London Grammar – Metal & Dust album review

With only an EP spanning four tracks (one of which is a remix), the London-based trio appropriately named, London Grammar, have already made wavelengths through the internet and have even reached billboard charts in Australia and the U.K. Not bad for having barely over 10 minutes of recorded material.

Metal & Dust is their first release and in a very short amount of time, received great praise and garnered much viral popularity. The group’s sound is subtle, offering hints of varying samples and sounds that add up to their overall dark and ambient aesthetic. It is a very engaging and interesting mix but what really capture the spotlight are Hannah Reid’s vocals. The instrumental seems to act as only an aid in helping Reid just add that much more power to her already strong and confident vocals.

Despite the minimalistic nature of the music, Reid’s voice is brought forth full tilt with emotion, never holding back and the music itself seems to be under the tow and sway of her voice. Borrowing easy to identify influences from fellow U.K indie stars such as Alt-J and The XX, it would appear as though there is a certain love affair with drum pads and echoing vocals being sprinkled with spitfire guitar picking however despite the similarities, London Grammar bring their own individualistic strengths to the table.

It is hard to exactly say how a full length album would turn out with this group. Although they do what they do well, it unfortunately ends up sounding just a little repetitive and that is only with 3 songs. The promise is all there but their EP is not yet a fair assessment of the band. Even the remix ‘Hey Now’ by Dot Major is the most engaging and interesting listen, and it’s not always a good sign when the remix is one of, if not, the better tracks. They can certainly do it, but it will be interesting to see if the group can come out with a full length that will truly set them apart from their counterparts.

The Love Language – Ruby Red album review

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.

The Grove Festival: Palma Violets

Palma Violets sound a little bit like Bowie doing his best Sid Vicious impression; it’s Garage Rock on peyote. The light organ play in the background, the overuse of the bass drum, the borderline manic guitar, it all works; even the happy shakers on their track ‘Set Up for the Cool Cats’ sound more like a social commentary then some motif they learned from Fleetwood Mac.

Admittedly I did not know who they were when they came on the stage. The Grove Festival was advertised as a ‘Boutique Festival,’ so I expected to see a few bands with street cred that weren’t booked to play Lolla. I gotta say though, these guys were so incredibly refreshing that I literally watched the whole thing with a sort of gapping crooked smile on my face, the kind you get when you see something ridiculous that’s impressive at the same time. And by refreshing I mean the lead singer, Samuel Fryer, worked the stage like some drunken nephew who escaped the family luncheon, stole a guitar, busted through security onto the stage, and proceeded to rock his face off to everyone’s delight. Think Michael J. Fox’s guitar rip in Back to the Future but instead of clean cut ‘80’s, it’s Edward Furlong two days into a binge, sweating twice as much, with all the on-stage presence of Shannon Hoon at his best. Simply said, they were incredible.

Twenty years ago the music industry started making anti-corporate statements that took the form of artists dressing like our grandparents. Reused clothing, greasy hair, vintage, vintage, vintage, anything that could be deemed anti-establishment was considered the height of political awareness; everyone knows Kurt Cobain’s iconic wool cardigans. I saw this I-don’t-give-a-sh*t-what-you-think attitude in Palma Violets, and for the first couple of tracks, I think the audience saw it too and didn’t know quite what to do with it. It’s hard for people to get into a set that they feel isn’t played for them, which arguably it wasn’t. The boys have this way of playing that makes you wonder if they think they’re still in their parent’s garage. After two tracks though, it would have been hard for anyone to argue their ability to rock, their talent, and how cool Fryer looked smoking on stage. By the time they played ‘Best of Friends’ the entire park was looking for a justifiable reason to break the cool-factor-scorpion-dance that both sides were participating in and just tell the band they loved them, but it’s hard when you think the people receiving the compliment don’t give a f*ck. Enter the lyrics of the song that received the first raised hands of the day: I want to be your best friend, and I want you to be mine too, I want to be your best friend, and I want you to be mine!!! The repetitive chorus gave the audience a chance to sing along finally, and connect. Fryer let his cigarette hang out of his face as he clapped his hands over his head. There. That wasn’t so hard, was it? No everyone’s friends.

I would like to take this time to give a shout-out/ extend my own hand of friendship to William Doyle, who is BY FAR one of the greatest drummers I have ever seen live. I kept screaming, “Look at the f*cking drummer!!! Look at him go!! Are you seeing this?!?! Good Lord!! Just look at him!!” You can hear the dynamicism on their recorded tracks as well, but I’m telling you, this drummer is the tits. The whole band it awesome, fine. But Doyle, in the litter that is the drummer pool, you are a special kitten.

Palma Violets was by far the greatest surprise of the day. Huge sound and their sweaty Hobart Salesmen work shirts brought me right back to the beautifully unwashed boys of early grunge. These hard rocking boys from London know how to make an audience feel like they don’t give a sh*t you’re there….but you’ll be glad you were. Rest assured I’ll be chasing them again.

Hunx and His Punx – Street Punk album review

We’ve been hearing it for decades now; almost from the outset of punk rock itself came the battle cry, ‘punk is dead!’ By now, it’s practically a marketing slogan. And while its generally acknowledged that yes, punk as a movement has been dead for several decades now, punk as a genre, just like any genre, can never really die. All that is needed is for one band to work in the same vein, and if all the ingredients come together just right, instant resurrection is obtained. Easier said than done, of course, as countless bargain bin failures can attest.

While nothing can turn back the clock on a culture that no longer exists, and nothing can bring back your youth, if it’s loud, fast, aggressive, snotty music from a band who doesn’t give a fuck and are more than happy to tell you, then Hunx and His Punx’ Street Punk will be instantly accepted. Chugging out of the speakers with the lowest of lo fi sludge, the record sounds as though it was recorded in the same makeshift garage shack/recording studio as early Misfits output. Tracks like “Everyone’s A Pussy (Fuck You Dude)” and “Don’t Call Me Fabulous” barrel in like a locomotive; their only lyrics, their titles, shouted at breakneck speeds over fuzzy, throbbing instrumentations, both screeching to a halt in under a half minute each. In fact, the only misstep in the album is also its longest, coming in at 3:48.

“Street Punk” draws obvious inspiration from Suicidal Tendencies, and “Born Blonde” almost subconsciously reminds of The Detroit Cobras. Misfits sonic textures (or lack thereof, as the case may be) and melodies abound, perhaps (and surprisingly) most noticeable on “Mud In Your Eyes,” which also recalls the 60s girl group sounds of the band’s debut record, Too Young To Be In Love. Bassist Shannon Shaw lends her vocals to several tracks, balancing the sleeze of singer Seth Bogart with a bit of punk sultriness.

Thankfully, the other abundant element of Too Young to be left to the wayside on this attempt is the extreme limp-wristed campiness, and the high, nasal whine of a stereotypical sex-crazed homosexual. Bogart still shimmies around onstage in mesh and leather costumes that would turn heads even at the Folsom Street Fair (a style not too many degrees removed from Iggy and other punk pioneers, truth be told), and the lyrics still drip with aggressive homoeroticism, but the nails-on-a-chalkboard, clichéd snivel is gone, allowing the listener to focus more on the amazingly catchy hooks and witty lyrics, all considering.

The line between the punk and gay subcultures has always been a bit thinner than some would like to admit, and that is certainly one way to view this act: through his camp, Bogart is able to call attention the shared elements of two very different groups. But if asked, he would probably make no such claims. And why should he? The music speaks for itself.

Weekend – Jinx album review

The powers to be (a.k.a. the internet…) describes San Franciscan group, Weekend, as lo-fi shoegaze. I guess that means that while listening to their new album one might be most compelled to sway their shoulders side to side with chin against chest and eyes at the ground. Do not let the genre classification be the only basis of what to expect from new album, Jinx. Instead of head down swaying, this album demands a little more motion. With high energy and resounding soundscapes, Jinx is definitely a great production. Its sound can fill even the largest of spaces and evokes images of a deep-space-like, echoic atmosphere (even though such a thing is technically a contradiction.) Needless to say, Jinx is a wonderfully well-balanced  and intriguing piece of work.

For a glimpse of the expanse Jinx inhabits, tune into track track three, “Celebration, Fl.” Its pulsating snares coupled with reverb-obsessed vocals and instrumentation are on point. They ebb and flow like they should, compelling the listener to come back for a second or third listen. Moreover, the track is an excellent taste of Jinx on a whole. Following “Celebration, Fl” comes “Sirens” and again a listener might feel a nearly overwhelming sense of spacial sound. The electronic timbre fills your headphones with a comforting drone which proves almost meditative. And if that is not enough to sway you, turn an ear to track eight, “Rosaries.” It is this track where you will find a certain reminiscence you might expect from spinning your favorite Tears for Fears album. A guitar rhythm marches on as a epic drones and fleeting vocals create a visual arrangement of imagined color and shapes.

All together, Jinx is without a doubt relaxing yet, impulsively, it demands an uncontrollable notion to move. The production of the album is perfectly lo-fi which creates a uniquely intriguing electronic texture. It is obvious Weekend utilizes the studio to their advantage, applying it as another instrument. My opinion–as you most likely could have already guessed–pick up a copy of Jinx. It will fill that void for new electronic shoegaze that you have been sorely lacking for some time now. And if shoegaze is just not your style, give it a try anyway. You may be surprised how the genre can be interpreted.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros album review

When Rick Ross’s “100 Black Coffins” came flooding through movie theater sound systems during screenings of Django Unchained, drowning us in bravado and grunted foreshadowing, there’s a reason we didn’t laugh. Ross, an ex-correctional officer who reinvented himself as a rapper under an alias lifted from a real life drug trafficker, is able to sell us on a song like the bloody “Coffins” because his character was built to devour any doubt. This is why we rarely call bullshit on his fabrication of reality, and it’s the same reasons we watch action movies: we enjoy all this talk of violence and drug slinging as long as it’s in some alternate reality. When we hear the stomping, outsized western beat on “100 Black Coffins”, we’re reminded of exciting storytelling rather than CNN Headlines. It’s all about playing a good character.

Alex Ebert is playing a similar type of role. Once the frontman of the strung out electrodes in Ima Robot, Ebert found rebirth while in rehab as the character Edward Sharpe. The band he formed around this new creation sold a fan base on the mystery, releasing their debut Up From Below with a cover photo of the group literally jumping into the setting sun. There was a feeling surrounding the album, at least among Ebert fans, that this album could save your soul. Well, not quite, but something like that.

Up From Below ended up being a terrifically self-aware album, with songs like “40 Day Dream” poking fun at the grandeur expected of musical spectacle, even explicitly referencing The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour. When you listened to Up From Below, you knew everyone involved was in on the joke, that they knew music alone couldn’t save your soul, but you also knew these dudes believed in the power of their own musical community. Up From Below was essentially just an extremely clever way of nailing down a cliché.

On their third album, however, Alex Ebert has lost himself completely in character, and the result is a festival pandering slog through mostly uninspired sing-alongs. The trouble starts right away with Ebert (as Edward Sharpe, it should be noted) singing “We don’t have to talk/Let’s dance”. He sounds like he’s straining here, and not in the way Dylan used to. This is closer to Sam Waterson on The Newsroom.

The record’s biggest offense is the painfully generic “Let’s Get High”, which seems confused by its own lyrics, especially on awkward lines like “Ain’t we all just Japanese when we’re high/On love?”. This is the type of writing festival organizers salivate over but fans should ignore. It’s just streamlining the process and is also what ends up making the self-titled effort nearly insufferable. In the end, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes is like listening to Rick Ross giving a lecture; it may have been put together with good intentions but makes little sense. It doesn’t give us anything we can’t already get elsewhere. Why play a character if you’re not going to make something worth watching?

Gregory Alan Isakov – The Weatherman album review

For proof that the ‘Americana’ style of music has nothing to do with being ‘American’, here is Gregory Alan Isakov, native of South Africa. For evidence related to this proof, listen to ‘Time Will Tell’, with the banjos, acoustic guitars, and whistle effects that are kind of reminiscent of a musical saw.

Isakov is an accomplished songwriter who manages to convey a type of intimacy through his music. There is a story-telling quality to his singer-songwriter vibe, which turns the songs into images of existence. The songs generally unfold at a leisurely pace, utilizing rhythmic techniques in the accompaniment that convey a heightened sense of motion amidst the incredibly lazy tempos.

If there is anything lacking on this record, it stems from the fact that there is an overabundance of slow, melancholy tunes. Isakov is a talented songwriter with a great melodic sense, but the general aesthetic he conveys unfortunately results in a type of blurring, as the songs tend to blend into one another.

On the upside, Isakov appears to have some kind of training, or at the very least he’s picked up a pretty solid understanding of harmonic relationships and song form since he started touring at 16. His ability to harmonize a melodic line and pace the harmonic rhythm to the line is really solid, leading to moments of subtle emotional intensity.

With Gregory Alan, it’s not about virtuosity or overt intensity, it’s about the human element, the story, and the lives that people live. All that’s needed is a little more variety in tempo.

Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus album review

There are really only one or two good reasons that justify naming your band Fuck Buttons. The first acceptable answer is that you’re just really into zippers, and abhor any competitive fasteners. The second is that you need some kind of gimmick to garner attention, ostensibly, because the music is incapable of doing that on its own accord. The latter, unfortunately, appears to be the case with Bristol, England, duo Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power. Their fourth full length album since formation in 2004, Slow Focus is a textbook exercise in futility; as quintessential a modern-music-as-representation-of-callow-vapid-culture as you could possible look for.

While anyone who knows me knows electronic and/or experimental ‘music’ is not exactly my forte, I like to think I can, at the very least, appreciate those pioneering or expanding the genre. However, here there is simply nothing to appreciate. Every song follows the exact same formula; simple loops, systematically added ad nausem, until the resulting collection of noise would physically come crashing down if even one more track was added. And yet, despite this myriad of sound, no track ever moves beyond its starting point; the seeming complexity is completely artificial. Not at one point is anything ever said. Not suggested, not inferred, nor beaten into the listener’s skull; without any kind of statement, be it agreeable or argumentative, Slow Focus represents the worst kind of artistic attempt, one that does nothing but waste the participant’s time.

A collection of just seven songs, over half extend beyond 7 and a half minutes, and two reaching past the 10 minute mark. That’s an extremely long time to ask for an audience, especially when offering absolutely nothing in return. For this very reason, skipping ahead yields negligible results any time it is attempted; it will save you time, but you’ll be in exactly the same place, thematically. Like running on the treadmill at the gym; there may be more people in the room when you finish, but you’re exactly where you started. Had actual instrumentalists been forced to play these drudgeries, their aimlessness would have become blatantly obvious, at the very least cutting each track’s length in half.

In addition to being two to three times too lengthy, all songs on the album suffer from being virtually indistinguishable from one another. Critiques of boring, uninteresting frivolity, and shallow, bland annoyance apply to all at once, and none in particular. While “The Stalker” titularly brings to mind Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 cinematic masterpiece, its aural qualities fail to evoke any such comparisons. “Year Of The Dog” stands out as the worst in a bevy of contenders, trying oh so hard to convince the listener of its depth and brevity while relying on clichés that would make The Simpsons writers blush. Every aural clue used in 2001: A Space Odyssey to conjure the spooky, mysterious, powerful and otherworldly emotions, is repeated here in far less classy a fashion.

While it may well be that technology continues made computer based and experimental music easier and more financially feasible and lucrative than traditional instrumentation, it does not change the fact that not everyone is capable of creating good music. Hung and Power may well be very talented individuals in thousands of other fields, but music, electronic or otherwise, is not their field.

Ken Yates – Twenty Three album review

The twang of the steel guitar hits you instantly; the silvery plying of emotion from your body. Something about the sound of wilting metal that takes you instantly to an expanse of field somewhere in the Midwest…Ken Yates debut EP Twenty Three is everything that that initial note promises, stories of love and loss, simple songs thoughtfully penned without grand ambition, secrets of life extracted from caught moments in time.

So here’s the thing about good folk music; its melody and lyricism in equal measure. You can say whatever you like about how a harmonica makes you feel, or what the twist of a voice catching does to your insides, but if you don’t get that you’re listening to a sung story then you’re dead in the water. Ken Yates understands this.

Curtain Call is a beautiful song, one that allows valuable insight into Yates’ pared down expectations of fame. This song could be written about anyone. At first listen it’s seemingly written about a love interest, a girl at a country dance who projects a better version of herself because her confidence wanes when she is without approval, but it could just as easily been written about him. If that’s the case, think about the introspection that would have to have gone into writing a song about being the best version of yourself, flaws and all, for no audience at all. That in itself is true artistic merit.

‘I don’t want to Fall in Love’, arguably the album’s most commercially successful song, has gotten an incredible amount of airtime on Sirius XM’s Coffee House station. You’ve heard this song. Everyone has. It delivers what a country folk song should; unpacking both the fearful and excitable side of love from the viewpoint of a shy and most likely twice burned man who refuses to give up on the idea of love entirely, even if he writes a song telling us otherwise. What an incredible thing, a five minute profession of self realization that we as listeners recognize as a lie. That in itself is songwriting magic.

There is something pure about the way Yates approaches music. Soft country may not be everyone’s cup of sweet tea, but I believe Yates has talent. He is a great songwriter, as confessed publicly by his hero John Mayer. Twenty Three is a dish best served while you swing lazily in a hammock, a bottle of beer warming in fading country light, your cowboy hat tipped over your face as you listen to life lessons stream from the speakers as weaving silver threads.

I The Leviathan – Trespassing EP review

According to Hebrew lore as stated in the Tanakh, a Leviathan is a massive sea creature that has dwelled at the depths of the ocean since the beginning of time. In modern Hebrew, the word roughly translates to “whale,” thereby establishing a clear connection to the story of Job. The Leviathan has a rich history in the Abrahamic religions and more contemporary literature (even serving as the namesake for a work by Thomas Hobbes). Mere mention of its name elicits vivid pictures of a timeless, massive entity spanning the collective unconscious of entire cultures from East to West.

A young California band (read: a very, very young California band), have taken this in stride and used it as their namesake. I the Leviathan, as professed by their debut Trespassing EP, produce a brand of post-hardcore music that has been moving up from the underground into the mainstream quite seamlessly by them and their contemporaries. More At the Drive-In than A Day to Remember, the 5-track EP is defined by a caustic, accusatory tone with on-point and well-syncopated instrumentation.

The youth and complete lack of longevity of the band (a photo on their Facebook page pegs them at no older than twenty) indicates that a healthy dose of teenage angst fuels this record, which is good and healthy. The lyrics tend to point one (or several) fingers at nameless oppressive entities and wrongdoers in intimate relationship. Hell hath no fury like a teenager scorned, as the saying goes. The overall feeling of the Trespassing EP is undoubtedly punk in essence, with a metal influence lingering throughout the guitar riffs and leads. While the EP remains slightly unremarkable even after repeated listens (and some air-drumming by one reviewer in particular on a drive to visit friends), I the Leviathan show promise. It is hard to doubt that the debut release will not garner due press, but something about the release seemed so status quo that it seemed hard not to brush it away into the vast abyss that is “the Internet.”

I the Leviathan’s debut Trespassing EP is fun to listen to. The group seems earnest and well-intentioned, but personal preference (and to be frank, a mild case of punk rock elitism) leaves it sounding a touch too bland. If anything, the Trespassing EP should be interpreted as a step in a promising direction: not flawed, but with plenty of room for improvement. For fans of the genre, I the Leviathan would certainly be a band to keep on the radar.