The Hives – Lex Hives album review

Are The Hives a band that people care about?  I never really listened to them – I always got them confused with The Vines because they both had singles in the same garage rock revival style that were really popular at the same time, as well as both having five letter names that end in a plural and have a “v” in them.  I know they used to be; they were one of the popular bands within that first wave of garage rock, along with The White Stripes, the aforementioned Vines, The Strokes and The Black Keys, but I also haven’t heard from them in a while.  The last song I remember from them was 2007’s “Tick Tick Boom”, which is still a fairly cool rock tune.

Anyways, I ask my hypothetical readers because apparently Lex Hives is their first record in five years, and no one really seems to care.  I guess the garage rock thing kind of started petering out a couple years ago – The White Stripes continued to evolve and get weirder as Jack White became the only rock savant of the 2000s so far, The Strokes got less and less relevant but also brought indie rock to new heights of popularity, The Vines are apparently still around but are mostly being hated on, and The Black Keys have moved onto their R n’ B thing.  Unfortunately, in the time The Hives have been away, they seem to have missed the memo, and so Lux Hives sounds pretty much exactly like everything else they’ve released.

That’s right, kiddies!  Once again, you’ll be hearing buzzsaw guitars, howling vocals, and stadium-ready choruses, wrapped up in basic song structures, and rock star posturing.  I get what The Hives are doing here; it’s no doubt that this is meant to be a sort of “rock n’ roll revival”, a return to the simplicity and primal ferocity of the rock music of old.  This is something that The Hives did successfully at one point, but this late in the game they don’t really have the hooks for it, so instead Lex Hives just comes off as kind of….dumb.  It feels calculated and a bit sterile, not at all like the 1-2 punch of intensity that they’re aiming for.  For all intents and purposes, Lex Hives is a perfectly serviceable album – it’s fun, brief, and may satisfy some of The Hives’ older fans.  But it also comes off as phenomenally lazy, an album devoid of anything resembling the artistic growth that should come after a five-year break.  What’s happened to The Hives is probably exactly the opposite of what they wanted – in trying so hard to be rock n’ roll gods, they’ve actually become one of those old rock dinosaurs.

NxNE 2012: Day 4 (except not really)

I didn’t actually go to anything North by Northeast-related last night.  Oh, I really wanted to – I love the Wu-Tang Clan, and seeing Raekwon and Ghostface Killah together was something that deeply appealed to me.  But I just couldn’t reject the pull of my favourite ska band, and I went to go see Reel Big Fish with Goldfinger and Big D and the Kids Table with a few friends instead.

It was kind of a bad day for me to go to a show, really – Father’s Day dinner will have a way of intruding on your nighttime plans.  We ended up missing the opener, Suburban Legends, as well as first headliner Big D and the Kids Table.  I didn’t care about the missing the first band, but I would have liked to see Big D – though they can be a tad obnoxious in the long haul, they have some great songs. The surfy beach music of 2007’s Fluent in Stroll was a unique departure development from their earlier ska material, and I was always a little bit bummed out that I had to miss them last time they came around.  I didn’t really mind this time though – they released a new album this year that I didn’t even know about until a few weeks ago, and apparently it’s a return to ska music and not particularly good.  I mean, I obviously love ska or else I wouldn’t be going to the show, but Fluent in Stroll was such a nice evolution of their sound that to hear them go back to resting on their laurels is a bit disheartening.

The event on Ticketmaster made the point of saying that it was a Reel Big Fish show, which implied to me that they’d be going on last.  This was apparently ill-informed, because by the time we got there at 9, they were already on.  Luckily, we’d only missed the first ten to fifteen minutes, so we picked up our tickets and quickly ran into the mass of people near the front of the stage – the section where everyone was actually dancing.  The band played awesomely – they’re one of those bands that have never stopped touring, and even through constant lineup changes have maintained a consistent level of quality.  I mean, their newest albums haven’t been particularly great – 2007’s Monkeys For Nothing and Chimps for Free was a hilariously entertaining nostalgia trip but little else, and 2009’s Fame, Fortune and Fornication was a lame 80s cover album.  But they’re still a hell of a band live – ska shows are consistently the ones I have the most outright fun at, and Reel Big Fish are probably the best third-wave ska band around.  Their songs are as catchy as ever and they’re probably the funniest band I’ve ever seen short of Tenacious D.  Great audience too – no one moshes to relaxed songs like often happens at these kinds of shows and pretty much everyone is just plain happy to be there.  Ska music is very community-driven which tends to lead to some generally good crowds.  Anyways, it’s totally understandable to not be into ska music, but I feel like anyone should be able to go to an RBF show and have a really good time.  Unless you hate dancing, good musicianship, or anything remotely upbeat.

Goldfinger ended up being the last band, and we stuck around for their set.  They always seemed like a second-tier band both when they were a ska band and when they evolved into a more basic pop-punk quartet.  But we all have a nostalgic connection to the songs that were in the Tony Hawk games and I’ve always liked their cover of “99 Red Balloons” so we agreed that we wanted to see them for those three songs at least.  They were pretty good, though I still don’t think they’re incredible.  Unlike Reel Big Fish, they actually seem as old as they are, and their banter and stage antics seemed pre-planned. But they were energetic, did a good job pumping up the crowd, and brought Dave Baksh – the member of Sum 41 that made that band cool for a while – onstage for the last couple songs, which was a neat trick.  I liked them for the three songs I stayed for at least, and it seemed like everyone else in the crowd was enjoying, so they must have been doing well.

It was a great night overall – if you want a good time, I’d recommend you drink a bunch and go to a ska show.  You will not be disappointed.

NxNE 2012: Day 3 (June 16th)

I’ve never had a concert cancelled on me before.

Last night, I was supposed to be going to the Radiohead show at Downsview Park.  As you may have heard already, a few hours before the show was set to start, the stage collapsed, killing one person and injuring three others.  Quite a tragedy really – I don’t understand why stages keep collapsing over the past year or two.  I suspect the problem is with manufacturers and bogus materials – I can’t really see any other way that this could be happening so frequently and within such a small timeframe.  Wherever the problem is, somebody down the line has to start getting their shit together.  This kind of thing is unacceptable.

So that was too bad, but considering that The Flaming Lips were playing for free later that night, it was hard to get too broken up about it.  It was already a somewhat difficult choice to pick Radiohead over them, so it worked out pretty well for me.

The problem was that it seems everybody else who was planning to go to Radiohead had the same idea, so Yonge and Dundas Square was absolutely packed.  My friends and I got there about halfway through Of Montreal’s set, and already the crowd was reaching from the square out into the surrounding streets.  I didn’t catch a whole lot of that set – the sound from all the way back at the Eaton’s Centre was pretty crappy, so the only stuff I was able to hear was booming bass with no real audio clarity.  That was alright though – while I would have liked to see and hear more of them, I haven’t been too into Of Montreal since 2004’s Sunlandic Twins.  They have so many albums that all of their material tends to kind of blend together, and it’s reached a point where I just feel like I’ve had enough of them.  Tal – who you were introduced to yesterday – was up front though, and he said the set was excellent.

We all decided that we were hungry afterwards, so instead of staying for Portugal. The Man’s set, we made our way over to Big Fat Burrito.  Have you ever been to a Big Fat Burrito?  You really should.  I consider myself something of a burrito connoisseur, and there really is no better in the city.  If you’re in Toronto, you should go there sometime.  I recommend the pulled pork, or yam if you’re in a veggie mood.  Yes, yam.  Great idea right?

We got back just as Portugal. The Man finished up, hoping that the crowd would disperse after the set and we could get better spots for Flaming Lips.  This was, unfortunately, not the case, and after much pushing and shoving, we still couldn’t get to a point where we could so much as see the stage.  We ended up watching the entire set on the screen set up near the back of the crowd.  It was quite frustrating, especially because we’re all legitimate fans of the band, whereas pretty much everyone else around us was just there to have something to do.  Also, there was a real dick standing beside us who A) nearly punched me in the face three times from attempting to simulate the moves from an Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter trailer, B) brought glass bottles of beer to an outdoor concert on a hot day where many people, including myself, were wearing sandals, and C) spat a mouthful of water right onto the backs of my friends’ heads – I believe this was due to a simulated “spit-take” in response to something his girlfriend said.  I swear I nearly clocked that dude.  Fucking asshole.

Anyways, the set itself was awesome.  I suspected that the Flaming Lips would play the exact same set as when I saw them two years ago, because they haven’t released any new albums since then and they’re a band who have had the same stage show for about ten years.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not the case – when last I saw them, they didn’t play anything off of The Soft Bulletin, but it was represented here by a couple tunes.  Instead, they shafted Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, only playing “Do You Realize??”, the obvious closing song of the set.  I was pretty okay with this since I like The Soft Bulletin better anyways.  True to form, they pulled out all of their usual stage tricks – Wayne Coyne in a hamster ball, massive hands that shoot lasers, and the band being introduced by walking out of a giant, light-giving vagina.  It might be time to bring out a new bag of gimmicks at this point, but the old ones are just as weird and, frankly, awesome as they’ve always been.  So yeah, shame about the circumstances, but the set was fantastic.

Join me once again tomorrow for my final report of North by Northeast, in which I attempt and possibly fail to actually go to the festival at all, in the wake of another show the same night!

NxNE 2012: Day 2 (June 15th)

The middle-aged fat man in the purple-striped shirt wouldn’t stop hitting on young girls.

This was, as my friend and bandmate Tal described, the “glue” of my second day at North by Northeast.  But before I continue, some background information is necessary.

About a month ago, my band New Stems played a show at the Horseshoe Tavern that was sponsored by the local modern rock radio station, 102.1 The Edge.  When our set concluded and we’d finished packing up our gear, a man came up to our vocalist/rhythm guitar player Jordan, talked to him for about 15 minutes, and gave him a business card.  As Jordan excitedly relayed to us afterwards, this man was from a record label, and told us to shoot him an email the next day.  Many high-fives were had.  The next day, we did as the man instructed, and after a few emails back and forth, he invited us to attend a BBQ that the label was hosting during NxNE.  We were only supposed to bring two people – though we probably could have brought more – and Jordan was in San Diego this week, so it was up Tal and I to represent.

The BBQ was being held at a place called The Football Fountain, a sports bar devoted to soccer.  It was running from 7-10, so our goal was to get there fashionably late at 8 o’clock.  As we exited the subway at Queen Station it looked like we would hit this mark, but we were thwarted by the Much Music Video Awards’ stage, which was being constructed outside and cut off streetcar operations eastbound until Bathurst St – exactly where we needed to get to.  We had to wait around for a bus for 15 minutes, and after a short, extremely cramped bus ride, we decided to just get off and walk the rest of the way, our lateness quickly changing from fashionable to….just plain late.

Luckily, it wasn’t such a big deal, as it turned out it was mostly just a bunch of bands playing and not really the intimate “so, let’s talk about a record deal” thing that we thought it would be.  We were obviously disappointed about this, especially because we had missed the opportunity for free beer due to our lateness, but it gave us a chance to check out two bands – and me a chance to write about them.

The first one was an indie rock group called Paper Maps.  They looked really familiar to me and I wrongfully thought that I had seen them play at Sonic Boom during Record Store Day.  They didn’t really do anything particularly unique, but they had a ton of energy and some great guitar tones.  It was during this set that I first noticed that fat drunk man in the purple shirt.  He went up to a pretty girl behind me and commented on how much he liked the flower in her hair.  This would maybe be cute if the girl seemed like she knew the guy at all – but she didn’t.  This was the first of many similar moments as Purple-Shirted Fat Man got more and more belligerent throughout the night.

The other musician we saw was an acoustic act named Kevin Myles Wilson.  He was fine; he played a solid blues and had a good voice, but Tal and I both agreed that something about him seemed a little…inauthentic.  The “incessant devil horns” of a folk musician is making a melodramatic song about how you may not have much in your life but goddammit all you need is a guitar.  It just seems very self-conscious to me, like the person feels that they need to heavy-handedly explain to the audience how much they love music for fear that they won’t be understood otherwise.  Anyways, I’m not here to shit on the guy – as I said, good voice, nice guitar playing, songs are decent.

It was during his set that Tal and I started striking up a conversation with a girl named Vanessa, who gave us the lowdown on Purple-Shirted Fat Man.  She’s in a band called Goodnight, Sunrise by the way, and they’re playing at Rancho Relaxo on Sunday.  I promised her I’d plug her band if she let me use her as a character, so there ya go.  So anyways, here’s the story with Fat Man, as told by Vanessa – apparently, he came into the bar with a video camera but no actual media pass and proceeded to talk to various young ladies, and insisting that they were now his camera crew.  I saw him put his arms around a bunch of these girls awkwardly throughout the night, as well as approach an attractive female musician who played earlier on to tell her about the “great footage” they got of her, before stumbling to the bar to buy her a drink. A grain of this is probably true – there was one girl who actually was filming all the bands I saw, and with some good equipment to boot.  None of the girls got mad at him or told him to fuck right off, and mostly kept a façade of calm politeness when he spoke to them.  I couldn’t understand this at first, until I realized that he kept buying them beers.  So I guess the girls won in the end in a suitably scheming way – well done, ladies.  And it allowed Tal and I to meet some cool people and give out the business cards that we had made specifically for the event, so I guess it worked out for pretty much everyone.  Fuck that guy though.  Seriously.  What a creeper.

Anyways, we left after Wilson’s set finished up.  I was going to go to the Parlovr show, but hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep the night before so, satisfied with the two bands I ended up seeing that night, decided to just head on home.  Check back tomorrow for more!

NxNE 2012: Day 1 (June 14th)

Hello all, and welcome to my North by Northeast coverage for this year!  I’m aware that the festival has actually been going on for a few days at this point, but the music doesn’t really start until Thursday, and while I would have liked to go see some of the film festivals and other events peppered throughout the first few days of the week, the final days of my summer school course didn’t exactly permit me to do so.  But now I’m all done, so the rest of the festival is mine – and, vicariously, yours.

The headlining shows are held at the main stage at Yonge and Dundas Square, and true to form, Thursday was the “punk night” of the weekend – Bad Religion this year.  I, however, could not make it to this show.  I had a gig at my dad’s office for an open house party he was having, where I made an inordinate amount of money playing jazz standards and consuming large quantities of hors d’oeuvres and booze for two and a half hours.  Whoever said you can’t make money as a musician is bullshitting you; you just need to find the cushy corporate gigs.  Granted, it’d probably be too hard to live off of, but I got paid the same amount of money for a couple hours of doing something I love that I would from a whole week of honest work.  For a 21-year old musician who lives with his parents, that ain’t bad.

I wasn’t too broken up about not being able to see Bad Religion – it would have been nice, but I’ve never been a huge fan.  They have a few great albums, have remained good despite their growing age, and their influence on a form of music that I love deeply can’t be understated.  But they’re generally a bit too same-y for my taste and I didn’t care for the openers so…meh.

I originally thought I wouldn’t be able to cover the night at all because I was supposed to play another gig with my band New Stems (plug plug plug) right after, but that got cancelled so I made my way downtown.  My plan was to hit Lee’s Palace at midnight to see Protest the Hero – but then I found out Bran Van 3000, the hitmakers behind “Drinking in LA” were playing, and I became very conflicted.  It’s not like I know anything about them, but that song is awesome, and Protest are based in Toronto so they play here pretty often.  Decisions, decisions.

After checking for where the Bran Van show was, I discovered that they weren’t on until 1, and that I’d have to subway to get there so as not to lose my parking spot for the night. Not wanting to have to figure out a way back to the suburbs after subways were done running for the night, I decided to go with my original plan – Protest the Hero it was.

Here’s the thing with that band though – while they may be absolutely incredible, the bands they usually play with are…well, shit.  And the fact that it was a showcase for HeavyTO, Toronto’s mostly-bad metal festival, didn’t leave me feeling optimistic. The unfortunate truth about Protest the Hero is that they tend to be lumped in with horrible metalcore acts, despite not being part of that genre at all.  I suspect the reasons for this are that A) metalcore bands are speedy and technical in a way that is, at least on the surface, similar to Protest’s, though markedly less complex, and B) Protest the Hero have breakdowns in their songs.  So, wanting to avoid the openers as much as possible I killed time at my sister’s place until a quarter to 11, as she lives a mere 5-minute walk to Lee’s Palace and I figured, despite myself, that I should catch at least a bit of the opening act.  Just to see.  Just to write about.

Still, so I decided to waste as much time as possible on my walk, so I went into a BMV and started looking for cheap comics.  Except I frustratingly couldn’t find the comics section, even after looking at the second floor, so I resigned to my fate and made my way to the venue, scowling at myself that it was only 11:10 at this point.

And wouldn’t you know it, the band on-stage was…a shitty metalcore band!  Yay!  They were called Obey the Brave.  They had a muscle-bound singer rocking a Fred Durst look – baseball cap included – and a bass player with an asymmetrical haircut wearing an ill-fitting tank top.  They constantly felt the need to put up the metal horns throughout their set.  Any band that does this incessantly is probably not worth your time – it’s a very self-conscious thing to do, like the band needs to constantly reassure themselves and the audience that they ROCK and don’t you guys like ROCK and don’t we ROCK so hard that you just want to go to your room and ROCK and please like us we’re trying really hard up here.  They played really forgettable metalcore music.  I left after about 5 minutes.

But I still had almost an hour to kill before Protest the Hero were on so I roamed the surrounding area, ducking into a small used book store.  They had a nice graphic novel section and good prices – Brian Michael Bendis’s Jinx for 11 bucks, natch – but while I couldn’t think of a better way to kill some time than to grab a beer with a sweet comic in hand, I also knew that having to carry that comic at a show would not have been a great experience.  I left regrettably and stepped back into the BMV from before, finally finding the comics section – there was a mostly-hidden staircase leading to a third floor, which was devoted to comics and sci-fi things.  I browsed for a while and, after realizing that I had a car parked nearby that I could drop off my things at and that I had a bunch of money now so I may as well spend some of it, picked up two things for 20 bucks – a collection of American Splendor, one of my favourite comics series ever, and a trade of Marvel’s Strange Tales series, in which they gave a bunch of mostly indie creators free reign over the Marvel universe.  This results in some absolutely batshit-insane short stories.  It’s pretty cool.

I got back to Lee’s just as Protest finished setting up.  Vocalist Rody Walker walked onto the stage to thunderous applause and they proceeded to bust into a song from their latest album Scurrilous. The set was fantastic – this was my fifth time seeing them, but my first since that album came out.  That record is still really good but I don’t like it as much as their first two and was worried that they would skew heavily to that material.  Luckily, I was wrong, and the set was split pretty evenly between Scurrilous and Fortress, with two songs from their debut Kezia thankfully shoved in there as well. Rody is the biggest improvement these days – his vocals have improved with every album, but he’s infamous for being inconsistent during live performances, turning the more difficult vocal parts into screams and wearing out his voice early on.  This is not the case anymore – whatever he’s been doing to get better in-studio has also made him a more competent live singer, and he was pretty much “on” for the whole set, staying faithful to the diverse vocal parts he’s laid down on each of PTH’s album.  And his stage banter is totally hilarious.  As for the rest of the band, they’re in absolute top form right now.  They had a bit more stage presence in the Kezia days – I remember at least one really awesome synchronized jump during “Nautical” the first time I saw them – but watching their fingers blaze through speedy tapping sections and chunky time signature-bending riffs with ease, bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi smiling excitedly throughout, is more entertaining than even the coolest rock star moves.

So I’d call my first day a success.  Check back tomorrow for a look at a super-secret record label BBQ and a Parlovr show!

Hey Ocean! – Is album review

I think I’m tired of indie-pop.

When it hit the mainstream, it was a breath of fresh air, effectively erasing the angst-laden drudgery of post-grunge and replacing it with the exact opposite – a genre featuring optimistic viewpoints, a sunny, relaxed vibe and the glorious return of the catchy guitar hook.  It was sorely needed at the time, and it’s certainly still better than the wave of bands before its emergence, but right now, I can’t really find the energy in me to enjoy any but the most truly magnificent bands of the genre.

Which brings us to Vancouver-based Hey Ocean!’s newest record Is, a – you guessed it – indie-pop album.  And y’know what?  They’re actually a pretty neat and diverse band; opener “If I Were A Ship” is beautifully delicate, using the minimalist plucking of the African kalimba to great effect, “Islands” is a haunting and highly emotional love song and “Bicycle” is an upbeat bossa nova that sticks out like an oddly endearing stubbed toe.  There’s a really interesting African influence throughout, as well as the most shockingly tasteful usage of the easily-detestable flute this side of Jethro Tull.

And that’s all well and good, but at the end of the day, I can’t really be all that enthusiastic about it.  This is another one of those albums where all the various elements of it just about line up, but aside from a couple moments, it doesn’t really make any connection with me – this is largely because, well, I’m just bored of the indie-pop sound. I’m tired of it.  I’m tired of heartbreaking platitudes set to music so fragile you could break it with a rolled-up sock.  I’m tired of bands that can be defined as “cute” and very little else.  I’m tired of jangly guitars, reverb-heavy production and bands that import so many influences that they don’t have any identity of their own.  And there really isn’t anything wrong with this: when a form of music has been in the spotlight for a few years, it’s totally natural for a bit of fatigue set in, and I realize that it’s unfair to spill all of this on a band that, for all intents and purposes, is at the very least above-average.

So after all of this ranting, what can I say about Is?  It’s a solid record in a genre that is starting to become rather stale, so if you’re still into the sound, go ahead and grab it; Hey Ocean! have got some pretty neat quirks and I bet they’re cool to see live.  As for me?  I’ve listened to it numerous times in the past week, enjoyed it at a distance, and once I finish writing this sentence, will probably never listen to it ever again.

The Trypes – Music for Neighbors album review

You know what’s stupid about Rdio?  There aren’t any liner notes anywhere.  I don’t know how many of you still care about this kind of stuff, but personally, I’m a big believer in both the tactility and the informative function of a physical booklet.  It’s especially good to have when your job is to critique an album.  And the album is a career-spanning anthology.  And it’s by an obscure band that’s an offshoot of another obscure band.  Such is the case with the release of Music for Neighbors by The Trypes, a band that contains at least two members (and probably more) of The Feelies and that’s about all I know about them.  As far as I can tell, they never recorded a full-length album, just a few hard-to-find EPs; this release brings together all of their material in a single spot.

And here’s where some liner notes would be pretty handy – the first five songs on the album are clearly from a different recording than everything else, but I don’t know where the divides are between records past that.  This is pretty important information to know – context certainly isn’t everything, but it can be a big factor in how you perceive and experience a piece of music, and without the proper context of where all these various parts fell in the career of The Trypes, it’s hard to get a feel for how they grew as a band.

But I guess what’s really important is whether the songs are any good, and in that respect I can say “mostly”.  Those first five tracks are kind of boring alternative rock songs, but there’s a marked change with “Belmont Girl is Mad at Me” – suddenly, the production gets lo-fi, the singer starts rambling like Lou Reed and singing like a cross between David Bowie and David Byrne, and all the songs become melancholy, unsettling and mysterious psychedelic folk.  This stuff sounds great – it’s drone-y but dynamic, and the quirky use of clarinets, saxophones and other wind instruments does a great job of enhancing the emotional heights of the songs but never breaking the feeling of hazy dreaminess.  The songs do eventually become a bit more lucid, but they retain the same basic feel.  Oh, and there’s also a decent cover of The Beatles’ “Love You To” and a not-so-great version of The Rolling Stones’ “Play with Fire”

It’s a sound that, over a full hour and twenty minutes, can get a little bit wearing, which is why maybe this would be more successful if I had an idea of where each individual recording begins, but it’s a very complete package and the sound is pretty unique, and actually quite ahead of its time.  Music for Neighbors sounds like the kind of lo-fi indie-folk that gets released today, but this stuff came out in the early and mid-80s, which is pretty remarkable.  It’s well worth checking out if you’re in the mood to get lost in some bleary-eyed soundscapes.

Iggy Pop – Apres album review

At 65 years old, Iggy Pop is up there with the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan as one of the oldest people in rock n’roll.  This is probably a weird position to assume in any industry (“Shouldn’t you have retired by now?”), but it’s especially so in one primarily concerned with youth.  That awkwardness is multiplied when you‘re known primarily for two things: 1) being the frontman of one of the first punk bands ever and 2) extreme rock star antics, including vomiting on-stage, rolling around in broken glass, doing copious amounts of drugs, and possibly being the first person to stage-dive… Ever.  These are not the things that are necessarily conducive to old age, and yet Mr. Pop has come out of it remarkably well – he’s still good-looking enough to play shows shirtless and not look totally ridiculous doing it, he’s remarkably spry whenever he plays with the reformed Stooges, and his voice is still in rather good shape.  And creatively, he’s probably done the best thing any aging rock star can do – he’s pulled out of the genre entirely and is now searching for new avenues of expression.  This manifested in 2009’s Preliminaires, in which Iggy Pop decided that what he actually wanted to do was sing relaxed, jazzy French songs.

Considering that the album sold surprisingly well for such a weird concept, it’s strange that Iggy now finds himself releasing his newest album Apres, which is very much in the same vein, independently with no label support.  First off: who the hell is in a position to tell Iggy Pop what he can and can’t do at this point? And secondly, this album is actually less bizarre than Preliminaires was; ignoring the fact that it’s immediately less surprising because he’s already done it once before, it also happens to be a covers album, and less than half of the songs are in French.  Nope, instead we get crooning versions of American folk classics, The Beatles, jazz standards and….Yoko Ono.  Okay yeah, and there’s also four French songs, but they’re pretty common and recognizable – “Le Vie en Rose”, anyone?

So yes, refusing to release this album is pretty baffling on Virgin EMI’s part, especially because the album is quite good.  It’s quirky and fun despite the fact that most of the songs have a pronounced brood to them, and Iggy’s crooner voice is surprisingly well-developed, a deep baritone that is both totally idiosyncratic and a welcome departure from his usual punkish drawl.  The sound of the album has diminishing returns – most of the songs have the same general dark jazz feel, and it’s a really refreshing sound at first but gets less and less interesting as the album goes on.  Still, Apres is the sound of Iggy Pop doing exactly what he wants to and the fact that he can make a 180 degree switch like this and still retain his characteristic swagger and conviction is a feat to be celebrated.

CFCF – Exercises EP review

Not enough people use the EP format effectively.  A lot of bands just take it as a song dump, putting on random tunes from their catalogue that just don’t fit anywhere else, or using it as a mere teaser for a full album.  This is fine enough I suppose, but few musicians realize the potential of the concise runtime of an EP – it’s really the short story to a full-length’s novel, a place to explore an idea in-depth without the stress of a long runtime.  An EP should be no less cohesive than a really good full-length – in fact, it should probably be more so, considering that with such a short runtime there really isn’t any time for filler.

Luckily, there are some people who get it, and who actually excel with the immediate incisiveness of an EP; Montreal-based electronic musician CFCF (real name Michael Silver) is one of these.  Through the clever use of song titles, Exercises, his fourth EP, reads like a short concept album despite being mostly instrumental.

It’s the kind of thing that could seem totally pretentious, but it’s anchored with some pretty great music – beyond being an exercise in conceptual throughlines, the ambient music put on display here is excellent.  It’s somewhat minimalist, based on tinkling piano lines, shimmering synths and light percussion.  It’s the kind of music that works as beautiful background music, but holds up under close scrutiny as well.  It’s a succinct and effective electronic statement by CFCF, and it deserves a place on any ambient music aficionado’s shelf.

Death Grips – The Money Store album review

I don’t understand this album at all.

This is something of a fallacy for a self-proclaimed music critic to admit, especially for a young one with fairly eclectic taste.  Critics are supposed to have the pretense of omniscient knowledge; as far as any reader is aware, a music critic is absolutely in-the-know about every genre of music, has their finger on the pulse of upcoming trends, and uses their vast knowledge to form a constructive opinion about whatever comes across their desk (virtual or otherwise).  This seems like an unreasonable thing to demand from any single person, but is in actuality a completely reasonable expectation to have of someone trying to become even a semi-professional critic.  All I know is that I’ve listened to Death Grips’ hotly-anticipated debut studio record The Money Store more than a dozen times over the past week, and rather than try to form the half-baked value judgement expected of me, for once I have to be honest, throw my hands up in the air, and make the disappointing affirmation that “I just don’t know”.

Death Grips are a three-piece group consisting of gruff vocalist Stefan Burnett and the production team of Andy Morin and Zach Hill, the drummer of Hella (a band that I’ve grown to quite like).  I suppose this is experimental hip-hop, in that Burnett is pseudo- rapping over the electronic beats of Hill and Morin, but it doesn’t really sound like any hip-hop I’ve ever heard.  It’s extremely noisy and hectic – parts will repeat as if they’re choruses, but they don’t really have any “hooks” so to speak, and Burnett doesn’t so much rap as he does yell unintelligibly in something resembling rhythm.  I suspect that an average listener of mainstream music will actually understand them better than I do; while sonically they’re completely different, they have a similar feel to Das Racist, in that they seem almost like a self-conscious parody of mainstream hip-hop, as well as the “brostep” that pervades modern radio airwaves.

They’re a really fresh, unique band – I can’t really think of anything else that the The Money Store sounds like, other than the drummer of Hella making a hip-hop project.  In that respect it’s worth a listen, simply because it’s always worth checking out weird experiments, especially when they’re as heavily-hyped as this one is.  But is it good? I honestly have no idea.  The more I listen to it, the more I feel like I’m warming up to it, but I don’t know if that’s because I legitimately like it or because I’ve listened to it enough times that the simple feeling of familiarity is pleasing to me.  So I’m afraid that this is going to be an album that you just have to listen to and figure out for yourself.  But hey – that’s actually pretty cool, right?