29 May 2009

Keane Live

27 May 2009, Radio City Music Hall, Keane live. This was not one of my most anticipated shows of the year, but it did turn out to be the best show of the year, thus far. I will venture to say, it has been the best show that I have been to in past few years. Considering that I have seen the like of the Cure, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Annie Lennox, Placebo, and Muse over the past few years, veterans who have mastered the stage, Keane proved that the years on the road have taught them how to put a set together and how to deliver a high energy performance, while establishing a rapport with their audience.

Keane had two opening acts this evening: Helio Sequence (MySpace) and Mat Kearney (homepage). Helio Sequence delivered a strong, captivating performance, which started shortly after doors opened at seven. Supporting their fourth album (“Keep Your Eyes Ahead” (2008)), what is impressive about this band is that Brandon Summers (vocalist) lost his voice and damaged his vocal chords before the release of their latest album. This duo never skipped a beat, and really continues a tradition of strong indie music from Portland that the Dandy Warhols helped established in the 90s. Mat Kearney played a tight and safe set, ending with his biggest single: “Nothing Left to Lose.” I would have loved to see him shake things up a bit more, but nevertheless, like Helio Sequence, he and his band never skipped a beat, and paved the road nicely for Keane to come on stage.

9:01 pm, the lights went out and the intro track began, and then Keane hit the stage with “The Lovers Are Losing.” If that was not a major way of starting the show, the following songs ensured the audience stayed on their feet: “Everybody’s Changing,” “Bend and Break,” and “We Might as Well Be Strangers.” What struck me about the set was how intelligent the selections were. Keane, due to personal turmoil, was not able to tour their sophomore effort (“Under the Iron Sea”) extensively in the US, and hence the set list did not concentrate on the second album. Instead, Keane went for the songs that the audience would know from their debut album (“Hopes and Fears”) and their current album, “Perfect Symmetry.”

A great treat was Tom Chaplin (lead vocalist) performing “Playing Alone” solo on an acoustic guitar. I have stated more than once that I think that Tom Chaplin is the best male vocalist out there; he demonstrated the complete control of his voice, the talent to truly emote emotions, and the ability to sell his lyrics with conviction that is believable and, quite often, endearing. I was at the show with my favorite Aussie (“Belladona”), and she said the right word to describe him as a vocalist: stamina. He has the stamina to deliver: from beginning to end (at 10:40 pm) the quality of this voice stayed consistent. There was never a hint of his being tired or the voice getting thin. (On a side note, I think that Chaplin might be scared of heights. Most singers wandering around the stage at Radio City Music Hall will eventually climb the stairs on either side all the way to the top. Chaplin never got to beyond the second level, quite often crouching. Makes you wonder how comfortable he was with getting on the side steps.) But it was not only Chaplin that was on the money; the same can be said of the rest of the band.

Tim Rice-Oxley, keyboardist extraordinary, was the most energetic keyboardist I have witness in my life. Where as so many other keyboards are stationary, he trashed his head, marched in place with his legs much like a trash guitarist. (Keane performed “Early Winter,” a song that Rice-Oxley wrote for Gwen Stefani.) By contrast, Richard Hughes has to be the most composed drummer I have seen in years. Like a classic jazz drummer, nothing seems to faze him while on stage; there are no distractions, and even while singing, he continues to deliver some of the most intricate drumming. Jesse Quin joined the band on bass, keys, and percussion. Though considered by many the fourth member of the Keane, Keane officially remains a trio.

The final song of the first encore was “Bedshaped,” my favorite Keane song till date. Literally, the term “bedshaped” means drunk, very drunk. But according to the band, it is an allusion to the imagery of having been in a bed for a long time, as if hospitalized, when the body takes on the shape of the bed, signifying a level of weakness and fragility. Like the comfort one finds in the complacency of friendship or a love affair, after years when nurturing no longer exists, it eventually withers and breaks, but there always remains that hope that it will come back. Lyrically, it is rhetorically haunting and even more powerful live: “What do I know? What do I know? I know.” That simple defiance, that simple answer, “I know,” inspires the listener to remember those moments when we know more than others think, but yet it is to no avail. Amazing about the performance of this song, which shows that little details matter to Keane, was the light show. When the word “sun” (in the chorus) is spoken, the lights turned yellow, but revert to white when Chaplin sings, “white lights.” But what blew me away was the second cover, the final song, of the night. Out comes Keane for a second encore, second cover, Queen’s “Under Pressure.” Both covers (the first “The River” by Springstein used as an intro to “You Haven’t Told Me Anything”) were impressive choices, because these are not songs (or artists) that one would consider are inspirational to Keane.

Keane is slated later in the year to be in Canada, and one can hope that they will storm through New York City again (hint guys if you are reading).

Set List:
1. The Lovers Are Losing
2. Everybody’s Changing
3. Bend and Break
4. We Might as Well Be Strangers
5. Again and Again
6. This Is the Last Time
7. Spiralling
8. Playing Along (Tom on acoustic guitar)
9. Try Again
10. Early Winter
11. The River (Bruce Springsteen Cover) / You Haven’t Told Me Anything – Medley
12. Leaving So Soon
13 You Don’t See Me
14. Perfect Symmetry
15. Somewhere Only We Know
16. Crystal Ball

17. My Shadow
18. Is It Any Wonder?
19. Bedshaped

20. Under Pressure (Queen Cover)

Keep up with Keane at the homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Enjoy the clips from the show:

"The Lovers Are Losing"

"Perfect Symmetry"

"Somewhere Only We Know"

"Crystal Ball"


"Under Pressure" (Queen Cover)

Read more ...

28 May 2009

Catching Up with Esser and White Rabbits

It is always a struggle to keep up with everything – there is a lot out there, and so much that only exists as imports here in the States, that getting hold of a copy can be a challenge sometimes. Once I get hold of something, then starts the process of listening and determining if I like it or not. This is an important part of the process, because, at least at this point in the game, I have decided not to spend time on writing about music that I really do not care for, as I stated before (why bother wasting my limited time bitching about shit that made me roll my eyes when I listened to it the first time). Then once I determine if I like something, I have to listen to it again (and again) and find the time to write. (Many thanks to my friends who have stepped up to write along side of me, especially Juju, who shares my singular vision for the blog and has committed the time.) Well, these two CDs have been on my iTunes for a minute now, and I decided to put everything aside, come over to Gray Door Studio (as my connectivity is still giving me issues from time to time!) and write. Here are two artists, the pop mastermind Esser and the Brooklyn rockers White Rabbits, which have released excellent albums that you should not allow to get by you. Enjoy.

Esser: “Braveface”

He may look like a young Dexter Poindexter and sound like Blur’s Damon Alban, all comparisons to these two artists stop there. (Ben) Esser release of “Braveface” (4 May 2009 in the UK) may mark the return to pop music that is quirky, fun, and critically acclaimed. A tongue-in-cheek adventure through the world of pop music, Esser has learned from all that came before him: from pop to Brit pop, from electronic to rock, this album boasts all these influences with pride and flair. Esser shows no shame in stealing hooks from other artists, because as poet T.S. Eliot wrote, “Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal.” The reason that this works for Esser is because he brings in a fresh feeling to pop music that has been missing since the days before Erasure’s complacency and that lot of 80s electropop. What he delivers is strong music that you can party to, with some lyrics that will make you wonder what the hell is going on in this boy’s head.

Typical of Esser is his delivering an absurd view of the realistic world, like in “Headlock”: “Oh you got me in a headlock, nothing in the world is gonna help me now. Stamp me in the carpet, like a piece of a dirt, if the words fail then you just floor me…” A pop number you can easily dance to, this track points out the power struggles, abuse seen is so many relationships. This is not the typical theme of a pop song, but it works. “I Love You,” a track that I instantly fell for last year, with a near trip-hop beat, humor oozing everywhere (“love can be dreamy like internal bleeding”), and every pop hook to draw you into it. Then the brilliant closing track, “Stop Dancing.” The tempo is slowed down just enough to stop any dancing, but fast enough to keep you listening, “Please stop dancing, the world stops dreaming,” the song points out how it is between our joys and frolic that dreams are possible. And this album is all about joy and frolic, having a good time, even while pointing out inane scenarios.

I remember the days of great pop in the 80s. Whether the artists were pursuing new wave, synthpop, or rock, there was this element of wanting to produce music that the masses could enjoy that was no easy feat. (This may be part of the reason why there were so many one hit wonders, who had it in them to produce that dream of the universal pop song once, but could not do it again.) These bands wrote their own music, there was a creative flair, a distinct characteristic to every artist. It wasn’t as prevalent for producers and labels to “create” the next great pop act (with the exception of the boy and girl bands). Artists themselves were aiming at that. This is what Esser is doing. Incorporating all of these different elements of music, creating a hotchpotch of musical elements that can appeal to the widest range of audiences, while remaining true to his own vision of himself as a musician – a postmodern, techno geek, who has been influenced by everything that came before him. Though in today’s world, with broadband reality and more choices, it may be difficult for any one artist to dominate a wide range in audience ever again; Esser may be the closest artist to attempt to do so. And even if he does not succeed, you have to admit that this is great pop music.

Track Listing:
1. Leaving Town
2. Braveface
3. Headlock
4. Bones
5. Satisfied
6. Work It Out
7. I Love You
8. This Time Around
9. Real Life
10. Stop Dancing

Keep up with Esser at his homepage and Myspace. Here are two videos from his YouTube Channel: esservideo.

“I Love You”

“Headlock” (apologies if the video does not load, YouTube seems to be having some issues)

The White Rabbits: “It’s Frightening”

Hailing from Brooklyn (actually Brooklyn immigrates as they really hail from Missouri), the American Mecca of hipsters, the White Rabbits sophomore effort, “It’s Frightening” (19 May 2009), they continue to produce sloppy, loosely arranged music. It is not for lack of talent, this is the aim! The six-piece band includes two drummers, Matthew Clark and Jamie Levinson, as well as Alexander Even (guitar), Stephen Patterson (vocals, piano), Gregory Roberts (vocals, guitars), and Adam Russell (bass). With such a line up, you might expect a racket going on from beginning to end; instead what you get is a carefully crafted mess, making the best of the ability to make noise.

Opening with the single “Percussion Gun,” a song that wants to explode from its marching band feel, the band instantly demonstrates growth; highly crafted (with the beat dropping out completely two-thirds into the song to give the piano a bit more time to dominate the soundscape), the song is delivered with no frills, with vocals as deadpan as the music: “You’re tired of my love, I feel the same.” There is a sense of emotional defeat, isolation, which is evident in the delivery of the music throughout the entire album. This is most evident in “Company I Keep”: “I don’t mind mistakes, I go crawling back for anyone’s sake. I admit this associations bleak… the company I keep.” The album hinges on that feeling of emotional defeat, in both the lyrics and the arrangements. The album, as a whole, never explodes into frenzy. My only reservation of the album is the closing track, “Leave It at the Door.” Closing the album with what seems to be a cliché these days, a slow-paced tempo (in this case, no drums or percussion at all), trying to inspire an emotional response. To their credit, the song will evoke the listener to reflect, but I felt that such a band, with a unique line-up, could have conjured a more interesting way to ending the album.

The cover of the album is interesting. It depicts the collisions of the two antipodes of music: rhythm and melody, which have to be brought together. Drummer and piano collide, and this may be the best definition of the band. There is always a struggle between rhythm and melody; well with two drummers, it is bound to happen. Perhaps the more sedate sound of the sophomore effort can be accredited to producer Britt Daniel (of Spoon fame), but that would be taking away credit from the actual band. Perhaps the reason they choose to work with the Daniel is because that was the exact sound that they were trying to achieve, as oppose to being the result of working with Daniel. Nevertheless, this is an intriguing album that is being overlooked by the mainstream media – hipsters usually are. But you should take a listen, from the interesting percussion to the convulsion in the soundscape, this album is easily a stand out in this year's releases.

Track listing:
1. Percussion Gun
2. Rudiefails
3. They Done Wrong / We Done Wrong
4. Lionesse
5. Company I Keep
6. Salesman (Tramp Life)
7. Midnight and I
8. Right Where They Left
9. Lady Vanishes
10. Leave It at the Door

Keep up with the band at their homepage, MySpace, and Twitter.

Here is the video for “Percussion Gun” from their YouTube Channel thewhiterabbits.

Read more ...

26 May 2009

The Maccabees: "Wall of Arms"

With everyday that passes, I get more and more annoyed with labels like indie; I mean what the hell does it mean? Anyone releasing on an independent label, like Fiction, is indie? Or is it the code name for European bands that dominate the festival circuit? But, then, what of American bands with that label? Then is the expectation that all of these bands want to become Billboard sweethearts? And what makes anyone think that every band out there wants to be mainstream, big time, MTV loved musicians? Take the Maccabees, they have the songwriting ingenuity to put forward a bubbly, rock-pop album, and vacate the realm of “indie.” But with their sophomore effort, they stay true to their craftsmanship, composing emotionally heavy, detail-oriented music. If you are going to love this album, and you will, it is not because they are aiming at pop notoriety, but rather you are going to be forced to love their craftsmanship on their own terms.

Though the name of the band, Maccabees, will put some people off, as it is also the title of biblical books, the band in interviews have assured that they are not a Christian Rock band or even religious for that matter. Signed to the resurrected Fiction records, their debut album “Colour It In” (4 May 2007 in the UK) reached the top thirty of the British album charts and established the Maccabees as a solid band in the British music scene. The expectations were that the band would lighten up their sound and produce a chart-buster for their sophomore effort, but true to the tradition of bands on Fiction the Maccabees stuck true to their convictions for the release of “Wall of Arms” (4 May 2009, imports available in the US). It is the stubborn, genuine attitude of true artists: you will accept my music on its terms, not your own.

The album opens with “Love You Better,” the proper lead single (though technically the second song available from the album). The best way to describe this song is post-punk moodiness with a touch of the New Romantics. The song is driving and infectious with its headiness: “Headway, learn to love a thriller so the words you leave on my pillow read better, cheap and forever…” The same kind of straightforward music writing leads you right into the thick of the album. It is with “Young Lions,” the fourth track of the album, that the Maccabees slow down their pace at the opening, but deliver some of their darkest, most surreal lyrics: “Roses in the car, roses in the car, bony saddle, bony street, corrugated iron sheets, this bed is not concrete, this bed in which you sleep flesh is flesh till blood runs cold, and blood is blood, so I am told.” This followed by “No Kind Words,” perhaps my favorite track on the album. Deadpan singing, straightforward, post-punk – the song achieves power in its anxiousness to be louder and faster than it is. This is a style/technique in music that is hard to master, that is to gain power for what is not there but always expected, and the Maccabees do it like pros. (By the way, this was the first track available from the album as download.)

This is one of those albums that have no fillers. From the quirky “William Powers” (“There is love, there is lust, there is love fuelled lust…”) to the broody “Seventeen Hands,” the album delivers strong tracks, though not always radio-friendly, you will find it hard to find a fast forward moment. Avoiding the trappings of virtuoso antics, incorporating stream of consciousness lyrics, the album is the perfect follow-up album to their debut, while giving an audience something a bit different in terms of the rock bands out there. Dark, but not emo-rantings or rehash of the goth sound of the 80s, straightforward, but intricate, the album symbolically collapses on its own emotional weight for the final track. “Bag of Bones” slows the pace down completely, perhaps even hint towards some shoegazing influence on the band, the song creates the perfect atmosphere to sing, “Silent when you’re so or silent nothing more to say, could think of it as showing us the way…”

Cheers for Fiction for releasing this album and allowing the Maccabees full creative range. Then again, Fiction has always been known to be nurturing to their artists. If you were not a Maccabees fan, “Wall of Arms” may change that soon. As solid as an album can be, what amazes me is the feel of maturity and the feeling that this may be vintage. There is no doubt who the Maccabees’ influences are, but you will find it very difficult to point to any song, or any moment on this album, and say that it is derivative of anything else out there. Instead what you have here is solid craftsmanship, artistic integrity, and an a quirky album worth owning.

Track listing:
1. Love You Better
2. One Hand Holding
3. Can You Give It
4. Young Lions
5. No Kind Words
6. Wall of Arms
7. Dinosaurs
8. Kiss and Resolve
9. William Powers
10. Seventeen Hands
11. Bag of Bones

Keep up with the Maccabees at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook. Here is their video for “No Kind Words” from their Youtube Channel: TheMaccabees

Read more ...

Post-Punk: Part 2 of 3 - No Second Generation

No matter what you may have heard, the reality is that there was no real second wave of post-punk. It sort of disappeared as quickly as it came about. The main reason for this is because many of these bands would continue to push the envelope, and as a result create new genres or redefine existing ones. Much of what would become gothic rock, industrial, and new wave is the consequence of this process. Though there would be a few bands that would continue the stereotypical “post-punk” aesthetic/sound, with that driving bass, simple arrangements, and basic guitar rifts over complicated, intricate arrangements, these bands would more than likely get lumped into the gothic scene or that new emerging term in the late 80s, early 90s: alternative.

It is a troubling term, as I have mentioned before, because it assumes that there is a common thread of some sort through bands, which typically speaking, do not even share the same sonic underpinnings or fan base. The reality is that as music became more and more about business, and investors had to be satisfied, the music industry took a new turn in how it would promote music. The term alternative became the code word for bands that would be pushed off on teen and twenty-something listeners, leaving rock for an older audience. The UK had many smaller genres compared to the US, including shoegazing, dream pop, and ethereal wave to name a few; it is not until recent years that North and South American musicians are shaking off the mantle of “alternative” for other labels that better categorize their sound or scene that they are part of.

In fact, I think it is the responsibility of musicians to continue to shake off the mantle of labels. If four albums into your career, you are producing the same sound, you have lost me. I think that I speak for many people with that statement. And it is precisely because of this idea of shaking off mantles that the post-punk movement seemingly disappeared; it is why every artistic movement should eventually disappear. These bands started to redefine themselves, and those that have survived continue to do so. Nevertheless, there were many bands that would keep the concept of post-punk’s ideology alive, even some of the aesthetics. I do not believe that there is a definitive list of these bands, as they (or critics) typically do not identify themselves as “post-punk,” but the obvious influence is there. So as I scratched my head thinking about which bands to post about, I decided on a master plan. I would include two bands that are known as bands who fans of Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Cure relish. I decided to include two bands that are obscure, one of which I am hoping to save from a forgotten history. And the last, well, a band that some people may find hard to stomach as “post-punk,” but hey I like arguing my points.

Cocteau Twins: “Garlands” (1982)

A pioneer of post-punk, Cocteau Twins would later go to help define the very concept of dream pop, ethereal wave, and ambient rock. From the start, the band was always able to create this feel of dark undertow in their music that just swept you away. Elizabeth Fraser (vocalist) had a distinct singing style, which would influence bands like Curve, Lush, and the Cranes. Often given into puit a beul (a vocal style that favors rhythm and the sound of the voice over the lyrical content, nonsensical sounds/syllables are inserted for musical, rhythmic effects), Fraser defied how standard music was to be sung. But the band had a long career of defying what was expected of musicians and even of them. The band was not able to reunite in 2005 as they had expected to, but in 2008 they accepted the Q Inspiration Award, and there continues to be hope that they will reunite again for a tour, maybe a new album.

Why is it a must? “Garlands,” the debut LP, was an out-of-left-field instant success with both critics and audiences. Embracing a fluidic gothic sound, the album breathes a dark intensity but never inundates the listeners into despair. Actually, it is one of those albums that you can continue listening to for hours. Opening with “Blood Bitch” (a sexy dark number), the bands demonstrates some savvy arrangements that would be reproduce by a plethora bands afterwards. My favorite, “Blind Dumb Deaf,” is a reeling mess of confusion. And just as the music must have been confusing, but yet inspiring, to an audience in 1982, imagine what to make of the lyrics: “Blind dumb deaf offends, I was never part of it, yes.”

Track Listing:
1. Blood Bitch
2. Wax and Wane
3. But I’m Not
4. Blind Dumb Deaf
5. Shallow Then Halo
6. The Hollow Men
7. Garlands
8. Grail Overfloweth

Keep up with the Cocteau Twins at their homepage.

Jesus and Mary Chain: “Honey’s Dead” (1992)

A former friend (“Catherine”) of mine came up with the best description of the Jesus and Mary Chain: drum machines and guitars. The band is essentially Scottish brothers Jim and William Reid (vocals/guitar and guitar/vocals respectively). Hitting the scene with short, powerful songs, they captured the power of punk rock, while never giving into the cliché of genre like post-punks. The elements of driving bass, repetition, and simplicity of post-punk over complexity were kept alive in this band. Though the band did not dent the American charts, they broke the top twenty album and single charts in the UK.

Why is it a must? Though typically known for “Head On” off of their “Automatic” (1989) album, “Honey’s Dead” (23 March 1992) is really their creative apex. This album has a true diversity of styles, from rock (“Far Gone and Out”) to tradition post-punk (“Teenage Lust”), from bubbly pop (“Far Gone and Out”) to that track on the beer commercial in the 90s that no one knew what it was but loved (“Sugar Ray”), the Reid brothers did one of the most daring thing of their career on this album: “Reverence.” Jim sings, “I want to die like Jesus Christ, I want to die on a bed of spikes, I want to die go see paradise…. I want to die like JFK, I want to die in the USA…” The song was banned from Radio 1 and Top of the Pops. Speak about being uncompromising and going where no other band had dared to go before, twice over in one song.

Track Listing:
1. Reverence
2. Teenage Lust
3. Far Gone and Out.
4. Almost Gold
5. Sugar Ray
6. Tumbledown
7. Catchfire
8. Good for My Soul
9. Rollercoaster
10. I Can’t Get Enough
11. Sundown
12. Frequency

Keep up with the Jesus and Mary Chain at their homepage (currently under construction) and MySpace.

Pixies: “Doolittle” (1989)

Hailing from Massachusetts, the Pixies were heavily influenced by punk rock, post-punk rock, and the West Coast surf rock. In many ways, they are the proto-grunge band to listen to, as even Kurt Cobain acknowledged that he was heavily influenced by the Pixies. With their short, bass/guitar driven music, with an influx of humor that only highlights the dark themes, from dying to torture, the reason I say the Pixies follow the post-punk tradition is because of a certain uncompromising attitude against the concept of genre. (Not to mention that some of that bass playing is very reminiscent of Simon Gallup.) Like many of the veterans of the post-punk movement, the Pixies recorded an album that included many, divergent styles of music. Just as the original post-punk rockers could not and would not conform to the notion of what it meant to be punk, the Pixies could not conform to the notion of what punk, post-punk, or surfer rock was suppose to be. Instead, they put it all on its head and spun it around till you got a profound band singing of Biblical violence with a sense of humor.

Why is it a must? “Doolittle” kicks ass! (I should stop right there.) Not only is this a great album, each individual song is strong and complete on its own. Kicking off with “Debaser” (one of my favorite moments in life was body surfing to this song), the in-your-face attitude of the Pixies smacks you hard. The poppier, more acoustic sounding “Here Comes Your Man” is one of the most infectious, addicting tunes of all times. The lead guitar playing is some of my favorite by Joe Santiago. “Hey,” lyrically my favorite song on the album, demonstrates a sense of humor that is cutting and one of the best, if not the best, in music: “'Uh' said the man to the lady. ‘Uh’ said the lady to the man she adored. And the whores like a choir go ‘uh’ all night and Mary ain’t you tired of this.” The album ends with “Gouge Away,” to date still my favorite song by the Pixies. It incorporates everything from violence to Oedipal and Biblical themes.

Track Listing:
1. Debaser
2. Tame
3. Wave of Mutilation
4. I Bleed
5. Here Comes Your Man
6. Dead
7. Monkey Gone to Heaven
8. Mr. Grieves
9. Crackity Jones
10. La La Love You
11. No. 13 Baby
12. There Goes My Gun
13. Hey
14. Silver
15. Gouge Away

Keep up with the Pixies at MySpace and 4AD.

Swallow: “Blow” (1992)

First off, what a provocative name for a band, especially considering the name of the album!

The band was a duo (Mike Mason and Louise Trehy) that only released one studio album, an EP, and a compilation of sorts on the 4AD label. Some critics tagged them as Cocteau Twins wannabes, but anyone who has really heard both bands would disagree vehemently. Though some influence is obvious, there are other influences at play in the music of Swallow. Ultimately, their dissolution was the product of having funding for recording suspended and the all the stress of trying to become established tearing the relationship between the duo asunder. It was the 90s, when figures started to become more important than talent and nurturing, and that is a fucking shame.

Why is it a must? There is not a song on this album that I do not love; from the instrumental “Lovesleep” to the sad “Peekaboo” to the rock-poppy “Sugar Your Mind,” the album is captivating with all of its compressed sounds (think of shoegazing guitar sounds) and the emotive keyboards. “Cherry Stars Collide” is a track that borders on gothic, while “Ocean and Blue Skies,” which lacks drums and percussion of any sort, gives you the feel that they knew their dream pop as well. What makes this album brilliant is that it is not definable by any real term. It is one of the few albums that I do use the term “Alternative” on iTunes for, because there is nothing really to define it. It is an alternate to everything out there. It is not rock, not dance, not shoegazing, not anything, other than an amazing listening experience.

Whatever you do, do not allow this band to be forgotten!

Track listing:
1. Loveless
2. Tastes Like Honey
3. Sugar Your Mind
4. Mensurral
5. Peekaboo
6. Lacuna
7. Oceans and Blue Skies
8. Follow Me Down
9. Halo
10. Cherry Stars Collide
11. Head in a Cave

Here is the video for “Oceans and Blue Skies” from broadcaster Marty Dibergi’s YouTube Channel: martydibergi.

Whipping Boy: “Heartworm” (1995)

Hailing from Dublin, Ireland, this four-man piece hit the scene with explosive live performances. I’ve heard that singer Fearghal McKee cut himself with glass on stage for effect. Though the band garnished the acclaim of critics and an underground following, Columbia Records would drop their contract, because of numbers – again that rising surge in the industry that driving force meant cutting any band, even if talented, if they did not meet their sales quota. Though the band reformed in 2005 and performed some dates, no new music is on the horizon at the moment. Regardless, this is one of those obscure bands that you should consider looking up and listening to.

Why is it a must? Here is the perfect description of the album: emotionally violent. There is not one song on this album that allows you to rest on your laurels. Musically, it takes a lot of queues from the harder gothic rock of the 80s, while occasionally using some of the grunge power chords. The occasional cello adds melancholy, and the sparsely used keys are present to evoke emotional responses from the listener. With lyrics like “Hole right through her head, I think I might be nothing to her” (“Twinkle”) and “I have used so many people for no reason or gain, sometimes it’s just for fun or a way to keep me sane” (“Users”), Whipping Boy plunges into the darker emotions and situations of life, without giving into the death and gloom of gothic rock. But the one haunting line, an admonition, comes from “Honeymoon Is Over”: “So you remember now what it takes to make a mother cry, you stupid boy.”

Track listing:
1. Twinkle
2. When We Were Young
3. Tripped
4. Honeymoon Is Over
5. We Don’t Need Nobody Else
6. Blinded
7. Personality
8. Users
9. Fiction
10. Morning Rise
11. Natural

Keep up with Whipping Boy at their homepage.
Read more ...

23 May 2009

Tori Amos: "Abnormally Attracted to Sin"

My favorite MILF (hey she called herself that last time around) is back. Born Myra Ellen Amos, Tori Amos delivers her tenth studio album with “Abnormally Attracted to Sin” (19 May 2009); this album is the most engaging she has released in years. The depth and fluidity of the music is emotive; the stripped down sound is compelling; the simplicity of the vocals/lyrics are thought provoking. This album demonstrates that in so many ways Amos has traveled and grown from when she was the sole person on stage with her piano; the maturity, the lack of need to prove her virtuoso qualities, and her ability to weave a musical journey from many distinct thematic concepts is something that only an accomplished veteran can do so well. But for all the growth, she is still the same Amos that perplexes you as you listen, and it is a comfort that some things never change.

The opening track, “Give,” is a new sound for Amos, but not a new attitude: “So you heard I crossed over the line. Do I have regrets? Well, not yet?” What an amazing way, how empowering, to open the album with those words. Musically, think Portishead-type trip hop meets mellow gothic sound. The music alone will entrance you to keep listening. Then, encased is a poppy beat, the traditional piano, acoustic guitar, and a creepy background of keys, “Welcome to England” is arguably one of Amos’ best singles to date: “When your heart explodes, is it deathly cold? You must let the colors violate the blackness, the rest, a magic world in parallel, so leave your daily hell. ‘Welcome to England,’ he said, ‘welcome to my world.’” From a subjective to an objective song, from a personal acknowledgment to an observation of the world around her, Amos starts the journey into “sin” by twisting the listener both sonically and thematically – typical of Amos on the last three albums, the listener is always kept guessing what is going to happen next. The journey starts to come to a close over an hour later with the final track, “Lady in Blue.” Purely fictional, as Amos is happily married, the song is a depiction of a relationship falling apart, as the Lady in Blue wishes to join the boys who “play well into midnight.” This is a song of epic proportions (over seven minutes) that would make gothic aficionados happier than when I open vinyl records. (And of course, she wants to join the boys, be like the boys, because would this be an Amos album if there were not at least one moment of gender juxtaposition?) Everything in between, from her obsession with faith and religion, personal power, and of course sin, Amos creates a platform as attractive to the listener’s ear as sin is to her.

I never understood the phrase, “ugly as sin.” If sin were ugly, could it really be tempting? The power of simplicity in “Ophelia” (I am always a sucker for a good literary allusion) and borderline arabesque feel of “Strong Black Vine,” Amos produces a wide range of sonic soundsacpes, departing in many ways from her previous works, to make something “attractive.” The only common thread through all the songs is Amos’ voice and vocal style, somewhere between the almost (self) defeated gothic pain-in-voice style and cabaret. (Are the two really that far removed?) This is most obvious in the titular track, “Abnormally Attracted to Sin.” The second longest track of the album, though not of epic proportion, it still has that feeling of being greater than what it is. Her vocals, almost as if part of the instrumental arrangements, create the mood and texture of the song more than the actual music. Amos, one of the most able pianists in music and one of the most sophisticated songwriters in the industry, rarely allows her voice to dominate a song to the point that the music is almost ambient. But again, it is another soundscape that she needed to create. Actually, seventeen tracks, seventeen soundscapes, without single filler, the album never reproduces the same song twice.

The one thing I missed the most when initially listening to “Abnormally Attracted to Sin” was that unlike her other albums the songs seemed incomplete in some way, without a feeling of closure. Before hand, all of her songs were well developed, in the sense of having this definitive feeling to them, but such is not the case here. For example, “Fire to Your Plain” fails to unravel and develop into a powerful anthem, and “Mary Jane,” which of course had to be a plain song, contains some of Amos’s most interesting piano playing, leaving you hoping for more. Then, as I was falling asleep on the chase end of my couch, I found myself laughing at “Mary Jane.” Then I shot up from the coach, because I was ready to write this review. Amos always has a point; just because we can’t always figure it out does not mean that the point is not there. I guess, we all try to figure things out thinking, with words, but what Amos gives us here, in the lack of closure, is a peep into the process of catharsis, the means by which she is expelling her demons, her temptations to sins, allowing the listener to join in the journey and find his/her own catharsis. She gives you enough to start your own journey, allowing you to wander in this lack of closure, in the hopes of finding your own. This is an album meant to be experienced in your very fiber, in the memories of your experiences, and in relishing that you really should not have any “regrets… yet.”

Track Listing:
1. Give
2. Welcome to England
3. Strong Black Vine
4. Flavor
5. Not Dying Today
6. Maybe California
7. Curtain Call
8. Fire to Your Plain
9. Police Me
10. That Guy
11. Abnormally Attracted to Sin
12. 500 Miles
13. Mary Jane
14. Starling
15. Fast Horse
16. Ophelia
17. Lady in Blue

Keep up with Tori Amos at her homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is the link for her video “Welcome to England” from the universalmusicgroup YouTube Channel.
Read more ...

IAMX: "Kingdom of Welcome Addiction"

Chris Corner is best known for being one of the two founding members of Sneaker Pimps (Liam Howe being the other); he has been a leader in trip-hop, electronica, and downtempo. But we are here to discuss his side project, IMAX, and his recent release titled “Kingdom of Welcome Addiction” (19 May 2009). In IAMX, Corner assumes different personas, in order to write from outside of himself. This allows him to cover such diverse topics from unicorn sex to death. Combining the best elements of synthpop and electropop, and usually neglecting what pleases radio programmers, his approach is essentially that of a pop genius, influenced by a wider ranger of music than is usually assumed.

The first album by the Sneaker Pimps was entitled “Becoming X” (19 August 1996). The “X” is never clearly defined, not even in the title track, just an “incomplete, the consequence of something to be.” It is that mantle that Corner embraces in his side project: “IAMX” – that is, “I am X.” “X,” that infinite variable, the infinite possibilities, this is the nature of the music on “Kingdom of Welcome Addiction.” Though Corner admits that he is not into destructive addictions anymore (perhaps an allusion to drugs), there are many other kinds of addictions: love, food, masochism, and even unicorn sex.

With provocative lyrics, “Kingdom of Welcome Addiction” has a bit more substance than previous albums. Containing beautiful transitioning and a slight change in mood throughout the album, “Kingdom of Welcome Addiction” exudes a feeling of nostalgia (as the sounds and arrangements are reminiscent of the 80s) and a bit of eerie sadness (as much of the topics are heavy). True to his DJ and songwriting mentality, the album is self-produced, which is the pattern of all of his solo albums, ensuring that the album has the mark and feel that he conceives. (By the way, on the stage, the flamboyant get up just amplify the uniqueness of how each of his “personas” see the world.)

The album is extremely catchy, continuously hooking you with synth sounds, guitars, and beats that only a DJ could think of. It gets better and better as one moves towards the middle and latter tracks. The first single, “Think of England,” was released as a free download. The free download adds to the “free music” movement. (What would Fat Bob say? I mean there is a big free music debate going on within the industry. Link.) Regardless, this is a perfect lead single – it represents the album well. As quirky and simple, yet intricately arranged, as all the songs on the album, there is a feel of ambiguity, the kind that artists like Annie Lennox has capitalized on. For instance: “In twilight hours of nervous rest, I bought the beast before believing the threats; in a foreign field I cut all regrets, but the poisoned stories just repeat themselves in fucked-up mess.”

The lyrics are profound, intriguing and poetic eeriness to listen to. For instance the Nietzsche-esque line: “God is dead, we get to sleep tonight, walk with me into the truth, out of your lies. Man equals woman. I'm just the messenger don't shoot me down” (“The Stupid, the Proud”). From the first listen the album is appealing, but the appeal only gets greater with each following listening, as you learn the words and are anxiously waiting the change ups.

Track Listing
1. Nature of Inviting
2. Kingdom of Welcome Addiction
3. Tear Garden
4. My Secret Friend – featuring Imogen Heap
5. An I For an I
6. I Am Terrified
7. Think of England
8. The Stupid, the Proud
9. You Can Be Happy
10. The Great Shipwreck of Life
11. Running

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

Here is “Think of England” from IAMX YouTube Channel.

Read more ...

21 May 2009

Simon Scott Answers 5

Not long ago, Simon Scott and I started chatting online – imagine my surprise when I realized it was THE Simon Scott. As a founding member of the Charlottes and Slowdive, he helped define the shoegazing genre (two bands, by the way, that I plan future retrospectives on). After leaving Slowdive, he would work with many other musicians and bands, including Chapterhouse. By 2004, he would found the band Televise, and still had the time to create Keshhhhhh, a record label primarily focused on experimental electronic music. Ever the busy man, August 2009 will see the release of his solo album, “Navigare,” via Miasmah. Though everything on this blog has been personal to me, this is something special to me as it takes me back many years. I remember listening to Charlottes back in high school and Slowdive in college. I remember when Televised released their debut album. That’s twenty years time. So the fact that Simon Scott would take time out of his hectic schedule to Answer 5 is an honor for me.

1. Who are your musical and nonmusical influences?

Musical influences appeared when I was ten listening to my older brother and sister’s metal records such as Motorhead and Black Sabbath. This was why I began to play the drums as the sheer power and noise was immense but then I saw the Smiths on “Top of the Pops” and also the Jesus and Mary Chain. Around 1987 the bands began to appear with heavier sounds such as Spacemen 3 and Loop, and I went to see My Bloody Valentine before "You Made Me Realise" was released and I was blown away. "Isn't Anything" was released later and this still is my favourite album ever. I was and still am also into Can, Velvet Underground, the Cure, Love, Syd Barratt era Pink Floyd too. Movies are really important too but David Lynch's films stand out and have an atmosphere that has crept into my recent work most definitely! Milan Kundera's books are inspirational but reality is the biggest influence as I find life is ever changing and the complexities of modern day living rarely leaves little time for fiction. People's emotions, relationships, the ugliness and beauty of the human condition is always there in my musical ideas and I think I'd be unable to cope as well with this fast paced life if I couldn't release some of my emotions through music.

2. Out of curiosity, what have you been listening to in your iPod/MP3 player lately that the rest of us should check out?

Well I love the Gas "Nah Und Fern" box set as the depth and emotive qualities in that collection has almost everything I love about music but anything on the labels 12k and Miasmah are shockingly good with diversity but also a strong sense of identity. The Sight Below album "Glider," which has been released on Ghostly International, is great and I am lucky to be able to play guitar with them live when he tours. Machinefabriek is also another artist with a fast and consistent flow of great music.

3. Staring Keshhhhh Recordings and being responsible, to some degree, for the product of other musicians, how has that impacted your own approach to music?

Having my own label has really opened my eyes to how many people buy music, what format, the price of music and also the way we approach music as an art form these days. Firstly the digital world of discovering music has opened the floodgates for just about anyone to distribute their music, so there is a really huge amount to filter out. The upside of this is no longer is an a+r man responsible for helping out unknown artists as anyone can build up a fan base and sell their music. Unfortunately the sales of music have decreased as it is very CDR driven and the struggling musician has to work some awful day job just to survive, which is in these dark days easier said than done. The positives of running a label are helping an artist release their music, which you know is amazing, and also sometimes getting to play on the record like I did on Hannu's "Hintergarten" album. I also get to put out music that was lost through whatever reason so I can re release albums and they get discovered by a new audience, who missed out first time. This happens because an artist has great music but just not the platform to get it out there so a box of 500 CDs gets a bit dusty up in the loft when the actual music is outstanding. Luckily for me I have some amazing retailers who put out the Kesh releases which get good exposure for the releases such as Boomkat, Norman Records, and Smallfish Records, plus p*dis in japan and Tonevendor in the USA.

(Photo by Alex Alexander)

4. You have been on a journey, from the Charlottes to your solo release "Navigare." What are the differences in approach these days of writing and recording music as a solo artist as opposed to completing the process in a band?

The committee meeting process of doing anything when you have a band is awful as personal politics always effects the decision making process and I think every band I have ever been in has had complex personality battles that ultimately led to poor decisions being made. Without anyone to disagree with me I get to release very pure personal music that follows it's own musical path instead of one made by a compromise. This is why my solo album "Navigare" is the strongest record I have ever written and performed on as I followed my heart 100%! The Miasmah recording label, which is releasing it this summer, left me to just get on with it, which allowed me to remain focused.

I record at home in my studio that has taken years to build up and I will add my old tape recordings or field recordings of my environment to my digital audio workstation. I totally love adding dirt to recordings to give texture and emotion to a track, such as re recording a nice clean acoustic through an old cassette player then distorting it and feeding it back into the computer. Having the drums out is a pain as I don't have much room but it saves loads of money, loads of time and doesn't wreck the spontaneous element of laying down musical ideas. One positive about working with other musicians, which I still do today, is the companionship that makes gigs and traveling a lot of fun. I have a few side project happening right now where we send files over the Internet, such as Seavault (on Morr Music) who is myself and Antony Ryan from Isan, a film project with Jasper TX, Rafael Anton Irisarri and I are doing and an album together via the Internet right now, and I have also just finished a piece with Machinefabriek. All of this is made possible by digital communication which is positively transforming the way musicians work.

5. Currently many artists on both sides of the Atlantic are pointing to shoegazing as an influence; as a key figure in the creation of the genre, why do you think that shoegazing is having a revival?

I think the media has decided to write about the eighties a lot over the past couple of years, which has affected fashion and music hugely, so I guess the early nineties is the next logical progression. Some parts of the publishing media have decided to feature "shoegazing" recently and suddenly the shoegaze revival has begun but personally I feel shoegazing had a revival around five years ago as clubs like AC30 and Sonic Cathedral opened here in the UK and they started releasing records. This revival has grown year by year so now the Sunday papers have caught on and decided this is what is cool again. I must say that shoegaze was a dirty word over here but in the US, Japan and other parts of Europe it has been a very relevant and respected influence, which is very positive.

I have heard shoegaze have an influence on loads of music since I was in Slowdive as many bands took a strand or two of that sound and kept running with it such as Mogwai or Smashing Pumpkins. I remember adverts that had shoegaze soundtracks about ten years ago and many films have featured Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine, so it may have been unfashionable for a number of years but the impact has lasted and filtered through the media. I love what modern electronic music has done with this influence as it has become a new style of shoegaze, dream pop, ambient, minimal techno or whatever you want to call it. I get confused when I see a band and they are an identical early 1990's style band with fender jaguars and bowl haircuts as it was nearly twenty years ago since we all formed those bands. Grab it and take it in another direction and then the world will listen.

Keep up with Simon Scott at MySpace and viist Keshhhhhh online.

Also, do not forget to get a hold of “Navigare” in August, being released on Miasmah.
Read more ...

Passion Pit: "Manners"

I have had amazing support from my friends (all of which I would like to thank right now: thank you), and some of them have actually raised the specter of maybe writing. Hyena (where do we get these names from?) is one of those friends who wanted to try his hand at writing. How could I say no? Recently discovering his love for music, he reminds me of the proverbial kid in the candy shop; he has always listened to music, via the radio and MTV, but as he has delved into more serious music listening, and discovering a plethora of musicians (old and new), he is seeing a world for the first time. Enjoy.

Feel like dancing tonight? Well, if so then don’t forget your manners; the electropop band Passion Pit has just released their debut album “Manners” (18 May 2009 UK, 19 May 2009 USA). The band hails from Cambridge, Massachusetts and is comprised of Ayad Al Adamy, Michael Angelakos, Jeff Apruzzese, Nate Donmoyer, and Ian Hultquist. Stretching back to the 80s for their influences, adding to what has been called an “infantile” movement in music that this blog has pointed out (The Boy Least Likely To, Lacrosse), Passion Pit uses savvy arrangements and alluring sounds and beats like veterans, giving this album an amazingly mature sound.

“Manners” is one of those albums that you can dance along to all night. The opening track, “Make Light,” takes off very strongly and from the beginning draws you in and doesn’t let go. It does not hold anything back and foreshadows the high energy and power the rest of the album has. Each song complements each other beautifully and keeps the album moving along without you realizing sometimes that the songs have ended and slid into a new one. What I really like is that album works as an entire piece, but yet each song is amazingly strong on its own. You are able to jump to any song on the album and it will not loose its alluring power.

But please don’t allow the amazing beats, rhythm and overall dance/party vibe fool you into numbness, as this album can lead you on a deep adventure. For instance, while shaking my bootie to “Little Secret,” I was blown away by the casually, matter-of-fact delivered lyrics: “Mother, I can tell what you’ve been thinking, staring at the stars on your ceiling thinking once there was a power that you were wielding, and now I’ve hit the mark staring at the dark and I cannot help but ignore the people staring at my scars.” Like most children, Passion Pit returns back to the topic of mother, but this time with a twist; I am going to venture to say this song is about getting high, from the “came down” in the beginning to the repeated “higher and higher and higher,” which has to remain “secret.” As “friends complain you’ve caused pain,” “shaming your whole family’s name,” it would be mother who sits back powerless, not knowing what to do, as a grown child who she has no control over does what he does. She can only allow others to see the scars he creates. The image of how something can be destructive to ones around you is powerful. And yet you can dance to it!

Passion Pit’s “Manners” has caught a lot of attention on the Internet and through word of mouth. The unique voice of Angelako and the catchy soundsacpes, combine into a diverse and expressive experience. Electronic-based music has been making a come back; though us on this side of the Atlantic have had to import much of electropop music from Europe, it is amazing that more Americans are finally producing cutting edge and relevant electronic music. You don’t believe me? Buy this album, put on your dancing shoes, and boogie your bootie off, and then let me know what you think.

Track Listing:
1. Make Light
2. Little Secrets
3. Moth’s Wings
4. The Reeling
5. Eyes As Candles
6. Swimming in the Flood
7 Folds in Your Hands
8. To Kingdom Come
9. Sleepyhead
10. Let Your Love Grow Tall
11. Seaweed Song

Keep up with Passion Pit at their homepage and MySpace.
Read more ...

20 May 2009

Metro Sunday Answers 5

I admit that lately I have been into very electronically influenced and rock-based festival bands; discovering Metro Sunday is one of those bands that has introduced an interesting twist into my listening experience lately. Hailing from the San Francisco Bay area, with transcontinental influences, Metro Sunday delivers poignant music that may go against the mainstream glamour and glitz, but are the thoughts that we all think about but are often too obvious for us to mention. The brainchild of Onedin Giraldo, Metro Sunday delivers minimally produced, but consciously crafted and arranged music that will get under your skin quickly. With the diversity of just being a man with his guitar singing or a full band, there is an obvious passion and integrity that seeps through the music. And though Onedin is obviously a busy man promoting his band and composing new music, he has taken the time to Answer 5.

Onedin Giraldo (photo by Brett Simms)

1. Who are your musical and nonmusical influences?

Well, my musical influences start with my parents and what I grew up listening to. My parents are born of different countries and therefore brought their own native music as well as everything in between! Everything from classical to rock. I had my dose of The Doors, The Rolling Stones to Bach and Mozart. Not saying that this is what you will hear in my music, but I am not a one trick pony when it comes to my taste in music. In the present I enjoy a lot of the 80's pop artists such as Adam Ant, Morrissey, Depeche Mode, etc. as well as Johnny Cash, David Gray, Material Issue, and The Pretenders. I could go on and on, but this lays the foundation for my musical influences. As for nonmusical influences, truthfully, situations, personal and those that I am witness to. It can be anything from my own relationships, good or bad, positive or negative. And the biggest one is a feeling. I can pull a song from how I feel at a given time and combined with a thought, I can set a mood.

2. Interesting name for a band, "Metro Sunday." How did the name of the band come about?

I do get this inquiry quite often and it came from a trip I had to Paris a few years back. I was lucky enough to spend some time there and I was riding the metro one Sunday morning and, again, the feeling, I thought what a perfect moment. On the metro on Sunday, peaceful, perfect. So, I put it together and I came up with Metro Sunday.

3. Hailing from the San Francisco Bay area, you are from an area rich with a counterculture history. How has this affected your views of the world and music?

Well, it has made me a very open minded and opinionated person about most any topics that concern human rights, etc. I cannot help but feel that we as people, of every walk of life, have the same basic rights, be it in alignment with the norm or not. It has impacted me personally and I have worked to be a person who is liberal and who does not judge. In my music, it has come out in songs with topics that are less than mainstream opinion, but truthfully, I don’t censor my art. I hope it falls on ears that can be receptive. I just want people to be open enough to appreciate things that are not mainstream, be it music, art, literature, etc. Life as a lemming is not a life.

4. You mention that you do your best to "tell a story with words and a guitar in hand." How do you go through the process of deciding what kinds of stories you want to say in your music?

It would be great if I could come up with some formulaic approach, but no sir, it is somewhat haphazard! I can be doing all that I can to work on a song, and nothing comes of it. Other moments, out of nowhere an entire song, from start to finish. The part that I put the most time into is the words. Yes, some of my songs are lighthearted, but they all mean something, a place in my life. I do my best so folks who listen to my music can pull a story from it, be it personal or not. Some of the greatest songs that I have been lucky to hear have had that beat of life, that snapshot story and I am doing my best to capture that.

Onedin Giraldo (photo by Brett Sims)

5. The music industry is being turned inside out, between broadband Internet and what seems to be a paradigm shift from selling albums to concert tickets. In your experience, how does this affect a new band/musician trying to become established?

Music is not what it should be, but we are getting close. I know, you are wondering what I am talking about! Well, with the advent of Internet, music is being created by folks who might not have access to an audience, but who have the skill and desire. This does change what one can expect out of the industry. Music is personal now and may not bring all the material riches, but the idea of connecting with people across the world has a lot more impact than playing to a room of 5 people, with 3 of them not caring who the hell you are! I tried the play, play, play mentality and unless you are going to tour for 10 out of the 12 months, it is not even worth it from a financial perspective. So, "big music" can push a band to the edge and have them tour nonstop, but I believe that with so much music available to listeners, that seems like pushing a bowling ball up a mountain. As for broadening your impact, look at websites like MySpace and Facebook, without them musicians would only be known in their immediate area. It has a huge impact on bands/musicians nowadays and they need to be very focused on how/where/who they want to have as an audience. They will need to create some plan, be it touring constantly or Internet based or a combination, but it does take a constant effort and with a plan you can be a big fish in a small pond or a fish swimming in the ocean!

Explore the band – they have three EPs available via iTunes.

“Rough Cuts” (2007) (iTunes link)

Why is it a must? In “Dream,” acoustic save the ambient, trippy sounding keyboard in the background, Onedin sings some of the thoughts we rarely admit to others; for instance, “I see the beauty of deception” or better yet “Your smile makes my world come alive.” Both “There Was a Time” and “Devils and Angels” incorporate more instruments, but just as “Dream,” there is a sense of deeply personal experiences underneath the surface of the songs, obvious is the passion in the playing and conviction of the vocals.

Track Listing:
1. Dream
2. There Was a Time
3. Devils and Angels

“Summer Sessions” (2008) (iTunes link)

Why is it a must? If the debut EP was about serenity and reflection, the sophomore effort is more confrontational. The first two tracks will wow you away with their punky influence, coupled with acoustic and pop sensibility. It demonstrates the ability of Metro Sunday to push themselves into a different realm of music, without losing their core sound. But it is “Cry for the City” that will leave you enraptured, not knowing whether to bounce around to the music or sit perplexed in profundity thinking of life. An anthem for humanity and unity, it casts Onedin into a political mindset that is hard to disagree with.

Track Listing:
1. Old Habits Die Young
2. At Dawn He Rides
3. Cry the City

“Leaving the World Behind” (2009) (iTunes link)

Why is it a must? This EP is getting extensive play on Internet radio. The first single, “Eyes,” is a quirky number; a narrative from meeting (“I see you standing there all alone”) to realization of internal, spiritual consumption (“Seems like the demons won once again”). The eyes are the window of the soul. “Perfect Imperfection” will bring you back to a more solid acoustic sound; while “She’s So Selfish” will keep expanding the bands exploration of more standard rock, while putting forth a sleek, dark sexy sound.

Track Listing:
1. She’s So Selfish
2. Perfect Imperfections
3. Eyes

Keep up with Metro Sunday at MySpace and Twitter.

Here is the video for “Dream” from the metrosunday Youtube Channel.

Also, take a look the photography of Brett Sims.
Read more ...

19 May 2009

The Unravelling Answers 5

The Unravelling Answer 5

It is amazing when you are part of a journey of something that is so nascent. Steve and I have been chatting back and forth now for some time, and I have been able to share in the unraveling of the Unravelling. I had the opportunity to listen to some of their developing music and share it with you (link, check it out). It is not often that I am especially anxious for the release of a new album (for example, when Fat Bob is about to release, then I chew my nails to non-existence), but I have become anxious to finally hear the final product, “13 Arcane Hymns,” later this year and hopefully getting to see/hear this perspicacious music live – imagine the power! Though they are busy finishing this process before their release, I would like to genuinely thank both Gus and Steve for taking the time to Answer 5.

Gus De Beauville and Steve Moore of The Unravelling
Picture from The Unravelling homepage

1. Who are your musical and nonmusical influences?

Gus: My musical origins took root from growing up as a child and looking through my father's records. I would always pick out the most bizarre looking ones with the craziest, psychedelic artwork and study them in great detail. Naturally when I learnt how to work the LP player I started popping them in for a listen. Out of that I discovered Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Rush and similar pioneers. Of course he listened to other 'renegades' of the day that I thought were total shit even at the age of nine - so the entire collection wasn't flawless, but it did serve to lead me to where I am now.

Steve: My influences have evolved and grown over the years but there have been some staples that have shaped my leanings as a person. I read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Alex Haley at quite a young age and this changed me completely. It inspired a keen interest in human rights that has stayed with me and grown throughout my life. Other individuals like Taslima Nasrin, Simon Wiesenthal, Che Guevara, Hunter S Thompson, Ward Churchill, and Noam Chomsky are people I get inspiration from - certain aspects of their characteristics, that is. I don't agree with everything they have said or done, but many things, including the attitude of no compromise on the most important things, I believe in. It's important to look with a discerning eye and choose what is relevant to you rather than to blindly follow a group of ideas. I also am inspired by the Zapatista's, as I've stated elsewhere.

Musically, I'm inspired by music that strikes me as intensely honest, or that lights a sort of match for me. Some of my favorite artists include The Dillinger Escape Plan, Tool, Dead Can Dance, Public Enemy, Skinny Puppy, The Doors, Refused, Jeff Buckley, and Tom Waits. All for different reasons really. Dillinger, I love for their pure aggression and uncompromising musical nature. Dead Can Dance is an unearthly band really - Lisa Gerrard's voice sounds more than human. Public Enemy for their intelligence and activism. Now The Doors' Jim Morrison was quite the train wreck, but I like that he was completely self-destructive and threw himself into the ringer. I like a bit of insanity and danger. I definitely listen to more hardcore and varied stuff than Gus, so you can tell which tracks were driven by each of our personalities. Pretty varied influences though, lately I've been listening to early Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake, for example.

2. Hailing from Canada, you are part of slightly different music and cultural scenes than the US or UK. How do you guys feel that this is an advantage in terms of what you have been exposed to and why?

Steve: I seek out music so I feel I expose myself to virtually the same music as say someone in the US or the UK. I definitely have had more CD sales, downloads, and general interest in my musical projects from outside Canada in the past and I hope that changes. Canada is still going through an indie pop revival that has gone on for 8 years or so, and the scenes tend to be very genre specific, meaning most of the bands do not offer much as far as dynamics. The response to The Unravelling so far has been unusually good, so I'm excited about a turning of the tides potentially. Maybe there are people out there looking for something other than emo, hardcore, or straight ahead metal. If so, we will find them.

Gus: I'm not originally from Canada so I can't really admit to growing up in the metal scene here - if that were the case, who knows maybe our album might have sounded more like Nickelback or The Arcade Fire. Hahahaha, just kidding, I've been quite a hermit here in terms of integrating into the music scene. Where I came from we only heard of new bands years after they came out. I caught wind of the "Teen Spirit" video three years after it was released just to give you an idea of how things were back in the day growing up in Barbados. This made us ravenous collectors of anything cool we could find. From absorbing the grunge scene (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains) from the nineties, then moving on to heavier type stuff (Pantera, Sepultura, Machine Head, Tool, NIN etc.), and then branching out into the vast European metal scene (Opeth, Samael, Rotting Christ, Amon Amarth, Anorexia Nervosa etc.)
When I came up here in 2006 to study recording engineering I was living in a one-bedroom dorm. In this solitude I discovered a great many ambient artists that got me through the cold lonely years. Bands like Arcana, Dead Can Dance, Nox Arcana, Sophia, Sopor Aeternus and Summoning became my mantras in the evenings.

3. In my opinion, some of the greatest collaborations in music have been duos. Besides the obvious of who writes what, how do both of you feed off of each others' energy and inspire each other to be productive and creative?

Gus: That’s a deep question man; when I compose I mainly let it flow as naturally as possible while trying to guide the music in a way so as to create an appealing tapestry. An interesting landscape for a vocalist to want to sing on it. I also think of what an audience may feel as they experience the music. Almost as if they're taken on a journey or experience aided by the music. After the material is ready I separate myself from it and allow Steve to mold it into its final incarnation. Clearly there's a level of trust, understanding and respect that has to exist for this to work but so far the results have been encouraging to say the least.

Steve: There's a good amount of room for me to use my voice as an instrument rather than just sing a line or two in this project. Gus puts a lot of intensive emotionally charged atmosphere into his music and it lends itself well to harmonies and poetry. Some tracks like "Last Rights Protest" and "Fire Breather" were ones I encouraged Gus to use - they are not his typical playing style. These songs enabled me to expand what I do as well. I've always felt that the best albums are the rare ones that take you all over the spectrum. Some songs I'm expressing myself very calmly, whereas some are anarchy in the purest sense of the word (“Fire Breather”). It's all just part of being honest. As much as possible, it all has to come out.

Beyond that, as we've gotten to know each other better, we seem to gel well and the writing will get more intricate and involved between the two of us in the future. The trust is there.

4. You describe your upcoming album as being "pscyho-analytical" in theme. Could you elaborate on that?

Steve: That's just an honest assessment of what I figure it is. There are themes running throughout the album that were not intentional but yet so obvious once you read the lyrics through song by song. One very persistent theme is the concept of being buried alive, then digging your way out and coming back from the "precieved dead,’ the phoenix rising from the ashes, Arjuna laying down his doubts and going into battle. This is an idea close to my heart.

I have gone through an intensive time personally over the past year in the writing of this album, and these ideas have come out naturally in my writing. I think it's easy to feel in this day and age like you are dead, like you have no genuine communication method to get through to others, no legitimate options to live an authentic life - beyond television and corporate servitude. I want to feel alive and inspired beyond the mundane. I work hard to express myself honestly in hopes that this communication will inspire others, even if that puts me in a vulnerable position. The digging yourself out part takes intense focus and continual reiteration of your intentions. So the album is not a negative exploration of any kind - in fact it's about reclaiming personal power, it's about victory.

By Gus De Beauville

5. I really like the artwork that Gus comes up with. Is there a direct connection between the artwork and the music?

Gus: Thanks for the kind words - it's quite intimidating to put oneself out there for others to scrutinize. The art pieces started off as a completely separate outlet for me, it's only through wanting to craft out a more encompassing mythology that I started using the art to enhance the music. I think it was Keith Richards that said songs are all around us swirling around in the air - it just depends on who can reach out and grasp one. That's the way I paint, I splash some lines on the paper and then stare at it until faces and visions start to emerge from the page. Then I start to paint them out and give the symbols relevance to the time in my life that I'm experiencing. I hope it gives people a chance to experience dark, entrancing visions along with the music if they wanted. I can't wait until we get to the point in our journey where we're allowed to make videos. That's when the true nightmares will begin. Thanks so much for having us.

Steve: I'm a big fan of it as well. I'm pretty fussy with artwork to represent music I get involved with, and I love his interpretations of what looks to me like chaos and mystery meeting. Thanks Slowdive Music! We appreciate it very much.

Keep up with The Unravelling at their homepage (join the mailing list), MySpace, and Facebook.
Read more ...

18 May 2009

Catching up with Lacrosse and Maximo Park

Summer is almost upon us, which means many bands will be scrambling to release their albums ahead of the summer festival circuit and concert season. So, with these two releases, I am ready to declare summer is here and it is going to be interesting. Though I think many eyes are on Kasabian, Manic Street Preachers, and Placebo, there is a lot going on out there that should not be looked over. Here are two great albums (I promise not to gush over the pop sensibilities of Swedish musicians this time) that you should definitely give a listen to. From bubbly pop to darker indie, Lacrosse and Maximo Park are just the beginning in the diversity I think this summer is going to bring. Enjoy the music and the tanning (really soon).

Lacrosse: “Bandages of the Heart”

Straight out of Stockholm, Lacrosse delivers a strong sophomore effort. Combining a bit of everything into a pop hotchpotch, this is a great experimental pop album in the same vein of Friendly Fires or the later Banshees or even the Sugarcubes. Not as bubbly as their debut album (“This New Year Will Be for You and Me” (2007)), “Bandages of the Heart” (12 May 2009) will deliver a pop edge that is refreshing. The problem with so much pop out there is that it is constantly playing it safe, sort of getting ready for its fifteen minutes of fame in primetime, but Lacrosse has chosen craftsmanship to cliché.

With a growing trend of sounding infantile, the album opens unashamedly with “We Are Kids.” A number that packs the sonic power of “Love Will Never Tear Us Apart,” without the gloom or doom. A straightforward song, with a driving drum beat and bass line, guitars and keys there for ambience, the music is meant to rap around the vocals to enhance the mood of the song. With a playful candor (“We are kids, we can’t decide, no no no…), the song takes a quirky approach at poking fun at different aspects of adult life, including politics: “We need a recount, we need a second opinion and a judge” (perhaps Sweden is not that different than the USA). But not all the songs enjoy this kind of straightforward approach to music. “My Stop” combines some savvy Latin elements, while retaining their quirky take on adult life: “Living is not an option but I guess suicide is worse.”

When I first heard “I See a Brightness,” I had to laugh – great fucking song, but it reminded me of the Sugarcubes cover of “Motorcycle Mama.” It has a playful interchange in the vocals, with a drum beat that makes you want to stand up and do something – dance, mosh, or bounce around. But it is not all bubbly, upbeat tempos. “Excuses, Excuses” drags the listener down to a dismal despair that ends in sort of musical anger/anxiety, as the beat picks up for the last minute. Yet, the lyrics are approached with the same kind of infantile mentality: “You keep up with your excuses, you hope no one will see when you look into the mirror, you see a big phoney.” Come on, who else uses the word “phoney” other than kids?

But the ultimate naivety comes right at the end with “What’s Wrong with Love?” With an eerie guitar solo, with a dragging beat, as if tired, “What’s wrong with love, what wrong with scaring too much, to tell someone you’re in love?” And that infantile approach comes full circle, because only a child would ask the rhetorical question of what is wrong with love. As adults, we have all become somewhat jaded and cynical, expecting the worse in people quite too often. But a child understands that there is nothing wrong with love, and that is when it hits you: this entire album is about pointing out what is wrong with us. From our stupidity in our actions and choices, to the fact that we dismiss pop music as inferior and contrived, this album definitely makes you think about and feel the realities of life, while enjoying a subversive sound that is unthreatening and continuously inviting.

Track Listing:
1. We Are Kids
2. You Are Blind
3. All the Little Things That You Do
4. Bandages of the Heart
5. I See a Brightness
6. It’s Always Sunday Around Here
7. Song in the Morning
8. My Stop
9. Come Back Song #1
10. Excuses, Excuses
11. What’s Wrong with Love

Follow Lacrosse on their homepage and MySpace.

Here is their video for “We Are Kids” from the Tapeterecords YouTube Channel.

Maximo Park: “Quicken the Heart”

The British quintet of Tom English (drums), Duncan Lloyd (guitar), Paul Smith (vocals), Archis Tiku (bass), and Lukas Wooler (keyboards), Maximo Park released their third album, “Quicken the Heart” (11 May 2009 in the UK, 12 May 2009 in the US), proving that they are much more than your ordinary post-punk revivalists. Working with producer Nick Launay, whose extensive resume includes Kate Bush, Lou Reed, Talking Heads, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, this album packs more energy and diversity than their previous efforts. Combining the urgency of punk and post-punk, the savvy craftsmanship of new wave, and every pop hook in the book, “Quicken the Heart” may be this summers’ biggest surprise.

What I really like about this album is the sense of diversity in the music. Instead of parading through tracks of dreariness or out-and-out pop anthems, the album drags you through mud and clouds. For example, the opening with “Wraithlike,” Maximo Park does not hold back any punches: easily a song that is going to encourage a mosh pit when performed live. Perhaps there are no power chords, but what the song has is a singular, driving effect: to get your attention; Smith croons from the top, “Here’s a song that finally you can understand, a minor statement meant to counteract the plan, a list of wraithlike things that quicken the heart.” Demonstrating a totally different approach to music, the closing track, “I Haven’t Seen Her in Ages,” is a pop ditty that is endearing. With a tongue-in-cheek lyrics (“We met at an opening, a very good place to start…”), the song reminds me of Morrissey at his absurd, ironic best, as the song laments of not having seen her, but she “rips him to shreds,” with music and arrangements that you can imagine to 80s style pastoral videos.

But there is everything in between, from “A” to “Zed.” The rockish anthems (“The Penultimate Crush” and “In Another World (You’d Have Found Yourself by Now)”) to the new wave influenced songs, such as “Calm,” the album demonstrates a range of what Maximo Park is capable of, while keeping their own identity. In “Calm,” Maximo Park achieves that universal quality that enables audiences to relate to music. “How many words did you come up with today? How many words do you want to hear tonight? You flare up but beneath lies defeat. I see your eyes now and they are calm.” The ultimate truth, that we have either lived or been on the receiving end, when the relationship is over and you finally admit to that, you are possessed with a calm, a serenity, that comes from knowing what you are going to do next. And what happens on that receiving end? You are left to wake up and “find a trace” of that person there, but are still alone.

There are virtuosos in music, and though I consider Maximo Park extremely talented, I do not consider them virtuosos. You will not get blaring guitar solos, funky bass playing, drum rolls that metal bands would be jealous of, or jazz/classical expertise on the keys. This is not the voice of an angel singing you to new heights. But how many virtuosos do you really see out there? Not many, because the reality is that good music is not written by virtuosos or show offs. The reality is that the main talent that musicians/bands must possess is the ability to write and arrange music effectively, coupled with lyrics that are universal and believable. From the pounding drums to the sleek bass playing, from the ambient use of keyboards to the highly crafted guitar riffs, this is a band that can come together to compose and record some of the catchiest, hooky songs out there. And this may not be the voice of an angel, but it is the voice of a man a stone throw away from meltdown, who sells his lyrics with conviction. Maximo Park delivers with “Quicken in the Heart” in a big way.

Track Listing:
1. Wraithlike
2. The Penultimate Clinch
3. The Kids Are Sick Again
4. A Cloud of Mystery
5. Calm
6. In Another World (You Would’ve Found Yourself by Now)
7. Let’s Get Clinical
8. Roller Disco Dreams
9. Tanned
10. Questing, Not Coasting
11. Overland, West of Suez
12. I Haven’t Seen Her in Ages
13. Lost Property – UK iTunes bonus track.

Keep up with Maximo Park at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and Bebo.

Here is their video for “The Kids Are Sick Again” from their YouTube Channel: Maximoparkofficial.

Read more ...