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Spyro Gyra – A Foreign Affair review

Largely an instrumental album, Spyro Gyra’s “A Foreign Affair” is the latest in an extensive back catalog stretching back over 30 years. In fact, there have been only 6 individual years since 1978 that they *haven’t* released at least one album. For their latest, the band has taken influence from all musical cultures, from Indian to Salsa, with the trademarks of previous releases.

The first half of the album is not bad, but expect to feel like you’re on hold, in a waiting room, or you’re 8 years old in your mother’s car again. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, but it was too jazzy, and not really enough of the other ingredients that makes the last half of this album so unique. And “Chileno Boys” sounds like something from a soft porn late night special… or so I’m told.

When “Samba for Two” started, I actually had to check to see if I had gone on to the next artist in my iTunes – it’s so different than the first half of the album, and continues to be something along the lines of Buena Vista Social Club. “Canção de Ninar” has an exquisite piece of piano work halfway through. “Falling Walls” is a nice communication between the alto sax (one of my least favourite instruments, thanks to one Kenny G) and the Spanish guitar. It has a “Girl from Ipanema” feel about it, something you feel is best enjoyed with a cigar and a rum cocktail. “Last Call” is exactly that: a smoky, late night anthem that curls up inside you.

I almost feel as though there should be two reviews for this album, as the two halves are so different. Overall, though, “A Foreign Affair” certainly helps with the rainy weather we on the West Coast have been toiling through of late, but this style of fusion jazz has not aged well – rather, it seems stuck, or stoically holding on to the past. That the band plays these instruments with such skill and prowess is commendable, but unfortunately they fail to experiment outside of the formula used so many years before (something that “jazz” is all about).

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press releases reviews

Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman – World Wide Rebel Songs review

“…there’s a hundred thousand in the streets, and that number’s gonna grow…”

So.

Apparently there’s a bit of a to-do in New York City right now. Thousands and thousands of regular people calling themselves “the 99%”, after it was deemed that 1% of the population make the decisions that affect the other 99% are in the middle of a long peaceful protest, and when people rebel, they need a soundtrack. Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, and Rage Against the Machine have all been perfect examples of protest music, a backdrop to the chants and tear gas.

Tom Morello is no stranger to the sounds of struggle. A founding member of RATM, and a long history of political nuances in his upbringing (calling himself “the only anarchist in a conservative high school), Morello has been branching out in his alter ego The Nightwatchman with “World Wide Rebel Music”, released August 30th. The album touches upon, among other things, Morello’s strong opinions on the union protests in Wisconsin earlier this year, and throughout there is a call to arms for the great unwashed to rise up against the oppressive.

Many of the tracks are simplistic, choosing the message to shine through amid Tom and his guitar. “Save The Hammer for the Man” carries weight with an appearance by Ben Harper. The title track reminds the listener that generations before us stood up against tyranny, and there’s no reason why we can’t do it as well. Stray Bullets is almost a shanty song, and immediately conjures up a group – no, a brotherhood – steeling themselves against the impending odds. Overtly a war song, it references Iraq and touches on mutiny.

Apart from the content, however, the music stands up in and of itself. Morello’s whiskey soaked vocals are a perfect accompaniment; wise, yet broken. Almost as if he were the mentor in so many Hollywood movies, he sounds like a man that has already been through the fires of hell, and you’d never suspect of his background as one of the heaviest bands of the last 30 years.

It’s rare that I enjoy an album as much as this one. Oftentimes, new music is wishy-washy shoegazer synth-rock from some kids in Oregon, or overly produced bubblegum pop. So much can be gleaned about our culture from the music of a society, so in this scenario, World WIde Rebel Songs is a genuine litmus test of the socioeconomic climate in the Western world, particularly in the USA. The Nightwatchman is just what this generation has been searching for – a leader. We’re all confused as to what this world has become, and with the guiding hand of an elder, we’re ready to take on the machine. And you know he’ll be right there next to you on the front line.

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reviews

Ed Sheeran – + album review

Ed Sheeran’s “+” Adds Up

The singer songwriter has gained some serious momentum in the popular music scene in the last 10 years. Artists such as Damien Rice, Stephen Fretwell, Elliott Smith, James Morrison, Jason Mraz, and Sufjan Stevens employ a minimalist soundtrack to a distinctive voice.

Ed Sheeran certainly belongs in the same breath as the men above, if only for his sheer determination (a whopping 312 gigs in 2009 alone). Though + is his first major label release, he’s been recording for six years, and writing songs since he was a boy. He is almost still a boy, at only 20 years old. The English wunderkind has seen commercial success, reaching #3 in the UK charts with his debut single “The A Team”, and has no signs of stopping, touring his album as I type.

The album touches many genres, bordering on rapping freestyle on a couple of tracks (listen to “You Need Me I Don’t Need You”, you’ll see what I mean). With lines like “They say I’m up and coming like I’m ****ing in an elevator”, it’s clear to see Sheeran has a talent for lyricism. The soul in his voice is revealed in the slower “Kiss Me”, and further evidence of his writing prowess is demonstrated in the beautifully sweet “Wake Me Up.” There’s even a secret song after the gospelesque “Give Me Love”, a practice I thought long dead with the advent of mp3s, and it brings to mind the north of England and the rainy dales of Scotland. “U.N.I” covers simplistic verses with a staccato bridge, and it’s a fun ride he takes us on; “Grade 8” is funky, and “The City” is ballsy from the outset.

Sheeran’s skills are all over this piece. It’s a testament to love with a hint of naïveté, and you can’t help but feel his reward of celebrity is justified. + may be tough to name (what is it, “T”? “Plus”?) but it’s easy to listen to.

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reviews

Dessa – Castor, The Twin review

I’ve always been a fan of political hip-hop; A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy, and De La Soul all taken in preference over Dr. Dre, Tupac, and Jay-Z. Likewise, it is no secret that I enjoy the singer-songwriter genre as well, largely due to the power of their written words.

What a nice surprise my next assignment was.

Part poet, part hip-hop artist, all awesome. Dessa, part of the Minneapolis based Doomtree Hip-hop Collective, has created something special with her latest “Castor, The Twin.” It’s without the raw and sometimes filthy delivery style favoured by today’s rappers, but with a voice like hers it would only serve to cheapen the tracks.

I ended up listening to this album 3 times before sitting down to write about it (usually I shoot for some hastily scribbled notes on first play to get me started). Every time, “Dixon’s Girl” just floored me. The bluesy intro sets up her story, and the story is captivating. At one point you feel Dessa just has to run out of breath, and yet she doesn’t. If you took Fiona Apple and asked her to cover a Buck 65 track, this would be a close approximation to the result. It works.

As for the rest of the album, “Mineshaft” really demonstrates her abilities about a minute and a half in, in both content and delivery, and is another highlight. “Alibi” is about as gritty as it gets on “Castor, The Twin”, and at the other end of the scale the very next track, “Palace”, is a piano laden balladesque, with sultry vocals.

I really was blown away by Dessa Darling’s style, her range, and the sheer quality of her art. If you’re looking for something different, definitely give this a spin. You won’t regret it.

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reviews

Roll The Dice – In Dust review

So varied are the splinters of music genre that to fully map them all out would result in an image much like a mathematical algorithm. Post punk, Avant-pop, and industrial house are just a very small sample. This scene is fascinating to explore because you never know which combination of adjectives will sound the most pleasing to your subjective ear and mind. One such example is Stockholm’s Roll the dice, consisting of Peder Mannerfelt (aka The Subliminal Kid) and Malcolm Pardon. Their second album “In Dust”, is my subject matter.

I was originally going to call this review “Music for Ketamine”: Roll The Dice’s “In Dust” doesn’t seem to do anything, and if it does it takes its sweet time doing it. But then you start noticing patterns, little nuances in the tracks that chime. The first track, “Iron Bridge”, has a looong silence at the end (I actually got up to check my computer hadn’t stopped), and track two, “Calling All Workers”, opens with and is punctuated by a churchbell. “Maelstrom” is rich, majestic. And notice in “Dark Thirty”, they have complementing notes on different instruments while the strings slowly fade in. It then becomes optimistic, like a sunrise, and is in stark contrast to the first half of the album.

I would suggest listening to this album in a full setting; either an incredible speaker system or your favourite pair of headphones. Surround yourself, envelop yourself in it like a still warm duvet on a rainy September day.

I really can’t explain this album; it’s bizarre. The nearest approximation would be electronic, but if the machines had taken over and were now experimenting with this human concept of music. The Swedish duo masterminding this piece of work are not afraid to use silence as an instrument and it pays off.

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HTRK – Work (work, work) review

HTRK Grind on with Work (work, work)

Only their 2nd full length studio album, the group finds themselves minus one member after Sean Stewart’s sudden passing last year. Their latest, Work (work, work) has an experimental style that has a minimalist industrial sound.

I’ll admit, when I first got this album, I didn’t understand it, and I don’t think I liked it. But now. Now it is the weekend, and I am hungover, and Work (work, work) is exactly what I want to hear. It’s a brain massage, yet still engaging. Jonnine Standish has stepped up to replace Stewart in vocals, and her haunting mutterings only further elevate an otherworldly effort throughout. “Work That Body” has a decent thump to it, and “Skinny” has this kind of despair, the vocals echoed from the walls of the abyss. “Synthetik” is slinky and sexy, the bass repeating over and over reminiscent of Massive Attack’s “Mezzanine” album. “Love Triangle” has a beautiful melody, buried beneath echoes and pings that sound as if the whole piece was recorded underwater. And just as I was about to submit this article, “Body Double” came on and I realized I had forgotten all about it. My favourite track, you just enjoy it straight away. It summates the album perfectly.

It’s clear that the band is mourning the loss of Stewart, and putting the energy into this cathartic album has yielded high returns. Work (work, work) is shaping up to be the future of the band, and despite the setback have come out of their corner fighting. But simplistically.

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reviews

Thundercat – The Golden Age of Apocalypse review

Those of you who are old enough (like me) to remember the 80s will undoubtedly hold the cartoon Thundercats in high regard. Cat people fighting lizard people controlled by a mummy – what’s not to like? In fact, with the sole exception of that irritating whiner Snarf (look it up), there isn’t a thing I’d change about the Thundercats. And then there’s Cheetara… They’ve recently updated the series to kick even more ass, so check that out.

Because of the immense popularity of the TV show, it’s tough to do any background research on Thundercat and his album “The Golden Age of Apocalypse”. I’ll be honest, with a title like that I was expecting some awesome metal or maybe speedpunk. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting sound throughout – somewhere between jazz, funk, and electro. It’s unpredictable and fun; “Fleer Ultra” even goes into an extended free flow bass solo that seems never-ending, despite the song only being 2 minutes long with some change. “It Really Doesn’t Matter to You” ends on a pretty sick drum beat, and goes straight into the funky fuse of “Jamboree”, a song that’s making me dance in my seat as I type. “Seasons” has a Latin beat, almost samba, and it’s a great way to shake up the flow (that was not a maraca pun). “Return to the Journey” is a classic sendoff; a stripped down version of the rest of the album, with the good parts left in.

This album would be a welcome addition to any DJ that wants to spice things up a little in his set list, or it could be the soundtrack to a low lit, comfy couch martini bar. In the right conditions, (a convertible, going slow down Main Street on a hot sunny day) you could even drive to it. TGAoA is one of the most exciting albums to be released this year, and I hope it does well.

Thundercats – HOOOOOOAAAA!

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reviews

Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump review

Grandaddy’s “The Sophtware Slump” Revisited

Grandaddy’s debut album back in 1997, “Under the Western Freeway”, turned heads of critics and listeners alike. Featuring light falsetto vocals against a thunderous indie soundtrack, Grandaddy were one of the first to pioneer the style copied so often these days.

Their second album, “The Sophtware Slump” has been hailed as a new generation of concept album, bemoaning the place of technology in society. Its re-release brings a new level of B-sides and alternate versions… which I unfortunately do not have. However, it’s probably better to hear those new tracks fresh, without someone telling the listener what to expect – why take the fun out of it?
In terms of the original album, “Jed The Humanoid” tells the story of sentient life created in the kitchen, only to have Jed resort to chronic alcoholism due to the lack of tension from his creators (friends?). Meanwhile, “Miner at the Dial-A-View” portrays a feature akin to Google Earth, allowing the user to zoom into any spot on earth; the viewer is helpless to interact with the subjects (“My home, my friends, and you/ I watched them fade but what can I do?), commenting on the appeared control we have using the Internet. “So You’ll Aim Toward the Sky” (I always loved the selection of titles on a grandaddy album) is a single verse repeated over and over, painting an escapist’s view of his problems. “Broken Household Appliance National Forest” starts with a calm vista of the garbage all around, then the rocking chorus kicks in. I dare you not to enjoy this song.

The Sophtware Slump is just as good as it was 11 years ago when I listened to it in my family bedroom. It holds its own against the numerous copycats and inspired shoegazer music, partly because of the content of the album and partly because the scene was their scene; they were there, man. Jason Lytle’s voice carriers by virtue of its unobtrusiveness, while at the same time capturing a layer that would otherwise go unheard.

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reviews

Bombay Bicycle Club – A Different Kind of Fix review

Bombay Bicycle Club – Training wheels required?

Bombay Bicycle Club is relatively new in the scene, though 3 albums in as many years is nothing to be sniffed at. These boys have the drive that’s needed – an endless touring cycle for the summer, and a load of twinkly indie rock off of their latest album “A Different Kind of Fix” to showcase. Think of them like Keane 2.0, not afraid to use the piano, but not relying on it too heavily so as to be a gimmick.

Each of the tracks have a redeeming quality – for example, Beg has a catchy rise to freneticism, and Your Eyes has a singsong beat backed with the juxtaposed bass line. Beggars is sweet, simple. Still is a lullaby, rich yet not overt. Fracture seems to evoke BBC’s American counterparts, Fleet Foxes.

But… it’s strange. ADKOF should be a great piece of work, yet for all of its pros, I have to say that the album didn’t contain many points that made me sit up and take notice; I’ll confess it was more of a drifting in and out of interest. When I did, it was good. But today’s music industry is in danger of saturation of this type of music, and it’s almost as if the ear tunes it out, like a lawnmower on a summer day. Definitely worth checking out, if only out of curiosity.

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reviews

Black Tide – Post Mortem review

To sum up a genre such as metal would be a near impossible task. There are so many splinters from the original sub-genres that listing them all would take more time than I am willing to type for. That said, Black Tide is the future face of hardcore metal. Founding members and brothers Raul and Gabriel Garcia are only 20 and 18 respectively, yet they convey meaning well beyond their years. Having opened for numerous big names at Ozzfest and touring with Avenged Sevenfold, the group is now blooming into other areas, their work associated with no less than 10 different video games.

Its clear that the group loves what they do, and they’re good at it. For example, just the second song on the album, Bury Me, has towering guitars and a thrasher of a drum beat, and even that guttural growl we’ve come to expect from some areas of metal like screamo. All throughout the album, their technical prowess apparent, masters of their respective craft, resulting in a tight and driven piece. Take It Easy is borderline emo, but that’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable. “Walking Dead Man” has all the hallmarks of their influences, from the opening riff that sounds like it’s speed-addled, to the treble walk down the fretboard, and overall just makes you want to smash things with your hands. If you’ve ever heard Dragonforce, you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about.

I like metal: it’s tough for me to say why I like it. It seems too cliche to say it speaks to me, but it certainly triggers some internal switch that keeps me entertained. These boys are able to hold their own with the big dogs, and it’s not a far reach to say that they will be influencing kids with long hair and an axe in the near future.