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Uppermost – Revolution album review

I’m going to be incredibly honest right now: I am not a big fan of “electro house” music (is that what the kids call it these days?). I mean, I don’t detest it, and I can appreciate the creativity involved in creating electronic music, but I am not an avid fan of the genre. It’s the kind of music I enjoy while jogging, but that’s about as deep as my interest goes. Therefore, my review of Uppermost’s latest album, Revolution, was a very challenging one. I often found myself wondering if I possessed the tools to accurately describe and assess this album. But then I thought, “Screw it. I know what I like and what I don’t. Let’s do this.”

Having said that, I would like to say that I didn’t hate Revolution. Uppermost has crafted and album that is dynamic and fresh. If the French music producer can keep a lukewarm listener like myself interested enough to hear the album in its entirety, my guess is that it’s a big contender in the electro house world. Revolution features a variety of tracks, ranging from frantic, to calming, to elating. Each track is carefully cultivated with layer upon layer of distinctive and stimulating sound. You can get a sense of how the song is meant to make you feel, even before seeing the (sometimes obvious) titles of the tracks.

“Fearless” is one of the more compelling tracks because it starts out with a feeling I can best describe as sinister. The relentless, building strings, menacing horns, and rumbling timpanis fill you with apprehension until it reaches a gripping climax. At it’s most foreboding, the track changes into a something less intimidating and more driving with a rushing tempo and funky bass. Then it becomes an ass-kicking, world-conquering track that inspires you to grab the proverbial bull by the horns.

I don’t know a damn thing about electronic music; I’m sure that much is obvious by now. But I do think that Revolution is a decent album. Has Uppermost won me over and converted me? No. But though this album will not be joining my default playlist, I think it may be added to my morning run playlist.

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Owls by Nature – Everything is Hunted album review

I grew up in a vehemently anti-country music household. By the time I had matured and developed my own musical preferences, the state of popular country music was mostly dismal. It’s only recently that I’ve really started to explore country music and figure out what I do and don’t like about it (these days I’m a sucker for pretty much anything with a banjo in it). Although not completely and 100% “country” in the strictest sense, Owls by Nature has recently been added to my list of country “dos.” Their latest album, Everything is Hunted is the right amount of country fused with rock.

When listening to the Canadian group, a lot of comparisons come to mind. At times, I was reminded of Johnny Cash, Manchester Orchestra, and even, at one point, Bright Eyes. The astonishing thing is that all if these wonderful resemblances seem natural; no part of Everything is Hunted comes off as contrived or calculated. The whole album is an effortless fusion of classic country guitar riffs and raw rock-inspired, twang-free vocals. In my opinion, it’s an example of the best incarnation of country music.

One of the most winsome qualities of Everything is Hunted is the range of the album. There are songs about heartache: “Heartbreaking Ways” sounds like a drunken phone call to your ex. There are songs about devotion: “Ferris Wheel” is a love song that would almost be too cutesy if it weren’t executed with the perfect country-rock vibe. There are also songs about friendship: “Alcoholics” is a tongue-in-cheek song about camaraderie through drinking. The album is incredibly well-rounded.

“New City” is an incredibly remarkable track on the album; a little over halfway through the album, the tone changes dramatically with the track, which starts off so much more subdued than the rest of Everything is Hunted. It’s captivating and haunting. Those qualities make it one of the most outstanding tracks on the album.

Country music isn’t for everybody; currently popular country music is not the best the genre has to offer. Even now, I’m still a little lukewarm on country. But Owls by Nature has crafted an album that has masterfully combined country with my much beloved rock music. It has pulled me a little closer to the classification of “country fan.” And yes, there are plenty of banjos to be heard with this fun, raw, powerful album.

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Is Tropical – I’m Leaving album review

Electropop is something I could take or leave. Sometimes it can be really, really good. But there’s so much of it out there that the good tends to be diluted by the so-so or mediocre. Additionally, electropop lacks a certain complexity or unpredictability that really turns me on musically. So in general, the genre just doesn’t ring my bell. But I do try to approach it with an open mind when it crosses my path. Usually. I usually try.

Is Tropical are a rare example of when I was unable to approach an album free of any preconceived notions. The problem started when I was looking at some background information on the trio from London. I quickly learned that they were signed to the record label Kitsuné. I remember thinking, “Wait, I thought Kitsuné was fashion…” Turns out I was right and wrong. The company is both a clothing label and a record label. To me, that just seems kind of… gimmicky. And that’s how I was feeling going into this. I wondered if there was any substance to IS TROPICAL’s latest album, I’m Leaving. Or was it all a ploy to make more money?

I will say this: I’m Leaving isn’t bad. It’s definitely worthy of the dance halls it will inevitably fill. The poppy beats and playful synths will get you moving. Almost every track on the album is catchy and upbeat. The opening track, “Lover’s Cave,” even has a little edge to it that makes it something more than pop. The song “Lillith” has the same effect.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of depth to the album. After a while, the saccharine melodies and thumping rhythms wear thin. Though the notes and lyrics change, it just feels like more of the same. I’d find myself tuning the music out and letting my thoughts wander about halfway through the album. I just couldn’t stay engaged. I also noticed a slight resemblance to Vampire Weekend a few different times throughout I’m Leaving. And while I actually truly enjoy Vampire Weekend, I’m not interested in imitations of the band.

The most surprising track on the album is the last one, “Yellow Teeth,” which is just over seven minutes long and seems to be about a werewolf. The tempo is slower and the harmonies are sweeter than everything else on the album. It’s more contained than the rest of the songs on I’m Leaving and it just comes off as more thoughtful.

Is Tropical were actually a pleasant surprise for me. Due to my own prejudices with electropop and the idea that this album was released by a clothing line slash record label, I was prepared for some hastily assembled crap that would leave me unsatisfied. What I found instead was an okay album with a few shining moments sprinkled in. I’m still skeptical about Kitsuné and their record label; I don’t think I understand how IS TROPICAL’s music really ties in with Kitsuné’s fashion. But I suppose musical commercialism is a thing that happens now, and maybe we should all get used to it.

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No Joy – Wait to Pleasure album review

Shoegazing is a genre that I’ve always been ambivalent about. Sometimes, depending on the artist, I am underwhelmed and bored. Other times, the distortion and muddled vocals really work for me. Overall, though, I like the idea behind shoegazing. I am drawn in by the thought of being lost in a sea of sound. When I find a shoegazing album that I truly enjoy, I can listen to it for hours on end because there’s always something new to hear. There are new patterns to discover, new melodies you didn’t notice before.

No Joy’s latest album, Wait to Pleasure is an example of one of those albums. The Canadian duo really knows how shoegazing is done. The guitar riffs are dirty and distorted, the melodies are sublimely psychedelic, and the voices are ethereal. Wait to Pleasure is that perfect state where the listener is entranced, but not bored. A lot of this has to do with the expert arrangement of the tracks. You start out with “E,” which is dark and intriguing and maybe even a little foreboding. Then you get “Hare Tarot Lies,” which is almost serene in comparison. The whole album plays out this way: it’s an auditory roller coaster that has the hypnotic, rapturous qualities, but escapes the risk of boredom.

The most alluring track on Wait to Pleasure is “Lunar Phobia,” a song that reminds me of an alt girl band of the early 90s. Unlike most songs in the shoegazing genre, “Lunar Phobia” doesn’t really throw a wall of sound at you. It’s more open, and it gives you room to breathe. The bass is strong, the vocals are angelic; it’s all very catchy and straightforward. I think it’s probably a good primer for anybody new to the shoegazing scene. It’s not the most true to the genre, but it’s something that could almost be commercial-friendly.

Wait to Pleasure is great for those of us who are not completely committed to shoegazing. It’s a wonderful example of the genre and could possibly even attract a few converts. The most captivating thing about this album is how the ladies of No Joy can obviously shred, but it’s presented in such a tranquil, comfortable way. In my personal opinion, that’s kind of what shoegazing is about: rocking out comfortably. Wait to Pleasure is the perfect combination of depth, tranquility, and rock.

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Wild Nothing – Empty Estate album review

Sometimes, on a gloomy spring day, you need a pick-me-up. It doesn’t have to be monumentally uplifting; it doesn’t even have to spark any kind of emotion. All you need is happy music. If you find yourself in need of such music, I suggest you take a look (or a listen, rather) at Wild Nothing’s latest EP, Empty Estate. It’s not what most would call “deep,” and there’s no great revelation or discovery to be had in listening to it, but it is enjoyable.

On Empty Estate, Wild Nothing (aka Jack Tatum of Blacksburg, Virginia) presents a synth-heavy, electro-pop joyride. There’s a pleasant 80s vibe throughout the album, which works well with the tone of Empty Estate. The solid guitar riffs and soaring synths are more reminiscent of the cool, glamorous part of the 80s than the emotional, gloomier part of the era. Most of the EP seems very playful.

One of the most interesting tracks on the EP is “Ride,” a rollicking song with heavy bass, rapturous synth, and a guitar that has just enough rock in it that the whole thing veers slightly away from the pop feel on the rest of the album. It feels like the kind of song you’d blast in your car with the windows down. You’d sing along as Tatum sings, “Is he coming out with us? Is he gonna ride with us?”

The biggest blunder on this album is the addition of the two instrumental tracks on the album, “On Guyot” and “Hachiko.” While interesting and pleasing in their own ways, they seem frivolous on an EP. There’s no room for these tracks to breathe, and what’s more, there’s no real context. If Empty Estate was a full-length album, I feel like the two instrumental tracks would be more at home.

All in all, this is an EP worth listening to. There aren’t any depths to discover or mind-bending lyrics to ponder, but it is impressively composed and well crafted. Sometimes that’s enough. You can tell that this album was written for fun, which I suppose is the point of an EP. Wild Nothing does a wonderful job of making fun sound great.

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MS MR – Secondhand Rapture album review

“Welcome to the inner workings of my mind, so dark and foul I can’t disguise,” the opening track of MS MR’s first full-length album Secondhand Rapture warns. It’s an apt warning; the New York duo certainly have an affinity for the dark and disturbing. However, that warning shouldn’t drive you away from the album. If anything, you should keep listening, similar to how that dumb chick in the horror movie goes into the basement to investigate that strange noise. The difference in this situation is that you won’t regret the decision.

While it’s true that a lot of these songs had appeared previously on MS MR’s Candy Bar Creep Show EP, that doesn’t take away from the album at all; I’d argue that Secondhand Rapture is perhaps a more complete iteration of the duo’s vision. The additions of new tracks like “Head is Not My Home” and “Twenty Seven” add to what seems to be the point of the album: balancing beauty with darkness.

One of the best “recycled” tracks on Secondhand Rapture is “Dark Doo Wop,” a quiet, haunting ballad. With swelling strings and the ever-reverent organ, vocalist Lizzy Plapinger croons, “If we’re gonna die, bury us alive. If you’re searching for us, you’ll find us side by side.” Yeah, it’s a little morbid, but it’s also pretty sweet.

“Head is Not My Home” is a great new track on the album. It’s a little reminiscent of Florence + The Machine, which I think is a good thing. The thunderous drums and chorus of chanted “ho-ohs” in the background allow you to really feel the passion in Plapinger’s words. It’s an anthem of weird love, I suppose. And it’s glorious.

Of course, an album that focuses so much on the lurid and macabre is bound to have its missteps. “Think of You” is supposed to be the ultimate breakup song, but it falls stupendously short. The lyrics “I still think of you and all the shit you put me through” are just too clumsy and simple;  it is so far apart from the rest of the album, you have to wonder if there was some sort of external pressure to include a more “mainstream” track. But what makes MS MR so enthralling is that they are great at weird. Trying to be “normal” just doesn’t work for them.

Bottom line, Secondhand Rapture is a revelation. It kind of proves that weirdness and that dark corner of your brain can yield amazing results. I think MS MR are headed for great things and I can’t wait for more. In fact, they’ve already been featured on a Game of Thrones promo, and they’re scheduled to perform this summer at Lollapalooza. I, for one, will be in the front row.

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Iggy and the Stooges – Ready to Die album review

As a fellow Michigander, I have a certain inherent pride for Iggy Pop. Iggy and the Stooges did a lot for the blossoming punk scene in the seven short years that they were initially together. Listening to performances from that golden age of punk are so electrifying and invigorating, one is at risk of breaking something during the inevitable rocking out. That’s probably what makes their latest album, Ready to Die, so disappointing. I felt no compulsion whatsoever to rock out or even shuffle along with the beat.

The most disappointing and easily most obvious problem with this album is how deflated and subdued the whole thing sounds. I’m not saying Iggy Pop has lost his edge, but I think he definitely forgot to bring it to the studio with him this time around. There’s nothing to this album that has the same reckless abandon the Stooges’ older albums had. I’m all for musicians exploring other styles and branching out into new genres, but this isn’t it. In fact, is so much the opposite of exploring that it’s stagnation.

The album opens with “Burn,” which is nothing amazing, but it’s promising. The guitars wail and cymbals crash and Iggy’s voice takes on a Bowie-esque depth which is interesting. But then the song ends, and you are presented with the song “Sex and Money.” I applaud for Iggy’s desire to stay edgy lyrically, but to hear him sing it leaves one feeling bereft. The song is missing the raw, vulgar electricity of Iggy’s other racier hits like “Penetration.”

The rest of the songs on Ready to Die tend to follow this trend. “Gun” is an interesting comment on American politics and culture, but it’s so poorly executed that it’s hard to take seriously. Then there are songs like “Dd’s” which is about breasts and offers poetry like, “I’m on my knees for those double Ds.” Really, Iggy?

There are a few tracks on Ready to Die which are probably best described as ballads. These are the songs that are probably the most interesting, if for no other reason than it’s a dimension rarely visited by Iggy and the Stooges. “Unfriendly World” is a world apart from the rest of the album, and the subdued feeling actual works.

Overall, this album is not great. It has its moments, but for the most part, it just seems like a half-assed attempt at reliving the “good ol’ days.” It’s definitely better than the 2007 flop The Weirdness, and it’s probably worth at least one listen, but I think most of us still expect more from Iggy, even after all these years.

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The Knife – Shaking the Habitual album review

Allow me to paint you a picture:

It’s 8:00am and you’re sitting on the train, bleary-eyed, hoping you don’t fall asleep and miss your stop. You think to yourself, “Hey, this is the perfect opportunity to listen to that new album by The Knife! Maybe the electronic grooves the band is so notorious for will wake me up and jump start my day!” Ten minutes later, you’re wide awake, and afraid to ever sleep again. Welcome to Shaking the Habitual; a disturbing, beautiful, impossible, political,  genius, album. I don’t have the space for all the adjectives this album deserves.

Firstly, this album is pointless if you don’t understand its context. This album isn’t about sounding nice or rocking out; this album is about exploring what music is. So if you go into Shaking the Habitual understanding this, it’s much easier to appreciate. In fact, the Swedish duo released an interview shortly after the album was released to help out those of us who didn’t know this to begin with (myself included). Through this album, The Knife experiments with new instruments, structures, and subjects, and it’s all part of their experiment with sound.

Secondly, have a lot of time to devote to the album. In its entirety, the album lasts over 90 minutes. But it’s not just 90 minutes of music. There are periods of chaotic collisions of sound that put you on edge, briefly followed by lapses of everything but ambient noise recorded in a boiler room (true story). The album brings your mind in and out of focus, undulating through your thoughts. And that’s nice, because people like myself can’t consistently focus on anything for more than an hour at best.

One of the most unique experiences I had with this album was listening to “Full of Fire.” As described above, I was on the train, half-dozing, listening to Shaking the Habitual, when this track began. I was digging it at first, and it slowly, eventually got more and more disturbing. I can’t put my finger on what it was, but by the middle of the  nine-minute overture, my mind was generating some pretty disturbing images, fed only by what I was hearing. It really rattled me, which I suspect is part of its intended effect. As soon as the nightmare ended, “Cherry on Top” begins, which brings your mind back to rest with its serene, comforting sounds that almost resemble white noise. And though this only lasts for a few minutes, it becomes clear by this point that The Knife really knows what they’re doing; they know where your brain is going.

My feelings about this album are incredibly conflicting, which I think is perhaps the most appropriate outcome for Shaking the Habitual. On one hand, I truly appreciate the message(s) The Knife is trying to put out there. I applaud them for their fight against the commercialism of music. On the other hand, the album is just so damn weird. No, this is not the album I would listen to when I’m jogging or getting ready for a night on the town. And its epic runtime and stretches of near-slience can really wear on your patience. This album definitely isn’t for everybody. In then end, though, I’m glad for the experience of Shaking the Habitual, which is so much more than a mere album.

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Kurt Vile – Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze album review

There are times when you listen to an album and feel as if it came and went without much to say. Then there are albums that excite you, leave you feeling invigorated, and maybe even enlightened. Kurt Vile’s latest album, Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze is neither; it’s something completely different and wonderful. It’s hard to describe and the sensation is uncanny. The album is comfortable and easy to listen to, but it’s also intriguing and mind-boggling. Perhaps the best way to describe it is like being in a daze, which makes the album’s title almost too on the nose.

Full disclosure: I’ve listened to this album several times, and I still don’t think I completely understand what I was listening to. But I’m going to listen again and again until I do because I’m captivated. That could mean that I’m ridiculously simple, dull, and easily entertained, but I think it has more to do with the genius that is Kurt Vile.

Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze opens with “Wakin on a Pretty Day,” a country-infused, nine-minute saga which seems like the music that plays in Vile’s head as he wakes each morning. You want to get up and brush your teeth with him and see what the day has in store. The guitar part in this song is indescribable. Nine minutes really flies by when you’re listening to such mastery. It’s the chillingly perfect blend of country and psychedelic rock.

The rest of the album feels like a day in the mind of Kurt Vile; his musings, revelations, daydreams, and especially some of his darker moments. “Shame Chamber” is one that really stuck with me because of its upbeat guitar and the cowbell that I’ve only ever been able to associate with awesomeness. Sprinkled in between verses is an almost ecstatic shout. Then you start to listen to the words, and the confusion begins because amid the happy music you hear, “I couldn’t look myself in the mirror, then again, why would I?” The man is reveling in his shame, and from the music, you’d swear he was happy about it.

A lot of people would be quick to label Kurt Vile as “stoner rock” and leave it at that. You’re more than welcome to; Vile even alludes to this tendency in the album’s closing track, “Goldtone.” But to do so would be a mistake. Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze is more than a musician writing and performing songs; this album is an experience.

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Alkaline Trio – My Shame is True album review

Musical success is a fickle thing; for any band that sticks around for more than a decade, there’s a danger of going stale. To avoid this, a lot of groups will reinvent themselves or explore new musical territories, which has its own risks. Alkaline Trio has dismissed all of these perils and after 17 years, they’ve managed to stay true to their original sound without getting boring. Their latest album, My Shame is True, is a prime example of this. I’m sure hardcore fans would argue that this album is poppier than its predecessors, which may be a little true, but the heart of the music is still the same: guitars and broken hearts.

When I first heard My Shame is True, I was immediately reminded of my high school emo/punk fangirl days when I first heard Alkaline Trio. I was initially worried that the nostalgic charm would soon wear off, but it didn’t. Though it’s true that my musical tastes have evolved and changed since high school, this album was still fun to listen to. The songs didn’t wrench my bleeding heart like what would have happened back in the day. Rather, these songs hit me in my gut; not quite as painful, but equally as deep. Though I can’t say this with any certainty, I think it was probably due to a combination of my own maturity and the band’s. And that’s a good thing for all of us.

One of the best tracks on the album was “The Temptation of St. Anthony,” which feels like a gem collected from the depths of an older album. The bass solo is unexpected and yet perfect. And lyrics like, “You haven’t lived until you’ve seen suffering like this” are sublimely full of angst.

Another great track is “I’m Only Here to Disappoint.” The aggressive tempo allows some really interesting drum-playing, and the lyrics are of the usual self-depreciating variety that makes it really catchy.

Truth be told, My Shame is True probably isn’t Alkaline Trio’s absolute best. Will I be listening to this album obsessively? Probably not. But what I appreciate and, more importantly, what I enjoy about this album is that it’s what we’ve grown to love from the band and it isn’t old or played out. Despite the album’s moniker, there is no shame to be had from My Shame is True.