Glen Campbell – Ghost on the Canvas review

Glen Campbell’s Ghost on the Canvas is so much more than music, it’s a farewell. It’s not often that an artist records knowing that the album will be his last, but Campbell has done exactly that after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Accepting, resigned, and fondly contented, Ghost on the Canvas is a bittersweet musical tribute to Campbell’s life. As he reflects on life, love and music, the listener cannot help but be taken on a journey with him.

The album begins with the bittersweet “A Better Place”, in which Campbell has a candid conversation with God, introspective and at times regretful. Always returning to the hopeful refrain of “One thing I know/ The world’s been good to me,” “A Better Place” is simple and mellow, a perfect beginning to this meaningful album.

The title track follows, picking up the pace and filling out the sound compared to the first song. Also mortality-themed, “Ghost on the Canvas” speaks of invisibility and being lost between “life and death”, “here and there” and other in-between places. “A Thousand Lifetimes” is a song of gratitude for life and for its little moments. Campbell croons, “Each breath I take/ is a gift that I /will never take for granted.”

The highlight of the album is indisputably the bold and courageous “Strong”, a testament to Campbell’s indomitable spirit as well as his musical talent. He sings of facing his fears, of love, and about achieving the level of courage that he needs and wants to have.

Overall an inspiring, moving musical journey, Ghost on the Canvas is a testament to one man’s ability to face his own mortality and to give tribute to his life when he still has the ability to do so. At times bitter with regret and at others sweet with hope, the album reverberates with honesty and acceptance and should be a lesson to each and every person who listens to it.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – I’m With You review

Red Hot Chili Peppers. They hardly need an introduction, and yet something is different this time around. I’m With You, their latest contribution to the world of enthusiastic funk-rock, is merry and carries itself rather well. Five years and a new guitarist after Stadium Arcadium (Josh Klinghoffer replaced John Frusciante), the Peppers haven’t really changed much. There were some threats about serious themes of life and death, but in what should be welcome news to Peppers fans around the globe, there seems to be no sign of newfound maturity or wisdom in this album either. Of course, in no way does this mean that the album is anything less than entertaining.

The album begins with “Monarchy of Roses”, probably the most musically sound and unique song of the set. Opening with a chaotic onslaught of guitar and drums, the song quickly settles into a fun, disco-themed refrain. “Factory of Faith” is predictable and even the rap/spoken word section is remarkably uninteresting. “Brendan’s Death Song” is probably the highlight of the album, starting with acoustic guitar and tenderness, and building into a full-on collision of sound.

Perpetually juvenile, RHCP have managed to hold on to their self-identification as young, shirtless California- and sex-obsessed musicians. Irrepressible in their infectious enthusiasm, they betray no awareness of the fact that time has, indeed passed since their career began. On “Ethiopia” they unabashedly yell what sounds like an alternative version of “Old McDonald Had a Farm”. “Goodbye Hooray” is upbeat and guitarist Klinghoffer basks in the glory of fantastically executed riffs that cement the appropriateness of his position in the group.

“Happiness Loves Company” has anthem potential, complete with marching beat and inspiration mantras. The Belle and Sebastian-esque “Police Station” is light and nonchalant, ending in glorious triumph.

I’m With You betrays no hint of coming from an aging group of middle-aged men. Adolescence and irreverent oblivion shine in this offering from a band that defined a generation – and if they continue to put out albums like this one, they may have a few more years of influence and affection-inspiring ahead of them.

Guy Clark – Songs and Stories review

Guy Clark’s live album Songs and Stories has an easy charm about it, breathtakingly simple and refreshingly rustic. Recorded at Nashville’s Belcourt Theater, Songs and Stories is storytelling at its best, nostalgic and poignant without ever becoming maudlin. Tenderly crafted and poetic, Clark’s songs are descriptive of an era just beyond the reach of our modern collective consciousness, a time when homegrown tomatoes and freeway driving were enough to set your soul free.

Clark starts his set by telling a story in his familiar, down-home drawl. “If I Needed You” follows, understated but firm. Unmistakably Texan in every phrase both melodic and syntactical, Clark is a raconteur par excellence, especially in numbers like “The Cape”, a tale of a dreamer learning to fly. Reminiscent of contemporary short fiction in its childhood-haunts-adult-life theme, this track highlights Clark’s incredible ability to truly speak to his listeners. You might even feel like Clark is an old friend, telling you his story by the fireside in your living room. He goes on to introduce his stagemates, a trend he follows throughout the album, sharing the spotlight with his fellow artists, all talented  and creative. “Darwettia’s Mandolin” is another stellar slice of storytime, a Wild West tale of a musical tradition – much like Clark’s own musical tradition.

So what makes Guy Clark different from other country singers from the South?

There’s something intangible about him – some of it because of his weathered, true voice. Some is certainly because of his flying fingers and his amazing command over his guitar. Perhaps it’s his choice of backup singers and instrumentalists – all fantastic in their own right.

One could argue, however, that it’s none of these things – or even all of them. Clark sets himself apart from other artists by transcending generalizations and categorizations that fans and critics alike may apply to him.

Honest, raw and capable of reaching straight through you, Songs and Stories will speak to you, whether you want it to or not.

 

John Tejada – Parabolas review

Famed producer John Tejada’s latest album, Parabolas, is his first in three years. After two decades of producing quality tech-house music, Tejada has remained true to his sophisticated style and trend-defiant groove in this minimal, pattern-driven LP. Dreamy sounds pervade the album, electronically ethereal in their invasive harmonies.

The album begins with “Farther and Fainter”, a light piece best placed into the groove set, replete with electronic tones and minimal percussion. Repetitive and hypnotic, this well-placed opener serves as a mood-setting piece, paving the way for the heavier tracks to follow.

“Mechanized World”, true to its name, is a fantastical construction of hyper-electronic techno sounds, busy and chaotic, all the while maintaining a sense of forward motion. The mysterious “The Dream” follows, reminiscent of Thom Yorke’s solo album The Eraser – electronically ethereal, dark and purposeful. “Subdivided”, a bouncy and excitable number, kind of feels like you have been placed inside an old-fashioned pinball machine, complete with rapid-fire flippers and neon flashing lights.

There are other less-successful tracks, like “Timeless Space”, whose awareness of time is a little too non-existent, and “The Mess & The Magic”, which meanders on in an uninventive manner. A trademark of the successful tracks on the album is their ability to take an unexpected turn just when the music seems to be lagging a little. Tejada knows when to pounce on his listener, and this serves as the most vital ingredient in his success on Parabolas.

A little bit like Depeche Mode, and at other times like early Massive Attack, Parabolas is a genre-defying set of instrumentals, somewhere at the intersection of techno, house, and downtempo. Whatever it is, it is certainly good. And Tejada, even after so many years of successful music production, apparently has much more up his sleeve.

Jurgen Muller – Science of the Sea review

When the first track of Jurgen Muller’s Science of the Sea begins, you are transported into a deep blue realm, replete with beluga whales and sea anemones.

Muller, supposedly, was a student of marine biology over thirty years ago at the University of Kiel in Germany and was inspired to compose Science of the Sea, an audio expression of his fascination with deep-sea life. Several years later, Muller’s previously unrecognized work of art was rediscovered and has been re-released – perhaps to be better appreciated.

Even if one were to listen to the album with no preconception of the purpose behind it or the inspiration that drove Muller to make, a quiet, peaceful seascape makes itself known, powerful in its weight. The listener almost expects to hear Richard Attenborough’s voice slowly making its way over the whistles and deep tones, describing the mysterious lives of the denizens of the deep. And yet, there is something meditative – even transcendental – about Muller’s creation. Elegant, sophisticated, and innovative, Science of the Sea pushes the envelope.

The album begins with “Beyond the Tide”, with grandiose sounds meant to wash over the listener, interrupted by mimicked dolphin sounds. “Sea Bed Meditation” and “The Elusive Tide” further push the evolution of Muller’s idea, creating a full and complete story through the music.“Coral Fantasy” and “Oxygen Bubbles” are slightly more enthusiastic, so to speak, perkier versions of their forebears.

The true quality of the music, however, comes from its fidelity to the environment that inspired its birth. Music as homage to the beauty that surrounds us, reverential even in its techno-hypnotic surrealness, Muller’s masterpiece is something unique and perhaps even devotional. Thankfully distant from the usual nonsense that markets itself as contemporary New Age, The Science of the Sea is inspired, delicate and a thing of beauty. As an evolving sound, fragile in its own ecosystem, it is strangely entrancing and absolutely worth the time taken to listen to it and experience it.

Brilliant Colors – Again and Again review

Indie at the heights of its mediocrity, Brilliant Colors’ sophomore album Again and Again is musically nondescript. Great as background music, the album suffers from a lack of alertness – there is no life, so to speak. Lively instrumentals pervade the album, particularly on “Back to the Tricks”, but vocals that lack “punch” detract from the album as a whole. The set begins with “Hey Dan”, a perky little number reminiscent of early Belle and Sebastian, but without drive. Lo-fi without seeming intentionally so, the band moves on to “How Much Younger”, where the breathy vocals are somewhat appropriately used. “Value Lines” sounds like it was improvised, recorded in one take, and never listened to again. It is possibly the low point of the album. “Round Your Way” is a pleasant piece, performed at a low register, which works well for this particular group. Quintessentially pop-rock, this track features happy riffs and upbeat drumbeats.

The highlight of the album is without a doubt the fantastic drumming by Diane Anastasio, formerly of Carnal Knowledge. Rescuing the album, and probably the band itself, from running aground multiple times, she provides the anticipation, push, and energy that keep the music afloat.

“Cult Face”, a short track whose musical purpose is not quite clear, features four notes in various permutations and combinations to no real end. Thankfully, the track is over before the listener gets too bored to listen to the rest of the album. “Painting Truths” bears a good message with well-written lyrics, which are spotlighted by a simple melody that takes a back-seat. “Hitting Traffic” is almost “Value Lines” all over again, but stops just short of being a total disaster.

“Telephone Stories” is by far the best song on the album, and should perhaps be re-released on another album that has more songs like it. Strong bass lines are heard for the first time, and are worth the wait. They provide Brilliant Colors with the foundation it lacks throughout the rest of the album.

Again and Again is not much to listen to, and if it weren’t for the final track, would be good reason to write off Brilliant Colors as musically unsound. But perhaps they do have potential. With phenomenally better production, stronger vocals with significantly higher resolution and a sharp sound, Brilliant Colors stands a chance in the present musical scene. The instrumentals are already up to par, and with a percussionist like Anastasio in the mix, a significantly better album shouldn’t be too hard to make. Hopefully.

How to Dress Well – Just Once EP review

Just Once is an EP recently released by How to Dress Well, the stage name of Brooklyn R&B/lo-fi artist Tom Krell. His sophomore effort, Just Once leaves much to be desired with respect to musical capability. Krell’s initial work, prior to his debut album Love Remains, was lo-fi, reminiscent of 80’s and 90’s R&B. In his latest release, Krell brings the R&B sound to a new realm, combining ethereal ambient orchestral arrangements with his usual style. The resulting soundscapes are stunning and creative – until the vocals are added in.

How To Dress Well has a lovely instrumental range, creating beautiful chord progressions and devastatingly desolate layers of sounds – strings and synth sounds alike. But Krell’s voice is just not good enough. Although he is well aware of how to use a falsetto voice as an instrument – how to dress it well, so to speak, his own does not have the tonal accuracy required for such a venture.

Choral harmonies such as those executed so gracefully and skillfully by the likes of Sigur Ros and even Fleet Foxes start the first track, “Suicide Dream 1”. Ethereal melodies are layered upon one another to create a lovely, rich sound – haunting and evocative. And if Krell could stop there, or expand on that undeniably beautiful music in a more creative direction, he’d have himself a winner. But indecipherable lyrics and wailing notes that are not quite in tune really break the spell and make the listener wonder why the album is still playing.

“Suicide Dream 2” and “Suicide Dream 3” follow much the same pattern, with some variations in the types of harmonies they use. “2” has some well-played piano riffs and “3” moves to a string ensemble. “Decisions” throws in a catchy rhythm but occasionally understandable lines like “Don’t forget to check your cell phone” disturb any chance of creating a truly enjoyable track.

Overall, Just Once may demonstrate How To Dress Well’s musical creativity and skill at arranging a good piece of music. Krell’s voice is certainly workable. But until a minimum standard of pitch correction and musicianship are met, How to Dress Well cannot achieve any real musical success.

Brown Recluse – Evening Tapestry album review

Sunshiny and warm at first listen, Brown Recluse (named after a poisonous spider for some unfathomable reason) is good at what it does – faithfully reproducing the sounds of indie pop giants like Belle and Sebastian and Of Montreal, even Neutral Milk Hotel at several turns. Well-harmonized, upbeat and catchy, Evening Tapestry succeeds at being a fun background album – a good choice for driving or an afternoon workout. What it does not even begin to do is anything new.

Chord progressions and stylistic tactics that would be excellent if they hadn’t already been done to death before reverberate through the album. Musicianship, talent and style are not at all lacking in the music made by this Philadelphia group but it is all painfully overshadowed by the absurdity of their imitation. One might argue that imitation is the highest form of flattery. But there’s a fine line between adulation and plagiarism, and it’s not too clear whether Brown Recluse has managed to stay on the right side of that demarcation. The listener will be particularly pained at realizing, half-way through Evening Tapestry, that he might as well have been listening to Dear Catastrophe Waitress.

“Impressions of a City Morning” channels “Piazza, New York Catcher” so precisely that it is difficult to find a reason why one should listen to the new version when there is already one that’s tried and true.”Hobble to Your Tomb” and “Statue Garden” bring a light waltz beat in to the music, giving a slight variation to the sound, but not enough to make something new out of it.

Although most of the album is an unnecessary addition to the musical repertoire of the indie-pop scene, Evening Tapestry does have a few winners.

“Monday Moon”, is a success, although still not extraordinary. Brown Recluse finds a good balance in their poppy sound on this track, a direction they might want to pursue further in future endeavors. Unexpected and unique chord progressions and key changes lend some character to this track.

The last two tracks, “Paisley Tears” and “March to Your Tomb”, do well – the former through an ethereal outro and the latter with a seemingly obtrusive but well placed snare rhythm.

Brown Recluse is an obviously talented band. Hopefully on their next effort, they will draw on their capabilities and creativities rather than on previously done-to-death tropes.

White Hills – H-p1 album review

The latest from psychedelic/space-rock sensations White Hills is a real journey that listener and artist take together, sometimes easy and enjoyable, but largely an uphill struggle with debatable promise of a reward at the end. Self-described as a political statement against a government “co-opted and controlled by corporations,” H-p1 is exuberant, alive, and natural. In its loyalty to a “natural” sound, however, the band sacrifices the importance it places on well-polished presentation. Angsty, cacophonic and exhilarating in its chaotic message, H-p1 is very clearly a personal offering, composed more for emotion than for musical coherence.

The album starts with “The Condition of Nothing”, an overly strong, rock-powered track. Noisy and full of misdirected intensity, the track could have been omitted from the listing. Long and repetitive, the track is interrupted only by a disorganized, haphazard musical interlude which was obviously inspired by some deeper impulse but does not seem to have been subjected to any filtering process. “Monument”, equally strange in the sounds that bear down from all directions is oppressive, even catacomb-like. But primitive percussive patterns give it a peculiar, almost hypnotic appeal. Fractured rhythms and layered sounds give it dimension, and therefore, character.

Other tracks like “A Need To Know” hearken back to White Hills’ space rock roots, expansive and still. Capable of being appreciated as an artistic effort, they still leave much to be desired in the musical department. “Hand in Hand” wanders and rambles about aimlessly, experimentally, with little by way of a goal or statement to be conveyed to the listener.

This is certainly not to say that there are no successes on the album. The final track, a whopping seventeen minutes long, makes a real impression, rallying together some of the best artistic techniques and stylistic statements from all eight of the other tracks, highlighting the robust talents of bassist Ego Sensation. A more discerning editorial system and a stronger critical ear may have helped the band leave more of their experimental plateaus on the cutting room floor and bring out their better music – it’s clear that they are capable of it.

A high point throughout the album is the rhythm section: Lee Hinshaw of White Hills and guest Oneida drummer Kid Millions. Although they are stylistically different, both drummers maintain a strong presence in most of the tracks, with a firm hold on the music and providing a strong foundation for the melodic phrasing.

Although sometimes overly driven and insufficiently balanced, White Hills’ passionate H-p1 still makes a strong impression on the listener. There is a message – it’s loud and clear.  It just might take a little patience to hear it.

Joseph Arthur – The Graduation Ceremony album review

Joseph Arthur has outdone himself in his long-awaited offering, The Graduation Ceremony, his first full-length solo album since 2006’s Nuclear Daydream. Long known for his wide range of interests and talents, Arthur came forth with this release on May 23rd, 2011 after 5 years of work with his band The Lonely Astronauts and four solo EPs in 2008. Arthur has been a treasure trove of creative genius and has often pushed the envelope in his art, music and poetry. But this time, he has kept his music subdued, glorious in its understatement. From the first fingerpicked notes that open the album to the conclusive harmonies that wrap it up, Arthur keeps his listeners guessing at every turn, taking his creativity to a different place.

The album starts with the mellow, intermittently sparse “Out on a Limb”, with the singer longing to re-experience a lost time with an old lover. A recurrent melodic motif weaves its way through the lines, using just three notes to tell a story of longing and nostalgia. Arthur croons in his warm, round voice,

“Some time, no matter when/I want to see you, see you again.”

Next up is “Horses”, a track with a more prominent rhythmic line that promises to get under your skin, if only for a moment. Arthur sings the entire piece in his flawless falsetto, the percussion layered underneath almost sounding like hoofbeats. Delicately beautiful, the song ends on a round, elaborately constructed coda which lingers in your memory.

“Almost Blue”, the third track, is distinctively more rock than the previous songs. Introduced by a peculiar organ melody, this track boasts a strong percussive presence and a reflective, almost cold subject matter.

Arthur intones in the catchy chorus,

“No, you’re never going back again/’Til you’re blue.”

“Someone to Love” begins with a soft comment – “In the time of my dying, I was making promises I couldn’t keep.” Set to a distinctive ¾ time signature, this contemplative piece is about fear, challenge and vulnerability. “Over the Sun”, seemingly a musical follow up to Arthur’s previous hit “In the Sun”, will take any listener by surprise, the balance dominated by the bass drums. The refrain, “the sun will fade away”, echoes and antithesizes the much more upbeat refrain of “In the Sun”, “may God’s love be with you”.

If there’s one track that will grab your attention and be that pesky song that refuses to get out of your head, it’s “Midwest”. Inspired to clap and sway along, any listener will enjoy this song.

Other key tracks include “Call” and “Gypsy Faded.”

Adequately covering themes of friendship, longing, love and contemplation, The Graduation Ceremony is a rich, textured album. Arthur’s round, layered vocals, varied and creative rhythmic approaches, and adventurous usage of harmonies and countermelodies make this a musical treasure to be listened to again and again, with something new to be gained with each listen.