The Drums – Portamento review

If you wished the Drums would have detoured from the eighties synth-rock they’ve been pumping for almost eight years now, you’re gonna be really disappointed. Portamento is full of the same Joy Division-esque bass-thumping and keyboard-bellowing that original members Jonathan Pierce and Jacob Graham’s spilled on their debut, as well as their project Elkland that disbanded right before the dawn of this duo. However, if you happen to be a gigantic fan of the Drums, or at least mildly enjoyed last summer’s critically-acclaimed self-titled album, you’ll probably view this record as more of an exercise in growth for the Brooklyn act. This time, the quintet come more into their own own by focusing even further on those little touches that make a song (such as the simple finger-picking in the middle of “Days”) and by cranking more dance beats (such as “What You Were”) than they ever offered on The Drums.

Whereas their debut opened with the minimalist synth track “Best Friend” that resembled the cheesiness of an arcade game soundtrack, Portamento dives into the Drums’ new, fuller sound with “Book of Revelation,” showing off their ability to harmonize over quick, punchy guitar stabs, which is the M.O. of the entire 12-track span. Minus the middle track, “Searching for Heaven,” which rides a wave akin to Pink Floyd’s “On the Run” (yet unfortunately doesn’t nearly go into anything as awesome as “Time”), Portamento is packed with the sonic neutrality Pierce and Graham have always loved but come closer this time to perfecting it. The movement from  from the quiet ramblings of a strings section at the end of “If He Likes It Let Him Do It” into the bass-centered “I Need a Doctor” is by far the highlight of the album, proving the control all five of them have over their sound a mere two years into their forming.

There’s a point on “Searching for Heaven” where Pierce sings, “I found the difference between what I wanted it to be and what it will always be,” and it makes you wonder if he’s unhappy with the results here. If he is, he shouldn’t veer too far from this Cure-esque sound. Portamento is a bigger and better step in the same direction.

The Drums - Portamento review


Terius Nash (The-Dream) – 1977 review

When you write and co-produce a number-one hit like Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” it pretty much solidifies your ability to get whatever the hell you want in the music industry. For Terius Nash, it was getting signed to Def Jam Records and being offered a shit load more options to produce A-list artists. Having received accolades for his three previous albums under his alter-ego “The-Dream,” Nash proved to the hip-hop community over the past four years that his production chops weren’t Grammy-winning just based on the final touches of Rihanna, Beyonce, and Mary J Blige (whom he also lent an ear to on “Single Ladies” and “Just Fine,” respectively), but rather that his name was worth something beyond the mixing board.

On his newest project, though, the rapper’s made a bold move. Hailing from one of only two industry genres that still make money off record sales, Nash is giving 1977 away for free. One step beyond Brit experimentalists Radiohead, the Atlanta native doesn’t even offer the option of paying, but after a day of theorizing, I think I’ve figured out the true reason why he did something so unorthodox in the hiphop world. Unlike Nash’s other records that focused on the heartache of his marriage and divorce with Nivea, this one instead focuses on the tough subject of his breakup with Christina Milian after getting caught frolicking with his assistant. With evidence that his album due out later this year targets Nivea once again, I take away one theory from this free download: Nash just wants Nivea back, so he’s trying to literally discard the memories of Milian.

And the honest truth is, I just want to discard them now too. For all the attention The-Dream has gotten, Nash’s first attempt at a solo record under his real name just sounds like the same autotune bullshit that college dollar-beer nights lap up across the country. “This is Rolex music,” he claims on “Rolex,” and though unfortunately the half-assed attempt at a beat would probably make him enough money to buy one, it’s gratifying to know he won’t this time. But that’s the sad part; there’ll be a next time.


Ladytron – Gravity the Seducer review

Following in the footsteps of fellow European beat-geniuses Daft Punk, British artists Ladytron have spent the past ten years pumping electronic synth-pop on their heavily-evolved discography, from 2001’s Chemical Brothers-esque electro-rockin’ 604 to the more pop-oriented Light & Magic a year later, to 2005’s and 2008’s dark and more bass-driven Witching Hour and Velocifero. And now three years later, the beat quartet are back with another record coated in the electronic plaster on which they’ve made their name, but this time something’s a bit different. This time, Ladytron are happy.

When Gravity the Seducer opens, chimes instantly serenade us into a state of ethereal bliss as a dreamy haze entrances. Feeling akin to the Dude’s knockout dream state while soaring over Los Angeles in the Big Lebowski, it seems all too perfect when vocalist Helen Marnie bellows, “We’re walking in our sleep.” For all four minutes and sixteen seconds, Ladytron pull us into a world they’ve never explored before, a world full of bright wonder and enchantment. It’s the kind of feeling you get when listening to the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” for when it’s over, you don’t cry at its finality. You smile for having witnessed it.

Once that wears off, Ladytron gradually revert back to the dark realm they’ve called home for almost seven years now, but this time it’s not twisted like 2005’s “Destroy Everything You Touch” or 2008’s “Ghosts.” There’s a rainbow that forms out of the gloomier tracks, like the promising reminder of love on “Ambulances,” or the gravity-defying “Altitude Blues” that sends us soaring into the clouds. And it’s the closing track, “Aces High,” that puts the finishing, peaceful touch on what could be confused as a bleak collection of Ladytron’s continual affair with dark matter. Following the giant, 2001: A Space Odyssey-sized crescendo of “90 Degrees,” (from which the album’s title derives), “Aces High” continues cramming jet fuel into listeners’ jet packs, and as the record comes to a close, Ladytron leave our feet off the ground.

Like “Ghost” claimed in 2008, there’s still a spirit in them, only this time there’s no need for anyone to apologize. With Gravity the Seducer, these four Brits just gave the electronic world a gift wrapped in gold.


Jacuzzi Boys – Glazin’ review

Jacuzzi Boys attempted to change. It was a valiant effort, but Glazin’ pushed the surf rock trio back a step. For an album that tried to delve deeper off the sound it’s predecessor and debut, No Seasons, accomplished two years ago, Glazin’s title isn’t aptly named considering the project more so resembles reheated baked goods than icing on a cake. Though their formula of early ’60s, Beach Boys rock would most certainly take American coastal bar scenes by storm, Jacuzzi Boys fall flat as artists due to their deep-seated will to convene and repeat. And when has that ever been call to reward something? (Oh that’s right, Jack Johnson makes millions off that idea.)

Foremost, where are the solos? On No Seasons, the Boys featured catchy guitar noodles on the majority of the album, more often than not during the bridges before the chorus made one more go-around. But this time, they hardly step into that showy territory, with only quick tiny glimpses of technique spouted off at the finales of “Cool Vapors,” “Silver Sphere (Death Dream),” and the fuzz solo towards the end of album closer, “Koo Koo With You.” Which isn’t to say that Glazin’ veers completely from the garage rock of their previous endeavor: on “Zeppelin,” Jacuzzi Boys channel early White Stripes more so than pay homage to the legendary quartet (which is maybe one of the more impressive compliments Jack White’s ever gotten), while “Libras and Zebras” features a Dee Dee Ramone-like bass line that carries the entire tune to its less-than-desirable climax. And it can’t go unnoticed that “Silver Sphere (Death Dream)” sounds and reads like a Flaming Lips b-side off Yoshimi.

But what No Seasons set up for the band’s strengths, Glazin’ foregoes, and that’s the defining problem here. Formula was never an issue for a band that dines on recreating ’60s surf rock, but deviating from it was. Their name represents the band’s bubbly, California beach sound, but it also calls to mind a group of guys just passed out in a hot tub. And with the smugness splattered in this album’s ten tracks (they named a song “Zeppelin” for God’s sake!), it’s looking more so like these guys could use a time machine back to 2009.


Case Studies – The World Is Just a Shape To Fill the Night review

When Jesse Lortz and Kimberly Morrison formed their duo, the Dutchess and the Duke, four years ago, they took the underground trip-hop scene by surprise…mainly due to the new project not involving trip-hop in the slightest. As members of the previous experimental underground sensation, the Flying Dutchman, the pair were expected to screw around with computers and mind-blurring beats for a straight hour while Morrison took the lead (as she did before). But that wasn’t the case with the Dutchess and the Duke. Instead, the two put out terrific back-to-back folk albums between 2008-09 that spewed from the vein of the early-1960s grit-folk movement and gained high praise for such enormous evolvement.

Now, nearly two years after their disbandment, Lortz has gone out on his own with Case Studies, a project that follows in the acoustic tradition of D&D but creeps closer than ever into the darkest and saddest corners of any work he’s ever produced. (For those familiar with Lortz, yeah; it’s that bad.) Backed with minimal orchestration and a female singer, he revisits the themes of lost love and hunger for companionship but adds a slight touch (did I say “slight?” I meant heavy as all hell) of depression at which Ernest Hemingway could potentially weep. “Are the strangers that you find sleeping next to you just shadows of your own self-indulgent mind?” Lortz asks his lover on “The Eagle, or the Serpent,” and to boot, on “Daggers” he sings in his most eloquent Leonard Cohen impression,” “I sing these words to the ones who have something to hide/ Don’t ever tell the truth to the world.” And you thought the title of the album gave you a good idea of how black this could get, right?

Looking back on only the few years ago when the Flying Dutchman pumped percussion-heavy sound waves for ecstasy-bent ravers, it’s astonishing that Case Studies is a project of Jesse Lortz. The World Is Just a Shape To Fill the Night is one of the most dreary yet powerful albums to arrive in indie rock since Elliot Smith’s From a Basement on a Hill. It’s haunting lyrics emote the honest lamentations of a man struggling to be honest with himself. But beyond being a record of profound songwriting, Case Studies’ debut deserves acclaim for one undeniable reason: it’s ability to incite listeners’ souls and speak directly to and from the heart, even if that heart is on its last beat.


Robert Ellis – Photographs review

Each year, there’s a new singer-songwriter I’m introduced to that ends up becoming the soundtrack for many a long drive and/or sleepless night. Last year, it was the Tallest Man on Earth, whose album The Wild Hunt was on repeat in my car stereo for over two straight months; in 2009, it was Bon Iver’s Blood Bank EP (along with the leftovers of For Emma, Forever Ago).

Just this week, Robert Ellis earned this spot for 2011. In only four months of reviewing for MVRemix, I can state without a doubt that Photographs is not only the best album of the twenty I’ve critiqued so far; it’s the second-most honest piece of music that I’ve heard this entire year. (Bon Iver once again takes top prize.) Though Ellis’ Texan accent and southern guitar twang undeniably labels him a country singer, the 22-year-old should also share comparisons to deceased indie icons Elliott Smith and Nick Drake. The Houston native doesn’t just wear his heart on his sleeve; he cuts it open and bleeds out for all to witness. “That dock was all washed away/ Just a cruel reminder of what it was yesterday,” he laments on the second track, “Bamboo,” and gives us the entire theme of his debut: nostalgia’s a bitch.

By opening with the beautiful, boyhood narrative, “Friends Like Those,” Ellis instantly proves his worth in the singer-songwriter genre. He writes from a storytelling vein that even Paul Simon would admire, using truthful imagery at times in place of rhyme schemes to place us directly within the picture he’s painted. On the ragtime-enfused “Two Cans of Paint” and the Jackson Browne-inspired “I’ll Never Give Up On You,” Ellis teases the suggestion that perhaps Photographs is about looking back on the past with a smile on your face. But as the album closes, the songwriter’s fateful sadness ensues as Ellis ends the record with the dismal “No Fun” and “Photographs,” and we’re reminded of Ellis’ initial theme. “Take down those photographs,” he sings on the final track. “I need to know what’s passed is past.”

With a fall tour lined up as an opener for recent blowup stars Justin Townes Earle and Jonny Corndawg, it seems like only a matter of time before Ellis headlines a tour of his own. But hopefully it doesn’t make Ellis too excited; he’s proven loneliness and desperation are terrific muses.


Dave Stewart – The Blackbird Diaries review

For a guy who’s biggest hit still remains 1983’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This),” Dave Stewart’s newest album, Blackbird Diaries, comes as a huge surprise. The former Eurythmics guitarist strays far from the ’80s techno for which the majority of the world knows him and instead grinds out straight-laced country-rock on this full-length 13-track LP. Complete with Martina McBride and Stevie Nicks collaborations, Stewart shoves aside any hint to a younger generation that he was ever an influence on ’80s sub-culture.

“So Long Ago,” the record’s first track and single, kicks off with a Joe Walsh-esque guitar riff and fills all the verse-chorus holes with “Funk 49” slide. Looking back on moments from his life, Stewart sums them all up in a quaint and simple manner: “That was so, so long ago,” and from that point forward, the Blackbird Diaries sounds exactly like a man flipping through the pages of his journal. Though Stewart’s been married for the past seven years, titles such as “Stevie Baby” (no, this isn’t the one Nicks is featured on), “The Gypsy Girl and Me,” and “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” give the impression that problems may have arisen in the confines of their sanctum. “Time is slowly ticking away/ But I know you’ll come back and be with me one day/ ‘Cause I miss you,” he bellows on “Worth the Waiting For,” which doesn’t exactly exude promise, and on “Cheaper Than Free,” he laments with the backing of Nicks, “What’s deeper than a deep well/ The love into which I fell.” Needless to say, the Blackbird Diaries isn’t the work of the same man who once cranked synth-reverb on “Here Comes the Rain Again.”

With this album, fans of Tom Petty would never imagine Stewart produced a couple of tracks on Southern Accents. Blackbird Diaries sounds more like something off Into the Great Wide Open. With the newfound twang of a southern blues artist, yet the well-version of a man who’s been in the game for over 25 years, this LP may be about reminiscence, but it’s revamping the future for this underrated guitarist.


The Rurals – Ocean review

It’d be unethical for me not to call out how little of an expert I am on the DJ scene. Until I started reviewing for MVRemix three months ago, I knew nothing more than the names Deadmau5, Girl Talk, and David Guetta.

So with that said, I begin my review of a trio made up entirely of computer beats.

Due to the wonder of Spotify, I was able to sample the Rurals’ discography, to which I immediately compared them to St. Germain. Only I then discovered on Wikipedia that St. Germain is considered “deep house,” the same genre in which the Rurals are cataloged. (So if for nothing else, I at least know one thing about this topic.) But what I noticed almost immediately about the Rurals over the course of their 13-year (and 15-record career) is that they moved significantly from smooth 1950s jazz mashups in 2000 to increasingly more soulful territory by 2008. And three years later, Ocean hasn’t detoured from that.

If you’re a fan of their early work Headsongs and Sweeter Sounds, the symbolism behind a band called the Rurals naming their album Ocean would probably give you a good idea of how opposite the scenery is on this one. Yet if you look at the last three albums the Rurals have released, Ocean seems a little too late of a choice for a title. Sure, they’re sampling R&B as Marie Tweeks croons along with Ladybird and Diviniti, but they’ve been heading in that direction for the past couple of years. If this record is Ocean, then the last two could have been Sand and Sea. There’s nothing surprising here but rather instead the same focus on Al Green-like soul that the group experimented heavily with on Farming Grooves.

To fans of the English trio, I probably seem too harsh of a critic in this case. After all, I’m basing the majority of my opinion of this record on its title. But the fact remains, even without my knowledge of DJ production, the Rurals are leading people on here because this isn’t anything we haven’t heard before. Yet from what I’ve heard of any DJ over the past three months, stoicism doesn’t seem like much of a problem in this genre. And now that I’m thinking about it, St. Germain never changed much either.

music videos

Phish, Muse take over Outside Lands

It’s 5:50 PM, and I’m wondering why the hell no one at this music festival has mushrooms. Phish are scheduled to go on in 40 minutes, and I’m sober as a rock because beers cost $9 a pop and my buddies with all the weed stayed to the back of the Polo Fields (the main stage area of Outside Lands) in order to get to the Shins on time after Phish’s first set. So all I’ve got is the company of my good friend, Samantha, and a spot about fifty feet from the stage, and though that would normally more than suffice for a Friday afternoon, right now all I can think about is how hard I want to trip balls.

This is the reason I consider Mike With the Orange Backpack a godsend. Sitting to my right, he has the prime features of a dealer: high, alone, and wearing a backpack. Unless you’re a journalist, photographer, or an excavator who thought it’d be nice to see a band play a 20-minute version of “You Enjoy Myself,” going to a Phish concert by yourself is typically a sign that you’re selling drugs, and the backpack further insinuates that. But that’s when Mike throws me for a loop. His backpack is actually a Camelbak that he ends up filling with three Aquafina bottles, which instantly destroys my hope of being clinically insane for four hours. Not only is this guy high and alone at a Phish concert, but he’s rigid enough to stay hydrated. If Mike With the Orange Backpack ends up having psychedelic drugs on him, he’ll be the Walter White of hippies.

It turns out that Mike With the Orange Backpack is indeed the Walter White of hippies. Within ten minutes, I look over at him as he pulls a Rice Crispies treat out of his shorts pocket, and my heart salivates. (Yup, that’s right.) In a last attempt, I ask him if he knows of anyone selling shrooms.


Fountains of Wayne – Sky Full of Holes review

Calling Fountains of Wayne “mediocre” is like telling a teen athlete he’s got room for improvement: no one can really argue with you, but you’re also not really saying anything profound. If we had a SportsNation poll for this band’s relevance today, my guess is the pie chart would read like this: 78% of the country thinks they broke up, 17% only know the 2003 hit, “Stacy’s Mom,” 4.5% have never even heard of them, and .5% think that Fountains of Wayne is a shop in New Jersey. (Trick question: this last one is actually true.) With these made-up numbers, you’d think I’m suggesting that Fountain of Wayne sucks, but that’s actually not the case. What I am suggesting is that Fountains of Wayne used to suck, but now that they’re exploring alt-country and have ditched their power-pop of nearly ten years ago, they deserve to turn some heads and regain attention in the scene.

This quartet’s come a long way since 2003, the year they became a pop amenity on the coattails of some milf with a daughter named Stacy. And that’s not to say Chris Collingwood wouldn’t still talk about banging some hot mommy (his lyrics are still bubble-gum garbage), but that boyband Disney punk has completely left the band’s radar. Sky Full of Holes takes the country vibe of 2007’s Traffic and Weather and more prominently inclinates the desire of this band to remake themselves. At the start of the album, “The Summer Place” sounds like an open mic session at a Nashville coffeehouse, and it makes one ponder exactly how many of these 13 tracks will stay in that vein. Yet by the track seven, it’s clear these NYC boys aren’t joking. They’ve reinvented their sound, complete with guitar solos that could do justice to any Old 97’s album.

It’s a shame that 2003 ruined Fountains of Wayne. If this were their first album, they’d blow up on college radio and be considered the good version of Guster. But unfortunately, the NYC boys got more than they wished for when “Stacy’s Mom” made them rich as hell: MTV’s over-saturation of that record destroyed any integrity this band could have ever hoped for in the public eye. On paper they’re a one-hit wonder, but judging by this new album, my guess is they could care less. They’re in this for their themselves now, and let’s be honest: that’s artistic.