CocoRosie – Tales of a GrassWidow album review

Different. Is the word you are looking for. This kind of music, slightly reminiscent of certain Animal Collective phases and earlier Grizzly Bear, (although CocoRosie seems to be more grounded in consistent beats) asks that you participate in the act of sitting down and listening to music. There are lots of interesting subtleties that the common listener probably won’t be willing to digest. 

It is definitely something you have to go out of your way and give a chance, but they won’t disappoint you. The sisters choose interesting arrangements. They manage to make beat-boxing, wind-chimes, melodica and basic piano chords grooveable. It doesn’t even matter that one of them sounds like an infant. “After the Afterlife” is a truly amazing piece of art. And it is almost because of their dedication to “their thing they do” that I am surprised by the level of commercial success they have achieved. I admire these girls for sticking to whatever this little niche is and really going for it. 

One subtlety I really appreciate is that in Tales of a GrassWidow, it is clear the group consciously chose to use different types of recording equipment for artistic purpose. After the Afterlife uses a more lo-fi vocal recording process which creates a much more appropriate texture. It is this choice to say, “hey, I know this is probably going to be more difficult to do perfectly, and I know we could just go into a studio and play with certain filters, but it would only be 98% the same and I really want that last 2%.” That choice is what makes CocoRosie great in my mind. 

Poor Young Things – The Heart. The Head. The End. album review

Something tells me Poor Young Things are meant to be seen live. As far as instrumentation goes, the five piece band sticks very closely to the rock and roll format that has done so well for the past fifty years. It is because their act is so bog standard, that it surprises me, and almost arises suspicion that Poor Young Things is being considered as one of those indie bands on the rise.

They do have knack for putting together catchy riffs, but while everything is done very solidly, there is a noticeable lack of risk and imagination. The songs will end up sounding the same if you aren’t paying close attention and if you pay too much attention. So what is the happy middle ground? I’m thinking the primary fan base is a second year college student with two PBR’s in their belly and a distracting sexual interest nearby. You know how you’re so receptive to all kinds of new things when there’s the slightest chance you might get lucky? Bands like these thrive on that. 

They do not strive for a musical masterpiece. They are not breaking any new ground. They are here to do their thing, while you go ahead and do your thing. The problem Poor Young Things will face in their future is attracting an audience that doesn’t drunkenly stumble into their show. The constant touring might work for a few years, but eventually they will have to remove the alcohol crutch and stand on their own musical legs. I have absolute faith that they an achieve this, they work together very well, but right now their focus seems to be getting their name out there, not necessarily putting together the next Dark Side of the Moon. 

In their own words:

“Oh man, we are so lucky,” confirms singer/guitarist Matt Fratpietro on behalf of his cohorts. “Touring across Canada is so hard. And there are lots of bands that do that for years and years and don’t get the breaks we’ve had.

“We came here and were signed within a year to a small, very supportive label, Bumstead Productions. I mean, obviously we sold our souls to the devil,” Fratpietro howls. “But still. What a deal we got!”

Ah yes.

Lucky.

Sold their souls to the devil. 

It’s all starting to make sense. 

I like jokes. And to write good jokes you have to use a kernel of truth. Those boys may be laughing about it now, but something tells me that there is a good amount of truth to the absurd amount of luck that must have come their way.

The Abramson Singers – Late Riser

Damn it Canada. You’ve done it again. All the dorky American boys who made up girlfriends in Canada probably had someone like Leah Abramson in mind. If her musical color is any indicator of her personality, she would probably be described as “delightful.” Your overbearing, self-esteem smashing parents would have approved.

I’ll bet she’s the kind of person who got along with the french horn section in her youth. She must have, because parts of her music have a horn section. The music is framed in simple arrangements adorned with soothing textures that act as a platform for displaying Abramson’s vocal work. She has great control, range and sings with great economy. The efficiency of breath makes for a relaxing soprano that isn’t overbearingly eager to get to the highest note they possible can. At certain points in a song, she will just ever so briefly jump up an octave, presumably just to show the listener that she can, but she’s not gonna throw it out there like Aretha Franklin.

Abramson sounds comfortable and puts you at ease, like you’re in a Prius doing twenty-miles an hour in the suburban springtime whereas Katy Perry makes you feel like you’re the driver in a Prom limo and you’ve had a large Mountain Dew, and Taylor Swift makes you feel like you’re in a very used car.

If that simile doesn’t perfectly describe music for the rest of my life, I will drive Taylor Swift to the Mission and smoke crack out of her tailpipe. I will upgrade to metaphor. 

She has a Korean press manager. They do good work. 

Her website is nice.

The one thing that I would caution Canadians considering capturing a concert by The Abramson Singers is that the intricacy of the harmonies would be incredibly difficult (and expensive) to reproduce. You have to have a crew, or hire singers. They have like 800 followers on Facebook, and a single YouTube clip with 1300 views. I doubt they have the capital to maintain a small choir.

She isn’t coming to America for the foreseeable future, which is a bummer. Although my boss is from Canada, so this is probably more relevant for his main readership.

Hey Canada. 

Looking at The Abramson Singer’s tour schedule, 
I have deduced that I am not good at geography. 

But do yourself a favor Canada.

Check out The Abramson Singers. 

Give them some of that money you saved with your fancy healthcare

Buy the CD, see them live

So that we can have them in America

and ruin them with auto-tuned power jams.

For the record: I’m still going to say I have a Canadian girlfriend, but now I can make the excuse, “Oh well her band isn’t touring in America this summer, so I’m gonna go to Call of Duty Camp again.”

So if you’re a Canadian girl, and you’re tired of being made out to be incredibly flighty, teases by the American nerd and closeted community… Listen to the Abramson Singers… 

In all honesty though, I do genuinely enjoy this kind of indie gem, but tracking their progressing into the music industry can be frightening. There are so many ways you can make an Amanda Bynes. 

It’s like progressing through a video game. Call of Duty for example. There are the traps you have to sneak around, like selling out to commercials too liberally, the general pool of sociopathology that is Southern California, the over-touring sicknesses and the endless number of cyber-idiots with a blog who think they know how to review and evaluate music. 

Some of the brutalities that await are so unnerving that it causes one to pause when they encounter something like The Abramson Singers. I imagine it is quite like a miniature version of what a parent feels dropping their eldest child off at the first day of kindergarten. You want them to succeed and fly, but there is that lurking voice in the back of your head that knows there are a flock of boys out there who are going to throw sticks at your child, give them wedgies, pull their hair and harangue them for having fake Canadian girlfriends. 

LIGHTNING ROUND! 

Listening to Queen is like racing your friends on side-roads in your mothers’ cars.
Listening to Sinatra is like being chauffeured around in an old Buick. 
Listening to Pitbull is like being roofied in an Audi your date borrowed from his roommate.

Korean pop stars are like Korean cars. They all look the same.
They’re cheap to buy and run.
They depreciate immensely after the first year.
And given their resources, they do very good work. 

Listening to Maroon Five is like getting the deluxe version of the cheapest model or the cheapest version of the deluxe model. You are simultaneously (over and under)-estimating their real value, and are probably making an uninformed decision. 

Dr. Dog is like a small pick-up truck. They aren’t the fastest, they have no luxeries, gadgets or computer monitored breaking, they aren’t much to look at (I’m kidding, Toby and Scott, you’re adorable. Frank you look so nice unshaven.) but they’re reliable, they work hard, they get a job done and like most four-cylinder Japanese pick-ups, normal people don’t do sex stuff while listening to Dr. Dog. Unless of course, in Canada, the hot thing to do when you’re fourteen is lose your virginity in some guy’s 1979 Isuzu. 

Half of this isn’t even about the artist. 

Well, that’s been the Well-Spoken Uninformed Music Blog.

The Features – The Features album review

I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again and I’ll say it seven thousand more times, a four piece rock band does not need amazing production values. That which makes them charming (that can do, garage spirit) is bastardized through filtration and distilled into a sound of manufactured fury. It means nothing. Maroon Five can get away with nonsense like that because after ten plus years of doing their thing, they’ve chased themselves into a corner, but that hyper-perfected world of studios and VEVO channels leaves little room to grow, little room for development and little room for anyone to give a flying fuck. 

This is a band of guys whose success might as well be attributed to the marketing man who thought, “we need a mix between indie and mainstream.” They are the product of the man who took a look at hipster glasses and said, “I think that’s a market I could make money off of.” And they did! They sold the advertisement money to some television network to promote a police show I’ve never heard of. The ad lasted thirty seconds, my interest in the music lasted a minute. That’s a good return for the marketing guy. 

When I hear a big name that’s put out a perfected studio album, I just don’t care on a regular scale. When I hear about a band I’ve never heard of before putting out a studio perfected album I: (Here it comes)

Care so little that the Higgs Boson particles in the regions of my brain responsible for caring about bullshit abandon the quarks they are assigned to leave this four dimensional space, run into the future where humanity is long gone and then listen to something more pleasant. Something like the sound of a star exploding, creating an atmosphere around a molten planet filled with highly vocal life forms that die fizzle and suffer and still. STILL. Their pain is nothing compared to the monetized nonsense that I put my ears at risk for. 

It’s not that they’re bad. It’s not that they’re not as good as their advertising money merits. It’s that it seems as though that this was their aim. This was what they dreamed of. They went from label, to self produced back to this. Going rogue and being an artist didn’t do it for them. They wanted to go back to their comfortable studio lives. They wanted their paycheck. They wanted to phone it in. I now am fully aware of what the term, “phony” means. I feel it in my bones.

Sharks – Selfhood album review

Have you ever been sitting around thinking, “God I wish I could listen to Greenday without being caught listening to thirty-eight year old men who wear make-up, spike their hair and rage against the machine while playing at the Grammys?” Well I think I may have a solution for you…

Sharks is as four piece punk rock band from jolly old England. Their music offering in Selfhood indicated two things. The first thing I can point out is that these boys have been busy. Since their formation in 2007, they have put out five actual collections of songs (a handful of EP’s, two LP’s and a compilation album, quite irregular for a band less than seven years old…) and are fairly consistent about releasing material. In addition to their regular album releases, they do music videos and everything. If I didn’t know any better I’d think they were Korean. That’s an exaggeration. They are very clever, but fall into a few minor pitfalls. I’m not sure they were aware that one of their riffs (in fact it ends the song) in “I Won’t Taint” is the melody to “Lean on me.” If one wasn’t aware of the output levels of these four, then you can listen and think this is just fairly simple, uncomplicated rock music. It’s not a challenge to listen to. It doesn’t ask a lot of the listener. I think at this point in rock history, the four piece, (two guitars, a bass and drums) is so played that to survive a group must shoot for this kind of familiarity. That’s what Sharks’ Selfhood is, it’s very familiar. You know these songs (or other incarnations of them). That doesn’t detract from it. Us 90’s kids are growing up. We’re starting to miss the good old grunge days.

Also, in light of their output levels, you shouldn’t expect an Arcade Fire concept album type production every year. That kind of thing is difficult to pull off. (For the actual math, Arcade Fire has done three albums and a song for the Hunger Games in their twelve year history) And again, to be fair, to take everything in context – the members of Sharks are very young. All that being said, they have been through about seven bassists. That speaks volumes to the complexity of the music.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is this: Keep it up kids. This all feels like a rocker’s apprenticeship. They’re still learning all the moves. Things are still sounding happy-go-lucky. This group won’t get really interesting until something horrible happens in their lives. It isn’t interesting yet, but I’m sure it will get there. They will move to a precipice, where they will either rise to the occasion and put out something truly, artistically commendable, or they will crash, burn and explode into obscurity.

You cannot find anything more average than this.

Laura Stevenson – Wheels album review

Here are some words Stevenson uses to describe herself on her website:

“My mom would find me in my room, looking out the window, out at the street, singing by myself, sometimes crying,” she laughs, “I was a weird kid.”

“An unfunny Woody Allen.”

“…she spent her afternoons singing in four different choral groups, exploring a growing love for acapella. “Big time nerd stuff,” as she recalls, lamenting that there wasn’t a show like Glee around to validate her when she was in the thick of it.”

I like her already. Stevenson keeps the songs tight. They typically feature two electric guitars (although one is usually hidden in the background quite nicely) and subtle moments of vocal harmony. Her voice has an interesting tambour that takes a minute to get used to, like a punk rocker, but one who actually has incredibly good control over her voice. If you get a chance, check out her live performances of The Move. It was shocking to me that someone with this kind of guitar talent started out life as a classical pianist, but then again it isn’t really all that surprising because of course she’s incredibly multi-talented.

Personal story: My brother has a lot of fanboy crushes on Korean pop-stars. I’m pretty sure he likes them for their hip-flicking music videos more than the actual music, and there’s nothing really wrong with that if that’s what you’re into. I on the other hand, am a different story. Ms. Stevenson introduces The Move by saying something to the effect of “this is a song about being crazy and ruining someone’s life because of it.” This may say more about me than anything, but I have a huge crush on this girl. She is a fantastically talented musician and adorably self-aware. I would even recommend the music to children, so long as they don’t listen to the lyric content at every second. The acoustic songs are probably more to the general public’s liking, but I very much enjoy the electric guitar songs. If her career is a long one, (fingers crossed) then I don’t think the light punk aesthetic will stick, but hats off to Ms. Stevenson for displaying her versatility instead of sticking to her wheel house. No pun intended.

There are moments where it does feel like something is being held back. I suspect there is still some dark shadow of mad genius in Laura that hasn’t quite found a comfortable space to express itself.

Call me?

Hey Marseilles – Lines We Trace album review

Hey Marseilles are a seven piece band from Seattle. Lines We Trace is their second release. It is a typical indie pop band that has the benefit of strength in numbers. The group has a large instrumental repertoire. The album itself has good production value. There is something slightly reminiscent of The Decemberists, the only difference is when The Decemberists came onto the scene, their schtick was new and refreshing. Somehow this more placid rendition that is Hey Marseilles doesn’t quite do it for me. No risks are taken. It’s completely unoffensive, while not quite being bland. It’s the kind of music you would find in line at Starbucks. If that’s your thing, yay for you. 

The most interesting pieces are the ones that focus on the piano. Dead of Night is a genuinely good song. Madrona is amazing as well. It should have been the first song of the album, but it lacks vocals which is a pop album no-no.  Hearts Beats is a throw away, sad to say. If it needed to be in the album it should have come in at the end. To be perfectly honest, I lacked the patience for much of the album. It falls flat in many ways.

Most people who like this kind of indie pop music will have bands that they will personally always like better because most other indie pop bands are a little more “out there” than this seven piece. And that’s the point of being an indie band isn’t it? To be a little bit more out there than the mainstream pop scene would allow? Hey Marseilles don’t stick their neck out there enough, but when they do, it is satisfying although it will leave you yearning for something more, but not necessarily more of the music. Bottom line, if there are seven artists, there should be more artistic risk. Too safe.

Fall Out Boy – Save Rock and Roll album review

They’re back! In their first collaboration since the their 2010 hiatus, Fall Out Boy has returned, and they’ve brought Elton John with them. The boys have managed to keep their sound with the times. It is absolutely something engineered to be remixed into other pop hits.  The title track which features Her Majesties Sir John happens to fall into that 90ish BPM power anthem range. That being said, it does drag on for about one minute too long. 

One gets the sense that one of the principle aims of the completion was to acquire licensing deals in commercial spots. Everything is… good. Songs like “Where Did The Party Go” have this strange perfected, packaged and polished messiness – the manufactured “roughness” that one might expect from Maroon Five. There are moments when Patrick Stump does sound a bit like Adam Levine. Again, in this track they take a three minute song and unnecessarily stretch it to four. In the same vein of striving for commercial sense, “Just One Yesterday” borrows elements of proven hits like the Adele song “Rolling in the Deep.” It’s in no way plagiarism, but it borrows the color palate. That is the pervasive impression one gets from many of the songs. A sound manager/song writer said, “That technique worked for that artist. Let’s use exactly that.” 

Then there are the curveballs like “The Phoenix.” It’s like Katy Perry did a bunch of methamphetamine, got naked and ate all of the Fall Out Boys. It’s all very wonderful, terrifying and leaves you feeling slightly shaky, as though you’ve just drank a coffee laced with cough syrup. I liked that one. 

 I’ve never listened to Fall Out Boy, so I don’t know where their roots are at. I decided to judge the album as its own thing before wandering into the past. The title suggests they’re trying to Save Rock and Roll, but it seems more like an adoption of pop moves than anything. I wouldn’t call it rock. It’s all too perfect, too clean, too produced. You’re not listening to the artists that comprise of Fall Out Boy, you’re listening to a studio production, a sound engineer, a commercial product. 

Think about a Ferrari, or an Aston Martin. If you’re going to spend more than one hundred thousand dollars on a car, you should expect perfection. You should expect to be blown out of the water. If you simply receive “a good car,” you would be disappointed. A Honda Accord is a good car. 

They broke out enough capital to get Elton John on board, so that suggests the financial backing to the album. It seems that the boffins at the music marketing department wanted to make the reunion of Fall Out Boy an event. They wanted to make it a big deal. They put up all the tinsel, glitter and strobe lights. Of course everything is going to be done perfectly. 

Returning to the car metaphor, the astounding performance quality of a super car is to be expected, but you might not bond with the machine itself. Some super cars feel cold, detached, as if they are being too closely monitored by the computers that drive them. An individual is more likely to form a bond with a cheaper, older, second-hand car, like an old VW GTI, or an Alpha Romeo. Its not as fast, it doesn’t corner as well, it won’t last as long, but it has heart and soul. It will have blatant mistakes that add to its charm, just like its driver. 

It’s so unoffensive and playable in a Nordstroms that I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. They will encounter it enough on their own walking about in the world, and if they don’t they will hear a song that is completely the same.

Telekinesis – Dormarion album review

Last week, I reviewed an album and gave it high marks because I knew what the artist was trying to achieve. It was difficult, but commendable. I was surprised with how good it was because of all the things that could have gone wrong. Telekinesis’s album Dormarion receives high praise because it is simply surprisingly good. This is the third album from Seattle native Michael Benjamin Lerner. He uses lead melodies that are different, without being different for the sake of being different, if that makes sense. Even the seemingly simple four-chord guitar songs have little surprises in tempo shifts, and subtle solos. Hopping pop songs like Lean on Me get balanced by the lovely arrangements found in Ghosts and Creatures. Joined with these well produced tracks are some throwbacks to the retro single track recordings. Power Lines even opens with some audible mouse clicks (presumably to lyrics or chord charts) and the meow of a lingering cat.

Every song is enjoyable and a good number of them can be found on the Youtubes. This is another indicator of a confident, proactive musician. There are some bands that are completely unknown, make it impossible to sample their music and then when you finally find it or spend a dollar to demo a track, its just not all that nor a bag of potato chips. Telekinesis is not this type of music act. More surprises, when performing live, Lerner will take to the drums and sing, instead of the stereotypical singer/guitar set-up. 

I’m trying really hard, and I can’t come up with a single criticism of the band. Even as a live act, every person is pulling their weight. How rare is it these days to find an act where all four people sing and play an instrument. I have no complaints here, so I will keep it brief. Buy it. They deserve your money.

Steve Mason – Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time album review

Let it be known: Steve Mason has some mighty balls. When I talk to my musician friends, they hold this familiar notion that you should try to refrain from releasing a double LP. Its a feat that is generally more impressive to the musician than the audience. Its a nice pat on the back. “I just wrote twenty songs. Listen to them all in a row.” It can be overwhelming as a whole, and it underwhelms each song which may have found a brighter spotlight in a normal 10-14 track album. When you get up to twenty songs in a release, you have to take the album as a whole. It becomes more of a concept. This brings us to the second massive gonad of Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time. It opens with poetry. Yes, you heard me. Throughout the albums are little skits, sound clips and poetic phrasings. In addition to these short pace breakers, the actual tracks contain a massive range of diversity. The slow and soft harmonies of “A Lot of Love” is immediately followed by the reggae beats of  “The Last of The Heroes.” While Mason fully engages with the piano/bass classic rock roots kit, he doesn’t hesitate to texture certain moments with choirs, orchestral breaks and transitions between your typical piano sounds and an electric synthesizer. There are even horn sections if you listen for them!

What Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time is, is ambitious. It is an art project. The singles “Fight Them Back” and “Oh My Lord” are good little pop songs that will keep the general listener engaged, and the final song “Come To Me” effectively washes over the listener. It serves as a calming relief to the auditory journey Mason takes you on. The whole album can be tiring at times, but in a good way. With twenty songs, you have to expect the peaks and valleys. They are well timed in Monkey Minds. I imagine that there are folks driving along who unconsciously find themselves singing along. This is the subtle tragedy of the work as a whole. Mason states that, and the title implies, that we live in a world of “little capitalists” who have gone off the track of our intended purpose. He wanted to gather everything he knew about music and the world and put it in an album. I think he wanted to wake people up to the perspective of life he carries. Unfortunately, such a message requires a sort of in-your-face attitude that Monkey Minds lacks most of the time. It is soothing to the point where you don’t listen to what’s being said. You just enjoy the atmosphere. Even when he speaks directly to the audience, it serves more aesthetic purposes between tracks as opposed to a direct message to the world. But I commend Mr. Mason. I commend the message. Who cares if it doesn’t enlighten the world? Who cares if the album can be a tad schizophrenic? It was a damn good effort, and a damn good listen.