The low-fi sound is a tricky one to master. On the one hand, it has the potential to be a unique, almost haunting listening experience. On the other, it often runs the risk of being dazed and slow, creating tracks that seem endless in the worst kind of way. It’s a struggle that, for better or worse, manifests itself clearly on The Love Language’s latest album, Ruby Red.
The band, which started as a one-man show for lead singer Stuart McLamb, is back with its third studio release. They’ve kept up the same washed out, suspended sound for this latest release, recalling the music of bands like Arcade Fire. However, something about the record just feels slow. McLamb’s vocals are not very powerful, and seem to mostly dissolve into the instrumentals, which sound cloudy. It has a very old time-y pace and feel, to the point where certain tracks end up sounding very schmaltzy and dated. For example, “Hi Life” features a background melody that sails along as if it came straight off an ABBA record.
The album is not a total miss however. There are times when Ruby Red puts itself on the other end of the low-fi spectrum, creating a unique and interesting sound. This is mostly when they pick up the pace and the power, adding stronger percussion and a more solid rhythm. The track “First Shot” is a great manifestation of this — McLamb’s vocals channel 80s glam rockers such as The Cure, the guitars are distorted, there is a rhythm to bob a long to, and background melodies jump rather than sail. The track is interesting — it comes off edgy, primal and broken, and ends too soon.
Tracks like this serve as proof that McLamb and The Love Language do know what they are doing — or at least, what they could be doing. It’s just a shame they don’t take that knowledge to its fullest potential.
Throwbacks to an older kind of sound don’t get much more authentic than when a band decides to re-issue one of its old albums. So it’s no surprise that French veteran voodoo rockers The Dirteez have done a convincing job with the genre for their latest release, The Wild Side of Love — after all it is, in fact, a digital rerelease of the 1990 debut record of the same name.
Given this fact, it would be pretty hard to dispute its authenticity. As an original artifact from the heyday of the genre, it functions as well as any record should. It plays up its deathrock influences well — the songs are simple but heavy, featuring standards like rhythmic, drilling instrumentals and a deep, haunting male vocalist. The tracks are loud and the lyrics indiscernible. To add to the theatricality of it all, the album seems to be centred around a theme. Called The Wild Side of Love, tracks with names like “Law of the Jungle,” “Cannibal Obsessions,” and “The Beast Inside” seem to work towards this imagery. In combination, these elements give the record a certain kind of horrific carnality. Its the kind of album that makes you want to headbang and thrash and rage without ever really understanding why.
This is obviously something that worked back in the day and it’s not hard to see why. The record is not necessarily very deep or full of emotion, but one look at its comic-book style cover and you know its not meant to be. The Wild Side of Love is, at its heart, just another way to let loose and have fun — whether you’re taking a trip down memory lane or discovering it for the first time.
If there’s one thing that’s certain in this day and age it’s that nothing is quite like it used to be. Screens are larger, phones are smaller and beach pop isn’t just about surfin’ in the USA. No where is this more abundantly clear than on the latest Sonny & The Sunsets record, whose brand of self-proclaimed busted beach pop comes to a head via the 11-track record, Antenna to the Afterworld.
The sound of the album is best described as one that starts out early-60s but gets detoured into more recent territory along the way. The record’s basic instrumentals indisputably harken back to acts like The Beach Boys — finding a backbone in simple, unembellished electric guitars that are poppy and rhythmic layered on top of easygoing, underwhelming percussion. This serves to keep the album chilled out and laid back. It’s certainly not about creating the intense emotional connection some bands crave.
However, the album is by no means an imitation of a previous era. Sonny Smith’s vocals are a far cry from Brian Wilson’s nasally, wholesome pop sound, instead coming across tinny, restrained and at times, monotonous — reminiscent of the band’s claimed influence, The Clash. Meanwhile, novelties such as the conversation interlude in tracks like “Mutilator,” with the deadpan female counterpart, remind listeners that this is not just a record for he boys. Finally, the lyrics are not exactly innocent — they go beyond lamenting the realities of having to work hard, for example blatantly and openly addressing desire in the song “Primitive” with lines like “I want you bad/I don’t know why/it’s so primitive.”
All in all, it would be fair to say that Sonny & the Sunsets have a pretty good grasp on the stuff they’re putting out — busted beach pop is the perfect descriptor. One part beach pop, one part early punk, it’s a genre mashup that is sure to garner recognition in young and old audiences alike.
I have a bit of a soft spot for Relient K, a band that I first discovered way back when through their signature tracks “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been” and “Be My Escape.” The desperately emotional, self-deprecating tunes were fairly standard fodder in the heyday of emo — and whether they were referencing a lost love or the big man upstairs, the undertones were subtle enough to keep them relatable to all.
Fast-forward to a few years later. Although it will always hold a special place in my heart, I like to think I’ve moved on from the emo-scene phase. And having lost track of the band somewhere in between, I’m surprised to find that Relient K, with their seventh(!) release Collapsible Lung, seems to have done the same. Their brand of scene-punk retains its themes, but has been infused with elements of easygoing indie-pop and the combination is criminally infectious.
For the most part, the album is delightfully upbeat. Most of the songs are propped up by backtracks that clap along steadily, and lead singer Matt Thiessen’s voice oscillates between the pop-punk melodicism he is known for and an interesting pseudo-falsetto, elements which allow the band to blend in seamlessly with contemporary bands like Fun. This is most evident in songs like “P.T.L” (which stands for Part Time Lover, perhaps contrary to expectations founded in the band’s Christian roots). Another standout track is the cutesy, mid-album tune “Can’t Complain” whose quirky optimism is aggressively indie.
Collapsible Lung rolls along steadily at this pace until its final moments, when it inexplicably mellows out for the penultimate track, “Sweeter” before bringing back the buzz for the closing title track. The sudden change is not as welcome as one might expect, given that the pace of the album is anything but monotonous as is and “Sweeter” is kind of interrupting the good thing the band has going. Nevertheless, “Collapsible Lung” is a strong finish for the album to which it gave its name. The album wraps up as it began — giving an updated and infectious sound to a band that is as earnest and honest as ever.
With the proliferation of bands like Mumford and Sons and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, its pretty evident that the Americana jug-band genre is due for a comeback, if only in small doses. Traces of the homey, quick sounds can be found in the crop of bands blurring the lines between indie and the once-pariah of music, country currently ruling the airwaves, never quite leaning too far one way or the other.
Enter Old Crow Medicine Show, a band who leans so far into the Americana string area they are practically horizontal. Having just released their 9th studio recording, a three-song EP entitled Carry Me Back To Virginia, the band is back to prove that the traditional genre is perfectly capable of standing on its own without the indie crutch, even in the current era.
The three tracks are each well-executed, although that’s to be expected of a band that has been around for upwards of 15 years. Between the rapidfire lyrical delivery of “Carry Me Back to Virginia” and the slow mournful twang of “Ain’t It Enough,” both reincarnations of previous releases, the band does a convincing job of recreating the old-timey sound they are going for. Meanwhile, cover track “Dixieland Delight” which rounds out the album is equally authentic in its delivery, making the EP a short but sweet trip into the past decades of a genre that, until recently, has been somewhat under-appreciated.
The brevity of the release, as well as the fact that it is comprised entirely of previously released material, can make it seem somewhat redundant from a purely practical standpoint. Nevertheless, Old Crow Medicine Show represent a refreshing break from the myriad of current bands who edge towards this quality in their music but never fully commit. Interestingly, it seems like a true return to roots is just what was needed to shake things up.
Any band that’s got a curse word in its name is bound to be dead set on turning things upside down. This is definitely true of Portland, Oregon’s I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch In The House, whose brand of country is pretty much about as backward as you can get while still operating within the genre. With their latest release, Mayberry, this band has shown that guitar-drive music from the south does not have to be about pickups and heartbreak.
To be fair, the band isn’t strictly categorized as country. Their music showcases influences of punk and alternative that helps I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch In The House live up to their name. Energetic riffs fill up the midsections of the most upbeat tracks, enough to leave you dizzy. Themes range from songs about small-time dreams (“Break All Your Strings”) to big-time political messages (“Bones”). The band even takes time to put a new spin on an old country trope on personal favourite “I Give Up (The Puppy Song).” As the song’s narrator laments the state of the world and his hatred for everything except his trusty puppy dog, one can only think of the track as a less ridiculous version of the Shane Yellowbird ditty, “Pickup Truck.”
At times, Mayberry seems like it could have been the soundtrack to Django Unchained, or some other, similarly modern and bloody take on the old western genre. In a way, the album takes on that quality in and of itself — like an audio manifestation of what Tarantino’s latest was attempting to achieve. It takes what is familiar and makes it edgier, though not quite as gruesome, and, at the end of the day, much more appealing. I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch In The House’s country is, unlike most other artists operating within the genre, a brand that I can easily get behind.
If I had to pick one word to describe Beady Eye’s sophomore album, BE, it would probably be “moody.” That’s fitting, considering lead singer Liam Gallagher has essentially branded the experimental album a giant fuck you to the many die-hard Oasis fans out there who are less-than-thrilled with the new direction he’s taken — it seems that tempestuousness was in the album’s destiny.
Unfortunately, Gallagher may have been a little hasty in his harsh words. While no one can fault him for wanting to try new things or develop as a musician, the fact of the matter is, Beady Eye’s BE just isn’t very good.
BE is experimental in all the wrong ways. It is tricked out and dramatic, with each song featuring extraneous layer upon extraneous layer. The overall tone of the album is at best melodramatic, which, when coupled with Gallagher’s signature whine, is at times almost infuriating in its petulance. And of course, the album is simply too long.
The worst part is that despite its blatant attempt to be experimental and new, most of the lyrics off of BE are safe and predictable. Take for instance the track “Iz Rite” whose name is already an alarm bell, and whose chorus relays the following: “When you call my name/it takes away my pain/Til only love remains/Say it again.” The rhymes are woefully standard, as are the sentiments — glaring shortfalls that no amount of flashy instrumentals can hide, much less compensate for.
High points off the album include the jungle-esque beat on single “Second Bite of the Apple” and the track “Ballroom Figured” which stands out for its quality, as well as the fact that it is pretty much the only track that is not embellished beyond repair. All in all though, these points are few and far between. BE at its core is overwhelming in its self-indulgence and, as a consequence, underwhelming as a whole.
When a band takes a 12 year hiatus between formation and releasing the first album, it’s probably safe to say they aren’t too interested in rushing things along. Such is the case with Swedish folk-psychedelic outfit Junip, who, despite forming in 1998, have just released their second, self-titled effort. As you might expect, the best way to characterize it is, well, slow.
The album, a mere 10 tracks but still clocking in at 42 minutes, creeps along in an airy kind of way. Junip are notable in that they offer a unique take on the trend of folk-ensemble bands that seems to be so pervasive in music right now. Like Of Monsters and Men or The Lumineers, their tracks are infused with seemingly traditional instrumental elements and melodic, at times chorally-oriented vocals. But they depart from this in the aural quality of the tracks. Rather than swelling to overwhelming crescendos, Junip’s songs are thin and light, giving off an almost hollow vibe. They fill the role of background noise more than anything, which makes listening to them a unique, although mostly uninvolved, experience.
The album is definitely interesting, but it is slow and it is sleepy. It almost feels like the band is dragging its feet along through each song, dissolving into seemingly endless and fruitless repetitions with very little variation. As someone who is extremely partial to the overwhelming crescendos of bands like Of Monsters and Men, this was a source of immense frustration. I kept waiting for the band to break out, for some sign of life or emotion, but all I seemed to find was a constant deadpan sort of stability. Tracks obviously don’t need to be loud to be emotive, but when they are as timid as Junip’s, it’s very hard to relate in any concrete way. As a result, despite the soothing nature of Rodriguez’s voice and the band’s instrumental stylings, Junip seemed to me to be, above all else, tedious.
That being said, there does seem to be reason for hope. Having released this self-titled effort a mere 2 years after their decade-delayed debut, there is perhaps a new found need for speed that might just manifest itself in their music one day.
New Found Glory are putting the punk in “pop punk” with their latest release, Mania. The 6-song EP is a Ramones tribute album, as indicated by its title which harkens back to the Ramones compilation album Ramones Mania, and features covers of classics like “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “Rock and Roll High School.”
If nothing else, the album is loyal and accurate. The covers featured on Mania are pretty much exact copies of the original tracks — simply a little more polished, although this is at least partially attributable to advances in recording equipment, no doubt. Jordan Pundik’s vocals, characteristic of the pop-punk NFG helped found in their melodic yet slightly whiny quality, are perfectly suited for mimicking the vocal stylings of Joey Ramone. Pundik may be in his mid-thirties but classic lines like “I don’t care about history” are nevertheless believable — a sign that New Found Glory has managed to replicate not only the audio characteristics of the Ramones, but also the never-grow-up attitude of the punk-rock movement as well.
It’s hard to say whether this is something to be lauded though. The album as it stands is a great copy of the original material, but it kind of makes you wonder what the point of the project is. There are no surprises on the album at all — even the static feedback on “Do You Remember Rock and Roll High School” has been reproduced. Someone could have digitally remastered these tracks by the Ramones and it would likely have pretty much the same effect. That being said, as the fathers of pop-punk, New Found Glory have done a lot of innovating in their lifetime and perhaps can be afforded this one instance of indulgent fandom. Here’s hoping its the exception to the rule.
A friend of mine who had never before been exposed the Yeah Yeah Yeahs once heard Fever to Tell blaring through my headphones, only to describe it as heavy metal. The statement, a horrendous misattribution, still goes to show just how far the New York trio has come from their roots. The band’s fourth album, Mosquito, a self-described take on the genre of soul, is markedly toned down but somehow remains distinctly their own proving them chameleons that are in it for the long haul.
The unmistakable stamps of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are present throughout the album. Karen O’s voice still sounds like a combination of everything broken and horrible and beautiful, and each track is undeniably creepy in a cool kind of way. But Mosquito is notably lacking in several elements of the band’s prior incarnations. Wailing guitars and Karen O’s window-shattering but never haphazard screeches are replaced by cleaned up riffs and an exploration of her more melodic style of singing. There’s even a gospel choir in lead single “Sacrilege.” These changes aren’t necessarily better or worse, they’re just different. But the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are nothing if not masters of uncanny experimentation, and so they work in a way that is immediately distinct. All at once, Mosquito sounds nothing like a Yeah Yeah Yeahs record as well its quintessential manifestation.
Judging by this album, the band is definitely going in a mellower direction. Songs like “Mosquito” and “Area 52” that are more distorted and dire are the exception rather than the norm, as might have been the case in their early days. But people grow and people change and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs obviously know how to do it without compromising their integrity or artistic intent. The album leaves the band just as unclassifiable and indescribable as ever — and here’s hoping they stay that way.