Muse – The 2nd Law album review

If you were to take Queen, Radiohead, and The Darkness and toss them all into some sort of musical blender, you really shouldn’t be surprised if the result sounds something like Muse. The 2nd Law is the latest release from these Brit rocking, stadium shakers, and their sights are set as high as they always are.

Bands like Muse have plenty of money to toss around during the recording process and it certainly shows. The 2nd Law certainly never lacks for polish. Every note is placed exactly according to plan and every sound has been masterfully engineered. This is a sound that you won’t find on any indie or rookie musician’s album and it is something that Muse has earned. The question is whether or not they put it to good use.

With the album opener, Supremacy, they come out of the gate hard and already it has the epic feel of a James Bond theme song, complete with soaring orchestral lines and reverb laden drums. Already it is possible to imagine the roaring of a shaking stadium. Following this is their huge single Madness which can be heard playing on popular radio about once every five minutes. It is not a song that I am overly nuts about, but I can’t help but admit that it’s minimalist structure is catchy as hell and has a habit of getting stuck in the head.

Their song Survival (and the preceding Prelude) might be recognized from the London Olympics. It is a strange number, with bizarre choral work supporting the melody, but it works. The song is an effective rally and has the potential to be a new generation of We Are The Champions. Unfortunately, for me, it was after this that the album started to fall short for me.

Songs like Panic Station, Animals, and Explorers felt like things we’ve already heard before. They just lacked the punch that Muse has shown that they are capable of delivering and come off as uninspired. On the whole it makes for an uneven listening experience.

Muse has shown they are capable of reaching soaring heights musically, and they get there at times. The 2nd Law is not without some extremely good moments but it is far from being their definitive album.


Mark Knopfler – Privateering album review

If I need to take the time to really explain who Mark Knopfler is to you than I weep for music. Go learn about the Sultans of Swing and then get back to me. Ok. We good? Let’s move on.

Privateering marks the seventh solo album from Knopfler. If you are picking up this album expecting to hear the same rock sound that permeated Dire Straits or even the country tones like the work that he did with Chet Atkin you are going to be surprised. What you will hear though is a double disc release that pays tribute to folk roots rock and songwriting.

The first few tracks that Knopfler offers up are ones that have a strong feeling of Celtic storytelling. In the track Kingdom of Gold, this is only strengthened by the reedy sound of the flute that lays under the guitar. Haul Away is a great slow number that  again makes use of tinwhistle as the story unfolds.  His tribute to Celtic Folk isn’t all encompassing though. The styles of this album shift and wander as Knopfler explores other musical roots of America.

Got To Have Something is a great example of a well moving blues song, complete with harmonicas and some really solid piano work. Don’t Forget Your Hat keeps to this feel and throws in the slide guitar to complete the mix.

The title track, Privateering, is simply an amazing piece of music. The storytelling aspect of the lyrics (a story of a band of privateers) is placed lovingly over solid acoustic guitar and as the song builds so does the instrumentation. By the time the fiddles and bowed upright bass kick in, the song is in full swing.

Frankly, there is just too much to the album too break down more of the songs or even the highlights. It is all good. My background is as a Celtic musician and those are the songs that I am more drawn to, but still this entire album is a work of art. What I love most about it though…is that throughout the album, regardless of the song style, the distinctive sound of Knopfler’s smooth guitar solos can still be heard. They never seek to take the focus away from what’s happening but consistently support the music. Privateering is a tribute to music itself.


Mother Mother – The Sticks album review

The Sticks marks the fourth album from Vancouver, Canada’s group Mother Mother and is the follow up to their 2011 release, Eureka. As in their previous albums, the big strength of Mother Mother lies in the odd and engaging harmonies that exist between singer Ryan Guldemond and his sister Molly. Their voices are strong complements to each other, and the arrangement of harmonies is one that can quickly steal the show.

One of the biggest problems, though, that I found with The Sticks is that there is a smugness that seems to underlie each of the songs. It’s as if the band is smiling and letting everyone know how cool they are. This wryness can be fun at times and adds a quirkiness to the music that is refreshing, but it also cuts down on any sincerity that might otherwise exist in the music.

There are still some great moments to be found here though, the title track is one that has a great strong and atmospheric opening that is emphasized in the reverb laden drums and washed out vocals. It very strongly sets the tone of the song and is a great opening to the album (if one doesn’t count the throwaway quasi-instrumental first track). The next song, Let’s Fall In Love, is the first single and has been getting massive amounts of radio play. From the first time that I heard the song I was riveted with the melody and flow of it. I’m not entirely enamoured with the lyrics, but perhaps I’m too cynical for that cheery sense of optimism.

Perhaps that cynicism is what draws me to the song Dread In My Heart. With the opening lyrics “There is a god-awful, shitty feeling of dread in my heart” the song quickly captured my attention. The song is supported by a fingerpicked acoustic guitar that is very reminiscent of The Beatle’s Blackbird. It is kind of hard to not to nod your head along to this.

The album, on the whole is a fun collection of songs. This album might not be the defining moment of the band…but it is a strong collection still. I hope to see a more serious and thoughtful side of the band in the future, but for now I can sit back and enjoy their odd and quirky nature.


Amanda Palmer – Theatre Is Evil album review

Successful recipient of Kickstarter fan funding and wife of award winning author Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra is back with her third and strongest album to date. With a sound that could be compared to a strange fusion of Metric, Imogeon Heap, and Joy Division, Theatre Is Evil is a CD that shows some real musical growth.

Infused with industrial electronics, pianos, guitars, and Palmer’s low vocals, the sound of Theatre Is Evil is one that swells and ebbs from track to track. Pulsating energy in one song and in the next filled with quiet emotion.  Smile (Pictures Or It Didn’t Happen) was the album opener and almost felt like a throw away track to me. Lacking any definitive direction it could have been happily nestled away on a B-Side of a single somewhere and almost had me ready to disregard the rest of the album. That being said by the time I got to Do It With A Rockstar I was fairly firmly onboard with what was happening. The opening almost reminded me of the opening of a The Who stadium rock anthem.

The song that I have probably listened to the most is Grown Man Cry. Truly this is the song that stands out to me as the strongest offering on the album. The song firmly puts me in mind of Depeche Mode and I have to say…it is a sound that Palmer pulls off really well. Mournful and bitter sounding, the song is haunting. This low tone continues through the next song, Trout Heart Replica, which features Amanda on the piano and shows that she is just as capable in her own voice.

The Grand Theft Orchestra doesn’t always play second fiddle on this album. Mid-way through the tracklist we get treated to an epic sounding instrumental which is aptly title Grand Theft Intermission. The break is nice and acts as a good changeup. I can almost picture a strange tango performed by a theatre of the damned as I listed to this. It works.

All in all, this album wasn’t what I was expecting (although to be honest I’m not sure what it was that I was expecting). Palmer’s sound was refreshing to me and I know that a few of these tracks are going to be added to my regular playlists.


The Avett Brothers – Carpenter album review

If, like me, you have never listened to The Avett Brothers before the release of their latest studio album, Carpenter, then you are going to be pleasantly surprised. You are also going to be pissed that your friends have kept them from you for so long. This folk-rock trio from North Carolina somehow manages to pull off a great album that dances beautifully along the edge of bluegrass and rock.

The album starts with a very soft folk-roots feel to it. The opening track is almost a throat clearing. The Once And Future Carpenter is the band warming their chops up. There is a sense of anticipation here as the guitar and vocals kick off the song. By the time the rest of the instruments kick in the hook has been set. The next two songs (Live And Die, Winter In My Heart) work to keep the country flavour while still making it accessible to those of a non-country persuasion. It doesn’t take long for the Brothers to start rocking out though.

As the album builds the songs keep their acoustic sensibilities and instrumentations, but take on more a pop-rock feel. I Never Knew You is a great bittersweet song that takes on a faster tone as the boys kick into a higher gear. One of the things I love about this tune is the harmonies and the sometimes soaring vocal line. The Avett Brothers might have got a start as a bluegrass band, but this retro-style 60’s rock wears well on them. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the song Geraldine. I don’t even want to mention how many times I’ve heard this song so far. It is catchy, it is well structured, it has a great groove, and it is just freaking good.

The Carpenter is an album that can fit just about any mood. The songs are clean, the production values are solid, and the musicians…they are just at the top of their game right now. If I have any criticism of this album it is that The Avett Brothers don’t seem to be 100% sure if they want to stay a bluegrass band or if they want to be a more focused folk/pop-rock band.  The thing is, they play both sides extremely well. Beginning to end this is a solid album that deserves a place on any playlist.


The Mountain Dogs – Until Somebody Pays Us To Do Better album review

With an album title like Until Somebody Can Pay Us To Do Better, you might not expect that The Mountain Boys are a group of guys that take themselves too seriously. You would be completely accurate in this sentiment. What you do get, though is an album by a group of guys who seem to be playing and making music for the sheer unadulterated love of music…and this is in no way a bad thing.

Until Somebody is an album of twangy guitar, garage punk. Power chords, and moving bass lines are the driving force here but the vocals are also fairly distinctive. Clear and energetic while still retaining a tongue in cheek sound is the style here. The opening track, Silly Stalker Me, pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the band. A song about a relationship where only one person realizes that there IS a relationship. The song sounds like it could be sung by a slightly insane Buddy Holly. From here we moved to Stay, a track that sounds like the type of power ballad that I wish we could have had at my high school dances. This is the first indication that underneath the good times, there might be a band that has some serious chops.

The swing feel of Drinks and Wine puts me in mind of They Might Be Giants. It’s a good moving piece and keeps the upbeat feel of the album going. This pace keeps up through most of the other tracks like My Bentley, and Too Much Work. The pay off is the track Blue Eyes. Mountain Dogs hits it hard here with a driving bass and great guitar that combines to make just a damned good song. The only problem is that the final track, Don’t Worry Baby (I Hate You Too) feels a bit of a let down at the end. On its own it isn’t a bad song but held up to the rest of what the Mountain Dogs has shown it just falls a little short.

If you are looking for an album that is just damned fun to listen to, you really can’t go wrong with The Mountain Dogs. 


Wild Nothing – Nocturne album review

Synth-pop, strings, haunting vocals…these are the hallmarks of Nocturne, the sophomore release from Jack Tatum under the banner of Wild Nothing. The musical sensibilities of Tatum seem to far outstrip his barely two decades of life.

Nocturne seems to be a rather aptly named release. The album, from beginning to end, is one that is filled with themes of dreams, night time, and moonlight. There is a consistency here that points to a well executed and thought out concept. It is a concept that effortlessly draws in and engages the listener.  Coupled with some slick production values, it is an impressive step up from Wild Nothing’s previous effort.

Shadow is the opening track and it feels like an opening. What I found really compelling was the smooth bass line. Strong and smooth, it grabs the attention and adds great support to the clear guitar progression and melodies. When Tatum’s vocals do enter they are understated and soft and work to never jar or distract the listener. Though the whole album is a solid effort, Shadow, really might be the best track on Nocturne.

Don’t think that that is the only song worth listening to. ThroughThe Grass is a great number that shows some vocal hooks that are catchy as hell and great guitar work (which oddly reminds me of Queensryche’s Silent Lucidity). The percussion work of Break The Chains is damn near hypnotic and serves as a great musical foundation. The title track of the album itself is a strong number that opens with a great guitar riff before it leads into the haunting vocals.

Tatum uses Nocturne to showcase some serious songwriting chops. The sophistication and subtlety of his compositions displays an understanding of his craft that seems fairly surprising for his age and for only being on his second album. The banner of Wild Nothing is one that that Tatum is making strong and I am eager to see what he can come up with next.


Reel Big Fish – Candy Coated Fury album review

I must admit that, when I was first assigned to review Candy Coated Fury I was completely unaware that Reel Big Fish was still making music. Ska, as a genre, seems to have to left the mainstream consciousness and faded back into the niche market that it used to be. That being said, there is a tightness and precision that exists in Ska that I sometimes miss and Reel Big Fish have always been shining examples of that and this album is no exception.

If nothing else can be said about Candy Coated Fury, it is a damned fun album. There is a humour that undercuts all of the songs on the tracklist and I have to say…it is refreshing to hear a band that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Thematically, the album explores relationships. Not just the relationships of boyfriend-girlfriend but the way that people interact with each other. Of course, with titles such as Everyone Else Is An Asshole, and Your Girlfriend Sucks this is all done in a very tongue and cheek manner. The thing is it works . Whether is the light lyrical tone, the consistency in sound, or just the overwhelming desire to throw yourself into a mosh pit, the whole thing come together into a cohesive structure.

Don’t Stop Skankin’ is a great little number that oddly reminds me of the old classic Minnie The Mooch before it segues into an arrangement of Richie Valens’s Oh Donna (though now it has been changed to Oh Rudy).  From here we move to Famous Last Words, which to me feels to be the most ambitious song of the album. Good play on dynamics, solid vocals and harmonies, and a pace that moves at a fast stroll. The song is damned catchy.

My personal favourite of the album though is the closer which is a fantastic cover of The Promise by When In Rome. The song is classic and cheesy and the cover is new and cheesy and just all kinds of wonderful.

Is this album a masterpiece? No. Not even close. It isn’t trying to be though. All the Reel Big Fish sought to do with this album was create some music that is fun and peppy and just basically a good time in audio form. As far as I’m concerned, they succeeded.


Joshua Radin – Underwater album review

It’s been a couple of years since Joshua Radin released his third album, The Rock And The Tide, and it seems that he has been using that time to rethink his musical direction. Underwater, his newest release, contrasts the rockier and more commercial sound of The Rock And The Tide with a soft sound that a return to the Singer/Songwriter style that first launched his career.

Acoustic guitars and a soft, near whispering voice are the defining characteristics of this album and they shine. Layered in amongst the tracks are percussions and strings and pianos but they are always careful to gently support and never steal the spotlight. Frankly, this is where Radin is truly in his element.

Each song on Underwater feels incredibly intimate and personal . Radin’s vocal style makes it seem as if he is singing each song to you…letting you in on a secret. Tomorrow Is Going To Be Better is the melancholic, yet hopeful opener of the album giving way to a swelling ballad of Anywhere Your Love Goes. The album’s namesake, Underwater, features a wonderful shuffling feel carried by a quiet and understated percussion. In it, Radin lets his voice soar a more and you can’t help but feel that he was smiling as he sang.

For me, the shining moment for the album is the track Everything. It is simply gorgeous. Female harmonies that match his low tone, soft snare rolls, swelling and ebbing strings, and a haunting melody. This song borders on pure genius.

With The Rock And The Tide it felt like perhaps Radin had already said all he needed to say as a musician and was just making music without giving much of himself anymore. Underwater shows an artist that has delved once more into introspection and has delivered what is quite possibly their best work.


Passion Pit – Gossamer album review

The nice thing with writing for a site like MVRemix is the opportunity to listen to music that I wouldn’t normally choose for myself. A prime example of this is Passion Pit’s Gossamer. Passion Pit are not a band that I would naturally gravitate towards. Yet here I am, listening and despite my inclination… I’m really enjoying.

Gossamer contains all of the high and at times frantic energy that fans have come to expect from The Pit. The rhythms are catchy and driving, the vocals( both leads and harmonies) are well blended, and the structure of the songs are satisfying. Each song effortlessly launches itself out of the speakers and forces a primal need to move along in the listener.

With the opening track, Take A Walk, you can almost be fooled into thinking that we are listening to a softer and more refined Passion Pit. The song sets the tone for the album with its themes of exploring emotional healing and growth and the tempo seems to reflect this discovery. It acts as an introduction to all that is to come and does so in a catch and inviting manner. I’ll Be Alright, however is the second song and the band seems to feel that they can take off the kid gloves. Here we are exposed the frenetic musical sensibilities of Passion Pit. The song is reminiscent of their previous hit Sleepyhead and is a frenzy of sound and vocal sampling. Lyrically, the song pushes the music into the realm of genius. “You can go if you want to, I’ll be alright” they sing out…and in this maelstrom of musical fury you can’t help but believe them.

The insanity and genius of this album is spread across the entire tracklist. Mirrored Sea dispenses with any preamble and hits the ground running. Hideaway is loud and honest. The heavily reverbed vocals of It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy are engaging and sit comfortably amongst the instrumental experiment that surrounds it.

Gossamer, quite simply, is an incredible work of art. Passion Pit have proven that they are more than just a band that can only hit success once. Their sophomore release is worth the wait for their fans and worth the discovery for those that have not yet experienced…well…the craziness that is Passion Pit.