesn’t steer to far from an overall musical vision.

The Airborne Toxic Event – Such Hot Blood album review

At various times throughout their third studio album Such Hot Blood, The Airborne Toxic Event sound similar to other contemporary bands. At times, vocalist Mike Jollet groans like Matt Berninger of The National, shouts with unrequited passion like Win Butler of Arcade Fire, or mimics the anthemic cries of folk-pop groups like Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes or Mumford & Suns. But most of the time, their sound resembles the latter two groups, with their sweeping, elated crescendoes that could move you to go on a long road trip somewhere or to buy a new car. Airborne’s sound fits better, for the inevitable categorization that all music critics make, next to a Coldplay or a U2, who is, apparently, a major influence.

Folk music, which has become popular amongst young, American bands in recent years, has no noticeable influence on the band. Whereas a Mumford & Suns play off of the nostalgia of a richer, more prosperous U.S., Airborne subsists in the present moment. The fact that they don’t seem to be reviving any genre in particular, during an age that is filled with music revivals from dream pop to post-punk, may explain why their accesible, non-confrontational sound has brought them modest success, but not the same level of success as the aforementioned neo-folk groups.

For a band named after a line from a Don DeLillo novel, their music is, surprisingly, light and sentimental. A reoccurring theme in DeLillo’s fiction is the influence of mass culture on personal identity. Characters obsessed with finding authenticity in a heavily mediated, postmodern world often go to tremendous lengths to gain a sense of individuality. Struggle, while it may be unpleasant, is the only way to change yourself. The album, for this listener, too often eschewed visceral experience, remaining in a cozier realm of contemplation.

But Airborne’s most notable flaw is that their music stands out in no particular way. Their sound is contemporary, but is mostly a bland collage of other groups. There’s often a superiority and an ostensibly left position that emanates from a critique of a pop group as commercial, but there are not many other words that describe them better. “Karma Police,” a Radiohead track off of OK Computer, has a line that goes “He buzzes like a fridge/He’s like a de-tuned radio.” In an interview, Thom Yorke said that this line described how the alternative stations in America sounded to him; that the music buzzed like a fridge; nothing about it stood out or resonated within you. Such Hot Blood matches this description.

Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood – Black Pudding album review

It’s been a longtime coming for former Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan. His most recent effort, Black Pudding, will be his eighth in a catalog that spans the length of 23 years. Although there have been intermittent collaborations and subsequent touring along the way with names like: Isobel Campbell, The Gutter Twins, and Queens of the Stone Age, Lanegan still manages to stay on top of his solo career and connected to his acoustic blues persona with the release of his cut and dry 12 track LP.

Black Pudding is the brainchild of Lanegan and English multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood. From beginning to end this record features the heavy, unyielding vocals of Lanegan over the steady, rustic instrumentals of Garwood, something comparable to a steam locomotive powering through a transcontinental desert stretch. But there’s something sparse about it. Kind of like the train is plowing through with no particular destination in mind. That’s not to say the album is aimless, it’s laden with golden nuggets of lyrical and musical brilliance, but it misses its mark aesthetically. And I think that might have something to do with there being no conductor at the helm… or whatever steers a train. Lanegan never really takes charge of the album, there’s no showboating or highfaluting; he just goes with the music, and at times it’s brandished with extended instrumental intros and never-ending interludes. If Garwood thought to take one rip-roaring solo, the album would be his. But no one really does anything… the energy level from Lanegan is perpetually at a three and therefore so is Garwood’s.

I enjoyed the title track that kicked off the album and ‘Manchester Special’ which brought it to a close: the way the steel strings dug into the frets, the sympathetic tremolo picking, and the dry sound of Garwood’s fingers popping off the strings… all caught in the recording was lovely. The concept of an instrumental lulling us in, and ushering us out was a beautiful touch as well.

Also there’s something to be said about the lyrical imagery in juxtaposition with the dry gritty acoustics. In ‘Pentecostal’ the rugged sustain of bass notes emanates from the acoustic guitar creating a sonic chatter of strings buzzing off the frets, there’s nothing pretty or clean about it, and it produces an overall amazing effect. Contrapuntally Lanegan’s baritone vocals are equally as finite and together they bring out a tone as harsh and as unforgiving as the desert; even the shakers resemble that of a coldblooded rattlesnake. “Who’s got the keys to the work house, Satan has locked the door, got no wings to take us up off that killing floor,” lyrics like these permeate the album and brazenly complement the musical canvas they’re splashed on.

However these moments of lyrical brilliance come in bursts as they eventually dissipate into thin air. There’s not much cohesiveness in his story telling or much story telling for that matter. The tone and themes tie the album and the songs together nicely: they reference a lawless rough-and-tumble culture that goes hand in hand with death, but really these are just snippets of a concept in no chronological order. Although they’re beautifully crafted lyrical moments, it’s enough to take you there, but not enough to garner your attention and keep you there.

Black Pudding is an album intended for cult fans belonging to either the Lanegan or Garwood camps. For those like myself that are being inducted for the first time, this may not be a good starting point. That said; there are distinctive tracks and an overall fascinating concept to the record that anyone can appreciation, and should take the time to listen for if delving into it. Some notable songs include: ‘Cold Molly,’ ‘Mescalito,’ and ‘Pentecostal.’

Alpine – A is for Alpine album review

Alpine showcases their languid vibey feel in the first two tracks of this EP wonderfully. Lovers 1 and Lovers 2 blend seamlessly into one another and the combined voices of Phoebe Baker and Lou James create a dream-like world where listeners are free to float down a rainbow river and wave to the unicorns munching lazily at the water’s edge. The drum play on these tracks, especially the continuous ripple of the symbols on Lovers 1, feels like a fat rain drops landing on a placid lake, an aqua shiver that excites the soul.

However, the tracks grow increasingly more complex as the EP progresses, and the ephemeral nature of the vocals are sacrificed when the focus is placed on the layers of disco beats, drum synthesizers, and all other motifs synth-pop. The overall effect is a seemingly hodge-podge final product, a musical soup made of muddled themes, garnished with glitter. There are so many things happening at once mechanically on so many of these tracks that it’s difficult to attach your ear to any one element, any one motif, as so many of them are employed at once. Even the voices, which were lulling and emotionally evocative at first, become repetitive and eventually invoke paranoia.

The emotional response of the listener is not the only thing affected by the pared down lyrics, the overall narrative of the album suffers as it is difficult to teach a lesson using a Socratic method when the conversation never progresses, and at the end of the day, the point of creating complexity through the synth layers feels misguided or even completely lost.

Having said that, there is a commonly agreed upon notion that a person needs to hear something seven times in order for them to remember it. Maybe that was Alpine’s plan all along. If that is the case, there is something to be said about their ability to choose two statements per track to express who they are as individuals. Who needs a biography when you can boil down who you are into two concise statements? Take the track Gasoline, saying over and over again, ‘I wish it wasn’t just the night time,’ after ‘There’s gasoline in my heart.’ Hard to debate the point when there is so little to the argument.

At first glance this album sorely lacks depth, but I found myself pondering the possibility that this could be the intended design, and that there was something to choosing simplicity of text over long-winded diatribes about the nature of good and evil, or for that matter the storytelling structure that folk employs. ‘A is for Alpine’ is an acid trip narrated by fairy voices on a loop; the instrumental elements deliver a journey into the ether, and the colloquial lyrical structure offers a simple perspective, an ethos declared via mantras. This debut album merits a listen, even if it is only to see what you can remember after listening to it.

Texas – The Conversation album review

I’ve been dreading an album like this to come along. It’s easy to sing praise for a release that pleasantly surprised you, and it can be equally as easy to trash something that is fundamentally flawed or just plain awful. The difficulty arises when everything seems to be calculated perfectly for a very specific audience. That very specific audience couldn’t be farther from my tastes. Texas’ The Conversation makes me want to shoot myself.

If it weren’t produced so immaculately, these songs could be found playing on the radio of a vintage car in a classic movie. The radio station wouldn’t be the one playing the classics people remember, however, no, it would be playing all the forgotten songs of days gone by. You know, the ones people tried to forget. You may have pictured a ’50’s era Chevy playing the tinny radio tinted songs cinematically in my metaphor, but the truth is Texas spans many decades. Many decades of genres in their lowest form made to order for their era’s respective top 40 (or more aptly, the bottom of the top 40).

Halfway through writing this review and listening to The Conversation, I’ve changed my mind. I’m no longer struggling to criticize this in the face of its competence, rather, I’m struggling to understand who in 2013 actually gives a fuck about this music. It’s so mediocre that it shatters the notion of being average and falls down into being completely aggravating. With each carefully crafted turd that rings out, my blood starts to boil a little bit more. I should give Texas accolades for affecting me in such a way, but I wont.

If you don’t care too much about music and/or have some nostalgic attachment to Texas’ heyday, you’ll probably gobble this up and choke on the bones. The rest of humanity would do well to avoid The Conversation though I doubt anyone besides Texas fans even know it exists.

Socalled – The Season album review

Imagine a musical theater score peppered with hip hop beats and than coated with a layer of Weird Al Yankovic’s humor and you have a slight (a very, very slight) idea of what Socalled’s newest album sounds like. It wouldn’t be fair to cap Montreal, Quebec native as just a “musician” when many of his experimental talents are clearly showcased in this fifth studio album, The Season.

While his last record, The Sleepover, released May 2011 would be easy to quickly frame as “hip hop/pop”, this one is a bit harder to pin point the exact musical category. Released on Socalled Entertainment and standing at 13 tracks in length and under 30 minutes, it packs a ridiculous amount of musical genres into a little package.

The set up of the album is literally as a musical score would be with the opening instrumental track titled “Overture” and sprinkled with other short classical intermissions like, “Shooting Star” and “Second Act Overture.” Mixed in between those tracks are the hidden gems like, “Ekhonomics.” Starting out tame, with plucks and strokes of cello strings and than three quarters into the song, BAM! it morphs into buoyant beats with witty lyrics like, “Carrots rule everything around me, C.R.E.A.M.”

Not to limit the tracks to only incorporating hip hop and classical influences, jazz and Irish folk also peeks through. “Work Hard” offers waves of bouncy jazz drums, smooth chimes of symbols, sly violin details and deep silky vocals; really resembling something you’d hear on an old time jazz album. The following song titled, “Baskatong Song” delivers the folk element – in case you weren’t satisfied with the previous 3 music genres – with cuts of fiddle notes ringing against symmetrical drumming patterns.

As much as I found the album entertaining I do have to admit at times it was difficult to keep up with all of the ideas that accompanied Socalled’s ideas.

While the album is entertaining and constantly spiced with various ingredients of musical endeavors, it was a little hard to understand the exact concept behind it all. On the flip-side when do musicals ever make sense? The Season is definitely something one should give a listen to from beginning to end.

Indevotion – Heart album review

I’m sitting in the bedroom of my third floor apartment in Somerville, Massachusetts listening to Exile on Main Street on vinyl. Mick Jagger is singing about ripping joints to save his soul, and I’m drinking rum from a tiny airplane liquor bottle. It’s 90 degrees outside, and probably 100 in the house. I’ve just sweated through my second shirt of the day. Why am I listening to the Stones and perspiring in front of my window fan? The activities described above are serving as a palate cleanser after absorbing the greasy turd of an album that is Heart by Indevotion. This short EP is, simply put, a piece of hot trash. However, I will now review it.

Though my musical tastes tend to drift towards more independent artists, there has always been a place in my heart for great pop songs. I like “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus. I thoroughly enjoy “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars. Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” gets stuck in my head every time it blasts through my car speakers (which seems happen just about every hour on the hour). Yet, I simply cannot get behind a band like Indevotion. The music contained on Heart, which was thankfully only four songs long, is slickly produced and sounds like a mash up of any of the pop rock artists that are currently famous (See Paramore or the aforementioned Taylor Swift). The album is so finely tuned, in fact, that it lacks any of the soul or grit that could have made its creators endearing. There are no flubbed notes, no edge to front woman My Helmner’s voice, and certainly nothing but perfectly on-time drum fills. Even listening to lead-off song “Heartripper” right now (is that Heart-Ripper, as in someone who rips your heart out? Or heartripper, as in someone who accidentally falls over a bodily organ?) has sent me running back over to my turntable to flip to side two of Exile. Perhaps Indevotion are incredibly popular in their home country of Sweden, but their schtick has most definitely been done here in the U.S. and sounds recycled in comparison to current top 40 songs.

According to the Wikipedia page, it took the Rolling Stones almost 4 years, between 1968 and 1972, to record Exile on Main Street. During its creation Jagger and company moved to the South of France in order to escape stringent tax law in the U.K. They practiced in the basement of a French villa, sweating and strung out on smack, trying to get the most raggedly perfect takes for their double LP. It is a far cry from the saccharine sheen of Heart. The record has an unoriginal sound that has been heard many times before, and is certainly not worth your time or money.

Northcape – Exploration and Ascent album review

Hey, wait a minute! I thought the new Boards of Canada album wasn’t coming out until June! Were they trying to put one over all of us here, taking on the name Northcape and making an album that sounded almost exactly like…

Anyway, I’ve always had a little trouble reviewing electronic. Part of it is because I haven’t been listening to it as long as I have other genres – I only became a fan about two years ago, where I’ve enjoyed rock and jazz since I was very young and hip hop to some degree since high school – but part of it is because the sort of electronic I lean toward, which this fits in line with quite well, tends to be on the abstract side of things. It’s easy for me to really like Aphex Twin and Autechtre and their ilk, but it’s hard for me to put words around the two groups, because I’m basically trying to rationalize impressionism. Northcape fit under the same general genre, but I’m gonna give it a go anyway.

Winding back to my original point, they sound a lot like Boards of Canada, and unfortunately, that’s a little to their detriment. After all, when you’re an electronic group who sounds that much like them, you’ve set the bar very high for yourself. And they use the same blend of dreamy synthesizers and droning electric guitars (although they’re more inclined to them than Boards of Canada are), the beats are set somewhere between electronic and trip hop, the tempos are slow to medium, often slowing down in the middle of a song, and the general feel of it is very chill. And unfortunately, they don’t live up to the standard they set themselves to.

There is an upside to it, though: Exploration and Ascent is such a careful study of such an enjoyable group that it can’t help but be enjoyable itself. I particularly enjoy “The First Crossing of the Watershed,” which unfolds quite nicely over the course of its eight minute length – like a lot of good electronic, it’s based on a series of simple, interlacing melodies that are allowed to build on and play off of each other. Meanwhile, “Arrive Ruttledge Col” nails the dreaminess, and their sci-fi synths – which they use a lot more heavily than Boards of Canada do – come off quite nicely on “Trailhead” and “Potentilla.” It’s also quite warm and relaxing, and nicely ethereal – in other words, the sort of album that does sound quite good while it’s playing.

And hey – at the end of the day, it certainly wouldn’t be a bad way to get into this general style of electronic music. I’ll grant that it would be a bit of an odd starting point, but if you so happen to be curious about the whole “ambient techno” thing, it’s certainly quite representative and well-executed. It’s just that other groups, most notably Boards of Canada, do cast a long shadow over them.

Lombok – The Great Southeast album review

Lombok is the name of an island in the Indonesian archipelago. It is also the name of a musical project created by Owen Hooper, a Canadian citizen who spent time living in Jakarta, the capital of Java, another island in the the Indonesian archipelago. It is a chronicle of his time there.

The music has a largely dream pop type of feel to it, very ethereal in terms of its tone color and moderate in its tempo. Hooper’s vocals are very prominent throughout, and the melodic arcs and phrasing of the vocal line comprise a big portion of the ‘pop’ part of the description of his music.

The songs themselves are fairly standard in structure, and the instrumentation and production sound like an update of eighties pop music, with a lot of sequenced drumbeats supporting synth driven lines and progressions. For added timbral interest, ‘We Don’t Know’ has a glockenspiel type effect present in its arrangement.

‘An Imagination’ features a very singer-songwriter intro, with the lead vocals supported by a harmonized keyboard vamp, before dissolving into the rhythm track of the main body of the song. For structural integrity, the chord progression of the intro shows up in the verse of the song itself.

While not necessarily the most innovative sounding release to come out in a while, the songs contained in this project are nonetheless quite melodic and engaging. While it definitely falls squarely within the domain of accessible pop music, it is quite listenable and intelligently crafted music. This is a real labor of love.