Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Video: Cold Specks - "Hector"



I'm really enjoying this new song from Canadian singer-songwriter Cold Specks (a.k.a. Al Spx). It has a moody Southern gothic vibe to it.

Jam of the Day: Mikky Ekko - "Pull Me Down (produced by Clams Casino)"


Showing that the cloud rap tag given to Clams Casino's production work was a limited designation, the producer turns his head towards upcoming Nashville singer-songwriter Mikky Ekko (a.k.a. John Suddeth) and adds an interesting new direction to his seminal sound.

Album Review: Calvin Harris - 18 Months


Calvin Harris
18 Months
Rating: Meh

Let's just cut to the chase here. Calvin Harris is a really good DJ/producer who is very of the moment, and knows what is popular and how to make it work. His new album 18 Months is basically the culmination of the last two years for him, a victory lap if you will, and is likely to be a smash hit. Taken apart, and viewed individually, there are a lot of great singles on here that will crowd dance floors, sell records, and bum rush radio programmers. But as a whole, this record is a completely and utter mess. Harris focuses too much on what popular singer to collaborate with and less on the actual tracks, making the majority of 18 Months very similar sounding and completely unadventurous, and also linking these tracks with the laziest and most pointless instrumentals every committed to tape. It is definitely a record to pick apart piecemeal and glean the best tracks from all the chaff.

The good news first, 18 Months has some great singles on it. Aside from pointlessly including the Rihanna track "We Found Love" which has been out forever, the record has a fun, dubstep influenced track with Dutch DJ/prodcuer Nicky Romero, "Iron,"



the furiously building electro workout "I Need Your Love" with Ellie Goulding,



dreamy synth workout "Sweet Nothing" which finally finds a way to put Florence Welch's voice to good use,



and a deliriously ebullient house jam "Thinking About You" with singer Ayah Marar.



But when you figure out that Harris basically follows the same pattern throughout each track, the overload of similar beats and synth hooks gets overwhelming. It becomes a simple formula of (popular singer of the day) + (press presets) = watch money roll into the bank. The tracks that blur together in this pattern are "Bounce" with Kelis, "We'll Be Coming Back" featuring Example, and "Let's Go" with Ne-Yo; each one could have been interchanged with each other and there wouldn't be much of a noticeable difference.

Also, Harris throws in a host of bizarre instrumental pieces that have no real rhyme or reason other than to fill out space on the record. Opening with the strange "Green Valley" which is nothing more that synth whooshes underneath a vocal sample repeated ad nauseum, thumping Daft Punk retread "Mansion," and lazy funk workout "School." Even where Harris tries to expand his sound, the results are murky at best. Long form instrumental "Awooga" becomes awash in air raid siren keyboards that might sound great while rolling your ass off, but are just annoying on their own, and his collaboration with Dillon Francis and Dizzee Rascal, "Here 2 China," suffers the same fate of being more irritating than ingratiating.



I wanted to like this record because I think Harris is very talented, but he is just spinning his wheels here with 18 Months. It feels calculated to launch off the success of the Rihanna track, but provides few if any surprises. Harris has a distinctive voice of his own, which I wished he had used more often. By hiding behind his collaborators, he ends up becoming just another anonymous knob twiddler.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Jam of the Day: Throwing Snow - "Aspera"


Ross Tones, a.k.a. Throwing Snow offers up this gorgeous slice of electronica.

Album Review: Diamond Rings - Free Dimensional


Diamond Rings
Free Dimensional
Rating: Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It

John O'Regan, one of the founding members of post-punk quartet The D'Urbervilles as well as a member of the Casio-pop duo Habitat, is a musical chameleon, flitting around from post-punk, synth-pop, rap, and deconstructed R&B, barreling through his influences with little care as to whether one works or not. Live he is a bundle of almost chaotic energy, bouncing around the stage with charmingly awkward dance moves, but holding the audience completely in his thrall. All of this translated well on his debut album Special Affections, which while lacking in production polish made up for it in just sheer exuberance and moxie. Moving to a bigger label and with a better production budget, O'Regan unleashes his second album Free Dimensional which doesn't really change anything drastically from his debut in terms of his sound, except for sounding much more professional. For me, like Bat For Lashes' new record The Haunted Man, Free Dimensional is a good, occasionally great pop record, that never seems to really take off into the stratosphere, hovering too often in a safe pattern of pop hooks and lazy songwriting.

When Free Dimensional is on though, it is a really fun blast of 80's new wave leaning synth-pop. "I'm Just Me" bounces and throbs over a pulsing beat as synths erupt in ecstasy during the chorus.



"A to Z" has a lovely, quirky charm to its bouncy rhythm and bubblegum synths.



"Day & Night" is a reverential take on 80s R&B which is only marred by a slightly silly rap break.



Where Free Dimensional fails for me is where the tracks don't really go beyond mere pastiche. Second single "Runaway Love" is a rather bland guitar-heavy track that lacks texture and interest,



which bleeds into the lackluster "Put Me On" which suffers the same fate. And too often, the songs aim for a teeny-bop quality that seems to want to be ironic, but only ends up being cloying. "Stand My Ground" feels like a Tiffany/Debbie Gibson throwaway, while "Hand Over My Heart" has some hooky synths but about kills it with a mid-song rap break before finally regaining footing with a song closing breakdown.



But aside from these slight missteps, which still are very catchy and hooky, Free Dimensional is a great sounding record and also shows that O'Regan has some new tricks up his sleeve, like on the moody, synth driven opener "Everything Speaks" and the slightly Asian-infected synth jam "All The Time." But I just wanted more from this record, I will admit. I have seen O'Regan live now twice, once in a small club with just him and a bank of sequencers and second in a medium sized theater with a backing band, and he is a wildly talented, charismatic guy which just seems to be penned in on record. I am waiting for that one record of his where he takes all those influences that are blasting around in his head and makes something truly spectacular.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

Letterman: Paul Banks - "Young Again"



Interpol frontman Paul Banks showed up to Letterman last night during the hurricane to perform his song "Young Again" of his solo album Banks, which I favorably reviewed here. It's not my favorite track on the album, and Banks does a rather laconic version of it here, but it is still a good performance. Love the hipster bear guitarist he has in tow.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Jam of the Day: Calvin Harris & Nicky Romero - "Iron"



One of the few interesting tracks on Calvin Harris' latest album 18 Months is this dubstep influenced collaboration with Dutch DJ/Producer Nicky Romero.

Album Review: Bat For Lashes - The Haunted Man


Bat For Lashes
The Haunted Man
Rating: Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It

British singer/songwriter Natasha Khan, who goes by the name Bat For Lashes, staked out her niche in the pop world with her first two albums of quirky folk-electronica, 2006's Fur and Gold, and the amazing step forward with 2009's Two Suns, which was the perfect summation of her talents as a songwriter. With her latest album The Haunted Man, Khan finds herself at the crossroads of her career. She could continue to mine her anti-pop star status or could streamline her sound to be a little more mainstream, or choose to straddle the line between the two. In listening to the album, it appears she choose to try and blend those competing avenues to a curious effect. Her previous albums had such a bold oddness to them, they were carried along by sheer will and force of talent that made you either love them or hate them. With The Haunted Man, all the edges and overt quirkiness that charmed me over the course of the years has sadly been jettisoned for more traditional structures. The Haunted Man is still a wonderful record and immaculately written and produced, but for me, it is a record I like more than I love.

There just seems to be a lack of a pulse in these tracks that keeps me at arms' length. I enjoy the tracks while I am hearing them, but mostly they fade from memory. When Khan is on her game, however, she is electrifying. First single "Laura" is a stunningly realized ballad, showcasing Khan's emotive voice and placing it front and center of a minimalist backing.



"Oh Yeah" recalls past efforts with an interesting clash between sampled chorus vocals, muted drum programming, and aggressive synth patterns. Her breathless coo dancing atop the chugging rhythm as delicate washes of treated guitar punctuate the track.



"Rest Your Head" shuffles over a trip-hop beat while combining throbs of synths and vibes throughout the mix.



But for the most part, there is a mysterious lack of forward momentum on The Haunted Man, with most of the tracks feeling sluggishly paced, with not enough aural diversions to keep one's interest for long. Lead track "Lilies" features one of Khan's most emotionally fragile and open vocals, but mires it with a plodding drum track and superfluous strings.



And the remaining tracks just seem to float by with little purpose or sense of drama. The orchestral ballad "Winter Field" is moored by its pastoral fussiness, while title track "The Haunted Man" initially holds some interest with interesting electronic undercurrents but stumbles into an odd mid-section that seems to kidnap a track from a Broadway musical, and final track "Deep Sea Diver" meanders through ethereal synth washes to take the album out on a curiously wan note.



The album is redeemed somewhat by tracks like "A Wall" and "Horses of the Sun" that subtly build in tone and texture.



I suppose I was just expecting so much more from The Haunted Man than I am giving it credit. Taken out of context of her other work, it is a very solid album and works on a lot of levels. But when examined against those earlier, more daring explorations, The Haunted Man comes up too short, being merely good aside something phenomenally great.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Video: Two Fingers - "Vengeance"



From Amon Tobin's "bass heavy" side project Two Fingers comes this delicate little video, just in time for Halloween.

Jam of the Day: AraabMuzik - "Runaway Bass"


Sick, nasty bass-heavy self-released track from MPC wielding producer AraabMuzik.

Album Review: Paul Banks - Banks


Paul Banks
Banks
Rating: Grrrr

I will admit to being a huge Interpol fan. I am one of the few people who like Our Love To Admire, and was essentially the sole reviewer who saw the brilliance in Interpol. But even I will admit that lately the band has felt like it was on auto-pilot; especially in the late period before bassist Carlos Dengler's departure, the humanity that always elevated their darkest moments just seemed on the verge of evaporating. Interpol still had some vestiges of the floundering Interpol, but seemed underneath to be kicking and screaming to bring the roaring machine back to life. I guess we won't know until a new Interpol record comes out whether this takes effect or whether the band is DOA, but based on Paul Banks' latest solo record (forgetting the mind-numbingly weird Julian Plenti alter-ego) there seems to be a definite spark of life occurring.

Kicking off with the lilting and gorgeous swirl of "The Base," Banks shows that while Interpol is not solely Paul Banks, he is definitely the glue that holds everything together. Not all of these tracks can be considered Interpol-lite though, you can see the push and pull Banks goes through and where he defaults to diplomacy with the others in the band. Banks is Paul Banks looser than he ever is, but always with the spectre of Interpol darkness in the background.



"Over My Shoulder" is likely the buzziest, jauntiest you will ever see Banks.



While "Arise, Awake" is gloriously moody, arising from delicate guitars over mechanical beats and surrounded by mournful strings.



The only time the album doesn't live up to expectations is when Banks either gets lazy with his songwriting, or his ideas get buried under clumbsy arrangements. The late album slog of instrumental with strange samples "Another Chance" just never goes anywhere, "Paid for That" stays on a one-note monotonous path, and the beginning of "I'll Sue You" feels like it is heading towards the same path before correcting itself midway through and going out on a high-note.

But the end of Banks rights itself strongly with the pop goodness of "No Mistakes" and the album closing brilliance of "Summertime Is Coming" which is likely one of Banks' best ever solo songs, and fits perfectly with his best Interpol work. The melody is delicate and lovely, and the ending of the song surprises and culminates in a wonderfully emotional moment.



Banks shows that Paul Banks still has some magic left in him from the early Interpol days, and that it just had been getting clouded a bit. Saddled without the weight of expectations that usually comes with an Interpol release, Banks takes a deep breath and feels more relaxed than he has in ages. While I am not sure this will transfer over to his work with his main band, we can all at least hope it does.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

New: Depeche Mode - (Untitled)



From their upcoming album, a teaser track. It is at once familiar, and kind of boring. Also, when did Andy Fletcher start to resemble Neil Tennant?

Jam of the Day: Andy Stott - "Sleepless"



There is something hallucinatory and creepy about this track and how it gets under your skin.

Video: Wild Nothing - "Paradise"



New video featuring Michelle Williams.

Album Review: Halls - Ark


Halls
Ark
Rating: Woof Daddy

London producer/singer Sam Howard, a.k.a. Halls, is likely bored of people comparing to other artists. After floating through his debut Ark, the names that flutter forth include James Blake, Burial, Tim Hecker, Hood, and Talk Talk; all distinct and wondrous acts that could cause the most confident artist in the world to crack under the weight of the pressure of the comparison. To Howard's credit, he seems to understand this pitfall and instead of trying to skirt the comparisons, he chooses to ignore them and adds his distinctive take on more singer-songwriter leaning UK bass music. Ark will always be known for the amazing first single "White Chalk," which pulls its influence directly from James Blake, striking forward on stark piano chords and Howard's wan, plaintive voice, pinged by echoes of electronics and then it all falls silent, the kick drum comes in and the choir of voices. It is a pure moment of beauty that never fails to make the hair on my arm stand on end. "White Chalk" is a stunning track that is one of the most sonically perfect songs you will hear all year.



For most young artists, having such a distinctive and brilliant track such as "White Chalk" makes most of their other tracks pale in comparison. Howard doesn't choose to remake this moment over and over again, and certainly, while no other track quite stands out like it, Ark still showcases an artist that knows what he is doing if still searching out what his sound is. There are several moments on Ark that are still breathtaking in their own right. "Shadow of the Colossus" is a brilliant glitch ridden track that travels through ghostly atmospherics and skittering percussion before erupting into a furious storm of heady percussion.



And the gorgeous triad of early singles that form the haunting center of Ark. "Roses for the Dead" is a delicate hymn; Howard's voice forlorn and searching, buffeted by soft percussion and rising waves of strings and organ.



"Funeral" with its ghostly chimes and insistent two-step programming, broken every so often by organ drones and shards of electronics.



And "Reverie," which trades the electronics for pointillistic strums of acoustic guitar, almost funky bass, and subtle percussion ever building into something stronger. It becomes one of the more traditional tracks on the record, but still holds its own slightly off-kilter fascination.



Interspersed throughout other atmospheric instrumentals, two other key tracks of note are the initially stark "Holy Communion" rising from haunted piano chords and glitchy drum programming into fierce avalanche of droning Tim Hecker-like organs and furious pounding drums, and the fragile ballad "I'm Not There" which brings out all the loneliness and sadness out of Howard's voice.



Yes, the complaints about the record are there, that it holds too close to its influences and that Howard's voice is too weak and one note to carry the whole album. I don't dismiss any of those criticisms and at times they do annoy me, but there is something about the record as a whole that speaks to me. There is so much going on in the background that I find new elements, previously unheard, each time I give the album a listen. His voice, while admittedly weak, gains a solemn power as it goes forward, as if the weight of the world is holding him back. Ark is a tremendous experience for me, that perhaps only speaks to me. So be it. I personally am richer for it.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Video: Diamond Rings - "Runaway Love"



Latest video from his new album Free Dimensional.

Jam of the Day: Halls - "White Chalk"



At the 1:45 mark, if you are not completely moved when the choir kicks in, you are inhuman.

Album Review: Brandy - Two Eleven


Brandy
Two Eleven
Rating: Grrrr

The title of Brandy's sixth studio album Two Eleven refers both to her birthday and also the day that one of Brandy's idol's Whitney Houston passed away, and finds the singer in a more reflective mood. Coming off the relative failure of her last record Human, Brandy veers away from the more edgy material she did with Timbaland, and moves back to more traditionally grounded R&B. Working with a army of producers, including Sean Garrett, Bangladesh, and Rico Love, Brandy mostly eschews fancy production except on a few tracks, preferring to focus more on her voice, which is in fine form here. While there are plenty of different songwriters working with Brandy on these tracks, there is a consistency here that keeps it from feeling like a jumble of different tracks. The songs deal primarily with relationships in various stages, and provide a prism into the mind of a woman figuring out how to deal with those issues. It is both joyous and painful, but a necessary path to take in becoming who she is.

From amazing opening track "Wildest Dreams," Brandy sings confidently about finding love from someone who appreciates her for herself and not for just being "Brandy;"



but on "So Sick" she looks intensely at a bad relationship, knowing it's bad for her but still pulled back in by his charms,



while on tender ballad "No Such Thing As Too Late" her voice cracks and wavers as tries to give her lover a second chance.



Despite the bevy of producers and songwriters on Two Eleven, it is a surprisingly sonic and lyrically consistent record, only faltering in a couple of places. First single "Put It Down," a collaboration with the inexorably horrid Chris Brown, is by far the least successful song, featuring an oddly sampled vocal rip from Brown and a mid-track rap that is just pointless. If it was some record label enforced attempt at pop crossover after the dismal sales of Human, it is pandering at its worst. And the spacey "Do You Know What You Have?" meanders through trippy synths and breathy vocals and doesn't really amount to much.



But overall, Two Eleven is a tight set of tracks that generally defaults to Brandy's raspy-sweet vocals throughout. Frank Ocean penned "Scared of Beautiful" is a gorgeous platform for her vocals to shine, alternating between delicate and fragile to strong and unwavering.



Sleek banger "Slower" puts Brandy in her lower register, all husky and enticing.



While slow building "Without You" brings her voice from meekness to strength over an incredible arc. It is a stunning vocal workout for Brandy.



Despite my fears that Two Eleven was going to be some lame attempt at getting back to the top of the charts by any means necessary, it is a surprisingly mature and thoughtful record which showcases her voice far above all else. While not as adventurous as Aphrodisiac, it finds its strength and purpose by being solid and relying on all of Brandy's strengths, making it one of the best pop R&B albums of the year.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Jam of the Day: Dada Life - "Feed The Dada"



Ok, this song is completely dumb, but also completely fun.

Videos of the Week

I apologize for the lack of posts this week. A sinus infection all but killed me. I am feeling better today and looking forward to a nice weekend. Here are some videos to get us going:



Gorgeous video from The xx.



Another amazingly shot video.



Mini-epic video from Lana Del Rey.



Fun video from A-Trak and DJ Zinc.



New video from Tamaryn's second album.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Jam of the Day: S-Type - "Billboard"


New single from Scottish producer S-Type that is over-the-top but thankfully has no clue that is, which is a good thing.



Friday, October 12, 2012

Jam of the Day: El Perro Del Mar - "Walk On By"



Love this track from El Perro Del Mar, and especially the slinky "Funky Drummer" sample.

Video: Two Door Cinema Club - "Sun"



New video from their sophomore album Beacon.

Videos of the Week

It is Pride here in Atlanta this weekend, so let's start Friday off right:



More visual brutality from Death Grips.



VHS trickery forms the basis for the new Yeasayer video.



The gorgeous Jessie Ware.



I love this track from El Perro Del Mar.



Amazing video from Cloud Nothings.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Jam of the Day: Tame Impala - "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards"



Amazing, woozy, trippy track from their brilliant new album Lonerism.

Album Review: Clan of Xymox - Kindred Spirits


Clan of Xymox
Kindred Spirits
Rating: Tragicistani

What is your opinion of a good cover song, or cover songs in general? For me, I am not a huge fan of cover songs, especially when it is a well-known or iconic song for a band. In that instance, I would rather hear the original than an inferior copy. If you are going to do a cover, make it a song you think can be improved, or a song that has personal, deep meaning to you. Don't just put together a glorified karaoke version of a popular hit. Goth rock/synthpop act Clan of Xymox have been around since the 1980s, signed to the venerable 4AD label, but were always given short-shrift because their sound was just a little too close to that of their influences. Somehow the band, under the leadership of Ronny Moorings, has remained active over the last 30 years, releasing a surprisingly diverse catalog of music. While I have always had a bit of a soft spot for them, they have never been truly ground breaking or ahead of the curve, but they are always a nice guilty pleasure. Now in their 30th year, they have released Kindred Spirits, a album of cover versions of songs and artists that have influenced and inspired them. There is nothing wrong per se with wanting to honor those artists by covering their songs, but in this case, the versions are so close to the original tracks that it begs the question as to why even bother in the first place, when you can easily listen to the originals. The attention to getting the music down exactly is so unoriginal as to be a joke. Only on a couple of songs does Moorings even try to create a slightly different version of the track, and still comes up with something bland and unoriginal.

Only on a couple of tracks does Moorings and company try to put their own stamp on some well-known tracks. Siouxsie & The Banshees "Red Light" gets a more trip-hop/industrial slant to the original's minimal sci-fi synth aesthetic,



David Bowie's "Heroes" adds more swooning synths to beds of skywriting guitars,



and creating an electro-synth pop take on Radiohead's "Creep," while a good idea in theory, is marred by a very lackluster vocal.

The remainder of covers literally sound like vocals were put over the original backing track. There is almost nothing to recommend on their versions of New Order's "Blue Monday," The Cure's "A Forest," or Nine Inch Nails' "Something I Can Never Have" because they are merely karaoke versions. It is just mind-boggling why someone would choose to basically do a note for note, instrument for instrument copy of a song when I can just choose to listen to the original for better inspiration. I'm sure Ian Curtis is rolling in his grave over the tired recreation of "Decades," and Depeche Mode should see if their original backing tracks are missing for their take on "Question of Time."



There really is no need for this record to have been released. I just don't see the point or purpose of slavishly recreating these songs. It is one thing to honor your influences, but another just to generate half assed versions of their tracks. Save your money and buy the original versions; it will be a much more rewarding experience.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Jam of the Day: Monsta - Holdin' On (Nero and Skrillex Remix)"



Killer remix.

Album Review: Maserati - Maserati VII


Maserati
Maserati VII
Rating: Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It

With the death of drummer Jerry Fuchs in 2009, there was a hole left in the instrumental driven band Maserati that was almost too big to fill. Fuchs was key in taking Maserati from humble post-rock beginnings into a more dance focused collective. While new drummer Mike Albanese is no Fuchs, he still handles himself capably on the traditional kit along with subtle use of drum machines and programming. With Maserati VII there is no stylistic leap or 180 degree shift in sound, it is just a solid collection of building and morphing dance-rock tracks that slowly insinuate themselves with you until they feel like old friends.

When a band sort of follows the same template for each track, it usually irritates me to no end and, at first, this record really bugged me as each song starts with rumbles of electronics, leading into an initial beat pattern, and slowly and methodically morphing over the run-time into something distinct and separate. But over several listens the subtleties begin to come out, and just the amazing musicianship of the band appears, dispelling any sort of qualms I had initially. At the root of things, Maserati VII just wants you to get your groove on, and it is way more than merely capable at doing so.

Tracks like the 10 minute "Abracadabracab" lock into a motorik groove as grumbling guitars crash over swells of synths and burbling electronics.



"San Tropea" climbs out of a fog of atmospherics into waves of chiming guitars and old school New Romantic baselines straight out of the early Duran Duran playbook.



The 80s influences are also prevalent in the throbbing basslines of banger "The Eliminator,"



and the Simple Minds-esque synth washes and art-rock basslines of "Lunar Drift,"



Drawing from the late and lamented Out Hud, "Martin Rev" creates a clash of echoing guitars over a rumbling bassline and punding drums.



While they spike things up during the furious guitar squall of "Earth-Like."



Maserati VII is simply a solid collection of dance-rock tunes that won't change the world or anything, but will get your ass dancing and will always allow you to find new, subtle elements going on. Just give it a few spins to let it get under your skin. Trust me, it will.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Jam of the Day: Sun Airway - "Close"



Amazing song from their second album.

Album Review: Ellie Goulding - Halcyon


Ellie Goulding
Halcyon
Rating: Meh

With her 2010 debut album Lights, English singer Ellie Goulding found herself winning a Brits Critic Choice award and topping a BBC new artist poll with a polite mix of Dido-esque electro-balladry. While it was a pleasant collection of pop tracks, overall it suffered from a lack of a distinct personality, though Goulding's raspy voice has enough pull to keep interest for awhile. The approach for Goulding's second album Halcyon seems to want to capitalize on her prior success without straying too far from the already established template. The most glaring problem with the album is still that Goulding doesn't know what she wants to be as a singer. Shuttling from Florence + The Machine ethereal goth-rock to blazing electro-dubstep bangers to more Dido-esque pop lite all the way to more soul baring singer-songwriter tracks, Halcyon is frustratingly schizophrenic to the point of irritation.

It is telling that the most distinctive track on the album is "I Need Your Love" featuring Calvin Harris, and is only distinctive owing to the fact it sounds like a Calvin Harris track.



Which is overreaching problem of the record that Goulding is mostly consigned to the background of her own tracks. She becomes just another diva vocalist on the dubstep-influenced track "Figure 8,"



opener "Don't Say A Word" clouds her behind over the top orchestrations,



and the otherwise interesting electro track "Anything Could Happen" buries Goulding's voice in too many effects.



Where her producers allow her to just be herself is where the record truly succeeds and which oddly are on the more minimal, singer-songwriter tracks. Stunning ballad "I Know You Care" forces Goulding's voice front and center in the mix and is a haunting song of love lost,



confessional "Dead In The Water" is a gorgeous showcase for her voice,



and her dubstep inflected cover of Active Child's "Hanging On" finally allows her voice to command over the dense electronics.



But overall, despite these glimpses of who Goulding really is, Halcyon just never seems to lift off the ground. Her backseat approach limits the album's appeal because she just becomes another vocalist at the whim of a producer. Only in those rare moments where her voice rises above all the swirling instrumentation does it show how good Goulding's voice can be, unencumbered by all the studio trickery. As it stands, however, Halcyon is just another in a series of disappointing record releases where the vocalist is made to be secondary to the production.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Jam of the Day: Placebo - "B3"


Nothing really new here from Placebo, but it is a nice, driving track nonetheless.


Album Review: Sun Airway - Soft Fall


Sun Airway
Soft Fall
Rating: Woof Daddy

I saw the Philadelphia-based duo Sun Airway open for White Lies and Asobi Seksu in spring of last year and their brand of heavenly synthpop was refreshing but ultimately seemed lacking in a lot of substance. Upon listening to their debut album Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier, nothing much changed my initial impression of their sound. The album was a very competent collection of dreamy, chillwave inspired laptop/bedroom pop that never seemed to reach out for anything daring or out of the norm. In this day and age, however, I am always willing to give a band that is remotely listenable a second chance, as the racks are littered with bands that have really mediocre debuts that come back with something completely amazing second time around (Radiohead springs to mind). Not that I am throwing Soft Fall in the same pile as The Bends, but in the realm of major leaps in sound and quality, Sun Airway's sophomore album is a complete gem.

Strangely, there is really not much different from their debut. They are still moving in a netherworld between Animal Collective's dense sonic explorations and the softer chillwave vibes of bands like Washed Out and Active Child, but here, instead of sounding wispy and fey, there is more complexity to their music, adding needed weight. it helps that songs all work together cohesively, making a much stronger statement. With that said, I will admit that initially Soft Fall comes across as insubstantial, and only after many listens does the brilliance of these tracks surface. But give it the time in needs, and you will not be able to stop listening to it.

Within the lush, gorgeous banks of synths on display here, there is a elegant strain of melancholy that snakes through these 11 songs. In this tattered, fragile world relationships are tortured and full of obstacles. First single "Close" is one of the saddest songs about inequality in a relationship and how one partner will always love the other one more. The narrator imploring: "you say you've never known love like this before/I say I've never known loneliness like this/you've never known loneliness before/because you've never been alone with my love."



Under the swirling synths and strings of "Wild Palms" he laments that "I dagger through the deep blue/to reach your wild palms/mostly I just feel lost."



Title track "Soft Fall" throbs under synth pulses and mournful vocal delivery, while elegant "Laketop Swimmers" unfolds like a elegiac longing for the past.



While it sounds like the album is a dour affair, it is mainly lyrically and not musically. Almost every track shimmers and bursts with bright airy keyboards that keep it moving swiftly along. From the rush of Cure like keyboards on "Black Noise" or the gorgeous waves crashing upon you on closer "Over My Head,"



Soft Fall shows that the duo knows how to artfully craft some of the most intoxicating synth pop out there. Intricately sculpted and sequenced, Soft Fall is measured out by several beautiful instrumentals that act as signposts along the way, taking the listener on an impeccable journey through one of the best albums of the year.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

Videos of the Week

What an amazingly shitty week.



Violent video from Bloc Party.



Trippy visuals.



New meaning to the term battle of the bands.



Minimal, black and white clip from the always enchanting Bat For Lashes.



Elegant clip from The Weeknd.



Great song made even greater from this colorful video.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Video: Menomena - "Plumage"



New video from the quirky Portland art-rockers.

Classic Jam: Everything But The Girl - "Good Cop Bad Cop"



This is definitely in my top 10 songs of all time. Perfect.

Jam of the Day: Solange Knowles - "Losing You"



Slick R&B track from Solange Knowles.

Album Review: How To Dress Well - Total Loss


How To Dress Well
Total Loss
Rating: Grrrr

There is a telling moment midway through How To Dress Well's (a.k.a. Tom Krell) second album Total Loss on the track "Say My Name Or Say Whatever" which features a sample of a kid talking about how the worst part of flying is when you have to come back down to earth. As the kid's voice trails off, you hear the sound of a splash of water, as if the kid has jumped off a precipice, unable to deal with being earthbound. Total Loss is a very earthbound record, in the sense that Krell's songs are intimate moments and details of familial and personal relationships that are torn and tattered and barely hanging on. It is a haunting and sad record that lingers long in the mind afterwards. Still mining his 90's R&B influences, Krell ups the production values significantly from Love Remains, which at times could be overcome by an almost suffocating claustrophobia. Total Loss is a smoother, more inviting record, but doesn't sacrifice any of Krell's vision.

Starting off with the lonely "When I Was In Trouble," Krell pleads to his mother to help care for him again, crying out "dear mama, did you try to tell me everything was gonna be safe/dear mama, did you tell me everything was gonna be right/
and now I got these visions of you waiting outside." Krell's voice is pushed out in front of the mix for the first time and not buried under tons of reverb. It is a breathtaking moment on a frequently breathtaking record.

On the eloquent "Talking To You," a list of real people Krell knew and/or knows becomes a healing mantra, provided comfort for people he has lost and misses.



"Struggle" finds Krell's delicate falsetto buried under a fog of effects, the airy synths and skittering drum programming pushing and pulling it through the track.



While the tone and subject matter of the album is frequently bleak and melancholy, there are genuine moments of pure beauty here that are wisely used at key moments, keeping the record from descending into a murk. Mid record instrumental "World I Need You, Won't Be Without You (Proem)" is a gorgeous, string-laden track that soars when it is most needed.



"How Many?" floats on a bed of twinkling keyboards and synths as subtle drum programming undulates in the background.



But overall the record stays within the same air of sadness. "Cold Nites"
while working its New Jack strut is a fairly despondent song, as a relationship unravels and the couple finds themselves going through the motions, singing "But I keep on doing it/ Ain't gonna stop until we're through with this."



"Running Back" slinks along in an early morning haze of regret.



While closing track "Set It Right" almost goes over the line into overblown territory, Krell is talented enough to keep the track online, letting the mix of swooning synths and vocals samples work with his heavily treated vocals.



From a thematic level, Total Loss's world of insularity and introspection can seem like a step back at times in comparison with Krell's debut album, however, the light year jump in production values makes this a minor quibble. In these days of musical excess, it is nice to see artists like Krell dial things back and make more personal statements. Total Loss is an outstanding sophomore record that further shines the spotlight on this amazing talent.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Jam of the Day: Death Grips - "Lil Boy"



From their upcoming second album of the year NO LOVE DEEP WEB, Death Grips continues to take things up a notch.

Album Review: Muse - The 2nd Law


Muse
The 2nd Law
Rating: Meh

Muse are a perfectly decent prog-rock band that has never put out a bad album per se. I always find a couple of songs I love and the rest usually passes pleasantly enough. My problem with Muse over the years is that you never really know who Muse is. Their sound is always clouded by their influences (Radiohead, Queen, U2, Rush) to the point where you can essentially categorize all their songs by who they sound like. The teaser trailer for their latest record The 2nd Law announced pretty specifically that this would be Muse's dubstep record and, honestly, I would have been more impressed with them had they embraced that direction wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, however, that teaser was in fact a bait and switch. While there are some dubstep influences on this record, as a whole, it is just more of the same Queen and U2 style tracks with a few meandering side trips into Radioheadland.

Muse usually functions best the more over the top they go. When they scale things back is when they fade into the background. On tracks like "Survival," which has to be the most outrageously wacky track Muse has ever record, the silliness of its Queen cum Scissor Sisters cabaret rock is its most winning attribute, throwing in barroom pianos, Wagnerian choirs, Brian May screaming guitars, and a swooning orchestra. You almost expect cannon fire at the end.



The snarling attack of "Liquid State" ratchets up the guitars a bit, pulling off a more Foo Fighters like sound that actually suits the band, while the ridiculous art-funk of "Panic Station" could have been an outtake from The Power Station's first record, full of discoey guitars, slap bass, and dated drum machine flourishes.

Of course, the majority of the focus on the record will be on the "dubstep" tracks, of which really there are only three. Teaser trailer single "The 2nd Law: Unsustainable," is the most directly influenced, combining heavy bass drops with Muse's typically over the top guitar approach. While it is interesting seeing them combine the two, they don't do much with it that hasn't already been done before.



"Madness" rides along a pulsing bassline and subtle throb of electronics, but honestly, U2 has done this sort of thing in their sleep since the days of Zooropa.



The most effective use of dubstep elements appear on "Follow Me" which has a nice sense of drama and build, collapsing in sighing bass drops, echoing the work of pop-dubstep masters Nero.



But the rest of the album falls into the same traps as all their albums, just another set of slightly memorable tracks that hang too close to their influences to really coalesce into something original or exciting. From the Radiohead-lite "Animals," screechy Queen-isms of opener "Supremacy," to the U2 aping "Big Freeze," these tracks are blandly forgettable tracks that you will likely skip over to get to the more interesting tracks, few that there are.

The 2nd Law is far more interesting on paper than it is in actuality. All the talk of it being an up-to-the-minute clash between stadium rock and dubstep comes across here as merely slight window dressing that is skirted away in favor of more of the same old same old. I don't know why I keep hoping these mega-bands will, for once, do something outside the norm. I guess I should give Muse credit for at least trying to incorporate some of these sounds into their music, but when a band that wholeheartedly embraced dubstep like Korn makes a better album than you, there is something sad about that.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Jam of the Day: Black Sun Empire - "Chaingang (Jade Remix)"



Pulsing, throbbing remix from Jade.

Album Review: Flying Lotus - Until The Quiet Comes


Flying Lotus
Until The Quiet Comes
Rating: Grrrr

Flying Lotus' breakthrough album Los Angeles is a definitive statement in the beat music genre, which many have copied expertly, but few have matched or surpassed in any way. His follow up Cosmogramma pushed the bar up even farther with his dense mixture of beats and jazz music, that almost felt like a musical wad blowing, leaving me scratching my head as to what he could do next that would take things to the next level. Until The Quiet Comes answers the question by almost taking things two notches back, feeling like the lead up to both his landmark records, but at the same time not feeling dated or a re-tread. There is a calm, measured flow to this record, and a less cluttered feel, as if he went back and took one or two additional elements out so that there is more focus and control. It is by far his easiest record to immediately listen to, lacking the crush of the new that Los Angeles provided, or the intense complexity of Cosmogramma. Not to say that Until The Quiet Comes is a passive record. It is still one of the most intricately plotted and produced records this year, but doesn't make you work as hard for the payoff.

While initially there doesn't seem to be a connective theme to the pieces that make up Until The Quiet Comes, there is a definite arc to the album as a whole. In interviews, he has mentioned that the focus of the record is on dream states and children's lullabies. The beginning of the record definitely has a very druggy, eyelid lowering quality of someone falling into a deep reverie. Tracks like "All In" create a jazzy world of the mind fighting to stay awake but losing to exhaustion, the drifting fog of "Heave(n)," or the hazy twilight of "Getting There" where twinkling keyboards and shuffling beats overwhelm the senses.



Until the full set in of sleep, evoked by the murky and hypnotic "Tiny Tortures," with its jazzy bass and haunting keyboards.



The mid-section of the record almost hitting restless night quality, from the buzzy "Sultan's Request,"



the choppy samples and clapping percussion of "Putty Boy Strut,"



and the lumbering percussion and jazzy instrumentation of the Erykah Badu sung "See Thru To You."



There is still a heavy jazz influences on this record, with most of the bass work done by Brainfeeder label artist Thundercat, who even shows up on vocals for one track, the dreamy "DMT Song."



The back half of the record gets lost in a swirl of dreamy textures and hazy soundscapes, from the delicate Indian influences on "Only If You Wanna,"



the haunting and drowsy "Hunger,"



languid "Phantasm,"



and the drifting haze of "me Yesterday//Corded," which replicates the fitful push and pull back into consciousness.



Until The Quiet Comes is likely to be a polarizing record for Flying Lotus fans because it is not the complex leap into classic territory that Cosmogramma was nor is it the revolutionary beatscapes of Los Angeles. It doesn't have that sort of feel, nor was it supposed to in my opinion. Sometimes you have to scale things back in order to take a greater leap forward in the future. Time will tell within the Flying Lotus canon where this record will lie. It is a pretty amazing record in its own right, and will likely be looked at with a different appreciation later on down the road.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.