Archive | April, 2011

Day 61: Squirrel Nut Zippers – Perennial Favorites

30 Apr

Suits Are Picking Up The Bill

Yesterday, I did something way out of the ordinary for me.  I sat down and listened to a hip-hop record from start to finish, for maybe what was the third time in my entire life.  How am I following that up? With a freakin’ swing album.  You know that music that Frank Sinatra played? Well apparently, people are still making it.  Yeah, I had no idea either.  Stepping out of my little indie comfort zone has been weird.

The even stranger thing is, I actually like it.  For one, it is definitely keeping me away from another feedback-reliant indie rock album.  Thank god.

Perennial Favorites really does sound like it came straight out of the 30’s.  Everything about this record, from the big horn sections to the old-timey vocals, sounds of that era.  Even the band’s name, Squirrel Nut Zippers—a candy made during the period that the group is emulating—sounds old for some reason.

Honestly, I kind of thought that I liked this record for the novelty of it at first, which wasn’t unreasonable, as I really have never heard anything quite like Perennial Favorites before.  It’s impossible to tag with any specific genre, and that is what I liked about it at first.  After I finished the album, though, I realized that I never really lost interest in what I was listening to.  So that means either that I’m easily amused by weird things, or that Squirrel Nut Zippers actually did put a really solid record together, as unconventional as it may be.  I’m hoping it’s the latter.

Advertisements

Day 60: Aesop Rock – None Shall Pass

29 Apr

None Shall Pass

Well, I’m doing it.  I’m breaking out.  I’m moving past the constraints that I’ve put on myself.  I’m breaking up the train of monogamous indie rock that I’ve subjected myself to recently.  Today, I listened to a hip-hop album.  You’ve gotta understand, I’ve listened to maybe three hip-hop records in my life, and two of those were made by Eminem.

I’m going to emphasize my limited hip-hop knowledge just a bit more.  You know why I know Aesop Rock?  Tor mashed him up with Sufjan Stevens a few years back.  So if I come off as extremely ignorant in this post, please keep in mind that I am.  I would like to give a shout out to last.fm-er ptchfrkabortion because there’s no way I would have actually gone through with listening to this if it weren’t for his suggestion.  I might as well mention elcheeserpuff while I’m at it, as these guys have both given me a bunch of (hopefully) great recommendations.

So, let’s try and talk about a hip-hop record…I hear the term “flow” thrown around a lot when discussing this genre, so I’ll start there.  According to my best friend Urban Dictionary, flow is “a rapper’s ability to rhyme to phat beats in a skillful manner.”  So apparently, for a rapper to have “flow,” there are a few necessary things.  Well, “phat beats” are all over this record.  I think some of my indie rock bands could benefit from using some interesting hip-hop beats.  They could add some much needed texture to the songs.  Lots of the beats on None Shall Pass reminded me of the math rock genre, actually.  There are tons of weird time signatures that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Battles record.  So phat beats: check.  Aesop is also capable of “rhyming” to these “beats” in a “skillful” “manner.”  At least I think that he is.  I don’t have much to base my opinion on.  All I can say is, his words sound good in my ears.

Day 59: The Rural Alberta Advantage – Hometowns

28 Apr

The Dethbridge in Lethbridge

I’m usually not one to care about vocals.  Two of my favorite bands are Los Campesinos! and The Hold Steady, two bands with front men who were…let’s just say, not blessed with the greatest voices.  This shows just how strange Nils Edenloff’s singing voice is.  His name is pretty weird too, but that’s for another time.

I actually thought that I didn’t like The Rural Alberta Advantage after the first couple of songs.  Edenloff assaulted my eardrums with a very strange–almost whiney–shout right off the bat.  It took me a while to adjust and accept this screech that he calls a voice, but once I did, I realized how kick-ass this record is.

The Rural Alberta Advantage plays some good indie rock.  I know that I’ve been saying that I’m getting tired of this genre a lot as of late, but I really got into Hometowns.  They’re not doing anything too groundbreaking…you know how it’s hard to describe what exactly you like about something sometimes? Well I go through that every time I like a record for this blog.  I’m having more trouble than usual with describing Hometowns, though.  It’s just a bunch of songs about childhood, love, lost love — you know, the standard indie-topics.  I guess it’s just really catchy.  Does an album need to be anything else for someone to consider it good?  I sure don’t think so.

Let’s go back to indie rock voices, because that’s something that I can actually write about without rambling too much.  I think that people like me appreciate unconventional singers, mainly because they show that you don’t need to be special to start an awesome band.  Anyone with solid ideas can make great music, regardless of vocal capabilities.  That gives people like me hope, because people like me always dream of being in a band, even without any particular musical talents, or motivation to acquire such talents.

Day 58: Throw Me the Statue – Moonbeams

27 Apr

Groundswell

Throw Me the Statue…yeah. I’m not even gonna touch that one.  Anyway, moving on.   Let’s do something unusual for Swole Ear—focus on the music.

Moonbeams is decent.  It’s also its own worst enemy.  There are plenty of solid tracks on this record.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of not-solid tracks as well, which doesn’t make any sense to me because they don’t need to be there!  There are fifteen songs on Moonbeams, which clocks in at close to an hour in length.  This record really could have benefitted from a few cuts.

There really is enough material on Moonbeams to put together one hell of an indie-pop record.  It starts out strongly enough, with the (slightly misleading) electronic Young Sensualists, and keeps going with the good stuff for a few songs, but the middle of the record is a dry, desolate, uncreative, boring stretch.  From Your Girlfriend’s Car through Yucatan Gold—a stretch of four songs—there isn’t too much good to say. Cutting these songs could have made the album a lot stronger, and kept it within the acceptable album length range too.  Hell, even reorganizing the song layout could have helped—it’s hard not to take notice when that many bad songs hit you in a row.

That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of awesome throughout Moonbeams, though.  When Throw Me the Statue (oh lord) are on their A-game, they make really great music.  Groundswell is one of my new favorite songs, a tune with a fast tempo, catchy lyrics, and a variety of instruments (from synths to horns).  This band can have a lot of fun when they want to, and that’s where they’re at their best.  They’re also capable of putting great records together, if they can just learn a little self-control.

Day 57: Cheap Trick – Heaven Tonight

26 Apr

Surrender 

This Dad-Rock Tuesday, I’ve been assigned Cheap Trick’s 1978 record, Heaven Tonight.  I knew a couple of things about Cheap Trick going into this: Surrender is a pretty good song, and Rockford, one of their latest releases, kind of sucks.

Fortunately, this record started out with Surrender, and it was pretty much smooth sailing from there.

Heaven Tonight is impossible not to like.  It’s simple, straightforward, catchy rock.  Cheap Trick is a band that understands what it is capable of doing, and when they don’t stray from that, they make some great music.  If Cheap Trick tried to put together a dark concept album or something, it would fall apart, but by sticking with simplicity, the band thrives.

Musically, the group uses the standard rock band layout (vox, guitars, bass, drums, with a little keyboard) and never really strays from that. Lyrically, most songs revolve around love, sex, partying, or some combination of the three.  There are plenty of catchy riffs and choruses sure to get stuck in heads.  As long as Cheap Trick sticks to these things, they do fine.  When they break away from that formula, though, disaster strikes.

Fortunately, that only happened once on this record.  The title track Heaven Tonight sees the band attempting a darker and slower song, and it fails spectacularly.  It comes off as creepy and a little disconcerting, sounding more like a song about murder instead of mind-boggling sex than I think it’s supposed to.

Aside from that one dark spot, Heaven Tonight is a really solid record.  It’s what pop-rock should sound like: simple, catchy, and fun.

Day 56: Slow Club – Yeah So

25 Apr

Giving Up on Love

And here we have yet another member of the Los Campesinos! Twitter Club.  Gareth pimped this British duo (or, more accurately, hit on the singer) for a while last year. More recently, Gareth will throw a tweet at @slowclubrebecca every now and then, but I think he’s given up.  Maybe he’ll write a song about it.

I figured that I had to check this band out to see if it was worthy of my stalkee’s attention.  I am so creepy.  I need a hobby.

Anyway, I see why Gareth became a fan of this band, and Rebecca, in the first place.

Slow Club is what Los Campesinos! would be if you took away six members.  There are plenty of melodramatic lyrics, along with a lot of play with male/female vocals.  Overall, the music has a more stripped-down feel to it, and as a result, is a lot simpler.

The band really does consist of just two people.  Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor play all the instruments, and sing all of the words, not to say that those  jobs are too demanding.  Most songs consist of either one or two guitars, the voices of both members, and sometimes a little bit of minimalist percussion. The band really does more with less, as every song on Yeah So is delivered with a passion not often seen in music today.

What I really love about Yeah So is its complete lack of filler.  Not one song on the record comes off as phoned-in or half-assed.  Even after the group’s two EPs that came before this, they were able to put together a ton of solid material for their full-length debut.  I’m definitely looking forward to more from them.

Day 55: Neon Indian – Psychic Chasms

24 Apr

Ephemeral Artery

How I never got around to listening to this entire album before now is beyond me.  It got so much hype a couple of summers ago; I don’t know how I managed to avoid it.  Sure, like everyone who stays up to date with indie music, I heard a couple of tracks from the record, Deadbeat Summer and Terminally Chill, I think, but never the entire thing.  I was missing out.

Honestly, this record is just what I’ve needed.  If you read my last post, you may have been able to tell that I’m getting a little burnt-out.  I guess I overestimated my love for music by starting this blog.  Or I overestimated the creativity of today’s indie bands.  Either way, I’ve been struggling through the last few posts, and really considering ditching the blog altogether.  Neon Indian has made me reconsider.

Psychic Chasms has something that all of these other albums have been missing: a personality.  Neon Indian doesn’t conform to rules for naming songs, as can be seen with the chill-tastic Should have taken acid with you and 6669 (I don’t know if you know).  Unlike other records that are just a way to transport a few good singles to hipsters, Psychic Chasms flows. Neon Indian makes really good chillwave, and knows how to deliver it to listeners.  The record maintains a laid-back feeling throughout, relying on wavy synths and trippy vocals.  As far as chillwave goes, it’s nothing groundbreaking.  The organization and feeling that comes with the record is what makes it special.

Day 54: The Morning Benders – Talking Through Tin Cans

23 Apr

Patient Patient

54 days.  That’s all it takes.  54 days has been all I’ve needed to become completely jaded.  Everything I listen to now is starting to sound like everything else.  I don’t think it’s my fault, though.  There’s been an acceptable sound established in today’s indie music scene.  It involves a basic set up; singer, guitar, bass, and drums.  And so far, that set-up has been featured in far too many of the albums that I’ve listened to.  It’s unfortunate.  And it’s boring me to tears.

Take The Morning Benders, for instance.  I tried to pay attention, I really did.  I just couldn’t bring myself to stay in a fully conscious state for an entire song.  One of the few times that I was able to break out of that trance, I was greeted with the following genius lyric on Crosseyed,  “but somewhere inside me there’s a jealous mind, and I want it out of my head.”  Jesus.  Someone save me.  As you can imagine, that didn’t motivate me to give much attention to the rest of the song.  Or the album.

I don’t think I missed too much.  The Morning Benders seemed to do exactly what every other band does.  It’s not that they’re bad, it’s that they’re not good.  The entire record has been done before.  It seems like half of the bands that I’ve listened to because of this blog use this same generic sound.  I’m getting sick of it.  I’m going to have to branch out music-wise if I plan on lasting 365 days.  I might have to start listening to—gulp—hip-hop.

Day 53: The Mountain Goats – The Sunset Tree

22 Apr

This Year

As anyone who pays the slightest bit of attention to today’s indie music scene knows, The Mountain Goats—John Darnielle’s main musical project—is fairly well known and respected in our little pretentious crowd.  I had heard the name of the band a billion times, but it was really this video of Hold Steady front man Craig Finn that made me check out an album by the Goats.  I love everything that Craig Finn does (except for Lifter Puller, it’s a little too deep for me), and I loved the song that I was hearing in that video too.

I see why Craig Finn is friendly with this band.  Both Craig Finn and John Darnielle’s groups put a big emphasis on vocals, even if the content of the songs aren’t too similar.  They’re both great story-tellers, each in their own way.  John Darnielle is a bit more serious with his music.

I’ll need to listen to the album a few more times to really gather everything that is happening here lyrically.  Apparently, there’s a lot about domestic violence going on.  I guess a lot of that is hidden in metaphor that I didn’t pick up on initially.  I was able to tell that these lyrics were not happy ones, though, as Darnielle’s delivery makes him seem almost depressed.

One thing about this band is they don’t give you too much to focus on other than the lyrics.  Most songs consist of just a couple layers of guitar at most, really allowing Darnielle’s vocals to shine.  I’ll need to listen to this record a few more times before forming a proper opinion of it.   


Day 52: Oh No Oh My – Oh No! Oh My!

21 Apr

I Have No Sister

Here we have yet another example of a stupid band name catching my attention.  Seriously, I’m going to name my band Cheese Foot or something.  How could anyone not check out a band called Cheese Foot?  Wait, better idea, the band will be called “Cheese Foot?”  Question mark included.  And with that, I have earned at least a 7.5 on Pitchfork.  I bet I can crack an 8.6 if I record the entire album on a raft in the middle of Lake Michigan or something.  Screw college, I’m gonna pursue Cheese Foot?.

I’ve got to come up with some dramatic backstory for why my band is named Cheese Foot?.  The story would have nothing to do with feet made of cheese, or cheese shaped feet, though.  This story would have to be intricate and complicated, and make me appear really tortured and mysterious.  This backstory would be something that I would appear to really want to avoid in interviews that would later appear on indie blogs.  Eventually, though, that ace reporter would crack my tough exterior of pain and misery, and with a tear in my eye, I would faint right before I reveal why we’re called Cheese Foot?.

I would love being in the band, and be great to all of my fans, but only for so long.  The moment that Cheese Foot? reached 100,000 listeners on last.fm, I would turn on the band.  We’re way too mainstream at that point.  I would start lashing out at all of my lamestream fans, who only heard about Cheese Foot? because M.I.A. tweeted about us.

We would have recorded what would prove to be our final album at that point.  We’re so mainstream by then, Pitchfork has no choice but to give us a 4.6.  In it, they state that we lost everything that made us Cheese Foot?, we’ve sold out.

I would leave Cheese Foot? after that.  I wouldn’t do anything for a couple of decades, and then I’d go on a solo tour. Aged horribly by the reclusive-indie-star lifestyle, I would consistently forget all of the words to my now irrelevant songs, as I stand alone on a stage, trying desperately to get back what once made Cheese Foot? so great.

Anyway, until Cheese Foot?’s debut drops, I’ll stick with Swole Ear.  So.  Oh No Oh My.  They’re good I guess.