Liam Finn – FOMO album review

Liam Finn hasn’t quite achieved the respect or fame that he might deserve, though something tells me that might not bother him as much as other artists. He is the son of one of the best pop singers of all time (Neil Finn of Crowded House) but more importantly, he is a sturdy songwriter and studio perfectionist. Finn hails from New Zealand, has toured internationally for his first solo album, I’ll Be Lightning, and has just unleashed upon us his second shiny LP entitled FOMO.

It’s fitting indeed that “FOMO” stands for “fear of missing out,” if not seemingly egomaniacal as a title, FOMO isn’t something you can afford to miss out on. Liam Finn is, if anything, the bearded nemesis of egomania. He breathlessly spews ingenuity on FOMO, for every track, striking gold, oil, silver, cheesecake, whatever resource you consider valuable. He yells out “ARE YOU WORTH THE TROUBLE?” on “The Struggle” and weeps and groans like a feisty James Mercer (Broken Bells, The Shins) on the more gentle “Don’t Even Know Your Name.”

While it is clear Liam Finn is not some untalented clone of his father, it certainly doesn’t hurt that he has music in his blood. Liam is also the nephew of Tim Finn, a member of Split Enz and temporarily member of Crowded House. Liam’s genetic musicality and link to Crowded House is highly apparent on one track, the luminous “Cold Feet,” a wonderful analog throwback to bare bones pop with a few electronic zings thrown in for good measure. Finn has evolved from his previous one-man act to a full-fledged touring band in 2011 that even includes his younger brother Leroy.

“Roll Of The Eye” is a triple must-hear, a striking example of Finns songwriting prowess. In short, FOMO is the shaking beating-drum heart of Liam Finn, each musical effort a calculated yet beautiful affair full of echoing pop/rock melodies that grow on you until the album is over and you are left wanting more. My suggestion to you, listen to it again, and again.


The Secret Sisters – The Secret Sisters album review

Laura and Lydia Rogers had country music instilled into them from a very young age, they also possess the keen ability to adorably integrate with each other vocally. These two factors, the keen integration and country instillation alike, have made them fierce yet unexpected contenders for underground southern music glory.

This debut, The Secret Sisters, in an odd twist of fate, is their first endeavor in professionally singing together. As it happens only the one sister (Laura) auditioned and was asked on a callback that Lydia attended in support. Eventually their inevitable fate was sealed after it was requested that they sing in unison. Thank the lord Jesus Allah Buddha Spaghetti Monster whatever that these two did professionally cross paths because as a slight disbeliever in modern country music I do believe that this is exactly what country needs.

Despite their moderately frightening label of “new-age country” The Secret Sisters are truly a fresh step in the right direction, using only analog recording equipment in order to stay true to the era’s sound, that era being the 1950’s and 60’s. On tracks like the Carson Parks cover “Something Stupid,” most famously sung by Frank and Nancy Sinatra, the sisters duetted into the same microphone during sessions while their band simultaneously played live. Therefore, upon listening, you truly do feel a sort of sisterly or family-oriented love, genuine and untainted by digital nonsense in a world where artists who never truly met in person are heard disingenuously “harmonizing” on the radio daily.

The Rogers sisters have gained attention from greats like Jack White, who covered Johnny Cash’s “Big River” with them for a special Third Man Records series release that is sadly not on their album. You can still pick up a copy and enjoy great Buck Owens and Nancy Baron covers (“My Heart Skips a Beat,” “I’ve Got a Feeling”) and distinct originals like “Tennessee Me,” a real favorite. “See me by the fire side light, come and see me through the night, Tennessee me through the night.” It’s almost too cute for words, as is the sisters’ demeanor and also the entire album.

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Black Stone Cherry – Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea album review

Black Stone Cherry are one of many country-infused rock bands (or is it rock-infused country?) blasting America with brash tunes and gritty self-explanatory lyrics. Their most recent work, Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea, is their third album, and while it does boast more finely-tuned production quality than previous releases it is still impossible to ignore the unoriginality. Black Stone Cherry often draw comparisons to Lynyrd Skynyrd, but I feel the similarities lie more with bands like Mountain or Whitesnake, who they had the honor of touring with on some past European dates.

On occasion a little Alice In Chains snarl rears its head in lead singer Chris Robertson’s voice and the guitar of Ben Wells, though any true AIC fan will tell you this is not a band they want appearing on their Pandora radio station. The single here is “White Trash Millionaire” where Robertson sings “I was born this way, no silver spoon to feed a 401k,” though I’m pretty sure he was born to put frogs in mailboxes rather than faking baldness and erupting out of eggs/vessels at awards shows. Alas, I hardly envision BSC erupting at all if they continue to make passé music such as this. Even their effort at a guest spot are ruined, as Lzzy Hale of Halestorm appears on “Won’t Let Go” but is lost in faded backing vocals that are quite poorly utilized.

As I said about Adelita’s Way earlier this month, this crosses into Nickleback territory! I do not want to have to say that about multiple bands. For these Kentucky natives I’m sure that isn’t even a bad thing, Nickleback are a very successful cash cow with less integrity than Anthony Weiner. The higher the track number on Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea, the less tolerable. “Can’t You See,” “Stay” and “All I’m Dreamin’ Of” are atrocious while “Killing Floor,” “Blame It On The Boom Boom” and the previously mentioned single sound like potential NFL theme songs. Interpret that however you like, but I think it means that lower middle class America will eat it right up.


Thee Oh Sees – Castlemania album review

Believe it or not Thee Oh Sees have just released their twelfth full-length album, the first three under the moniker OCS and the next two after that as The OhSees. Now the indecisive bandleader John Dwyer has decided on “Thee Oh Sees” with which he has created another campy goth-noise record, one playfully named after the 1987 Nintendo game Castlevania.

Castlemania is bizarre to say the least, though approaching it as experimental art can make it easier to comprehend. Thee Oh Sees hurl psychedelic, garage, surf and gothic rock into one surreally abstract basket. As a collective, all previous LPs to come from this band show an increase in sound, amplified. The early stuff was quiet and slow, with barely more than vox and two strings of a guitar. The rise of The Oh Sees occurred during 2008’s The Master’s Bedroom Is Worth Spending A Night In.

The four studio albums following their 2008 effort basically followed that general scheme, weird yet oddly melodic in spurts. Castlemania is still mousy and toned-down, ranking up there with the strangest of John Dywer’s work. It’s very easy to compare this to something from the underrated artist Screaming Lord Sutch, an eccentric British 70’s and 80’s musician known for songs like “Dracula’s Daughter.” Dywer channels Sutch especially on “Spider Cider” and the adorably cliche “I Need Seed” where he exclaims “I am dirt but I can be a home for wayward hungry seeds, I need seed, to throw off the grass, throw up the trees.”

All of the lyrics on Castlemania are as likely to confuse as “I Need Seed” and as you listen you are not wrong to wonder why or to what end such things would even be written down or recorded. The answer is simple, this is Dwyer’s musical journal, and he need not explain himself for wanting an outlet. All 16 songs are crisp little poems, ones that seem written by a man high on acid and the like. Castlemania is a short haze of lo-fi oddities. It is not for me, but perhaps it is for you.


Cults – Cults album review

Remember these two names, firstly, Madeline Follin, second, Brian Oblivion. These are the sole members of a shy NY group called Cults, a group with a “cult” following sure to grow into a full-fledged mania of devout hipsters in no time. You can hardly throw a discarded walkman into the music world without hitting some new band who are adorably capable of recreating sensory 60’s euphoria. Among them are notables such as She & Him, Best Coast and The Raveonettes.

This is a sound well suited for two-piece bands like Cults or Raveonettes, the hush hush voices speaking profound wisdoms worded as observations vocalized by children. Look closer, you might call it “twee,” which does more than hint at sugar overdose, but this is so much more than “cute.” This isn’t your little sister’s music, unless your little sister is a 45 year old vampire masquerading as an innocent child.

Cults’ debut, a bewitching self-titled window into the hearts of two thoughtful college kids, is almost too breezy for its own good. The only problem I see with this album is its repetitive nature, one that carries with it a very specific and very gentle sound. This statement also works in favor of the album, as it blends like a dream from track one to eleven. The first two songs “Abducted” and “Go Outside” hit hard, though the third is the true champion due to its tranquil familiarity. “You Know What I Mean,” is undoubtedly a best of 2011 on which Follin channels early Diana Ross with her backer, the aptly-named Brian Oblivion, leading us subconsciously in and out of darkness via guitar.

The loudest song on Cults would easily be the quietest on another artist’s record, the use of chords is not extensive, the band members hate touring… These are hardly cons worth listing. The pros? The lyrics are above average and the message is hardly antisocial, it’s actually uplifting sans preachiness. Cults is sweet without worries of impending toothaches, a perfect soundtrack for your summer days.


Arctic Monkeys – Suck It And See album review

Alex Turner and his band of miscreant monkeys of the Arctic have shown over the years their varied shades of fun, whether it be full force (“I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor”) thoughtful (“Fluorescent Adolescent”) or filled with James Bond twang (“Crying Lightning”) Arctic Monkeys have little left to prove to anyone. Their fourth effort, Suck It And See may cry out for attention in title but the songs beg to differ. This is actually their least flashy album to date.

After losing a fraction of the attention of their fanbase due to the contrastive sound of 2009’s Humbug, which was by far the band’s worst-selling album, Arctic Monkeys are meeting us somewhere in the middle. Partially ditching the invasively large marijuana-infused guitar rantings of Humbug, yet not completely returning to the true ape-like pounding of their critically acclaimed debut, Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not.

“Brick By Brick,” featuring drummer Matt Helders on vocals, dabbles in 70’s rock swag, never really knowing where’s it’s going or why. Oddly, it’s the slow-paced contributions that work on Suck It And See, quite a revelation for a band known for partying with moguls, drinking habits and for lead singer Alex Turner’s distaste for fame and utter disregard for compliments or criticisms pertaining to his precious music. Yes, his attitude has never surprised us much, with lyrics like his we expect brashness. Usually we expect it, but again, Suck It And See is mostly void of such things.

Here is a fairly cheery, medium to slow-paced pop-infused album. “Piledriver Waltz,” originally meant as a Turner solo, is full of clever musings like “If you’re gonna try to walk on water make sure you wear your comfortable shoes.” Or “Suck It And See” which contains the lyric, “You’re rarer than a can of dandelion and burdock,” not sure if that is a good or bad thing, but it’s sure to conjure smiles nonetheless. The two best you’ll find are “All My Own Stunts” and the bolder “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair.” Suck it And See is a versatile, well-rounded CD, neither their best nor worst.


Adelitas Way – Home School Valedictorian album review

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a change of heart about the way you live your life and view others. My problem is when musicians drag us into it, and do a bad job. The band Adelitas Way was formed in 2005 by lead singer/songwriter Rick DeJesus, who did exactly that on the self-titled Adelitas Way debut. DeJesus wrote songs with what I’m sure was genuine conviction about time spent in a cathouse in Tijuana and the poor trollops who inhabited it. Sadly, those songs were largely unoriginal, though that hardly slowed the band down. Adelitas Way was placed on the nu metal/rock map in 2009, gaining fans like a Southern Cali wildfire.

Home School Valedictorian, released on June 7th, stays very true to the band’s not-so-distant roots. Though they might claim Metallica or Tool as influences it’s fairly apparent that, consciously or not, some of the bands they’ve toured with may very well be their actual inspirations. Bands who do this sound exactly the same or better that come to mind are Sick Puppies, Breaking Benjamin or Shinedown. Home School Valedictorian does hold within it a few glistening sprigs of hope, well-produced songs that will wet the appetites of devoted fans of the genre.

The single “Sick,” the opener “Collapse” and the fourth track “Criticize” are those few exceptions, the ones the fans should just buy on iTunes individually. With a misleading “Hard Rock” label, these Nevada boys have got to do better next time, poorly-written songs like “Hurt” and “Alive” will not cut it. Adelitas Way tiptoe the borders between rock and pop way too much, and on their sophomoric album they truly do cross into Nickleback territory. A territory that might be great for raking in cash but is scaldingly abusive to a musician’s integrity. Do you want to go the easy route? If so, purchase Home School Valedictorian, and look into the meaning of the title itself. It’s really more of a joke on them than a clever anecdote.

Side note to members of Adelitas Way: please add an apostrophe to your name, it’s driving me insane.

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The Elected – Bury Me In My Rings album review

Blake Sennett, best known for his contributions as a member of Rilo Kiley, has put forth his respective third album with his side project band The Elected. This is the first album by The Elected in five years, released May 17th and choke full of songs that would make Brian Wilson and his brothers proud. Wilson might have been especially proud to hear “Go For The Throat” and “When I’m Gone,” clear standout tracks from this California vibrations soundscape.

The minute problems lie within the cuteness of tracks like “Jailbird” and “Time Is Coming,” which tend to sound like understandably tossed-out Simon And Garfunkel B-sides with a ukulele tossed in for bad measure. This may just be a personal preference, as I can see many music fans finding every single song very appealing in all their toned-down, near-melodramatic glory. The ukulele does work on most of the songs as a sound that sets Sennett apart from other artists.

The Elected emote sadness, or disparaging ascension very well. Some of the songs with uplifting content lyrically still come off as musically depressing. Sennett’s voice is undoubtedly capable of taking you there, to your latest breakup or deepest desire that you very well know may never come true. This is not though, an entire album of downer-music, and there is no suicide warning label required. Just keep in mind, The Elected will stab you with feelings, it’s just your choice as a listener and human whether or not to let them penetrate you. (See “This Will Be Worth It” for your ultimate test)

Bury Me In My Rings is a great improvement from the previous two albums, replacing the majority of the country-influence also possessed by Rilo Kiley, I might add, for this sad island music. Dropping need for comparisons to Elliot Smith found on the second album, Sun Sun Sun, or the wheatgrass-in-tooth guitars of the debut Me First. Bury Me In My Rings brings you on a venture all its own, one involving Steel Drums, kabobs and the ocean in your ear like the shell you found when you were on a vacation somewhere magical. Bury Me In My Rings is not perfect, but it does more than suffice.

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How Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Turned Into A Religious Mess

Do you remember who Lady Gaga was in 2008? She was not “Mother Monster,” she had eyebrows, her outfits were outlandish, but she could have been someone you knew. Some eccentric fashion-obsessed friend who was into performance art, someone who frequented bars, smoked cigarettes and played piano with her hands and feet. The Lady Gaga of 2011 is not someone you could know. This is a transformed person, someone who was already a vast mutation, now mutated beyond recognition in a very short period of time. Lady Gaga is incapable of true extensive human interaction. She is the most famous person in the world right now, and probably the loneliest. On the other hand, at two billion fans and counting, you can no longer be considered an “outcast” and it is insulting to suggest otherwise.

In the first three years of her career she has put all her cards on the table, all the shock value, stories of a painful childhood, drug abuse, her dropping out of NYU and most importantly, her music and clothing. There is a reason for the word “clothing” going after “music.” If only as much time was put into the recording process as her outfits and set design. Lady Gaga is a sensation, but her latest album, Born This Way, fails in comparison to her previous package, The Fame and its expansion, The Fame Monster. The problem is in the title. Lady Gaga was not famous at all when she wrote and released The Fame. It was a cute title, endearing and tongue-in-cheek. Every song on The Fame was about money, recognition and sex. The later work, The Fame Monster was an obvious foreshadowing into dangerous territory.

In 2009, The Fame Monster, an eight song follow-up that featured club hits like “Bad Romance,” “Alejandro” and “Telephone,” already provided a window into the Haus of Gaga mindset. Lady Gaga was here to make a statement, she was weird, into Hitchcock and Alexander McQueen. She loved gay men. We already knew! The fact is, The Fame Monster was an excellent CD, and everyone knew history was in the making. No one since Britney Spears had even come close to achieving the pop-culture obsession of someone like Madonna or Michael Jackson. The sheer frenzy of it drew out the excitement or in some cases, extreme frustration, in everyone. The media became consumed, the fans became crazed and everyone in the world was waiting with bated breath, anticipating her next album, which had been described as “…Too precious to talk about” by RedOne, her own producer. On the topic of Born This Way, to her fans, Lady Gaga was quoted in saying “I promise you, I’ll never let you down.”

Let me get something straight, for any doubters. I am a Lady Gaga fan, I’m just not a blind fan. She is by no means an idol of mine. I follow her, I listen to her music in my house and car. I saw her in concert last summer. I loved her first two albums, but, here it comes, Born This Way is simply half-assed. Unlike her previous ventures into fun topics and hooks that could land Captain Ahab Moby Dick, or Santiago his giant marlin, Born This Way is drab, lacks creativity and is largely religious. Well, I take it back, it isn’t actually religious at all, but biblical mentions are not few or far between, Jesus in particular. It is my strong feeling that is not wise to alienate one’s fans. Fortunately for Lady Gaga, her fans are so devoted at this point she could truly become a satanist without them blinking an eye. Obviously the Jesus references are part of her schtick, and a not-so-subtle attempt to stir up controversy, especially on the second single “Judas.” The video for “Judas” is possibly her worst yet, a metaphorical ode to a very bad man indeed.

I feel very uncomfortable at all the Jesus references, being an atheist or at least a agnostic, and I can imagine many of her more fair-weather fans might as well. Honestly I’m more uncomfortable at how ridiculous it is in general to write a song called “Government Hooker” or “Black Jesus + Amen Fashion” or even “Electric Chapel” which are all titles on her album. The absolute worst though I must say is the non-religious “Highway Unicorn (Road 2 Love)” which is not a funny joke at all if indeed it is one. Gaga explains to E! News that she is “…Obsessed with religious art” on defending “Judas,” and probably over half her album.

Here are some of the obvious preachy and over the top references to look out for, all very strong cases for contemplating Lady Gaga’s lazy songwriting abilities…

“I’m beautiful in a way and god makes no mistakes.” (“Born This Way”)

“Jesus is my virtue but Judas is the demon I cling to.” (“Judas”)

“I won’t speak your Jesus Christo.” (“Americano”)

“On the runway, work it, black Jesus.” (“Black Jesus + Amen Fashion”)

“I’ll dance, dance, dance with my hands, hands, hands above my head  like Jesus said.” (“Bloody Mary”)

“Pray for your sins right under the glass disco ball.” (“Electric Chapel”)

…I suggest buying this album in its entirety on for 99 cents if it’s still available, because that is what it’s worth.


The Cars – Move Like This album review

Lately a very happy occurrence is in effect, a slew of 80’s bands are releasing new material, and The Cars are the latest of those bands. Others worth mentioning are Devo and Duran Duran, and even the sometimes lackluster Blondie. The Cars have managed to stay true to their roots without desperation or lack of invitation. There are few people over the age of 21 who don’t know “You Might Think” or “Drive,” and Move Like This offers a whole new batch of favorites.

Though lead singer Ric Ocasek has released solo albums as recently as 2005, this is the first for the band as a whole since 1987. Sadly, it is sans Benjamin Orr, the band’s original bassist who succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2000. Instead of replacing Orr, which would have been a huge mistake and an ordinary step for most bands, the four remaining members made due with what they had. Keyboardist Greg Hawkes in particular, who attempted to ambidextrously play both bass and keyboards during rehearsals.

The perfect timing of a new Cars CD coincides with the undeniable fact that the majority of popular bands today happen to be creating music that is programmed and fine-tuned on shiny silver laptops, music that is surprisingly similar to that of a two-decade-old past. The big difference is, 80’s bands had it tough, relying on new keyboard technologies that might now seem as primitive as a drummer banging a spoon on an empty margarine container. The Cars have managed to stick with the times, incorporating the new technology into their sound without losing themselves. “Blue Tip,” “Too Late” and “Sad Song” are primary examples, radio-worthy explosions of clapping, synthesizers and tight guitars with Ocasek’s striking talk-to-speech voice at the helm.

“Keep On Knocking” is not unlike a fast-paced “Let The Good Times Roll.” The only real weaknesses are the drastically cheesy album-filler ballads “Soon” and “Take Another Look” which both feel like the poorly written diary entries of a 15 year old girl. Move Like This can afford two rotten eggs in an otherwise delicious organic batch of farm-fresh delicacies.