Archive | November, 2011

Day 256: The Beautiful South – Welcome to the Beautiful South

11 Nov

From Under the Covers

Looking at a band’s discography and attempting to decide where to start is often a challenge—this is especially true if the band has a large number of releases spanning multiple decades.  The Beautiful South appears to be one of those bands at first, with ten albums over the course of close to twenty years.  However, a quick glance at the very first item of that list, and the decision is automatically made.  There’s obviously no better place to start with a band called The Beautiful South than on a record called Welcome to the Beautiful South.  Now that’s some foresight on their part.

Anyway, all boring insights into the Swole Ear record selection process aside, Welcome is an interesting record, and would probably hold more of my attention if I didn’t have to write this post.  This is clearly a lyric-centric band—Gareth of Los Campesinos! often points to frontman Paul Heaton as a major influence—and the lyrics that I actually heard were pretty good.  Whether thanking the various (presumably) ex-lovers that inspire his songwriting in Song for Whoever, or telling a grim murder story in the vein of The Tell-Tale Heart with Woman in the Wall, it’s clear that Heaton has a way with words.  It may be a fairly depressing and bleak way with words (just look at that cover), but a way nonetheless.

Unfortunately, I missed most of the lyrics while writing this entry, but I’m sure that this record will be getting another spin out of me in the near future.

Day 255: Wavves – King of the Beach

10 Nov

Take on the World

By now, y’all know that I am not one to beat around the bush. Let us address the elephant in the room:  the cat on the cover of this record is, in fact, holding a joint, and does appear to have a pot leaf as a halo.  Anyone who keeps up with the hipster garbage music scene knows all about Wavves’ frontman Nathan Williams’ obsession with mary-juh-wanah.  I mean the dude sells Wavves-branded rolling papers and grinders from the group’s merch site.  All of this reeks of very clever marketing on the band’s part—supporting something so clearly illegal, taboo, and cancer-inducing can only generate buzz.

This ploy worked pretty well.  When King of the Beach was released during the summer of 2010, all anyone could talk about was this band of blatant potheads, and I avoided this album for that very reason.  However, all the buzz has died down by now, I need things to listen to, and this website would get pretty boring if I didn’t listen to bands with morals different than my own.

As much as I hate to admit it, this record sounds pretty good. It’s catchy as hell and contains quite a few tracks that will most definitely remain in your head for a while, but King of the Beach really does have its own sound.  A strange combination of surf and lo-fi indie rock, the crunchy beats, fuzzy guitars, and off-key vocals come together to form a cool, relaxed-but-in-your-face sound.  While I don’t agree with the band’s stance on the consumption of some banned substances, it is hard to deny that these guys make some good music.

Day 254: Johnny Foreigner – Johnny Foreigner vs Everything

9 Nov

Electricity vs The Dead

Back in March, when this project was in its infancy, I began listening to every band that Gareth Campesinos! had ever tweeted about, and I liked most of what I heard. From Sky Larkin to Slow Club, and Abe Vigoda to Dananananaykroyd, I was loving all of the over-the-top indie pop that I was finally getting to hear. But there was one band stood above the rest.  Johnny Foreigner and their Waited Up Til it was Light blew me away, with a sound reminiscent of old Los Campesinos!, but still completely their own.

Well, my preorder of their newest release, Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything, came in today.  The title alone tells you all you need to know about the melodrama and angst engraved in this record—that heart-on-sleeve nature of this band is just one of the things I love about them, though.  Split into three different parts and seventeen different songs, this album could have very easily been a train wreck. But JoFo have once again found the perfect balance between insightful introspection and just plain self-indulgence.

Coming just days after I made the realization that Los Campesinos! will never again be that spunky, youthful, tweexcore band that I fell in love with, this record fell through my mail slot at the perfect time. There’s still a band out there with a sound that I consider spot-on at this time in my life.

No, I don’t really understand why this album was split into three parts.  Yes, the song names are often ridiculous.  Okay, the use of “yr” instead of “your” is a tad middle school-esque (could someone explain that one to me?  Titus Andronicus does it too).  All of these little quirks and eccentricities are what give this record its personality.  Well that, and the huge lyric book that came along with my copy.  This record has heart, and this band kicks ass.

Day 253: The Kinks – Kinks

8 Nov

You Really Got Me

It’s Dad Rock Tuesday (well, Wednesday I guess, but never you mind) once again, and this week, I’m fairly impressed.  I’ll be honest, The Kinks’ self-titled debut kind of rocks.  For an album that was released during the same year as my father (1964), this album still has a fair bit of magic.  It’s also clear that The Kinks’ sound serves as an inspiration for a few of today’s rock bands.

Many Dad Rock Tuesdays find me hating on an album that no longer sounds modern, and has lost most (or all) of its relevance.  Surprisingly, while this near-ancient record could never be referred to as relevant, it’s The Kinks’ old-school rock ‘n roll sound that draws me to it.  Perhaps it’s because this is a style of music that I really enjoy, or because many current buzzbands are emulating its sound.  I’d say that it’s a mixture of both that makes this record appealing to a jaded fan of modern rock music.

The Kinks also have something that most up-and-coming rock bands are missing.  Crazy-good harmonica riffs are all over this album, and I can’t get enough.  More bands really should start using this wonderful instrument, but only if they’re good.  Nothing can ruin a song like some obnoxious harmonica playing.  But there’s none of that to be found on this album, as every song featuring a bit of harmonica gets yet another layer of awesome added to it.

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this record, but The Kinks’ debut has managed to age fairly well in its four-plus decades of existence.

Day 252: Los Campesinos! – Hello Sadness

7 Nov

 By Your Hand

This particular post has been a long time in the making.  When a band earns the title of “favorite,” a fan may become a bit obsessive.  When that fan is me, this obsession can turn unhealthy.

In the past two-plus years that I’ve loved the music of Los Campesinos!, I’ve put them on quite a pedestal.  I’ve bought all of the exclusive shirts, subscribed to the failed zine, and read every single one of frontman and lyrical mastermind Gareth’s tweets.  The buzz around this album has been building for more than half a year now, and I had extremely high, and admittedly, quite unfair expectations for this record.

The first two LC! albums are among the most played in my library.  The quick pace and blindingly optimistic instrumentation meshed with melodramatic and pessimistic lyrics makes for some entertaining, brilliant, and unique music. When Romance is Boring—the band’s third record—was released early last year, I was a little surprised with the content.  Amongst the usual upbeat, glockenspiel-filled songs populated by lyrics that sound as if they were pulled from a diary, was a fair bit of artsy fuzz and static.  I kind of liked it, though; these sections were nice breaks from the usual frantic pace of a Los Campesinos! album.  If anything, I expected this fourth record to follow in that trend, maybe with an even higher focus on the abstract sections.  Instead, Hello Sadness is a record of ten radio-unready pop songs, and I’m not entirely sure what I think.  There’s no doubt that the two singles so far—the title track and By Your Hand—are solid examples of this new LC! sound—they represent the feeling cultivated throughout the album fairly well.  It’s not that this album is bad, it’s just that it’s different.  This isn’t the same band that I fell in love with, and I’m going to need to give Hello Sadness a few more listens before a decision can be made about my favorite band.

Day 251: Miike Snow – Miike Snow

6 Nov

Animal

All I know about Miike Snow is that during Lollapalooza a few years back, the three members all donned creepy white masks during their performance.  Gimmicky stuff like that usually causes me to steer clear of a band.  Shouldn’t the music speak for itself?  If you’ve got to have a gimmick to gain attention, how good can you really be?

Well, in what has become a (rather unfortunate) trend for Swole Ear, I was, once again, wrong about something.  Miike Snow’s self-titled LP is pretty freakin’ good.

Andrew Wyatt really has things figured out.  Miike Snow’s American frontman knows that all of the best electropop comes from Sweden.  He didn’t resign himself to fate and just form a guitar-plentiful indie rock band, though. Instead, he started a band with two Swedish producers, and gets to play some sparkly indie pop under the genre’s honorary national flag.

If you think I’m making this up, do a little research.  All of the best, catchiest, happiest electronic pop music comes from Sweden.  Both jj and The Radio Department speak to that assertion, as this country’s ability to so regularly produce citizens capable of making this awesome music always amazes me.

So, as I freeze my ass off in some godforsaken wood of an equally godforsaken northwestern Illinois, check out Miike Snow.  Yeah, they have two “i’s” in their name, and yeah, they do wear masks while on stage, but these are things that can most definitely be overlooked.  These guys have the music to back up the gimmicks.

Day 250: Real Estate – Days

5 Nov

It’s Real

As you read this post, please think of me.  Currently, I am most likely coming close to freezing to death in a crude, handmade wikiup with 10 other high school seniors.  My Adventure Ed II camping trip is this weekend.  And we go hard.  This isn’t your “let’s sleep in a tent with sleeping bags” camping trip, as it is very possible that, as you read this, I am making a pillow of a rock or some small animal that I caught with my teeth earlier in the day.

Anyway, as mentioned previously, there’s a very high probability that I’m freezing my ass off at this very moment in time. (Due to the power of the internet, I was able to delay this entry from being posted until today. The same thing goes for tomorrow’s).  I’m sure that I am in desperate need of some warmth, and I’m going to do my best to channel the good vibes found in Real Estate’s Days.

What we have here is some solid, beach-ready surf rock.  It’s not the particularly fast-paced kind.  Real Estate elects to keep things fairly slow and smooth, but makes up for what it lacks in tempo with plenty of energy and some solid instrumentation.  Dreamy, reverb-laden vocals dominate this album, and provide for a fairly relaxing listening experience.  Days instantly calls warmer times to mind, and if I can keep this record in mind for the next few days, my journey of all-around bad-assery will be a tad more manageable.  Even if it includes sleeping on a rock.

Day 249: M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

4 Nov

Midnight City

I was watching the latest episode of the (awesome) series How To Make it in America, when something caught my attention.  This is a show with a reliably solid soundtrack, so great songs are often playing in the background, but something different happened this time.  As this particular episode began winding down, an amazing piece of music started playing.  It meshed perfectly with what was going down on screen, and I knew I had to hear more.  I whipped out my phone and opened up Shazam as quickly as I could, and within seconds, I had all the data on this beautiful track.

M83, an artist that I’ve already listened to for the blog, is responsible for Midnight City, the awesome track that I was hearing.  If you’re a regular Swole reader and you give this song a listen, I know what you’ll be thinking.  You’ve probably come to the conclusion that this song sounds so ’80s, and I have no reason for not liking Human League or something if I can get behind this track.  Here’s what it comes down to: I have heard absolutely nothing from that cherished decade of yours that hits as hard as Midnight City.  You can actually feel the synths pulsating, the beat pounding, and that almost-obnoxious vocal sample ringing in your ears over and over.  If you know of something from the ’80s that holds a power similar to Midnight City’s, please, please, tell me about it.

Unfortunately, the rest of this double album is just kind of meh.  Other than a second track as monstrous as Midnight City, the remaining 20 tracks just fall flat. Still, I’d say it’s all worth it because of that single song.

Day 248: The War on Drugs – Wagonwheel Blues

3 Nov

Taking the Farm

With a band name like “The War on Drugs,” I was expecting yet another conventional bleepy-bloop-core indie band in the vein of Strfkr or Neon Indian. I was only partially right in my assumption; what I actually got was a very strange hybrid of indie pop and Dylan-esque folk music.  While the inventiveness cannot be denied, its listenability most definitely can.

The War on Drugs was doomed to fail as soon as I pressed play.  I’m not the biggest fan of Bob Dylan, so I’m definitely not going to be a fan of what appears to be a completely irony-free (terrible) impersonation of the man.  Additionally, there has been a fair share of indie rock trashing going down on this website as of late, so another 45-minute robo-guitar collaboration was not exactly what I needed to hear.

Also, I’m not a fan of terrible album covers. Usually the first thing seen before listening to a new record, I feel that the cover’s importance is often ignored.  If an album has a cover that looks like ones that I’ve already seen quite a few times in my life, I’m naturally going to assume that the music within the album lacks creativity as well.  Ironically, the opposite is true here, but with their painful combination of bad folk and bad/often-generic indie pop, The War on Drugs shows that creativity is not always a good thing.  There’s just some music that does not need to be made, and Wagonwheel Blues’ existence is hard to justify.

Day 247: MSTRKRFT – Fist of God

2 Nov

1,000 Cigarettes 

Yes, that is in fact one of the worst album covers of all time. While Ken still holds the title, this cover is up there, without a doubt.  But it’s not just that awful cover that made me throw up in my mouth a little.  The fact that this record is titled Fist of God adds even more tackiness to a record that could already win any traction contest it entered.  (Get it? Really tacky things have a lot of traction…oh never mind).

Despite the god-awful artwork, I figured that I owed this album a listen.  It was made in part by Death From Above 1979’s bass player—that band’s non-douchebag half—and would supposedly help satisfy my recent craving  for harder dance music. MSTRKRFT’s Fist of God is proof (in the flesh [I am such a funny guy]) that you can’t judge an album by its cover.

I’ve been writing a lot lately about music with a lack of substance, and that ain’t about to change.  Yeah, this record’s got no substance, but it is one of the catchiest things that I’ve ever heard.  And while it may not have the staying power of a soulful record like Justice’s , there’s no doubt that the tracks on this album will be making people dance for years to come.  The beats are what some would call “bangin’,” the songs are under the 4-minute ADD mark for the most part, and the various synths and whatnot all sound pretty cool.  Do I ever need to listen to this album again? No.  Did I have fun while listening to it?  Absolutely.