Archive | March, 2011

Day 21: The Get Up Kids – Something to Write Home About

21 Mar

Holiday

I’ve stated before that I like melodrama in my music…well, turns out that statement is not entirely true.  I like melodrama when it’s delivered tongue-in-cheek.  If it seems to me that the singer realizes how whiny he is, and is kind of doing it as a joke, I can appreciate it.  However, when that melodrama is delivered with hella conviction, I’m going to be a little skeptical.

I may not like what The Get Up Kids do, but I can’t deny that they do it well.  They don’t try to hide what they’re doing.  With lines like “Constants aren’t so constant anymore.” and “Tonight for me translates to yesterday for you.” (Both of those are in the same song, may I add) you’ll be ingesting well beyond your recommended daily dose of teenage emotions all within the 45 minutes of Something to Write Home About.

The band seems unable to shake that adolescent tendency towards anger and confusion, as all of Something to Write Home About seems to be about doomed relationships, rebellion, and not knowing one’s purpose in life.  As a teenager, I know how easy it can be to become obsessed with these topics, as I see it happening to people all around me.  Once you realize that not everyone is out to get you, and that you have to suck it up because life is only getting harder, these feelings stop.  You’ve suddenly matured the equivalent of ten years, and you’re a little more prepared to face the real world.  Music like Something to Write Home About perpetuates these annoying childhood beliefs, and it’s kind of hard to listen to if you’re past that stage.

There are tons of people not past that stage though.  And they eat this up.


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Day 20: Smith Westerns – Dye it Blonde

20 Mar

End of the Night

Inconsistency seems to be a pretty big problem for bands today.  I guess in the age of the MP3 blog and the digital single, solid albums have become a little less important to both bands and the music consumer.  I still like to think that the smaller bands that I tend to listen to care more about releasing great albums, but it seems that even these groups are drifting toward the great, powerful, single song, as opposed to an all-around great record.  That’s rather unfortunate for a blogger whose objective is to listen to an album every day.

On Dye it Blonde, the second record by Smith Westerns, there are definitely a few great songs.  End of the Night is an awesome, fast-tempo song, with some, very catchy synths backing it up.  Smile, a little slower, has great, infectious group chants, and captivating, dreamy guitars.  Unfortunately, outside of those two tracks, I couldn’t find much to get behind on the record.  The rest of the album is somewhat boring, unoriginal synth-pop.

Smith Westerns released their first album by themselves, without the help of a label.  That album got some hype, and soon enough, the band signed a deal with record company Fat Possum.  Dye it Blonde was pushed out not long after that.  It seems to me that both the band and label were trying to capitalize on the hype surrounding that first album.  They came up with a few songs that would make their way around the blog-circuit, and used those to push the new album.  I want to check out that first album now, though.  I want to see if they’ve always been inconsistent, or if I’m right about the band and label’s effort to capitalize on hype.

Day 19: Times New Viking – Rip it Off

19 Mar

End of all Things

I’ve been trying to get into noise rock and its variations for a while now.  People swear by bands like Lightning Bolt and No Age, so I figured the genre was worth my attention.  You have to be angry in order to enjoy noise rock, and apparently, I’m just not angry enough.  This is a genre characterized by loud, distorted guitars, muffled vocals, and a fog of angst clouding the music.

I’ll be adding Times New Viking to my list of failed attempts at liking noise rock.  I just can’t do it.  While listening to Rip it Off, which is supposed to be Times New Viking’s best album, every song seemed to blend together, and not in a good way.  I was more bored than anything, honestly.  It’s pretty much a wall of distortion and fuzz from beginning to end, and I don’t understand the appeal.  I guess it’s just a personal preference.  Some music listeners like a clean, crisp sound, and others prefer that sound that comes out of your radio when you’re not quite on the station.

I think my big problem with this album is the vocals.  For almost the entire album, the singers sound like you’re hearing them through a cell phone that’s been through the wash a couple of times.  This is really annoying, because it makes the lyrics all but impossible to understand.  There were a few songs that showed promise, starting out with an interesting guitar hook, but as soon as those vocals kick in, the songs just became chores to listen to, abrasive, obnoxious chores.

There is one bright moment on Rip it Off.  Unfortunately, it only lasts about thirty seconds.  As End of All Things is winding down, suddenly, the distortion on what had been just another harsh, unpleasant track cuts out.  The singer can be understood. The guitars can be heard and interpreted.  It really is kind of nice. Sure enough, however, the fuzz is back right away for the next song.

Day 18: …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead – Source Tags & Codes

18 Mar

Relative Ways

I always figured that …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead were a metal band of some sort.  Their name is on the same stupidity level as many of the awful metalcore bands out there, bands like Bullet for my Valentine, Escape the Fate, All That Remains, As I Lay Dying, August Burns Red, The Devil Wears Prada, Killswitch Engage, Suicide Silence, and countless others.

Others like blessthefall, Attack Attack!, A Skylit Drive, The Black Dahlia Murder, Job For a Cowboy, and Bring Me the Horizon.

I think I’ve made my point.

I thought I was doing myself a favor by not listening to Trail of Dead, saving myself from repetitive chugging power chords, awful, faux-emotional lyrics, flippy hair, and crabcore.  Turns out, I was keeping myself from listening to an awesome rock band, devoid of a “core” attached to the end of their genre.

Source Tags & Codes is an interesting album. Trail of Dead pull all kinds of things together to create a sound all their own.   Strings blend beautifully with delicate guitars at points, showing the hope that lies in the album.  There’s plenty of anger and destruction present as well.  Songs like Days of Being Wild show how frustrated and mad lead singer Conrad Keely can get, and are pretty relatable.  I also like how his delivery changes frequently throughout the album.  At some points, he talks his lyrics, at others, he sings, while some are screamed at the top of his lungs.  It keeps the album interesting; you never really know what direction he’s going to take next.

I have to stop judging bands by their name.  I’ve avoided Trail of Dead’s music for a long time now, just because I associated them with metalcore bands.  It’s not fair to me, as I deprived myself of some great music.  Who knows what other music I’ve missed out on just because of a stupid band name.

Thanks to various band shirts, eavesdropped conversations, and Facebook posts of Evanston Township High School students, as well as the “metalcore” tag on last.fm.  I couldn’t have put that list together without ya.

Day 17: Twin Shadow – Forget

17 Mar

Castles in the Snow

Electronic music always sounds like a collage to me.  Elements spanning every musical genre are often incorporated, from tribal drums to distorted electronic guitar.  That’s why I have trouble writing about it.  How can I pinpoint a few things that stuck out after all of that?  I’ll do my best with Twin Shadow.

So Twin Shadow’s Forget got a ton of hype last summer, but I somehow managed to avoid it until now.  George Lewis Jr., the single member of Twin Shadow, will be opening for The Pains of Being Pure at Heart at a show I’m going to in April, so I figured it was time to stop neglecting these tunes.

I imagine that if I was around for the 80s, this is what it would have sounded like.  With all of the synths, and that fluid, new-wavy sound, Forget could have been the soundtrack to The Breakfast Club.

Now for my opinion…I like it enough, I guess.  It’s not a type of sound that I usually listen to, but for electronic, synthesizer-heavy music, it’s pretty good.  The album never gets boring, even though many of the songs sound similar.  Solid drum machine beats and bleepy-bloopy synth lines make up the majority of this album, along with a heavy reliance on original vocals by Lewis himself.  That’s something you don’t see too much with this type of music, and it’s refreshing to hear.  Usually bands with this sound use vocals as another instrument, blending them in with the rest of the music.  Lewis’ vocals are distinct, which gives the music a poppy sound.

Forget is a solid album with enough good songs to justify its existence.  Seeing how one man can play this music by himself should be interesting.

Day 16: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – The Brutalist Bricks

16 Mar

The Mighty Sparrow

It’s always smart for a band to put their best song as the first track on an album.  It sucks the listener in, and makes ‘em much more likely to give the rest of the album a shot.  That’s certainly the case with Ted Leo’s The Brutalist Bricks.  Album opener The Mighty Sparrow is a great song, with infectious vocals and a catchy guitar riff that had me doing the hipster head bob right from the start.  Unfortunately, after that, the quality of the album started going down.

The Brutalist Bricks is very hit-or-miss.  There are plenty of songs that manage to capture the excitement and energy that come with the opener.  Songs like Even Heroes Have to Die and Bartolomeo and The Buzzing of Bees are examples of great standard rock songs, with energetic guitars, and great lyrics.  Unfortunately, for every great song on the album, there’s a boring Tuberculoids Arrive In Hop or Ativan Eyes.   If Ted Leo and his Pharmacists had trimmed some of the fat, they would have one solid record. That’s always been one of my pet peeves.  I can’t stand it when a band ruins a great album with a ton of filler.

Part of this could be my fault, I guess.  Bands always seem to make their best music early in their careers, and I picked the most recent album from a band that’s been around for more than a decade.  Maybe their earlier stuff is better; I just don’t know.  There’s no rule against listening to multiple albums by the same artist on Swole Ear, though, so expect more posts about these guys in the future.  I really want to like them.

Day 15: The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat

15 Mar

White Light/White Heat

For this week’s Dad-Rock Tuesday, my father picked The Velvet Underground’s 1968 album White Light/White Heat.

Well…that was…interesting.  I’ll be honest, I didn’t love White Light/White Heat.  I’ve listened to pieces of The Velvet Underground & Nico (the banana one) before, and I liked what I’ve heard .  It’s possibly a bit overrated, as lots of older music is, but it definitely held it’s own in my opinion.  Unfortunately, White Light/White Heat didn’t come close.

Honestly, there’s something about the entire album that sounds thrown-together.  It feels like the band got to the studio, and then decided that it would be a good time to put some music together.  The guitars are random, but that’s hidden pretty well by the immense amount of distortion in front of them.

I’ll admit, the lyrics can be pretty good at times.  A track that sticks out on the album is The Gift, which tells a story of a guy who mailed himself in a box to his long-distance girlfriend.  When the package arrived, he ends up getting his head split open with the sheet metal cutter that was being used to open the box.  It’s a good story, but its delivery is a little unconventional.  John Cale tells the story in a deadpan voice over seemingly unplanned guitar riffs.

Then there’s Sister Ray, the 17-minute closer.  I thought this song sounded random and thrown together while listening to it, so I decided to check the song’s Wikipedia page.  Sure enough, “’Sister Ray’ was recorded in one take. The band agreed to accept whatever faults occurred during recording, resulting in over seventeen minutes of highly improvisational material.”  Why is that a good idea?  It sounds bad.  Don’t even get me started on Lou Reed in this song.  Half of the lyrics are about someone “sucking on [his] ding-dong.”  C’mon.

Day 14: The Strokes – Angles

14 Mar

 


Under Cover of Darkness

Well, the new Strokes album leaked over the weekend.  Let me just say that I’ve had this album pre-ordered for a month now (on vinyl, no less) and I don’t think I could have waited for the proper release date, with the knowledge that thousands of other fans just like me have already heard it.  I could go on and on about the morality and whatnot of listening to leaks, and try to justify my own listening to said leaks, but that’s not what this blog is about.

It’s been five years since First Impressions of Earth, The Strokes’ last album, which was released to a seemingly universal negative response (I’ve always liked that album, but hey, whatever).  People thought that the band had lost their touch, and honestly, the people who thought that probably won’t have a change of heart after hearing Angles.

The Strokes broke onto the scene ten years ago, with a stripped down garage-rock sound.  Is This It?, their first album, was loved by all for it’s simple sound, and Julian Casablancas’ unique, drawling voice.  Over the years, The Strokes have evolved, adding more instruments and production with each successive release.  The trend continues with Angles, the cleanest sounding record they’ve made.  THIS IS NOT A BAD THING. Sure, Is This It? is amazing, but if the band didn’t evolve, we’d be listening to remakes of that album, and it’d get awfully boring.  Bands change.  They discover new sounds and ways of playing music, and fortunately for us, The Strokes do it well.

The band definitely let Casablancas’ solo work influence them a bit on Angles.  Songs like Machu Picchu and Games wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Phrazes for the Young, the singer’s solo album.   There are plenty of straight-up Strokes songs as well, like Under Cover of Darkness, the album’s first single, and Gratisfaction, hopefully an upcoming single.  That band that came out of nowhere a decade ago can still be heard on Angles. Jules still has that voice, and Valensi is still a kick-ass guitarist.  I just hope these guys go on tour soon, as last year’s show at Lollapalooza was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever been a part of.

Day 13: Tennis – Cape Dory

13 Mar

Long Boat Pass

This is a band called Tennis.

This is an album about sailing.

There, now that we’ve gotten the fact that this is the preppiest thing you will ever hear out of the way, let’s talk about this album.

Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore, the husband and wife duo behind this band, decided to sell all of their stuff and sail around the east coast for a few months.  Naturally, when they got back, they started making music about their experience.  And for some reason, it’s really freaking good.  The album, named for a sailboat company, consists of ten short indie-pop songs.  Moore has a great voice, which fits perfectly with the relaxed, easy-going nature of the album.  Honestly, this album sounds to me like it should have come out in the sixties.  The carefree jangly guitars seem to come straight from that era, but that’s just me.

The one downfall of the album is its reliance on its concept.   Yes, we get it.   You two spent a year on a boat.  You faced hardships that tested not only your sailing skills, but your commitment to each other.   Really, you’ve driven these points home.  They throw their journey right in your face, and it get’s a little obnoxious.  Especially if you have a disdain for preppy people like I do.  Ultimately, I was able to look past the preppiness and overused concept, and appreciate this album for what it is: a solid, short collection of love songs.

Tennis is kind of out of luck for any future albums though.  What are they going to do, write another album about that trip they took?  They’re really going to have to expand their content if they hope to continue making music.

Day 12: Harlem – Hippies

12 Mar

Friendly Ghost

I saw Harlem over the summer.  I was not introduced to them on the best terms.  The Dead Weather were playing a show at the Congress Theater in Chicago, with Harlem opening, and I wasn’t in the best mood for a few reasons:

  • Doors opened an hour late, and Harlem didn’t take the stage until 9pm
  • My Jack White obsession brought me to the show, but I wasn’t particularly excited to see him behind the drums AGAIN.
  • The Dead Weather are mediocre at best.
  • Big venues like Congress suck.
  • The crowds at big venues like Congress suck.
  • I had a sore throat so severe that I couldn’t eat anything.
  • Apparently, I was manstrating as well.

So, I’ll admit that Harlem didn’t do it for me that night.  I don’t like judging bands based on one performance, so I decided to listen to their album before making the final call.  Yes, I realize it’s seven months later.  I have to get through 365 albums, okay?

So now, after that awful concert has almost left my mind, I can give Harlem the real chance that they deserve.

I’m glad I gave them another shot, as Hippies is a decent album.  I like the lo-fi, garage rock sound, and there are a bunch of creative, catchy songs on the album.  Tracks like Someday Soon and Faces stick out as particularly fun.   The vocals are muffled, and a little hard to understand, but that goes along with the album’s lo-fi style.  I didn’t get the impression that the lyrics are particularly important for a full understanding of the songs, either.

My problem with the album is its repetitive nature.  I understand that bands have a particular sound, and are bound to have moments that sound similar to other moments, but it seems to me that there is very little variety throughout Hippies.  If the album had fewer songs, this might have worked out, but with sixteen songs, there should be an assortment of sound and song types.  Hippies is good, and it could have been great with a little more variety.