Archive | August, 2011

Day 184: The Radio Dept. – Clinging to a Scheme

31 Aug

Heaven’s On Fire

You’ve got to love Swedish indie pop.  Seriously, between jj and The Radio Dept., I’m set for life.  Well, my fuzzy, synthy, warm and happy music supply will never run short, at least.

Yeah, I’ll admit, if you’re looking for substance, stay away from this record.  The Radio Dept. never digs below sea level in terms of lyrics, and their sound can only be described as catchy.  This is sure starting to sound like a great record, right?

Believe it or not, Clinging to a Scheme manages to hold its own.  If you’re looking for something that’s just pleasant to listen to, this is an album for you.  Personally, I love music like this.  Simplicity can be an amazing thing sometimes.  Not every record in your collection has to be a complicated and complex post rock faux-intelligent-pseudo-masterpiece.

That’s not to say that I could survive on music exclusively of this nature, though.  I’m fairly certain that if I listened to the insanely infectious Heaven’s on Fire or The Video Dept. on repeat for a day, my brain would quite literally turn to mush.  What I’m saying here, as I so desperately try to stretch this post out to 250 words, is that there’s got to be a mix of intensity in your library.  This is a great piece for the lower end of the spectrum.

I’m sure that I’m being hypocritical in this post—there’s definitely been at least one album that I’ve trashed for being to simple while in a brooding mood or something.  Haters gon hate.

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Day 183: Funkadelic – One Nation Under A Groove

30 Aug

One Nation Under A Groove

It was only a matter of time.  This week’s Dad-Rock Tuesday will discuss Funkadelic’s One Nation Under A Groove. 

 My father went to high school on the south side of Chicago during the late 70s and early 80s.  Therefore, he listened to funk.  A lot of it, from what I’ve heard.  As a 21st century white teenager from a Chicago suburb, I do not listen to funk.  At all.

It’s not that I haven’t tried, though.  This is not the first time that my father has attempted to get me into this genre.  Parliament’s Motor Booty Affair has had many spins (it’s on vinyl, I’m allowed to use that terminology) in the Swole household.  I just don’t get this stuff.

To this day, I still have trouble with describing funk.  Remember that Beach Fossils post I wrote a while back?  No?  Well then you should click that link, brah.  While Beach Fossils’ “music” hardly resembles funk, I do have the same problems with both that record and this Funkadelic one.  And for some reason, all that I could think of was Beach Fossils when One Nation was playing.  They’re both boring, extremely repetitive, and most tracks go on for two minutes too long.

This music is dated; that’s what it comes down to.  Had I been around when One Nation came out, who knows what I’d think of it.  I’ve been conditioned to like a faster, shorter and much less repetitive sound.  Whether that’s a bad thing or not, I’ll leave up to you.

Day 182: Cymbals Eat Guitars – Lenses Alien

29 Aug

Definite Darkness

They’re back!  Thank god!

You’ve gotta understand, Cymbals Eat Guitars is my band.  I got their debut record way back in early 2010 after reading about it somewhere, and immediately fell in love.  Then, the very next week, Los Campesinos! (my favorite band) announced that Cymbals would be supporting on their North American tour.  I’ve seen Cymbals two more times since then, never in a headlining slot, unfortunately.  They had a midday slot at Lolla 2010, and then opened for The Thermals later that year.

Finally, when they get big enough to go on a headlining tour of their own, the Chicago show is 21+.  Oh well, thus is life.

Anyway, if you liked their last record, you’ll like this one too.  Similarly, if you didn’t like their last record (you soulless bastard), you won’t like this one either.  Lenses is ten more tracks of that trademark Oberst-on-acid indie rock.  There’s a tad more production value this time around, probably because the pigs sold out and signed to a label.  The lyrics are still profound and perhaps a little too deep for me, and most of the fuzz that made that debut so charming has been retained.

Like it’s predecessor, though, Lenses does fall flat at points.  For some reason, they decided to open the record with the track where this is most evident.  It’s the first single, too.  I don’t understand band management sometimes.

Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name) is 8 minutes and 31 seconds long, fairly boring, and not representative of Cymbals at all.  Why they didn’t lead with Definite Darkness—a, dare I say it, beautiful track that hits on every Cymbals strong suit—is beyond me.  It’s got rhythm changes, that irresistible keyboard organ at the forefront, and a whole lot of soul.  It’s what this band is all about, and better showcases how excellent and innovative Cymbals Eat Guitars is.

On an unrelated note, the halfway point of this project is tomorrow…or today, depending on how well you remember your significant digits.  Look out for something special this weekend.

Day 181: M83 – Before the Dawn Heals Us

28 Aug

Teen Angst

As you may have expected, I care a lot about sound quality.  Nothing makes me happier than a high bit rate and my Sennheiser HD 595s.  But, as you also may have expected, I’m a pretty busy guy.  Sometimes, I’ve got to multitask.  In terms of Swole Ear, this means that I have to listen to a record out of my laptop speakers every now and then.  Believe me, this always causes great amounts of distress.  As I found out tonight, it can also cause me to misjudge music.  We learned something today: high audio quality isn’t just an OCD thing, it actually matters for effective music listening!

So I was walking around my room, probably putting clothes away or something, and  just not getting Before the Dawn Heals Us.  It sounded like a big mess of static and synthesizers.  I got to the sixth track (Asterisk) without my headphones, ready to write an angry post about how weird =/= good, when I plugged my sennies in.  It sounded like a big, glorious mess of static and synthesizers.

Looking back, I probably plugged my headphones in at the perfect moment.  I can’t think of a place for a better transition from crap to good sound quality on this record.  That’s not to say that makes Before the Dawn any less impressive, though.  It’s an odd grab bag of indie electronic, with something that’ll probably please, as well as piss off, every music listener out there.

What am I going to take away from this?  Always, always, listen to music on a system that doesn’t sound like crap.  It’s very easy to misjudge something heard through crappy speakers.  You can turn that into an analogy for life or something; just make sure that you give me credit.

Day 180: NRBQ – At Yankee Stadium

27 Aug

Shake, Rattle & Roll

I like weird music.  I think I’ve made that fairly clear over the course of this project.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I don’t like music just because it’s weird.  I like good music, and if it happens to be something that I consider weird, it gets some brownie points for that extra creativity.

Okay, I’ve obviously confused myself a bit…slow down Jacob, small words…simple thoughts.

Anyway, the off-the-beaten-pathiness that is NRBQ (New Rhythm and Blues Quartet’s) At Yankee Stadium is the inspiration for that rambling introduction.  It’s not weird like what I normally mean by weird, though (oh man, here we go again).  Bear with me for a second.  When I describe music as weird, I usually just mean something of the indie variety that doesn’t conform to the standard rock band setup.  tUnE-yArDs—weird, Panda Bear—weird.  NRBQ—shouldn’t be weird.  It’s 4 guys playing conventional instruments.

They’re weird, though.  On At Yankee Stadium, NRBQ drags you through about every genre in music, and you’ll love every minute of it.  Heartfelt ballad? Check.  Standard rock?  Yup.  Johnny Cash cover?  Indubitably. A little jazz? Fo shizzle.  Hell, even some rhythm and blues gets thrown in, believe it or not.

It’s this strangeness that’s so appealing, though.  You never have any idea where this band is going to go next, which really adds to the intrigue of the record.  I know that I’ve hated on bands that can’t stick with a single sound, but that’s because I’ve never heard a band pull it off.  NRBQ is the exception.

Day 179: The Microphones – The Glow Pt. 2

26 Aug

Map

Well crap.  Look at what I just stumbled upon.  It turns out that I’m not so creative or original after all.  Sure, these guys have multiple writers, are quite possibly English majors, and write more about the records that they review than, say, similar music blogs or something like that.  It still stings, though.

Anyway, the album that I listened to today is to blame here.  I went to The Glow Pt. 2’s last.fm page, as I often do for records I’m listening to, and I saw a link to that site.  It hurts.

Oh well, I’ve got a pending patent on this thing.  I’m not going to worry.  Can you get these amazing insights and commentary from any other music blog on the internet? I think not.

So, I’m going to try and write about today’s record now.  I hope y’all don’t mind.

If you’ve spent any time on the web’s various music forums or in an independent record store over the past decade, you’ve undoubtedly heard or read something about The Glow Pt. 2.  Everyone in the music-listening world seems to love Phil Elvrum (the man behind The Microphones) and his strange blend of folk, fuzz, and solid songwriting.  Who am I to go against that trend?

All sarcasm aside, I genuinely did enjoy this record.   Sure, it’s indie rock, but it’s far enough away from all of the other stuff that I’ve listened to with its sound to make it not absolutely predictable and boring.  Interesting, choppy acoustic guitars are often nearly drowned out by fuzz and feedback, with almost-amateurish piano serving as a twinkly backdrop.  In other words, it sound gewd.

You really get the feeling that you are an elephant tending to a campfire while listening to this record.  Well, you do if you’re a music blogger who has just discovered that he’s been ripping off another blog for half of a year.

Day 178: Disappears – Lux

25 Aug

No Other

Here’s something that I haven’t written about in a while…

Back in the early days of Swole Ear, I was listening to—and complaining about—a fair amount of lo-fi indie rock.  It’s been a while since I’ve listened to a feedback-heavy record.  Don’t worry, though, nothing’s changed.  I still find most distortion-heavy indie rock monotonous and boring.

Disappears are playing at that AV Club Fest that I wrote about a few posts back.  At this point (three negative band reviews in), you may be wondering why I’m going at all.  Don’t worry, there are plenty of bands that I knew of pre-Swole that I’m very excited about.  And who knows, maybe one of the bands that I don’t like on record will impress me live.  It’s happened before.

Unless some crazy crowd involvement gets going, I can’t see that happening with Disappears, though.  There’ll probably be a whole lot of hipster head bobbing going on, as some audience members attempt to convince everyone around them that they’re down with the scene and get the deep, deep meaning behind songs like Not Nothing or No Other, a meaning which must be going right over my head.

I guess this album is more than anything a reaffirmation that music taste is completely subjective.  I can’t stand lo-fi, hi-feedback, avg.-talent, but there are tons of people who actually like this stuff.  I just wish I saw in this the same thing that Disappears’ fans do.  They can’t possibly all be pretending to get it.  Can they?

Day 177: They Might Be Giants – Join Us

24 Aug

In Fact

They Might Be Giants have not aged well.  Join Us, the band’s latest record, is kind of depressing, actually.  What we have here is a group of guys that just doesn’t know when to call it quits.  They’ve accomplished everything that they could ever hope to with this project—it’s time for them to move on.  Something tells me that they won’t be doing that anytime soon, though.

At this point, it’s almost as if The Giants have become a parody of themselves.  Join Us is contrived.  The offbeat lyrics are forced, compared to Flood, at least. They’re trying to be kooky now, while this just happened naturally in the past.  Look no further than the cover art, and you’ll see what I mean.  You’ll also save yourself 47 minutes if that’s all that you invest in this record.

Fortunately for The Giants, in their two-plus decades of record releasing, they’ve gathered a huge fan base—a very supportive one, at that.  If they’re playing shows, there will always be fans  to buy tickets and merch.  It’s hard to justify continuous tours without continuous releases, though.

It’s time for the fans to wake up.  You’re living in a nostalgia-coated cloud if you say that this record has any redeeming qualities to it.  The lyrics are weak, the instrumentation is lacking—the strange attempt at minimalism just comes off as lazy—and it’s undeniably boring.  There isn’t one catchy or single-worthy track on here.  Sorry, with a band like They Might Be Giants, you need a few of those.  Even Weezer has If You’re Wondering…

Day 176: Dire Straits – Making Movies

23 Aug

Romeo and Juliet 

7 tracks, 38 minutes…sounds perfect for a day that I forgot was Dad-Rock Tuesday until about ten minutes ago.

It’s currently eleven o’clock.  I want to go to sleep.  I went ahead and got the post that you’ll be reading tomorrow done; I was about to upload it, too.  Then, for some reason, I thought to myself “when was the last time I listened to a dad-rock record?”  The answer: exactly one week ago.

Yeah, I’m cranky.  Usually, that mindset leads to a negative record review—we’ve seen that happen on many a DRT, actually.  I can’t do it with Dire Straits, though.  Which is weird because I’m actually seething with anger as I write this—I just can’t direct it at Making Movies. 

This is some relaxing, borderline-jam rock right here.  Mark Knopfler, in addition to having a hilarious last name that makes me grateful for my two first names, has some great lyrics.  Or maybe it’s his delivery, actually.  I don’t know, there’s something about this guy that’s just relaxing.  The easy-going guitars and slow beats only aid in this record’s groovy relaxation capabilities.  If the tracks were shorter, we’d have a really awesome album here, instead of just kind of awesome.

I’ve learned my lesson.  Never listen to and review two records back-to-back.  Especially after the first album gets you in a terrible mood.  So thanks to my half-conscious dad, who I’m sure I awoke from a deep slumber with a phone call requesting an album choice.  Also, thanks for staying away from Funkadelic.   Tonight is not the night for that.

Day 175: Fountains of Wayne – Sky Full of Holes

22 Aug

The Summer Place

Yes, these are the guys that made Stacy’s Mom.  Can we move on?  Please?  That was eight years ago.

Sorry, it’s annoying that a band with so much great material is still stuck with and known for a single overplayed song.  Sure, it’s great, but they have so much other good stuff.

Fountains of Wayne go way back with my family; perhaps that’s why I’m a bit defensive.  Welcome Interstate Managers—which yes, I’ll admit, my dad did purchase because it was the record with Stacy’s Mom on it—became the soundtrack to countless road trips, and to my preteen years in general.  If I’m reminiscing about being an eleven-year-old for whatever reason, Mexican Wine or All Kinds of Time will always start playing in my head.

Somehow, I’ve made it through the rest of my life without listening to anything else by this oh-so-important band.  Is that a little hypocritical? Perhaps.  Haters gon hate.

But, I figured that the time had come.  Last.fm informed me that Fountains had recently released a new record, and now we find ourselves here.  Guess what?  They still kick ass.

That trademark upbeat power-pop hasn’t gone anywhere, and front man Adam Schlesinger’s almost-obnoxious nasally voice still has the power to put anyone (well, me at least) in a good mood.

I did notice that the band isn’t genre experimenting anymore.  There’s no ill-advised country song (although Road Song gets uncomfortably close) or trippy attempt at 60s rock on this record.  All I have to say to that is thank god.