Thursday, March 31, 2011

Puro Instinct - Headbangers In Ecstasy review

Puro Instinct, formerly known as Pearl Harbor, is made up of the sisters Kaplan, Skylar and Piper.  Recently featured on Hipster Runoff where Carles tried to determine which was the keuter sister, and glowing reviews from the SXSW festival, I sought out their debut album under their new moniker to see what all the fuss was about.

The album opens with radio white noise/fake call tag of a radio station, KDOD, which is totally unnecessary.  The first proper track, "Everybody's Sick" is a slow moving, sun bleached ballad soaked to the bone with shiny, yearning croons courtesy of the 'of-legal-age' sister, Piper (23 y.o.) and lush wails from 'jailbait' sister Skylar's (16 y.o.) guitar.

The album shifts from reverb psychedelic rockers to blissful little ballads with lyrics torn straight from Piper's seventh grade maths notebook.  The sisters sleepily wade through their songs with an absent minded flair that is reminiscent of the girls I used to watch from afar in my own seventh grade maths class, the ones who looked so mysterious and unattainable.  The droning feedback and heavy reverb that absolutely permeates every aspect of every song gives the entire album a very dream-like quality, and the album does boast some impressive guest spots by indie music royalty, most notably from Ariel Pink on "Stilyagi".  I could seriously do without the fake radio call tags (there are five of them), in fact I deleted all of them after my first listen through the entire album.

I can't tell whether or not lead singer, Piper Kaplan is actually putting in any effort whatsoever to deliver the vocal tracks on these songs.  She sounds like she is half out of it, her voice being obnoxiously flat and shallow, or maybe that's the point.  The album's title is Headbangers in Ecstasy after all, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Ecstasy in the title was an allusion to the drug and the warm fuzzy feeling.  Maybe the sisters pulled a Fleetwood Mac-esque recording session and were wasted the entire time, hell at the very least it would help me understand why they chose that hideous album cover (although the sisters do look super foxy, in a jailbait, slightly incestuous, sort of way).

The simple fact of the matter is this, my first listen through, I hated this album.  The half-assed vocal delivery and the shimmering guitar work that kind of sounds the same on every song come together to sound like you are listening to this album underwater.  Upon subsequent listens however, I started to find more and more things that I liked about this album, and I promise you it has nothing to do with the the pouty lips and come hither eyes of the girls.  The songs are catchy, but in a subtle, sneaky sort of way.  You have to work with Puro Instinct a little bit in order to appreciate the depth of their songs and the hooks that lure you in, but once you let your guard down, the album becomes surprisingly enjoyable.

Half Asobi Seksu, half Beach Boys, Puro Instinct is an act that features some solid guitar work and somewhat tolerable vocals, all packaged nicely into an album you can sway to while under the influence of your favorite party drug.

Puro Instinct - I've Got Some Happiness

Puro Instinct Headbangers in Ecstasy

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Broken Bells - Meyrin Fields EP review

Extended Plays are funny little things because they tend to be the embodiment of two possible scenarios:  

Scenario #1: The EP is comprised of subpar songs that were deemed too inferior for inclusion on the LP and instead were relegated to the EP release.

Scenario #2: The EP is a legitimate release that showcases the bands current creative output.

Broken Bells, the moniker of duo Danger Mouse (aka super-producer Brian Burton) and James Mercer of The Shins, are set to release Meyrin Fields, an EP consisting of four brand new songs. The EP will be their first release since last year's self-titled debut album, which, despite the strength of its singles, did not impress me all that much.  Fans of the debut album will be happy to know that the collaboration between the two was not a one off, and that the pair do intend to record a follow-up album, others, myself included, will utter a single "meh" at the prospect of another Broken Bells album, but until then, we have the Meyrin Fields EP.

All of the bells and whistles are present for this release, and Burton's slick production is at the forefront.  Burton and Mercer try their hardest to create lush, sonic soundscapes.  It's obvious that they are trying to captivate their listeners, but the problem lies in the fact that their soundscapes just aren't very interesting.  Listening to the Meyrin Fields EP is like driving through Kansas or some equally flat midwestern state.  It is well produced, but there are no trees, no skyscrapers, nothing but large expanses of flat land peppered with corn fields and the occasional sunflower.  To put it simply, every once in a while there are glimmers of something innovative, but mostly it's just downright boring.

I have to admit that it isn't all bad.  The title track is a jittery and brooding electronic tinged number that is unsettling but sexy at the same time.  The other three tracks that populate the EP are rather generic, and sound as if they were more the product of Scenario #2 rather than Scenario #1.  Nevertheless the EP is here, it is real, it is tangible.  Polyphonic rhythms courtesy of the guy from The Shins and the guy who mashed up Jay-Z and The Beatles enter your ears and are transmitted to your brain via tiny electric signals...something tells me that you know there are flaws when you find the process of hearing the music more interesting than the music itself. 

Broken Bells - The High Road

Broken Bells Meyrin Fields EP

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong review

The second album from New York indie shoegazers The Pains of Being Pure at Heart is aptly titled Belong, especially when you consider that every song is the musical equivalent of a reassuring pep talk from your mom.  Seriously though, if the band's debut album was an introspective piece of distortion drenched pining and reverb-soaked lovesickness, this sophomore effort is like an emotional support group, and anyone who has ever had a relationship gone awry can indeed, belong.

Belong finds The Pains of Being Pure at Heart opting for a more refined and polished sound.  After listening to their self-titled debut and then this new album, its quite obvious that the band is moving further away from their lo-fi origins in favor of stadium anthems.  Under normal circumstances I probably would have guessed that adopting big choruses and Coldplay-sized hooks would have spelled certain doom for a band who crafted a name for themselves (albeit a shitty and unnecessarily long name) by cranking up the distortion on their amps, stepping on some fuzzboxes, playing two, maybe three chords while the smoky croon of vocalist Kip Berman wafted around all of that noise somewhat haphazardly.  To my surprise however, it all seems to work.  Not a single song on Belong sounds forced, the tunes progress organically and grow to deliver the goods.

Despite sounding clearer on this album, sonically The Pains of Being Pure at Heart don't really mess around with the formula they came up with on their debut.  Guitars still moan, synthesizers still reel and shimmer and the stomp boxes are all still there.  Lyrically the subjects tackled are more of the same, heartbreak, loss, alienation, take your pick.  We've essentially heard it all before and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart really don't do anything new or innovative at all.  Their lyrics are kind of questionable ('When everyone was doing drugs/we were just doing love' what is that?) and they could almost pass as a pussified Jesus and Mary Chain, yet I am enjoying this album.  I can't explain accurately why I like Belong so much, maybe because the lyrics are vague enough that I can do a sort of fill-in-the-blank act with each of the songs, placing myself in the shoes of the lovelorn protagonist.  Or maybe it's because the music itself sounds nostalgic, kind of like when I want to remember high school as better than what it was and I pop in an M83 record.

Any way you slice it, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have delivered a sophomore effort that certainly lives up to its predecessor by tweaking the formula just enough to be fresh without alienating us with a total change in direction.  Belong is a catchy record, just not entirely original, but I think that that familiarity is what makes the album so instantly accessible and easy to listen to.  We've heard it all before, but we can't deny that it is a sound that we all like.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - This Love is Fucking Right

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart Belong

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Strokes - Angles review

Finally the wait is over.  New York garage rock kings The Strokes return with their long awaited follow-up to 2006's First Impressions of Earth with Angles, to be released on March 22nd in the United States.  The five year hiatus was prompted by well publicized bouts of exhaustion and (possibly) media fabricated rumors of a strife within the band.  During that time we saw each member of The Strokes go off and do their own thing, frontman Julian Casablancas released a new wave inspired solo album, guitarist Albert Hammond, Jr. released two solo albums of sunny guitar pop, bassist Nikolai Fraiture fronted acoustic/folk band Nickle Eye, drummer Fabrizio Moretti formed Little Joy and guitarist Nick Valensi collaborated with a number of other artists.  Is the new album worth the five year wait?  Yes and no.

Despite being described as a "return to the basics" by bassist Nikolai Fraiture, the style present on the album is hard to pin down.  Over the course of ten tracks and 34 minutes, Angles shifts and changes direction constantly (hence the name Angles), keeping the album from getting stale but also throwing the listener for a loop.  Angles employs a variety of different musical styles and techniques, which makes sense when you take into account that Angles is the first Strokes record to be written collaboratively by all five members of the band (the previous three albums were all helmed by Casablancas).  The result is a mixed bag of bouncy guitar tunes, sun washed electro-pop, and new wave balladry.

Upon first listen, one would never guess that this album had such a rocky recording process (slated for release in 2009, band squabbles and shifting producers forced it to be pushed back).  The Strokes seem invigorated and rested on this album, proving that without the hiatus the band probably would've burnt out and called it quits.  The entire album sounds like a bunch of guys who got together in their time off, in the afternoons after school, and recorded an album rooted in the genres and artists they hold dear to their hearts.  It is exciting and compelling to listen to The Strokes after such a long hiatus, and I feel much the same as I did when I first heard "Last Nite" back in 2001.  The Strokes are back, the new album is fun, and right now I am enjoying it immensely.

My reservation with the album is that I am not entirely sure yet if I am tricking my ears into thinking what I am hearing is good simply because I want it to be good.  I gave this record a number of spins before reviewing it, and I'm still on the fence.  There are definitely some stellar tracks, "Two Kinds of Happiness" could have easily been recorded by The Cars.  "Gratisfaction" is a punchy, guitar driven song that evokes This Is It with a big chanting chorus.  "Taken For A Fool" is a giddy tune that seems pulled from the Room On Fire recording sessions.  Other tracks are harder to classify, much less identify as anything the band has done previously.  "Games" sounds like a 1980's (or maybe it's just because the album art reminds me of Q*Bert) contemplative calypso tune that sees Julian croon over wailing guitars.  "You're So Right" is an aggressive track that attacks the mundanity of the 9 to 5 lifestyle that is dirty at its core, but polished to a high sheen.

Overall, Angles is an impressive effort.  It is short but exciting, familiar but cutting-edge.  The Strokes have returned, and they've done so with a huge bang.  They are like a brand new band, with the energy and outlook not of an exhausted veteran band, but of a voracious and hungry group of youngsters who just got their first record deal.  Let's just hope we don't have to wait another five years for the next one.

The Strokes - Juicebox

The Strokes Angles

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bizarre Music Videos

I know I usually reserve this blog for album reviews, but there are a few (relatively) new music videos floating around that deserve your attention if you haven't seen them already.  Enjoy.

Yeasayer - I Remember

An old biker guy rides out into the desert and makes a plaster cast of his own head. Which he then smashes. After seeing Yeasayer live where they admitted to having been searched by the police for drugs just minutes before they went on stage, I can't say that I find this video surprising at all.

Cut Copy - Need You Now

Various athletes swap the instruments of their sports...then take up medieval weapons? And start fighting each other? Sure. Why not?

Sparkadia - China

Umm...just plain strange. Catchy tune though. Balloon popping has never been sexier.

The Strokes - Under Cover of Darkness

Not really all that bizarre, in fact the video isn't even all that interesting. But the return of The Strokes is welcome in my book, and the long takes are pretty cool.

The Black Keys - Howlin' For You

Not really bizarre unless you take into account that the actual music this video is showcasing is often relegated to background music. One of the coolest videos I've seen in a while, it's a lot of fun and frankly, pretty awesome.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Society of Beggars - Exit Soul review

I had the pleasure of meeting a few members of Adelaide-born, Melbourne-based, band Society of Beggars last week while on a brief holiday in Melbourne.  After a few beers, the boys provided me with a copy of their debut album, Exit Soul, imploring me to review it for this blog.  Not being one to shy away from new music, I obliged.

Overlooking the unfortunate album title, I dove into the album without bias, despite the guys from the band being rather stand up guys.  Describing their sound as straight up, no frills rock n' roll, I was eager to hear the noise they were making, and upon my first listen, I was a reviewer divided.  The first four tracks didn't really do much for me, the melodies were there, as were crunchy guitars, competent drumming, and a gravelly, cigarette smoke coated voice that suited the sound very well, but it didn't immediately grab my attention.  It was rock n' roll, no doubt, just somewhat generic rock n' roll. 

Album opener, "Skortha" (again with the unfortunate titles), are acoustic driven numbers that devolve into a showcase for guitarist Jim Michalopoulos' favorite distortion pedals.  "Grand Illusion of Nonbeing" (seriously?) is the albums closest ballad but it is hampered by a poor mixing job that makes the guitar work sound tinny and the drumming sound like Dibi (one name, kind of like Cher) was beating on a bunch of overturned buckets. 

The songs that make up the first half of the album were ultimately forgettable, however about midway through the album a raucous and jaunty tune titled "Another Mask" reinvigorated my attention.  Vocalist Yianni Michalopoulos croons and strains his voice to the limit behind a rollicking melody that reminded me of The Pixies, and is easily the stand out track on the album.  After hitting a high note, the album switches pace, with a slow burning number titled "Exit Soul", that  evokes the spirit of The Black Crowes with bluesy harmonies that really shows off Yianni's impressive hard rock pipes.  The album then gradually pulls you back to its hard rock roots with the acoustic driven song, "The Third Tree".  The jarring, creepy finger plucking coupled with neo-psychedelic chanting are perfectly balanced by the chugging beat that keeps the momentum going.

Unfortunately, the album slips back into the formulaic songs heard during the first half of the album.  "Veil", despite boasting some string arrangements, does little to save itself from it's own self-imposed gimmick.  "Beautiful Fatalism" is a throw away track, a quasi-instrumental number that focuses solely on two or three piano notes hit over and over again, which begins to feel like a tack hammer to the forehead past the two minute mark.  Album closer "Man Of The Street", sounds like a Rage Against the Machine b-side, a half baked idea that never maturated beyond the basic four-chord structure.  Yianni's vocals were uninspiring and did little to elevate the mundanity of the track, though the album does end on an interesting note...a hidden track featuring a sole ukulele.

Overall, Exit Soul has a handful of stand out tracks, however their relevance is impeded by the generic hard rock songs that bookend the album.  If Society of Beggars were more inclined to focus on their more sonically interesting tracks than being loud and brash, they would be able to put together a more cohesive collection of songs.

Society of Beggars - Skortha
Society of Beggars - Another Mask