Archive | October, 2011

Day 235: Justice – †

21 Oct

Phantom

“Cross.”  The title of this record is pronounced “cross.”  Believe me, there’s no one in the world more annoyed than me by obnoxious things like this in music.  Symbols should not be used as record names, song names, or artist names.  While I have dealt with all three over the course of this project, I have not become any less annoyed with them.

I should really stop complaining, though. is one hell of a record.

But first, let us back things up.  If you’re tuned in to the worlds of either French house music or hipster garbage (and why on earth wouldn’t you be?) then you already know that Justice’s sophomore album is coming out in just a few days.  (Officially, at least—it leaked earlier this month).  I’m sure the question at the forefront of your mind goes something like “why are you listening to this old ish when new stuff is just a mouse click away?”  Sure, I could capitalize on the (moderate) amount of hits that writing about a brand new record would bring in, but that’s not what this is all about.  While reactions to Audio, Video, Disco, the duo’s newest release, have been relatively mixed, is said to be a modern classic, an example of what dance music should be, and a call for all lesser DJs to just give up.  Now that I’ve listened to it, I can agree wholeheartedly.

I know we’re in for something massive when an audible “uh-oh” escapes my lips 40 seconds into the opening track of an album.  That I am listening to on headphones. In a room occupied only by myself.  Genesis’ drawn out intro and subsequent bass-heavy mid-section of pure musical gold sets the tone for the nonstop party that is †.  11 epic beats and ridiculously catchy dance tracks later, I’m already going through withdrawal.  I’ma press play again.

is absolutely perfect at what it is.  A dance album with a soul is hard to find, and a dance album with a human-like soul is even more rare.  is scratchy, dark, and just crying for attention, and I’m more than willing to give it plenty.

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Day 234: Nujabes – Modal Soul

20 Oct

Feather

When I write about hip-hop, I usually take the easy way out by saying that I’m not sure what to look for.  How can I really determine if an album is good or not (beyond the very basic “it sounds good”) based on my limited knowledge of the genre? Well, that won’t be happening this time around.  Nujabes beats on Modal Soul are pretty much objectively awesome.

Jun Seba (see what he did there?) was a fantastic Japanese hip-hop producer and indie label owner.  Unfortunately, his life was taken in a car accident early last year, but his music lives on.  Modal Soul, released in 2005, is 14 tracks of amazing Nujabes-made beats, rapped over by various guest artists.  While the rhymes are of varying degrees of average, they are by no means the focal point of this record.  What stands out in my mind after a single listen to Modal Soul?  It’s da beats.

Nujabes had some serious skill in the hip-hop production department.  It takes a whole lot to get me interested in a jazzy piano riff, but Nujabes does so multiple times on this single album.  Placed in front of some killer drum machine rhythms, and chopped up enough, I guess anything can start sounding good.

While the rapping is nothing spectacular (it would have been cooler if it were in Japanese), Modal Soul does benefit from the various human voices that it includes.  As good as these beats are, this record may have not held its own as an instrumental hip-hop release.  That may just be me, though—I have never been a fan of the extremely repetitive.

Day 233: [Various Artists] – Soundtrack to The Harder They Come

19 Oct

You Can Get It If You Really Want

Nope, that’s not the name of some obscure band trying to be clever.  While it would be hilarious if a band stylized as [Various Artists] did release an album called Soundtrack to The Harder They Come (believe me, mental note = made), I actually did listen to a movie soundtrack today.  This is a monumental Swole Ear post for a few reasons.  Not only is this the first (real) soundtrack that I’ve listened to for the project, but it is also the first time that I’ve dealt with a record put together by more than two different artists.

No, I’ve never seen The Harder They Come (the film), and due to a power outage, I’m writing this post way past my bedtime, and just don’t have the time to do my usual pre-album research.  Suggested in the comments of yesterday’s post as a way to enhance my ska knowledge bank by teaching me about the music referred to as rock steady, I’ve come to think of this genre as a tad more accessible than both reggae and ska.  With faster beats and catchier harmonies than the (limited) reggae that I’ve been exposed to, I understand why I was advised to listen to this album.

While five different artists put this soundtrack together, Jimmy Cliff steals the show as the performer behind half of the record’s twelve tracks.  (However, I do understand a few more references from The Lonely Island’s Ras Trent thanks to Desmond Dekker’s contribution).  Everyone knows Cliff’s You Can Get It If You Really Want, which works really well because of its rare combination of catchiness and guiltlessness.  That, along with most of Cliff’s other (similar) tracks, leads me to believe that that rock steady may actually have more to offer than ska.

Day 232: The Specials – Specials

18 Oct

Monkey Man

Ska.  I’m not entirely sure what I think of it.  That’s probably why I’ve been given The Specials 1979 relese this Dad Rock Tuesday.  There are moments of this band’s influential self-titled debut that I love, and moments that . . . well . . . not so much.

I’ve never heard an entire ska record before this, and most music of this genre that I’m familiar with comes from early-nineties 3rd wave ska bands.  You know, groups like Sublime, Reel Big Fish, and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.  It’s pretty clear who influenced these bands, but they definitely took a few guitar-related liberties in crafting their own sounds.

Specials is much closer to reggae than punk rock.  While this did lead to a fairly interesting 45 minutes for me, it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.  As someone fairly unfamiliar with anything classified as reggae (other than the musical stylings of Bob Marley), it’s not all that strange that I found the reggae aspects of this record a little tough to swallow.  Experience tells me that a few more listens to this, as well as other ska/reggae records, should clear that up.

Additionally, there’s plenty of good ol’ punk influence to be heard within Specials.  While that is probably what kept me happy throughout most of the album, it does merge pretty nicely with the reggae elements.  Angry lyrics, angsty song titles (i.e. Little Bitch and Stupid Marriage) and fast guitars will always fly with me, even when put behind reggae vocals and an island vibe. While I am uncertain about this record after a single listen, I probably won’t remain that way for long.

Day 231: The Vaccines – What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?

17 Oct

Nørgaard

So.  This guy just applied to college.  After a night full of tweaking (“freaking out,” for non-Evanstonians) the tiniest portions of various essays and 1,000-character responses, please excuse me if I come off as a bit brain dead in today’s(night’s) post.

Turns out, it’s a good thing that I didn’t expect too much from The Vaccines.  Their fairly standard, fairly simple, fairly repetitive, and farily easy to listen to indie rock is just what I need after this high-stress night.  It suits the wave of relief, as well as the feeling of pure nothingness, that comes with a moment like this.  But enough about me.  Let’s write about some music.

Justin Young, you’ve got one awesome voice.  It’s deep, it catches your attention, and its got a little twinge of a British accent, which I reluctantly admit, still sounds cool to me.  As for his lyrics…well, this is stuff that I would rip to shreds on any other night.  The pure simplicity (as well as idiocy) of phrases like “post break-up sex / helps you forget your ex / what did you expect / from post-break up sex?” or “I don’t mind about taking it slow / I’m perfectly aware of what I’m yet to know” just work on this temporarily-addled brain.

Above all, this is one catchy album.  I think that I would have seen that on any other night, but who knows?  I’ve trashed plenty of catchy records before.  I may have to let a second listen reveal something that I missed on this bad boy.

Day 230: Tegan and Sara – So Jealous

16 Oct

Walking With a Ghost

Tegan and Sara (finally) made a lot of noise a few years back with Sainthood, the band’s 2009 full-length.  The Canadian sister-duo’s signature brand of emotion-filled indie rock took six albums and ten whole years to find an audience worthy of the greatness of their music.  I believed that my first exposure to Tegan and Sara came when I too was wowed by Sainthood a few months after its release, but So Jealous has made me realize otherwise.  Once again, Jack White has found a way into my musical life.

On a summer of 2007 road trip, my family’s obsession with the White Stripes was just beginning.  With copies of Get Behind Me Satan and Icky Thump in the CD player, we were all quickly falling in love with Jack & Meg. While on this road trip, I desperately needed a haircut, so we pulled off the highway and into a mall with a Great Clips.  One terrible buzz cut later, we ventured over to the complex’s Barnes & Noble.  I, because I am that guy, headed straight for the music section.  I convinced my dad to get all of The White Stripes’ music in the store that we didn’t already have, assuring him that I’d pay him back (psych).  We hit the road with a copy of a post Satan EP called Walking With a Ghost.

Little did I know that title track wasn’t an original work of Jack’s.  It sounds so much like something that he could have written that I always assumed it was a White Stripes B-Side.  Tegan and Sara’s So Jealous has proven otherwise.  When track 8 on this album got going, I couldn’t believe my ears.  All these years, I’ve been listening to the inferior version of Walking With a Ghost.  Not even a trademark Jack White falsetto can make that cover better than what I just heard.

So Jealous works really well, and only adds to my confusion regarding Tegan and Sara’s lack of notoriety pre-Sainthood.  This album is just as good as any of their more recent work.  The music industry is a weird thing.

Day 229: The Temper Trap – Conditions

15 Oct
Love Lost

I try to give an album a few songs before forming an opinion.  The Temper Trap’s Conditions is making that a hard thing to do tonight. Only a song and a half in, I just don’t see how this band can possibly turn things around, or make up for the pure awful that has been molesting my ears for around six minutes now.

I took a little break after writing that first paragraph, and let the album go for a little while longer.  I only ended up proving myself right.  Truth is, I could have written this entire post after only the first 30 seconds of Love Lost, the LP’s opening track.  How can anyone be expected to take a song with a central line of “our love was lost, but now we found it” seriously?  Especially when the phrase sounds like it’s coming out of a guy doing his best Prince impersonation after a few too many drinks.

As someone who has spent more than a few posts defending lyrics about love and heartache, I may be coming off as a tad hypocritical here.  You’ve gotta trust me, though, this stuff would earn a cringe from the writer of that comic about the two little naked kids with the strategically placed hair.

But believe me, it’s not just the lyrics.  If you can get past those, don’t expect a reward in the instrumentation department. One could say that The Temper Trap has a reverse Midas touch of sorts; every (indie-prefaced) genre they touch turns to bad. The indie rock songs are trite, with uninteresting chord progressions and a general aura of boring.  When the band tries to go all ’80s on us with some indie synth-pop, they fail as well, mostly because of that obnoxious voice.

Today, I am the hater.  Guess what I’m doing.

Day 228: Spider Bags – Goodbye Cruel World, Hello Crueler World

14 Oct

Hey Delinquents 

On my never ending search for music to feed this  monstrosity of a website, I do come up with some really random, tiny bands every now and then.  (Keep in mind, my only gauge on popularity is the band’s number of listeners on last.fm.)  The story behind today’s “discovery” is, like most of this project, relatively unexciting and hardly noteworthy. I’ve never let that stop me before, though.

Titus Andronicus’ The Union Forever came up on shuffle the other day, and while I had not forgotten just how much ass it kicks, that dose of pure musical adrenaline got me craving some similar, heavy stuff.  I turned to none other than last.fm, and looked at Titus’ similar artists.  At the top of the list resides a tiny band (with around 3,000 listeners — as a reference, Titus has about 160,000 listeners, and The Beatles have well over 2.5 million) called Spider Bags.  A little digging revealed that members of Titus Andronicus are huge fans of this band.  Titus has covered their songs, and the two have even played together. That’s good enough for me.

I didn’t get what I was expecting, though.  While I do hear a few similarities between the two groups—both employ a standard rock setup, and the singers both have deep, drawling voices—the Bags’ Southern influence is too prominent to be ignored.  Fortunately, I was thinking more along the lines of Wilco southern than say, Lynyrd Skynyrd southern.

It’s bands like this that make me hate phrases like “if they were good, they’d be popular.”  Here we have an example of a band with a cool sound and obvious skill in their field, that just hasn’t hit it big yet.  I hope their time is coming.

Day 227: Bygones – by-

13 Oct

Cold Reading

Is it just me, or does that album cover look suspiciously like it was created in Microsoft Paint.  I’m not surprised, though, because by- also sounds like it was recorded and produced in Microsoft Paint.

That’s not just the 128kbs version of it that I listened to, either.  Yes, the audio quality is pretty low, but there’s definitely something off with the mix as well.  First of all, music like this needs to really fill the speakers to be effective (we’ll talk about why later), but by- just sounds faded and a bit washed out.  Various levels are off as well, with vocals taking a much too prominent stance throughout the album.

This is a noise rock record.  Lyrics don’t matter.  As anyone who’s listened to an acclaimed noise album, or perhaps been to a Lightning Bolt show knows, this genre is all about the angry, fast, mean, slicing, distorted, feedback-heavy, monstrous, bullying, psychotic, unpatriotic guitar, and much less so about the vocals.  Yet, during most songs on by-, the vocals completely overshadow the six strings of death.  This would be one thing if guitarist/“singer” Nick Reinhart were shouting decipherable words, but he ain’t—they’ve still got the standard noise-rock blur to them.  If we can’t even understand what you’re saying, chill it out.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter where the vocals are on this record.  I’ve found out again and again (thanks partially to the Swole) that noise is not my genre of choice.  It all pretty much sounds the same to me, which I guess tells you something about my entry-level ears.   If liking an album that sounds as if it is being played through 1,000 drive-thru speakers is what will make me sophisticated, than I’m fine as I pleb, thank you very much.

Day 226: Generationals – Con Law

12 Oct

When They Fight, They Fight

Some music is just made for the summer, but I couldn’t tell you if Generationals’ Con Law is that kind of music because every single minute of this positive indie rock/pop managed to annoy me to no end.  I believe that there are a few factors contributing to this phenomenon: the music is bad, I’m not in the right mindset for it, and the music is bad.  The reason that I can’t get behind Con Law is most likely buried somewhere in those three points.

Last.fm and its various users describe Generationals as a great summer band.  First of all, this is a classification that frustrates me, but I’ve come to terms with its validity.  The idea that a band with a happier, upbeat, danceable sound will be more relevant in the summer, when more people are in a happier, upbeat, dance-ready mindset, holds some truth.  But shouldn’t good music be good music year round?  I do appreciate the importance of mood in regards to music—no one would play The Antlers’ Hospice at a birthday party, but to say that a season is equal to a universal, constant state of mind is ridiculous. For me not to like this record just because the days at the beach (because that’s how I spend my summer) are over makes no sense.

No, what I think it comes down to is that Generationals is a bad, boring, generic band. Con Law’s slow pace and amateurish sound lacks any of the charm that you’re supposed to get out of a summertime album. Something tells me that I would have disliked this record even if I had played it back in July.