Day 358: Sly & The Family Stone – Greatest Hits

21 Feb

Hot Fun in the Summertime

“Before you bitch, it included three new songs–three of the best–that weren’t on any other album, so sack up.”  My father, ladies and gentlemen, preemptively halting the complaints that would otherwise have come from me upon being assigned a compilation record for Dad Rock Tuesday.  Always a charmer.  While I have heard quite a few Sly & The Family Stone songs before, “Hot Fun in the Summertime”, “Everybody Is a Star”, and “Thank You,” the three that my old man refers to, were new to me.  While quite a few, if not most, of the tracks on this record have been engraved into the collective consciousness of music enthusiasts, I must admit that it was cool to get to hear them all together, not serving as the background music in some uplifting montage or tacky commercial.

If funk were still prominent, I’m confident that it would be subjected to all of the identifiers that currently plague most genres.  For example, it’s ignorant to describe music as just “rock” today.  There needs to be something in front of or behind it, whether it’s “indie”, “post”, “punk”, “pop”, “chamber”, “hard”, or one of a million other options.  Perhaps, with funk, these identifiers have died out by now, leaving all music in the genre to fall under the big umbrella identifier.  But, if all of those Parliament and Funkadelic records that have been forced upon me over the years are funk, then it’s not fair for Sly’s music to have the same label.  Today, this stuff would probably be called pop funk, or funk rock.  There’s only one track over 5 minutes in length, every single song features vocals at the center, and there are no obnoxiously long instrumental sections.

Now that I think about it, though, there’s no reason for solo-filled space-fillers on a greatest hits album . . . maybe compilation records aren’t all that bad.

Advertisements

Day 357: Trust – TRST

20 Feb

Shroom

Uhm…

Well…

Yeah.  Let’s talk about that.

I thought that the image up yonder was a joke when I first saw it circulating on various music forums late last month.  After tracking down the picture, and listening to the album that’s using it as a cover, not much has changed.

Props to the Arts & Crafts record label, though—those dudes are some marketing geniuses.  Letting this image loose on the web by itself wouldn’t have done too much, but by placing that little “A&C” watermark in the corner, they give consumers a way to track down  the record. That has got to be why TRST has been hyped to no end over the past few weeks—plus, something tells me that the record’s very early leak wasn’t due to carelessness at the label…

But that cover causes a few problems for Trust’s actual music.  This stuff could stand on its own without a hilarious image to go with it.  Think of a less aggressive Crystal Castles, meaning really infectious, calm, even intriguing synthpop.  The thing is, the singer has a really deep and strange voice.  So, while it has been confirmed that the creature in that picture is not in the band, you (I) can’t help but think of that thing, strutting across a stage, wearing a cape, leaning out into the crowd, smoke machines blasting behind, and staring into your soul while singing these creepy songs.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to get over that horrifying/hilarious image that I’ve come to associate with this record, which is unfortunate.  This music is actually kind of good.

Day 356: Discovery – LP

19 Feb

So Insane

Discovery is a band that’s been popping up on my radar (The SwoleDar™) for quite a while now. And I’ve ignored them for 356 days—I was afraid that I would actually like their music.  That fear has been both confronted and realized tonight.

Let me explain.

Discovery is made up of Rostam Batmanglij and Wes Miles.  Now, those two names might not mean very much to you, but what if I informed you that the Batman is the keyboardist for Vampire Weekend, and Wes the vocalist of Ra Ra Riot? Let me explain some more …Vampire Weekend is one of the most loved/hated “indie” bands out there; adored for their infectious, east-coastish guitar pop, and despised for their music’s monotony, poor production/execution, and preppy aura.  I’ve never listened to a Ra Ra Riot record, but I’ve been told that they’re up there with VW in terms of loatheability.

Really, it was inevitable that the guy responsible for the keyboard piece in “Wolcott,” plus the singer of stuff like this, when paired together, would make anything but some extremely catchy summertime jams. I wouldn’t have predicted that they would go in an R&B, almost funky direction, but the dudes make it work surprisingly well.

Replay-wise, I can’t imagine that this album will get any more than two or three additional spins out of me.  In the vein of Vampire Weekend, a lot of the tracks sound almost identical, and don’t have nearly enough substance to land on any GOAT lists of mine. Sometimes that’s not what matters, though—sometimes we just need catchy.

Day 355: DeVotchKa – How It Ends

18 Feb

Such A Lovely Thing

If I’ve learned two things during the (nearly) twelve months of Swole Ear, they’re as follows:

  1. People are mean—the comment section of a recent Empire! Empire! facebook post was not very nice to Dr. Swole.
  2. There is a whole lot of music with the “gypsy” label attached to it out there.

I had no idea that the gypsy-identifier even existed before I started all of these shenanigans.  Now, I’ve listened to Gogol Bordello and Beirut, two of (what I perceive as) the biggest bands of the genre, with the respective punk and folk suffixes.  Not quite gypsy folk, but definitely not gypsy punk, DeVotchKa stands somewhere in the middle of this accordion-laden, circus-sounding music.

Tracks on How It Ends like “Charlotte Mittnacht (The Fabulous),” completely devoid of lyrics or instruments popular before the 20th century, definitely remind me of Beiruit, a band that I can’t really stand.   They’re boring.  Fortunately, those tracks are few and far enough between on this record to keep things interesting.  In fact, the band even abandons the “gypsy” tag every now and then, and decides to go for a weird rock sound.  I was pretty surprised when “The Enemy Gun’s” electric guitars kicked in, and I was treated to a spaghetti western-inspired track similar to a lot of stuff on Danger Mouse’s Rome.

 However, most of this record finds a home in the middle ground between folk and punk, which is achieved in an interesting manner—DeVotchKa mainly just apply quick tempos to tracks that could lyrically be folk songs. All I know is, this stuff is a lot better than Beirut.

Day 354: Asobi Seksu – Citrus

17 Feb

Thursday

Asobi Seksu is one of those bands that seems to be permanently on tour.  In the past year alone, they’ve played/will play at least three shows in the Chicagoland area, including one in the actual city in which I live.  When a band tours that relentlessly, a person like me is bound to come across their name every now and then.  Plus, with a name like Asobi Seksu, you can’t help but look them up.  Let’s just ignore the fact that it took me around a year after first hearing about them to listen to a record.

I won’t try to front on y’all; I don’t know too much about the shoegaze genre of music.  Yeah, I own a copy of Loveless by My Bloody Valentine, but doesn’t everybody?  While I do enjoy that record, and find myself playing it every now and then, it didn’t send me on a mad search for similar music.  Perhaps this inexperience of mine is responsible for my current state of confusion that came with listening to Citrus. The little research that I did today claims Asobi Seksu is a shoegaze band, with music similar to My Bloody Valentine.  While I won’t deny that the comparison to MBV isn’t too much of a stretch, I don’t think shoegaze is what would have first come to mind if I were asked to describe Asobi’s music.  The songs aren’t long enough, there isn’t enough feedback/distortion, they aren’t that loud, and they don’t sound all that much like a vacuum cleaner.

If this really is an example of shoegaze, then I should check out more from the genre.  This is the type of record with music that just sucks you in, so you don’t even notice that half of the lyrics are in Japanese.  Maybe I should see this band live at some point.

Day 353: Tennis – Young & Old

16 Feb

Origins

What a week it has been for the indie rock world.  With an inadvertent(?) fun. upload by the band’s own label on Sunday, followed by Sleigh Bells 12 hours later, it’s not surprising that Tennis has been all but ignored.  To my knowledge, Young & Old didn’t even leak, which is kind of a slap in the face for a young band in the indie-sphere.  Records seem to surface early on the Internet only if there is a lot of hype/anticipation surrounding their release.

Don’t worry Tennis, I didn’t forget about you.  Cape Dory was one of the first records that I checked out for Swole Ear, and I’ve been following this band ever since.  Tennis is easily one of the most underrated bands making music today, with a sound that should have taken the world by storm after that first record came out last year.

The duo seems to have abandoned the nautical theme on this record, as the eight-month sailing trip that originally inspired them to record moves further and further back in the rearview.  Most of the lyrics on Cape Dory revolve around that trip, with quite a few lines with double meanings.  This time around, Tennis decided to slap us in the face with their pathos—these songs are about love, and leave almost no sailing metaphors to dissect. That left me a little disappointed.  Not many bands write songs about boats, unless there’s some weird metal sub-genre that I’m unaware of . . . ocean-core, or something.  Musically, however, these songs will have no problem transporting you to some boat off of a Cape Cod shore.  Dreamy, pitch-perfect singing, paired with those good ol’ jangly/trebly guitars sound as if they belong to the sea.

Day 352: fun. – Some Nights

15 Feb

We Are Young

Wake up everybody, fun. has always been terrible!  Don’t get me wrong—I mean that in the best, most love-filled way possible.  Aim and Ignite, the band’s first record, is bad, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t awesome at the same time. Let me explain.

Never in history has there been a more melodramatic group, with material more contrived and cringe-worthy.  I (along with every fun. fan out there) am willing to overlook those facts because there is not a band out there that makes catchier music.  Everything from Nate’s dreamy and pitch-perfect voice, to those soft and beautiful piano ballads, makes us overlook all of this music’s problems.

Some will continue to give fun. a pass, but it appears that others have decided to start hating on fun.  Ever since Some Nights’ lead single We Are Young was covered on Glee, the naysayers have come out of the woodwork en masse.  Now that the band has been signed to an (awful) label, and has some money for fancy production and whatnot, it’s suddenly no longer acceptable for them to make horrible, and horribly catchy tunes.  What’s really happening here, in my opinion, is the following: people don’t want to be a fan of the band responsible for the music in the Super Bowl’s best commercial.

Yes, there’s some auto-tune-usage on this record.  Sure, the fact that they had Kanye’s producer step in is a bit questionable.  But let’s face it, this is clearly the same band, making the same painfully good tunes.  Turning on them when they get a little bit of attention makes no sense.  Haters gon hate.

Day 351: Mott The Hoople – All the Young Dudes

14 Feb

All the Young Dudes

Happy Valentine’s Day!  In honor of this most ridonkulous holiday, we will be exploring…wait for it…Mott The Hoople’s All The Young Dudes.

Believe me, I’m just as confused as you are by this one.  It is Dad Rock Tuesday, though, and I’m not going to question the man’s fatherly wisdom.  While it is completely possible that he didn’t realize this week’s pick would fall on the V-Day, I like to think that every selection of his comes after a week of research and deep thought.

Maybe, by picking such a blasé and unspectacular rock record, he’s acknowledging the derp-tasticness of this holiday.  There we go—that’s what I’ll go with. Keep in mind, this album was chosen by the man who inspired me to make a duct tape-covered card receptacle with “Valentine’s Day is a corporate scam” written on the top when I was in third grade.

Anyway, after listening to this record, I’d give you one chance to guess which song was written by David Bowie.  There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that you would go with “All The Yong Dudes.”  Don’t kid yourself; there is a reason that this song was made the title track.  In a sea of dull and downright stupid lyrics (the first lines of the song following “Dudes” are “hi there / your friendly neighborhood sadist / wanna take you for a ride”), “All The Young Dudes” is a song that stands out both lyrically and instrumentally.

If you’re looking for another boring rock record from the ’70s, give this one a try.  Swaggin’ Heart Day, y’all.

Day 350: Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror

13 Feb

Comeback Kid

[Note:  the above song should only be listened to on full blast through headphones or massive speakers, with the video quality set to 1080p–I am not joking.]

IT LEAKED!  IT FREAKING LEAKED! I LOVE THE INTERNET!

Low-key, I have been looking forward to this record since I first listened to the opening seconds of Treats (the dynamic duo’s debaucherous debut).  There’s no way on earth that I could have been even remotely disappointed with Reign of Terror for a few reasons: I’m hearing it a week before I am supposed to, it’s loud, and, most importantly, it is free.

Before you get your judgment all up on me, you best know that I’ve had a copy preordered for ages now.  If I’ve already paid, I feel absolutely no guilt for downloading this leak.

Anyway, Sleigh Bells decided to make things poppy-er on this record, which is annoying a lot of fans. Yeah, Krauss’ vocals are a lot more prominent, and sure, they’ve toned down the feedback and noise, but I dare you to look me in the eyes and tell me that this doesn’t sound just as awesome, if not more so, than Treats.  That’s what I thought.

Okay.  I’ve calmed down a little bit now, mainly because of “Leader of the Pack,” a mid-album downer.  It’s classic Sleigh Bells filler.  This is nothing new, though—Treats is plagued with a few tracks that really shouldn’t be there. Reign of Terror is no different

BUT OH MAN, CRAZY DR. SWOLE IS BACK BECAUSE “COMEBACK KID” JUST STARTED.  I cannot stay mad at this record.  I also think that I’m the only person in the world capable of writing 250 words on a topic that renders me speechless. SB4LYF.

Day 349: Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate) – What It Takes to Move Forward

12 Feb

It Happened Because You Left

I’ve dealt with plenty of terrible band names before, but man…

How on earth do these guys introduce themselves at concerts?  Do they really shout “empire” twice?  Actually, they’re probably the type to take the stage (or cleared area on the floor of a crowded basement) and play an entire set without so much as an introduction.

There’s only one type of music that a band with a name like this could make: ’90s-midwestern-inspired-emo.  As a fan of  both the genre and this record, there’s only so much trashing of the moniker that I can do without feeling a little guilty.

And this stuff is actually really good.  Musically, they remind me a bit of American Football, a band that I originally didn’t like.  While American Football is growing on me slowly, there’s no disconnect between Empire! and my ability to enjoy their music immediately.  These guys really keep things interesting throughout the entirety of What It Takes to Move Forward.  Loud, powerful, and trebly guitars dominate the record, and sound great when accompanied with depressing and dark lyrics, or during the long instrumental sections.

At close to an hour in length, What It Takes really should get boring at some point.  It’s not like the band ever mixes things up—they do one thing, and they do it well.  They do it well enough to keep you listening for the record’s duration.  That may have something to do with the fact that I am the target audience for this type of whiney and depressing music.  Maybe the average reader will find this stuff insufferable.