Archive | October, 2011

Day 245: Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra

31 Oct

Ffunny Frends

Is that some fuzzy-buzzy indie rock?  Why yes, it is some fuzzy-buzzy indie rock.  Don’t mind if I do.

As disposable as this album is, I can’t help but love it.  Unknown Mortal Orchestra is what has come to be known as a buzzband.  Groups with this label put out a record, build up a bit of hype, and then fade into obscurity.  I come in a few months later, after this cycle has completed.  If you’re a keen observer, you’ll have noticed that I listen to a whole lot of old buzzbands.  As my father says, “you’ve got to fill the space around the ads.”

That works for a newspaper; not so much for a blog devoid of ads. And revenue.  Forget that I said anything.

Anyway, Unknown Mortal Orchestra (the album) is good enough to get a few listens out of me.  The main thing that this record has going for it is a whole lot of catchiness.  It’s not your conventional, radio-ready catchiness, though.  It’s feedback heavy, highly distorted, reverb-intensive guitar and synth rock.

I’ll be the first to admit that this album does sound kind of cool.  Unfortunately, it lacks any sort of substance that could allow its creators to stick around for any sort of multi-year period of time.  It’s hard to explain, but there’s just a feeling I get while listening to this album.  What it boils down to is that this band just doesn’t seem all that sincere.  While their music is catchy, it feels just as empty and forced as most of the current Top 40.

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Day 244: Drive-By Truckers – The Dirty South

30 Oct

Where The Devil Don’t Stay

No, this ain’t no Lynyrd Skynyrd, but one could be forgiven for associating Drive-By Truckers’ The Dirty South with that awful band at first.  This alt-country group definitely leans towards the country side of the genre, with banjos and harmonicas making frequent appearances. Let’s just say that Drive-By Truckers don’t hold back their inner redneck.  However, instead of the pride in and celebration of the United States’ more embarrassing half that dominates Skynyrd records, The Dirty South tells stories of Southern-style debauchery and delinquency, while painting it as a generally unpleasant place to be.  The “we don’t like yer kind round these parts, Jew boy” feeling that I get from listening to a Skynyrd record is completely absent as well, which is always a plus.

In all honesty, Drive-By Truckers are too good for comparisons to Skynyrd, so I feel like a bad person now.  It is bands like this that make me want to get into country music.  But then I turn on country radio, and that desire is brought to a halt pretty quickly.  I still win any music discussion that goes off on a country tangent, though, even with my limited knowledge of the genre.  Here’s how they usually go down:

Ignoramus: “All country is terrible.”

Swole Ear: “Johnny Cash.”

Argument over. 

But seriously, maybe there’s an underground country music scene of sorts that I’m not aware of.  I can’t reasonably assume that the best of modern country is what’s played on the radio—that’d be like thinking that Nickleback and Coldplay are the best that rock has to offer.  It’s time to do some research.

But, I digress. The Dirty South is a sick record that I highly recommend.  It is quite possibly even a gateway into the secret world of good country music that I so desperately hope exists.

Day 243: The New Pornographers – Twin Cinema

29 Oct

The Bleeding Heart Show

Sometimes, rarely, every now and then, infrequently, Canadians get something right.

I’ve got no excuse for not having listened to a New Pornos record before this.  They’ve played both Lollapalooza and three blocks from my house at a Northwestern University concert, released a couple of well-received records, and been the subject of all kinds of hype since I first really got into music.  It’s just a slip-up on my part, for which I apologize.  Hey, it’s not all bad, though—if I had done my indie homework in the past, you might very well be reading about some other band that only ten people and a few dogs have heard of, with songs that make you understand why.  Things could be much worse.

Twin Cinema is an all-around solid record.  Does it make any greatest-of-all-time lists of mine? Nein.  Will it receive any future spins from me?  Fer shizzle.  We all need some good old conventional indie pop in our lives, even if it is coming from north of the border.  Plus, Neko Case is in the band.  Considering that she has one of the greatest album covers in history, the Pornos get some major brownie points on that front.  No, the lyrics aren’t exactly what I’d call coherent, but as one astute Swole reader points out, lyrics can sometimes be “aesthetic,” and still “good.”  So no, I don’t really go “after picking the glass off the ground” or “after shaking the thing for a sound” (Sing Me Spanish Techno), but hey, it sounds cool.  Who am I to hate?

Day 242: Brian Wilson – Smile

28 Oct

Good Vibrations 

As November 1st draws closer and closer, dad-rockers the world over are finding it harder and harder to contain their excitement.  That day will see the release of the long-awaited Smile Sessions, recordings from the Beach Boy’s never-released post-Pet Sounds project from 1966.  Due to technical difficulties, as well as the insanity and unrecognized (at the time, of course) genius of Brian Wilson, the original album never saw the light of day.  Today’s record is a different piece of the Smile legacy.   In 2004, Wilson got together with his (shudder) touring band, and attempted to reconstruct that lost album from scratch.  The result, Brian Wilson’s Smile, got a whole lot of love from fans and critics alike, as it does give a fairly good idea of what could have been.

That being said, this is not The Beach Boys.  It’s a 62-year-old Brian Wilson with a bunch of Beach Boys impersonators.  Even though I am not a Beach Boys aficionado, I can still tell the difference.  I will reluctantly admit that the back up band does stay fairly true to the original band’s sound, but even the simple fact that it’s not them does take away from this record.  As for Brian Wilson, it is a bit strange hearing lyrics written by (and meant for) a twenty-year-old coming from a much older dude.

This project was never supposed to fill the hole left by the original unreleased record, though.  Brian Wilson’s Smile is simply a reimagining of what should have been a masterpiece of a record.  Almost all of the components are here, just about 40 years too late.  The Smile Sessions is all from the ’60s, which should be fairly interesting.

Day 241: Magic Kids – Memphis

27 Oct

Superball

On a night filled with much homework and procrastination, I was thrilled to listen to a record described as “short” and “catchy.”  I’m a busy guy; I have facebook friends to stalk and World Series games to watch papers to write and math problems to solve.

Well, I cannot argue with that description.  Almost an hour shorter than yesterday’s monstrosity of an “album,” Magic Kids’ Memphis is just what I needed.  No, it’s not one of the most intelligent pieces of music that I’ve ever heard, but who cares?  Sometimes, you need some stupid songs about college, romance, and college romances.  This album is like that TV show that you keep watching well after it has jumped the shark.  It’s gotten goofy, but there’s comfort to be found in the familiar characters and it doesn’t matter if the writing is unbearable and the plots are embarrassingly corny.

Memphis is simple, infectious indie pop in its simplest form, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  I’d rather listen to the optimistic Good to Be or upbeat Candy on repeat than most of the pretentious, faux-intelligent garbage that’s thrown my way.

There’s also something to be said for the earnestness and sincerity with which Magic Kids approach their music.  They’re singing about what they know, while retaining a cheery disposition—something that’s become far too uncommon with all of these bands made up of half-empty twenty-somethings.  So bring on the goofy, the foolishly upbeat, and the fairly short.  Tomorrow’s another day, and errthang gon’ be good, bro.

Day 240: The Bloody Beetroots – Romborama

26 Oct

It’s Better a DJ On 2 Turntables

In the hour and 21 minutes that I spent with The Bloody Beetroots today, I found a whole lot to be annoyed with.  From the album cover to the band members themselves, there’s very little to love in some of the most contrived stuff that I’ve ever had the misfortune of hearing.

Let’s start with the basics.  Romborama is flat-out annoying.  Recommended to me because of my recent love of Justice, this record embodies almost everything wrong with modern electronic music.  Honestly, it’s just a few “killer drops” away from donning the brostep label. I felt like I should have been listening to this album through Skullcandies, while fuming about how no one understands my obscure taste in music.

In all candor, most of my rage is probably caused by this album’s beyond-unnecessary 80-minute length.  There’s nothing quite as self-indulgent as releasing an extremely long album.  An album this long is something that only well-established bands can get away with, and even then it is usually pretty obnoxious.  My guess is that these guys wanted to put a lot of possible single candidates out there.  With zero flow and its extreme repetitiveness, there’s no way that this monstrosity is intended to be listened to as a whole.

Let’s not forget that the members of The Bloody Beatroots wear Venom masks on stage when performing.  While I would never actually find that endearing, the fact that I hate their music only makes it more annoying.  I can see it now, these two dumbledores standing behind their laptops and drum machines, bobbing their heads to the music that their drunken teenage fans can’t get enough of.

Day 239: ACϟDC – Back in Black

25 Oct

Shoot to Thrill

Like that little lightning bolt up yonder?  Yeah, I’m proud of that too.

It was only a matter of time. I was finally assigned some ACϟDC (yes, I’ll be using the lightning bolt for the entirety of this post) for Dad Rock Tuesday.  Honestly, there’s not too much to be said about a record like Back in Black.  An album this iconic, this well known, and this old, has already been analyzed and examined in about every possible way. This post is destined to add to the white noise.  But that’s never stopped me before, so let’s get this a’rolling.

Here’s a little (probably unnecessary) history lesson.  Back in Black was ACϟDC’s first release after the death of their first singer, Bon Scott.  While the remaining band members considered calling it quits, they decided to replace Scott, and dedicate this release to him.  That doesn’t mean they stopped being ACϟDC, though.  You think that perhaps a band would come back with a somber, morose release after the death of their front man?  The band that brought you both She’s Got Balls and Big Balls was not about to serious-up.

The hilarious thing to me about this record is the varying level of subtlety that the guys employ with their music.  Track six is called Givin the Dog a Bone (which scores fairly high on ACϟDC’s enigma scale), while the very next song is titled Let Me Put My Love Into You.  Yeah.

13-year-old crudeness aside, this album is home to iconic numbers like Hells Bells, You Shook Me All Night Long, and the title track, of course.  Regardless of my thoughts on this type of music, there’s no denying that this stuff has made a huge mark not just on rock, but on music as a whole.  Even I’ll admit that most of it is pretty damn catchy.

Day 238: Chilly Gonzales – The Unspeakable

24 Oct

Rap Race

Look, I could just type up a post of only lyrics from this record, and it’d be funnier and more interesting than anything I’ve ever written.  Actually, I’m pretty tempted to do just that.  There’s something standing in the way, though.  Having just listened to Chilly Gonzales’ ridiculously awesome The Unspeakable, every brilliant line said by one of the funniest dudes that I’ve ever heard is quickly escaping my head.  I’ma start this record up again, and hopefully pull some of the brightest gems for y’all because that’s the only way that I can hope to do this record justice.

You know what, second thought.  Quoting many of these lines out of context just won’t do it. Listen to Self Portrait or Beans, and I’m confident that you’ll see what I mean pretty quickly.

It’s not just the hilarious self-deprecating rhymes that make The Unspeakable so endearing.  This really is hip-hop in its most unlikely form.  Chilly Gonzales is a 40-year-old white guy (who looks like this), who has produced for a bunch of big names, and released music of every variety—in addition to his hip-hop work, he’s got a few electronic records, and a 16-track album of his piano compositions under his belt.  He has one of the strangest (and arguably one of the worst) flows in rap history, and perhaps most importantly, there is not a single beat to be found on this album.  As far as I know, that’s pretty much unheard of in hip-hop.  This is orchestral hip-hop, though, and Chilly Gonzales does not conform to standards (he’d tell you to go listen to The xx or Gossip if “normal” is what you’re looking for).

Day 237: Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation

23 Oct

Cannons

It’s quite challenging to listen to and interpret the lyrics of an album that you are simultaneously trying to write about.  I’ve discovered over the past eight months that things work best if I ignore lyrics for portions of the daily record, bang out a couple of paragraphs, then put the writing to the side for a track or two and really focus on the music as a whole.  If a band is capable in the lyric department, I’ll usually pick up on a couple of good lines during one of these writing breaks.  The opposite is true for the band with garbage lyrics.

What do I do when I flat-out cannot understand the lyrics, though?  Look them up online? You think I have time for that? I’m a busy man.  But what if I listen to a record praised for its extremely personal lyrics?  That’s a tough one.

Yeah, I’m still not going to bother looking these up.  It’s the artist’s responsibility to make what they are saying understandable.  Perhaps Trevor Powers (the man behind Youth Lagoon) doesn’t want to be understood.  The truth is, his reverb heavy and often high-pitched vocals fit in perfectly with the dreamy aura created by The Year of Hibernation.  Not quite chillwave, this record has a bit more substance and second-listen potential than I’ve heard out of that genre.

After a couple of days filled with high-intensity, bone crushing, heavy hitting dance music, Hibernation made its way to my ears at just the right time.  This is a calm, relaxing record, but still has the complexity that I love in my music.  Who knows, maybe one day I’ll even figure out what Powers is singing.

Day 236: Justice – Audio, Video, Disco

22 Oct

Canon

If you read yesterday’s post, you know that I instantly fell in love with , Justice’s 2007 debut.  I couldn’t stop myself; I needed to hear more, as evidenced by today’s album.  With a pre-release date stream of the duo’s newest LP making its way around the internet, I just had to check it out.

Many fans of Justice have been disappointed with this new album.  Complaining about the high number of collaborations, as well as the frequent incorporation of vocals, the general hive mind seems to be that Audio, Video, Disco doesn’t hold up to its predecessor.

I see where the complaints are coming from.  Something that I love about is the low reliance on vocals—the heavy beats and crunchy instrumentation do fine all by themselves. The singing on Audio, Video, Disco is fairly annoying.  All it does is cover up Justice’s still amazing heavy beats and crunchy instrumentation.

But don’t worry, there’s still plenty to like in this newest release.  Justice really knows how to put together an opening track.  Almost as potent as Genesis (from †), Horsepower got me really pumped up.  With what sounds like an electronic organ being played underwater slowly fading into ’80s cheese ball guitar riffs, followed by everything being brought together in front of a deadly beat, this opener sets a standard that the rest of the record comes close to living up to. Highlights of this album really are most of the instrumental tracks. Canon and Brianvision once again show exactly what good dance music sounds like.

While it doesn’t quite live up to †, AVD is a solid, catchy, fun record that will indubitably be receiving a lot of play by me in the near future.