The Perms – Sophia Nights extended album review

Perhaps it’s because they enjoy a unique access to the use of human linguistics or perhaps it’s simply because our society has placed immense power on words in general, but vocals – more specifically lyrics – seem to carry an unrivaled weight in a song.  Certainly more central than drum rhythms or bass lines and often drawing more attention than even the catchiest of guitar riffs, the message of a song rarely goes without at least some ounce of recognition.  It’s for this reason that Sophia Nights, the 5th full-length release from Canadian power-pop rockers, The Perms is just a touch short of spectacular.

Long-time fans will site infectious hooks and unmatched energy both on-stage and on their records among the best qualities of this band and on those counts I raise no objection, however I will say that this release contains an abundance of unrealized lyrical potential. Jam-packed with the same intoxicating melodies and pop guitar riffs they’ve been rocking since inception, this album is – on the surface – just as catchy and exciting as ever (well, maybe not quite as catchy as 2009 release, Keeps You Up When You’re Down.)  However, upon deeper and more critical listening we find lyrical composition that tends to disappoint.  It isn’t terrible, it’s not even bad; I just know they can do better.

A perfect example of their potential lies in album closer   “Over and Over.”  Lyrically it’s superior for several reasons. The writing seems well-thought-out, vocal phrases fit the music in an alarmingly attractive way and, most importantly, there isn’t anything that seems compromised for the sake of finishing the song.  Additionally, the delivery of this track seems to artfully combine the heavier feel of this release with the pop-ier vibe of previous works.  Several other tracks seem to take a huge, premature step towards Nirvana (the band, not the state of enlightenment) and while I’m not opposed to any band’s inter-album evolution, I believe a group should be either tasteful in this transition or fully committed.  Save the skillful finesse of “Over and Over” and the balls-to-the-wall approach of “Slipping Away,” this release is neither.

Now, having just read this you’re probably experiencing a bitter taste in your mouth towards this record and for that I apologize.  The reason I focus on the lyrical shortcomings is for lack of constructive criticism concerning the rest of the record.  Sonically a massive improvement from previous releases, Sophia Nights is a high-energy project that is both well constructed and appropriately representative of the band’s veteran musicality.  Album opener and first single, “High School High” is a cohesive if not slightly satirical nod to post-college-aged bands singing about adolescent trial and tribulation that sounds so reminiscent of late 90’s rock (think Good Charlotte and Dookie-era Green Day) that I almost considered spiking my hair again.  Also deserving of mention, production tricks in “Mannheim” draw likeness to Hendrix-esque phase modulations resulting in a swimmy and, for lack of a better word, trippy experience.

To be honest, there are quite a few gems on this record, especially if you can overlook the lyrics.  It’s exciting, catchy and generally fun and I encourage you to direct your attention to not only this album but also this band as a whole.

Fences Interview

Chris Mansfield (Fences) Interview

Fences is on everyone’s radar, and for good reason. It’s cause for attention when an artist writes dark lyrics and makes it sound poppy. The 27-year-old singer/songwriter, Chris Mansfield, is totally aware of this newfound fame, but it’s the kind of self-awareness that you don’t find too often. It’s fresh. Mansfield speaks candidly about what led him here. “It seems like when people are young and everyone is kind of deciding what they like, whether it was sports or skateboarding or just anything, I was always really into music,” he recalls. “Music was my initial rebellion to regular life and responsibility. But it got to a point where…it’s a classic thing…you enroll in art school or music school…and all of a sudden it’s not music anymore.”

He was thrown out of Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, sold all of his music gear, and basically traded the old in for something new: an acoustic guitar. School hadn’t been the gratifying medium Mansfield so needed. He speaks about these heavier times, at the peak of his shift, and he’d sit in his car transcribing “Autumn Leaves” or playing “Blue Bossa,” an instrumental jazz composition by Kenny Dorham. Again, not emotionally satisfying. “It’s natural for everyone in their life to change,” Mansfield points out.

This month, Fences will be showcasing in Austin, TX for SXSW. The festival is notorious for featuring breakout artists aiming for the kind of street-cred that new bands drool over. Fences will be playing alongside veterans, City and Colour and Yeasayer, bands that Mansfield is a big fan of. “SXSW this year, for me, is sort of a dream,” he confesses. “I think we’re going to be able to make a real statement.” And others agree. Seattle’s City Arts Magazine ranked Fences at #6 in this month’s issue under “Best New Bands.” The fact is: 2011 is the year for Fences.

Mansfield admits the rawness of playing a packed house has yet to sink in. After all, this is a couple of decades in the making, for someone who’s been playing music their whole life.  “Last night I got to sing “Otherside” with Macklemore in front of twelve hundred kids. The kids were singing it so loud, and I could barely hear myself, and I started laughing. It was really awesome.” Chris recognizes that the kids who come out to these shows are in part thanks to radio play. He digs Seattle’s KEXP for their eclectic, live in-studio performances, but equally respects commercial radio airplay for circulating Fences over and over. For instance, their popular single, “Girls With Accents.”

“The beautiful thing about Fences is, it’s just everything about me musically. So I’m grateful to have this all encompassing outlet,” he says. That complete package was created with the help of the lovely and talented Sara Quin of Tegan & Sara. It was their creative similarity that brought Fences to life, and Mansfield credits her for helping him make it real. “She identified with the music even before considering getting the album together,” Mansfield explains. Quin co-produced Fences in 2010. In a living room in Canada, they churned out Fences, adding in vocal harmonies and instruments, his favorite part of the process. How long does it take Chris Mansfield to write a song, you ask? Well, while someone was taking a shower at his house, he sat down and wrote it out. Maybe five minutes.

At his core, Chris Mansfield is all about release. “It’s kind of like an emotional vomit. It’s just out! I’m able to avoid weird clichés and sounding insincere, because it’s so natural when I do it. There’s no way I’m not being honest.” And it shows. Mansfield mentions that if he could sound like any band, it would be The Cure. He’s been observing the music scene in the Pacific Northwest: Guys with tons of tattoos (much like himself) who are writing these melancholy stories. This is his aesthetic: something almost sad or utterly embarrassing, but you stop and listen, because it’s catchy. He notes The Cure song, “Boys Don’t Cry” when examining this style. (His fave Cure album is Disintegration)

When asked about what his advice is for kids in music school, yearning to do something with their craft, he laughs a little: “Patience,” he begins. “One moment will lead to another moment. One person might hear your song and give it to another person and give it to another person. It’s sort of out of your control, you know? Definitely have drive and have a vision, but trust that the universe has some sort of plan!” And with everything coming at Mansfield at once, he’s humbled by the idea that any paper would write something about his music, but he also knows it’s finally his time. “If you’re doing something that you really love, and playing music that you really love, if it doesn’t take off to a level that you dreamed it would, at the very least, you’re doing what you like anyway.”

Fences will be in Austin, TX at SXSW 3/14 – 3/19

Spring Tour Dates:

4/6 – San Francisco, CA – Rickshaw Stop

4/9 – Portland, OR – Roseland Theater

4/16 – Seattle, WA – Neumos

Lykke Li’s “Wounded Rhymes” explores our detacted times.

Lykke Li Wounded Rhymes

Lykke Li’s new album “Wounded Rhymes” is captivating. The Swedish singer, Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson was born of Swedish musical diversity. Her mother was a member of a Swedish all female pop punk quintet and her father was a member of a Swedish pop punk reggae band. Li’s roots are evident but not overstated in the musical landscape. For the most part, the album borrows heavily from Phil Spector and the classic girl group sound of the early sixties.  The music is desperate, the delivery detached and the music dance-able.

The opening track “Youth Knows No Pain” feels like it was taken directly out of a 60’s club to a 2011 hangout where everyone is doing a slinkier version of the monkey. The throwback is charming but it can take away from the severity of the sentiment. The brashness of Li’s vocals and the “Wall Of Sound” type production is paired with diverse array of rhythm and a more modern idea of loss.  However, Li’s vocal range is lower and thus it portrays a stronger female character.

“Unrequitted Love” is beautiful set up track to the single “Get Some” and the two tracks together really show the desperation of the character Li is illustrating. “Unrequitted Love” has a folky (almost Fleet Foxes) type melody that begs for the three part harmony featured in the chorus. The section in which Li hums a counter melody perfectly captures the introverted nature of the singer. The loose around the edges pitchy-ness of the melody further demonstrates the singers the indifference. It plays perfectly to the “who cares”, “what difference does it make” crowd. After this somber ode to indifference, “Get Some” comes in and solidifies the idea that nothing matters.  It invites the listener to dance as if it didn’t matter and to be exultant in the face of indifference.

While the indifference of these two tracks is illuminating and brings the listener into the singer’s repressed rage, the anger captured by the next track is a bit tired out. “Rich Kid blues” is cliché in this genre of overly expensive bachelor’s degrees leading to music careers (a la Vampire Weekend.) There are less obvious and more interesting ways this feeling could have been construed.

The album on a whole is catchy, interesting and thought provoking.  Thematically the lyrics are downtrodden but the music is addictive, borrowing heavily from the sixties pop resurgence.  Li uses these musical constructs,  but she is clearly departing from the ideas and material covered using the sixties girl group setting in the past. It seems as if this album is exploring the involuntary exploration of a voluntary independence from one man and the indifference used to cope with this situation.

Progress is looking good for We are the Arsenal

We are the Arsenal is a band that has worked hard to reach the success they have today with television placements on Real World, Parental Control and The Hard Times of RJ Berger, and consistent radio play in Los Angeles; their determination and passion for what they do is shown strongly through their music.

The public was hooked from the start, with talented vocals from lead singer Ryan Terrigno, along with the aggression the band can’t help but force into their fast paced songs compiled in their debut album released in 2009 titled “They worshipped Trees”.

In their new EP “There Will Come Soft Rains” set to release on Sep 7th it’s noticeable that the members of WATA have put in that extra effort to create something new while keeping that original sound everyone was first impressed with. This EP contains 6 songs allowing everyone to hear how the band has grown and evolved.

If one thing is certain about WATA, it is that chanting is a major part of their sound and it is something that they will probably always try to incorporate. In the songs Cities by The Sea, Hey Little Girl, and Like History it can be heard the most but luckily a great job was done in keeping the chanting from getting tiresome.

Hopefully everyone who gets to hear this new EP will notice the vocal in their music has developed and now holds a rougher edge to it and less of winy higher pitched voice heard in their earlier work. Listeners will enjoy this because it couldn’t sound better with the natural emotion lead singer Ryan pours into the songs; with lyrics for example “we are nothing but a cancer on this earth and we’ll be on here all alone till we find our worth” in Circling vultures and “when will my life begin, cause it feels like I’m loosing control” sung in the song Strangers; which is the song they chose to show off on their website www.myspace.com/wearethearsenal.

Also interesting about their new sound is a calmness which can be heard in bands like Jimmy Eat World that flows in a couple of the songs, one of them being Fairytale. This is refreshing to hear because it’s not the normal pace for the band and gives a different feel to the music.

We are the Arsenal are definitely excited to go out and share the new music they’ve been working on as they start their tour this fall covering most of the United States. Dedicated fans will sure be taking the time to see them live and though it’s been a while since they’ve heard something fresh, “There Will Come Soft Rains” is an EP they will not be disappointed with and surely will do a great job of catching others attention as well.