Saturday, August 30, 2008

Review: Bloc Party - Intimacy (* * 1/2)

Bloc Party remind me of college freshman, who, when confronted with the endless opportunities of education, want to be everything at once. Changing majors, being swept away toward one ideal and then another, never feeling settled or satisfied until they've explored every conceivable option. With bands, this sort of ambition is admirable, but often frustrating, and Bloc Party's new album, "Intimacy," inspires both feelings.

Anyone hoping that Bloc Party would return to their angular alt-punk roots after "A Weekend In The City" was probably exasperated with the "Flux" single that showed they were diving deeper into experimental electronic territory. Where they previously used production and programming to enhance their original sound, they now completely smother almost every track in it. "Intimacy" works best when the guitar and drums are allowed to shine through the haze and when Bloc Party keep things straightforward, as on "Halo," "Trojan Horse," and "One Month Off." Elsewhere, the explosion of sounds and noise are often at the expense of the song itself. An example is "Ares," where vocal production and a terrible screeching chorus take the track from exciting to obnoxious in a minute.

Another issue here is front man Kele Okereke's songwriting. When things are moving quickly, it's less of a problem, but when the music slows and the lyrics are placed front-and-center, they become distracting. "Was my love not strong enough, to bring you back from the dead? If I could eat your cancer I would, but I can't," Kele moans in "Biko." Ugh. He's never been a great lyricist, but here the poor lyrics are a reflection of the overall inconsistency of the album. There are also several places in "Intimacy" that seem to borrow musically from previous songs, like "Zepherus," which contains a chorus that is a complete rehash (melodically) of "Where Is Home?"

Despite the weaknesses of "Intimacy," it isn't without some exciting moments, like the menacing drum and bass combination on "Better Than Heaven," or the more straightforward rock of the three tracks I listed previously. In some ways, "Intimacy" is stronger album than "A Weekend In The City," which was more uniformly mediocre. Bloc Party prove, albeit inconsistently, that all of their ideas and ambition can still produce some very worthwhile material, but the ten tracks that make up "Intimacy" don't offer enough to keep the album from being a frustrating experience for both old and new listeners.

Favorite Tracks: "Trojan Horse," "Better Than Heaven," "One Month Off"

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Rating System

The problem with music reviews is the amount of opinion and subjectivity. I can't possibly review an album based purely on its musical merit; I'm just not that good, nor do I think that would make for interesting reading. However, I do think a rating system is helpful, so I thought I would explain mine here.

All scores are out of five stars, and here's a simple explanation of each rating:

1 star (*) - Terrible
2 stars (* *) - Lacking
3 stars (* * *) - Decent
4 Stars (* * * *) - Solid
5 Stars (* * * * *) - Fantastic

Those might not be the perfect one-word descriptions, but they're close enough. Hopefully this is helpful.

Review: Backyard Tire Fire - The Places We Lived (* * * 1/2)

If there wasn't an existing genre called southern-rock-indie-pop before now, Backyard Tire Fire has created it. Like Wilco or Spoon with a southern twist, BTF has a love for catchy choruses and off-beat lyrics, throwing in a little twang and some fuzzy guitar solos (a la Lynyrd Skynyrd) for good measure.

"The Places We Lived" starts things of well with a couple pop tunes, especially "Shoulda Shut It," which might be my favorite track on the album. After that though, the results are a little spotty. "Everybody's Down," and "Time With You" are decent songs but they aren't especially interesting, and "How In the Hell Did You Get Back Here?" sounds like a Drive-by Truckers b-side. Things pick up again with the boogie-woogie stomp of "One Wrong Turn," and stay solid throughout the rest of the album, closing with the strings-laced "Home Today."

Though at times uneven, "The Places We Lived" is an indie album that combines some great ideas and makes for a fun listen. It's offbeat and odd, but always purposefully so, and at a brief 34 minutes, it doesn't try your patience. Backyard Tire Fire seem like they haven't settled on exactly what kind of music they want to make or what kind of band they want to be, and that's not a bad thing for now.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Review: The Uglysuit - The Uglysuit (* * * *)

The Uglysuit are a young sextet of friends from Oklahoma City that are here to spread love, happiness and lots of harmony, vocal and otherwise. No, it's not the second coming of The Mamas and the Papas, it's just beautiful, melodic indie rock blown to epic proportions and served with a big slice of joy. The sounds is a little bit Band of Horses, a little bit Shins, and a little bit U2, all used to create a truly unique and refreshing sound.

When I first listened to "The Uglysuit," I didn't know how to take it. Nine tracks, 44 minutes, two instrumentals and two seven-plus minute songs. It's refreshing to hear a young band attempt (generally successfully) to throw album and song structures out the window, and after a few listens, I was able to make sense of what was happening. I'm glad I gave it the time, the result was well worth the effort.

The album seems to switch between "epic" and "intimate" mode freely, like "Happy Yellow Rainbow," which floats along with layers of piano and guitar before building to a frantic, frenetic, guitar and drum freak-out. The first single and most accessible song, "Chicago," is a lovely four minute indie-pop anthem that is sure to be a (relatively) huge hit, with a melodic chorus that might just get stuck in your head on repeat. The musicianship and production are of top quality; every space is filled, but the sound is never crowded or busy.

Although I appreciate the enjoy the album for its uniqueness, songs like "...And We Became Sunshine," and "Anthem of the Arctic Birds," (a song about penguins flying for the first time, set to a circus beat), come across as a bit "cute," which brings the album dangerously close to crossing the line from novel to silly. Lines like "all of us* are so beautiful, beautiful, how beautiful" don't help either. Far be it from me to rain on The Uglysuit's parade though, it sounds to me as if they mean everything they say, and sincerity goes a long way in my book.

Bottom Line: A debut that showcases The Uglysuit's fine musicianship and ability to create a truly unique album in form and style.

Favorite Tracks: Chicago, Everyone Now Has A Smile, Let It Be Known

*correction - "all of us are" apparently should be "all this art's"*

Monday, August 25, 2008

First Impression Review: Delta Spirit - Ode To Sunshine (* * * *)

I just heard this album streaming today at It's being re-released tomorrow, after being self-produced and released late last year. Delta Spirit is a rock/pop/soul band from Southern California with a love for piano hooks and socially conscious rock songs and if there's any justice in the world, they're going to be big. After one listen, I was hooked.

After hearing "Ode To Sunshine" described as "the record you wished the Cold War Kids had made," I haven't been able to think of a better way to say it. Delta Spirit share a similar sound with CWK and other retro-rockers like Dr. Dog, but the honesty and urgency found on "Ode To Sunshine" make it seem sincere and interesting. They also have a knack for melodies that stick and lyrics that, for the most part, work well with the music (though the vocals can be a bit grating at times).

Instead of getting stuck in the past, Delta Spirit use the energy of their influences and create something that's not entirely new, but fresh enough to be worth a listen. "Ode To Sunshine" is best when it's loud and messy, dragging a bit when the tempo slows, but the music is mostly exciting, raw, and compelling. This is yet another standout debut album released this year.

Favorite Tracks: Trashcan, People C'mon, Children


I work for an online video technology company called Move Networks that does streaming video for, etc. We also do video for, a music community and video site.

PluggedIn collects artist information from a variety of areas, and combines them into profiles that allow you to see videos, background info, merchandise, tickets, links etc. all in one spot. You can become a fan, post pictures, and discuss with other music lovers. I admit I'm not a frequent visitor, but it's full of ideas and the music videos look great (shameless plug, I know).

Anyway, you should check it out if only for the following reasons:

1. The Weezer "Pork & Beans" music video (you've probably seen it, so many cultural references you can't possibly get them all the first or second time around)

2. A music video for Fatboy Slim's "Praise You," an amateur dance group performing in front of a theater, it's hilarious.

3. A list of bad music videos - also hilarious.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Help me out!

I'm attempting to update my blog with all the necessary gadgets in order to spruce the place up a bit and to build an actual site instead of just a series of text entries. I'm new to blogging, so I realize I have a ways to go. It might be a slow process, so bear with me.

If anyone has suggestions for the design or organization of my site, please let me know.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Review: Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line (* * * *)

It looks as though the indie-pop throne, currently occupied by Vampire Weekend, might be contested with this debut album from Ra Ra Riot. Sharing a love for bouncy melodies, literary lyrics, and singers with a similar vocal style, these two bands will definitely be competing for attention from indie enthusiasts.

However, while Vampire Weekend embrace a very relaxed and sunny style filled with afro-pop guitars and vapid lyrics, Ra Ra Riot take themselves a little more seriously. With an overactive cellist and violinist among their members, the group create a sound that is both very bright and tense at the same time. Also, with the recent death of a beloved band member, Ra Ra Riot can't seem to shake the gloomy overtones from lyrics about death and ghosts. Luckily, the band doesn't dwell on the sadness; throwing in a few love songs, plenty of pleasant melodies, and an overall positive outlook that let the album be fun and enjoyable.

The problem with "The Rhumb Line" is that it tends to be a little unmemorable. Beside the danceable "Dying Is Fine," the songs come and go without really sticking, at least immediately. The melodies and hooks are all there, but for some reason after a listen or two I couldn't remember any moments that struck me. The album is always pleasant, but rarely exciting. After a few more spins, though, the songs have become much more compelling.

Having said that, this is a strong debut by a group who understand their limits as well as their strengths and choose to play to the latter. It's short (37 minutes) and consistent throughout, giving a glimpse of a band that should only get better with time. For indie lovers like me, it's a must-have for 2008.

Favorite Tracks: Dying Is Fine, Can You Tell, Each Year

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Review: The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound (* * * *)

Remember the good old days? You know, the ones where Bruce Springsteen and David Bowie ruled the airwaves and large, American cars were still cool. Of course you don't, you're a 20-something like me, which means that when Ghostbusters came out, you were in diapers. The Gaslight Anthem want to take you back to that magical time with their new album, "The '59 Sound." It combines punk rock with very Springsteenesque vocal and lyrical qualities and it makes for one of the most compelling punk-rock albums in a LONG time.

Singer Brian Fallon's gruff voice delivers stories of blue collar, middle-class American struggles while the band pounds out guitar and drum riffs, making the whole experience seem earnest and heartfelt. Fallon certainly isn't the first to sing about broken families, old cars, and the need to leave small towns, but he uses vivid imagery and a few borrowed lyrics (Counting Crows, Paul Simon) to separate himself from his peers. It doesn't always work, and you might get tired of hearing songs about Bobby Jean, Sally, and Maria (and about a dozen other girls) by the end of the album, but for a young songwriter it's a remarkable effort.

The weakness and the strength of "The '59 Sound" is its consistency. There's not a weak song on the album, but there's also not a lot of variation either. The production is similar throughout the album (including the reverb on the vocals), and the pace is fairly constant as well, which can be tiring by the end of the album. Also, the song structures are all the basic ABABCB style. This makes the few stylistic departures some of the album highlights, especially the fantastic "Even Cowgirls Get The Blues."

All-in-all, a rock 'n' roll album that deserves the praise it is likely to recieve. Who knew that punk could sound so...classic?

Favorite Tracks: Great Expectations, Miles Davis & The Cool, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Reviews: Conor Oberst and Johnny Flynn

I intend to write music reviews for all of the albums I buy, but I'm realizing now that with the amount of music I purchase (not an extreme amount, but a few CDs a month), combined with my lack of writing skills and lack of writing motivation, will make this a somewhat daunting task. But, I will soldier on, that's just the kind of guy I am.

Conor Oberst - Conor Oberst (* * * * 1/2)

More folk music. I can't stay away this year because there's so much to enjoy, and Conor Oberst isn't making that any easier. Having dropped the 'Bright Eyes' moniker (which I wasn't too attached too anyway), he has subtly shifted his sound to a much more relaxed and, dare I say, pleasant folk-rock style.

That's not a bad thing, either. Conor Oberst isn't exactly a cheery set of songs; death, disease, and lost love all make appearances, but it sounds like the work of an artist who had a good time putting the record together. So while some people will whine about the breezier, occasionally lighthearted sound, I think it's refreshing. Plus, it's not THAT relaxed, only in comparison to most of his earlier material.

Tunes range from very americana-ish folk songs (Cape Canaveral) to rock 'n' roll rave-ups (I Don't Want To Die) both of which are fantastic. Other places, Oberst sings about the healing of the road, barrios, and the fear of death, all of which might sound cliche, because they are. Fortunately, his strengths as a songwriter make it all sound new again, and interesting. It's a slightly twisted and thoroughly enjoyable folk-rock album.

Favorite Tracks: Cape Canaveral, I Don't Want To Die (In The Hospital), Moab

Johnny Flynn - A Larum (* * * *)

The Sussex Wit are not your average new-folk band, and front man Johnny Flynn is definitely not a typical singer-songwriter. A 25 year-old Shakespearean actor, Flynn brings a unique and very literate style to this talented group of musicians, who provide his songs with a very rustic, age-old sound with a twist. It's a combination that has produced an album of musical poetry that sounds both ancient and modern.

Besides being a great lyricist, Flynn also plays about a billion instruments (guitar, banjo, violin, trumpet etc.) which fill out the songs when necessary, and disappear altogether on a couple of simple, finger-picked tracks (some of my favorites). The mix of styles and instruments keeps things interesting throughout the album, though it never gets too scattered. A couple songs drag a little, and a somewhat annoying cello or violin effect comes screeching along occasionally, which distracts from the music, though I suppose that's a personal preference. Also, Flynn sometimes is too busy writing beautiful phrases to worry about melody, as in "Eyeless in Holloway." Generally, however, the music rolls along as Flynn tells clever and enjoyable yarns from yesteryear; good stuff.

All-in-all, a very accomplished debut album and an artist that I will look forward to hearing from again. If you like your folk with and olde fashioned twist, check out 'A Larum.'

Favorite Tracks: The Box, Leftovers, Tunnels

Friday, August 8, 2008

Review: Marching Band - Spark Large (* * * * 1/2)

I've been telling everyone within earshot to listen to this new duo from Sweden. Marching Band might seem like a misleading moniker for two guys that play pop-folk music, but they've managed to create a sound that while lacking in brass, still feels like an explosion of sound, melodies, and ideas. I imagine it won't be long before these guys break into the music scene (at least the indie scene) in a big way.

Rarely does an album contain so many catchy melodies and beautiful harmonies. Everything is bright and sparkling; this is music custom-made for sunny summer days. Each song is layered with vocals and plenty of instruments to the point of saturation, but Marching Band manage to exercise just enough restraint to keep the music from becoming tacky or overdone. Although primarily a guitar/drum duo, a variety of instruments make appearances throughout the album. Keyboards, banjo, steel drums, etc; you never know quite what to expect.

Lyrically, Marching Band keeps things simple. Topics range from long-distance relationships (Letters) to fixing relationships (Travel In Time), to longing for a relationship (Everything, Make No Plans, For Your Love). That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it's not exactly diverse. However, the lyrics are generally clever and well-phrased. You'll be too busy enjoying the four-part vocal harmonies and hummable melodies anyway.

Bottom line: Spark Large is an amazingly composed pop album and one of my favorite records this year. For those that don't mind an extra strong dose of sugary sweetness in their musical diet, this is a must-have before the summer comes to a close.

Favorite Tracks: Gorgeous Behavior (one of the best songs of the year), Travel In Time, Aggravate