Archive for ‘Album Reviews’

April 7, 2010

Dum Dum Girls – I Will Be

I WIll Be

I’ve listened to this album at least once a day for the last five days. I adore it. I adored it from the first huge, driving drumbeat of epic sounding opening song “It Only Takes One Night”.

Dum Dum Girls is essentially one girl, Dee Dee (real name Kristin Gundred). Though, she has brought on three girls since she first started. They add pretty vocal harmonies and a really tight rhythm section. By the third track, “Oh Mein M” you’ll start to think, “hey this reminds me of The Go-Go’s a little, except noisier”. Turns out, the album was co-produced by Richard Gittenhrer, who produced The Go-Go’s first album Beauty And The Beat, which has “We Got The Beat” and “Our Lips Are Sealed”. (That whole album is great BTW.) He also produced the first two Blondie albums and The Raveonettes albums Chain Gang Of Love and Pretty In Black. The Raveonettes are both, in sound and lyrical themes, the perfect modern comparison. While Dee Dee wrote all the songs herself, it should be noted that Gittenhrer wrote the songs “My Boyfriend’s Back” (covered by The Raveonettes) and “I Want Candy”.

Dum Dum Girls clearly are influenced by all those reference points. But, there is no denying how great these songs are. Dee Dee has created ridiculously catchy girl-group pop-punk songs. The album has buzz saw guitars, driving drumbeats, lots of reverb, and lo-fi production. The whole album is somehow both dreamy and punky, both sunny and melancholic. The songs bounce, like the on “Jail La La”. The vocals are often sing-songy, like the opening words “Bhang bhang” on “Bhang Bhang, I’m A Burnout”. The lyrics deal with teenage concerns like love on “I Will Be”, drugs on “Bhang Bhang, I’m A Burnout”, girl-girl competition on “Lines Her Eyes”, and fighting authority on “Jail La La”. Dee Dee’s voice is pitched somewhere between Karen O and Cat Power. Coincidentally, Nick Zinner plays guitar on driving track “Yours Alone”, and it speaks to the overall songwriting and production aesthetic that you wouldn’t know it had you not read the liner notes. The whole album whips by fast (it also clocks in at 28:44), nearly every song is a burst of light, rocking and likable. But, as her cover of Sonny & Cher song “Baby Don’t Go” proves, Dee Dee can do aching balladry too. It’s a gorgeous cover. I Will Be will easily remain one of my favorite albums of the year, and it’s likable enough for me to recommend to anyone.

It Only Takes One Night

I Will Be

April 5, 2010

Neon Indian and Toro Y Moi

Neon Indian

Were people who are into Neon Indian into groups like Bent and Lemonjelly? If not, they kinda should be. I know “Chillwave” is supposed to be a new kinda genre, but when I listen to Neon Indian, it really just sounds like downtempo and ambient techno to me. Chillwave is like a sub-sub-sub-genre. Some of it definitely reminds me of Daft Punk too. Of course, Neon Indian seems to be intent on sounding lo-fi because he’s going for the hipster indie cred. Chillout music like Bent is too polished, and thus “lame”. I think Psychic Chasms is all right, don’t get me wrong. I like that he does sing over the music, which (other than the lo-fi production) is the element he adds to the template. “Ephemeral Artery” is a track that reminds me of Daft Punk by way of Justice, with that rubbery synth line and the screechy guitar. I honestly don’t have much more to say about Psychic Chasms. Not much on it sticks out to me.

Neon Indian – 6669 (I Don’t Know If You Know)

Bent – Private Road

Daft Punk – Voyager

Toro Y Moi

I think Toro Y Moi is good though. Causers Of This is a pretty album. It’s a nice mixture of progressive house, IDM, and dreampop. It’s interesting that his voice reminds me of Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine) at times. Also, if you like Causers Of This you’ll like Flying Lotus, though I don’t think they’re directly similar. Toro Y Moi use that scratchiness that Flying Lotus does on first track, “Blessa”. Also, “Fax Shadow” has cut up vocals that made me think of hiphop influenced electronica like Flying Lotus. The vocals at the end of that song are beautiful, by the way. On “Blessa”, I like the layers of vocal samples and how he plays with the sound, how he randomly warps it. You can imagine the synths on “Minors” being cascades of guitar feedback instead, reminiscent of MBV. “Imprint After”s piano line is totally a house throwback, except slowed down. “Lissoms” has that scratchy sound too, and it’s really a progressive house track. It’s one of the most danceable tracks on the album. “Low Shoulder” is practically a disco track. And “Causers Of This” is practically a 70’s funk track. I guess I just think the Toro Y Moi album is more interesting to me. The songs have less structure to them than the Neon Indian album. I can point to a lot more in each song I like. On “Thanks Vision”, he drops a nice thump in the middle of the track. And like “Blessa”, the vocal samples are gorgeous, as is the string sample underneath it all. What’s funny is that “Talamak” is the song that most reminds me of Neon Indian, and it’s my least favorite song on the album. Maybe it’s just personal preference. Either way, I don’t think “Chillwave” is a new genre. But, I think Toro Y Moi takes a lot of electronic genre elements and does a lot with it.

Toro Y Moi – Minors

Toro Y Moi – Fax Shadow

Flying Lotus – Parisian Goldfish

By the way, Daft Punk have really become a huge influence over the years. It occurs to me that I’ve never discussed them or Justice on my blog before. Justice is easily the biggest example of Daft Punk’s influence. Justice is in the same “lets have rock influence our techno” vein. All Justice did was dirty up the electronics more. And have a children’s chorus on one song. I thought ✟ was a decent album, but it got a lot more repetitive (and at times a bit irritating) than Daft Punk does.

Justice – Let There Be Light

Daft Punk – Rollin’ & Scratchin’

March 30, 2010

MGMT – Congratulations (and six bands it reminds me of)

Congratulations

The new MGMT Congratulations is streaming for free over on NPR. The album sounds like The Coral, but not as good. Remember The Coral? No. They had an incredible debut album of psych-rock. The next three albums seriously fell off after that. I don’t even know if they still exist.

Congratulations sounds like it was produced underneath a quilt. Everything is flattened. I’m not sure why they would produce it like that. Maybe to make it sound more “authentic” 60’s psych. I see MGMT’s first album in a new, better light. I always was pretty ‘meh’ about it. I thought “Time To Pretend” was brilliant, especially lyrically. I thought “Electric Feel” was robotically funky and “4th Dimensional Transition” was good psych-rock. “Kids” was singsongy in a kinda ugly way. I think I’m talking about songs from the first album because nothing on Congratulations sticks out to me. MGMT said they purposefully didn’t write “singles” and won’t be releasing any singles. They want the album to be one solid body of work, and not have people only download the popular songs. I guess this is a “separate the real fans from the poseurs” move? Are there poseurs anymore? I think “cool indie” music is too available now.

The 12 minute epic track “Siberian Breaks” stands out due to sheer length. The beginning is very pretty, reminds me of Jefferson Airplane a little. The part after the Jefferson Airplane part sounds like the band Love. The end of the song has pretty computer blinking noises and a decent drum beat. I also think The Kinks “Village Green Preservation Society” era is a reference point for a lot of the album. “Brian Eno” is a good rock song, has a fun chorus, and has a neat little electric organ breakdown in the middle and end. I think it’d work as a single. “It’s Working” also reminds me of the band Love, which makes sense given the “psychness” of all this. I like the bongos (buried somewhere in the mix) and the harpsichord. But, in general, songs kinda shift in and out, weak melodies come and go. There’s some woodwind things here, electric organ there, spacey vocals over here, mellotrons there. Admittedly, this does lend the album a nice flow to it. Some of it is very pretty, like the beginning of the slow, spacey “Lady Dada’s Nightmare”, but in the middle they introduce buried, processed screaming and dissident violins and it kinda goes no where. The end of the song has some pretty piano and violin plucking.

MGMT left out the singles, but I’m not sure how compelling I find the music on Congratulations. Compare this album to The Flaming Lips last album Embryonic (which MGMT had a guest appearance on). Take “Convinced Of The Hex”, where Wayne Coyne sings the vocal hook, “that’s the difference between us”. Or “The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine”, which has that martial snare drum and bass groove, over layers of guitar and synth stabs. Or the spacey “Silver Trembling Hands”, which has those beautiful shimmers of synth. Another band I kept getting reminded of is The Fiery Furnaces. Their songs often feature multiple parts that shift and turn. They’re pretty trippy. But, The Fiery Furnaces also write melodies that stick out.

Maybe it all comes down to the production on Congratulations. It really sounds like shit. Maybe with better production MGMT’s melodies would have stood out more to me. I don’t think it’s a bad album, but in their effort to make a cohesive “body of work” the album was flat to me.

Great album art though.

The Coral – Skeleton Key

Jefferson Airplane – In Time

The Kinks – Animal Farm

Love – Stephanie Knows Who

The Flaming Lips – Silver Trembling Hands

The Fiery Furnaces – Black-Hearted Boy

The MGMT website has the video for “Flash Delirium”, and it’s the kind of video that makes me wonder if MGMT explained to the participants what this shit means.

March 11, 2010

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Beat The Devil’s Tattoo

Beat The Devil's Tattoo

I don’t really care if the critics don’t like BRMC, I still do. There’s a lot of talk about “authenticity” when it comes to them. I don’t think BRMC set out to reinvent music. It’s too easy to rip them for being too much like Jesus And Mary Chain, The Stooges or Velvet Underground. A lot of bands pray to those alters. I just happen to think BRMC do it better than most. Some critics think Howl, which was a turn towards blues and country, was their falling off. Some critics think Baby 81, a “return to form”, was. I’m sure Beat The Devil’s Tattoo, which combines all the elements from the previous four albums, will cause other critics to say that this album was the falling off point. Sure, there’s a degree of camp to an album title like Beat The Devil’s Tattoo, and to BRMC themselves. But, I’ve seen them play four times, and they just plain rock. And, so do their albums. It’s really that simple for me. They write good songs that I want to listen to. Everyone is influenced by someone. It’s what they do with it. And, BRMC write good melodies and interesting songs. Now they have a new drumer, Leah Shapiro, who toured with The Raveonettes. So, that has invited more comparisons. Shapiro even sings on “The Toll”, so maybe they’ll do their own “Sometimes Always” (the J&MC / Hope Sandoval duet). Over the past five albums, they’ve settled into a nice groove where you know what you’re going to get with each album.

Let’s take the songs off Beat The Devil’s Tattoo:

The Bluesy Ones: “Beat The Devil’s Tattoo”, “River Styx”
The J&MC Ones: “Conscience Killer”, “Bad Blood”, “Evol”, “Mama Taught Me Better”, “Shadow’s Keeper”
The Dirge Ones: “War Machine”, “Aya”
The Country Ballad Ones: “Sweet Feeling”, “The Toll”, “Long Way Down”
The Epic 10 Minute One: “Half-State”

There’s plenty of lyrics about “your bones are breaking” (Beat The Devil’s Tattoo), “I’m a preacher with a gun” (Conscience Killer), “as you walk out the door, my heart slips on the floor” (Evol), ” Oh, you’re so afflicted, your love keeps burning, it brings me down (Mama Taught Me Better), “Will you lay me down inside Heaven’s walls” (River Styx). You get the picture.

That’s Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Gritty, gothic psych-rock, and sneering vocals. Feedback, slide guitar, and dark lyrics. Maybe a little twang thrown in. You either can get over the reference points or not. I’ve read some people ask why BRMC should exist. I’m happy they do, because it means I have more good music to listen to and enjoy.

Evol

River Styx

March 2, 2010

Little Boots > La Roux > Florence And The Machine

My opinion seems to be against the general consensus though. Little Boots has more memorable songs than La Roux, though I like La Roux. The La Roux album gets a little samey, but La Roux has a great voice. I’ve posted “Stuck On Repeat” by Little Boots because I’m a sucker for anything vaguely Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”. I’ve posted La Roux’s “Fascination” because it’s the most memorable song off the album. I just can’t get into the Florence And The Machine album. Maybe it’s because it reminds me too much of Kate Bush and Annie Lennox. And, they ripped off Gang Gang Dance. Listen to the beginning of “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) then “House Jam” and you’ll see what I mean. Apparently it was a “mistake” that the first run of albums didn’t credit Gang Gang Dance, according to this Pitchfork article.

Little Boots – Stuck On Repeat

La Roux – Fascination

Florence And The Machine – Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)

Gang Gang Dance – House Jam

February 26, 2010

Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me

Have One On Me

This is the album I’ve known she’s been capable of. It’s a sprawling three disc, two hour epic. On Have One On Me Joanna Newsom strikes me as being the heir of Joni Mitchell’s folk and classical pop crown. All you have to do is listen to the first song, “Easy”, and you’ll hear what I mean. On “Good Intentions Paving Co.”, Newsom flirts with the kind of jazzy arrangement that Mitchell was known for too. Instead of complete reliance on harp, Joanna Newsom plays piano on some songs, like on “Soft As Chalk” or “Does Not Suffice”. Her harp is still her primary instrument, as you can hear on “’81”, which I posted below. Her harp playing is particularly gorgeous at the end of “Go Long”. Joanna Newsom’s voice on this album is the biggest, and most welcome, change. On The Milk-Eyed Monster, her voice could be irritating depending on your mood. It felt like she was singing in a quirky way for quirk’s sake. I liked Ys more, because I could appreciate the artistry of the baroque pop on it. But on Have One On Me she turns the quirk way down, and her voice is all the more beautiful for it. As on Ys, Have One On Me has strings, horns and woodwinds. A regular drumset occasionally accompanies the music. The arrangements are less ornate than they were on Ys, which strove to be baroque. Occasionally, as on “Esme”, it’s just Newsom and her piano. As you can see, there’s enough variety in the arrangements so that the album is never boring. Seriously, what I can say to you is that if you like chamber pop and folk, I haven’t heard much better than this album. If you’ve been turned off by Newsom’s singing before, I don’t think you will be on Have One On Me.

’81 (Disc 1)

In California (Disc 2)

Soft As Chalk (Disc 3)

February 19, 2010

Lindstrøm & Christabelle – Real Life Is No Cool

Real Life is No Cool

“What should we do? Should we start? Should we stop? Looking for what?” is how Christabelle opens the first track, “Looking For What?”. She sounds languid, and very sexy. She repeats this throughout the song over Lindstrøm’s bed of cascading and rising synth pulses and disco beats. At some point she says, “want you to come give me some”. This dreamy sensuality flows through the entire album. The pace may quicken, like on third track “Let It Happen” (a Vangelis cover), where Christabelle wants you to “throw away fear” and to “love life”. But, Real Life Is No Cool is here to seduce you with Christabelle’s European accented half-awake coos and come-ons and Lindstrøm’s disco beats, synth washes and bass throbs. The whole album sounds effortless. Lindstrøm has been doing this kind of spacey disco and ambient for a number of years now, some of his songs stretching past 20 minutes. He even managed to take a cover of “Little Drummer Boy” to the 42 minute mark. Yes, really. But, this album is meant to be a pop album with relatively normal song structures. “Lovesick” and “Music In My Mind” feature a huge thump and synth funk basslines. “Baby Don’t Stop” is on par with Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”. It has horn stabs, a wiggly guitar line, a synth bassline, and Christabelle’s confidently sexy vocals. “Let’s Practise” (sic), my favorite song on here, is built on Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” iconic synth line, and here Christabelle wails in borderline sexual desperation, “lost myself back there, don’t know what to do with out you. I’m so alone without you”. The whole album has a sensual, erotic mood. And, it sounds decadent and rich. Like the album says, real life is no cool. For an hour, this sex haze of an album will lull you out of your life and into its heady world of sensuality. Oh, and you can dance to it.

Lovesick

Let’s Practise

February 15, 2010

Phantogram – Eyelid Movies

Eyelid Moives

This album, especially the first four songs, are like Phantogram asked me what I wanted in music and gave it to me. “Mouthful of Diamonds” has a sad female vocalist (keyboardist Sarah Barthell), shoegaze guitars, and a seagull sounding synth progression. “When I’m Small” starts with guitar riff that sounds country gone shoegaze and hiphop beats. Barthell pleads to be taken underground, and eventually says “I’d rather die than be with you” and a wailing synth drives the point home. Third track “Turn It Off” brings in another hiphop beat, pulsing morse code synths, and now a male vocalist (other group member, guitarist Josh Carter). Then the chorus brings in a countermelody with more shoegaze guitars and the line, “I could have been easier on you”. After the first chorus there’s a great breakbeat section and a return of that pulsing synth. Finally, “Running From The Cops” has a slippery drum machine beat and a fantastically weird rubbery synth line. This time Carter sings in a heavily processed voice that makes him sound underwater. These first four songs are incredibly unique, unsettling and jaded.

The rest of the album is really good electro shoegaze and trip hop. “All Dried Up” and “Let Me Go”, both sung by Sarah Barthell, reminds me of perhaps Broadcast or Massive Attack. “As Far As I Can See”, with its samples and jittery guitar line, reminds me of Portishead, especially with a lead line, “as far as I can see, nobody loves me”. “You Are The Ocean” and “Bloody Palms”, are both more dream pop and remind me a lot of Blonde Redhead, both in the guitar lines and his vocals. Lyrically, the album is also dark. For example the line “when I pull my teeth out” from “Bloody Palms” or “the dust you kicked in my face” from “Let Me Go”. Eyelid Movies is very dark and seductive, and I think that mood is what ties it all together and helps it sound like Phantogram instead of all the reference points I’ve listed.

When I’m Small

Running From The Cops

February 9, 2010

Hot Chip – One Life Stand

One Life Stand

One Life Stand washes ashore on a pretty bed of synths, and that pretty much sets the tone for the whole album. Opening song “Thieves In The Night” has the lyric, “happiness is what we all want”, and that sets the tone for the rest of the album as well. There aren’t any huge bangers like “Over And Over” or “Shake A Fist”. The muted house piano and sweet vocals of “Hand Me Down Your Love” bounce along on an understated but fun beat, until strings come along during the chorus. “I Feel Better” feels like a throwback to 1993 with synthesized strings and processed vocals. So does “We Have Love” with a synth organ break. The chorus to “I Feel Better” best sums up the mixture of melancholy and hope on One Life Stand: “Nothing is wasted, and life is worth living. Heaven is nowhere, just look to the stars. There is a daylight, it’s yours for embracing. Everything is nothing, and nothing is ours.” The album tugs at your heart. One Life Stand is maybe the most emotionally open male sung electronic album I’ve ever heard. The title track “One Life Stand” is a literal promise to stay with a mate for their rest of his life, “I only want to be your one life stand, tell me do you stand by your man.” And then “Brothers” is a song about a man loving the men in his life. The chorus is, “it’s a wild love that I have for my brothers”. And, that is meant in a completely heterosexual way. Musically, all these songs are built on beds of truly gorgeous synths and basslines, sung with sweet conviction. “Sweet conviction”. See, even I’m falling under the spell of the mood of this album. So, if you liked quiet ballads like “We’re Looking For A Lot Of Love” or “The Warning”, or the understated bounce of “No Fit State”, then you’ll like this album a lot. I think because of the uniformity of tone, this may be their strongest album so far. “Take It In”, with its emotionally moving ending vocal harmonies of “Oh, my heart has flown to you just like a dove. It can fly, it can fly. And oh, please take my heart and keep it close to you. Take it in, take it in”, will probably end up being one of my favorite songs of 2010.

Hand Me Down Your Love

Brothers

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February 8, 2010

Charlotte Gainsbourg – IRM

IRM

I’m sure if you know anything about this album, you know it was written and produced by Beck. So, in many ways this sounds like a Beck album without him singing on it (for the most part). Both opening tracks “Master’s Hand” and title track “IRM” are heavy on the beats and bass. Lots of atmospheric clangs and bells, and eerie synths. But, Charlotte Gainsbourg wraps her voice around each song. She doesn’t quite sound the same from song to song. Whispering on “Le Chat Du Café De Artistes” or sounding clipped and small on “Me And Jane Doe”. She sounds almost robotic on “IRM”, but her background vocals (and Beck’s) make help “IRM” a haunting experience. Yet, Beck’s presence is always felt, both on the beats of “Master’s Hand”, the background vocals on “Greenwich Mean Time”, and the chugging bass guitar of “Trick Pony”. Of course, I can’t help but be reminded of Serge Gainsbourg during a song like “Le Chat Du Café De Artistes”, where Charlotte sings in French. And, tracks like “Le Chat Du Café De Artistes”, “Vanities”, and “Dandelion” have that Histoire De Melody Nelson by way of Sea Change string arrangement. In general, the album bounces around in style, from the shambollic Beatles of Gainsbourg / Beck duet “Heaven Can Wait” to the tribal drumming and Arabic strings on “Voyage”. It’s a different experience than on first album 5:55, except on songs like “Time Of The Assassins” where both song and Charlotte’s singing most match the mood of 5:55. But, on the whole every song on IRM is a good one. Here’s three songs that hopefully show the range of music on IRM.

IRM

Dandelion

Voyage