When I sat down and decided to start this blog, I also decided that I did not want to write just two or three lines for a review and call it a day. I sort of knew that I wanted to do something more in depth than that; I wanted to really pick albums apart enough to give a reader something to really go by, and not some silly shout out like, “If you like so and so, you will like this.” What I realized right away was that each album would take time to write up, and as a result it would sort of be impossible to cover every single album that I (or the other members of the blog) was grooving to. (Our Tuesdays are usually filled with listening to one album a few times over and then writing away for an hour or two, and it is a process that is hard to repeat each and every day – or even week to week – for each member writing.) Add to that the fact that some albums and new bands just slip by you sometimes, you sort of develop a pool of albums that you have not gotten to. So I sort of made the “executive” decision to include some blurbs… sort of. I still cannot bring myself to only write two or three lines per album, but these will definitely be a bit more compact than past reviews – for the most part. Ultimately, I think they deserve coverage, and I wish I had time to dedicate to them (or a few more volunteers to write – HINT TO MY FRIENDS). In any case, I think that once in a while we will post a “Blurbs” to put out the word on a few albums that we simply could not get to. This is not an indication that any of these albums are inferior to other albums (actually two of the following albums easily make my top twenty of the year), but it is our effort to be a bit more comprehensive of things we really love and time has not allowed us to review in depth. Ultimately, we love these albums and we hope you will too! Please enjoy, and look up these bands.
Settle: “At Home We Are Tourists”
It is funny how the Seattle and Brooklyn sounds have merged more and more these days; hailing from Easton, Pennsylvania USA, Settle combines the best aspects of pop-grunge rock with the melodic qualities and “dark” introspections of Brooklyn’s indie scene. What is on offer on the debut album “At Home We Are Tourists” (24 April 2009) is this generation’s youth’s anxiety wrapped up in quite sophisticated arrangements that do not belie the visceral. If someone were going to argue that the early 90s are back, they best point to Settle. “Grand Marshall’s Moonclouth Robes” (the opening track) may not blow you away sonically, but it will blow you away with it’s 90’s-esque apathy and defiance: “We’re still marching” becomes the rallying call for a new generation that is inheriting this oppressive, dejection full world. And I assure you that if by the end of the first track you are not hooked, the second, “Naked At a Family Function,” will do it to you. Simplicity at its best; what will grab your attention is the subtle shifts from verses to chorus. This is a band that understands that good songwriting does not mean “letting it all hang out” on every track. Good songwriting is composing a song that has its own personality, complete in itself, and has a life/existence outside of the official recording – and these twelve songs are just that.
Songs like “Sunday Morning After” demonstrate that Settle is not a one trick pony. And as I listened through the album the first time and subsequently afterwards, I thought about how bands select the tracks for their first album. Usually, nascent bands spend months (maybe years) trudging through the local scene until getting noticed. Sometimes having written anywhere between twenty and fifty songs, or more, there is a selection process. Settle is one of those bands that have made me wonder what else do they have up their sleeves? It is obvious from first listen that this band is capable of handing over more than they have already, and I am already counting down a second album and hunting down b-sides.
1. Grand Marshall’s Mooncloth Robes”
2. Naked At a Family Function
3. Rite of Passage
4. ISO: 40yr M W/Kids Seeks 26yr F W/O Kids
5. Affinity For My Hometown
6. I Saw An Inferno Once
8. Sunday, Morning After
9. On the Prowl
10. Kick. Win!
11. Dance Rock Is the New Pasture
12. Into the Mind Of Those Who Commit Desperate Acts of While Under the Influence Of Others
Keep up with Settle at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.
Here is their video for “Murder” from the EpitaphRecords YouTube Channel.
Hello Seahorse!: “Bestia”
I made a promise to myself that this coming summer, if Hello Seahorse! is playing in Mexico City and I could afford to get down there, I would go!
Reality, one of the most untapped markets for indie rock/pop is Latin America, both in terms of forming a fan base and talent. Hello Seahorse! can give any American or British band a run for their money! Their sophomore effort, “Bestia” (4 August 2009) [translation, “Beast” – all translations my own], is a testament that indie rock has a lot to benefit from the infusion of other cultures and music. The album takes it cues from standard pop, indie rock, and electropop. Officially a trio (drummer Bonnz!, vocalist Lo Blondon, and keyboardist/bassist Oro de Neta), I am so curious to see how they pull off their luscious songs live – backing tracks, sequencing, other musicians on stage?
As for the album, it is definitely a darker album than their first effort, and this time around there are no English lyrics – which I applaud (at once, not every act that wants international recognition needs to sing in English – the Spanish speaking market is huge – and secondly, I have always felt that Latin America needs more indie bands that sound fresh and relevant, and not transposing last years’ fad). What will get you about this album are the fluidity and the depth of emotional power. You do not need to understand the Spanish lyrics about nihilism or unrequited love in order get lost in the emotional energy of the music. My two favorite tracks are the experimental “El Segundo” and the pop anthem “Oso Polar.” “El Segundo” [“The Second” – as in time, not order] is wrapped around anything other than a consistent beat. Actually, it is the vocal arrangements that are keeping time. Opening with the lyrics, “I play by the rules, but I fear to lose,” the lyrics slowly slip into despair and mayhem, as Lo Blondon sings, “Perhaps today they will kill me, perhaps today they will save me.” Lunatic, yes, but definitely the crazed feelings we all feel when we are overwhelmed by life and trying to make sense of it. As for “Oso Polar” [“Polar Bear”], it is one of those pop songs that follow the vein of 80s Cure songs – you know, those seemingly happy sounding songs that are depression fests once you scratch the surface. The polar bear is the allegory for the forgotten who seek affection and a place they belong, as she sings, “If you see me walking the streets, it is that I am looking for my home again.” And though all the lyrics are as introspective, emotionally loaded as that line, you cannot hope but bounce around to the music.
Hello Seahorse’s! “Bestia” is going to get my award for the biggest surprise of the year! Give it a listen.
1. Bestia [Beast]
2. Criminal [Criminal]
3. Miercoles [Wednesday]
4. Oso Polar [Polar Bear]
5. El Segundo [The Second]
6. Despues [After]
7. Siberia [Siberia]
8. El Recuerdo [The Remembrance]
9. Del Cieo se Caen [They Fall from Heaven]
10. Universo 2 [Universe 2]
Keep up with Hello Seahorse! at their homepage and MySpace.
Here is their video for “Despues” from their YouTube Channel: HelloSeahorseTV.
Blackbud released earlier this summer their eponymous sophomore effort (8 June 2009), and though they have toured with the likes of Kaiser Chiefs and Keane and have aroused the attention of the likes of Jimmy Page, they continue to exist under the radar of the mainstream. And though endorsements don’t typically tickle my fancy, I have to say that this is one of these bands that have really caught my attention (I want to kick my own ass for not catching on sooner). What do I like about this album? The fact that this is a bit over of forty-minutes of music that is not pretentious, trying to be something it is not, or trendy. This is music at its best. There is no attempt to allow production gimmicks or fly-by-night fads define the album or the music, instead what you get is heart felt, soul-searching music.
“So It Seems” is my favorite track on the album. I love how the atmosphere can be near ethereal one moment and the next anxiously desperate. The closing track, “Darkness,” is subtle and ambient. There is no attempt at a rock anthem for a closing track. Instead they go for what they do best – they deliver a song that is easy to be introspective to. And that’s the thing about this album: it inspires you to not only feel, but also think – a dangerous thing! Blackbud is not content with being one of the bunch or just another band, they want to be themselves and deliver music that represents them. And that brings me back to the beginning, about being under the radar – this is a blessing in disguise. Blackbud has carved out a niche where only they exist and have been able to establish themselves and their own sound, something they might not have been able to do if they were part of a hype-machine. But, at last, the time has come for other to hear what they are about, and if what you want is guitar based, unaffected music – this may be the band for you.
1. Left Your Arms Empty
2. You Can Run
3. Wandering Song
4. Love Comes So Easy
5. So It Seems
6. Golden Girl
7. Road to Nowhere
8. Came Down Easy
9. Outside Looking In
10. I’ll Be Here
Keep up with Blackbud at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.
Here is their video for “You Can Run” from the IndependienteRecords YouTube Channel.
Simple Minds: “Graffiti Soul”
I had to write about the Simple Minds, which perhaps says more about the fact that I was a teen in the 80s than anything else. But the reality is that it is has been a while since Simple Minds released an album that I went gaga over, but then they released “Graffitti Soul” (11 August 2009). And it seems that I am not the only person going gaga over this album, but I would like to distinguish here between two camps of people. The first camp of people are obsessed with 80s revival, especially punk-punk revival and this nu-new wave going on. You cannot obsess over White Lies, Metric, Little Boots, or La Roux and not give credit to Simple Minds, who helped to lay down the very formulas these bands have usurped. Then there is the second camp, which I would like to think I am part of, who can just point out a good or bad album regardless of whatever is going on. This is a great album, and finally another group of veterans who are living up to their potential.
The Simple Minds have returned to the pop sensibility of earlier hits, which has been scarce since “Belfast Child” (though we caught a glimpse of it with “Hypnotised”). This is a band that has the capability of turning any concept into a listenable track that is easily appreciated by people. For instance, “Kiss & Fly” does not hide its depth in poppy, happy-go-lucky arrangements; instead the music reflects the lyrics, “Spiritual confusion, so more than I can stand, I can feel…like someone is a coma, someone without sight…feel it in my body…feel it every night.” Yet they have the amazing sensibility to put this forth in a way that is not all death and gloom. “Shadows & Light,” my favorite track on the album, is one of those songs that really demonstrates everything that Simple Minds have learned in their thirty-year plus career. Sonically bringing together acoustic and electric elements, infused with what I would say are many counter-intuitive arrangements, this song, shy of three-minutes, is a power-packed ditty that only proven veterans could write.
I am just one of those odd people that keep up with bands that I have always loved, sometimes making excuses for how a band’s current effort is lackluster, but there are no excuses here. This album is solid, urgent, and relevant, and if radio/video programmers got off their lazy asses and played what is really solid and not a plethora of young, glamorous, often talentless entertainers, then veteran artists like the Simple Minds would once again rise to the top of pop consciousness. But let that not deter you and take a listen to this album.
PS – great cover “Rockin’ in the Free World” closes the album.
1. Moscow Underground
3. Stars Will Lead the Way
4. Light Travels
5. Kiss & Fly
6. Graffiti Soul
7. Blood Type O
8. This Is It
9. Shadows & Light
10. Rockin’ in the Free World
Keep up with Simple Minds at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.
Here is the link for their video “Rockets” from the universalmusicgroup YouTube Channel.
Dangerous Summer: “Reach for the Sun”
Named after Ernest Hemmingway’s novel of the same name, Dangerous Summer hails from Ellicott City, Maryland USA. Releasing their debut album earlier this year, “Reach for the Sun” (5 May 2009) smacks of passion that reminds me of musicians before the industry was so driven by numbers. Do not get me wrong, the musicianship is solid, the craftsmanship is tuned, but what is delivered is music that will not slip easily away from memory. Could the album be more polished? Yeah. Could the album be better produced? Yeah. But, then again, if those two things would have happened, you would not have this album, and “Reach for the Sun” is perfect just as is.
This is not an album full of frilly love songs; instead it is the musing of a band’s introspections about life. But there are two tracks that I cannot get out of mind. The first is “This Is War”: “So tell me what you think of the atmosphere and all those months inside my head. Well do you really believe in me?” Universal – that is what the lyrics are. A hundred million, billion people have thought of these feelings, but no one was smart enough to write them down. The second track I cannot get off my mind is my favorite on the album, “Surfaced,” which is best described as one long, rocking sigh. You sort of get that feeling of relief when exhaling while you listen to the muddy guitar playing, which really must be the intention of these guys to generate an emotional undertow. Then you hear another set of lyrics, so obvious, that you wonder why it wasn’t written before: “Can you hear me? Well, I don’t even care. I’ll stop my screaming, if you look the other way.” Anyone who has been a relationship (be it friend, be it lover) that was completely one sided will relate to this song. And anyone looking for an album that is straightforward, not philosophical but about life, and favors a nice gritty live sound to a polished produced sound, should definitely check this one out.
1. Where I Want to Be
2. Settle Down
6. A Space to Grow
7. Reach for the Sun
8. The Permanent Rain
9. Northern Lights
10. This Is War
11. Never Feel Alone
Keep up with Dangerous Summer at their MySpace page.
Here is their video for :Where I Want to Be” from the HopelessRecords YouTube Channel.