Categories
reviews

The Crookes – Hold Fast album review

Pleasant riffs and decent pop sensibilities are the defining traits of Hold Fast, the sophomore release from The Crookes, but if it is musical depth you are looking for, this probably isn’t the album for you.

The sound of The Crookes is not one that offends by any means, one that comes off as a blend between Buddy Holly and Elvis Costello. Unfortunately, they don’t quite have the freshness of Holly and lack the musical craftsmanship of Costello. Opening the album is a track called Maybe in the Dark and there is hint of promise here. An engaging riff and the sound of a band that enjoys what they are doing. Unfortunately, this same energy starts to immediately die down by the time we hit the second track, Afterglow. What we are left with for the rest of the album is background music. Nothing bad by all means, but not a work that really engages the listener and leaves them wanting more.

This isn’t a completely bland effort though. There are moments when The Crookes really try to shine. The namesake of the album, Hold Fast offers some life to the listener with earnest vocals and riffing guitars. The closer of the album, Sal Paradise, is an attention worthy song and one that stands out as a soulful and heartfelt piece. Next to these songs though, the rest of the album just feels like musical filler.

The genre of pop music filled with jangly guitars is one that is strongly coming back into vogue, and The Crookes are certainly a good example of this style. The music is decent, the themes of love and relationships that are lyrically explored are common enough and resonant, and the musicians are energetic enough. The problem is that there really isn’t anything below the surface here. Hold Fast is not a deep thought provoking release…and that’s ok. Not every band needs to be a complete cerebral experience. It does leave the listener wanting a little more though from time to time.

Categories
reviews

Linkin Park – Living Things album review

If you like heavy riffs, angsty lyrics, rap/rock combo all set in a completely safe and edge free environment, then Living Things by Linkin Park is the album for you. Living Things is the fifth studio release for Chester and the boys, and if anything, they have to be admired for their consistency. Linkin Park knows the sound that made them famous and they are content to keep to that path.

To be honest, not much negative criticism can be given to this album. Whether or not you like them, it is hard not to find yourself tapping your foot along to the music they are pounding out. In particular, the second track In My Remains had me bobbing my head along in rock solidarity. The familiar dynamics washed over me, the reigned in feel just before Chester’s voice unleashes into his angry yell range. The song that followed, Burn It Down, could have been a continuation of the previous. The same flow of the song existed and was almost comforting in its similarity.

By the time you have made it this far into the album though, there is not much left to be said. I’ll Be Gone is fairly unremarkable. Road’s Untravelled is a decent enough song, but Mike Shinoda is a far better rapper than he is a singer. Lies Greed Misery is just a bit of a mess, frankly. The real stand out of this album is actually the closer, Powerless. This seems to be as close as Linkin Park gets to a ballad and it is a solid one at that. I only wish that more of the songs had this emotional charge to them.

If you are a fan of Linkin Park then this album will hold no surprises for you and should continue to deliver the same nu metal/hard rock that you have come to expect from them. It is no great revelation or ground breaker. Living Things is simply the next effort from a band that doesn’t see the need to experiment too much with a musical formula that has kept them afloat for years.

Categories
reviews

White Arrows – Dry Land Is Not A Myth album review

Don’t let the title of the album fool you. Dry Land Is Not A Myth might be named after one of the worst travesties to ever make its way to the big screen but the White Arrows have released an album that can be annoyingly good at times. I have my reasons for using annoyingly as a descriptor.

I did not want to like this album. From the first electro beats of the track Roll Forever I felt determined to hate it. By the time the song hit the chorus I was singing along. By the end, I was disappointed the song was over. I listened to it again.

What makes the album work is the combination of live band instruments, with effective synth and techno sounds. They are seamlessly blended together and work to form a rock that is somewhat hard to effectively classify. Moving through dance-friendly tracks such as Little Birds, Coming or Going and Fireworks Of The Sea the album has a charm that will appeal to a wide range of listeners looking for something to toss on in the background during the summer.

What could be wished for, however, is a greater sense of consistency. When White Arrows hits it, they hit it hard and create some great moments. Other tracks though, such as I Can Go, or Sail On have an air of lifelessness to them. The switch in feel is slightly jarring to the listener.

Dry Land Is Not A Myth is the first full length album from this Los Angeles based group and it feels like it. The energy and talent of this group is apparent in many of the tracks, but it is unrefined. This album lacks polish and finesse. I’m not speaking of production values here. I refer to the ability to craft each song so that it stands on its own merit and not as just a piece of the greater work.

All in all, White Arrows, have put together an album that showcases a band with a lot of potential. Hopefully there is enough of that potential to see them through to future more refined releases.

Categories
reviews

Fiona Apple – Idler Wheel album review

Well, after a break of about seven years, Fiona Apple is back with her fourth full studio album, and seeks to take the record of longest title with The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. True to her musical sensibilities, The Idler Wheel is an exploration of sound and emotion and just about as far from convention as you can be.

It should be noted that this album should not be picked up expecting to find another Tidal, the album that launched her sixteen years ago with songs such as Criminal. The same anger that was there can still be heard in Idler Wheel, but it has changed. It is more reflective now. Apple explores her emotion much like a tongue explores a tooth that has just been pulled. Each song feels as if it is close to exploding into something much bigger but Apple firmly keeps control and reigns it in. “I just want to feel everything”. That’s a line that is repeated in the first song, Every Single Night and seems to be an apt summary for her emotional approach to this album.

The instrumentation of Idler Wheel reminds me of a carnival. Old upright pianos that have seen better days, loud reverberating percussion, even the tones of old music boxes all combine into the make up of the album. The song Jonathon truly captures the spirit of these instrument choices. Had it not had the strong controlled vocals of Apple over top of it, I could almost believe this was a song that should be on Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs.

The album moves through Apple’s emotions with songs such as Valentine, Anything We Want, and Left Alone. If there is one time that we see Apple’s restraint falter it is on the song Regret. Here, the tight vocal control falters and becomes guttural and harsh. Emotionally speaking, it packs a hell of a punch.

If Idler Wheel has a failing, it is that there is a certain smugness that overlies it all. Apple revels in her quirkiness and if there was a camera I could imagine her winking at it. Still, it is impossible to deny that what she does, she does well and seven years was worth the wait for this.

Categories
reviews

Metric – Synthetica album review

What is the real? What is fake? What happens now? These are the questions that Metric poses to us with the release of their fifth album, Synthetica.

If Metric has a distinctive sound, it is that of a band that can combine catchy solid pop rock sound with themes of darkness and uncertainty. “I’m just as fucked up as they say, I can’t fake the daytime. Found an entrance to escape into the dark”. These are the opening lines of Artificial Nocturne and, consequently, the opening lines of Synthetica as a work over all. I can’t think of a better way to prepare the listener for what is to come. Angst can become cliché really easily, but Emily Haines pulls it off effortlessly with her strong vocals. The rest of Metric is there right behind her, crafting an environment that strengthens each song.

Song after song, Synthetica makes use of catchy grooves, fuzzy guitars, and driving beats. Track 2, Youth Without Youth launches with a solid electro-percussive sound that makes me think of New Order but with a lot more attitude and aggression. We see a bit of shift here and there though, showing that Metric isn’t content to just sit one trick. Dreams So Real does seem a bit like a dream, though one with dark shadows and dangers lurking at every corner  as the music gradually builds in a methodical manner. Over this we have Haines singing a very simple melody that gets easily trapped in the head.

Easily the showcase of the album though is the title track. If you don’t find your foot tapping along to this song there is a good chance that you are dead inside. This is where we reach the height of the theme of confusion about reality, lyrically, and the music is almost frantic driving the urgency.

A lot of the time I complain about bands that seem over produced and polished to the point that there seems to be no emotion left. Synthetica is the exception to this rule. Every note, every sound seems precisely placed and well thought out. There are no thoughtless notes here and Metric never once seems less sincere for it.

So, what is real in the end? What is the truth? Well, as I see it…the truth here is that Metric is one indie band that fully deserves the break into the mainstream that they have made.

Categories
reviews

Young Man – Vol. 1 album review

Young Man, while previously only the one man machine driven by the Chicago songwriter Colin Caulfield, has returned for the follow up to last year’s Ideas Of Distance. This time, though, the Caulfield has flushed his sound out and Young Man has grown to a five piece band with the release of Vol. 1. Don’t think that the sharing of the musical load means a shrugging of responsibility. Vol. 1 marks the ambitious second part of a planned musical trilogy.

Perhaps the best thing about Vol. 1 is the flow of it. Each song transitions seamlessly into each other. There are no jarring moments where the listener has to readjust to new sounds. Instead, this is a flowing solid work of art that moves effortlessly from beginning to end.  The instrumentation remains tight and precise but the entire time stays very careful never to overpower the soft vocals of Caulfield.

With songs that carry titles such as Heading, Wandering, and Direction, Vol. 1 conveys the image of a young adult struggling to find his path in life. A storyteller’s coming of age and exploration of what that means. These themes are all ably supported by the instrumentation. There are no guitars stealing the spotlight with screaming solos. No explosives drums thundering for attention. Every instrument is deliberate in its use and works only to move the music and album further. The track 21 seems to really show the control of the instruments well. Everything feels backed off a little and the atmosphere becomes incredibly intimate as Caulfield tells the listener exactly what he is feeling and what it is doing to his life. 21 is easily the centerpiece of this album.

The use of acoustic guitar in Vol. 1 is very subtle and well placed. In just about every song it can be found playing somewhere in the mix and shows a nice acknowledgment to Caulfield’s solo beginnings. The fact that is just support as opposed to the showcasing instrument is a good indication of the growth from solo act to realized band.

As the second stage of this trilogy, Young Man shows that they are up to the challenge of a concept piece. If the growth from Ideas to Vol. 1 is any indication, the conclusion is going to be worth the wait.

It’s too quiet.
I’m probably going to get yelled at for something.

Categories
press releases reviews

Japandoids – Celebration Rock album review

Japandroids. Two guys, a guitar, a drum set, and a whole lotta sound. That is the best way to define Celebration Rock, the sophomore release from these British Columbia rockers.

Celebration Rock is an album that, quite simply, celebrates good rock music. Notably absent is the overly polished production values that seems to be running rampant on the airwaves these days. In its place is a driving raw energy that screams from the speakers. David Prowse is relentless in his percussive attack and Brian King keeps the charge going with his guitars and vocals.

From the opening stutters of The Nights of Wine and Roses the duo sets the rock fueled tone for this LP. What impressed me with Celebration Rock is that despite how I was impressed with this opening piece, it was almost bland when held up to the songs that follow. By the time the tracklist finds its way to Adrenaline Nightshift the boys are in full swing. Held up alongside tracks like Younger Us, it sounds like the Japandroids are trying to shake down an arena. By the time they reach the percussive climax of Continuous Thunder this seems like a completely realistic achievement.

The songs move along so well and with such unbridled passion, that it makes it that much more noticeable when the band doesn’t quite hit the mark. This was the case with For The Love Of Ivy. This cover of The Gun Club felt thin too me. Something that was being explored but wasn’t fully flushed out yet. As complaints go, though, this is a minor one and really only feels to be a let down in comparison to the explosive musicianship that surrounds it.

Weighing in at only 8 songs, Celebration Rock isn’t a tremendously long LP. It does what any great piece of art should strive to do though. It leaves you wanting more. I can’t wait to see what Japandroids does next.

Categories
reviews

Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs – Trouble album review

For those not familiar with Orlando Higgenbottom (which up until a couple of days ago included me), Higgenbottom is the young DJ behind  Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs.

Trouble combines both brand new tracks and some of the songs that have found their way onto TEED’s previous EPs. Deliberate and precise in the composition, the tracks of this album clearly indicate the hand of a strong DJ. At heart, I’m a fan of raw emotion in music. My interests gravitate towards singer/songwriter or rock songs that are on the verge of losing control. My initial listen to this album felt like I was being exposed to the antithesis of everything I hold dear, musically. The more I listened, though, the more I noticed the underlying emotion.

Trouble is, of course, an electronic album. From the first few seconds of the opening track, Promises, the tone is set and remains consistent throughout the album. What truly sets the feeling for these songs are the vocals. Higgenbottom’s voice is sad and haunting as he sings. The lyrics of the song Garden are by no means an example of deep poetry, but again, the vocal line is effective for conveying a sense of loss and longing. These same themes of lost love appear all over the album. You Need Me On My Own is another solid example of these sentiments.

The problem with Trouble is that there is not enough variation in it. The album begins and ends without a sense of having listened to fourteen separate musical works. There is a lot to be said for consistency on an album, something that can join the songs together. However, Trouble finds its groove early on and seeks to stay there. For me, it was just not enough to keep my attention hooked.

Categories
reviews

The Temper Trap – The Temper Trap album review

If one were trying to describe the sound of the new self titled album by Temper Trap, follow up to the well received 2009 album Conditions, it would be a fair approximation to say that it is what you would get if you fused Muse and The Scissor Sisters. An album of pop-rock attempting to soar to grandiose levels. Unfortunately, it is just too generic.

This album is so polished that it practically sparkles. Each and every track is so overly produced that it completely lacks any sort of raw edge to it. This isn’t to say there is a problem with high production values. The formerly mentioned Muse, for example, has that highly produced sound but they still instill a sense of urgency into their music and Temper Trap just seems to let the songs go nowhere.

The song London’s Burning is an attempt to capture the type of political commentary that infused The Clash’s London’s Calling. The track opens with what sounds to be news reports from London riots of last year…and the song begins to build to something, but it never quite gets there. The song just seems to fizzle out in an unsatifying manner. The song seems to be a good representation for the album as a whole. From the opening of I Need Your Love the band hits as hard as they can and feels as if they are racing somewhere. And like in London’s Burning the energy seems to dissipate before it gets anywhere.

The album isn’t bad. That should be clear. Temper Trap is made up of some solid musicians. Songs like The Rabbit Hole show some good musicianship as the band backs away from the layered instruments briefly to showcase some acoustic guitar and a flasetto voice to be proud of. The problem is that the album just doesn’t stick out. It doesn’t rise above the crowd. It’s a good album from a band that should have been able to put out a great album.

Categories
interviews press releases

Claude Violante Interview

Claude Violante is one half of the musical duo Haussmann. This talented writer and producer is more than capable of standing on her own though as can be evidenced by the release of her first EP, For You, which hit international markets on April 23rd.

Violante was kind enough to take a break from her schedule and answer a few questions for me about her music and recording process.

Do you find it challenging writing songs in English? Is your process different than when you are trying to write in French? Is it harder to express yourself?

It is very challenging for me to write in English! I never tried to write in French so I couldn’t really tell you anything about the process, but I believe it is easier in English. Writing in French would feel like being naked, but the words in English don’t come as naturally as in French. The challenge would and will definitely be singing in French, but I plan on doing it sometime.

You have just released your solo EP but have already established yourself on the musical scene as part of Haussmann. How would you say the experience of solo is different than working as a team? Any particular troubles or benefits you had not expected?

Writing alone is both easier and harder. I can only rely on myself, that’s great and that’s also very frightening. The best part of it is that it can go a lot faster but in my case it’s not even accurate since I torture myself about stupid details that I should, or not, change or delete. But it is also a way of proving something to yourself, a challenge that may or may not be successful… That’s exciting.


Your song, “For You,” is about a relationship gone bad. It juxtaposes nicely against the catchy and danceable beat and supporting music. How much of your music is autobiographical and how much is just fiction?

That’s funny, to me the song is about a difficult love situation, but I believe it will end well because the girl is very optimistic and believes truly in the relationship. What is the most important to me is the intention. In this song the lyrics are the way I say it, but the intention is the true part, the autobiographic part. It depends on the songs, sometimes the lyrics are the message and sometimes the tone or the melody is the message.

Who do you currently find yourself influenced by?

Hard to tell, I don’t like being directly influenced, but all the music I listen to are definitely a part of what I do. Not precisely, not voluntarily. I listen to many various kinds of music, from classical to reggae, it’s even hard to pick ten bands that really influenced me.

Related, what is the last album that you found you couldn’t stop listening to?

I recently discovered Planningtorock’s last album, and I thought it was great. I am also completely crazy about The Dream’s “Love King” in a totally different way. I am also very found of Joanna Newsom, all of her albums are amazing, these are the three things I listen to the most right now.

What are the biggest differences that you see between the music that is coming out of the clubs in France versus the music that is coming from the club scenes in the States right now?

I don’t know very much about the club scenes in either of these countries, but from what I hear in the hip hop scene for instance, the US are far more exciting! For the electronic scene, I couldn’t really tell you anything interesting except that what I like in general comes from the UK or the US, that’s where most of the good music comes from.

Having recorded and released your EP, is there anything that in hindsight that you wish you could have done differently? Any lessons learned to carry forward?

Yes, plenty of things I would have done differently, but I like to think of my EP as not being perfect, simply being my first. That’s already a great thing for me, to have my EP out there! I learned a lot by working with Alf (the guy who mixed the EP), and I am happy that I am just at the beginning of things so I can keep on learning and getting better at what I do. Hopefully!

If there is one thing in your life that you could change right now, what would it be?

I only wish I had my driver’s license, that would be great!

Where do you see yourself going from here? What’s your next step now that the EP is out?

I am planning on doing my best to put out an album one of these days, that is as far as I can go!