Coke Weed – Back to Soft album review

While much less twangy than their earlier albums, Maine-based group Coke Weed’s third album Back to Soft maintains the band’s dreamy, psychedelic sound. With the haunting vocals of lead singer Nina Donghia and the resonating guitar that reminds me a little of San Francisco band Thee Oh Sees, Coke Weed’s new album is equal parts trippy and relaxing. Although the steady drum backbeat featured in many of their tracks paired with Donghia’s purr creates the illusion of laid back songs, upon closer inspection, Coke Weed’s lyrics can be pretty intense. Already reaching Internet popularity, the spacey, beachy track “Anklet” starts out with Donghia lazily drawling, “Captivator/You are settling in/I am fixated.” Yikes.

Fans of Coke Weed’s earlier albums, Volume One and Nice Dreams, may be disappointed by the lack of the country-western vibe that was so present in both of the albums preceding Back to Soft. If one listened to “Frizz” off of Volume One and then “Anklet,” they might think the songs were by two entirely different bands if it weren’t for Donghia’s distinguishable drawl. Although I personally prefer the floaty, more heavy on the drums sound of Back to Soft to the band’s previous albums, people who have followed Coke Weed since they formed in 2010 may feel just that–like they’re listening to an entirely different band.

Upon sitting down to write this review, I wrote out several phrases that could describe Coke Weed’s sound. Right after I finished jotting down the non-word “garage-band-y,” I stumbled across an article which informed me that Coke Weed recorded their second and, as previously stated, much more country-infused album Nice Dreams in a barn in only an hour and a half, and that they recorded it live, meaning that any accidental slip-ups in the recording process became part of the album. A band that has the confidence and easy-going attitude to do that is pretty cool indeed in my book. Cross out “garage-band-y” and put “barn band.”

So, if a dreamy, psychedelic, trippy, relaxing barn-band-y musical group with haunting, purring vocals and spacey tracks with intense lyrics sound interesting to you, make sure the next album you illegally download (or honorably purchase on iTunes) is Back to Soft. 

Matt Nathanson – Last of the Great Pretenders review

As a rock and roll enthusiast, particularly of the classics such as Led Zeppelin, I am surprised that I like Matt Nathanson’s new album. Most of Nathanson’s older songs are on the slower side, and the slowest I tolerate is typically on the same par as Zeppelin’s “What Is And What Should Never Be,” which breaks into raucous guitar solos after every verse. But Matt Nathanson surprised me. Granted, I did roll my eyes at some of his slower love songs, such as “Sunday New York Times,” but the majority of the tracks on Last of the Great Pretenders had me tapping my foot and even singing along several times.

You probably know Nathanson because of his 2008 platinum-selling single “Come On Get Higher,” and because several of his songs have been featured in popular movies and TV shows, such as American Wedding and Scrubs. I first heard of him around the time “Come On Get Higher” became wildly popular, because I wanted to know who was responsible for the persistently catchy ballad that wouldn’t get out of my head, if ballads can be catchy. I accidentally saw Nathanson in concert in September 2012; I say “accidentally” because I automatically flock to any event that uses the words “free,” “live,” and “music” to advertise itself, and Nathanson was playing at such an event in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. I recall being surprised by Nathanson then, too, expecting more ballad-like songs similar to “Come On Get Higher,” but most of the songs Nathanson performed were fun, easy to dance to, and had lyrics so catchy I was singing along by the second verse. Many of the tracks on Last of the Great Pretenders are “danceable” as well, particularly “Kinks Shirt” and “Annie’s Always Waiting.” Like many other songs on the album, “Kinks Shirt” is peppered with references to San Francisco, which is both his and my current city of residence. From mentions of “sinking fast in the rocky waters off Alcatraz” to lines about “getting winks from the pretty boys in the Castro,” listeners in San Francisco will enjoy hearing the names of landmarks and popular spots in their city.

The aforementioned two tracks on Last of the Great Pretenders are my favorite on the album, “Kinks Shirt” for its upbeat feel and San Francisco references and “Annie’s Always Waiting” for its fun guitar hooks. Fans of songs such as “Come On Get Higher” will enjoy the ballads “Mission Bells,” “Sunday New York Times,” and “Farewell, December.” Hardcore fans of Nathanson will likely love this album. If you’re like me and this isn’t quite your type of music, check out “Kinks Shirt” and see what you think. You might be surprised.

Defeater – Letters Home album review

There are five men in Massachusetts who have been telling the same story for five years. Although this sounds like the beginning of an urban legend you tell over a campfire in a spooky voice and a flashlight under your face, it describes hardcore punk band Defeater, whose 2008 debut album Travels told the first part of a saga that continues with their most recent album Letters Home. All of Defeater’s existing albums are concept albums, meaning every track on each album shares a common theme. (The Who’s Tommy is a concept album, for example.) The story that begun in Travels follows a family in New Jersey shortly after World War II, with each album focusing on a particular part of the story. Travels told the tale of the family’s sons, who were struggling with their mother’s drug addiction and their father’s alcoholism. Letters Home focuses on the father himself, who is a soldier in the war and writing “letters home” to his family. It’s important to note the connection between the first and last tracks; the album opens with “Bastards,” a letter to the family from the father detailing that “Heartless and cold, and I’ve learned it well/How to lose everything/How to push you away.” The first chorus culminates with the line “And still all you see is that bastard in me,” which is repeated at the end of the second chorus, except here he says, “And still all see is that bastard in me.” The album ends with “Bled Out,” a track whose lyrics bear no resemblance to those of the first track except in the last line, which is “And still all I see is that bastard in me.” Ah-ha, Defeater, we see what you did there.

After hearing about the father from the point of view of his sons in the first album (“What did she ever do to you/But raise us by herself/When you were too drunk to come through”), it was an interesting contrast to hear the father’s take on life, his family, and his drinking problem. For example, in the track “Hopeless Again,” the father is presumably speaking to his bottle of Jack or liquor de jour, referring to it as his “old friend” and telling it that “On the front lines/I watched as good men died/I left a piece of me in foreign country side/And in my own home/I’m a stranger now/I was a husband once.”

Although Letters Home is a continuation of a story started as far back as when all of our presidents had had the same skin tone, listeners don’t have to be familiar with that album in order to appreciate this one. Although a valuable addition to the Defeater saga, Letters Home can also stand alone as an excellent example of the melodic guitar riffs and powerful vocals from lead screamer I mean whoops singer Derek Archambault that Defeater is known for.  From the opening slam of the drums on “Bastards” to the slower-paced, soulful last track “Bled Out,” Letters Home does an excellent job of telling a dramatic story.

The Bullitts – They Die By Dawn And Other Short Stories album review

Meet your new favorite artist. Not only can Jeymes Samuel sing, write and produce his own material, and play guitar and piano, he has even created his own genre. Samuel, otherwise known by the stage name The Bullitts, says his music is under the genre “action-adventure,” because he’s musically fearless and “assassinates all rules” with his music. His debut album They Die By Dawn And Other Short Stories is Samuel’s debut album and the accompanying soundtrack to They Die By Dawn, a fifty-minute Western film he directed. (Did we mention he’s into film too?) The film They Die By Dawn stars actress Rosario Dawson, who is also featured on Samuel’s album, along with actress Lucy Liu and rapper Jay Electronica, who was compared by various YouTube commenters to Grammy Award-winning rapper Lupe Fiasco. Also featured on the album is singer/songwriter Tori Amos and several others.

Not all of Samuel’s songs have official videos yet, but the ones that do each tell a different story. For example, the video for his popular 2011 single “Close Your Eyes” (featuring voiceovers by Lucy Liu and a verse by Jay Electronica) is based off of the 1929 surrealist film Un Chien Andalou. For Samuel, film and music have always gone hand in hand. I read an online interview with him in which he stated that his song-producing process typically consists of recording a song and then creating an accompanying short film, or creating a short film beforehand and then writing a song to provide the soundtrack for it. Samuel was also executive music consultant for the 2013 film The Great Gatsby, providing him the opportunity to work with rapper Jay Z, whose track “$100 Bill” appeared in the film.

Throughout They Die By Dawn And Other Short Stories, Samuel’s smooth voice and mostly acoustic guitar riffs are a perfect match with the chill yet danceable beat that every track has. Each track also boasts deep, thought-provoking lyrics. Although “thought-provoking lyrics” doesn’t sound like it fits with “chill yet danceable,” The Bullitts make it work. Covering topics from murder to lost love, each track on the album is as good to chill and listen to by oneself as it would be as the soundtrack to a low key kickback with friends. Although if that’s the case, you may want to pull up YouTube and show everyone the videos that go along with each track in order to get the full effect of Samuel’s music. Whether you love interesting lyrics, catchy electronic hooks, or rap verses, or you’re just curious about what “action-adventure” music sounds like, They Die By Dawn And Other Short Stories is definitely worth checking out.

Editors – The Weight Of Your Love album review

At the risk of sounding like someone who judges a book by its cover, I’ll admit that I cringed upon initially reading the title of both this band and their latest album. The band name “Editors” brought to mind a bunch of stuffy people stiffly playing instruments and halfheartedly whining about something, and the album name “The Weight of Your Love” makes it sound like what they were halfheartedly whining about was a failing relationship. But I was wrong–their whining is actually quite soulful. You can hear the pain in lead singer Tom Smith’s voice as he whines that he is “a lump of meat/with a heartbeat.” Despite the soulfulness, it should be said that I listened to the first five songs of The Weight of Your Love three times over due to an iTunes glitch and didn’t even notice until the third time around, when I thought, “Wait a minute, that pathetic line about the lump of meat with the heartbeat sounds vaguely familiar.”

It would appear that the members of Editors have been feeling the “weight” of something ever since they formed in 2002, or at least since 2007, when they released a song called “The Weight of the World.” Also contributing to the apparent overarching theme of relationship-related sadness are the track names “You Don’t Know Love,” “An Eye For An Eye,” and “Alone,” and the lyric “In that moment you realize that/Something you thought would always be there/Will die like everything else.” Man, talk about depressing. The titles of their 2005 song “Heads in Bags” and their 2009 song “Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool” sound out of place with the rest of their songs, until you listen to the lyrics and realize that the lyrics of both of the aforementioned tunes appear to be about the weight of someone’s love, again (“We put our heads in bags for you/We go out of our way to help”). While I do have to give this band credit for the numerous creative ways they find throughout their songs to talk about a failing relationship (“Your bowling ball eyes have nothing to say/They knock me over again anyway”), the topic does begin to wear thin after a while.

If I’m in the mood to dwell on heartbreak and fleeting love, I think I’d rather read a fifteen-year-old girl’s diary or a Sarah Dessen novel than listen to Editors. And I would never rather read a Sarah Dessen novel.

Skillet – Rise album review

Skillet’s ninth album Rise maintains the metal-influenced sound they have had since their third and most popular album Comatose 2006 came out in 2006. Although billed as a Christian rock band, Skillet’s lyrics don’t outwardly endorse any religious beliefs (as in there’s no praising Jesus happening, although some older songs such as “You’re Better Than Drugs” definitely have a religious tinge). Instead of overtly Christian lyrics, many of the tracks on Rise are inspirational, encouraging listeners to work to make the world a better place. On the title track, “Rise,” lead singer John Cooper’s voice takes on an urgent tone as he asserts “This is the call/It’s our time to change it all/Rise and revolution!” Additionally, the end of the title track features a phone call to 911 from a distraught woman saying there was a man with a weapon in her home and urging her children to “get under the table.” This appears to speak to the increase of massacres that have been occurring all over America in the past year, costing many innocent people (including children) their lives.  With so many currently popular songs that are literally about nothing (I’m sorry, getting drunk and hitting on some girl at a club doesn’t count as a “topic,” especially when there are at least a thousand other one-hit wonder hip hop artists singing about the exact same thing), I was glad to hear that at least some bands that are popular among a younger demographic are singing about current issues and confronting what is going on, instead of just la dee la da dee, we like to party.

The rest of the album has a similar tone, urging listeners to take a stand and fight for what they believe in. However, not every song on Rise veers away from religious undertones. “Salvation,” the eighth track on the album, asks “Are you far/Will you come to my rescue/Am I left to die/But I can’t give up on you.” Regardless, “not giving up” seems to be an overall theme of this album, which is a good message to send to “the young people of today” and actually, just about everyone.

Although Skillet’s influences span from Amy Grant to P.O.D., their sound reminds me vaguely of Fall Out Boy, because of the driving rock guitar, the screaming vocals, and the overall tone of their music, which I can only describe as “shiny.” I read somewhere that Skillet has many influences from several different genres, all thrown together in a “skillet” to create the sound that got them awarded “Top Christian Album” in 2011 and nominated for many other “best of” awards in the past eleven years. People who like rock but don’t particularly enjoy Christian music are likely to enjoy Rise because of its inspirational lyrics, strong guitar and catchy songs. Especially people who like Fall Out Boy.

Whitaker and Me – The Pub Room album review

If you like minimalistic melodies and mellow folk tunes, you will likely love Whitaker and Me’s first EP The Pub Room. Think folk-y acoustic guitar riffs paired with vocals similar to those of Sheryl Crow, and you’ve got the idea of all six tracks on this EP. However, if your musical taste is similar at all to mine, you’d rather listen to The Beatles or Pink Floyd, both groups that Whitaker and Me claim as their musical influences. Their track “Shine On, Harvest Moon” is clearly an ode to the Pink Floyd song “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” evidenced only by the title and definitely not the sound.

Whitaker and Me was formed in 2012 by Los Angeles-based couple Katie Rose and Denis Whitaker. They recorded their first EP in a room in their house they call “the pub room,” hence the title of the EP. The couple has stated that their goal is to “make music that matters and that will make people feel something;” unfortunately all their EP makes me feel is bored. However, if you are someone who is into folk music, you might disagree with me.

From a purely objective standpoint, Denis’s acoustic melodies paired with Katie’s crooning make for lilting folk songs, each one with lyrics telling a story. “The Pub Room” was born out of one of Denis and Katie’s own personal life stories, the story of the adoption battle for their son. According to the album cover, their son has now been officially adopted and has been practicing drums in preparation to drum for them on their next album.

Even if you’re like me and prefer songs with oomph instead of lilting, simplistic songs, The Pub Room can be appreciated for the stories each track is telling and the inspirational tale behind the making of the EP. Folk music is largely about the meaning behind the lyrics and the story that each song represents, so in that regard, The Pub Room is a good folk album.

Teen Daze – House on the Mountain EP review

Although British Columbian electronica artist Teen Daze’s The House on the Mountain EP maintains the spacey feel of his previous musical compilations, it deviates from the trippy, futuristic sound he has become known for. Instead of his usual synth-heavy beats, The House on the Mountain has a more lighthearted, springtime feel than, say, his debut album All of Us Together, which has a sound reminiscent either of being stoned while dancing barefoot in a forest or the theme song of the British TV teen party show Skins.

Like the majority of his other albums, The House on the Mountain was self released. From listening to his other tracks from previous albums, you get the feeling that many of them were recorded on sleepless nights at 4 AM behind a closed bedroom door. In fact, one of his earlier albums is actually called My Bedroom Floor. There are several factors contributing to the difference in sound between The House on the Mountain and Teen Daze’s previous albums. Factor #1 is that unlike previous album from Teen Daze, this EP features actual instruments. The musician’s roommate played bass and guitar riffs over Teen Daze’s beats, lending the EP its aforementioned “springtime feel.” Which brings us to Factor #2, which is that unlike his previous albums, The House on the Mountain was inspired by an object rather than an idea. In reference to All of Us Together, Teen Daze says he based the album off of his ideas on what utopia might possibly be like, and that he “wanted to make a record that sounded more synthetic but also inviting; this is futuristic music with a heart.” However, The House on the Mountain was inspired by an actual house on a mountain–the artist’s new house in British Columbia, shared with the aforementioned guitar and bass playing roommate. Teen Daze says he was “inspired by the overwhelming beauty of the changing of the seasons outside”, ” and this album is a result, a sort of ode to Spring in British Columbia.

At only four tracks and shortly over fifteen minutes in length, The House on the Mountain is an easy listen, good for listening to while waking up in the morning, recovering from the grind of the day or relaxing on a laid back weekend afternoon. Fans of Teen Daze’s heavier electronica music will likely be disappointed, but if you like calmer, chill music, The House on the Mountain is worth checking out.