27 December 2009

Mastodon, Pantera, Metallica… Erasure: A Look Into the Music Library of a Metal Head

This may be the last posting of the year, which I am honored that SDM would allow me to close the blog out till 2010, barring something major that must be posted immediately. On that note, we, at SlowdiveMusic Blog, would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year and healthy and prosperous 2010.

If you’re thrown by the title of the article, you should be; I still am. As a fan of music, I think my tastes are quite broad. If you were to pigeonhole me as a listener, I’d be considered a metal head; I was raised in a hard rock environment thanks to my father. Growing up I was exposed to tons of rock like Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Rush, Pearl Jam, Cinderella, Iron Maiden, and Dream Theater. It was mainly because as a child, let’s face it, kids have no say about what goes on the radio. But I liked it. Jamming to the rock stations of the day while riding in the car with Dad, my understanding of music was little more than “Hey, I know that song! Cool!”

As I’m writing, I’m reflecting back on my musical upbringing. My dad was very much rock n’ roll, my mother was more a fan of dance music. And of course, kids have no control of the radio, so while riding with her, it was nothing but Top 40 Pop, freestyle (very underrated by the way), and dance in general. Having no other choice, it grew on me. I would say both environments primed me for my musical future.

If you dig through my music, you’ll find all the bands listed above as well as the likes of Depeche Mode, The Cure, Yazoo, Boney M., Duran Duran, and Talk Talk. As a guitar player, I tend to favor big, fat guitar sounds with loads of gain thanks to Metallica, but what is it about sythnpop, post-punk, and dance that speaks to me and makes me a fan? Could it be the musicality? There’s a lot to be said about the arrangements of Robert Smith (The Cure) and Vince Clarke (Erasure). Could it be the instrumentation? For some reason, I’m a sucker for a disco beat, especially in hard rock (see Korn’s “Got the Life”). Could it simply be such a stark contrast to what I’m used to listening to that attracts me? I’m not sure. However, it’s easy to see how they complement each other and take root in such bands as The Ting Tings and White Lies (indie pop and post-punk revival, I know, but there’s something really groovy about them), and solo acts like Nine Inch Nails, as they incorporate electronica and pop with elements of hard rock.

Suffice it to say that my tastes have ever expanded over the past 10 years thanks to my friendship with a certain blog founder, who ruthlessly makes me listen to more music than I could handle. The tradition keeps up today, more so now as I am a contributor to the blog. If my mother planted the seed of the antithesis of rock, SDM made it flourish, expanding my musical horizons. Never in a million years would I have thought that Shakespears Sister would be rubbing elbows with Sevendust and Slipknot in my music collection, but there it is. Conversely, I have made SDM listen to a steady stream of music that has deepened the range of music in his way too large collection.

As you would imagine I have more rock than anything else, but there’s enough of everything else to notice and say, “Hey, wait… this doesn’t go here.” And so we open the forum to you; what musical mismatches have found a home in your music library?

And here are some videos/songs that I have come to enjoy.

Korn’s “Coming Undone” from their MySpace Video Channel.

Coming Undone

Korn | MySpace Music Videos

The Ting Ting’s “Great DJ” from their MySpace Videos page.

The Ting Tings -Great DJ

The Ting Tings | MySpace Music Videos

Mastodon’s “Sleeping Giant” from their YouTube Channel: MastodonMusic.

Shakespears Sister’s “Stay” from Siobhan Fahey’s YouTube Channel: ShakespearsSisterTV

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26 December 2009

December Blurbs

Well, here are our last blurbs of the year. (Okay, the term “blurb” is a bit of a misnomer.) Again, these are great albums that for one reason or another we could not dedicate the time to or did not discover immediately after release, but we could not allow the year to expire and not write about them. Many thanks to Hyena who helped me to pen these blurbs and understood my own sense of urgency in getting the word out. And though I know there will be at least one more post after this one, this may very well be the my last post of the year.

We will return on or about 2 January 2010, as we are meeting to decide what our top picks of the year are and want to share them with you as quickly as possible. We will be voting – fighting – over our picks in album, tracks, album cover art, and videos we have posted on the blog throughout the first year. I appreciate the fact that everyone wanted to put in their two cents in, because at once it alleviates me from having to think of everything on my own, but also it is more authentic. I appreciate the fact that Juju, Mirage, Hyena, and Bloodybones have been part of this process with me. (My gratitude for your help and support goes beyond words.) But compiling a list of the best of a year, with people who have different tastes, and are at different stages of their musical discovery, is interesting and really telling and reflective of what we have done here. In many ways, that is exactly what this blog is: a journey of musical discovery, not just for anyone reading, but for us as well. And I hope that in the next year, that journey become broader, deeper, and even more schizophrenic than this year.

I hope everyone has enjoyed this holiday season and the upcoming New Year (or in the least had the time off from work to catch up on sleep and with friends and family.)

And I cannot say this enough: Thank you for the support!

Wishing you all health and happiness.


Elysian Fields: “The Afterlife”

Elysian Fields is one of these bands that I discovered years ago, in what now seems like another life, and has remained in obscurity. Hailing from New York City, this art rock band could easily write frivolous pop songs if they desired and conquer the pop charts; instead, they have stuck to their guns and written dark, sultry music that is hauntingly tantalizing. A duo (Oren Bloedow and Jennifer Charles), their latest album, “The Afterlife” (7 April 2009), ventures into a little bit of rock noir, and in many ways abandons dream pop. What the band keeps intact is their own sense of drama, irony, and somberness. Their passion is most felt when they feign dispassion and give into nihilism. Moreover, the power of this band is felt the most when they are minimalists. It is in their simplicity that we find our universal connections with what they are saying, what they are feeling, and how we all of us think that same things.

The album starts with “How We Die,” and eerie, jazzy number, that really exhibits the minimalism of the album and Charles’ sultry, dramatic voice. Her voice is neither angelic nor demonic; it is all too human and alluring as it exudes emotion. The minimalism in the musical arrangements forces the listener to really take note of the lyrics and their narrative quality. For instance, in “Turns Me On,” Charles sings, “You pull your ship into my isle and choke the helm for my delight; dragging your bony ghost along my coast, you dirty rotten bastard licking at my scars… it turns me on.” And the reality is that all of us find ourselves in emotionally masochistic situations, which we may find beautiful at the moment but are revolted when we come to our senses… if we do. The album closes with a duet, “Ashes in Winter Night.” She sings, “ Sometimes I wonder if you’d take it all back.” And the most heartfelt “Never” is delivered by Bloedow, “You’re still the only one I can talk to.” And it is the perfect metaphor between band and audience. After all these years, Elysian Fields is one of those few bands that you can rely on to deliver a strong, enchanting album that you can listen to again and again.

Track Listing:
1. How We Die
2. Where Can We Go but Nowhere…
3. Drown Those Days
4. Turn Me On
5. Only For Tonight
6. Someone
7. Climbing My Dark Hair
8. The Moment
9. Night Melody of the Pull
10. Ashes in Winter Night

Keep up with Elysian Fields at their homepage and MySpace.

Asyl: “Brûle, Brûle, Brûle”

This is a very recent discovery for me, but I have to say from first listen Asyl’s “Brûle, Brûle, Brûle” (28 April 2009, digitally 25 May 2009 in USA, CD can be imported in the USA) is an impressive album. I know, when most people think of indie pop, France is not a country that comes to mind at all. Moreover, when people think of musical acts on the international stage, they immediately expect to hear English. Surprise! Asyl remains faithful to their mother tongue, which may limit their exposure in the USA, but this is a band that really knows how to put a song together and the language barrier should not deter you from listening.

Think of the tight, pop writing of new wave bands in the 80s, like Talk Talk or Psychedelic Furs. The songs are straight forward, with any frills coming in as a result of production. Even without translations for the lyrics, the music itself is catchy and visceral. But what is lacking from the album is the curse of many international “rock” bands: cookie cutter music. There is no pattern here, which is the claim to fame of this album, proving once and for all that the French can write a rock album that is sonically fresh, relevant, and urgent. For instance, “Dans La Ville” is one of those songs that you just cannot predict what is coming next, how the song is going to build, or how the band is going to release you from its dark visceral grip. Moreover, song to song, the band is able to shift style, most apparent in the closing song, “Comme Un Glaçon.” The band generates power in this song in much the same way as early post-punk artists – repetition, repetition, repetition. The song is harrowing if you allow it to sweep you off your feet. But by the time you get to this final song, there is no “if,” you will be swept. This album is not just from anyone who is a fan of post-punk or new wave. This is an album that will simply sweep anyone off of his or her feet.

Track Listing:
1. Côté Sombre
2. Sous La Pluie
3. Les Dieux Sont Les Rois
4. La Triste Historie de Bugs Bunny
5. La Piscine
6. Dans La Ville
7. Ne Plus Y Penser
8. Toute Pour Moi (Rien De Moi)
9. J’étais Perdu
10. On Se Connait
11. Comme Un Glaçon

Keep up with Asyl at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is their video for “Les dieux sont des rois” from their MySpace Videos page.

Les dieux sont des rois

Asyl | MySpace Music Videos

Bye Bye Bicycle: “Compass”

Hailing from Sweden, “Compass” (27 August 2009) has become a guilty pleasure of mine in the final days of this year. Danceable (or at least foot tapping) beats, driving bass, and orchestrated elements, Bye Bye Bicycle combines the frivolous feel and intricate arrangements of the best 80s new wave/pop musicians. What is most obvious about this album is that it is about being upbeat, carefree, and enjoying the experience. There is no attempt to be heady, profound, or making the great statement of the year; instead, what you have is solid craftsmanship. This is not to say that there aren’t moments of emotional seriousness, but you are never dragged into a doom and gloom, my-life-is-woe situation.

The album opens with “Haby Baby,” which may give the immediate allusion that you will be hearing piano rock, but you are instantly transported into a luscious, orchestrated soundscape that is captivating and breath taking. “Meridian,” midway through the album, was the song that had me stuck. Lounge music with a twist, this instrumental is so well put together that you forget that the band has a vocalist. “Full Moon” is definitely the most haunting song on the album, with more of a late sixties feel to it than disco or new wave. The album closes with “Footsteps (Pt II).” The song begins with ambient synth arrangements and a piano; the synths give away to a sole piano and vocalist. And when you think the song will remain this mellow, the synths creep right back in and out, in and out, and the beat drops. The song is the most harrowing on the album, but it is miles away from gloomy.

And, as I said before, the great thing about this album is that it remains upbeat and an all-around fun listen. And though I have a predisposition for some of the darkest music out there, I have to admit that this album should not be dismissed. Bye Bye Bicycle’s “Compass” is really a must listen this year, and may end up being your guilty pleasure as well.

Track Listing:
1. Haby Baby
2. Agent
3. Navigation
4. Northpole
5. Kairo
6. Meridian
7. 500 Miles
8. Westside
9. Full Moon
10. Footsteps (Pt. II)

Keep up with Bye Bye Bicycle at their homepage and MySpace.

The Dodoz: “The Dodoz”

The Dodoz is a French post-punk revival band that will seriously find a spot in the collection of any serious aficionado of the genre. The band’s sound is very energetic, and there is really a sense of urgency. Along side Asyl and Neimo, the Dodoz are proving that the French have a lot to add to the current music scene, but like Neimo, the Dodoz have chosen to sing in English and be more consumable to a larger audience. However, from first listen, you will get the idea that this is not your generic American or Anglophile post-punk revival. The dramatic feel of their music and the fact that they do not rely heavily on keys for atmosphere sets them apart from others in the genre.

My favorite track would be “Bet,” which starts off with chanting that is followed by an intense drum intro that can get anyone excited enough. (It is the type of drumming that one immediately wants to experience live.) Just like the other songs on the album, there is so much energy here. And that is part of the reason why this is a fun album: the energy will carry you beginning to end (with the occasional repeat) as you are playing air drums on your own or partying with a group of friends.

Track Listing:
1. Middle of the Night
2.Boyfriend In Oxford
3. Do You Like Boys?
4. Falling Toes
5. Stanislas
6. Strangers, Blank!
7. Bet
8. Twice
9. Weapon
10. Queen In a Tower

Keep up with The Dodoz at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Dizzee Rascal: “Tongue N’ Cheek”

The master of grime, Dizzee Rascal, came back this year with his fourth studio album, “Tongue N’ Cheek” (21 September 2009 in the UK, 29 September 2009 in the USA). And as promised, Dizzee broke with the traditional sense of grime (a nice combination of hip-hop, garage, and dancehall), but his break from grime is not complete. Many elements (especially the dancehall) are there. If Dizzee was out to create a more consumable album, he succeeded, but if he was trying to completely reinvent himself, he did not succeed, and we are glad for that. Dizzee is one of the few feel good artists that can venture into some deep lyrical content, without ever getting aggressive, confrontational, or missing a party beat. This is more than obvious in “Can’t Tek No More” – a song about having had enough of the violence and disenfranchisement of urban reality.

“Tongue N’ Cheek” opens with “Bonkers,” and it lives up to the namesake of the album: “I wake up everyday, it’s a daydream. Everything in my life ain’t what it seems. I wake up just to go back to sleep; I act real shallow but I’m in too deep: all I care about is sex and violence; a heavy bass line is my kind of silence. Everybody says that I gotta get a grip, but I let sanity give me the slip.” Hands down, this is the party song of the year; graced with the production talents of Armand Van Helden, there is nothing cookie cutter or musically safe about this song. But that is not the only guest to grace this album: joining forces with Calvin Harris, “Dance Wiv Me” comes to life. Somewhere between electro-grime and electropop, the song should definitely be commended for breaking with the typical stereotypical representation of women in hip-hop and urban culture: “She ain’t no hoe,” Dizzee sings, “Look at those thighs; it’s in her yes. She’s good to go, she can satisfy my mind, body, and soul. Come and dance wiv me.”

The album is full of gems, and the standout track is “Holiday.” Again, with Calvin Harris, the song harkens back to the 80s for some of its cues, especially in terms of sounds. (With a name like “Holiday,” could you expect less?) The shifts are subtle and unexpected, the beat danceable, the lyrics fun – a perfect dance pop song. The only thing we hope is that achieving two #1 songs in a row in the UK does not go to his head – as we have seen so many musicians allow success to undermine their integrity. With “Tongue N’ Cheek,” Dizzee Rascal has established himself as a British pop powerhouse. And, if you like hip-hop influenced music, but are not one of those purists who cannot see talent outside of the mainstream of hip-hop, checkout this album.

Track Listing:
1. Bonkers
2. Road Rage
3. Dance wiv Me
4. Freaky Freaky
5. Can’t Tek No More
6. Chillin’ wiv da Man Dem
7. Dirtee Cash
8. Money, Money
9. Leisure
10. Holiday
11. Bad Behavior

Keep up with Dizzee Rascal as his homepage and MySpace.

Here is his video for “Dirtee Cash” (warning, explicit) from his YouTube Channel: DirteestankTV.

Read more ...

24 December 2009

Videos During a Blizzard, Part Two

I have to say that one of the things I enjoy the most when I talk to SDM about music is all the older stuff he listens to. So the other night he went crazy sharing videos on YouTube with me, and what I quickly realizes that is that he is right: it is a crying shame that so many older videos are not officially available on the Internet. Well, as promised, I am sneaking on and posting a few “older” videos that I was able to find official providers for. Hope you enjoy them.

Lush’s “De-Lux” from the 4ADRecords YouTube Channel.

Beirut’s “Elephant Gun” from the 4ADRecords YouTube Channel.

These New Puritan’s “Elvis” from the DominoRecords YouTube Channel.

Sunscreem’s “Love U More” from their YouTube Channel: sunscreemofficial.

British Sea Power’s “Remember Me” from the RoughTradeRecordsUK YouTube Channel.

Division Day’s “Tigers” from the eeniemeenierecords YouTube Channel.

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Moke: "The Long And Dangerous Sea"

There are a limited number of releases as we are nearing the end of the year, so I was not expecting for much, but to my surprise, I found Moke. Releasing their sophomore effort, Moke offers up “The Long and Dangerous Sea” (1 December 2009). This Dutch quintet has been rising up in the ranks as a Britpop influenced indie rock band, whose appeal is starting to become international. Their approach to music making is rather different compared to other bands. The quintet believes that repetition is a sign of weakness. Therefore, they have purposely devised their second album to sound almost completely different from their first. Their ten-track debut album, “Shorland,” possesses the typical successful indie rock sound. However, with the “The Long and Dangerous Sea,” they are taking a few risks. The band has incorporated several sounds together with a wider range of instruments and arrangement styles.

Despite their efforts to have two completely different sounding albums, they still carry one constant trait. Their sultry/ambiance noise creates this sense of comfort without giving the idea that it was effortlessness. The album is an organized mix of emotions, just like the cycle of life. There are tracks like “Love My Life” that exude happiness, whereas the track “Terrible End” may seem more slowed in tempo to accomplish a sadder visceral effect. There is a mood for everyone to relate to. However, the genius of it is that the album does not sound too jumbled up. The sonic journey is fluidic, never leaving the listener dumbfounded or confused. We know exactly what is going on.

Furthermore, “The Long and Dangerous Sea” may have this fluidic flow, but this flow this achieved by production style and not sonic continuity. Each track is filled with a variety of noises that varies from synths, guitars, violins, keyboards, and drums. Together, the melody brings such a genuine mood of whichever emotion that the band wanted to instill. And even though the band employs many familiar sounds, even Felix Magnin (vocalist) has a voice similar to other artists, the mix and approach to their music creates a distinctive and unique style.

The first single of the album, “Switch,” has a video which is not only flashy but memorable. The bizarre events in the video emphasize the title “Switch,” in which the character of the videos switches her appearance, moods, and her intentions. The video, paired up with the song, makes for a great first impression. That is the obvious motive behind the video; considering that the band is neither American, Australian, British, Canadian, Irish, nor New Zealanders, Moke will have to prove their chops to Anglophile critics of their prowess as a band. And prove it they do.

Obviously, there are going to be people who say that Moke is not a standout and have definitive elements from the past, but then again who doesn’t at this moment? In this revival of 80s (from new wave to post-punk), so many bands are paying more than homage, as they are sheer imitation. Moke, however, is not rehash or revival. Their sound many be influenced by the past, but their influences are definitely larger in range than other current artists. And this, I believe, is working to their advantage.

Track Listing:

1. The Long & Dangerous Sea
2. Switch
3. Love My Life
4. Black And Blue
5. Nobody's Listening
6. Window Of Hope
7. Ghost
8. Terrible End
9. Heaven
10. Lament

Keep up with Moke at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is their video for "Switch" from their YouTube Channel: moketheband.

Read more ...

20 December 2009

Videos During a Blizzard

Okay, if you are in the greater New York City area, you are covered by snow by now. So here I was, at home, canceled plans and bored, when SDM gets online, whom I have not talked to in weeks. We quickly started catching up and one thing led to another and we were beaming back and forth YouTube and MySpace Videos links. That is when Juju got online, screamed at both of us, told SDM to get back to writing, and I decided to collect some of the videos we shared back and forth for a post. These are the newer videos we shared, as I plan to sneak back online in the next day or two to post the older videos.

So here are videos to watch during a blizzard. Hope you enjoy them.

Vampire Weekend’s “Cousins” from the XLRecordings YouTube Channel.

Joan of Arc’s “Flowers” from the PolyvinylRecords YouTube Channel.

Depeche Mode’s “Fragile Tension” from their MySpace Videos page.

Depeche Mode - Fragile Tension (music video)

Depeche Mode | MySpace Music Videos

Wolf Gang’s “The King and All His Men” from their YouTube Channel: wolfgangvideos.

Chromeo’s “Night By Night” from the OfficialGLS YouTube Channel.

Chew Lips’ “Trapcode Form” from their YouTube Channel: chewlipstheband.

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La Bulle Sonore Records

I had been nursing some bad migraines over the past two weeks, which kept me from tidying things up for 2009 here on SlowdiveMusic Blog. For instance, I had been in touch with La Bulle Sonore Records from France, and they provided me with a download of the “Heat Like This EP” and mailed me their compilation “Never Dreamed Night Freeze Sandwich.” To say the least, when I got home the other day, looked down at the mail and saw the package, the first thought that came to mind was, Christmas came early!

When you think of the greatest electronic musicians of all time, names like A-ha, Art of Noise, Camouflage, Depeche Mode, Erasure, Human League, Kraftwerk, Petshop Boys, and Prodigy comes to mind. When you think about musicians today who are capitalizing on electronic music, you think of Calvin Harris, La Roux, Little Boots, Rokysopp, and Transbeauce, What do all of these artists have in common? They are European. Now, I am not saying that there have not been great electronic bands from the USA (Information Society), Australian (Cut Copy), etc…, but it does seem that Europeans have always been more open to the use of technology to formulate music. We can theorize about why (but who wants to hear a discourse on colonial and post-colonial theory?). What I will say is that La Bulle Sonore Records is one of those labels that has its finger on the pulse of current 80s revival, cutting edge synthpop, and a realm of pop that has always been more popular overseas than here in the States. It would definitely take a European record label to even conceive of a synthpop compilation, let alone pull it off. Below are two reviews, the first for the compilation “Never Dreamed Night Freeze Sandwich”: an eclectic collection of synthpop songs, from established to nascent artists, that really beckons to be heard (each band’s web information is listed with the track listing). This compilation has musicians that air from Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and (yes) the United States. Then there is MFMB’s “Heat Like This EP.” Let me say upfront, this is cutting edge synthpop that may convince non-fans to take another listen, while leaving fans of synthpop more than satisfied – some might have to pick up their jaws from the floor. Enjoy!

“Never Dreamed Nigh Freeze Sandwich”

I understand that synthpop is not everyone’s cup of tea; personally I have had friends make fun of me for years for listening to it. But you really should take a listen to this collection. The music hear represents more of the synthpop that artists such as Vince Clarke (early Depeche Mode, Yazzo, Assembly, and Erasure) has created – strong pop sensibility, a healthy respect for the standards, and no gloom and doom, but rather music to smile and dance to, to party and forget the world outside. When vocalists are part of the band, or employed, they are not just singing to the melody; their voices are also employed as another layer of arranged sound, adding to the soundscape in way that conventional pop does not. But this compilation is more than just standard synthpop; tuck away in the fold is some experimental pop, nu-new wave, and shoegazing. However, the compilation flows with fluidity, as each song on the compilation seems to compliment the one that it follows.

The opening is a song that I have always felt should be covered: The Lightning Seeds’ “Pure.” (Should I admit now that I was singing this song as I walked to get my high school diploma?) Keeping the feel and arrangements intact, this cover by Masheaux adds a danceable beat and removes any tinge of melancholy that the original almost verged on. This is followed Katsen’s “Where Nobody Can Find Us.” A synthpop band out of Brighton, Katsen understands how to use electronic noise to create melody and string a song together using older models than the 80s.

There are some great surprises on this compilation, the first of which is Explodinig Schoolgirls’ “Queen of the Popular Crowd.” This fifties meets synthpop ditty really shows the diversity that is possible within the synthpop genre, and is really devoid of all the new wave clichés that so much of electropop in general falls into. “Cancer of Your Heard (Flower for the Snow)” by Mask will take you by surprise as well. Musically, the song is more sedate than its bombastic title, but the song has some of closest attentions to details that are out of there. There is nothing in the song (in terms of sounds, noise, or arrangements) that goes to waste. Of course the inclusion of Tim Ten Yen put a big smile on my face. “Your Love” is one of those songs that uses all of the clichés of the standards, but much like the master Vince Clarke, there are infusions of electronic aspects that do not detract from the song, but gives it a modern, contemporary feel. Tim Ten Yen is all about strong song writing, and this track is just more evidence to that. That brings us to the two closing songs of this twenty-one-song collection. De Portables’ “Haut Gay” and Magø’s “Fear of Falling.” De Portables have always sported out some of the most sophisticated sounding arrangements out there. Hailing from Flanders, there is a definite feel of “international” appeal to there music, and “Haut Gay” is no different. With sensual vocal arrangements and layers of sounds, the song moves pristinely, playing with tempo and instrumental arrangements (including an acoustic guitar) creating an allure to this song that is hard to resist. Then the final song, by American Matt Gøld, who employs the moniker Magø, is everything you expect from a synthpop instrumental and more. Unlike much of synthpop that consciously seeks to sound dated, this track, “Fear of Falling,” is not only urgent but also fresh. What I love about the song is that it can move you to dance without employing the same formulas that other synthpop musicians use.

Two thumbs up for La Bulle Sonore Records label for compiling this collection. Really give this one a listen. If you are in North America, you can purchase this CD at ToneVendor to purchase the disc. Check La Bulle Sonore's sites (below) for retail information internationally.

Track Listing:
1. Marsheaux: “Pure” – homepage, MySpace, and Facebook
2. Katsen: “Where Nobody Can Find Us” – homepage, MySpace, and Facebook
3. Bal Pare: “Palais D’Armour” – Myspace
4. Fiendish Fib: “Les Garcons Invisibles” – MySpace
5. Egyptian Eyes: “Strike Me Down” – MySpace
6. Hemstad: “Mitt Hijarta Brinner for Dig” – MySpace
7. Hidrogenesse: “Stock Aitken Waterman and Me” – Facebook
8. Exploding Schoolgirls: “Queen of the Popular Crowd” – MySpace
9. DONDoLO: “Shimera” – MySpace
10. Clap Machine: “Troublez Moie ce Soir”
11. Rudebot: “Hello Floppy” – MySpace
12. Soft Priest: “Human Bauble Status” – MySpace
13. Denim: “Summer Smash”
14. Silver Screen: “When You Don’t See Me”
15. MasK: “Cancer of Your Heart (Flowers for the Snow)” – MySpace
16. Fiber Study: “My Padded Cell” – MySpace
17. Ruth Uve: “Une Reve”
18. Coldgate: “Supermarket Romantic Pop”
19. Tim Ten Yen: “Your Love” – MySpace and Facebook
20. De Portables: “Haute Gay” – MySpace
21. Magø: “Fear of Falling” - MySpace

Keep up with La Bulle Sonore Records at their homepage and MySpace. Also, the compilation itself has a presence at MySpace: nightfreezesandwich.

Here is the video for Marsheaux’s “Pure” from the ggeran YouTubeChannel.

Here is Katsen’s video for “Where Nobody Can Find Us” from their YouTube Channel: katsenbeeps.

MFMB: “Heat Like This EP”

Many nascent bands rely on the mighty EP to release their music, though many established bands have employed them for many different reasons. Even Muse had thought at one place of not releasing a new album, but rather a series of EPs. What will blow you away about this EP, MFMB’s “Heat Like This,” is that band has produced a sound that most veterans in their genre would be jealous of. Sporting out some interesting influences, they cite “(old) new wave.” But there are elements of their music that really are shoegaze and even dream pop.


The six-track EP (divided into Face A, Face B – oh, the old days of vinyl for the kiddies who do not get the allusion) is power-packed. Face A first. The opening track, “Antihill Man” inches its way through noise until the guitar comes in and the beat drops; the song has no clue if it is dance or rock, but that is the beauty of the song: MFMB are able to create perfect hybrids that many bands just fail at. “Control” moves closer to new wave, while “The Fine Detail” is very reminiscent of early post-punk, such as the Associates and Joy Division. Face B is ever as seductive as Face A – these are not b-sides (for the kiddies, the term for previously unreleased songs that were not placed on the album). “Tune On” really shows that this band has great pop sensibility. But when you hear “I Would Give It To Anyone” you are secretly glad that they do not pursue the “standard pop” sensibility. This number is ambient, dream pop-ish, and luscious, even though there is an ethereal feel to it. That is how good this band is, that they can bring a “luscious” sound to such an airy song. The final song follows this: the titular track. As schizophrenic as “Anthill Man” in trying to usurp an identity in genre, the song is really the most experimental on the EP in terms of recording style, the interplay between sounds and arrangements, and the singing style. Why? Because this song has so many elements of the (old) new wave running through it that you would think it would overwhelm the song; instead, MFMB tames the song in to what can easily be called a future classic of the new new wave.

Again, Sweden gives birth to another amazing band!

Track Listing:
Face A
1. Anthill Man
2. Control
3. The Fine Detail
Face B
4. Tune On
5. I Would Give It to Anyone”
6. Heat Like This

Keep up with MFMB at their homepage and MySpace.

Check out this live performance of “Anthill Man” from the AxmanproductionsFilm YouTube Channel.

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19 December 2009

Wilma Ann: "Under the Surface"

One of my collaborators recently wrote about finding music right under your nose that you did not even know was there or expected to find. And this is one of those stories that started with a colleague of mine coming up to me not long ago and saying, “You know Wilma Ann is an incredible vocalist?” And that started my curiosity about Wilma Ann – a humble, soft-spoken colleague, whom I had no idea was a gospel vocalist. And though she was fully aware that I had created this blog, not once did she ever suggest that I should listen to her music – maybe perhaps most of the music here is anything but gospel. But being curious, of course, I had to hear what she was all about. I listened to “Under the Surface” (30 October 2009) and was floored. A soulful, gospel album, I immediately starting thinking about (and listening to again) some of the most soulful vocalists that I have come to love: soul (Etta James) or blue-eyed soul (Annie Lennox) or from neo-soul (Alice Smith). And all I kept thinking is that the cannons of music will have to make space for a new soulful gospel singer, Wilma Ann.

Okay, I know what you are thinking, “Dude, you have never written about or even mentioned gospel music before?” And I will be the first to admit that it is rare that you will catch me listening to gospel, because the reality is that my musical tastes are not informed by political or personal beliefs, but rather by aesthetics. (Of course personal beliefs will affect what you listen to, but not always determine it.) Moreover, I am the first to admit that I do have issues with institutionalized beliefs, regardless if they are political, religious, academic, etc… because I have a problem with anyone or any group claiming absolute authority and people not questioning it. Furthermore, my number one issue with gospel music has been its lack of diversity, intensity, and urgency. And though many will have a problem with the subject matter that Wilma Ann has tackled, you would have to be completely deaf not to take note of the talent and power of her voice.

The album starts with the a cappella “Standing Here”: “I’m just standing here waiting on a miracle,” Wilma Ann sings, and her voice immediately convinces you of her convictions. And that is the thing with so many vocalists today; many can carry a tune, some can even sing, but few can sell you on their convictions. But from the first notes, Wilma Ann not only enraptures you with her infectious voice, she convinces you of her convictions. The track immediately flows into “God First.” Immediately, the feel of this song comes out of left field, leaving you wondering “Is this a gospel song?” as you are grooving to one of the most sensually, funky songs that I have heard in years. But this album is not just a simple reflection on religious beliefs – it is a reflection on everyday life, figuring out where the individual fits into a world that is always rushing by. It is the realization of finding something to hold onto, something to help you through the day, something that fills you with a positive feeling and “the courage to put the past behind” (from “Nothin’ Like You”). This is an album about a journey of self-discovery and humility and the possibilities of the future.

If there is a contemporary, nascent gospel music artist you should take note of, Wilma Ann is the one. For anyone that is a fan of gospel music, you will find that Wilma Ann delivers her music with conviction and the piety one would expect. For those that are not fans of gospel music, you will find the most soulful voice of 2009. For starters, travel over to her MySpace page and take a listen to her music. If you are convinced of that conviction and/or enraptured by her voice, head to CDBaby or DigStation to purchase the CD or download the music (respectively).

Track Listing:
1. Standing Here
2. God First
3. Delirious
4. Nothin’ Like You
5. See Me
6. Hold Me Down
7. He Is
8. Rock the Rock
9. Know You Better
10. Meet the Man
11. Transform Me
12. Stones
13. Center of Your Will
14. Know You Better (Reprise)

Keep up with Wilma Ann at her homepage and MySpace.
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12 December 2009

The Bravery: "Stir the Blood"

I remember when I first saw heard “Honest Mistake” by the Bravery around 2004; I loved the song, I searched for the video, and ever since then, I have been a big time fan. I remember listening to their self-titled debut for the first time: it taught me something about good music. It had that urgency that some bands at the time had lacked. Urgency became an important thing to me in music from that moment on. That is why I was disappointed with their sophomore album; it was less than lackluster in the department of urgency. Then there was word of the third album, “Stir the Blood” (1 December 2009), and all I could do was hope for a great album. And that is why I am going to start this with an apology: I should have gotten to this review sooner.

“Stir the Blood” has all of the urgency that their debut has, but the band’s maturity and evolution brings much more to the table this time around. Not only have they found their sense of urgency again, but also they learned how to steer away from what I consider some of the weaker aspects of their sophomore effort. I find myself sitting in my seat just bobbing my head back and forth going “YEAH! THIS IS THE BRAVERY I KNOW!” And although there are many bands caught up in this post-punk revival at the moment, there are a few things about the Bravery that really standout, two in particular. The first is that they are American, New Yorkers, not caught up in the London music scene, and have that air of “I-do-things-my-way-‘cause-I’m-from-New-York” to their music. Secondly, they have a very distinct sound to them; sometimes it feels like they truly hail from the 80s and not part of a revival.

“Slow Poison” is their lead single off the album and is quite catchy, but lyrically powerful: “I'm so sick and tired… I can still remember your sound… its’ cut, cut, cutting me down…. Down, I'm locked and loaded”. This is a universal story about not being with a person any longer, but you continue to think and think about that person until it consumes you, slowly killing you on the inside. “Hatefuck” is another catchy song of theirs. It is one of those songs in which the Bravery infuses more of a new wave dance style to; you can imagine the song blaring live – do you dance, do you slam?

If post-punk revival is your shtick, you may want to check out this album. No, you definitely want to check out this album.

Track Listing:
1. Adored
2. Song for Jacob
3. Slow Poison
4. Hatefuck
5. I Am Your Skin
6. She’s So Bendable
7. The Spectator
8. I Have Seen the Future
9. Red Hands and White Knuckles
10. Jack-O-Lantern Man
11. Sugar Pill

12. An Honest Mistake, Stir the Blood Remix – Bonus Track

12. Slow Poison, Villains Remix – Best Buy Bonus Track
13. Slow Poison, Drop the Lime Remix – Best Buy Bonus Track
14. Slow Poison, Of Montreal Remix – Best Buy Bonus Track

Keep tabs on The Bravery at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is their video for “Slow Poison” from their MySpace Video Page.

Slow Poison

The Bravery | MySpace Music Videos
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Whiskey, Beer, Punk Rock, and Blues

How many times have you found something amazing that you were never looking for in the first place? You know, when you have your own agenda and then out of nowhere, you run into something completely unexpected? That happened to me this past Friday. Well, I shouldn’t say it was unexpected; I did go to a rock club after all.

Supposedly a typical Friday, a good friend of mine we call A-Bomb calls me up from Philly and says he’s going to be in town for the weekend, so we make plans to hang out. I figure we’ll head to Fontana’s in Chinatown. Fontana’s is definitely a hole in the wall in that you will completely miss the place among the Chinese markets, restaurants, and other stores, but this is no dive bar by any stretch. If not for the lone, pink neon “Bar” sign, you’ll pass through Eldridge St. not knowing it was there. Upon arriving, I say hello to everyone, order a round of beers for A-Bomb and myself, and take a walk down the bar to the lounge. I say hello to one of the owners behind the bar in the lounge, hang a right by the pool table, and we make our way downstairs to where the bands play. Of course I text ahead and made plans with my newest pal Rubes, one of the sound guys: “U workin’ tonight? Ehh, doesn’t matter either way, I’m on my way. That means we’re drinkin’!” The reply is inconsequential, as that’s what happened anyway. Typical night out.

Downstairs, Rubes was just finishing checking a band. After a minute or so, the band clears the stage and all that is left is the lone female keyboard player/singer. She sings a couple of tunes on her own, including a Springsteen cover, then invites her band up to join her, being replaced on keys by Drew Blood, whose name I learned upon her introduction of the band. Jennifer Lee Snowden was her name, I enjoyed her set very much. This guy Drew is kicking ass on the keys. I mean he’s just backing this girl up playing jazz, but he’s got a flare all his own. Judging from his leather jacket, shaggy hair, t-shirt, and jeans, he’s a rock guy. Taking a look at the sticker-covered keyboard he’s sitting behind, it has to belong to him. All this taken into account, this isn’t his regular gig. After the set I walk up to Jennifer, shake her hand and compliment her on a terrific show. She very graciously accepts my congratulations and humbly helps her band break down their gear. After they break down, I go to do the same with Drew, as his playing really caught my attention. He thanks me, then reaches into his book bag and hands me a copy of his band’s CD. With artwork that resembles early drawings done by Rob Zombie and a title like Train 2 The Bottom, I instantly thought “Wow this should be cool”. I thanked Drew and he left. The next thing I notice on stage is three acoustic guitars on stands and a drummer setting up.

There’s a common preconception that acoustic guitar players are “real” players. By that I mean people think you’re instantly amazing if you play an acoustic as opposed to an electric. Nothing against the acoustic guitar players, in fact I wish I played it better even though I play my electrics more. But I’ve seen so many sub-par acoustic acts in coffee shops and open-mics that grows it a little tiresome; perhaps I’m jaded. These guys are setting up, and we need beer. A black girl with some big ole’ hair takes center stage, flanked by her white-boy band. This should be good.

“Good” is the understatement of the month. Bethany Saint Smith of New York backed by The Black Oil Family from Chicago. Now, I have to ask: given all the post-punk, pop, goth, grunge, synthpop, shoegazing, and other oddly named genres we write about on this blog, do any of our readers know anything about blues? I hope you do, but in case you don’t, Bethany Saint Smith and The Black Oil Family will give you the ultimate crash course. I’m talking old 1950’s Chicago blues, ol’ Mississippi Delta blues (worth noting: Bethany gave me a copy of The Black Oil Family’s CD titled Long Way From The Delta). Their set was part Bethany songs, part BOF songs, part covers, all blues. Their sound was incredible; if you closed your eyes you’d swear the ghosts of Muddy Waters and Johnny Cash were possessing them. I hadn’t heard great blues like that in a very long time. Pleasantly surprised to have been wrong about my stigma of acoustic guitars, even more so because one of the guitars was a resonator (sound is produced by three metal cones as opposed to the wooden soundboard of an acoustic). An amazing set to say the least.

And after that, pretty much everything was a blur of beer, shots of whiskey, and then a ridiculous amount of sake at the sushi joint a few doors down. When I awoke Saturday morning wondering where all my money went, I took the CDs out of my coat pocket and left them on my desk. I was much too hung over to listen to new music. When I got to them Sunday morning, what a surprise!

The Drew Blood: “Train 2 The Bottom”

I first put on “Train 2 The Bottom” by The Drew Blood, a 5-track EP of piano-driven punk rock whose lyrics spoke of Drew’s (whom artistically refers to himself as Thedrewblood) experiences with drugs, sex, his nearly being homeless, depression, and thoughts of suicide.

At first listen, if you’re not paying attention to the lyrics, you’ll find the vocals and the melodies are fun and kind of poppy. You get lost in the music before you realize you’re grooving to a sordid autobiography. I got lost in the catchy hooks and the clever piano bridge of “Normal” without noticing it talks about a fucked up past and wanting to leave it all behind to start anew; a plea to be… normal. “Train 2 The Bottom” lives up to its namesake by taking you on a trip to hell on tracks of excess with it’s big, fat, chords, catchy rock n’ roll riffage, and classic rock solo, wrapped up by lyrics that describe where the song has taken you; Thedrewblood is Satan’s tour guide in this one. “Above The Damned” is a more somber tune reflecting on how Thedrewblood’s excesses affect a romantic relationship. Summed up beautifully with the pre-chorus “When we were young it was don’t make a sound – ‘cuz Daddy’s around and he doesn’t want his little girl – to go with a guy like me but now it’s you that’s turned it around”, a realization that his lifestyle is hurting someone he loves. “Thinking With Peter” is a rather comical tale of how Thedrewblood was taken for a chump by a beautiful girl who was “new in town” with no place to crash, no money, no job. Thedrewblood saw his opportunity to play the suave, street-smart bad boy by saying “I’ll show you around – I’ll introduce you to my town”. We later learn Thedrewblood offers her a place to stay the night (in his bed of course), and when we awakes the next morning, she’s gone and has robbed him blind. And finally “All I Ever Think About” is Thedrewblood coping with the state of his life, recalling the events that got him there, and laxly declares, “All I ever think about is drowning, drowning”. Musically “Train 2 The Bottom” is very well written and produced. It’s quite obviously a very personal body of work as Thedrewblood wears his heart on his sleeve.

Track Listing:
1. Normal – 3:58
2. Train 2 The Bottom – 3:47
3. Above The Damned – 4:35
4. Thinking With Peter – 3:46
5. All I Ever Think About – 3:13

Keep up with The Drew Blood at their Homepage and MySpace

The Black Oil Brothers: “Long Way From The Delta”

Picture a lazy day in the country, sitting out on the porch with a beer and a buddy, relaxing, taking in the sights, and some old, country blues playing on the radio. That’s how I felt after just 30 seconds. And while “Going For Broke” starts off the album on the upbeat side, we’re taken on a decline to a more somber tone with “One For Suzy” and “Robert From Hibbing”, a tune about having the blues, about wanting to be great but coming short, and consequently facing heartbreak. Raise your hand if you’ve been there before. The album continues to touch upon subjects that hit home for casual listeners such as working hard for a living, trying to find happiness, life, and death. As I write, it’s very hard, almost disrespectful, to summarize it so trivially. In fact those kinds of things can’t be accurately expressed with words, this kind of thing needs to be heard; and let’s make it clear right now, I highly recommend you do. The great thing about the blues is that it’s a broad canvas for expression. It can make you smile, make you sad, make you dance, and make you cry. It’s a very transparent genre in that an artist can almost effortlessly convey a wide range of emotions to the listener through their music. Needless to say I felt bipolar after listening to “Long Way From The Delta” in its entirety; in a good way of course. The Black Oil Brothers really hit the mark with this record. One thing I hope to see in future releases and performances is the integration of electric guitar. A nice, fat Les Paul or a twangy, jangley Fender makes good blues that much tastier.

Track Listing:
1. Going For Broke – 3:36
2. Goggles Paisano – 4:06
3. Johnny and The Pale Rider – 3:55
4. Wednesday Afternoon – 3:45
5. One For Suzy – 4:47
6. Robert From Hibbing – 3:30
7. Not The Blues – 3:38
8. Indeed Sir – 3:50
9. Riding White Horses – 2:55
10. Love – 3:10

Keep up with The Black Oil Brothers at their Homepage, MySpace, andFacebook
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08 December 2009

Them Crooked Vultures: "Them Crooked Vultures"

A project first mentioned in 2005, Them Crooked Vultures is the supergroup that no one saw coming, but has everybody talking. If you read "Mojo" magazine, you would have caught wind of this power trio and thought to yourself “Wow, that’s going to be interesting!” What happens when you take Nirvana + Queens of The Stone Age x the awesomeness of Led Zeppelin? You get Them Crooked Vultures; Dave Grohl sitting behind the kit, Josh Homme on vocals and guitar, and the legendary John Paul Jones on bass and the occasional keys. Told you it was awesome.

One would wonder what a project like this would sound like. Would it sound like Foo Fighters? Nirvana? Zeppelin? Queens of The Stone Age? Well, what if I told you it sounds like all of them? Maybe not even intentionally, maybe that’s just how it happened.

Eponymously released on 17 November 2009, "Them Crooked Vultures" is a 13-track melting pot from three talented individuals who, let’s face it, can’t write a bad song. With grooves that would feel right at home in the Zeppelin catalog, the frantic drumming of Grohl, and the twangy rock guitar that is Homme’s signature, these three distinct flavors come together beautifully under the banner of making great music.

The lead single “New Fang” has it’s roots in the 70’s somewhere, see if you can figure out where. This groovy, bluesy, dirty number is a song you would expect to hear in a smokey after hours club, played to maybe thirty or so people lucky enough to be there watching it go down. Not yet a single, though it very well should be, “Scumbag Blues” is one of the more impressive songs in my opinion. The drumming is so crisp and tight that it makes you bob your head sharply to its cadence.

Check this one out; you’ll be glad you did.

Track Listing:
1. No One Loves Me & Neither Do I
2. Mind Eraser, No Chaser
3. New Fang
4. Dead End Friends
5. Elephants
6. Scumbag Blues
7. Bandoliers
8. Reptiles
9. Interlude with Ludes
10. Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up
11. Caligulove
12. Gunman
13. Spinning in Daffodils
14. No One Loves Me & Neither Do I, Live – iTunes exclusive track
15. Gunman, Live – iTunes preorder exclusive track

Keep up with Them Crooked Vultures at their Homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.
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05 December 2009

Catching up with Echo & the Bunnymen and Stereophonics

Here are two albums by two bands that I have been listening to for years. It has always amazed me that neither band has really gotten the recognition they deserve here on the States side of the Atlantic. Regardless, these two are very interesting albums that I could not allow the year to run out on and not write about. But first, take a look at this World War II poster that the Britsh government issued; interesting to ask the population to just "keep calm and carry on" at time when arial bombing could break out at any moment. Reminds me of nowadays, as the world's economy is barely creeping, but are all asked to remain calm. (We'll come back to this poster.)

Echo and the Bunnymen: “The Fountain”

Longevity – that is the claim to fame that Echo & the Bunnymen can sport. From their debut album, “Crocidiles,” in 1980, the band has had a remaining presence in the UK charts and the indie scene. As one of the most influential band of their generation, E&TB proves that solid craftsmanship can weather time away. And though I am really enjoying “The Fountain” (12 October 2009), this is not what I have come to expect from E&TB. First off, this album is more indie than post-punk, more accessible than experimental. There is a feeling that the lyrics really come from Ian McCulloch’s point of view, and not a creative persona speaking.

Albums are funny things – there are times that songs are meant to go together, but individually they do not stack up well. The opposite is true as well, where the album is horrible, but the individual songs are amazingly brilliant. It is obvious that “The Fountain” is the first – Echo & the Bunnymen wrote an album, not individual songs, which I am thinking will give many critics a field day. The real problem comes from the fact that this album continues to see E&TB move further and further away from their post-punk roots, and not just in an aesthetic sense. For instance, though the Cure’s “4:13 Dream” pales in comparison to older material, there is a feeling that Robert Smith and company still believe that they need to challenge the convention and what is expected of them. Hence the array of musical styles, themes like suicide, and even mention of blowjobs (“I love what you do to my hips, when you blow me outside…” “The Only One.”) But, by comparison, E&TB are becoming more and more conventional, while losing their urgency. In a field of musicians that are looking back to the past for their cues, from White Lies to Bombay Bicycle Club, this was the moment for Echo & the Bunnymen to shine through, show why they are revered veterans, and just what they contributed to the post-punk legacy.

Nevertheless, if this were an album by a new band, we would be having a different discussion. We would be saying, “Wow! Amazing use of 80s style guitar playing, and what pop sensibility!” And that is what the album has on offer. Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant are amazing songwriters and rarely, if ever, write a bad song, though admittedly these songs are not the strongest in their repertoire. The opening track, “Think I Need It Too,” may start off with a few seconds of etherealness, but quickly becomes the kind of driving song that E&TB are known for, and from this point on the rest of the album will not sound anything like what you expect. Catholics beware, the band does take one stab at a bit of unconventionality with the song “Shroud of Turin,” or at least that is what you are going to brace yourself for with that title. But with lyrics like “I love you saccharin, I love that shroud that you’re in, I love that you’re from Turin…” you immediately realize that this is a misused metaphor. That shroud could have been from Albuquerque and not change the song’s meaning. My favorite track on the album is “Drivetime.” Great acoustic strumming (something rare) and beautiful key arrangements, the song is significantly more emotionally inspiring than the other songs on the album.

It is unfortunate that many of the (80s) veterans have not lived up to their potential, especially when you consider all of these nascent bands imitating the older masters. Echo & the Bunnymen are guilty along side many of their generation for not living up to their potential. Though “The Fountain” is a beautiful album, it does not always work well as individual songs. But if you are an Echo & the Bunnymen fan, you really should get the album. It really is an interesting step in the band’s history, and it only will leave you baffled to answer “What next?” If you are not a fan, do not skip it. This album is still better than much of what is out there, and it will give you an idea of why this band continues to be relevant.

Track Listing:
1. Think I Need it Too
2. Forgotten Fields
3. Do You Know Who I Am?
4. Shroud of Turin
5. Life of a Thosand Crimes
6. The Fountain
7. Everlasting Neverendless
8. Proxy
9. Drivetime
10. The Idolness of Gods

Keep up with Echo & the Bunnymen at their homepage (one of my favorite homepages of the year), MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is a live performance of “Think I Need It Too” from the Jimmy Kimmel Show’s Youtube Channel: JimmyKimmelLive.

Stereophonics: “Keep Calm and Carry On”

Stereophonics released their seventh studio album on 16 November 2009, which is available in the USA as an import. The album derives its title from a World War II poster (above). And though there was definite excitement about Jim Abbiss producing the album – he did produce the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Editors, Kasabian, and Sneaker Pimps – his presence is not overwhelming at all. Actually, this is a Stereophonics album through and through, with little in the way of full-hearted experimentation with anything new in terms of genres or styles. That being said let me say/repeat: this is a Stereophonics album, and whether or not you are a fan, you are not going to be let down. From the very opening, “She’s Alright,” with some of the raspiest vocals on the album, the song has some of the most interesting guitar playing the band has ever arranged, that will draw you right into the mood of the album.

“Trouble” really brings out, dare I say, the punk influences of Stereophonics, and considering the economic crisis of the moment, this is a perfect track. Beautiful guitar playing and bass line, “Oh can you feel it? There’s no money in this town. Oh can you see it? There’s people dying all around. I’m in trouble, you’re in trouble, deep deep trouble; someone burst our bubble, I’m in trouble. Won’t you save our souls tonight?” Implied here is a truth that no one wants to admit, that money does buy happiness (just not contentment). Wrapped up in the reality of this economic crisis is this soul searching, this amazing let down, and depression, and Stereophonics (whether consciously or unconsciously) hit a universal chord with any working and middle class individual doing some introspection and trying to survive during this economic downturn. Then there is “I Got Your Number.” It is difficult to place your finger on the reason why this song is so damn infectious. The song is the least predictable on the album; the subtle shift from verse to chorus, both lyrically and musically, will definitely get your ears perked up. As many bands seem to be doing lately, they end the album with a song that aims at visceral, not sonic, in-you-face, effects. “Show Me How” is one of those songs that you think will hate and then you are hooked: “I want you to show me, I know you know how to live every moment like they all count. Teach me to love you, show me the light, ‘cause I’m in the darkness. It’s time I got out.” The song itself is not cohesive, but it is the lack of musical cohesiveness, the confusion of the music, that pulls the song off. (One other track that will perk your ears is “Could You Be the One?” with a reference to the Police: “Every little thing you do is magic…”)

Stereophonics, twelve years after their debut, are comfortably making the transition from hype-machine band to well-respected, established musicians. And this new release, “Keep Calm and Carry On,” is the evidence. This is a band that is more concerned with craftsmanship and longevity than the frivolity of the pop world and the hype-machine. Most definitely, this is an album that fans are going to appreciate; this is an album on which a band does what they want to do, with little attention to what the media may want. This is an album in which a band does not rehash anything they have done, but return to older formulas that their fan base adores to create new gems. And actually, in many ways, it may very well be the best album that Stereophonics has ever released. Furthermore, it is an album, for those who are not familiar with Stereophonics, or have dismissed them in the past, to take a look at. It may just convince you that this Welsh band is perhaps one of the few bands out there that hold the promise of longevity and relevancy into the future.

Side note: You should really take a good look at this album cover (below). Considering the inspiration for the title of the album, “Keep Calm and Carry On,” this is an amazing cover! I know that I do not often draw attention to the cover art, but I really should. This is one of these covers that really capture the urgency of a band, the concept of an album, and an element of tongue-in-cheek all in one. As they sit at a table, knee high in rough waters, eventually to be drowned, there is serenity to them. But is this meant to act as an example of what we should be doing at this moment in time, idly sitting back and hoping things return to normalcy? Or is this the image of what we should avoid: a false sense of calm when the world is exploding around us in many different ways? The power of the cover is its irony and an inability to know for sure what is going on, and come to think about it that sounds a lot like life.

Track listing:
1. She’s Alright
2. Innocent
3. Beerbottle
4. Trouble
5. Could You Be the One?
6. I Got Your Number
7. Uppercut
8. Live ‘N’ Love
9. 100MPH
10. Wonder
11. Stuck In A Rut
12. Show Me How

Keep up with Stereophonics at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is their video for “Innocent” from their YouTube Channel: stereophonicsmusic.

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28 November 2009

X: THC Live

I have not been to as many live shows as I am accustomed to going to this year, but when Michael Nova of X: THC invited me down to see the band perform at Monkeytown in Brooklyn, it was a no-brainer. I knew I was not going to pass up this opportunity.

Wednesday (25 November 2009) rolled around, and, at about seven in the evening, I started the journey to Brooklyn (I am not one of these Jersey-ites that think that a passport is required to go to Brooklyn – actually I more often than not skip Manhattan for Brooklyn). Carlos Aranzazu, Gray Door Studio photographer, was accompanying me. (It was nice not to have to worry about taking any pictures myself, and well having a professional along.) On our way there, we chatted about what to expect, other concert/show experiences, and the visual components of music and live shows. Never did we expect such a powerful experience as we pulled up in front of Monkeytown.

The backroom of Monkeytown is about thirty-by-thirty, with coaches and tables set around the perimeter. A film screen hangs from each wall, while the band played in the center of the room. If intimacy was the goal, the space alone would create it. But the actual experience, the synesthesia, was overwhelming. As the band easily followed through their set, you wanted to see each screen, you wanted to look at the band, you were overwhelmed trying to explain to yourself what was the genesis of your feelings – the music, the band, the visuals, the different combinations…. What was definitive was that you wanted more.

Now, let me say something for all the “purists” out there – it is time to step into the new millennium. The incredible thing about our contemporary world is that bands are no longer limited to creating the sound that they can on their own, but rather have the technology to augment their sounds. The question is whether or not a band solely relies on this technology or uses it wisely. X: THC struck the perfect balance. The individual musicianship of the band was always in the forefront. Tienne, on guitar and keyboards, has a soothing presence of her own on the stage; there is a magnetic attraction that makes it hard to take your eyes off her while she strums away. Drummers may be a dime dozen, but good drummers are very rare. John Bollinger is one of these good drummers: great technique, great timing, and great presence (something most drummers lack). Then there is Michael Nova. He is definitely the newest New York bard. He is not just there reciting lines, but rather singing with conviction and delivering the story. Even Aranzazu, behind his camera, concurs that Nova’s persona on stage is powerful, as he creates a rapport with his audience.

I have seen a few great artists this year – amazing performances. But I have to tell you, you are crazy if you do not jump on the opportunity of seeing X: THC live. This is a powerful experience, both sonically and visually. And the beauty of the visuals is that even if you do not know the music, they will draw you into the experience. Their original film, “X: The Human Condition,” is a powerful, abstract piece that will remind you of some of the great avant-garde silent films.

Set list:
1. Introduction/Hide
2. Monster
3. A Human Flood
4. Sleeping with One Eye Open
5. The Creature from the Blackened Room
6. Don’t Cry
7. Mr. Happy
8. Like Violins
9. Worth Fighting For
10. Tag You’re It!

Keep up with X: THC at their homepage and MySpace.
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The Real November Blurbs

As the last blurbs were really meant for October, here is this month’s installment. It is a bit frustrating that we really do not get a chance to dedicate time to everything we are listening to (and that things get by us – there is only so much time we have to do research), so we wanted to do some catching up. Again, apologies that we could not dedicate more time to these albums, but hopefully you will take the time to check out these artists. Here are six incredible albums, crossing three continents, two languages, and five genres. This is truly schizophrenic. And I sort of love it that way.


Karpatenhund: “Der Name dieser Band ist Karpatenhund”

From their first show at the Blue Shell in Köln, Deutschland (Cologne, Germany) in 2005, Karpatenhund (Carpathian Dog) has been on a roll creating music that combines elements of shoegazing, new wave, and power pop. Releasing their sophomore effort on 28 August 2009, “Der Name dieser Band is Karptenhund” (“The Name of the Band is Karpatenhund”) draws influences from current indie rock and 80s sensibilities, from both sides of the Atlantic.

One of the things that I really like about this band is that they sing in German; they have chosen not to conform to the normal cliché of singing in English for popular success. Of course, speaking in German will make them less accessible to Anglo-American markets, but the band more than makes up for it with their music. This is solid music; there is not a song on this album that is not infectious, as they hook you with their simplicity and straightforward arrangements. There are no gimmicks here; what you have is a solid pop sensibility of knowing how to put an album together. Sonically, anyone that is a fan of Blondie, the Cure, the Dandy Warhols, New Order, and the current post-punk revival will find something in the band they can become a fanatic over. The music itself, in much the same way as the music of David Bowie or Eurythmics, is very dramatic.

Fortunately, I have a nephew who was raised in Germany to help me through the lyrics, but I will say that there is no need to know the exact lyrics to get the empathic power of this album. This is a feel good album, about enjoying the visceral experience with a smile on your face and the tapping of your feet. Take a plunge and listen to this band – you will not regret it. Hot track: “Lost Weekend.” I love these kinds of tracks where a band throws everything into the mix, even aspects that are seemingly contradictory to each other. A dancy, indie beat, new wave keyboarding, sythnpop sounds, key arrangements close to polka, and post-punk bass and guitar riffs, this song is by far the most memorable song on the album.

Track Listing:
1. Anfang (Black Box Recorder)
2. Wald
3. Notfalls Werde Ich Fur Immer Warten
4. Boden
5. Plastic Soul
6. Rorschach
7. Hier wachst nie wieder was
8. Bitte Bitte Bitte
9. Wie fuhlt es sich an?
10. Lost Weekend
11. Ende (Rauchen)

Keep up with Karpatenhund at their homepage and MySpace.

Check out their videos for “Wald” and “Notfalls Werde Ich Fur Immer Warten” from their Vimeo channel: Karpatenhund.

Karpatenhund - Wald from Karpatenhund on Vimeo.

Karpatenhund - Notfalls Werde Ich Für Immer Warten from Karpatenhund on Vimeo.

FYI: Their album is available at Grooves Inc.

Baddies: “Do the Job”

Hailing from Southend, Essex, the Baddies debut album, “Do the Job” (28 September 2009 in the UK, 13 October 2009 in the US as import), is most definitely stirring some heads. As part of the line-up for this years Leeds and Reading Festivals, the band is becoming known for their (post)punk influenced indie rock. The band is comprised of Simon Bellamy, Danny Rowton, and identical twins, Jim and Michael Webster, and together what they have to offer is vehemence. Though pretty much straightforward rock-pop, the album is full of quirky hooks and riffs and out of leftfield lyrics (“We all sleep better night if we open one eye…” from “Open One Eye”) that make it a standout in a scene with dozens of fly-by-night bands.

Many of the songs have the same intensity as early Siouxsie and the Banshees’ songs, such as “Mirage” and “Placebo Effect.” And in a world that keeps looking to the past for cues, especially in music, it is not going to be a surprise that you are going to hear other bands in their music, including the Futureheads and Talking Heads. And, of course, since the Baddies are not part of the hit parade, this is going to be seen as a band thing (while those with press/media support doing the same thing are elevated to deity status). But what is the true measure of a band’s success: the development and loyalty of a fan base, which the Baddies are easily amassing.

The talent of the band is not to stick to one formula – not like the countless of bands that sound like Joy Division or the Cure from beginning to start. Whether you are listening to “We Beat Our Chests” or “Who Are You?” each song is distinct. There is a feel of what you listen to is what you get live. Though I have not seen them live, word has it they all dress identically live (just look at the album cover); this may have been cute and novel in the 80s, but nowadays it is just a gimmick. And gimmicks are not what this band needs. These overly powered indie tracks speak for themselves.

Track Listing:
1. Tiffany, I’m Sorry
2. Open One Eye
3. Battleships
4. Colin
5. At the Party
6. Pisces
7. We Beat Our Chests
8. Holler for My Holiday
9. I Am Not a Machine
10. To the Lions
11. Who Are You?
12. Paint the City

Keep up with the Baddies at the MySpace page.

From 9 March 2010 to 1 April 2010, they will extensively be touring the UK, hitting Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, Dundee, Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham, Leeds, Cambridge, Birmingham, Oxford, Brighton, London, Southampton, Bristol, Cardiff, Northampton, Sheffield, Newcastle, and Wrexham with the Joy Formidable. Check out their MySpace for more information.

Here is their video for “Open One Eye” from their YouTube Channel: baddiestv.

William Orbit: “My Oracle Lives Uptown”

William Orbit is one of those electronic musicians and producers that have really garnished my respect. Whether it is his work with other artists (most notably Madonna’s “Ray of Light”) or his own material, whether in Torch Song or solo, Orbit is one of the few artists/producers to consistently be turning heads and perking ears, with the ability to recreate his sound and tricks over and over again. Unfortunately, Orbit falls into the same pattern of veterans not living up to their potential on his latest release, “My Oracle Lives Uptown” (4 May 2009 in digital format, 8 June 2009 as a CD; digital format in the USA available, but a hardcopy is only available via import). Essentially, there is no major shift from “The Strange Cargo” series, but, nevertheless, Orbit offers up a sophistication and allure that has defined his career. By no measure is this album hackneyed or rubbish, quite the opposite. But knowing Orbit’s track record, an album that was six years in the making makes you long for more.

Many of the tracks were previously available in one format or other via his website. With many contributors, including the incredible Laurie Mayer, this album takes a few steps away from the ambient, but not far away enough to be called pop or dance. Other than “Purdy,” you are not going to be inspired to get up and dance, but this is not a bad thing. Orbit was not aiming at a club album, but rather a “party” album. And this hits the mark straight on. As for the vocals, they are arranged as nothing more than another level of sound. The vocals are never the core of the song, usually ethereal, and this is most obvious during “Neutron Star,” where voice is used not for words but for sonic effects.

Musically I was hoping for mind-blowing sounds, boggling arrangements, and a new chapter in ambient electronic music. But I realize that these were mine (and probably most critics’) expectations – this is no reflection on William Orbit’s vision and final product. Nor is this album only background noise; it is as entrancing and rapture inducing as anything he has done before. But that is just it: Mr. Orbit has done it before and I still hold the hope that he is going to knock my socks off again.

Track Listing:
1. Radioharp
2. Purdy
3. Optical Illusions
4. White Night
5. Hydrajacked
6. Nimbus
7. My Oracle Live Uptown
8. Spotlight Kid
9. Neutron Star
10. Drift so Far
11. Golden Country
12. City Lights Reflection

Keep up with William Orbit at his homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is the video for “Optical Illusion” from his YouTube Channel: radioharp.

You Say Party, We Say Die!: “XXXX”

I remember the first time I came across You Say Party, We Say Die! I was at a Virgin Mega Store in NYC perusing when I came across one of their albums and thought to myself, “With a name like that, you best be a good band.” Then some guy, who had an eerie resemblance to Grace Jones with blue hair, said, “Great album! Love them!” And then started my affair with You Say Party, We Say Die! Their latest offering, “XXXX” (29 September 2009), is their third studio release since 2005. Combining indie rock with dance punk, YSP! WSD! is one of those infectious bands that becomes a guilty pleasure.

With a little less dance, and a little more rock, “XXXX” delivers some of the band’s most interesting music. Their best vocals till date, coupled with their best production till date, this album does not abruptly creep into a frivolous soundscape, but instead it generates a fluidic experience. My favorite track is “Cosmic Wanship Avengers.” It has a newfound sense of urgency, combining old style Devo-esque mentality. The most haunting track is “XXXX/Loyalty.” Definitely taking its cue from post-punk, goth rock musicians; the song’s sinister melodic keyboard sound, dark mood inducing guitar arpeggio, and vocal effects demonstrate that they have learned and perfected a few new tricks. And the closing track, “Heart of Gold,” is not a blowout finish. Instead, YSP! WSD! goes for visceral power.

“XXXX” follows the tradition of great Canadian song writing. Furthermore, “XXXX” may very well be the first album by YSP! WSD! that critical detractors will be forced to acknowledge as a strong, credible album. Solid craftsmanship, solid production – in my book, You Say Party! We Say Dance! have earned the right to have such a bombastic name for their band.

Track listing:
1. There Is XXXX (Within My Heart)
2. Glory
3. Dark Days
4. Cosmic Wanship Avengers
5. Lonely’s Lunch
6. Make XXX
7. Laura Palmer’s Prom
8. She’s Spoken For
9. XXXX/Loyalty
10. Heart of Gold

Keep up with You Say Dance! We Say Die! at their homepage and MySpace.

Zero 7: “Yeah Ghost”

My friends are usually surprised when they find out that I am a fan of downtempo. Something about the ability to zone out to a great beat, some ambient sounds, and a killer groove that does it for me sometimes. And I am not going to offer up some grand philosophic reason for why “Yeah Ghost” (28 September 2009 in the UK, 29 September 2009 in the USA, 2 October 2009 in Australia) is the downtempo album of the year, but rather simply say that this is an incredible experience.

Essentially a duo (Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker) from London, Zero 7 employs various vocalists for their recordings and live performances: “Yeah Ghost” features Jackie Daniels, Eska Mtungwazi, Rowdy Superstar, and Martha Tilston. Binns also takes up the mantle of vocalist on the album. Notably missing from the mix is Sia Furhler. The album is definitely jazzier than recent efforts, but the folk elements are still there. “Yeah Ghost” definitely marks a new mindset for the band. Whereas before you could imagine the band producing music for a backdrop to an event or party or lounge, this album is the event. There are two standout tracks here, the first of which is sung by Eska Mtungwazi. “Mr. Mcgee” has some of the most soulful singing out there, while incorporating a jazzy bassline and upbeat percussion. The second is sung by Binns himself. “Everything Up (Zizou)” (a homage Zinedine Zidane) verges closer to indie dance than anything else and proves that Zero 7 is not a one-trick pony.

If you are in the mood to zone out to some great artistry, this is the album for you. Zero 7 definitely comes to age with “Yeah Ghost,” departing from long time collaborator Furhler does not hurt them at all; instead it has forced Binn and Hardaker to rethink their game plan and jump outside of the box that they have been trapped in the last few albums. Check it out.

Track Listing:
1. Count Me Out
2. Mr. Mcgee
3. Swing
4. Everything Up (Zizou)
5. Pop Art Blue
6. Medicine Man
7. Ghost Symbol
8. Sleeper
9. Solastalgia
10. The Road
11. All of Us

Keep up with Zero 7 at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is their video for “Everything Up (Zizou)” from their MySpace video page.

Everything Up (Zizou) [Joker and Ginz remix]

Zero 7 | MySpace Music Videos

Dappled Cities: “Zounds”

Hailing from Sydney, Australia, the art/indie rock, post-punk revival band Dappled Cities (formerly Dappled Cities Fly) released their third album, “Zounds” (15 August 2009 in Australia, 15 September 2009 in the USA). The title of the album caught my eye immediately, “Zounds,” and anyone who has read their Shakespeare immediately recognized the word, though may not have known what it meant. It was originally just a contraction for “God’s wounds,” that is, Jesus’ on the Cross. (The entire Trinity thing.) Soon, it would degrade into being an oath, like “For fuck’s sake,” showing surprise. And as I heard this album, all I could say was, “Zounds.”

Joined by a new drummer, this is definitely darker than anything they have done before, and there is a feeling of grandeur to it. But what I really like about the album is the fact that their sensibilities are as easily applied to eerie, post-punkish music as to an out and out pop number. “The Price” is a jewel in the world of pop. The song is mesmerizing but not cliché, luscious but not overpowering. It is the kind of balance that all pop (regardless if rock or dance based) should strive for. Furthermore, unlike so many post-punk revival bands out there, Dappled City is able to retain their own sound and not sound like one the veterans. Take the song “Kid” (I am so stuck on this track), you will find it impossible to pinpoint the archetype of this song, but why is that? Because unlike so many of the bands in the revival mindset, their musical references are greater in scope. This is not just post-punk rock and new wave references – but also in the mix is experimental pop, post rock, and I would venture to say some psychedelic 60s.

Perhaps this album really stands out because Dappled Cities are Australian. Australia has the advantage of having its finger on the pulse on the American and British music scenes, while having its own that most of us are oblivious of. It gives a band like Dappled Cities the ability to draw on many different influences, many different references, and create something that is distinct and fresh in a field that is often full of rehash and imitation.

Track Listing:
1. Hold Your Back
2. Answer Is Zero
3. The Price
4. Wooden Ships
5. Slow for Me, My Island
6. The Night Is Young at Heart
7. Miniature Alas
8. Don’t Stop There
9. Kid
10. Middle People
11. Apart
12. Stepshadows

Keep up with Dappled Cities at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is their video for “The Price” from their YouTube Channel: dcfhq.

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