30 June 2009

The Answering Machine: "Another City, Another Sorry"

Out of Manchester, the band formed in 2005 with Martin Colclough (vocals, guitars) and Pat Fogarty (guitar, backing vocals) started writing music together while attending the University of Manchester. Within a few months, Gemma Evans (bass, backing vocals) would join the band, and with the aid of a drum machine they would start playing their first live shows. Well into 2007, Ben Perry (drums, glockenspiel) would join the three, rounding out the line-up that would release “Another City, Another Sorry” (15 June 2009 in the UK, available as import or download in the USA). And of course the feeling is another indie band out of the UK? Another Stokes? Another Scouting for Girls? The answers: yes, no, no – take a listen, scratch the surface, and you are going to be surprised.

I am a fan of the Stokes, but I think the comparison is disingenuous. Party made because of some of the guitar playing, but, regardless if they are fans of the Stokes and/or share common influences, they are not a copy of the Stokes in any way. Moreover, there is more energy in the Answering Machine – they are not aiming at the same final effect with their music. As for Scouting for Girls (yes, I like them too, does that ruin my credibility?), the Answering Machine is nothing like them either. Though I think that some of the tracks on “Another City, Another Sorry” have it in them to garnish radio play, I do not think that was their intention. I don’t think that the Answering Machine cares much about top 20 successes, perhaps I am wrong, but if they did, they would have sought a different production style to their album.

This album is a perfect blend between vocal harmonies, in your face guitar playing, smashing percussion, and driving bass lines that propel each song. You cannot imagine any of these songs without the full ensemble working together; there is a perfect interplay between the members of the band. “Oh, Christina” is the perfect example of this. This is a perfect song with the “ohhhs” and “ahhhs” in the background, the playful interplay between the bass and rhythm guitar, the steady beat, and lyrics with a real narrative quality: “Oh Christina, you know I don’t really want to leave you, acting out scenes on the bedroom floor, you never use to act this way before. Oh Christina, I only came round so I could see you, you can’t take back what you said before, it’s not that simple… it’s not simple at all.” The latest single, “Obviously Cold,” has that same kind of narrative quality, and though musically the same interplay between the members exists, there seems to be more of an early 90s quality to it with how the band moves from one musical texture to another.

What is amazing about the album is that it is not predictable. From the inclusion of “It’s Over! It’s Over! It’s Over!” to the post-punkish close, “You Should Have Called,” this album will keep you on the edge of your seat as you’re listening. Right from the opening, the titular track, “Another City, Another Sorry,” you are not drowned by raucous or cacophony, instead you are smacked with urgency and relevance, a feel of narrative sincerity and careful, deliberate craftsmanship. Even in the slower paced “The Information” (“Sometimes it feels like these buildings are asleep, and you’re so smart and I’m so bored…”) and the mid-tempo “Emergency” (ironic, really, as the title would suggest anything other than sedate music), that sense of urgency, the need to communicate narrative and reach out is there.

Ultimately, I fear the Answering Machine are being compared with too many bands out there or being lumped into that non-descript, nebulous indie/festival circuit. It will only steal away from the fact they are urgent and relevant of this is a must have summer album.

Track Listing:
1. Another City, Another Story
2. Obviously Cold
3. Oh, Christina
4. Tomorrow
5. Cliffer
6. Emergency
7. Oklahoma
8. Lightbulbs
9. It's Over! It's Over! It's Over
10. The Information
11. Your Should Have Called

Keep up with The Answering Machine at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is their video for “Cliffer” from their YouTube Channel: AnsweringMachineBand.

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29 June 2009

Catching up with Scarlet Soho and Dead by April

A friend, Bloodybones, and I were chatting online the other day, and inevitably the conversation always turns to music – of course, after we slagged off a few of our mutual friends. One thing we started commenting on was how music, recently, is much like the 80s in the sense that there seems to be a diversity that is generally accepted. It is not like the 90s, when both the mainstream and underground scenes prioritized certain forms of music. Instead, there seems to be a wider range of music that people are engaging. I remember the 80s not just for my band haircuts (though I really liked the one when I had blue and white hair simultaneously), but also for the fact that people were not willing to define themselves strictly by one scene or subculture. That sort of feeling is coming back, and oddly enough this posting is a reflection of that. From synthpop to metalcore, these two bands are arguably polar opposite of one another. Yet, I fancy that most people would be willing to listen to both and enjoy them equally. So welcome to the world of Scarlet Soho and Dead by April (thanks to Bloodybones for reviewing them), and I hope you enjoy.

Scarlet Soho: “Warpaint”

Five years ago I came across the “Division of Decency” album by Scarlet Soho; it was one of those albums that you liked as a guilty pleasure, played the shit out of, but always thought that the band could bring their game up a few notches. Other than the music, one of the things that caught my eye in this duo was the twist in stereotypical roles. Scarlet, the woman, was not the vocalist, but rather a programmer and musician. James Knight, the man, was the vocalist and programmer. (Live Stuart Key completes the lineup.) From Eurythmics to Yazzo to Goldfrapp, the role has usually been the woman singing, while the guy shyly hid behind synths. Not so here, which was as refreshing as their sound, so I wanted more. I waited. And waited. The years went by and by, and nothing. Imagine my surprise when I came across this import in the City – yeah, yeah, yeah, as soon as I got back to my car I started blasting this really loud along Avenue B.

"Warpaint was released on 27 March 2009, and there is no qualm here with wanting to sound like an 80s synthpop band. However, technology has come a long way. Those Atari sounding effects are not present; instead there is a luscious soundscape that is easy to escape into it. Further, I really do not think that the comparisons to Depeche Mode or the New Romantics do any justice to Scarlet Soho. Just like Superoscope in terms of electric body music, Scarlet Soho may know the past, may have assimilated the past, but they are treading new inroads into the future. This is not the synthpop that I grew up with. The sounds are darker, the drums/percussion more pronounced, and there is a quality of urgency to the music that points to the fact that it is meant for live performance. This is rare in synthpop.

Whether you find yourself dancing to “Analogue Dialogue (Kill the Beat)” or reminded of Bauhaus with “Under Strict Surveillance,” what you will not get is the same song twice. Heady, but not overwhelming, poppy but not superficial, the album has the umpf in it to appeal to those who like cutting edge, underground music, while the music is easily digestible by a mainstream audience. It is a great combination, a winning one, just ask Depeche Mode.

Track Listing:
1. I Dare
2. Model of Control
3. Analogue Dialogue (Kill the Beat)
4. Cyclone
5. This Nausea
6. Under Strict Surveillance
7. Speak Your Mind
8. Satellites
9. Is Growing Up the Best That We Can Do?
10. Lights Out London
11. Modern Radio
12. Isolation
13. Programmed to Perfection
14. Electric Fence

Keep up with Scarlet Soho at MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is their video for “Speak Your Mind" from the majorvid (Major Records) YouTube Channel.

Dead by April: “Dead by April”

The self-titled debut album from Sweden's Dead by April (13 May 2009, available as an import in the US) is described by the band themselves as a "pop metal explosion,” but it left me with mixed feelings. The good news is the record starts off strong and stays that way. I'm a sucker for mixing things up, which is why the synth lead in and then abrupt kick to the face from the guitars and drums on the first track "Trapped" got my attention immediately. These guys have an interesting style with the way they write actual melodies (good melodies) with metalcore. Yes, I said "good melodies" and "metalcore" in the same sentence.

While musically Dead by April’s offering shows strong musicianship from its members with elegant arrangements and solid production, I have to point out that lyrically I felt let down. While I can understand a songwriter's point of view and their need to express themselves, I just found the lyrical content too repetitive. The central theme of the whole record revolves around love and loss. Like I said, while I can appreciate a songwriter's expressiveness, I found myself ignoring the lyrics around "What Can I Say" and paying more attention to the music. On the plus side the vocal melody still compliments the music.

Overall I have to say it's a very strong first offering; let's see what they bring to the table with their sophomore effort.

Track Listing:
1. Trapped
2. Angels of Clarity
3. Losing You
4. What Can I Say
5. Erased
6. Promise Me
7. Falling Behind
8. Sorry for Everything
9. In My Arms
10. Stronger
11. Carry Me
12. A Promise
13. I Made It
14. Leave Falling – limited edition
15. My Savior – UK version
16. Losing You, alternate version

Keep up with Dead by April on their homepage and MySpace.

Check out their video for “Losing You” and a live performance of “In My Arms” from their YouTube Channel: deadbyaprilvideo.

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Retrospective on the Smiths' "Meat Is Murder"

The Smiths are one of those seminal British bands of the 80s that even if you do not like, you must respect. The band was founded on the song writing relationship between Johnny Maher (aka, Marr, guitars) and Steven Morrissey (vocalist). Rounded out with Mike Joyce on drums and Andy Rourke on bass, the Smiths would take the world by surprise with their 1984 self-titled debut and a bit of controversy – they were accused of glorifying pedophilia and death (on all counts incorrect and a misreading of lyrics). But the next three albums would solidify a place in history for the Smiths – “Meat Is Murder” (1985), “The Queen Is Dead” (1986), and “Strangeways, Here We Come” (1987). Typical of many 80s acts, the prolific need to compose and record and but out records was there, as they released four albums in four years, and then came the end in October 1987. Solo careers, old band members suing each other, and a refusal to reunite, the Smiths have continued to be relevant to music today. Just look at the list of who they have influenced: Blur, Coldplay, the Cranberries, the Kooks, the Libertines, Oasis, the Stone Roses, and Suede. And though I could have done the cliché and gone right for “The Queen Is Dead,” I have been stuck on “Meat Is Murder” again, a personal favorite, but it is also an important album. No sophomore slump here, the album would deflate any prior criticism of the band, while paving the way for them to becoming one of Britain’s most influential bands. Even if the Smiths had stopped here, they would have left their mark on musical history.

Opening with “The Headmaster Ritual,” you are blasted with that Johnny Marr classical guitar style of playing – somewhere between “tight” punk rock and rockabilly – and Morrissey’s sarcasm: “Mid-week on the playing fields, Sir thwacks you on the knees, knees you in the groin, elbow in the face, bruises bigger than dinner plates.” Again, as in the self-titled debut, Morrissey is quick to humorously write about abuses, but this time sustained as a child at the hands of an educator. But isn’t this just a factor of growing up and coming to age? Don’t we all look back at our harrowing experiences and learn to laugh at some of them? Okay, I may still have occasional nightmares about nuns pulling my hair, but I can relate. And I think that is what the Smiths often relied on: the ability of their audience to laugh off past experiences. It opens the possibility to write a song that could revolt people lyrically, but still leaves the door open to be danceable.

The album then leads into one of favorite Smiths songs of all time, “Rusholme Ruffians.” There is a certain 60s quality to this song, even taking place at a fair: “The last night of the fair, from a seat on a whirling waltzer, her skirt ascends for a watching eye, it’s a hideous trait on her mother’s side.” Again, Morrissey is pointing out of absurdities and realities of everyday life, while Marr is sucking you into the narrative with semi-acoustic, fast-paced arrangements. Ever flirt with anyone when mom was around? It can be fun until she slaps you in the back of the head – game killer, really. The 80s started that sort of revolt against neo-Victorianism, the façade of being pure and chase. The Smiths join the bandwagon and take a smack at the notion, but with a tongue-in-the-cheek air.

And though Morrissey has dismissed some of the gloomiest musicians out there, he is able to get as gloomy and dreary as the best of them. In the classic, “What She Said,” Morrissey sings, “What she, “I smoke cause I’m hoping for an early death and I need to cling to something.”” This is nowhere near a happy go lucky song, but is a standout on the album and in the entire Smiths’ catalogue. As captured on the “Rank” (1988), this song has the potential of becoming a slam fest. More so than the other songs on the album, this song is the closest to their punk rock influences. Then one of the dreariest songs ever (second dreariest in the Smith’s cannon, the first being “I Know It’s Over” on the “Queen Is Dead” album), “The Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” is a depression fest, especially when there is discomfort knowing that you may die with a smile on your face. But what makes this a great song? Ambiguity. What is the joke? Who are you in the car with” (“Park the car at the side of the road, you should know…”) With music that is neither standard rock, or pop, or post-punk, or new wave, but rather universal enough to appeal to a wide range of people, the song’s ambiguity makes it easy for any one to listen and relate.

As much as I am tempted to talk about each and every song, I am going to hold back the urge. But there are two more I want to mention. Many TV affectionados may know the songs “How Soon Is Now?” The song was covered by Love Spits Love (Richard Butler’s, of the Psychedelic Furs, side band) and used as the opening theme song of “Charmed” for the first seven of eight seasons. A bleak song for television or a mantra, though it does sound kickass, Morrissey sings, “There’s a club, if you’d like to go. You could meet somebody who really loves you. So you go, and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own, and you go home, and you cry, and you want to die.” The story of so many people’s lives! It is that endless quest of looking for love, but always coming home alone. Sonically, this is not one of those songs that sound like the Smiths. With an oscillating guitar sound dominating the background, the song does not move with the same fluidity as most Smith’s songs. The lead guitar never pops out either, as if it is as shy as the shyness that Morrissey sings about.

The album closes with “Meat Is Murder,” which should be adopted by the vegetarian movement: “And the flesh you so fancifully fry is not succulent, tasty, or kind. It’s death for no reason, and death for no reason is murder.” I remember listening to this song as a kid, going to the kitchen table, then getting smacked by my mom (yeah, quite a bit of smacks growing up) for not wanting to eat my steak: “I’ll give you murder if you don’t eat your food.” And though you may laugh at the content of the song, it shows that the Smiths had conviction. It was not lip service like many other musicians. They stood up and sung about what they believed, and the 80s were not a time that being a vegetarian was cool.

This album has the ability to endure, both musically and lyrically. This is the album that solidifies the marriage of Marr’s craftsmanship and guitar skills and Morrissey’s lyrical wit and voice. (Not to take away from the other two members of the band, but it is well understood that only Marr and Morrissey wrote the songs.) There is not a single song on the album that is filler material. There is not a single song that does not demonstrate conscientious songwriting ability. From the big picture to the small details, “Meat Is Murder” is as perfect as an album as perfect can be. Listening to it again the other day did not only make me wish for a Smiths reunion, but gave me back that desire for a new Smiths album. The Smiths easily had the potential to endure and weather time along side the Cure or Depeche Mode, and it is amazing how with just four albums, they are almost, if not as, influential as they are. And that is a testament to great music. The only way to close this out is by quoting Morrissey from “Well I Wonder”: “Gasping, but somehow still alive, this is the fierce last stand of all I am… please keep me in mind.”

Check out the covers. Internationally, the first (above) was the cover, but in the USA (below) the cover with the four copies was released. Perhaps making the line “Meat Is Murder” more apparent. (Originally, the line read “Make War Not Love” and was a still taken by Emile de Antonio.)

Track Listing:
1. The Headmaster Ritual
2. Rusholme Ruffians
3. I Want the One I Can’t Have
4. What She Said
5. The Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore
6. How Soon Is Now? – Originally not on the UK or European releases,
as it was released as a nonalbum single
7. Nowhere Fast
8. Well I Wonder
9. Barbarism Begins at Home
10. Meat Is Murder

Here is the link for the video “How Soon Is Now?” from the BVMemoTV YouTube Channel.
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27 June 2009

The Joy Formidable Answers 5

Working out of London, the Joy Formidable is quite busy these days with running a club and touring, this three piece (Ritzy Bryan, Rhydian Dafydd, and Matt Thomas) are making big waves everywhere they go. With their album released earlier this year (“A Balloon Called Moaning” – 19 January 2009), the band has been playing extensively, both in clubs and festivals, including the Oxegen Festival in Ireland on 10 July. So when I reached out to the band, and Ritzy responded affirmatively that they would mull over my questions, I was ecstatic. Busy band, so of course it is an honor for me when one of my favorite current bands takes the time to Answer 5.

Photo by Toby Hudson

1. Who are your musical and nonmusical influences?

So many to mention, but I'll list a few: Arcade Fire, Van Morrison, Costello, The Flaming Lips, Tony Hancock, Guiseppe Arcimboldo, Dali, Sergio Leone, Charles Bukowski, Thomas Hardy.......

2. More so than here in the States, the UK seems to go label crazy (dream pop, dream indie, post punk revival, etc...) and I am sure your band has gotten all the labels at one time or another. But how do you define your own sound?

I don't think we're keen to surmise it in a phrase, not even in a full sentence. There's many layers to the band and that's why it's exciting, on the surface we're a loud guitar based 3 piece but that's only part of it.

3. You have given fans one of two options: to download the newest CD ("A Balloon Called Moaning") or to download it for free. Why? What have been the results?

That decision was all about embracing change and realizing that people invest in different ways. What's interesting is that most people who downloaded the record for free bought the physical format as well. I'm glad people got to hear the tracks directly from us whichever way.

Photo by Toby Hudson

4. How has "Club Joie de Vivre" impacted your own music and approach to music?

Joie de Vivre was always about supporting new bands and artists, of any genre...it was an extension of an ethic we've always held. It's vital as an artist to be inspired by a range of styles and have an open approach.

5. Considering you run your own club, any good (underground) music out there you would recommend to the blog readers?

Some of these aren't exactly underground, but Little Death are great, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, James Yuill and Dead Wolf Club.

Keep up with the Joy Formidable at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Remember “A Balloon Called Moaning” – which you can buy or download for free via the MySpace page.
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Post-Punk: Part 3 of 3 - Post-Punk Revival

So the century turns, and for some reason the media starts to pay more and more attention to the 80s. Throughout the 90s, it was almost a curse to be associated with the 80s if you were a musician. It was about guitars, stripped-down music, and a plain jeans and t-shirt image. Technology? Phooey! Music was generated on guitars, basses, and drums. There was no need for anything else! Even MTV promoted this idea with “MTV Unplugged.” Sure, some bands brought along a pianist and violin players, but think about all the bands that really could not perform on the show – the vast majority of synthpop and electropop bands could not. In essence, MTV helped marginalize and “discredit” them, as the bands that were most revered where macho, guitar playing, screamers, who were gods if they happened to smash half their instruments at the end of the show. (Didn’t Fender stock soar during the 90s?) But it wasn’t just the concept of instrumentalization that was shifted, but also how music was composed and produced. Out went multi-layered and textured music, and in came power chords, minimalist arrangements, and pre-packaged (teenage) angst. The only real exception to this is hip-hop, which continued to be seen marketable to urban and wannabe urban youths from the ‘burbs. But by the turn of the century, when the 80s were starting to be remembered again, many musicians took another hard look at the decade, and by default at post-punk, and in it found the inspiration to revive the sound.

There is a lot of rehash when it comes to post-punk revival, and my general rule is that most rehash is crap. If I wanted to listen to Joy Division, Bauhaus, or the Cure, I would scroll down my iTunes and pick out the songs that so obviously have become models for the rehash. (Hey, it happens with every genre of music. Remember all the wannabe Nirvana bands in the mid and late 90s or Oasis wanting to be the Beatles?) But among these bands are many who are not just rehashing the old sound, but adding to it, expanding the genre, into something new and vibrant. And what is great about this moment in music is that just like shoegazing, the presence of women is being felt in the musicianship. The 90s, with grunge and hip-hop, was a male dominated scene, with just the occasional diva or girl group.

These bands below are incredible on their own terms. But what has been made a running joke among some of my friends is their voice – they have an Ian Curtis (Joy Division) quality to it. First off, I want to say that one cannot be criticized for the voice he or she was born with. Not all of these male vocalists sound like Curtis, and those that happen to have that quality to their voice is by coincidence, genetics really. Second off, as for the artists who are trying to expand the genre (and not just rehash the same ole shit), they do not even sing like Curtis. Of course, comparisons are always going to be made; it is part of human nature – we tend to understand things by comparison. But do not allow generalized, somewhat unfounded comparisons/opinions taint your expectations of these bands. Unlike their forefathers, there is a greater range is style, influence, and themes for their lyrics. Unlike their forefathers, they got to experience listening to original wave artists find new genres and continue to defy the concept of genre and marketability. Like their forefathers, they make no apologies for their music, but unlike their forefathers they are openly competing on pop charts, not content with bringing their music to a smaller scene. Instead, they are going global; they are rising to the status of pop icons, and all the time doing it on their own terms. And that, in a way, is the greatest tipping of the hat to their influences: taking a concept as abstract as post-punk non-conformity and making it mainstream. But of course, that only means it is only a question of time before the revival dies out, and these musicians continue to challenge musical ideology in another way. The great thing that history has taught us about post-punk is that it is always going to morph and then re-emerge.

We have reviewed quite a few post-punk revivalists (or at least somehow associated with the movement) here on SlowdiveMusic already. Here is a list if you are interested in some older reviews: The Horrors, Maccabees, Maximo Park, Metric, The Legends, Pains of Being Pure at Heart, White Lies, White Rabbits, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Bloc Party: “Silent Alarm” (2005)

Bloc Party is not an easy band to label or put your finger on, because they draw so many different influences from so many different quarters in music and time periods it creates a very unique sound. However, as far as post-punk goes, it is obvious that they have heard their Cure and Joy Division – but do I hear some Pixies and Killing Joke in there once in a while? And where did the band form? At the premier rock festival: Reading! Just imagine being at the premier festival, 1999 (on the line up: Blur, the Charlatans, Echo and the Bunnymen, and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers), bumping into an old friend, and saying, “Yo, that could be us.” And the rest is pretty much history.

Why is this a must? Because it is different. From the vocal styles to many of the arrangements, Bloc Party from the start offered something distinct, something almost difficult to call rehash. “Silent Alarm” may not be thematically cohesive, but all of the songs are tight. Whether it is the 80’s esque single “Banquet” or dream pop feel of “So Here We Are,” the band moves through this album with fluidic ease. The opening track, “Like Eating Glass,” has that stream of consciousness post-punk rockers loved to utilize: “I can’t eat, I can’t sleep; I can’t sleep, I can’t dream; an aversion to light, got a fear of the ocean, like drinking poison, like eating glass.” And though these songs are structured around the typical repetitive bass and drums of post-punk, the “driving” quality and the multi-textured arrangements are enviable. More so than any post-punk revival album before this one, “Silent Alarm” took this genre to a totally new level.

Track Listing:
1. Like Eating Glass
2. Helicopter
3. Positive Tension
4. Banquet
5. Blue Light
6. She’s Hearing Voices
7. This Modern Love
8. Pioneers
9. Price of Gas
10. So Here We Are
11. Luno
12. Plans
13. Compliments

Keep up with Bloc Party at their homepage and MySpace.

Here are their videos for “Pioneers” and “So Here We Are” from their YouTube Channel: blocpartyofficial.

Chromatics: “Night Drive” (2007)

Out of Portland, Oregon, Ruth Radalet fronts this trio. Rock ‘n roll has predominately been a big boys club, but following in the vein of Siouxsie Sioux, this band brings a feminine touch post-punk revival in much the same way that Metric and Yeah Yeah Yeahs do. It is not frilly or vulnerable or pining, but rather it has an ethereal quality that drives home some of the most powerful lyrics and ingenious arrangements. Some may ask why I would include a lesser-known band on this list; the answer is simple: The Chromatics accomplish something that the others do not. More so than the other bands, they have the ingenuity of sticking faithfully to an older esthetic mindset, yet producing fresh, modern, relevant music.

Why is it a must? Well, the eerie cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” for starters. If anyone wondered what this sound would sound like with a gothic edge, you need to look no further. But the originals are more interesting. The titular track, “Night Drive,” is sensual in the same way Cocteau Twins were in the 80s. The calmness of “Tomorrow Is So Far Away” is mesmerizing. “Healer” has an epic-feel to it, though it falls short of four minutes. Then there is the radio-ready, instrumental “Let’s Make This a Moment to Remember.” Instrumental music is lost on many bands these days; rarely do bands these days experiment with the format. But this is a beautiful song, perhaps the most beautiful on the album.

Track Listing:
1. The Telephone Call
2. Night Drive
3. I Want Your Love
4. Running Up That Hill
5. The Killing Spree
6. Healer
7. Mask
8. Tomorrow Is So Far Away
9. Let’s Make This a Moment to Remember
10. Tick of the Clock

Keep up with Chromatics on MySpace.

Editors: “An End Has a Start” (2007)

Based out of Birmingham, this quartet has taken Britain and Europe by surprise. Drawing influence from both the past (Echo and the Bunnymen, the Cure) and the present (the Stokes, the Walkmen), these boys are all about adding a vibrant, fresh air to gloomy, despair filled music. Their greatest ode to the past may have been their cover of “Lullaby,” but their eyes are on the future. With an anticipated album later this year, the band will be taking a new direction in their music. The question remains just how drastic of a new direction it will be? As drastic as “Pornography” to “Japanese Whispers”? I mean, they did say they would be using more synths.

Why is this a must? This is no sophomore slump! Actually, this is one of those rare occurrences when the sophomore effort overshadows the debut. Instead of giving you my take, I am going to quote thevenhunter on Playlouder: “…this album is fucking brilliant – it made me want to cut my hair, paint my ceiling, fuck the postman and burn the disco down. So I did. Then I curled up in a corner, cried, and shat myself.” Enough said? No. Though the album as a whole is an amazing roller coaster ride, the individual songs are gripping and forceful. For instance “Bones” (“In the end all you can hope for, is the love you felt to equal the pain you’ve gone through…”), driven by bass and drum, is an example of great in-your-face music that makes you want to dance, slam, jump, something… though you realize it is to the dreariest of lyrics. The opening track, “Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors,” is one of the most beautifully arranged songs of all time. The song lulls you into a false sense of serenity and familiarity, which is belied by haunting words sung: “We’ve all changed from what we were, our broken parts smashed on the floor.”

Track Listing:
1. Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors
2. An End Has a Start
3. The Weight of the World
4. Bones
5. When Anger Shows
6. The Racing Rats
7. Push Your Head Towards the Air
8. Escape the Nest
9. Spiders
10. Well Worn Hand
11. A Thousand Pieces – iTunes / Japanese edition
12. Open Up – Japanese edition

Keep up with the Editors at their homepage and MySpace.

Interpol: “Turn on the Bright Lights” (2002)

Arguably one of the leaders of both the New York City (Brooklyn) and post-punk revival music scenes, Interpol is one of those American bands that have found more success and acceptance in Europe than the USA (their latest album, “Our Love to Admire” (2007) reached #2 in the UK, #1 in Ireland, and top 10 in seven other countries). Combining pastiche, sophistication, and a sort of New York detachment, Interpol brings a dreamy, dark sound and overwhelming emotional undertow with their sonic harmonies. This is a band of musicians, where the emphasis is always on the music and not production. Straightforward recording, no production or technology glitz, and heart-felt vocals, Interpol delivers sleek music that is relevant, thriving, and infectious.

Why is it a must? The first time I heard “Untitled,” the opening song with haunting guitars, the sadness in the bass, and a beat to drown passively to, I was in love. But that is only the beginning of a journey though a sonic nightmare of luscious music. On their debut album, Interpol does not shy away from delivering some of the darkest music. “PDA” (easily my favorite on the album) is a sinister tongue-in-cheek number (“Yours is the only version of my desertion that I could ever subscribe to… you’re so cute when you’re frustrated…”), while the young Interpol takes a success stab at epics with “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down” and “The New.”

Track Listing:
1. Untitled
2. Obstacle 1
3. NYC
4. PDA
5. Say Hello the Angels
6. Hands Away
7. Obstacle 2
8. Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down
9. Roland
10. The New
11. Leif Erikson

Keep up with Interpol at their homepage and MySpace.

The Killers: “Hot Fuss” (2004)

Poker and hookers, and the Killers of course… out of Las Vegas, they took the music scene by surprise with their sleeper hit “Somebody Told Me.” The band formed by a twist of fate. Brandon Flowers’ (vocalist, keyboardist) former band dumped him when they moved to Los Angeles and he remained in Vegas. (I wonder how much regret they have in that move now?) After meeting the other three members of the band (Dave Keuning, Mark Stoermer, and Ronnie Vannucci, Jr.), they would eventually sign a record contract with a British record label. This is perhaps one of the reasons why the Killers can always been seen playing European concert and festival dates.

Why is it a must? Let me admit it right off – my favorite track is “Somebody Told Me.” Come on, that line – “Well somebody told me you had a boyfriend, who looked like a girlfriend that I had in February of last year…” – is fucking hilarious. Not to mention that musically the song is solid, bringing a real new wave feel to traditional post-punk. But the one track that really yanks my chord is “Midnight Show.” The driving guitar and bass, the pounding drums, and that eerie synth sound in the background is near orgasmic. And every time Flowers sings, “Drive faster,” and the music kicks in, it has an amazing visceral effect on me. (I have been stopped by cops driving faster to this track.)

Track Listing:
1. Jenny Was a Friend of Mine
2. Mr. Brightside
3. Smile Like You Mean It
4. Somebody Told Me
5. All These Things That I’ve Done
6. Andy, You’re a Star
7. On Top
8. Change Your Mind
9. Believe Me Natalie
10. Midnight Show
11. Everything Will Be Alright

Keep up with the Killers at their homepage and MySpace.
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Seven, Not Six Videos

Here are some videos that I have been hooked on lately. I know the tradition is six videos, but I could not cut any of these out. Each video is so different from the other and amazingly good, I had to post them all. Enjoy these great videos.

Plastiscines: "Barcelona" from the NylonMagazineTV (Nylon Records) YouTube Channel.

Them:Youth: "Bow and Arrows" from their YouTube Channel: themlostyouth.

Just Jack: "Doctor Doctor" from their YouTube Channel: JustJackOfficial.

Archangel: "Do It Again" from their YouTube Channel: ArchangelTV.

The Victorian English Gentlemens Club: "Parrot" from This Is Flake DIY Records YouTube Channel.

LoveLikeFire; "Stand in Your Shoes" from the RootFilms (directors Zack Keller and Ed Skudder) YouTube Channel.

Jamie T: "Sticks N Stones" from his YouTube Channel: jamietmusic.

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26 June 2009

The Legends: “Over and Over”

Where has my friend SDM been? Sick, very sick actually. Between that and dealing with one of those times in the year where the 9 to 5 dominates most of his time, he has been spending most of his free time in bed. But I got to meet up with him the other day, and we sat down, and he actually shared this album with me; like him, I was in love immediately. What makes this review special is that it is the first time the both of us sat down together and wrote. Getting inside of his head, and listening to him talk about an album, making comparisons to older music and telling stories about those times were interesting. But enough of that, this post is about the Legends. Johan Angergard, founder of Labrador Records, is the main creative force behind the band. Now, releasing their fourth album, “Over and Over” (16 June 2009), listeners are going to be wowed away with the range and diversity of music, but yet the ability to keep a singular sound.

We both of us (SDM and I) are of the same mind these days: there is a lot of great music coming out of Sweden. It is most like a question of real estate: location, location, location. Not part of the Anglophile or American music scenes, and residing in reach of the entire continent of Europe, not to mention Russia and Asia, Sweden imports much of its music from the entire world, while producing their own. In the air is a mix, a diversity of sounds and styles, ideologies and beliefs, that congeals into unique, relevant, groundbreaking music: Abba, The Cardigans, The Hives, Moonbabies, Povel Ramel, Robyn, Roxette, and The Sounds, not to mention that Stefan Olsdal of Placebo is Swedish. Johan Angergard belongs on this list. “Over and Over” is a potpourri of music; there is no one definite style of playing or genre of music, yet the experience is complete and fulfilling in itself. Literally, it is mind blowing and ear popping.

Taking influence from dream pop and shoegazing, the album also harkens back to the 60s, standard pop, and the new trend for noise pop. Couple that with being guilty of having wonderful lyrics to pair with their noise, you get music that is as thriving and relevant as early Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine was during the late 80s. Officially a nine-man piece, the band has the ability to draw upon various members for different sounds, vocals, and melodic effects. But what you do not get is broody-moody-bring-me-down music. Unlike bands like White Lies or Metric that have this ingenious ability to put forth some of the darkest themes to some of the poppiest sounds, Legends/Angergard is more about capturing moments in real life, with a distorted production style, which matches the way we all as humans distort reality when confronted with it.

The album opens with the driving post-punk revival mantra “You Won,” sexy, ambient, infectious, and leads into the noise pop/punk of “Seconds Away.” And just when you think you know where the album is going to go, the fourth track, sneaks up on you: “Monday to Saturday” (“Now we are only biding time… Monday to Saturday, still no fun days, even on Sundays”), a poppy, 60-esque number, that will make you want to clap along. The album closes much as it began, with a post-punk revival mantra, coming full circle, with “Touch.” From defeat to wanting to reach out (“I want to touch you”), the album is an adventure lyrically. In between there is the acoustic “Jump” and ethereal “Heartbeats.” One thing, though, we never give much credit for is production style. This album deserves some, much actually. One of the reasons the album works as an album (already the hints that live these songs are going to take on a life of their own is obvious) is that the production style is universal on all of these tracks. It allows the songs to exist on single continuum. In a time and age where the album as a concept is quickly disappearing because of how we have started to consume music in the broadband world, Angergard apparently continues to work with the concept that albums are and must somehow (thematically and/or sonically) be a complete collection in their own right. Cheers for this! This album, ultimately, has a calming effect, and moods just turn from angry to happy and from anxious to calm. And even when the distortion is quickly becoming unbearable, you realize that they are setting up the next bar in music, the bridge or chorus, or even the next song. Everything works off of everything, in a way that is almost magical. Get the album, even if you have to import it.

Track Listing:
1. You Won
2. Seconds Away
3. Always the Same
4. Monday to Saturday
5. Heartbeats
6. Dancefloor
7. Turn Away
8. Recife
9. Over and Over
10. Jump
11. Something Strange Will Happen
12. Touch

Keep up with the Legends on the homepage (via Labrador Records) and MySpace.

Here is their video for “Always the Same” from the Labrador Records YouTube Channel.

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24 June 2009

Mirage on Dirty Projectors,The Sounds, and Jarvis Cocker

Keeping up with everything new coming is hard, and once in a while you happen to miss something that you should have included. My mission is to try to keep everyone up to speed on everything out there that we may have missed, as well as the shit I love. So from Sweden to the USA, here are three albums that you should investigate.

Dirty Projectors: “Bitte Orca”

Dirty Projectors has to be one of the most interesting bands that I have ever come across. More of a collective than a tradition band, they are led by David Longstreth and are out of Brooklyn. With an ever-rotating line-up, they do not have the same sound twice. From concept albums (like “The Getty Address” (5 April 2005), inspired by Don Henely) to collaborating with Bjork, Dirty Projectors have rejected any attempt of being a cliché pop or rock band in favor for crafting well thought out, ingenious songs that are thought provoking and addictive. The game and the bar have not changed for their latest album, “Bitte Orca” (9 June 2009). “Indie rock” does not really do them justice as a label; I would feel more comfortable with “experimental.”

“Two Doves” lacks a rhythm section, written around an acoustic guitar. It incorporates strings for more than just ambience; they add to the tranquility and warm the soul. But it is not all tranquility. This can be a disturbing album. It opens with “Cannibal Resource.” Yes, “Cannibal Resource.” Then there is the closing track, “Fluorescent Half-Dome,” which is somewhere between Kate Bush, a cappella, and jazz. What you find in between is a range of music, sounds, and arrangements that is rare in music these days, but will blow your mind away. Yet, there is never an attempt to make this “popish” or commercial play friendly. Instead, Dirty Projectors / David Longstreth is more content with creating music that is unique, high quality, and vibrant on its own term.

Track Listing:
1. Cannibal Resource
2. Temecula Sunrise
3. The Bride
4. Stillness Is the Move
5. Two Doves
6. Useful Chamber
7. No Intention
8. Remade Horizon
9. Fluorescent Half Dome

Keep up with Dirty Projectors at their homepage (at Western Vinyl) and MySpace.

The Sounds: “Crossing the Rubicon”

Out of Sweden, the Sounds (one of my favorite bands) have released their third album: “Crossing the Rubicon” (2 June 2009). Since I first heard the Sounds, I have been a fan of their brand of new wave, but they continue to grow and develop their sound. The lead single is “No One Sleeps when I’m Awake” and opens the album. Getting personal right away, the Maja Ivarsson sings, “The dreams I dream, the song I sing for you, they’re coming from my heart. Is my message getting through?” What makes the song interesting is that just like their older single “Painted by Numbers” (from “Dying to Say This to You” 15 March 2006), the song relies much more on the typical guitar pop-rock than new wave glitz.

True to their new wave influences, the sounds must have heard all of their Blondie, or at least that is the feeling I get when listening to “Beatbox.” Sung like “Rapture,” but sounds like “Heart of Glass,” this is the poppiest number on the album. One other highlight is “Dorchester Hotel.” Again, a song that rejects the new wave glitz in favor for a more conventional pop-rock sound, what really is beautiful in this song is the arpeggio during the verse. The song has a driving rhythm section and one can only imagine the mosh pit that will start up during a live performance.

Track Listing:
1. No One Sleeps When I’m Awake
2. 4 Songs & a Fight
3. My Lover
4. Dorchester Hotel
5. Beatbox
6. Underground
7. Crossing the Rubicon
8. Midnight Sun
9. Lost in Love
10. The Only Ones
11. Home Is Where the Heart Is
12. Goodnight Freddy
13. No One Sleeps When I’m Awake – Arnioki Sessions, iTunes Bonus Track

Keep up with the Sounds at their homepage or MySpace.

Here is their video for “No One Sleeps When I’m Awake” from their YouTube Channel: thsoundsmusic.

Jarvis Cocker: “Further Complications”

Though Pulp may be on hiatus, Jarvis Cocker is not. Working with Steve Albini (of Nirvana production fame), Cocker leaves behind the clichéd Britpop sound expected of him and releases music that is relevant, vibrant, and alive. He released his sophomore effort, “Further Complications” (18 May 2009 in the UK, 19 May 2009 in the USA), and if there was any fear that he was going to release more serious music with his new production collaboration, we are lucky that he has not lost his sense of humor.

The music is very straightforward, without much in terms of production glitz. It is Steve Albini producing. Where the music is driving and catchy, lacking a virtuoso quality, works to Cocker’s advantage: it allows you to savor Cocker’s humor all the more. Cocker is easily the funniest person music; just take a listen to Pulp’s “Different Class” (30 October 1995) with songs like “Common People,” “I Spy,” and “Sorted for E’s and Wizz.” This album is no different. In “Fuckingsong,” he croons “And every time you play it, I will perform the best I can; press repeat and there I am, and there I am, always glad to be your man.” But the most fucking amazing song is “Homewrecker.” Complete with a sax, this is a song that deserves to be a single and will get you off your ass and jumping around.

Track Listing:
1. Further Complications
2. Angela
3. Pichard
4. Leftovers
5. I Never Said I Was Deep
6. Homewrecker!
7. Hold Still
8. Fuckingsong
9. Caucasian Blues
10. Slush
11. You’re in My Eyes (Discosong)

Keep up with Jarvis Cocker at his homepage and MySpace.
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19 June 2009

Little Boots: "Hands"

What is pop music? I could slag it off and say it is nothing more than music for mass consumption, but then I would be degrading such greats as Bobby Darin, Sade, The Carpenters, Erasure, Madonna, and Eurythmics. I could say the pop only means what is “most” selling at the moment, but that would only belittle the work of artists pursuing a specific sound or genre like grunge or synthpop. At the end of it all, I guess “pop” as a genre, at least to me, is music that concentrates on hooking the audience with catchy rhythms, keeps to the standard structure of music most of the time (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, catchy music inserted, chorus, chorus), and a melody and lyrics that are easy to remember, understand, and rarely stirs controversy. This style of music has been stagnant for years now. Between boy and girl bands that lack any real pop credibility and rubbish created by producers (not musicians/artists), there has not been many pop artists out there that could make waves on charts, and yet have the ability to craft ingenious music that is both artistic and yet catchy for mass consumption. Pop essentially laid dead, but then Little Boots came around, and if anyone is going to save pop from the mundane, it is Little Boots. With her release of “Hands” (8 June 2009 in the UK, only available as import in the US till 2010), this is arguably the most infectious album of the year and has become my guilty pleasure.

Born Victoria Hesketh, Little Boots has stated David Bowie, Gary Numan, Kate Bush, and everything on the Radio 1 play list as influences. But whether directly or indirectly, you hear some of the best of the pop world in her music, from Erasure to Goldfrapp. Essentially an electro pop artist, there is no catchy, repetitive, or filler music on this album. She does not recreate the old synthpop of the 80s or the electronica of the 90s; she does not follow the same vein of contemporary electro pop artists like Cut Copy or Empire of the Sun. Instead, she has taken the elements she likes the most from each era of electronic music, discarded the rest, and used every trick in the book to record an album catchy, universal, and yet personal.

The album opens with “New in Town” (which I posted the video for earlier - link). Nice, pulsating electro effects, catchy chorus (“I’m gonna take you out tonight, I’m gonna make you feel alright; I don’t have a lot of money, but we’ll be fine. No, I don’t have a penny but I’ll show you a good time” – great pop stuff, ha?), and a beat that just makes you want to dance. This is followed by “Earthquake” – pretty friggin’ amazing. The need to dance and move about continues, as the music takes a turn for a more sophisticated style of electronic music. Philip Oakey (of Human League fame) joins for a duet, “Symmetry.” Want pop credibility, Oakey is it. With the Human League, he has the distinct honor of being part of the only synthpop act to reach the #1 position twice on both sides of the Atlantic. But this is not “Don’t You Want Me.” This is more driving, dare I say more infectious, with both singing, “Only you can make me feel complete” – a line that might make me gag in another song, delivered ingeniously.

Reading down the credits for collaborators and co-song writers is like reading down a list of all “hip” composers and producers working with many famous artists currently on high rotation on the radio. However, you do not hear Lady Gaga or other chart toppers on this album; Little Boots is able to exert and control her own sound. There is no attempt at recreation or rehash. I can really point to any song on this album as an exemplar of well crafted and unique pop music. Whether it is the erratic “Ghosts” or the sensual “Click,” Little Boots delivers incredibly written songs without grand standing, production gimmicks, or mundanely boring stadium/arena ready feel that we have become accustomed to in recent years. My only complaint is that I think that the US is getting the short end of the stick not getting a domestic release till next year, but the few extra bucks on the import is more than worth it. With that said, now starts my faffing, as I take yet another listen to this album.

Track Listing:
1. New in Town
2. Earthquake
3. Stuck on Repeat
4. Click
5. Remedy
6. Meddle
7. Ghosts
8. Mathematics
9. Symmetry – duet with Philip Oakley
10. Tune into My Heart
11. Hearts Collide
12. No Brakes
13. Hands – hidden track

Keep up with Little Boots at her homepage and MySpace.

Here is a live performance/interview of “New in Town” on the NMETV YouTube Channel.

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14 June 2009

Patrick Wolf: “The Bachelor”

Patrick Wolf is an Irish singer-songwriter; yes, Irish, as he was born in Cork on 30 June 1983, but moved to England after his birth. His initial music lessons came in the form of church choir and violin lessons. His first pop performance was with Minty, a pop art collective, at age fourteen. Already, the seeds for experimentation in music were laid, with such a vast array of exposure: Irish heritage in London, classical and church music to artsy music. Though originally, he intended to release “Battle” this year, he split the project/double album into two halves, releasing “The Bachelor” on 1 June 2009 in the UK, 9 June 2009 internationally (downloadable in the US). This is not just any release for Wolf, this one is under his own record label Bloody Chamber Music. As a result, Wolf was free to record anyway and anyhow he wanted: he did not hold anything back.

The album begins very strong and can be seen as a protest album at the beginning with my favorite song from the album “Hard Times,” “Divided nation, in sedation, overload of information, that we have grown up to ignore, mediocrity applauded… this battle will be won!” After this kind of beginning, this battle cry of winning the war, one might think that this entire album is going to be political (considering that the working title as originally “Battle”), but the album slowly changes perspectives and begins to take a melancholic mood with such songs as “The Sun Is Often Out”: “So life has blessed you with a gift boy, that you’ve gone and thrown away. And with it your whole future and left behind your family.” (Could he be singing about himself?) The album picks up right at the end with “The Messenger” (“And I don’t fear what tomorrow may take, stay blind to my future and fate; I won’t hear what the other may say, let love lead the way”) – a mantra for living life. With one song, Patrick Wolf seems to put his life in perspective in a way most musicians do not… or cannot.

This is a hard album to define musically. I started listening to it thinking it would be electro-pop, but the incorporated violins made me think differently. Yet, the album is not symphonic. Though I am not sure I think that this album should be reduced to definition, the best description would be funktronica: incorporating electronic elements to what are essentially folk progressions. This is most obvious in tracks like “Thickets” and “Theseus.” But those choir/church lessons are present there, like in “Who Will?” It seems he cannot escape his past. Even the cover of the album harkens to the past. The pose, the font, the style of photography of this album covers alludes to that of his debut album, “Lycanthrophy” (2003). Considering that this is the debut album on his new label, this is tacitly stated by the cover itself.

The album is an amazing combination of different sides of Patrick Wolf: the revolutionist, the brave hearted, and the melancholic. The album is indeed an emotional rollercoaster that will have you shifting moods and loving every minute of it. Yet, do not take in vain the amazing soundscapes that he has created, which is proof of Wolf’s genius in merging different genres and concepts in music into solidly crafted songs. You will be jamming to songs and then realize that what has you dancing is the sound of a classic violin. Yes, Wolf has certainly outdone himself with this album, and now we will have to wait for part two, “The Conqueror,” out next year.

Track Listing:
1. Kriegspiel
2. Hard Times
3. Oblivion – featuring Tilda Swinton
4. The Bachelor – featuring Eliza Carthy
5. Damaris
6. Thickets
7. Count of Casualty
8. Who Will?
9. Vulture
10. Blackdown
11. The Sun Is Often Out
12. Theseus – featuring Tilda Swinton
13. Battle
14. The Messenger

Keep up with Patrick Wolf at his homepage, MySpace, and Twitter.

Here are his videos for “Vulture” and “Hard Times” from his YouTube Channel: patrickwolftv.

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13 June 2009

Vids I'd Like to Share

Link Update

Been sort of crazy lately, and there is a lot out there I want to share. But here is a bit of an update: both Mirage and Hyena have decided to commit to becoming contributors (thanks guys) and of course Juju is always a godsend! So here is my second post of the day, some videos that I have not been able to stop viewing the last few days - all for different reasons. Some for quirky music, others for amazing concepts, and some for amazing voices. Hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Frankmusik: "Confusion" - from Island Records YouTube Channel.

The Phantom Band: "The Howling" - from the chemikal (Chemikal Underground Records) YouTube Channel

Enter Shikari: "Juggernaut" - from AmbushReality (Ambush Reality / Tiny Evil Label) YouTube Channel.

Little Boots: "New in Town" - from her YouTube Channel: littlebootsvidoes

V V Brown: "Shark in the Water" from Island Records YouTube Channel.

Embed disabled, by the video can be seen at this link: "Shark in the Water"

We Have Band: "You Came Out" - from their YouTube Channel: wehaveband.

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Manic Street Preachers: "Journal for Plague Lovers"

One of the most touching stories in music. Manic Street Preachers started as a quartet: James Dean Bradfield (vocals, guitars), Richey Edwards (guitar), Sean Moore (drums), and Nicky Wire (bass). Forming in 1986, and releasing their first album in 1992 (“Generation Terrorists”), the band hit the 90’s not fully embracing shoegazing, post-punk, or glam. Instead, the Preachers drew influence and inspiration from a large array of scenes, political ideas, and musicians. Riding on top of the world, in 1995, Richey Edwards mysteriously disappeared. Last November, the British government officially declared him presumed deceased; however, a body has never been recovered. The band did not lose a member; they lost a friend, a brother, which continues to haunt them. Continuing as the Preachers, the band decided to put a quarter of all their royalties in a bank account, believing… in the hopes… that Edwards will reappear one day. Now releasing their ninth album, “Journal for Plague Lovers,” the Manic Street Preachers have turned back the hands of time, honoring Edwards by composing music to lyrics that he left behind. These are thirteen beautiful songs that echo across time and space.

“Journal for Plague Lovers” was released in the UK on the 18th May 2009 and available in the US as an import; I have sat on this CD for quite some time, listening to it over and over. You can’t shake the feeling that this is more than just another run-of-the-mill album, and, if you have been following the Preachers as long as I have, inevitably you are transported back, over a decade. And though typically I have no problem sharing my opinions on just about anything, I realized early on that this album would be very personal to not just the Preachers, but their fans as well. It is a surreal experience to hear the word written over a decade ago, echoing into our present, but more surreal is the stream of consciousness and poetic conundrums found throughout the words. The album opens with “Peeled Apples,” a typical, straightforward punkish rock song, which brings the surreal to a new level: “The more I see the less I scream, the figure 8 inside out is infinity. The naked light bulb is always wrong, they make your break complete, then blow it away to kingdom come.”

Tongue-in-cheek exist where you least expect it: “Oh the joy, me and Stephen Hawking, we laugh, we missed the sex revolution when we failed the physical” (“Me and Stephen Hawkins”). True to the Preacher style of composing edgy-rock pop numbers, the titular track “Journal for Plague Lovers” shows the growing maturity of these veterans. Though the lyrics are thickly demure (“Pretend prayer, pretend care, makes everything seem so fair, these perfect abattoirs, these perfect actors, these perfect abattoirs…”), the Preachers have perfected delivering music that is digestible, with real indie/punk credibility, but yet able to hook you with guitar riffs and thriving rhythms as well as any pop song. With the help of Steven Albini (producer of Nirvana fame), the Preachers deliver an array of short (they average three minutes each), powerful songs, that are never over-produced, over-developed, but are far from bare or stripped down. Even the closing track, “William Last Words,” where Nicky Wire takes over lead vocals, when the song sounds like it may be bare, an arrangement of strings flutter through the background. Yes, flutter, because they are there to fill in the soundscape, but not to take away from the other instruments or vocals of the song.

Though I have always felt that the Preachers have composed some of the greatest music (just think about “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next”), but this album is not about the music, per se. For that matter, it is not about the lyrics either. The magic of this album is friendship, brotherhood. Yes, the Manic Street Preachers should be respected as great musicians and composers. Yes, they should be respected because they are amazing performers. But they should be admired because of their humaneness. Their distractors will say that they are capitalizing on Edwards’ lyrics, but whom are they kidding? Not only have the Manic Street Preachers continue to be relevant and receive critical acclaim (they did win NME’s God Like Genius Award in 2008), they still continue to divide their royalties four ways. If they were about money, they would not be doing that! No, this is about finishing something their friend started, something he is not able to finish; this is about making a friend proud. This in amazing album that should be admired not only for its musical/lyrical genius, but also because it is that candle in the window, left burning in hope.

Track Listing:
1. Peeled Apples
2. Jackie Collins Existential Question Time
3. Me and Stephen Hawking
4. This Joke Sport Severed
5. Journal for Plague Lovers
6. She Bathed Herself in a Bath of Bleach
7. Facing Page: Top Left
8. Marlon J.D.
9. Doors Closing Slowly
10. All Is Vanity
11. Pretension/Repulsion
12. Virginia State Epileptic Colony
13. William's Last Words
14. Bag Lady - hidden track

Keep up with the Manic Street Preachers at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is their video for “Jackie Collins Existential Question Time” from the icolumbia (Columbia Records UK) YouTube Channel.

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09 June 2009

Placebo: “Battle for the Sun”

That time has come once again: Placebo has released their newest album and it has taken me five listens in order to determine what I was going to write. Placebo is the type of band that you can’t possibly place into a category; are they a Bowie imitation? Another post-punk band or are they grunge? I could never possibly categorize them and their individuality and with a drummer down and a record label switch this year, they have quickly recovered and released their sixth album, “Battle for the Sun” (released 8 June 2009 and 9 June 2009 internationally).

Though still to live the longevity of Depeche Mode, Placebo are veterans, and it is the same case scenario with the album’s release compared to Depeche Mode’s “Sounds of the Universe”: you expect more from them just because you know their potential, but it is a great album nonetheless. Unlike other fans, I do not think the loss of Steve Hewitt had much effect on the sound; rather, the actual maturing of the band had a lot to do with the change of sound. It is edgier, more upbeat compared to their prior effort “Meds,” and the theme of the album is completely different. The approach seems to be similar to that of the older albums like “Black Market Music” and “Without You I’m Nothing,” with an edgy sort of spin to it. There is a lot more emphasis on instruments as they have added keyboard sounds into the mix, it was not my cup of tea, but then again, I was completely taken off guard.

Catchy with a bit more variation in instrument and rhythm, “Battle for the Sun” is as fresh as any other album and the team of Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal still produces profound lyrics like always. The album compared to “Meds” is better in terms of sound since the variation from song to song changes more so based on the lyrical themes. The first track amusingly called “Kitty Litter” is once again a perfect demonstration of the band’s ability to write; the song starts with “Love of mine … This fortress in our hearts feels much weaker now we're apart” and ends with “I need a change of skin I need a change.” Then later on in the album “Julien” (the ninth track) is an amazing song that captures the thesis, if I may, of the album. “You can run but you can't hide because no one here gets out alive … find a friend in whom you can confide Julien, you're a slow motion suicide.” The name “Julien” is a common male name in certain areas and these lines could possibly be directed to all people, not just a specific “Julien.” The band has stated that the album was about the process of attempting to escape hardships, “the darkness,” and eventually embracing the “darkness,” as there is no other option left.

The group has definitely changed on certain levels, but that is part of life. The “Placebo” effect is an odd one, as I have mentioned before, their albums may not hit the soul directly at first, but eventually, it will get to you and the album will be played on repeat. Though I miss my “Nancy Boy,” I am glad to see the evolution and maturing of Placebo, and even though it is a different goal they may be aiming for, they have not lost their luster.

Track Listing
1. Kitty Litter
2. Ashtray Heart
3. Battle for the Sun
4. For What It’s Worth
5. Devil in the Details
6. Bright Lights
7. Speak in Tongues
8. The Never-Ending Why
9. Julien
10, Happy You’re Gone
11. Breathe Underwater
12. Come Undone
13. Kings of Medicine

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

Here are their videos for “Battle for the Sun” and “For What It’s Worth” from their YouTube Channel: Placebodiary.

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06 June 2009

Lacrosse Answers 5

Being a fan of music, I greatly appreciate the process a band has to go through from recording to releasing to promoting/touring a new album. With a new album out, their sophomore effort, “Bandage for the Heart,” Lacrosse is busy at work. If you think it is hard for an American or English band to get notoriety, just imagine how much more work goes into a band from a non-English speaking nation. But I am telling you, unlike the American and British scenes that can be summed up with a few words, the music out of Sweden in these past few years is lush and diverse. From metal to pop, Scandinavian musicians are proving that rock/modern pop may be an American invention, but they can perfect it better than the Brits. And with all the work that takes, Kristian and Nina still took the time to Answer 5.

Photograph by Johan Rubbestad Lilja

1. Who are your musical and nonmusical influences?

We find it hard to agree on musical influences. We're six people in the band and we all got a lot of different influences. So far we have found out that everyone in the band can agree on liking Sonic Youth, Bob Hund and Dolly Parton.

2. The music is reminiscent of the energy and ideas of childhood, yet completely for adults. How do you approach composing and recording your music?

Like children stumbling our way through life.

3. Is anything off topic or taboo for a musician to sing about?


Photograph by Sebastian Tim

4. You have chosen to sing in English. Why? Is there any special challenges for your band considering that you are not from an English-speaking nation?

Every day is a challenge. But the greatest challenge of them all will probably come when we someday, hopefully, go to USA to play. There will probably only be pissed off Lacrosse-players in the audience. That’s a problem. Maybe we have to change our name on that tour to something like: "Lacrosse is so much more than just a sport."

5. What can we expect live? (Any chance of coming to the USA?)

If you expect a lot, this is what you'll get. Without promising too much, we tend to find new members when touring. Last time in Germany it was Ramon; he came along for all the shows and had a crazy party all week. On the other hand, if you don't expect anything, you might be happily surprised.

Keep up with Lacrosse at their homepage and MySpace.
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Franz Ferdinand: “Blood”

What are these Glasgow boys up to again? Franz Ferdinand released their first ever compellation album “Blood” on 1 June 2009. (Their third studio album, “Tonight: Franz Ferdinand” (26 January 2009 in the UK, previously reviewed), was a great CD and a remix could be a little scary, because many would take it as their product instead of that of a remixer. After the first listen of “Blood” though, there were songs that stood out to me and some that didn’t have that extra “oomph” (as others might prefer "pizzazz"). But before we begin, one bit of trivia, originally “Blood” was released in Europe as part of a limited edition deluxe version of “Tonight: Franz Ferdinand.”

Before I get to the songs, I want to talk about the cover artwork. “Tonight: Franz Ferdinand” has a great cover, that basically depicts the members in the back, one laying down acting as if he was murdered, and the other two acting as crime scene investigators, as the front man taking the role of a cop trying to stop the photographer. But in the tradition of remixes, they did use the same album cover for “Blood,” but they put an antique look to it, makes it look interesting, and yet provocative at the same time. Essentially, they “remixed” the cover as well.

Though there might just be some differences from the third studio album to “Blood,” it shows what kind of composers they are. Ultimately, the basis for the remix has to be strong for the remix to be as strong. “Blood” shows us how they can play around with a particular song, and still make it sound like it’s a first release. They only used nine songs from “Tonight,” but nonetheless if I had to choose just nine songs out of thirteen, I would have chosen these same tracks. “Feel the Pressure” (dub version of “What She Came For”) starts off on a completely different tone from the studio album version. The first thing you hear when you pop that bad boy in is a combination of different synthesizers. The beat is also slowed down. Either way, you still get the same energy and feeling from the original.

“Feeling Kind of Anxious” (dub version of “Ulysses”) is somewhat of a strange mix to me. It has one of the longest introductions on the compilation. Even though it seems that the entire song isn’t being played, you would have to listen to the song a few times to realize that they are singing or muttering the words which are blending into the beat of the music. A definite departure in style for Franz.

This album shows that Franz Ferdinand has the ability to produce a very interesting album, which will not only boggle your mind, but also force you to take a second look at it. Could they have used any other techniques to better the album? Yes. But that is the tricky part about remixes. One never knows how they are going to stack up against the original until people really start listening. (Of course, the purists are going to hate it.) Though I believe they wanted to play it safe with these remixes (they could have gotten really crazy), they still produce a compilation album that is worthy of their moniker: Franz Ferdinand.

Track listing:
1. Feel the Pressure – What She Came For dub version
2. Die on the Floor – Can’t Stop Feeling dub version
3. The Vaguest of Feeling – Live Alone dub version
4. If I Can’t Have You Then Nobody Can – Turn It On dub version
5. Katerine Hit Me – No You Girls dub version
6. Backwards on My Face – Twilight Omens dub version
7. Feeling Kind of Anxious – Ulysses dub version
8. Feel the Envy – Send Him Away dub version
9. Be Afraid – Dream Again dub version

iTunes Bonus Tracks
10. No You Girls – Vince Clarke Remix
11. No You Girls – Trentemoller Remix
12. No You Girls – the Juan MacLean Remix

Keep up with Franz Ferdinand at their homepage and MySpace.
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