Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gorillaz - The Fall review

It is amazing to consider how far technology can improve in just a few short years.  Damon Albarn, the mastermind behind cartoon superstars, Gorillaz, recently released the band's fourth full length album, free of charge, on Christmas Day.  The album, titled The Fall, was recorded and produced entirely on Albarn's iPad during Gorillaz North American stretch of their world tour in support of their stellar third album, Plastic Beach.

It seems as though Albarn's muse just might be the United States of America, as he has previously toyed with the surge of creativity that one can get as a result of touring back in 2003, culminating in the rather underwhelming collection of demos, DemocrazyDemocrazy was a collection of demos that Albarn had recorded during the US leg of Blur's Think Tank tour, and consist primarily of plinking Casiotone leads, clunky drum beats and a melodica.  The songs, if one can even call them that, are snippets and scraps of half baked ideas, stillborns that chronicle the songwriting process (at least one of these ideas "I Need A Gun", was returned to and given a proper treatment as "Dirty Harry" on Gorillaz Demon Days album).  The problem with Democrazy was that the songs were demos and ultimately made people wonder why they were even released, especially since Albarn is the type that seems to be constantly churning out new music.  I have to admit, when I first heard that Albarn and company were going to release another album of songs written in hotel rooms, I was skeptical to say the least.

The Fall, however, is the real deal.  Recorded over thirty-two days, the album is so slick, that if Albarn hadn't told us, there is no way anyone would know if that the album was recorded "non-traditionally".   The album weaves seamlessly from track to track, immersing the listener into an auditory journal of the United States with the help of snippets of local American radio shows and even announcements made over PA systems at train stations.  The album is deeply routed in electronic production, which seems only natural considering the absence of a studio.  This is not to say that the album sounds like someone playing with GarageBand.  There are a number of traditional instruments including the guitar and (you guessed it) synthesizers galore.

Out of the fifteen tracks that appear on the album, there are a number of stellar songs, most notably "Revolving Doors" and the absolutely beautiful "Amarillo".  There are a few throw away tracks sprinkled throughout The Fall, the most obvious being some of the instrumental songs that pepper the album.  They aren't necessarily bad, it's just that they are forgettable and almost eerily similar to the half baked ideas of Democrazy.  What is most interesting about this album is the absence of the studio and the numerous musical guest stars (although it should be noted that Bobby Womack and Mick Jones appear on The Fall).  In the studio, Albarn and his Gorillaz pull out all of the stops, but in the hotel room, on a tablet computer, you see a more intimate Gorillaz, stripped of the bells and whistles.  Overall The Fall is a complex, yet subdued album.  It is a compelling listen, and works as the perfect companion piece to the superb Plastic Beach.



buy:
Gorillaz The Fall

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas (courtesy of Gorillaz)


As promised, Gorillaz have released their new album, The Fall, as a free Christmas gift.  The Fall was recorded during the American stretch of their recent world tour, and has been described as an auditory journal of their experience touring America.  I'll have a review of the album up in a few days, but until then, go grab it at the Gorillaz website.  Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The BIG End of the Year List: The Best & Worst of 2010

So another year in music has come and gone, and along with every other music-related website, I am going to give you a list comprising of the albums that I thought were great in 2010, along with some of the more disappointing listens of the year.  Each album mentioned has a concise review to go along with it, along with an mp3 just in case you missed out on the record when it came out * Someone complained about the mp3s so I had to take them down...sorry*.  So sit back and take a look at the list after the jump and feel free to voice any concerns you have in the comments section below.






BEST ALBUMS OF 2010

1. The National High Violet

The National followed up their breakthrough album Boxer, with High Violet, a collection of hauntingly beautiful and often times heartbreaking songs.  High Violet is a masterpiece of middle-class turmoil, a perfect assembly of songs focused on the plights of the everyday modern man.



2. The Tallest Man on Earth The Wild Hunt

With a voice that commands attention, whimsical arrangements and absolutely jaw dropping skills up and down the fretboard (not to mention occasionally tickling the ivories), the second album by Sweden's Tallest Man on Earth, The Wild Hunt, was an engaging and fun listen that had me coming back for more again and again.



3. Crystal Castles Crystal Castles (II) 

Crystal Castles came back in 2010 with an album that was more coherent and less gimmicky than their debut album.  Crystal Castles managed to bring back all of the elements that made them memorable on their debut and excise all of the frilly stuff that made them seem like a novelty act (almost).




4. Twin Shadow Forget 

Twin Shadow came out of nowhere (for me at least).  I picked up his debut album and was pleasantly surprised to find a unique blend of dreamy pop, 80s new wave and introspective lyrics.  Despite my initial apprehension to the album due to all of the blogger buzz, I found this album simply too good to ignore in 2010.



5. Gorillaz Plastic Beach

For some, Gorillaz constitutes a guilty pleasure.  Admitting you like a "fictional" band comprised of cartoon caricatures of self-indulgent celebrity is difficult to justify.  Fortunately, however, the music speaks for itself.  Gorillaz third album is easily their most cohesive and accessible work.



6. The Black Keys Brothers

The Black Keys are the perfect example of rock & roll revival.  An impressive and gritty album that conjures the spirit of any number of blues rock legends from Muddy Waters to Jimi Hendrix, easily one of their strongest offerings to date.





7. Spoon Transference

Transference saw Spoon focus on their instruments after the "indulge-every-studio-whim" of their last album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, which was a critical and commercial success.  Transference was a return to their roots, with simpler arrangements that saw an increased tension between instruments, which made for a compelling listen.




8. The Radio Dept. Clinging to a Scheme

A more refined album than their shoegaze origins proved to be the right move for the dream pop band from Sweden.  With a larger emphasis on synths over fuzzy buzzy effects pedals, Clinging to a Scheme was a fun, unabashed pop record and an incredibly welcome surprise in 2010.




9. Sleigh Bells Treats

Noisy and abrasive, Treats had an interesting mixture of aggressive and menacing songs paired up against mid-tempo songs that were grounded in 70s pop.  The album definitely delivered on the ability to weave in and out of genres, and was unlike anything else I heard this year.




10. Broken Social Scene Forgiveness Rock Record

BSS has an uncanny ability to craft beautiful pop songs that sound as if they were recorded by a bunch of friends having the times of their lives.  Maybe that's because that is what BSS is, a collective of musicians who get together and can easily write songs about romance, forgiveness, and masturbation.




MOST DISAPPOINTING ALBUMS OF 2010

1. MGMT Congratulations

10 songs.  All of them boring.







2. The Klaxons Surfing the Void

A couple of diamonds in the rough here, but overall a bombastic, auditory assault without much direction.  The album is messy and lacks focus.  Bonus points for space cat though.





3. We Are Scientists Barbara

I know, most of you probably had no idea that We Are Scientists even released an album this year, and honestly it's probably better if it stayed that way.  Supposedly a return to the sound of their breakthrough album With Love and Squalor, Barbara lacks the hooks to make it truly memorable.




4. Broken Bells Broken Bells

This album failed to impress me despite the strength of the singles.  Most of the tracks that appear are filler, causing me to lose patience in them and skipping forward to the songs I actually liked.  With all of the talent behind this album I was crestfallen to admit that it didn't live up to the hype. 



 
5. Arcade Fire The Suburbs

This was a tough call because I actually enjoyed this record, a lot.  I suppose I decided to include it on my "most disappointing" list was simply because it is their weakest album.  Arcade Fire had a brilliant debut, a slightly weaker sophomore album, and now, an album that is good, but hardly great.





HONORABLE MENTIONS OF 2010
The following are albums I liked this year that found themselves creeping into my playlists and mixes.  These albums aren't necessarily the best of what 2010 had to offer, but they were damn good, or at the very least, deserved a mention.

 Two Door Cinema Club Tourist History

One word: Infectious.  This album was so catchy I found myself listening to it quite often.  At roughly 30 minutes there simply isn't any room for filler songs.






The Drums The Drums

Much like Two Door Cinema Club, the catchy surf pop of reverb-ophiles The Drums made them instantly listenable.  It was hard to find someone who disliked this band in 2010.





Yeasayer Odd Blood

Aside from what is surely a contender for worst album art of the year, Yeasayer managed to meld synth-pop, world music and psychedelia into their own brand of indie music.  The album is a bit hit or miss at times, but is ultimately a rewarding listen.




Die Antwoord - $O$

This rap-rave group from Cape Town, South Africa may seem like a joke, but being signed by a major label isn't.  Say what you may about their music, and they may only be a passing phase, but one can't deny that Die Antwoord didn't do too bad for themselves in 2010.


 
 Band of Horses Infinite Arms

There are some really memorable tracks present, however there are a few which are mediocre at best.  This is the first record which was written and recorded by permanent members of the band, marking the first time the recording process hasn't been a "revolving door" of musicians, but somehow this seemed less cohesive than their previous albums, that being said, its still a great album.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Mix 2010

So here it is, the annual Insert Brand Name Here Christmas mix  available for download in a handy .zip file for your convenience.  Hours were spent compiling this mix, agonizing over track placement in order to make sure this mix could sound the best it possibly could.  Here in Australia, Christmas falls in the middle of summer, so for me it doesn't even really seem like Christmas.  Instead of shoveling snow and bundling up against the cold, I am getting ready for the beach.  It definitely doesn't feel like Christmas, but listening to this mix definitely reminds me that no matter where we are, it's still Christmas.  So break out the egg nog, gather 'round the Christmas tree and sit back with eighteen quality Christmas tracks!

tracklist:
  1. Julian Casablancas - I Wish It Was Christmas Today
  2. Sufjan Stevens - Hey Guys! It's Christmas Time
  3. Slow Club - Christmas (Please Come Home)
  4. Low - Just Like Christmas
  5. Band of Horses - The First Song
  6. Ryan Adams - Hey Parker, It's Christmas
  7. Snowden - White Christmas
  8. Tiger Baby - This Christmas
  9. The Raveonettes - Come On Santa
  10. Kevin Devine - Splitting Up Christmas
  11. Yo La Tengo - It's Christmas Time
  12. Coldplay - Christmas Lights
  13. The Pogues - Fairytale of New York
  14. Jimmy Eat World - Last Christmas
  15. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - All I Want for Christmas
  16. The Walkmen - Christmas Party
  17. Gil Mantera's Party Dream - Brave New Christmas
  18. The Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping
Download the IBNH Christmas 2010 Mixtape here (link removed)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gorillaz live @ Adelaide Entertainment Center 12/8/10






On Wednesday night I saw Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's long running collaboration project, Gorillaz, live and in the flesh.  For something that has existed for so long as a cartoon band, seeing everything that is heard on a Gorillaz album come together seamlessly in a live performance was something to marvel at.  This is the first time Gorillaz have embarked on a true worldwide tour as the last time they hit the road it was for a string of performances at the Manchester Opera House and the Harlem Apollo Theatre in support of their second album, Demon Days.  During those shows, the band played behind a screen, rendering them as silhouettes, however this time, Damon and company take center stage simultaneously with a massive video screen airing previously unseen Gorillaz artwork and film.  Damon and company had such a fervent energy in performing the songs that anyone in attendance was sure to recognize the performance as something exceptional.

The sheer number of musicians employed for the show was something that was absolutely jaw dropping as well.  There was a string section, a brass section from Chicago, the Syrian National Orchestra, back up singers and musicians, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon from The Clash, De La Soul, Bashy, Little Dragon, Bobby Womack, and of course, Damon Albarn.  As someone who is too young to have ever seen The Clash play live, who had no idea of Bobby Womack's 40 year career until he saw Jackie Brown, and who never got the chance to see Blur perform despite being a rabid fan, this Gorillaz show marked a truly special experience in my life.














Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Moshi Moshi Records - A Christmas Gift For You review

Moshi Moshi Records have bestowed an early Christmas present this year, featuring some of their most talented artists covering Christmas classics.  I happen to be a sucker for Christmas music (be on the lookout for this years Christmas mix), and I love the idea of being able to listen to something other than the aborted fetus that is David Bowie and Bing Crosby's rendition of "Little Drummer Boy" or the abomination that is Paul McCartney's "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time".

That being said, my main complaint (but certainly not my only complaint) has to do with the compilation's short running time.  At less than eighteen minutes, you're going to be looking for something else to spin on the stereo to keep the egg nog flowing before Christmas is over this year.  That being said, let's take a closer look at the tracks present on A Christmas Gift For You.

1. Slow Club  "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" - Easily the strongest track on this compilation, the jangly electric guitars and the backing vocals accentuating vocalist Rebecca Taylor's all mix together perfectly to create a fun interpretation of a classic Christmas song.

2. Summer Camp "Christmas Wrapping" - The original version by The Waitresses is an energetic, fun holiday romp, and is one of my personal favorites.  Summer Camp's version however, has stripped away the vivacity and spirit of the original, opting to replace the punchy guitars for a single little synth twinkle, turning the perfect Christmas party song into a boring, and slightly depressing, snooze fest.

3. James Yuill  "Winter Wonderland" - British folktronica artist James Yuill has churned out some great songs (e.g, No Surprise), but the downright weird and unneccesary vocal intonations he employs on this song ruin it.

4. Ingo Star Cruiser "Just Like Christmas" - Ingo Star Cruiser pretty much leave this song alone, however they do sprinkle a bit of optimism throughout the song in the form of a speedier tempo and some uplifting instrumentation.

5. Idiot Glee "White Christmas" - Clocking in at one minute, thirty seconds, I am expending more energy writing this sentence than Idiot Glee did in recording this song.

6. Hot Club de Paris "Will You Still Be In Love With Me Next Year?" - a painfully generic and boring song sung by a lead singer with an obnoxious, nasally voice.  Easily forgettable.

Overall, this compilation is way too short to warrant a purchase, however there are a few diamonds in the rough.  It's always fun finding original songs or reinterpretations of classics for the holidays, so check it out if you need to bolster up your Christmas playlist in iTunes this year.

mp3s:
The Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping

video:
Homemade "Christmas Wrapping" video

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Iron & Wine - Walking Far From Home (single) review

Iron and Wine, the moniker for singer/songwriter Sam Beam, is set to release his fourth studio album, Kiss Each Other Clean, on January 25th, 2011.  It will be the first Iron and Wine album released by Warner Bros. after leaving Sub Pop.  The first single from the album is "Walking Far From Home", the CD single being released a few days ago on November 26th.

The strongest traits of Iron and Wine's music is the fact that it is introspective, delicate, and haunting.  It is music that pulls at the heartstrings, Beam's hushed voice accompanied by deft finger picking and a minimalist approach make for intimate and endearing records.  Sadly, this single and it's B-sides are none of those things.

Beam has said that Kiss Each Other Clean will mark a change in direction to his sound, and if this single is any indication, it is the wrong direction.  I know that most people will contest that if an artist fails to mature or to progress, the stagnation that results will ultimately lead to career suicide.  I firmly agree with that, however what Beam has done is take everything that has made Iron and Wine distinct and memorable and traded it for a sound that is mediocre, and that's being generous.  In the three songs that appear on this release, Beam's signature instrument, the guitar, is totally absent.  Instead it is replaced by virtually every instrument that doesn't have strings.  The end result are songs that are muddled and ultimately forgettable.

"Walking Far From Home" contains snapshots of images that are supposed to be poignant, but since they are simply recited, one after the other without any sort of context, any meaning they would have is completely lost.

"Summer in Savannah" is riddled with various percussive instruments, a faint jangly electric guitar riff and a piercing horn that sounds like someone's cover band attempting a song by some kind of Latin-African funk fusion band.

"Biting Your Tail" sounds like it could have been a B-side from The Postal Service.  Beam's sincerity is questionable as it seems as though he's been hanging out in the "magical" bedroom of the lead singer of Owl City.

Our first taste of Iron and Wine's new album, Kiss Each Other Clean, is a bitter one.  The best thing for us to do now is hope that it exceeds my already very low expectations.

mp3s:
Iron and Wine - Naked As We Came
Iron and Wine - Boy With a Coin
Iron and Wine - The Trapeze Swinger
mp3s courtesy of Sub-Pop Records...grab some more here.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Nine Inch Nails - Pretty Hate Machine (2010 remaster) review

Trent Reznor worked as a handyman and janitor at Right Track Studio, where he would use studio “down time” to write and record his own music. Playing all of the instruments himself and doing the sequencing on a Macintosh Plus (1 MB of RAM, expandable to 4 MB!), Reznor sent the demo to a number of labels until landing a deal with TVT Records.  In October, 1989, when Trent Reznor’s debut album under the moniker Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine, was released I was four years old, and like any four year old at the time, the album was unheard by my ears.
When I finally got my hands on my own copy of Pretty Hate Machine (on cassette tape) from a second hand record store I was in the fifth grade.  To this day, I can still remember the apprehension I had felt before inserting the tape into my Sony Walkman.  Nine Inch Nails was an enigma to me.  Some of the older kids in my neighborhood listened to Nine Inch Nails, but they wore black, smoked cigarettes and were referred disdainfully by my father as “creepy goth kids”.  I was aware of the rumors that the name Nine Inch Nails was in reference to the spikes that were used to crucify Jesus, and being Catholic I naturally assumed that anything sharp that was used to impale the son of God was bad.  I knew that NINs music videos were highly controversial and heavily edited for rotation on MTV.  I knew that the songs were about sex and depression and death.  To be completely honest, I was scared of Nine Inch Nails.

There was something about Nine Inch Nails that, as a kid, I craved.  The music dealt with adult themes, but it seemed as though adults didn’t understand it.  This was both exciting and terrifying to me, since all of the adults I knew thought that Trent Reznor was some sort of menace, the embodiment of everything that was wrong with society.  It all began, really, with NIN’s first single off of Pretty Hate Machine that started it all.  “Head Like A Hole” had the lyrics, “bow down before the one you serve”; immediately accusations of Satanism and Reznor’s hell-bent intent on corrupting the minds of the youth were running rampant.  Thus began the persecution of the music of Nine Inch Nails by conservative Americans.

Being ten, I didn’t have much disposable income and so my Nine Inch Nails collection began and ended with that tape of Pretty Hate Machine.  The themes of desolation and suicide were heavy and dark, and in 1995 I preferred Britpop acts like Blur and Oasis, who had singles even my parents enjoyed.  It wouldn’t be until 2005 that I finally got my hands on a reissued copy of Pretty Hate Machine (a lengthy legal battle between Reznor and his old label saw Pretty Hate Machine out of circulation between 1997 and 2005).  Little memory remained of the album, my cassette tape being lost years prior.  So when I got around it ripping the CD into my iTunes, it came as a surprise to me to discover that despite the gritty title, Pretty Hate Machine was a dance record.  It was a synth-driven piece of electronica, complete with simple beats composed on drum machines.  The vilification of NIN and Trent Reznor was completely unfounded.  Listening to “Head Like A Hole” for the first time in ten years reminded me how the song wasn’t about Satanism, but about worshipping money, and all of the sexual themes explored on the album were fairly tame when compared to Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream”.

Most of the songs on Pretty Hate Machine have stood up well since the albums original release over twenty years ago, and on the 2010 reissue, we are treated to an extra track, a cover of Queen’s “Get Down, Make Love”.  There are some missteps however, particularly the pseudo-rapping on “Down In It”, which seriously dates the album.  All in all, Pretty Hate Machine is a synth-pop record. Tracks like “Terrible Lie” and “Sin” easily could have been recorded by Depeche Mode during their Black Celebration/Music for the Masses/Violator period, if there were more explicit and overt references to sex and death.  So if that sounds like something you’d be into, definitely pick this album up.  If you’re looking for an introduction to Nine Inch Nails, I would suggest skipping this one and go for NINs masterpiece second album, The Downward Spiral.  Any way you slice it, one thing is certain, I guess the goth kids liked to dance after all.

mp3s:

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy review

Chances are you've already read about Kanye West's new album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy somewhere else, and you're probably well aware that virtually everyone is praising the album as a modern masterpiece, even Pitchfork gave it a perfect 10.0.  I wasn't even aware that he had a new album out, so you can understand why I am a little late in churning this review out.  Aside from the fact that Kanye spent  over 3 million of Def Jam's dollars in recording the album (there are eleven guest vocalists on "All of the Lights") and the "controversial" artwork was supposedly "banned", I am failing to see what makes this record any more important than West's previous efforts.

I'll be the first to admit, I am not well versed in hip hop.  That being said, the first thing I noticed about this album is that it is sonically heavier, with distorted guitars, fuzzy basslines and grittier beats assaulting the listeners ears at every turn.  There is a lot of layering present that isn't normally found in hip hop music, lending a depth to the music that is both immersive and engaging.  Despite these things, I just can't agree to call this album a masterpiece of it's generation.  If you were to conduct a search on Pitchfork to see all of the albums that have received a perfect 10.0, you will find that almost all of them are reissues of classic albums by bands like Radiohead, The Beatles, Beastie Boys, The Rolling Stones, and Elvis Costello.  The reason these albums have received the elusive perfect score on Pitchfork is because the albums have withstood the test of time.  Will Kanye's new album do the same?  It is hard to say.  Despite the move forward, it doesn't seem as though this album does anything to be truly regarded as a breakthrough album, not for hip hop and certainly not popular music as a whole.

The weaker points on the album consist of some of the so-called "rhymes", which end up sticking out like a sore thumb.  On "Gorgeous", Kanye claims that "the same people that tried to black ball me/forgot about two things, my black balls".  Umm, right.  I also find it difficult to separate the album's themes and subject matter with how Kanye acts in real life.  This album is, essentially, a self-indulgent piece (just look at the video for "Runaway", which also marks Kanye's directorial debut) that explores the reasons why Kanye can be a complete asshole, whining about trivial shit on Twitter and getting drunk and causing scenes with other celebrities.  The reason he can do all those things, the reason why he can act like a spoiled child is the simple fact that people will buy his record and invest their own time and energy into his celebrity persona.  Throughout the album Kanye talks about how he doesn't care about people and what they think of him, and how he has somehow transcended "haters".  What he fails to realize is that all of the "haters" are the people who buy his albums.  So I guess that question that remains is, who is the bigger fool, us, or him?

The bottom line is that Kanye has successfully made a good record.  My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a record that has all of the hooks that will make it popular, but the real reward is in listening to each song carefully, and more than once, to discover and appreciate all of the nuances that truly make it an outstanding hip hop record.  I just wouldn't go so far as to call it a masterpiece.  Michael Jackson made better pop records, and even though Kanye desperately wants to emulate his idol, he is still falling just a bit short.

Kanye West - Runaway


mp3s:
Kanye West (feat. Kid Cudi & Raekwon) - Gorgeous

buy:
Kanye West My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Friday, November 26, 2010

Daft Punk - Tron Legacy (OMPST) review

Daft Punk hasn't released an album of new material since Human After All in 2005.  Since then, the French duo has dabbled with videogames and released a live album, a remix album, and a compilation album.  In March 2009 the wait for new material had ended with the announcement of Daft Punk being commissioned to score the upcoming film Tron: Legacy.

The highly anticipated album opens with a low, foreboding humming noise that gradually builds into a symphonic string arrangement that is epic in scale, however, it isn't anything you haven't already heard in a number of other film scores.  This sweeping introduction leads into the first truly original piece of music, "The Grid", which continues with the ominous tone via industrial beats that lumber along while a voiceover from film star, Jeff Bridges, recites a bunch of technojargon about circuit boards and of course, the grid.  All of this leads into Bridges' line about how he has dreamed of the world of computers until one day, he "got in".  It is at this point that the string arrangement that drives the first track morph into something wholly electronic.  It is the same melody, but instead of man manipulating instrument, machine has taken over.  Much like the characters in the film, we, the listeners, are immersed into the world of the computer.

It becomes clear from early on that this is not the Daft Punk we are used to.  The soundtrack is not simply composed with a pair of synths, a drum machine, and a bunch of spliced samples from the 70s.  This soundtrack marks a step forward in Daft Punk's sound as they use an 85 piece orchestra to help them create and explore an entirely new musical frontier.  There are so many high points on this album I could easily give each one of the twenty-two tracks (24 if you get it from iTunes) its own separate write up.  But even then it wouldn't do this score justice.  I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of film scores, in my opinion divorcing a score from the film that it was created to accompany causes it to lose some of the emotion that is initially attached to it.  With the Tron: Legacy soundtrack however, each track builds upon the next, creating a musical representation that could easily stand apart from the film.  It is so grand in scope that I would go as far to say that this will easily become one of those soundtracks that every music fan must own.

The string arrangements and the orchestra utilized in the soundtrack appear on almost every track, however what makes this soundtrack a compelling listen is the marriage of traditional instruments and electronica, and how the two intermingle to create a truly organic sound that is both impressive and epic.  Daft Punk have managed to craft each song with the mechanical calculation of a computer, without sacrificing the immediacy and intensity of human emotion.  If the film is half as fun as this soundtrack, then I think it will be well worth the cost of admission.

The Tron: Legacy soundtrack will be released December 7th, 2010.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!



It's Thanksgiving back in the United States and I have to admit that I am more than a little disappointed that I won't be around to partake in the festivities this year.  I am hoping I can have a sort of Australian mock Thanksgiving, but it won't be the same.  For those of you who don't know, Thanksgiving is an American holiday (there's a Canadian one too, but it's not as good) that originally gave thanks for a bountiful harvest but has since gone on to include expressions of thankfulness and gratitude for family, friends, etc.  Oh, and football (the American variety).  And parades.  Read about it here if you're really curious.

Anyway, I'll be brief today and just say that I made a little mixtape for everyone to enjoy this Thanksgiving.  There is only one "real" Thanksgiving song on the mix, the rest of the tracks are songs that I felt were appropriate in the honor of giving thanks.  I explain why each track was included below, so if you're curious, read up.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

  1. Adam Sandler "The Thanksgiving Song" - self-explanatory.
  2. Madness "Our House" - every year my entire family comes to my parents house to celebrate Thanksgiving so I felt this song was appropriate.
  3. Mystery Jets "Flash a Hungry Smile" - Thanksgiving is the one holiday where it is expected that you stuff yourself with food, and most people are flashing their hungry smiles all day before dinner.
  4. The Faces "Ooh La La" - this song reminds me of good memories with family and friends.  In slow motion, of course.
  5. Kings of Leon "Taper Jean Girl" - My cousins and I always tend to have a few (heaps) of "adult beverages" throughout the course of the day, and this is a great party song.
  6. Fang Island "Daisy" -no matter how we drunk we get, it's okay because it's a holiday.
  7. Passion Pit "Sleepyhead" - supposedly eating turkey makes you tired because it has high amounts of tryptophan, an amino acid that breaks down protein.
  8. The National "Mr. November" - Thanksgiving is always on the last Thursday of November!
Download the Thanksgiving 2010 mixtape here!

Monday, November 22, 2010

James Blake - Klavierwerke EP review

According to Dummy Magazine, James Blake's new EP, Klavierwerke, is supposedly "some of the best new music you'll hear today".  I beg to differ.  Of all the reviews that I have read about this EP I have yet to find one that says something negative about this collection of "songs".  I realize that in saying this I am welcoming an abundance of nasty comments from people who think, for some reason, that James Blake is some kind of mastermind.  They will belittle me and say that I don't "get it", or that the music "transcends" criticism.  I'm sorry to burst your bubble.  To me, the Klavierwerke EP is little more than the sounds of someone who needs to stop sitting in his bedroom fidgeting with sequencers and keyboards.

The British born Blake got some recognition with his last EP, CMYK, which showed some promise, using samples from 90s R&B tunes in a somewhat familiar U.K. dubstep manner to create catchy dancefloor singles.  On the Klavierwerke EP, however, Blake opts for a more minimalist approach, using little more than his piano and his own voice, which is fitting since Klavierwerke literally means piano work in German.  The title is a bit deceptive (maybe that's why he opted for it to be in German), since those expecting something like his cover of the Feist song "Limit to Your Love", will be gravely disappointed.  Instead of something more traditional, Blake takes a cut and paste approach with all of the four tracks that appear on this EP, single piano notes are looped over and over, sparse vocalizations are mechanically manipulated and elementary games of patty cake are arranged together in such a way that it evokes some kind of faux importance in the ears of listeners who just so badly want this EP to be good.

In regards to all of the reviews floating around in cyberspace that are praising this EP as being "the next big thing", I have to throw in my two cents and disagree.  Pitchfork asserts that "few artists are stretching the boundaries of dance music wider than he [Blake] is right now", which begs the question, who, exactly is dancing to this?  And of course, what, exactly does this "dancing" look like?  If you answered the really messed up girl/guy who dresses like a hobo?   The one who doesn't wash his/her hair?  The one swaying slightly from side to side in the club while a lit cigarette dangles precariously out of the corner of his/her mouth?  The one who looks as though they might pass out/projectile vomit at any moment?  I would have to say that you've probably already heard this record.

Overall, James Blake's Klavierwerke EP sounds like the tinkerings of someone who left his final project in his music production class to the last minute and spent the entire night before it was due recording a bunch of glitchy plinks on the piano and running his voice through a filter in Garageband.  It's experimental, ambient, pitchy, droning, twitchy, conflicted and full of incongruities.  Do yourself a favor, don't buy into the hype, and by all means don't listen to me either.  Listen to the EP (check out the embedded video below, go to youtube and go to James Blake's channel to listen to all four songs for free) and make the decision for yourself.



mp3s:
James Blake - Limit To Your Love (Feist cover)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Salem - King Night review

Salem is a Chicago-based band whose first official release, an EP titled, Yes I Smoke Crack, earned them recognition as a "bloggable buzzband", released their debut album, King Night, on September 28th of this year.  It seems as though this band has come out of nowhere and made a huge splash in the online music community for a number of reasons.  Let us take a moment and review these reasons in case you're not familiar:

1. The title track off of King Night is released/leaked, Pitchfork.com bestows a "best new music" tag on it, making hipster panties around Brooklyn suddenly go moist.

2. The Pitchfork review was incredibly positive, but more importantly, described the bands sound as "rape gaze", which understandably got some people angry and they retracted the "rape gaze" label and started calling it "witch house" (which, admittedly, is pretty terrible for a genre name).

3. A bunch of reputable music critics jumped on the Salem bandwagon, including the New York Times, giving their music "glowing reviews".

4. Salem is labeled the "worst modern buzzband" by Hipster Runoff after Salem's live "performance" at SXSW (see video below).

So, what do I think of the album?  It's hard to not be influenced by what other people before me have already said, but since pretty much everyone has been calling Salem misunderstood "geniuses", it's safe to say that you don't have to worry about me being peer pressured.  First thing's first, I don't hate the album.  I think that there are moments on King Night which are beautiful, haunting and intimate.  I think that, at their best, Salem succeeds in crafting music that seems authentic, which makes it deeply affecting and sometimes moving.

The problem lies in the difficulty I had investing myself into the songs.  The entire album is dark.  It is depressing.  There are no moments that twinkle beneath the murky water.  King Night is a difficult listen, as the hip hop drum machines skitter across each track and the low key ambient synth lines do little to lighten the mood, you begin to wonder if the way you feel is similar to what a heroin addict feels as he is going through withdrawal.  That being said there is something captivating about the music.  There is something that embraces you and pulls you into the void, and even though the album and lyrics embody virtually everything ugly in society, there is something comforting about the shared suffering of the human condition.

The lowest points on the album, for me, would have to be the tracks that are ruined by "frontman" Jack Donoghue as he "raps".  Thankfully this happens rather sporadically, since his voice sounds like an 11 year old kid using a voice filter while playing XBOX Live.

In summation, there are a handful of tracks that are ethereal and moody enough to provide some rather compelling listening, however it is hard to take this band seriously, especially when you consider their live performances (see video below) or their minstrel show-esque rapping "skills".  It seems to me that Salem has managed to employ some rather effective reverse marketing by making themselves seem like assholes who don't give a shit about making music or having fans (when asked about what they thought of getting booed off stage, the band claimed that they "totally don't care"), and that has resulted in massive media coverage.  Most reviewers are claiming that Salem makes music that just isn't accessible to everyone and that some people are simply unable to " get it".  I have to disagree with that logic, but I will admit that the game they are playing has worked pretty well for them so far.



mp3s:
Salem - King Night
Salem - Asia

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Young Prisms - Friends for Now review

I have to admit that what initially intrigued me about this record from San Franciscan quintet, Young Prisms, was the not-so-safe-for-work album art.  Once I got past my prepubescent hang up of ogling what surely is a contender for the perfect alternative breasts, I decided to give the pretty translucent purple record a spin.  On their MySpace page, Young Prisms claim that their sound is "shoegaze", a subgenre of music that originated in the U.K. in the late eighties.  The name comes from the sight spectators saw when they went to see these bands live, since their music incorporated so many effects pedals, the band members were constantly looking at their feet.  I have never seen Young Prisms live, but I can imagine how the shoegazing label applies.

Young Prisms use the two guitar approach commonly found in shoegaze music, neither one assuming a "lead", rather both guitars play heavily distorted riffs over one another to create an amorphous, reverberating melody that echoes throughout, and ultimately drives, the entire song.  The vocals are washed out and subdued, being used by the band as another instrument, rather than to convey any real meaning with the lyrics.  The heavy handed wails of the guitars and the striking dissonance that is achieved in the songs without sacrificing melody is both impressive and welcome, as the record sounds cohesive without compromising the illusion of chaos.

The album opens with "Friends for Now", a borderline instrumental song that does little to introduce the band or the album, as the second track, "If You Want To", could have just as easily opened the album and probably would have done so more effectively.  The songs that favor melody over the sometimes oppressive, neo-psychedelic monotony present on some tracks are the obvious standouts on the album, most notably the song "Sugar".  As the album progresses, you'll find that you should have gotten stoned or perhaps really drunk before you put it on, as you'll find it easier to get lost in the layers and layers of distortion and feedback.

The constant lo-fi drone of the guitars and the rather mediocre drumming start to wear a little thin by the end of the record, and with the exception of one or two tracks, the average listener will probably find it hard to discern between the ten tracks present on the album.  Friends for Now is a record that should be played loud, or ideally, heard live if you want to do it any justice.  So, if you're a fan of the shoegaze genre and you are in the market for a new pair, try Young Prisms on for size.  Just be aware that one size doesn't always fit all.

Young Prisms - Weekends and Treehouses
Young Prisms - Sugar

Friends for Now by Young Prisms is out January 18th...preorder here.

Alternatively, consult their MySpace page to check out upcoming gigs, if you're lucky enough to catch them live you can pick up an advance copy of the album on vinyl.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Girl Talk - All Day review

On November 15th, preeminent mash-up artist Girl Talk (a.k.a. Gregg Gillis) released his fifth album, All Day, via free download by the Illegal Art record label.  The album marks the end of a two year wait since Gillis' last critically acclaimed album, Feed the Animals.  Utilizing a reported 372 samples (of other artists work, but we'll get into that later), All Day was released as a seamless 71-minute single mp3 file, as well as 12 separate tracks for "easier navigation".  Let's take a moment to thank Mr. Gillis and Illegal Art for having the foresight to break the tracks up, because unless you're at a party or the club, I seriously doubt anyone would want to listen to this all the way through in one sitting, even if the Illegal Art website states that the album is "intended to be listened to as a whole".

Much like Girl Talk's previous releases, there are individual songs that are a blast to listen to.  These tracks are catchy, and often blend and blur genres so effectively that while your booty shakes, your mind marvels at the ingenuity behind it all, especially when you hear how he manages to couple Miley Cyrus' "Born in the USA" and M.O.P's "Ante Up" on "That's Right" and how it all bleeds seamlessly into Portishead's "Sour Times" and Big Boi's "Shutterbugg" on "Jump on Stage".  That being said, anyone with an audio editing program like Audacity will undoubtedly be wondering if they too, with the right amount of determination and creativity, could have created a mash-up album just as good.

This isn't to say that Mr. Gillis isn't creative or talented.  I'll be the first to admit that I have little knowledge or exposure to the underground mixtape sub-culture.  What I do know about it is that it originated in the early days of hip-hop, primarily with kids who had no idea what they were doing, but they knew what they liked to hear.  Fast forward a few decades and the word "mixtape" is thrown around pretty loosely.  Mixtapes are still very much a part of the underground musical community, and are even responsible for launching the careers of some of today's most bankable music superstars like 50 Cent.

What I find most interesting is the way mixtapes are produced.  Most mixtape creators (Girl Talk included) use unauthorized samples of other artists work, something the New York Times has labeled, "a lawsuit waiting to happen".  In today's climate, where the RIAA hasn't met anyone it wouldn't consider suing, the mixtape opens up interesting discussions regarding what is and isn't illegal to do.  Girl Talk has often cited Fair Use, a doctrine in United States copyright law that is a "limitation and exception to the exclusive right granted by copyright law that allows limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the rights holders."  It's complicated, but this is usually in regard to things like criticism, reporting, teaching, etc (you can read up on it here), not for sampling and subsequently making money.

While Girl Talk gives away his albums for free via download off of the Illegal Art website, consumers can still purchase a physical copy of the album on sites like Amazon and in record stores or opt to "make a donation" before downloading the album.  I seriously doubt that Mr. Gillis is splitting those royalties three hundred and seventy three ways.

Overall, All Day is a fun record.  Mr. Gillis certainly has an ear that spans virtually every genre, so you know that every song is going to have a little something for everyone, which is exactly what you need when you're throwing a party.  Just do yourself a favor, download the 12 track version.

Download All Day here.
Check out a list of all of the samples in All Day here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Miami Horror - Illumination review

Here in Australia summer officially starts on December 1st, however it starts getting warm (and sometimes unbearably hot) well before then.  Miami Horror released their debut album, Illumination, on August 20th, just shy of the first day of Spring, and it's appropriate.  As the rain clouds and cold weather moved out of the way for the warming embrace of the sun, a four-piece from Melbourne released an album that basically bashed people in the head with its unwavering "light" based imagery.  Name of the band, Miami Horror.  Miami = sun, surf, beaches? Check.  Title of the album, Illumination (that one pretty much speaks for itself doesn't it?).  Album art, a Red Giant hovering over a peaceful landscape? Check.  Lyrics that reference the sun or light in some way, shape or form? Check. If the music itself was a small child's primary school art project, every song would be covered in glitter glue and have neon ribbons jutting off in every direction.  However, it should be expected.  This is a dance record.  Sort of.

I'll be the first to admit that when I'm in a bar and a catchy song comes on that almost every patron knows and dances along to, I'll be the one guy you see in the corner with his arms folded across his chest tightly clutching a bottle of beer in one hand.  In the privacy of my own home, however, I have moves that would literally astonish and amaze.  With that being said, we can eliminate the idea that I simply don't like this kind of music.  In actuality, I love it.  And apparently so do Australians.  The indie/dance/synth/new wave revival or whatever you want to call it certainly is not new, and there are a plethora of bands who do it very well, Cut Copy, Passion Pit, Daft Punk, Pnau, are just a few that come to mind.  Miami Horror doesn't attempt to cover any new ground, instead relying on the paths pioneered by other bands before them to deliver the goods.  Is this necessarily bad?  Not in the least bit.  When Miami Horror hits a high note, it is slick, catchy, and a lot of fun.  Tracks like "Holidays", "Moon Theory" and "Sometimes" really capture the essence of the album.  Thumping bass lines, catchy choruses, arpeggiated chords and plinking synths weave seamlessly together to create instant dance floor bliss.

Illumination's weak points come in the form of the slower tracks.  Songs like "Echoplex" and "Imagination" seems as though someone just turned the tempo way down in an effort to stretch the song out for as long as possible.  The lyrics, well, let's just say they're what you would expect from a dance album.  Overall, Miami Horror's Illumination is a good summer record, catchy, fun songs to spin on the stereo while you're sucking back stubbies from your esky.

Here is a track from Miami Horror's 2008 EP Bravado, courtesy of rcrdlbl.com...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bizarre Music Videos

Once upon a time, one of the main ways people were exposed to new music was by watching music videos.  This was a simpler time, when MTV actually aired music videos instead of "reality" shows and VH1 had interesting programming based around music, like Storytellers (I should note that this show still airs, albeit sporadically), and Pop-Up Video.  Most people would probably argue that the music video era is dead, that there simply isn't any outlet for exposure via the music video medium.  In a way, they are correct.  The only channels that are dedicated to airing music videos are often bundled up in expensive digital cable or satellite packages, and let's face it, most people would rather hop on the internet than sit through blocks of programming that might play songs they don't care for.

So, just as video killed the radio star, the internet has killed the music video star.  Interestingly enough, this has not caused musicians to abandon music videos, with sites like YouTube, musicians and music labels now have a new way to reach potential fans and consumers.  The problem that presents itself is that the videos are no longer thrown into a rotation by the programmers of a television station, instead the videos are uploaded and only viewed on demand.  This has caused bands to make interesting and sometimes bizarre music videos that will get the internet community talking about them, in the hopes that people will be curious about the video enough to have a look.

Strange music videos have been around for a long time, one only has to hop on YouTube and check out the videos for Tool's Stinkfist, Radiohead's Paranoid Android, Aphex Twin's Come To Daddy, Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun, Prodigy's Smack My Bitch Up, or The Avalanches' Frontier Psychiatrist, to name just a few.  Since their inception, music videos have provided musicians with an outlet to further brand their sound or to promote some kind of concept or cause, and sometimes bands create videos that are just downright bizarre to generate some buzz and hopefully convert some new fans.  The following three videos are strange and sometimes disturbing, but it got me talking about it, and my bet is that you're going to check them out, so I guess these bands are doing something right.

First up, Miami Horror "Holidays"

Miami Horror is a band from Melbourne who are getting quite a bit of airtime on Triple J. Certainly the least bizarre out of the three, as it's quite tame after the initial shock around the 30 second mark.

Yeasayer "Madder Red"

Yeasayer has quite the track record for weird music videos, but the one for their newest single, "Madder Red", takes the cake. The video opens with Kristen Bell in bed, luring us into a false sense of security and then HOLY SHIT WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING?!

Beach House "Walk in the Park"

This video opens up with your average down on his luck wolf-boy and his longing for your run-of-the-mill alt girl, but things become increasingly weird until events culminate in...a sandwich?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Small Black - New Chain review

I got my hands on a copy of the debut album, New Chain, from Brooklyn-based band Small Black back in October when it was released, but trying to listen objectively was proving to be rather difficult.  With so much blogger bullshit (blogshit?) floating around about so-called "chillwave" bands, I found it to be somewhat of a chore to give this album a thorough listen from start to finish.  This isn't to say I don't like "chillwave" music, quite the contrary, however when the internet gets a hold of an idea (or in this case, a genre), it can be trying to separate ones own impressions and opinions from that of the masses, hence why this review is coming at you a little late.
With all of that being said, let's get down to the album.  I was impressed with Small Black's self-titled EP, which was like electronic glitter hiding underneath an incessant wave of distorted sound.  It was familiar, yet oddly other-worldly, accessible but distant, you get the idea.  The electro-thrashings and subtle melody of "Despicable Dogs" made it interesting to listen to, something new to be discovered with every listen.  With New Chain, the band sticks with this formula.  "Camouflage", the album opener, is a jarring yet agreeable song with a slightly off-kilter hook that leads perfectly into "Search Party", a 1980's New York City cocaine anthem.  "Photojournalist" is a bombastic, trippy affair, with a drugged out chorus that will undoubtedly have fans singing the lyrics that they think they hear in unison.  It's not all electro-pop goodness however, as New Chain does have a couple of faulty links, songs like "Crisp 100s" and "Light Curse" plod along without ever really going anywhere.  Overall, the album certainly lives up to the "chillwave" name, so if you're a fan, definitely check this one out, otherwise it might be wise to simply download a couple of the standout tracks.

Small Black - Despicable Dogs

Friday, November 12, 2010

Girls - Broken Dreams Club review


I managed to have a listen to the brand new Girls EP, Broken Dreams Club, about a week ago, but for various reasons I have been putting a proper review on the back burner.  I really enjoyed their debut album, Album, so I naturally assumed I would enjoy this new offering from the band.  Clocking in at six songs and just a tad over 30 minutes, it is a rather substantial effort, and well worth a purchase.  It should be noted, however, that this new EP is a more relaxed, subdued listen than its jangly-guitar driven predecessor.  Broken Dreams Club finds the duo swapping fuzz boxes for slide guitars and distortion pedals for brass sections and organs.  Notably absent is the sunny, summer party pop of songs like "Lust for Life", instead being replaced with Elvis Costello-esque lamentations of love and life.  It all feels vaguely familiar, especially when Christopher Owens sings "and they'll never know the times you cried in your bedroom/about the times you cried in the classroom/about your mother or your father or the way you got your broken heart" on the opening track, "Thee Oh So Protective One".  It feels as though these songs were written with a Sadie Hawkins dance in mind, particularly if none of the girls in school asked you to go with them.  Overall, Broken Dreams Club is worth a listen and definitely worth a purchase if you've got $10 bucks eating a hole in your pocket, just don't put this EP on if you're throwing a party.

Broken Dreams Club is out November 22nd...pre-order at Amazon.com

Head over to the bands website to grab an mp3 of the song "Broken Dreams Club" (email required)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Australian Colloquialisms

So I have been in Australia for quite some time now and I have had numerous opportunities to bask in Australia's rich culture and become friendly with the denizens of the "Land Down Under".  I feel as though most Americans opinions of Australian people are limited to the actors and actresses we see grace the big screens at our local cinemas, and we know virtually nothing of Australian culture or how people act and behave here.  Fret no more because I am going to give you a crash course on Australian culture.  Basically, the United States and Australia are exactly the same.  We're allies.  We help each other spy on each others citizens.  We both have Kentucky Fried Chicken (see video below)!



That is not to say that Australia and the United States do not have their differences (as you could probably tell from the video, they're not as concerned about potentially racist advertisements, mainly because the culture of Australia is to not take anyone or any group too seriously).  Australia tends to be more laid back than America, and certainly isn't afraid to make fun of itself...


*An Anzac is someone who served in the Australian or New Zealand military*

As I mentioned before, Americans and Australians are very similar.  One difference that stands out the most for a lot of people back in the States are the accents.  Australians, like Americans have different accents depending on where they are from, however since most Americans have little exposure to Australians, they don't see that the "Australian accent" varies quite a bit.  Living here has exposed me to dialects and slang that I never knew existed, and since I did not want to be misconstrued when I spoke (i.e. didn't want to piss someone off by calling them "buddy"), I decided to comprise my own version of an Australian Dictionary.  It's true that Australians speak English, but a lot of the slang they employ is quite different to what Americans are used to.  The following words and definitions are the words I have encountered along with the definition I was given by the person who spoke the word, and I assure you, they are all regularly used words  phrases.

Stubbie - bottle (usually beer)
Bottle-O, Bottler, Bottle Shop - package store/liquor store
Bogan - an unkempt person, someone who does not value academic or monetary pursuits
Savvy B - Sauvignon Blanc (wine)
Shocker - surprising
Heaps - a lot
Esky - cooler/ice chest
Cheers - thank you
Mate - friend
Carpark - parking lot
Park - parking space
Goon - cheap wine
Goon Sack - the bag of wine found in boxed wines
Budgie Smuggler - speedo style men's swimsuit
Feral - a blanket term for someone or a group of people who are off putting because of dress or behavior.

As I encounter new phrases or words I will update the Australian dictionary, which you can find on the right under "Pages".

A little bit of trivia before I go, Ben Folds used to live in the same city as I reside in now (or maybe he still lives here, I'm not sure).  Anyway, after living here for a while, I finally know what he's talking about in this song.

Ben Folds - Adelaide