Archive | June, 2011

Day 112: Toro y Moi – Underneath the Pine

20 Jun

Still Sound

Just as an interesting album cover can inspire (my) interest in a particular record, appalling covers can motivate me to stay away.  That’s what has happened here.  At this point in time, I have absolutely no reason for not listening to Underneath the Pine before now.  It got a ton of hype and I definitely heard quite a lot about it when it was released back in February.  It had to be the cover that kept me away.

But, I mean, look at it! Is it really too hard to understand why I decided to not subject myself to that record?  It’s just gross.  And probably a metaphor for something that’s going way over my head.  I don’t know.  Truth is, I don’t like it.

Fortunately, it’s not one of those instances where I feel really dumb for not listening to a record for some ridiculous reason.  Nope, I could have passed on this album, and I would have been fine.  Underneath the Pine is a chillwave record, and, like I wrote a few days ago, falls into the usual chillwave habit of dragging on for way too long.

Underneath the Pine is by no means bad.  It’s just a tad boring.  I found everything that is wrong with chillwave in this record (keep in mind, this is a genre that I consider myself  a fan of).  This essentially means that songs last too long, and turn into really repetitive ear sores.

I really don’t think this is my hatred of the album cover shining through.  I would have found this album just as boring had it been given some normal artwork; I just would have gotten around to it a bit sooner.

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Day 111: Les Savy Fav – Let’s Stay Friends

19 Jun

Pots & Pans

I’ve referred to music as bipolar before, right?  Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ve done that on Swole Ear.  You know, when a band can’t seem to decide what music it wants to create, and goes through a couple different sounds throughout the same record?  That’s a bipolar band. I’m writing all of this because I am a little confused about this band.  They’re definitely not bipolar. That’s for sure.  I don’t think that tripolar works for them either.  Is infinitepolar a word?  Well it is now, because I’m using it to describe Les Savy Fav, or their record, Let’s Stay Friends, at least.

Whoa, both the initials of the band and record are L.S.F.  I just realized that.  I bet they did that on purpose.  Clever.

Anyway, Les Savy Fav dips its toes in what appears to be every rock subgenre in existence.  There’s standard indie rock in Pots & Pans, the opener, but they branch out much more than that.  Right after Pots, they do what I was least expecting—launch into a shouty, almost hardcore emo track.  The Equestrian came out of nowhere, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it.

This trend of indecision continues throughout Let’s Stay Friends, as the band touches on everything from mathish rock to twee pop.  What’s amazing, though, is that they manage to hold on to their identity throughout, even though they can’t stick with any particular style of rock.  For some reason, it’s always clear that  Les Savy Fav is behind the song.

Even though the frequent musical switches threw me off, I did find myself enjoying this record.  While it may appear that the band can’t form an identity or unique sound through the extreme variations in their music, I found the opposite to be true.  Their identity is their indecision; their sound is not having a sound.  Honestly, it breaks up the monotony that indie rock can be.

Day 110: The Apples in Stereo – New Magnetic Wonder

18 Jun

Energy

This post has been a long time coming.  See, back in early 2008, oh so long ago, I was just beginning my descent into musical obsession.  I was fourteen years old, naïve, and thoroughly convinced that I was better than everyone else.  In my quest for music, I stumbled upon a rap group called Flobots.  Remember them? The “I can ride my bike with no handlebars” guys?  Yeah. Well, I got really into them for a while.  Not one of my finer moments.

Anyway, I decided that I needed to have their entire album, Fight With Tools.  It wasn’t on iTunes, though, and I didn’t have physical money back then, so going to Barnes & Noble was not an option. I downloaded it through Amazon’s MP3 thing, and got a little surprise.  Every new Amazon MP3 user received a free download of The Apples in Stereo’s track titled Energy.  This single song changed how I viewed music forever.

I loved everything about the track, from its jangly guitars, to its upbeat lyrics.  I started to see music in a whole new light.  Music didn’t have to be angry or hateful.  Music didn’t even have to have an important message! Music could just be fun.

I needed more tunes like this.  For some reason, it never occurred to me to go to the source and get the whole album, but I did start getting into a bunch of bands that made fun-sounding music.   I started with Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys, and slowly descended into the insane music-loving state that I’m currently in.

I figured it was time for me to give a listen to the record that holds the song that is responsible for my obsession with music.

Fairy-tale ending time; I freaking love New Magnetic Wonder.

The record is catchy, poppy, joyous, and beautiful.  I really don’t have much else to say.  I’m just really happy about this.   I’m glad to see that it wasn’t a crappy record that got me into music.

Day 109: Snowing – I Could Do Whatever I Wanted if I Wanted

17 Jun

Could Be Better Forever 

I need angry music right now.  Sleigh Bells just cancelled their set at Lollapalooza, and I am raging.  This was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  I was pretty happy with the lineup when it came out back in April, even though there was only one headliner that I kind of wanted to see (Muse).  Then the schedule came out.  I convinced myself that it was okay, because I paid $202 for a ticket, even though it was loaded with conflicts.  Then a band that I love, possibly the band that I wanted to see the most, cancelled.  The effing eff?  I might be skipping Lolla this year.  I haven’t decided.

Anyway.  Snowing and Sleigh Bells have absolutely nothing in common.  Snowing’s music does suit this angry mindset that I was in as I listened to their first LP, and as I write this now, though.

Snowing’s tunes are more emotional, similar to Algernon Cadwallader, a type of music that I’ve found myself getting more and more into lately.  It’s fast paced, it sounds great, and most importantly, it doesn’t go on for too long.  I Could Do Whatever I Wanted if I Wanted is just over in 29 minutes in length, which is in its best interest.  That level of angst can really start to wear after prolonged exposure, so keeping it short is a good move by Snowing.

With quick tempos, plenty of shouting, and a sense of unresolved teenage hate, I Could Do Whatever is great for when you’re pissed off.  Hopefully, it holds up just as well when I’m not in a bad mood.  Believe me, that happens every now and then.

Day 108: Blackbird Blackbird – Summer Heart

16 Jun

Hawaii

Sometimes, you just have to check an artist out because last.fm says you should.  That’s what happened here.  That’s it.  I was browsing my last.fm reccomendations (which have been taken over by a lot of folk punk as of late—I’m starting to find that genre can be a bit annoying) and this was on the 5th page or something.

 The members of Blackbird Blackbird do two things really well.  They’re great at coming up with really stupid band names, and creating chillwave.  I’ve written about how chillwave often comes off as uninspired and lazy to me, but Blackbird Blackbird knows exactly how to make this controversial genre work.  Naturally, chillwave is supposed to sound laid back and relaxed, but there’s a very thin line between creating music that sounds chill and music that just sounds bored.  BB have got it down, though.

The beats are awesome, the synths are effective, and the vocals give off that perfect relaxed-sitting-in-front-of-the-ocean sound.  In other words, this is exactly what chillwave is meant to sound like.

What bothers me the most about much of the chillwave out there is song length.  If you’ve listened to a few albums of the genre, you know that songs can go on for way too long, often exhausting any catchiness that they had, and becoming really repetitive.  On Summer Heart, the longest track clocks in at just under three minutes.  This is a great way to do chillwave.  If you stumble upon a boring track, it’s over before you know it.  Plus, great songs don’t have the opportunity to be destroyed by their length.

Day 107: Battles – Gloss Drop

15 Jun

Ice Cream

Battles, why must I love you so much?  All you do is torture me.  Seriously,  it’s like this band is out to get me.  Gloss Drop, the long-awaited follow up to 2007’s Mirrored, kicks more asses than I can count.  Unfortunately, of the band’s three Chicago shows in 2011, I will be able to go to none.   The first one was back in April at Lincoln Hall (capacity 500, how sick would that have been?)  It was 18+, and I was born eight months too late.  They’ll be playing at Pitchfork Festival in July, but alas, I’ll be out of town.  I had just gotten over the spiraling depression that missing these two shows sent me into, when they announced yet another Chicago appearance.  This time, it’ll be at the (considerably larger) Vic Theater.  I figured “hey, bigger venue, they must be doing an all ages show!”  Nope.  I escaped the womb a month and a half too late for that one.

Oh well, I’ll get over it.  I’ve got physical copies of both of the band’s records; they’ll have to tide me over until I’m 18.  I have a hard time believing that they’ll be back in Chi-Town any time soon after that third show, though.  At their record-release rate, I’ll be 21 the next time they come around.

Enough wallowing in my white people problems.  Gloss Drop is insane, and I should have expected nothing less from these guys.  I’ll admit, I was a little nervous when vocalist Tyondai Braxton left the band a few months ago, but that worrying was unnecessary.  They got a few vocalists from indie bands that I’ve never heard of to fill in on a few songs, and that’s enough for me.  On Gloss Drop, there’s an even smaller reliance on vocals compared to Mirrored, which really calls attention to the insane beats and intricate patterns going on all throughout the record.  Plus, when the vocals do come in, they’re all the more effective.  Go on, try and listen to Ice Cream without a big goofy grin on your face, I dare you.

Day 106: John Cougar – American Fool

14 Jun

Hurts So Good

It’s never a good sign when a request for Dad-Rock Tuesday is prefaced with “you will hate this.”  That’s what my father had to say about John Mellencamp’s American Fool, from back when he was still releasing music with that ridiculous fake last name.

American Fool opens with the now-infamous Hurts So Good, a song that I’ve heard a million times, but never really given much thought to.  Honestly, I didn’t even know that it was by Mellencamp.  When I actually listened to it with a critical lens in place, I found that it isn’t too bad for a pop song.  It’s catchy; lyrically, it is trite but true, and delivered in a semi-unconventional way.  That’s about as much as you can ask for out of pop rock.

The rest of the album continued in this fashion for me.  Did I love it? No.  It’s just not what I’m looking for in my music.  Mellencamp’s lyrics mainly deal with love, lust, partying and summer; stuff that’s all been done before, and then a million times since.  It’s all pretty formulaic as well.  Once again, this is about all that you can hope for from an album of this nature.  It’s not terrible, but I would definitely survive without hearing American Fool again.

As for why my dad told me that I would hate this, compared to some of the other stuff that he’s  given me, I’m not entirely sure.  This is like an argument that I’ve had with a friend recently—I don’t dislike music simply because it’s popular.  I dislike popular music, just as I do “obscure” music, if I am not entertained or captivated by what I am hearing.  This record kept me a little more entertained than other records that I’ve written about on previous DRTs, just not enough for it to be considered great.

Day 105: Billy Bragg & Wilco – Mermaid Avenue

13 Jun

One by One

With this post, we’ll be bringing the glorious and wonderful Wilco Week to a close.  I know, it’s really sad.  Yes, I also know that it hasn’t been a full week.  In order to make this feature a full week, I’d have to listen to another Wilco release tomorrow, and I don’t feel like pushing Dad-Rock Tuesday to Wednesday, because then it’d be called “Dad-Rock Tuesday on Wednesday” (DRToW), which sounds stupid.  Six days is close enough to a week, and there’s no way that I will refer to this as Wilco Almost a Week.  This is Swole Ear, not an encyclopedia.  Accuracy (and understandable writing) are not that important.

Okay, so there’s no way around it—this album is a weird concept.  In the late nineties, Nora Guthrie got Billy Bragg (an English singer-songwriter) and Wilco (an alt country Chicago band) together, handed them a bunch of previously unheard Woodie Guthrie lyrics, and told them to go nuts.  Mermaid Avenue, Volumes I and II are the results of those strange occurances.  And, Volume I at least, sounds really good.

I found that Mermaid Avenue is much more enjoyable when you don’t think too hard about what you’re listening to.  Because, when you think about it, you realize that you’re hearing a guy who kind of sounds like Elvis Costello, along with Jeff Tweedy, singing depression-era songs about depression-era things, which is undeniably strange. Also, (don’t) keep in mind, Summerteeth-era Wilco (the band’s poppiest moment) arranged all of the music.

So don’t think too deeply, and you’ll be fine.  Guthrie was a great songwriter, and it’s not like these were his crappy B-Sides that he sent out to the fan club or anything.  It sure sounds like he just never got around to playing this stuff.  Wilco and Bragg make these songs their own, though.  Listen to One By One.  It wouldn’t be out of place on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as-is, Guthrie lyrics and all.   Sometimes weird stuff works.

Day 104: Wilco – Kicking Television: Live in Chicago

12 Jun

Misunderstood

Live rock albums are tough to pull off.   Rock concerts are such unique experiences; recreating them in the album format is impossible.  Bands always try, though, probably because they know people will buy anything.  That’s not to say that live recordings can’t be enjoyable—they just can’t replace great rock shows.

Kicking Television was recorded over the course of four back-to-back Wilco shows at The Vic Theater in Chicago.  Having seen multiple shows at The Vic, I understand why Wilco would want to play there four days in a row.  It’s a great, historic Chicago venue, but more importantly, it’s fairly intimate—at least compared to the much larger venues that Wilco usually fills.

As far as live records go, Kicking Television isn’t anything special.  It does give me a reason to listen to some of my favorite Wilco tracks (Via Chicago from Summerteeth and Heavy Metal Drummer from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) that I haven’t gotten to listen to this Wilco Week, but, as expected, this record doesn’t come close to beating an actual concert for me.  And if that’s the case, there isn’t too much of a reason to listen to it, is there?  Might as well just listen to the higher quality recordings found on the studio albums.

And yet, that’s not how I actually feel.  I know, it’s illogical, but there’s just something about live recordings.  They’re fun to listen to every now and then.  They serve as a memento to what I’m sure was an awesome experience for the couple of thousand who actually witnessed these live shows, and while they don’t recreate the experience, it lets me hear how fun these concerts must have been.  It’s been too long since I’ve been to a show.

Day 103: Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

11 Jun

Walken

Swole Ear’s Wilco Week continues today with a review of 2007’s Sky Blue Sky.

Good news, for all of my (10, we’re up to 10 now) readers who were wondering—Jeff Tweedy made it back in time for the recording of his band’s fifth record!  I know.  I’m really relieved too.  I don’t think I could have dealt with another A Ghost Is Born.  Unfortunately for you, you’ll have to put up with reading one of my boring, positive reviews, as opposed to my everexciting, everbiting album trashers.  Oh well, you’ll manage.

It almost appears that Wilco is having some sort of identity crisis on this record.  For example, Sky Blue Sky is a particularly twangy track, reminiscent of the group’s early stuff, but it’s followed with Side With the Seeds, a particularly “indie” track, with no southern influence about it.  Wilco has always done that though—I did point out a similar occurrence on my review of their second record, Being There, earlier this week.  I guess Wilco’s bi-polar music stands out more on Sky because I’ve never really noticed a contrast quite like that before.

Wilco’s schizophrenia is what I love about them, though.  They can do so many different things really well; most of their stuff just doesn’t get boring.  Take Hate It Here, for instance.  It turns from a piano ballad to a standard rock, and even encompasses a bit of country along the way—all in just around four minutes.  There just aren’t many bands that can pull that off.