Thursday, January 27, 2011

Triple J's Hottest 100

Triple J is the national radio station here in Australia and every year they do a "Hottest 100" countdown of the top 100 songs of the year based on listener votes.  It's a pretty big deal as they countdown the list on Australia Day every year, and a few days ago I had the opportunity to going to my first authentic Australia Day/Triple J Hottest 100 pool party/barbecue.  I won't bore you with the details (hint: lots of food and lots of booze), but I will share with you my thoughts on the Hottest 100 countdown.
  • Even though everyone at the party adamantly denied it, I thought that since Australians primarily vote in the Hottest 100 countdown, they would be naturally biased to Australian artists.  I don't know the exact figures but there were a lot of Australian bands (including the #1 song, which was anti-climatic to say the least), just take a look at the breakdown of the list from last year and decide for yourself.
  • The top ten was, in a word, controversial.  I didn't agree with it, and most of the people I have talked to didn't agree with it.  But people voted, so it is what it is.
  • There was quite a debate as to whether or not cover songs should be allowed in the countdown...I was a bit on the fence myself, but since this was a countdown where people voted on their favorites, how can you say a cover can't be one of the most loved songs of the past year?
Anyway, if you didn't have the chance to listen to it live, you can check out the full list here and see what you think.

Some mp3 highlights:

#31 - The National Bloodbuzz Ohio (I thought this would've ranked higher)
#36 - Chiddy Bang Opposite of Adults
#38 - The Naked and Famous Young Blood
#51 - Yeasayer Ambling Alp

...and the #1 song of the year according to Triple J's Hottest 100...

Angus and Julia Stone Big Jet Plane (click to view official music video)

If you have any thoughts/opinions, be sure to put them down in the comments below.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean review

I can only assume that the cat in the above video was only reacting to Iron and Wine's new album, Kiss Each Other Clean.  In a previous post I reviewed the first single off of the album, a mushy little slice of cheese that sounded as though it belonged in a Kate Hudson rom-com titled "Walking Far From Home" (you can read that review here).  I was less than impressed with that song then and my views haven't changed since, so my expectations regarding the rest of the album were shockingly low.

Kiss Each Other Clean is Iron and Wine's major label debut, and the man behind the moniker, Sam Beam, had gone on record to say that the sound of the album would be more "radio-friendly".  If by "radio friendly" he means that every track is encumbered by unnecessary cooing backing vocals and a ridiculous number of layered instruments (was that a train whistle I just heard?), I suppose his synopsis is well founded.  Almost every song that appears is the victim of being over produced.  Gone are the days of hushed, intimate vocals and delicate finger plucking on a classical guitar, the future is now.  And the future has a shit ton of instruments that I probably couldn't even name if I saw them.  Put it this way, if previous Iron and Wine releases were like a subtle independent movie, Kiss Each Other Clean is like a Michael Bay film, all style, no substance.

I will admit that there are some catchy songs present on this album that will probably end up on the radio, "Tree By The River", is a notable example.  That being said, despite all of the album's bells and whistles, most of the songs are just downright boring.  It's almost as if Beam was so concerned with playing with all of his shiny new major label studio toys that he forgot he actually had to put effort into writing credible songs.  "Big Burned Hand" is an atrociously bad song that sounds like it was a half-baked rejected song off of a Dave Matthews Band album back in the late 90's before Beam stumbled across it.

If Beam wants to take Iron and Wine mainstream, complete with videos that have heavy rotation on VH1, I would have to say that he probably accomplished that.  It will only be a matter of time before Iron and Wine is set to tour with Jack Johnson or secure a spot at the Brochella Music Festival.

Iron and Wine - Naked As We Came

Listen to the entire album at the official Iron and Wine website.

Iron & Wine Kiss Each Other Clean

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cut Copy - Zonoscope review

I recently saw Cut Copy live at the Parklife Feastival in Adelaide and they were, in a word, phenomenal.  Stellar set and lots of energy for a band who dresses (and dances) like someone's painfully awkward father (I am almost positive that the lead singer was doing the robot at one point).  The setlist consisted of mostly fan-friendly hits off of their previous album, In Ghost Colours, peppered with some new material.  I will be seeing them again shortly at the Laneway Festival and I am curious to see how the arrange the setlist this time around now that their new album, Zonoscope, will be released in early February.

Zonoscope is the third LP from Australian band Cut Copy, and has been one of the most anticipated releases in recent memory.  Some have even lauded it as the singular most important release of 2011, at least until some other quasi-notable buzzband releases some new material.  With the release of first single, "Where I'm Going", there has been quite a bit of speculation as to how this new album would sound.  Many believed that the single marked a distinct change in direction, away from electro-pop and into the jangly guitar dominated world of indie rock.  While "Where I'm Going" is definitely a sing-a-long stadium friendly track (complete with a "YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!" filled chorus), to me, it still sounded like the Cut Copy we've grown to know and love.

Zonoscope opens with "Need You Now", a slow burning thumper that builds with crescendos of twinkling synth accents and What follows is a perfect one-two punch of "Take Me Over" and "Where I'm Going", easily the most radio-friendly songs on the entire album.  From there you get a wide variety of songs ranging from tropical calypso music ("Blink And You'll Miss A Revolution"), to instrumental ("Strange Nostalgia For The Future"), to experimental introspective ("This Is All We've Got").  It seems to lack the overall cohesiveness that made their last album so enjoyable, at times coming across as uneven and disjointed, however tracks like "Alisa", "Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat" and "Corner Of The Sky" bring everything together at the albums close with strong melodies and dance-floor friendly hooks.

Overall, Zonoscope lacks a lot of the instantly likable songs that were present on In Ghost Colours.  While the new album still has a handful of tracks that seem primed for festivals and stadiums, the majority of the album lacks the flow of their previous releases, which was ultimately what made them so easy to listen to.  This is not to say that this album is inferior, in fact I think quite the opposite.  Zonoscope is a rewarding listen and incredibly enjoyable, as long as you're willing to give it a few spins all the way through before you make up your mind. 

Cut Copy - Where I'm Going

Cut Copy Zonoscope

Friday, January 21, 2011

Starfucker - Reptilians review

Reptilians, the new album from Portland, Oregon band, Starfucker, is most likely going to be labeled a dance album.  I have certain reservations about going as far as saying that the album is deeply rooted in the dance genre, but I will say that Starfucker definitely borrows elements of dance music, and any other buzzworthy fictitious genre you can think of that was popular last year.

Synths and sequencers dominate virtually every song on the album, which, depending on your taste either cheapens the album or does it a favor.  Every track is polished to a high gloss and not a single second of any song is wasted.  With an average song length of about three minutes, Starfucker gets to the point, and quick.  The songs often bombard you with a heavy bass line or a thumping drum beat, before building up with carefully placed synth accents and swirling organs and strings.  There are a lot of layers on these tracks and I found it difficult to sort through them all on my first listen, which is why I found myself coming back to this album again and again, trying to catch something new that I had missed.

This dance-pop-house fusion is certainly not new, and if you're a fan of Passion Pit or Miami Horror, then you'll find a lot to love about Reptilians.  It is an unrelenting barrage of sound that is so accessible you wouldn't be surprised to hear it at your local night club or over the loud speakers of your local department store.  That being said, if you are a fan of Passion Pit, Miami Horror, Daft Punk, et al, you may find Starfucker to be a bit repetitive as they by no means break any new ground on Reptilians.

Peppered throughout the album are short, introspective spoken word bits, mostly dealing with themes of life and death and philosophical what-ifs and what-does-it-all-means.  It doesn't cheapen the album, but it certainly doesn't do it any favors.  When I listen to bubblegum music like this, I don't expect to do any heavy mental lifting, rather I just want to sit back, relax, and let the music immerse me in a cotton candy machine from the land of rainbows, sunshine and lollipops.

Reptilians is a dance album.  It is chillwave.  It is pop music.  Whatever you want to label it, one thing is for certain, Starfucker has made a highly enjoyable album, and even though it isn't entirely original, it is produced beautifully, making it an album that is equally enjoyable while hanging out with friends at the beach or sitting in your bedroom with your headphones on, which is no small feat.

Starfucker - German Love

Starfucker Reptilians

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tanlines - Volume On review

Let me just start off by addressing what I know is on everyone's mind.  Yes, that is a Mini Disc on the cover of Tanlines' debut album Volume On.  I am not entirely sure what possessed the Brooklyn duo to use it as their album cover, and the fact that the hand written label reads "Lauren Hill" does little to offer any insight, rather it makes the mystery even more confounding.

Mini Disc or not, Tanlines have made a name for themselves as an experimental Afropop, electro chillwave hybrid, and if you put as much stock into genre names as I do, that probably means very little to you.  The album itself has a distinct quality to it, shimmering guitars and the use of non-traditional percussive instruments offer a very tropical vibe, which, given the fact that it is the middle of winter, will either cheer you up or depress you immensely.

There are a few standout tracks here, most notably "Real Life", which has become the bands signature track, however the entire album operates on a very simple formula.  It is a barrage of color, each song working to transport you to some sort of island getaway.  Normally I would say that this is welcome, the instrumentation is fun, but different enough to seem refreshing without being so foreign as to alienate its listeners.  The problem I have with the album is just that, it is an album.  With a run time that creeps past the one hour mark, it starts to become difficult to differentiate between the songs.  Especially when each song tries so hard to deliver that feel of escapism that it begins to seem as though someone is using your head as a percussion instrument along with the steel drums and wood blocks.

Tanlines are an interesting band for the reason that they are creating music that isn't just a cardboard cutout of every other Brooklyn-based buzzband.  The difficulty in listening to Tanlines is the fact that one can only handle it in small doses.  After the first few songs, the tropical vibes that permeate the album begin to flow into one another almost too easily, making the album seem like one really long elevator ride in the Caribbean.  That being said, Tanlines show a lot of promise, and Volume On is not only a daring piece of experimental pop music, but it is a solidly composed, catchy and fun collection of material.  The only problem that keeps rearing its ugly head when I listen to this album is the feeling that, aside from a few tracks, I probably won't be listening to Volume On as a whole unless I am having some sort of island-themed house party.

Tanlines - Saw

Tanlines Volume On