06 May 2009

Catching up with Great Northern and New York Dolls

I find myself saying this a lot lately – life happens. So my apology for not getting more posted over the last few days. I have had the chance to listen to a lot of new music and, well, most of it did not have me jumping out of my seat excited. But the advantage of writing a blog on my own term, as opposed of being paid by a third party, is that I get to concentrate on what I like and quickly try to forget about what bored me. That is the real reason why you rarely get me writing something negative. It is not that I do not feel like there is a lot of shit out there – there is, you should see my face when I am probing through Deezer! But why bore you with my ranting about why something was painful; I rather share what I have truly enjoyed, like these two albums. Enjoy.

Great Northern: “Remind Me Where the Light Is”

I have been a fan of Great Northern, which hails from California, since the onset, with their debut “Trading Twilight for Daylight” (15 May 2007). Something about their sound, an American indie band whose influences are never worn on their sleeves, got right under my skin. Their sophomore effort, “Remind Me Where the Light Is” (28 April 2009) delivered on my expectations, but not how I thought it would. Though I would imagine that some critics and fans might be put off by how clean this album sounds, it is the fact that they did not pursue the same sound on this effort that is most impressive.

Far from being a radio-friendly effort (though perhaps more so than their first album), what holds this album together is the atmospheric nature of the music. For instance, the slow paced “New Tricks” is ripe with eeriness and vocals to match. Rachel Stolte and Solon Bixler (formerly of 30 Seconds to Mars) are able to bring out a popish feel to the darkest of sounds. In the straight out rock of the track “House” (overly produced for stylistics that remind of the later Banshees), they display what all great lyricists know – universality is key to building a fan base: “The end begins just as it starts, and leaves me wondering what we left behind. Told me not to talk, but please explain my thoughts that float around my mind.” The dazzling confusion, the compulsion to think and ponder the end obsessively, the denial (“…it’s not real…” repeated incessantly), taps into the feeling that we all experience, but hate to admit to. But it is that sense of stating the obvious, even if it is childish, that makes great lyrics. Add brilliantly arranged strings and piano, and you have an album that may be on the verge of a breakthrough, which is ironic as the lyrics are definitely more unpleasant in theme than the debut album's.

Now, a lot has been made about Great Northern’s music being licensed out to commercials and what not, but what band is not doing so in this economic and broadband environment? And a lot is being made of the friendlier sound, but to quote Cursive, what artist wants to continue “churning out those hits ‘til it’s all the same old shit”? This is an amazing album, great song writing and incredible production that never weighs down the listening experience but enhances it. Bands have to evolve and change, while continuing to have artistic integrity. This is what “Remind Me Where the Light Is” is – growth that you will appreciate.

Track Listing:
1. Story
2. Houses
3. Fingers
4. Shakes
5. Stop
6. New Tricks
7. Mountain
8. Warning
9. Driveaway
10. Numbers
11. 33

Keep up with Great Northern at their homepage and MySpace.

New York Dolls: “Cause I Sez So”

Is punk really dead? To me, punk is not a definitive sound, per se. I think of punk as an ideology that challenges the status quo of music; not just sonically, the punk movement was also about giving voice to the unspoken mundane and underbelly and realities of life. I think it is futile to argue who really was the first punk band, as a slew of bands were influenced by this ideology. But what killed the original punk scene, on both sides of the Atlantic, was the conformity to a punk sound. In many ways, the post punk and goth rockers were more loyal this ideology than the punk rockers, who rehashed their own sound over and over again. But even most of the post punk and goth rockers would become repetitive and conformists. But is that ideology still alive? I think so, but not typically in the bands that are associated with it. Then again, we always have a chance to revisit it from time to time – pastiche is an amazing thing.

Usually considered to be punk rock, The New York Dolls are actually a protopunk/glam punk band formed in 1971. Releasing their fourth studio album (they did break up in 1977 and reconstituted themselves in 2004), “Cause I Sez So” (5 May 2009) is a pleasant surprise. A solid rock album, devoid of punk rock antics or any attempt at a retro sound, the album is a standout in a New York City scene where musicians are favoring electronic, funky, and post punk influences. I was disappointed by their third album “One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This” (25 July 2006), because I felt that it was an effort to recapture the past. I am always weary of reunion albums for that reason. However, this album kicks ass.

Perhaps because the NY Dolls are back to doing what they want to do, perhaps because it has the defiance I have come to love in them, perhaps because it is straight in your face with no excuses, this album is what the Dolls are all about. Including a reggae-influenced remake of their song “Trash” (originally from the debut album), this album is full of bravado such as in “Better Than” when David Johansen sings, “I’m gonna kick your ass…” I was immediately hooked. This album may not sonically be a major growth for them or punk, but what the New York Dolls bring back is that punk ideology of “fuck you, this is getting done my way.” It is not just in the approach to recording, but also in their lyrics and that attitude that permeates from each song. Down to “Nobody Got No Bizness” when at the end the lyrics hit you like a brick in the face: “If we don’t come back, just call us on the ouija board.” You got it, these boys will stop rocking when they are finally in the grave, and that gives me some comfort.

Track Listing:
1. Cause I Sez So
2. Muddy Bones
3. Better Than
4. Lonely So Long
5. My World
6. Ridiculous
7. Temptation to Exist
8. Making Rain
9. Drowning
10. Nobody Got No Bizness
11. Trash
12. Exorcism

Keep up with the New York Dolls at their homepage or MySpace.