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The Front Bottoms – Talon of the Hawk album review

Party anthems flavored by punky, coy lyrics and danceable pop tunes fill out the best parts of Talon of the Hawk, the New Jersey duo’s second major label release. The Front Bottoms embrace vocalist Brian Seller’s witty sincerity, an upbeat poetry about partying, smoking weed and the confusing times of young adulthood. The music focuses on the lyrics, backed by a powerful acoustic guitar and a fantastic acoustic drum-kit beats by drummer Mathew Uychich.

While the stream of conscious lyrics can be interpreted as careless or lacking in creativity, there is an appealing honesty that outweighs any doubts that this is an art form to be appreciated. Say Anything’s Max Bemis laid the pathway for the open confession rant style and Brian Seller fearlessly travels onward. The band is known for lively, dance-crazed shows which are surely amplified with the stories from the party king at the edge of the stage. Seller and Uychich show us a full sound on Talon of the Hawk that represents a band that is coming into its own.

On the opener “Au Revior,” Seller attempts to give amateur language lessons over the minute-thirty second story of a mutual break-up in which he seems to realize she doesn’t understand his rock and roll ways. There are many metaphors to be drawn out of these lyrics: the couple is speaking different languages; they are not understanding each other’s goodbye’s; she understands him as well as a foreign language. On, “Skeleton” the band confirms that The Front Bottoms get stoned. The guitar hooks are infectious. The oxymoronic title of “Swear to God the Devil Made Me Do It” proves Seller’s wittiness knows no bounds. His confidence in the line “baby, I can spit this game all day” can be felt, though his self-consciousness in the line “but I am full of shit, I’m a plagiarist, as a liar, I’m a ten” makes you feel for him again; a man at battle with his ego.

Lead single, “Twin Sized Bed” is a super catchy rolling ballad that more-so travels to a conclusion but also follows the standard verse chorus cycle present in the typical pop song. The repeating, spacey guitar riff helps the build at the end until the entire audience is screaming about lost love and the mean things our exes have said: “She hopes I’m cursed forever to sleep on a twin sized mattress, in somebody’s attic or basement my whole life, never graduating up in size to add another.” “Santa Monica” shows some expansion with the inclusion of trumpets. “The Feud” is a foot stomping blast, likely to result in many a fast-dancing contest. Seller opts for drawn out choruses to break up his upfront and rambling verses. “Funny You Should Ask” follows suit with a hooky guitar riff and more interesting insights to young adulthood: “I was young and I used to think I have to care about anyone now I’m older and I know that I should.”

As the album progresses, it seems apparent The Front Bottoms prefer to deal with problems on the top of the mind, such as urgent paranoid or yearning thoughts and the need to produce an enjoyable show, thus turning out poppy, danceable songs one after another. They play acoustic guitar like a true rhythmic instrument. Their heart pumping interpretation of music falls between the pop-punk energy of Blink 182 with the stripped down acoustics of Mike Doughty. Though, the attitude is elementary, the poetry is sophisticated. Talon of the Hawk is an admirable effort which shows that longevity is a skill in The Front Bottoms toolbox, and an original dance rock anthem style can be developed in this world of music where it seems like everything has already been done.

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Savages – Silence Yourself album review

Savages highly anticipated debut album Silence Yourself does not fail to impress us with raw post-punk energy, screaming guitars and vocalist Jehnny Beth’s howl. This collection of fast paced carnage feels like unchartered territory, a fresh look into the rock genre, despite the fact we’ve been here before. The effect may be due to an all girl line-up and that the drought for a worthy, fresh rock group has been severe. The release of this album aptly proves these four chicks are the real deal.

Savages have built anticipation with the release of two singles in June 2012, “Flying to Berlin” and the monster “Husbands.” After magnetic appearances at Cochella and SXSW this year, the group has gained high praise from critics and new fans alike. The band is made up by French singer Jehnny Beth (real name: Camille Berthomier) and three London natives: guitarist Gemma Thompson, bassist Alyse Hassan, and drummer Fay Milton. Jehnny, once an actress, was previous part of and indie duo called John & Jehn, and Fay has a background in garage rock. Silence Yourself was released on Jehnny’s own label, Pop Noire and Matador Records on May 6th this year.

From the opening bass line of “Shut Up,” Savages deliver their art with conviction. They have a bad-ass attitude that fits the music entirely too well, creating a nice pocket of creative space that is explored throughout the album. Jehnny’s vocal delivery ranges from a wavering vibrato snarl, to a blood curdling scream with the occasional ear-piercing yelp. “I Am Here” builds in tempo until Jehnny reaches a desperate falsetto plea. Heavy guitar is proudly displayed, expertly produced and larger than life. The sound of the drums throughout the album give an encompassing room effect nearly as impressive as the first time experiencing surround sound.

“She Will” is lyrically bold, speaking of a sexually dominant woman: “she will enter the bed, she will kiss like a man… you will get used to it.” It is the second most intense song next to “Husbands,” which is re-released for the album with a different recording of the song. Speeding guitar bass and drums amplify the songs progression until the train flys off the tracks in a sudden stop finish.  The group only slows down for a few tunes, namely “Waiting for a Sign,” “Dead Nature,” and the closer “Marshall Dear.” The last repeats the album title and actually comes off as an operatic and dynamic ballad, complete with pub-piano and saxophone, showing a rarely seen side of the group.

The bottom line is that on Silence Yourself, Savages show us they really know how to rock. In a relatively flat scene, finally the guitars have true grit. Grungy, deep rolling bass lines and viciously pounded drums fill the lows. No tempo is too fast. No note too high. Vocal prowess, expert instrumentation and an obvious tightness amongst the groups four members leaves no question as to why so many heads have turned their direction.

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The Fall – Re-Mit album review

Post-punk freight trains, The Fall, bring us their 30th release titled Re-Mit. On this record, the front man Mark E. Smith delivers mostly incoherent, half-gargled, half-shouted vocals while the remainder of the English quintet offers us low-fi, up-tempo, foot-stomping rock. The energy is high but bored, excitable but exhausted, fresh but repeating. On Re-Mit, it sort-of feels like The Fall are gearing up to start a revolution but plateau with just inspired, conversational complaints. Needless to say, the end result is confounding.

It shouldn’t be too surprising, The Fall have displayed a harsh post-punk sound with ambiguous and mostly unintelligible lyrics on every previous release. On Re-Mit’s lead single, “Sir William Wray,” the band sounds like they are on shore gigging at a surf competition while Smith is at the helm of a drunken pirate ship. Captain Smith yells with a mean slur, backed by the “HEY’s” of the crew. The band looks out over the waves and beckons their displaced leader to re-join them on shore, but Captain Smith is already headed out to sea. Later on some instrumentally wild tracks, such as the noodle-y “Noise,”  and the clanging rise and fall of “Kinder of Spine,” it appears the band’s dingy caught up to the drunken ship.

“Hittite Man” drops in with a rolling bass line, a psychedelic, Pixies-“Do-Little” style guitar riff and develops into not much more as the six minutes progress, save the occasional two bars of punk-rock chorus. Smith declares through the deep caverns of his nasal cavities “you don’t hear me!” At least he’s aware. When the words start to make sense, that’s when the band starts to make sense.  The biggest kicker is that the man is a wordsmith and a cynical poet with the delivery of an injured mule, though Mark E. Smith apparently prefers it this way. Following this realization is the most incomprehensible and whimsical song, “Pre-MDMA Years,” where Smith mixes up the consonants for about a minute. Then a manic laugh concludes “No Respects Rev.” Told you this was a confusing ride.

Alternative and reeling “Jetplane” offers the most interesting presentation of dialogue in the lyrics as Smith has a conversation with himself, occasionally with womanly input from Elena Poulou, bandmate and keyboardist. Smith is confrontational in spirit throughout and seems to be speaking out about the state of Europe’s monetary system as he observes the scene from the queue of an airport: “Dave opened a Euro which will only tattoo your return number to Heathrow on your arm… and people who had cash ringing, would be persecuted to the fullest extent, Warstock and Hennings.”  Then again, there may not be any point to the song at all.

As a follow up to 2011’s Ersatz GB, Re-Mit reigns as a more complete, cohesive and coherent album. The Fall is famous for its band member changes yet they have proven to maintain the same sound with only small variations stylistically over the years, as mainstay Mark E. Smith has kept is since the band’s formation in 1976. Their newest album follows suit with The Fall’s undeniable repetitive and harsh sound. Now with the installment of Re-Mit, the band’s line-up has been the same for four consecutive albums, which is the most consistent The Fall has been in the band’s history. The Fall will support Re-Mit with a tour in Europe and they do not look to be slowing down new releases anytime soon.

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Firefly Music Festival 2013 Preview

2013’s Firefly Music Festival is one of the must-see live music events of this summer. With headliners Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Red Hot Chili Peppers, you really cannot go wrong. But the cast of bands that fill out the roster including Foster the People, Dispatch, The Lumineers, The Avett Brothers, Passion Pit, Matt and Kim, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Vampire Weekend, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero’s, MGMT, Dr. Dog, and Public Enemy, Dover Delaware has officially been starred on the map as premier location for live music from 6/21 to 6/23/2013. 

The collection of groups seems to be just right, a mix of electronic music including popular acts like Ellie Goulding, Calvin Harris, Zedd, Chvrches, Krewella, and Big Gigantic helps fill out the futuristic side of things. There is a fair representation of up and coming acts that includes Crystal Fighters, Foxygen, The Neighbourhod, Twenty-One Piliots, Delta Rae, Atlas Genius, The Apache Relay and Last Bison. Even the hip-hop genre will be prevelant with heavy hitters Pubilc Enemy, Kendrick Lamar, Azalia Banks and new guy Action Bronson.

With over 65 bands over four stages, and headliners like Tom Petty and Red Hot Chili Peppers, this year’s Firefly Music Festival in Dover Delaware is sure to be a great experience. In addition, attractions like the Heineken Domes featuring various DJ’s, the Forest Cinema, the Arcade, a “style your own” Tom’s booth, Hammock Hangouts, and an illuminated pathway will fill out the experience.  Firefly even offers upscale camping called “Glamping” with air conditioned tents and bunks for a pretty penny. For the rest of us, see you camping out on the fields!

 

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Beaches – She Beats album review

Beaches, the all girl five piece band from Melbourne Australia, are making waves with She Beats, their follow up to 2008’s self titled debut. Their atmosphic, encompassing sound and an apparent love for layers of floating guitar riffs create a open space which is absolutely wider than the beaches that inspire them to rock. Catchy hooks, nonchalant guitar rock and shoe-gaze glory are enhanced with intricate production by Jack Farley (Beaches) and two key guest spots by German guitar icon Michael Rother. Beaches music tends to spiral outwards from speakers with an effect that leaves listeners awestruck and hypnotized.

Guitars start blazing from the beginning of “Out of Mind.” Here, Beaches present us with a well constructed, yet progressive song which manages to be in your face and laid back at the same time. The psychedelic beach jam continues on the bluesy interlude of “Keep on Breaking Through.” An almost laxidasical vocal delivery sets the mood throughout the experience of She Beats. Lead vocal responsibilities are shared among members, though the words are consistently droned with and innocent yet sunny feeling. The group was formed from casual jam sessions and never expected any real attention, and their lack of an over-bearing ego is apparent.

The songs featuring the famed krautrocker guitarist Michael Rother are “Distance” and “Granite Snake.” The first feature is an infectious firecracker contained by a strange pull created through immense tension of expansive, gritty, reverb laden guitars. On “Granite Snake” Rother’s guitar bleeds through the speakers. The collaboration clearly proves to enhance both the credibility and the psychedelic, progressive, and noise rock accomplishments of She Beats.

There is no lack of worthy and innovative melodies present on the album, both in the vocals and the guitars.  “Send them Away” is a memorable experience in which Beaches suggest we “take those blues and send them away.” The experimentation both in the production and songwriting keeps things soaring throughout each listen. “Dune” rises and falls with sheets of guitar noise as pop-harmonies maintain the tune’s back-bone. Major props to drummer Karla Way for keeping the jam sessions extremely tight, an essential piece of the jam band puzzle (just go ask anyone who has ever jammed). More casual jam-band personality is shared through the feature of an out-of-tune guitar of “Runaway.”

The compelling, unnerving, yet heart-warming mix of She Beats creates an attractive aura that Beaches revel in. Head-nods from progressive and noise rock circles will certainly escalate the probability of more attention, not that Beaches really care. The five girls bring innovation and skill together to create their textured, sundrenched psychedelic progressive rock sound. We should be thankful for this achievement as it is moving these genres along in an interesting way, bridging gaps between jam music and shoegaze as well as alternative and experimental rock; yes, She Beats manages it all.

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!!! – Thri!!!er album review

Electronic dance-punk veterans !!! (most commonly pronounced “Chk Chk Chk”) sound more raucous than ever on their latest release Thri!!!er.  The group, which has been together since the mid-90’s, has been making this music before is became as popular as it is today. Like originators often do, they sound more raw, lively and hardcore than any of their followers. On Thri!!!er, the dance vibe is matched by a rock appeal, like James Brown has been combined with the type of energy found in a Rage Against the Machine track.

!!! calling their album Thriller can be viewed as controversial or even egotistical insomuch as the group may be claiming to match the impact of Michal Jackson’s 1982 iconic album Thriller. On the topic of the album title, the band’s guitarist, Mario Andreoni, is quoted as saying “over the course of many long van rides, we concluded that Thriller is synonymous with any artists and/or genre’s a high-water mark.” [i] On the same topic lead singer Nic Offer states “it was just a fun game we were playing at the studio. Like, George Michael’s Faith is the white man’s Thriller. The heavy metal Thriller is either Back in Black or Appetite for Destruction.”[ii] Whether goofing on the road or in the studio about the title, the listener is left to answer the question: is this the electronic dance-punk Thiller?

Part of the issue in determining an answer to that is burning question that !!! tends to defy any single genre.  On “Even When the Water’s Cold,” Offer and crew sound like the funkiest possible version of Phish, offering expert instrumentation throughout a smooth and funky groove.  On “Californiyeah” the band chants to a funky but repetitive, pounding beat. Then on “Slyd,” there is much more of a house music vibe, with a sample of an air-heady chick repeating “I don’t really like you but I like you on the inside.”  “One Girl/One Boy” is a highlight with jangling rhythm guitars and falsetto vocals backed by a heaviness rarely achieved in this type of music.

The most interesting thing about !!! is that as futuristic as Thri!!!er sounds, the band has been making music along these lines for over ten years. This is now their fifth release and quite possibly the most dance-able collection yet. Since his band’s inception, Offer has viewed his brand of musical expression like an outsider looking up, stating “I would not say the world has caught up to me and that I’ve been proved right. That will happen later.”[iii] While it is totally certain that !!! offers the us the raw excitement and dance-ability with Thri!!!er, the story is yet to be told about the impact of this album, and their impact on the future of music as a whole; that will happen later.

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Young Galaxy – Ultramarine album review

On Ultramarine, Young Galaxy proves they are still capable of warping your mind with rhythmic and intricate instrumentation and electro-pop soul. Two years after their career shifting release, Shapeshifter, the Canadian quintet sounds stronger than ever. The group returns with the same producer from Shapeshifter, Dan Lissvik of the Swedish duo Studio. Although this time Catherine McCandless has taken over the sole responsibilities of the lead vocals, a role previously shared by husband and fellow band pioneer Stephen Ramsay, who now focuses on guitar.  The result is that Ultramarine turns out to be the group’s highest achievement to date. Ultramarine echoes with a resonating beauty which is presented in a thought provoking way.

“Pretty Boy” is the first single, the first song on the album and the strongest track. Solid songwriting is matched by precise, nearly meticulous production.  McCandless starts the journey with the ominous lines “when we were lost we found each other and headed sightless for the city,” later saying “I don’t care if the dis-believers don’t understand, you’re my pretty boy, always.”  The energy is high and the synths swirl; headphones are highly recommended. The dynamic, tribal sounding drums displayed on the next track, “Fall For You,” offer good opposition to the digital oblivion.  A euphoric party ensues as McCandless chants “if you need a guide, I’ll light the way, the beat is yours so let it play.”

The third heavy hitter, “New Summer” comes next. As beats cut through oo’s, the creative space sounds reminiscent of Lana Del Ray’s Born to Die, mostly in the range and feel of the song, though vocally, McCandless sounds more Victoria Lagrand of Beach House with her luxurious and chesty delivery. Young Galaxy sounds playful thoughtful, poppy and ominous all at the same time. If it were not for a slight dip in the action, Ultramarine would be on par with the electronic greatness M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, or MGMT’s Time to Pretend, but a few tracks in this middle section makes it impossible for it compete on that level. A few solidly melodic yet forgettable tunes are filled out and kept interesting by some choice lyrics and creative production. On “What We Want,” McCandless maturely points out “I don’t need authenticity to make me more like me.” The somewhat funky “Out the Gate Backward” features a raggedy sounding piano which nicely mixes things up.

They turn the heat back on with “In Fire,” a personal favorite. Synthesizer rips through in a rise and fall fashion as the rhythm drives and pulses. The chorus is creative and alive, adorned with oriental chimes. Entertaining production keeps every repeat listen worthwhile.  Another strong track is found in “Sleepwalk With Me,” where a touch of beautiful surrounds the entertaining idea of sleepwalking as a shared activity in order to watch the sunrise.

Young Galaxy seemingly enjoys stretching the listeners’ imaginations to their collective limit. Production-wise, Ultramarine is a shining achievement and David Lissvik deserves the band’s seventh (or sixth) player award. The band’s talented instrumentation is also a welcomed gift. Overall, Young Galaxy’s atmospheric themes are very befitting (of their band name) and it seems can only be brought back to earth by Catherine McCandless’ relaxed lyrical delivery and intelligent lyrics. Expect to see this one on some year-end lists and to hear “Pretty Boy” in your head all day after one listen.

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Stone Sour – House of Gold & Bones Part 2 album review

Chapter two of Stone Sour’s concept album does not fail to meet expectations, which were set high by House of Gold and Bones Part 1. The ambitious heavy metal saga features both hard hitting metal and rock ballads throughout. Lyrics depicting devastation and longing of the main character, a lone traveler, and are still sung and screamed with conviction by front man Corey Taylor. The shared responsibility of Jim Root and Josh Rand’s lead guitars chug through the verses and rip through the albums’ highs. Where House of Gold and Bones Part 1 led with many fast-tempo head bangers, such as “Absolute Zero,” and variously dips into the slower tunes like “The Traveler,” Part 2 finds a different niche with a mix of fast-paced rock and the slow churning, riff based, mid-tempo ballads with minor chords.

A cinematic piano riff and Taylor’s vocals start off this Stone Sour installment on the opener “Red City.” A slow building, ominous tone is set, properly foreshadowing what is to come. Thunderous, calculated drums pounded by Roy Mayorga are especially enjoyable on “Black John” and the fast-paced “Pekinpah.” Moments of Part 2 seem to nod towards a Deftones element of deep seeded heaviness. Stone Sour seems to be unveiling more elements of their identity as the album unfolds.

A break in the action comes for a brief twenty seconds on “Stalemate,” which is proof of their attention to the complete picture of the concept album. Corey Taylor’s vocals switch between growls and earnest confessions, proclaiming on “’82” “deep down there’s a devil inside, he can make you give up everything, settle if you want to die, or you can live for a world that must be free.” Stone Sour explores psychedelic phrasing with a few introductions, most enjoyable on “Blue Smoke,” proving their ability to push their limits.

Some surprises are saved for the end, as the band toy between their slow and heavy tunes.  Lead guitar mastery is achieved on the solo of “Do Me a Favor,” which also features welcomed dramatic vocal delivery by Taylor.  Up next they take a complete 180 degree turn on “The Conflagration,” which turns out to be one of the albums strongest and slowest songs with its “instant-classic” sounding rock ballad chorus. Here we find violins and smooth guitars make the desperation sound beautiful again. On the album closer, which is also the title track of both albums, “House of Gold and Bones,” Stone Sour drives us home with heavy distortion and Root and Rand’s shredding guitars.

This album attempts to be a heavy metal version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall meets Alice in Chain’s Dirt, as stated by Corey in an interview during the recording stages of the album. A graphic novel series of the same title, with writing credits to Corey Taylor and illustrations by Richard Clark has also been released on April 17th of this year. Corey stated in the same interview, “if I pull (House of Gold and Bones) off, this could be biggest thing we’ve ever done in our career.[1] As for the albums impact on a The Wall meets Dirt standard, only time will tell. House of Gold & Bones on the whole achieves what it set out to achieve.  Solid songwriting is backed by a larger than life sound. I think we can affirm Stone Sour have done the biggest and most ambitious thing they’ve done so far in their career with the House of Gold and Bones rock saga.


[1] Further Info

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – Patterns EP review

Indie pop tweekers from Detriot, Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein keep the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. hype alive with the upbeat Patterns EP, their second major label release.  The four songs that make up Patterns represent the duo’s ability to creatively mix excellent production and an all-out dance party.  Their vibrant pop-songs tend to provide extra surprises in every bar, making for eclectic combinations that keep listeners anxious.  The vibe of Patterns is ultimately a dance-able blend of pop styles with a disposition of fun.

From the acoustic guitars that begin “If You Didn’t See Me (You Weren’t On the Dance Floor),” you are pulled in to the Patterns experience.  As the song falls into its groove and hits the chorus, you begin to realize Dale Earnhardt Jr.Jr. are not kidding about tearing up the dance floor.  Upbeat production and effects pump through the downbeats, proving Zott and Epstein came to party and we should expect a good time.

On “Dark Waters,” DEJJ show their depth by stretching the listener’s imagination.  As the bass grooves, eerie whistling and light chimes sit on top of the mix as a spacey synthesizer plays call and response with the vocals. Some well-placed harmonies in the chorus accentuate their songwriting. There are some bold creative choices in this track, which are pulled off with grace. An interesting dynamic can be found between the happy vibes from light melodies in the chorus and the evidence of somber-ness of the vocals: “Baby you were always drowning, and you just now realize…”

Ironically, “Hiding” sounds more like a bold announcement that Jr. Jr. is coming out to play. Distorted effects and guitar samples bounce off the walls and the dance party is kept alive. Saxophones and cheers back up the heavy beat and glitch-stop groove. Head bopping is inevitable. Finally, the work is pulled together when their acoustic folk chant meets a neo-tribal beat on “Habits.” Harmonies and reverb that could fill an airfield garage are grounded by positive and thoughtful lyrics: “If there’s life, let it shine.”

For the home recording gurus that are well on their way, Patterns EP is a nice tease for their full-length album due out this summer, “The Speed of Things.” Their indie pop party music has obviously progressed from their breakout album “It’s a Corporate World (2011).” Following the release of the vinyl for the “Patterns EP” on record store day, April 20th, DEJJ embarked on a small spring tour throughout the U.S.  Fans should remain excited for even more to come from this creative duo. After all, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr are certainly supplying the grooves to hang on the dance floor all night, and they expect to see you there.