Friday, December 28, 2012

A conversation/review of ¡Tre!

First, there was ¡Uno!

Then, came ¡Dos!

Now, Mike and I return to give our thoughts on ¡Tre!, the final installment in Green Day's 2012 album trilogy. Though with it being the finale, most thoughts dealt with the trilogy as a whole. But make no mistake, ¡Tre! is an album worth looking into and we did so below.

Mike: So here we are: Tre. Green Day's stadium-sized conclusion to this whole throwback inspired trilogy. Decidedly more 50s inspired, the thing that shocked me more than anything was how lean some of these songs are. Make no mistake, the album is peppered with Beatles-esque strings, porcelain piano, sassy horn sections, and even another multi-suite rock opera, but the middle is deceptively stripped down--reminding fans of Dookie, Nimrod, and Uno. Given how Tre was supposed to be the "epic" installment, a good half the album is dedicated to Green Day's 3 chord blitzkriegs. That seems to be a theme running throughout this LP: a torn sound exploring contradicting feelings. Still, it's easy to see Tre as the effervescent cousin to 21st Century Breakdown. The main difference seems to be a concerted shift away from Bush Era "the world is burning" urgency and a larger focus on "where are we now" self-refection. Even with American Idiot, it's easy to forget that Green Day never felt like an aging band. With Tre they seem older in the sense that they're finally addressing where they are in the longview. The band starts turning their thoughts inward, on where they're going and where they've been. It results in an often sobering, but upbeat, set of songs. Given this introspective slant, I was surprised that Tre comes off even looser than Dos at times. Did you get that sense?

Matt: Tre comes off much looser than Dos, there is no doubt about that. I've read a lot of reports about the three albums and what they were supposed to be, but this is what I hear: Uno = the singles album, Dos = the darker look inward and Tre = the upbeat b-sides. That's not a knock on any of the albums, but they just don't seem as separated as reports have made them out to be. The Beatles-era throwback can be heard on all albums, as well as the more "punk" songs. But it does feel like Dos took you through a dim tunnel and Tre is the light at the end. Admittedly, it's hard to talk about Tre without talking about the trilogy. But I'm sure this conversation will go there so I will try to come back to just this selection. I actually waited to have this conversation because at first listen I was very underwhelmed. These weren't bad songs, but they just didn't do anything for me. A few more listens and I realized songs were becoming stuck in my head. There are some clear standouts - "Brutal Love" manages to be both soft and loud and "Amanda" is a fun sing-a-long. But what bothers me still is more than a few tracks are bland and just seem to be there. "Drama Queen" does nothing for me and "Little Boy Named Train" feels phoned in. For me personally, "Dirty Rotten Bastards" is my highlight. I was fan of the ADD-type multiple-tracks-in-one songs found on both American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown so to see that format return here was very welcome. I think it's safe to say that you and I are having these conversations because we are fans of the band. With that said, what songs are some of your favorites?

Mike: Far and away, my favorite song on Tre is "X-Kid." Between its rich harmonies and soaring chorus, I think it best captures the sense of freedom Green Day tried to explore on Tre. I definitely loved the brash, doo-wop come-on of "Brutal Love," and "Dirty Rotten Bastards" simply rips with a blistering midsection and nimble bass work from Mike Dirnt. Though the narrative is less specific than Green Day's past multi-suite songs, it's sure to be a crowd pleaser for years to come. Additionally, even though this batch of songs, wasn't overtly political, "99 Revolutions" was a lean and mean pop-punk number that embodies the spirit of what Occupy Wall Street was supposed to be, which I found immediately appealing. I agreed with you on the placid, directionless "Little Boy Named Train," but I have to disagree about "Drama Queen." For me, it was a really new perspective for Billie Joe's writing. For as far back as Dookie the "Woman-Who's-Trouble" has crept up into Green Day's stories, dragging Billie Joe through the ringer. Here, it's almost as if he sees himself in this younger person, and he's looking at her with equal parts nostalgia and wonder. It choked me up quite a bit. Between its clinking ivories and acoustic resonance, it rests comfortably in the album's 4-spot and felt like a great palate cleanser. Though Tre sports some of the slower songs in this trilogy, I can understand feeling a bit underwhelmed on first listen. Both Uno and Dos have a very strong sonic direction, and I think Tre oscillates more than Green Day meant for it to. Addressing those Beatles influences, I think that really started to creep into their writing during 21st Century Breakdown and it's not surprising that it crops up everywhere on this trilogy. In fact, it makes sense that such an aesthetic is more prevalent on Tre, given its grab bag approach to cataloging these writing sessions. I do agree that this trilogy feels separate, either in aesthetic or in content matter. Dos only really felt dark towards its close with "Amy," but I do think there is a buoyancy and clarity with the songs on Tre. In fact, I think that's why I prefer it to Dos: It operates with a level of realism and level headiness that you'd expect after 2 mammoth rock operas. 

Matt: I have to admit you have swayed me on “Drama Queen.” It’s still not a favorite of mine, but after looking at it from the perspective you gave it also isn’t on the list with “Little Boy Named Train.” The more I listen to Tre, the more I realize I like it more than I thought. “Walk Away” is a song I find myself wailing along with and one I might put as a closer if I were to go back and rearrange songs from each album to make one mixtape to listen to, so to speak (I am going to do that). For me though, it will still be the forgotten stepchild of the trilogy. Uno was just stronger on a song-by-song basis and Dos simply delivered. “Dark” may have been the wrong word to focus on, instead “twisted” is a better description. Even with the soulfoul bounce found at the beginning, the introduction of “Lady Cobra” into “Nightlife” helps go down the rabbit hole. Dos felt like they were throwing everything at the table and not caring if it stuck - a notion I enjoyed. But Tre, as a closing chapter, plays its part. As stated before, it’s the refreshing light at the end of the tunnel - though after three albums someone traveling through said tunnel may just be overwhelmed. It was a good idea, though maybe not executed expertly (Billie Joe’s hiatus is obviously a contributing factor). But give Green Day credit. Through the course of 37 tracks, there are some gems that were able to keep longtime fans happy and show the veteran band can still roll with the best of them.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A conversation/review of ¡Dos!

In early October, my good friend Mike and I discussed ¡Uno!, the first of Green Day's trilogy album release. Earlier this month, ¡Dos! was released to the masses and Mike and I teamed up to give our thoughts on what has been referred to as the "sophomore slump" of the three (so far). With ¡Tre! planned for next month, expect a return to conversation - as well as a recap of the trilogy as a whole. But for now, discuss with us all things ¡Dos!.

Mike: So Dos, the meaty middle of Green Day's three-album trilogy, has finally hit the net. Proclaimed to be the raw, dirty, party album of Green Day's wildest impulses, I'd say the album largely lives up to that billing. After listening to Uno, and from what I've heard from Tre, it's clear that Dos is firmly rooted in 50s-60s rock n' roll yearning, married alongside some of the band's most snarling performances. Though the group doesn't channel the same kind of rage and intensity like on 1996's Insomniac, this is easily the most punchy record Green Day has put out in years. The thing that impressed me most on first listen, and what I DIDN'T get from Uno, was a sense of recklessness from these songs. Billie Joe Armstrong's guitar slashes, burns, and blisters; Mike Dirnt's bass flutters and booms; and Tre Cool's drumming is relentless. The songs themselves are sinewy and lustful, a stark contrast to Uno's often chunky arrangements and power-pop push.

Matt: I have to say upon first reading this that I didn't have the same reaction you did. I was under the impression that Uno had a bit more, shall we say, swagger about it. And on first listen, Dos seemed a little slow. But then I went back and listened to Uno again and then back to Dos and now I definitely see what you were saying. When I think of Uno, I think of "Let Yourself Go," easily one of my favorite Green Day songs and that's where I see all the snarl. But a trip back to the album made me realize that it was full of almost "safe" songs. Mind you, they were still good. But Dos does turn it up a notch, maybe not with the actual volume but with the intensity of the lyrics and the feeling. The 50s-60s rock n' roll sound you spoke of reminds of some of their Foxboro Hot Tubs work. As we begin to talk about songs, let's start with the elephant in the room. What are your thoughts on "Nightlife?"

Mike: It's interesting you bring up the Foxboro Hot Tubs vibe because Billie Joe said Dos was essentially the second FBH record. I'd also like to add that when Green Day were teasing us with the prospect of 3 new albums, they kept saying they'd sound like the Beatles meets AC/DC. For my money, Dos fits that description perfectly, jagged guitar lines and messy blues-splattered solos, coupled with Fab Four earnestness. I can see your point about having a slower vibe than Uno. Where there's a bouncy, buoyant quality to Uno's tracks, songs like "Lazy Bones," "Stray Heart" and the hilariously titled "F*** Time" sport some tremendous build ups. I supposed with the exception of the twisted "Makeout Party" and the White-Stripes-from-Hell thrash of "Lady Cobra," Dos isn't a very fast record. I guess for me, its intensity seems more apparent because these choruses explode, awash with powerchords and layered backing vocals. Which brings us to the late album ugly duckling: "Nightlife." I'll go on record in saying the rap doesn't work. It opts for sleazy, but comes across cheesy. With Lady Cobra talking about sugar towns, it's really hard to take this song seriously, feeling more like a group-wide double-dare contest that went too far. That said, there are some interesting things happening musically, some hefty low-end and some flange soaked spy-movie guitar. Sort of reminds me of a dubbed-out version of "Espionage" from Shenanigans. Despite the rather upbeat quality of some of these tracks, what do you think of the sinister hedonism hinted at with "Amy" and "Nightlife" in light of Billie Joe's recent rehab stint? Foreshadowing or spooky coincidence?

Matt: Short answer - the spookiest of coincidences with a little bit of foreshadowing. Knowing what we do now, it almost seems like Billie Joe is talking to himself in a way and oddly the timing of the release couldn't have been more perfect as it helps take Dos up a notch. I was waiting for us to bring up "Amy" because it's one of those songs where I instantly loved it the first time I heard about it. There's something heartfelt about it and it doesn't steer too far in the direction of sappy. For what they were trying to do, I have no problem saying it was a damn near perfect song and will go even farther as saying it was a top song of 2012, I like it that much. The motives discussed with "Nightlife" and "Amy" do help to paint a slightly darker picture than the kind of upbeat stylings of "Stray Heart" and "F*** Time." I think "Nightlife" goes well with your point of the Beatles meets AC/DC influence in that yes, the song is all kinds of cheazy, sleazy (pimping ain't easy) but it's also fun and definitely not what you would expect from Green Day. So for at least one track, there are no comparisons to bands of yesterday - No Clash, No Ramones - and for once they have a song that is all them. I think for that reason and that reason alone, it works. For one track out of an album full of really strong ones, a favorite being "Lazy Bones," it helps to show their range. I do like the nod of a dare gone too far and while I don't want to see it again, I think "Nightlife" fits where it was. Also, it shows a bit of a branching out, much like I felt with "Troublemaker" on Uno. With that said, the two albums seem a bit similar and it's looking like Tre is going to be less of a final chapter and more of a simple Part 3. And that's not a bad thing.

Mike: I think it's interesting that you brought up the fact that our other punk comparisons aren't necessarily apt for Dos. This album definitely sports more of a rock n' roll vibe, the difference between The Jam and the Ramones I'd say. The other big difference I hear on Dos is the sense of desperation vs. this sense of confidence we hear on Uno. From the yearning found on the back of "Lazy Bones'" three-part harmonies, to the reverb twitch and moan of "Amy," Dos is a decidedly more insecure batch of songs. This LP exudes confusion, from its schizophrenic bass lines to its rapid fire drums. There's an insistence on Dos that whatever existential ennui is bugging Billie Joe, it seems to be all consuming. "Stop When The Red Lights Flash" really embodies this for me, with its relentless riffing and gang vocal shouts of "I'll make you/Surrender!" While I agree with you that Dos never verges on sappy, I do think the album is hampered by it's "party from hell" vibe. By that, I mean you can't divorce the songs from the adolescent rambunctiousness that birthed them. Setting aside how imperfect "Nightlife" is, the thing I struggle with on Dos is HOW adolescent some of these feelings are - and the 40-year old man they're coming from. Whether it's the spin the bottle references on "Makeout Party" or the riot grrrl pining of "Ashley," the strength of Green Day's post-Warning material has always been the scope and breadth of Billie Joe's writing. With a few exceptions, that's largely absent on Dos, and the band opts for something immediate and splashy. While I can see Uno having more staying power for me, I do think Dos sports a more immediate sonic sugar rush and that accessibility that will endear it to old and new fans alike. In no uncertain terms, the fuzzy-punk freakout of Lady Cobra is exactly what I needed from Green Day. Coupled with Uno's energy, Dos' looseness sets us up for an interesting time with Tre, a record that the band has described as sobering. Even through there might be a few more warts on Dos, maybe that's the point of this LP. After over 2 decades in the limelight, Green Day have certainly earned some fun, and it's pretty exciting to hear them so enthused.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A conversation/review of ¡Uno!

Straight from the “trying something a little different department” here are some thoughts about Green Day’s latest, “Uno,” with a twist. The conversation below came as a result of me needing to talk about some music after being so disappointed with the new No Doubt album (one of my friend’s tweeted “I can't stop laughing at the new No Doubt album. I feel like this is some kind of joke”). The best person I knew to discuss this with was Mike and as to not be a total rant of a message, I also included my praise for the new Green Day songs. The following conversation took place and I present it to you, unedited, as our blog piece on “Uno.”

(We jump into the conversation after I had just finished pronouncing my dissatisfaction with “Push and Shove” from No Doubt)

Matt: But Green Day on the other hand... I am really liking it. I won't say love yet, but I am more than satisfied. After hearing it a couple times I feel two things. 1) It's kind of weird to not be a concept album and have it be just straight rock songs. But at the same time it's kind of refreshing. Like, we know they can take it there but it's nice to have them excel at being simple. 2) I feel like the songs they officially released were a perfect indicator for the rest of the record. The really cool thing though - we still have two more of these.

Mike: Uno is really wonderful. I'm on the fence as to whether it's a 4 or a 4.5 for me, but it was definitely worth the wait. The thing that surprised me was how consistently energetic it is. I love the nods to Nimrod and Cheap Trick, and it sounds irreverent after AI and 21CB's seriousness. If I had a complaint it's that I could have used more beef on the guitars, and some of the choruses are a bit repetitive. Still, I think ditching the concept and getting back to pop-punk and old school rock & roll revitalized them. There are some deep cuts on this, especially Sweet 16 and Rusty James. And I REALLY like Oh Love as a closer. What are your favorites? And I think your excitement for Dos and Tre definitely matches my own.

Matt: Uno is on the opposite end of the spectrum from No Doubt. The more I listen, the more I like it. I agree about everything you stated - from the nods to the consistency to the lack of beef. Like I said above, I think there's something to be said for how simple it is. This is a band that two records ago was running down the leader of the free world and now are saying "I had a dream that I kissed your lips and it felt so true / Then I woke up as a nervous wreck and I fell for you." That song and Carpe Diem are a couple of my favorites, but for some reason the oddness of Troublemaker has me pulling toward it. Take away the fact that it's a single, but Let Yourself Go is my absolute favorite. And I remember you saying Oh Love sounds like a closer so good call on that one.

Mike: I was so worried when I heard the YouTube version of Carpe Diem because it's similar to Before The Lobotomy. The studio version is sooooo good though. I love how punchy it is, and how much Cheap Trick sneaks into the second chorus. The big stand out for me was Rusty James. I love that Green Day are fucking calling out the Gillman St. gestapo and all the people that say they aren't "punk enough." Where AI and 21CB sounded world-weary, I love that Uno sounds YOUTHFUL, echoing your sentiment about Fell For You. Let Yourself Go is a song I feel like they wanted Christian's Inferno to be, and I love that they finally figured out how to write it without all the studio effects. That's the thing I think I appreciate most: Uno feels like 4 guys just JAMMING, where their past 2 records felt like carefully sculpted monuments. That's definitely something to appreciate, but there's something to be said for simplicity and energy. Also, that countdown on Nuclear Family.

Matt: That simplicity and energy that you mentioned is what’s drawing me back to this album. Not to overstate it, but what they did with the last two albums was brilliant. But going to just straight punk rock and roll (that’s the genre name I’m going to go with) was just as bold as a move. I think people are going to write off this album before even listening, but I think repeated listens will showcase each of the band member’s talent. The drumming is insane and understated at the same time. And we previously discussed the guitar work, but its simplicity is also a selling point here. Also, I have to admit – if used correctly “explicit” songs can be effective. And I think these songs are the perfect time to showcase F bombs. Angel Blue’s content is subtle, but it’s center stage in Let Yourself Go and honestly takes the song up a notch. And while at one point you have to discuss the adult lyrical content, you also have to address how sweet this album is, as in it could be something ripped out of the 60s. From songs about staying the night to someone always being a Sweet 16 – there’s a nostalgic “love in the air” feel to some of the tracks. Of course, that sound is accompanied by three mega rock stars. I think in the end I would have to go with a solid four stars, but to keep in mind that that could change by February, a month after the third album in this trilogy is released. If this is the first chapter, then this is going to be a hell of a read.

Mike: You're absolutely correct about people writing this album off before they really hear it. 8 years later, people are still angry about the eyeliner and the clothes, rather than focusing the chords that support them. The tragedy is that they're missing out one some of the most invigorating music of this band's career. I think you're right to point out the amount of restraint that Uno has--the higher energy tracks like Let Yourself Go propel this album forward while still allowing for experimentation on other tracks. Kill The DJ hasn't gotten the love it deserves I think, it's probably the darkest cut here, providing an interesting juxtaposition to the Beatles-shine of Sweet 16. Again, I'm harping on Rusty James, but it may be the record's most concise snapshot of the group's trajectory since 1988. Yet, I think the thing that really endears Uno is the same thing that keeps it from perfection--Its sweetness, be it in its sometimes glam-candy production and in its lyrics. Though the group is able to channel that same kind of irreverent riffing that made Nimrod so great, I think the puppy-dog love theme does make long time fans wonder why the group can't balance that with some black sarcasm like on Dookie--Especially with 5 albums worth of songwriting experience since then. I thought about giving it an extra half star, but I think I agree with you, this album feels like it's a 4/5*. What's most exciting is that this IS part 1 of 3, and this was a very strong statement to start with. I feel like a comparison to The Clash's Sandinista! is unavoidable because with 3 albums of material, no one will like everything, but like the Clash, I think Green Day have always been good at twisting traditional pop-hooks and genre mainstays in the name of earnest songwriting. That's what's really going to stick with me on Uno--Green Day's tireless dedication to turn something on its head and stay true to themselves. I think with Dos and Tre, we're going to see our generation's version of the Clash finally break free from the shadow of their Gilman St. beginnings.

(*editor's note: Mike's 4/5 rating was later changed to 4.5; hearing the music in your car can change one's appreciation)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

2012 Fall Preview

Well whadda ya know? A blog post about the music you can look forward to in the autumn months. No one else is doing that, right?

Seriously though, September and October are shaping up to be a big time for returning artists and sophomore efforts with a debut in there for good measure. To say I'm excited is an understatement. So enough with the small talk - let's get right to the albums I'm really looking forward to, and writing about so that you can get excited for them as well, in this month and the next.

Sept. 4

Two Door Cinema Club - "Beacon"

Yes, I realize that the timing of the post means that this album is already out. But it still needed to be included on here because, well, honestly I've been meaning to write this post for a while. Two Door Cinema Club uses soaring vocals atop light guitar resulting in relax mode at some times and jam session at others. In a former blog of mine, I listed their debut, Tourist History, in my top 5 albums of 2010 so the sophomore effort is one I have been looking forward to for a while. My first tastes of it this week have not been disappointing with lead single "Sleep Alone" keeping the chill / jam vibe going strong.

Listen to: Sleep Alone

Sept. 11

The xx - "Coexist"

I have to admit that I had a love / hate relationship with the self-titled debut album from The xx. I wasn't a big fan of "Crystalized" but was a an admirer of "Islands." With that, I never really gave the rest of the album a shot. But on the suggestion of a friend of mine, I checked out the sophomore release, Coexist (now streaming on NPR), and was blown away. The xx is a band I had been sleeping on and, ironically given the oozing melodic tone on the records, I have now woken up.

Listen to: Angels

The Avett Brothers - "The Carpenter"

I can't say I've been a fan of The Avett Brothers for their entire career, but I can say I really liked I And Love And You. I'm still slow to the folk game, but it's artists like these guys that are making me embrace it. Thanks to NPR again, I've already listened to The Carpenter and I am already in love.

Listen to: Live and Die

Sept. 18

G.O.O.D. Music - "Cruel Summer"

In 2010, Kanye West brought us My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. In 2011, he teamed with Jay Z for Watch the Throne. Now, 2012 will bring Cruel Summer, a compilation of artists from his G.O.O.D. music label. Four songs have already been released, including "Cold (Theraflu)" and "Mercy." While I'm not a fan of every artist on that particular label, any new music from Yeezy is good enough for me.

Listen to: Cold (Theraflu)

Sept. 25

Lupe Fiasco - "Food & Liquor Part 2: The Great American Rap Album Part 1"

Lupe Fiasco isn't your average rap artist, which is sad. If the genre had more Lupe's it would be better off. Unfortunately, labels don't want to go with what isn't selling and an attempt to market Fiasco's style into something more radio-friendly with L.A.S.E.R.S. was an experiment with negative results. Enter tracks like "Around My Way (Freedom Ain't Free)" and "Bad Bitch" and Lupe seems to be back to form on his upcoming release. Hopefully this long-titled album will be the shot in the arm that hip hop needs.

Listen to: Bad Bitch

Green Day - "¡Uno!"

At this point you shouldn't really need the history lesson on Green Day. Just know this: the first in a planned trilogy of releases over the next few months is off to a fun start. Not everyone is a fan, but I for one love "Kill the DJ" and the live version of "Let Yourself Go" keeps my anticipations for this album high. After two concept albums, I'm ready to just press play and rock out again.

Listen to: Kill the DJ

Mumford and Sons - "Babel"

I'm not sure how I feel about "I Will Wait," the first single released off Babel, the follow-up to Sigh No More - another release I put in my top 5 for 2010. On one hand, it has the signature sound of the band but at the same time it sounds like something they made for radio. Not much else has been released, save for a possible studio recording of "Ghosts." It still sounds like it's going to be at least half as good as Sigh, and that is all I can ask for.

Listen to: I Will Wait

No Doubt - "Push and Shove"

An album that I've had on previous year's "Most Anticipated" lists, the comeback album for No Doubt is finally seeing the light of day. The first two songs to be released - "Settle Down" and the title track - sound less Tragic Kingdom and more Rock Steady, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. What both albums had in common is that they were both fun and that's what Push and Shove is shaping up to be.

Listen to: Push and Shove

Oct. 2

Muse - "The 2nd Law"

At this point, I think the only thing we can expect from Muse's sixth studio album is that we don't know what to expect. There have been hints of dubstep, hints of opera-style flare and lead-single "Madness" combines multiple genres. Admittedly, I hated that song the first time I heard it. Three or four listens later and I'm in love. I should never doubt Muse and will probably be pleased when The 2nd Law rings in October.

Listen to: Madness

Matt and Kim - "Lightning"

The duo of Matt and Kim have always been an act where I like a few of their songs, but can never get into the full albums. Maybe the third time will be a charm with Lightning. So far, that's the case with "Let's Go" and "Now." Both are glitzy, catchy and fun - the elements that have defined Matt and Kim for the past few years. Here's to expecting more of the same.

Listen to: Let's Go

Oct. 9

Bad Books - "II"

Going back to my top 5 list from 2010 once again, the self-titled effort from Bad Books finished in my top 3. The collaboration from members of Manchester Orchestra and singer-songwriter Kevin Devine was much better than what could have been expected. At times using elements of folk, others straight acoustic, the side project uses the best of both worlds. If the branching out of "Forest Whitaker" is any indication, we are in for a nice follow up.

Listen to: Forest Whitaker

Oct. 16.

Anberlin - "Vital"

Let's just say that 2010's Light is the Way, Dark is the Place wasn't Anberlin's best work. So the announcement of a new album, the sixth album from the band, was met with some hesitation. However, two songs in and I can officially say I am more than excited. Anberlin is one band where I will pull my hipster card and say that I have been a fan for a number of years and have watched them grow, albeit with some pains. Here's hoping they pull it all together and Vital shows what the band is truly capable of.

Listen to: Self-Starter

Ben Gibbard - "Former Lives"

"Death Cab for Cutie frontman releases solo album" - that's pretty much all you have to say and the album will sell itself. And that's all I can really say about this release. Last year's Codes and Keys was much better in my opinion that people gave it credit for, but that was the whole band. It will be interesting to see how Gibbard does by himself.

Listen to: Teardrop Windows

Oct. 22/23

Kendrick Lamar - "good kid m.A.A.d city"

Kendrick Lamar is an artist I'm looking to break out in the fall of 2012. He has a kind of rap that I first want to dismiss as radio filler, but I'm finding myself hooked on his tracks. The fact that he had Dr. Dre on one of his first radio singles probably helped a little bit. In a year that hasn't really been a strong one for hip hop, a strong debut could be just what the game needs.

Listen to: Swimming Pools (Drank)

Gary Clark Jr. - "Cary Clark Jr."

Earlier this year a friend and I were having a conversation about The Black Keys and The Alabama Shakes when the name Gary Clark Jr. popped up. After a few listens, his style - retro soul mixed with modern rock - became an instant favorite. After a couple EPs, his proper self-titled will be out this fall and hopefully everyone else will get a chance to see why Clark was a favorite among music festivals over the summer.

Taylor Swift - "Red"

I'm kind of glad Taylor Swift's new album comes out at the end of October. That way, I could put it at the end of this list. Otherwise, people may have stopped reading as I would have lost all credibility if she were mentioned earlier. Everyone has a guilty pleasure - Taylor Swift is mine.

Listen to: We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

(Some of) The Best of The Rest

A few weeks ago I posted on Facebook about my top 5 albums for 2012 (so far) and then realized I haven't discussed three of them on this little blog of mine. That changes today.

Two of those five have already been featured and you can read about fun. and Alabama Shakes at their respective posts. Now, I have to reiterate that we still have plenty of time left in the year so this could all change. But for now, here the selections to round out the top 5.

Neon Trees - Picture Show (***1/2)

Let’s start with admittedly one of my favorite releases this year, one that I had “anticipated” since January. Neon Trees had one of the best debuts in recent memory with 2010’s Habits, spurring a few radio friendly singles with “Animal” and “1983.” But it contained a deceptive pop sound to it as deeper cuts on the album proved the band was more than one that could provide a hit for a movie based on teenagers dancing. With “Everybody Talks,” the first single off of Picture Show, it seemed like they were going to repeat the same success. But the same deceptiveness came into play and Show opened up a world of the Trees moving forward while nodding to the past. A majority of the album could appear on movie remakes of those that were popular in the 80s. “Touch” is the definitive track on the album, featuring synthy beats and cocky vocals straight out of a time when Tom Cruise was on the cover of teen magazines. If you like that track, then the album is for you. If not, you may want to pass on this one. Personally, the whole thing has gotten repeat listens from me, particularly with its attention to detail and how each song could be its own movie. Check out the released movie posters that go with each track and go back to the future with one of the best releases of the year.
Check out: Trust, Lessons in Love, Teenage Sounds

Jack White - Blunderbuss (***1/2)

If we're being honest, this album does get some recognition based on the name alone. It was the first solo release from a man who seemed content to just join/organize as many bands as he could. On Blunderbuss, you can see that Jack White's genius can still shine through, but it does much in a way of a Picasso piece. You know that you have art in front in you, even though you may not understand half of it. Take the schizo approach to the first two released singles. "Love Interruption" was a light guitar-picker while "Sixteen Saltines" was an absolute blaze of a track that ranks up their with "Demons" by Sleigh Bells as my favorites of the year. However, ask me to tell you what the hell he is talking about in that track and I do not have an answer. The rest of the record is a little more of the same. Some of the stories connect - "Missing Pieces" - while some just sound cool with elements of folk, ragtime and rock and roll thrown in. "I'm Shakin" is a fun song that showcases White being born in the wrong decade. Of my top 5, Blunderbuss is one that is the most likely to get knocked out, especially with a strong September (Green Day, Muse, etc) coming up, but for now it's sitting pretty as a release that for once lived up to expectations.
Check Out: Sixteen Saltines, I'm Shakin, Freedom at 21

Silversun Pickups - Neck of the Woods (*****)

I saved the best for last and at this point I'm glad I saved the time on the review. If I would have written about it when it came out in April, I would have discussed how I felt it lacked a punch to really connect. Now that I have spent some time with it (and I mean a lot of time with it) I feel I am able to see more clearly what the band was trying to do. The album resembled a listening structure of climbing a mountain - low valleys at the beginning ("Make Believe") a peak in the middle ("Mean Spirits") and a climax at the end to bring it all together ("Out of Breath"). Why this album got rated so high is that it's hard to pick out any one track to identify it. In order to look at the entire scope of Neck of the Woods, you have to look at the entire track list. The album cover works here as well - a seemingly ordinary house taking residence in a seemingly ordinary neighborhood. But listen to the lyrics in tracks like "The Pit" (a standout track with nods to Joy Division) and you can tell the album carries somewhat of a theme as music videos to all the tracks could take place in the same neighborhood. Last year, Manchester Orchestra released a third studio album that I felt could put them on their way to being one of the biggest names in alternative rock. This year, Silversun Pickups did the exact same thing with Neck of the Woods.

Check out: Skin Graph, The Pit, Gun-Shy Sunshine

Also noteworthy:

Motion City Soundtrack - GO (***)

The group seems to step off the momentum they were developing with My Dinosaur Life, but still come through a solid release. Check out: Son of a Gun, The Coma Kid

Say Anything - Anarchy, My Dear (**1/2)

Max Bemis spouts lyrics that are as nonsensical as ever with an album that doesn't really go anywhere, but the ride is enjoyable nonetheless. Check out: So Good, Peace Out

Linkin Park - LIVING THINGS (***1/2)

A band that had the potential to be written off came back swinging in a (near) return to form. Check out: Lost in the Echo, Victimized

B.o.B. - Strange Clouds (**1/2)

At times a rap album with infused pop, at times a pop album with infused rap; Strange Clouds either gets hurt or helped by the mashup. Check out: So Good, Both of Us featuring Taylor Swift

Band of Skulls - Sweet Sour (***1/2)

A surprisingly strong effort from a band that did a nice job mixing today's alternative with yesterday's "classic" sound. Check out: The Devil Takes Care of His Own, Lay My Head Down

The Used - Vulnerable (*1/2)

When you're not expecting much, it's easy to meet those expectations. Check out: I Come Alive, This Fire

lostprophets - Weapons (***1/2)

Almost ten years (and two albums) after the breakthrough success of Start Something, lostprophets show the harder alternative airwaves have been missing a certain Welsh band these last few years. Check out: We Bring An Arsenal, Jesus Walks

The-All American Rejects - Kids in the Street (***)

Hats off to AAR for sticking around much longer than anyone probably expected of them and doing so while bringing the experience to a damn good fourth studio release. Check out: Someday's Gone, Walk Over Me

Maroon 5 - Overexposed (***)

Unsure whether or not this would be considered a guilty pleasure, but it can definitely be called catchy and a good fun time. Check out: One More Night, Lucky Strike

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Top Album of 2011

When starting a blog, one always has a long list of ideas and plans to execute. Unfortunately, life sometimes gets in the way.

So that is the main reason why this post, which should have been scheduled for January, is just now seeing the light of day. However, in my busyness/procrastination, a new thought came to mind.

More often than not, the first few listens of an album tell you what you need to know. But every once in a while, a second look can open up your eyes and ears to a view you didn’t have previously.

So I wanted to try something different this time around - giving myself some time to really dive into the material. The review of my pick for the best album of 2011 will come six months after its release.

Back when Mylo Xyloto first entered my life.

Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto (5 stars)

Call it love at first listen. The first time I stuck my headphones in my ears and let all 14 tracks found on Mylo Xyloto play the first time, I could do nothing but smile.

But to fully understand how I got to that point, we must first go back a few years.

I was late to the Coldplay train, but when I arrived at the station I rode that thing non-stop. My first introduction didn’t come until after X&Y, but in the months that followed I immersed myself in all things Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head.

In the time that passed, “Yellow” became (and remains) my favorite song of all time. But it was the range of emotions I could feel from Chris Martin and company (“Talk”; “Warning Sign”; “Clocks”) that made me become a full-fledged fan.

Then Viva La Vida came into the picture and I was able to witness my first Coldplay concert. That night will forever go down as one of the best of my life (no exaggeration), even though VLV remains my least favorite Coldplay album, though it was still a solid release.

I give that background for two reasons: one) so you know upfront where I’m coming from as a Coldplay fan and two) to address the “old/new Coldplay” comparisons I’m going to have to bring up later.

After rolling out the marketing campaign for the band’s fifth studio album, Coldplay released “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” in the summer of last year. It was a unique release, as the lyrics were revealed before the actual song.

Turned out the mood of the song was nothing how I pictured it after reading the lyrics, and I wasn’t alone. ETIAW was met with mediocre reviews and doubts about the album began to sneak in, even after the booming bliss of "Paradise." Namely it became - what kind of direction will the band go in?

Martin had hinted in earlier previews that the album would be mostly acoustic. Another report was that it would follow the story of the couple first portrayed in “Wedding Bells,” a song that Martin played at an Apple event that was never officially released (though some feel the track “Christmas Lights” that was released in December 2010 is the finished version).

Turns out, neither of those were true. Well, the couple thing wasn’t far off as some theories suggest. Instead, Mylo Xyloto became a mixture of political undertones and graffitti art set to a Disney landscape, a la “Fantasia.”

Some of the clips of unreleased songs made thier way to youtube as they were debuted at concerts. I was able to catch some of them myself when I attended the Music Midtown festival in Atlanta in September 2011. It was the first time I heard “Hurts Like Heaven” and everytime I listen to the track now it takes me back to that moment.

Same with “Charlie Brown” and besides a few plays on the radio it was also the first time for “Major Minus.” This concert was outdoors, in the dark, and set to an imagery of lasers and fireworks spectacles that made for a fantastic experience.

I’m honestly not sure if I would love Mylo Xyloto as much if not for that concert. It completely changed my mind on “Waterfall” and I can practically feel myself back in Atlanta when I hear certain songs.

The new tracks I hadn’t already heard upon my first listen included “Don’t Let it Break Your Heart,” “Princess of China” and “U.F.O.” I know the guest vocals of Rihanna were met with criticism, but I feel the two artists truly completed each other on Coldplay’s first song on a studio album that included a guest appearance.

So, can fans who hold on to Parachutes as the defining Coldplay album come to love Mylo Xyloto? The answer seems to be... maybe. Some will like it, some will want the band to stay with the tried and true basic piano and guitar sound - the one that defined them.

My take is this: The sound on MX is different than the previous albums, yet it’s still the same at its core. Heartbreak, inspiration, hopelessness and hopefulness - Coldplay have always intertwined these settings in all of their music and they do it beautifully with their latest effort. The one request I have to fans is to not knock it until you try it - you may find out that some of the themes, though presented much more stylistically, are still there.

Going in to making my list for the best albums of 2011, I had to step back for a minute with MX. I admit my bias so I needed to figure if it really was the best, especially in a year in which so many big names released material.

And the answer, at least for me and in my own personal opinion, was yes. Mylo Xyloto is a five-star album from beginning to end and is an experience throughout the whole thing, an attribute that is rare nowadays.

As much as a lot of people think otherwise, Mylo Xyloto is not that far off from the band’s previous records. And I know I’m in a lesser opinion when I say this, but I truly believe the band focused all of their talents into making the biggest and most colorful album of their discography and (one of) the best in their career.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Alabama Shakes - "Boys & Girls" review

Alabama Shakes - Boys & Girls (5 stars)

In the early part of this year, I was washing clothes and to pass the time I was flipping through the pages of Rolling Stone magazine. In the first few pages of this particular version, there was a piece spotlighting lesser-known artists. The name of one band, Alabama Shakes, caught my attention because it contained the state I reside in. I don't remember details of what the writer said, but I remember there being praise for their live performance. I remembered the name but didn't think much of checking them out because I wasn't sure if I would like their music. And that turned out to be a big mistake.

A short time after reading that article I saw that Jack White's Third Man Records label was putting out a live release of Alabama Shakes. Admittedly, I became intrigued in a "Well, if he likes them I really need to check them out" kind of deal. I spent the next few weeks obliterating the replay button on any videos I could find featuring the band on YouTube. At the time, they only had a four song EP out and I kick myself for not picking it up because it is no longer available.

It contained four tracks: "Hold On," "I Found You," "On Your Way" and "You Ain't Alone." It was a small sample, but it was just enough to show that the band had all the ingredients to make them stand out. For one, the music doesn't pigeon-hole itself to one genre, but it's not all over the place either. If you had to describe it with musical tones, maybe the best would be classic bluesy southern rock for the 21st century.

The EP left me and a plethora of other fans (including Hayley Williams and anybody who has had the chance to see them live) waiting for the release of a full length album, which came just a couple weeks ago. There were fears that the album wouldn't live up to the hype, which is crazy when you think about. Most bands breaking in have to spend years touring on a debut album before you start to get recognized, but the Shakes seemed to be working in reverse.

Those fears were gone not even ten minutes into Boys & Girls. A non-EP song doesn't make it's debut until track 3 but the presence of "Hang Loose" is definitely felt as the band turns it up a notch. "Rise to the Sun" and "Heartbreaker" are also stand out tracks that show the vocal range of Brittany Howard, who is clearly the star of the show. It's too early to tell if that's going to be a detriment to the band as a whole, which would be a shame because the three guys rounding out the Shakes are obviously talented.

But Howard pulls you in with the strain in her voice and her storytelling, even namedropping herself in "Hold On." An early favorite for me was "Be Mine" where an F bomb is subtly dropped toward the end of the second verse, the only time the band takes the vocals beyond a PG level. But it's used so well that it only gets you even more wrapped up in the song.

A lot can be said that in an 11-track album there is only one weak song, "Going to the Party." Even more can be said that its main weakness is its length, clocking in at just under two minutes. But in the grand scheme of things it serves as sort of a breather in an album full of powerful tracks.

Part Janis Joplin, part Black Keys, part Otis Redding and part Led Zeppelin (click the text for an amazing cover), The Alabama Shakes combine similar sounds to make a whole new one themselves. From beginning to end, Boys & Girls is an album that you absolutely feel when you listen to it, which is rare in music nowadays.

Also, admittedly there is a bit of bias because the band resides only a couple hours from where I live. When "homestate" artists get on a national spotlight, it's vital to support them. It's nicer when those artists are this amazing. So if you haven't already, pick up this album and prepare to go on a musical journey. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Why I Am Returning to Warped Tour

image taken from pegasus news
Three words: Taking Back Sunday

The announcement of one of my all-time favorite bands returning to the annual touring carnival of music known as The Vans Warped Tour was all I needed to hear. I immediately texted my PIC (partner in concert) and told her that we would be making a comeback.

The reason why I use the words “return” and “comeback” is because after Warped Tour 2010, I thought I was done. I had a good time, but the show seemed to be going through a transformation since my first stop in 2005 (and that was ten years after the tour’s inception so I can only imagine how it has changed in its near two decades of existence).

Warped Tour 2005 was definitely a different time in the music scene
I had a blast at the 2005 stop, when I was an 18-year-old recent high school graduate and the lineup was headlined by Fall Out Boy and All-American Rejects. Fast forward to 2010 and I can barely remember anything about the event because I spent the majority of the time going “who is this?”

The question I had to ask myself was this: Had Warped Tour truly changed or was I just getting older? No matter what decade it is, 18-year-old kids will still be under the influence of different artists than their 23-year old college selves. Hell, I can only imagine the music I will be listening to in another five years.

However, what I personally enjoyed about Warped was still there: the fact that for the price of admission to a regular club show headlined by one band and featuring maybe two openers, you get your choice of damn near 50 bands spread out all day. Granted, some artists would be at the same time - forcing you to choose - but making those sacrifices was half the fun.
And sometimes you have to make time for signings/photo ops, like here with Senses Fail singer Buddy Nielsen in 2009
But in the familiarity sat an unfamiliar tone. Where in the past I was overwhelmed by my choices - “Crap, Anberlin is playing here, but Jack’s Mannequin is playing over there” - it now became “Well... what are we going to do until Gym Class Heroes comes on?”

I’m not one to knock any kind of music in the sense of saying it shouldn’t be included because I truly feel if someone likes what you play then go ahead and keep playing it. But what I can say is that I was ready to stab myself in the eyeballs while sitting through the performance of Iwrestledabearonce. And my problem with that is similar bands were becoming more common. Unless it was just me being single-minded, the variety was gone.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against ALL the screaming/singing music - just most of it. When your band name revolves around friends being on fire and your songs are a hot garbage consistency of throat vomit, your music is not for me. But if you have some talent behind your act (Underoath, Chiodos, Pierce the Veil) then the show is nine times out of ten a good one. 
Pierce the Veil, killing it in 2010
PTV is just one name that is bringing me back. Warped Tour ‘12 is going to feature New Found Glory and Yellowcard - two bands from my high school days that I have yet to see live. However, it was the announcement of Taking Back Sunday that made this year’s stop go from a “maybe” to a sure thing.

It’s fitting that Taking Back Sunday is bringing me back to this tour considering the parallels between the two. TBS exploded on the scene in 2004 with Tell All Your Friends, then went through massive lineup shifts before returning to the members who produced that classic for their self titled release last summer.

Ironically, with my first Warped experience coming in 2005, it came just after I started heavily getting into Taking Back Sunday. (Yes, for you purists out there - I didn’t become Team TBS until after the second album. But I’m still a fan so take your hipster criticism elsewhere).

Since that time, I’ve gone on to be slightly disappointed by offerings from both - 2009’s New Again; deciding to skip last year’s Warped altogether - but the spark of the two together is enough to entice this writer to give that crazy tour one more chance.

So this is me telling all my friends that Warped Tour this year is where I want to be. Will you be there too?

Monday, March 12, 2012

My Evening with fun. and Sleeper Agent, a live show recap

"I want to go back."

That's the mindset I have been in ever since returning from the Workplay Theatre in Birmingham for fun.'s headlining show on March 10, also featuring Sleeper Agent and States.

The intimate setting of the small venue, combined with amazing performances and what could have easily been mistaken for choreographed sing-alongs left me driving back after the show with a sense of fulfillment.

But before we get to end, let's go back to the start.

Personally, I always try to get to shows in time to see the opening band perform. There have been times where the opener has actually been better than the headliner and I have discovered new favorites this way. Unfortunately for this certain event, I arrived just as States was finishing their set. Though I got there before the official 8 p.m. start time, they must have started early because by the time we walked in the venue they had played their last song. However, I do mention them because I checked them out before the show and was really looking forward to their performance. Maybe next time.

But I did get there just in time to find a spot and watch the guys and gal from Sleeper Agent get accustomed to the stage before exploding into their brief, but strong set. While this blog is fairly new, S/A is a band that has been featured on here plenty of times, with an introduction last July and again with Year-End recognition for their debut album Celebrasion.

Holding their songs in such high praise, I was looking forward to seeing them in a live setting and I was not disappointed. The band knows how to purely rock with lead-singer Alex Kandel at times resembling the siren-calmness among a sea of swirl-hair chaos, though not afraid to rough the waters herself.

The thing I really appreciated about Sleeper Agent is that they didn't let the fact that not many knew who they were get to them. They still powered through their sit that included the hits "Get it Daddy" and the recent single "Get Burned" and at one time was the recipient of a new fan saying "I don't know who you guys are, but I think you're great" (to which Kandel replied: "We don't know who you are, but we think you're great").

The band acknowledging the fans in the crowd that already knew the songs before the show. Before high-fiving here, Kandel held the mic for some to sing along with the bridge in "Be My Monster."

After the performance, I headed to the merch table hoping that a couple band members would be there to sign autographs and take pictures. To my surprise, Kandel came out within minutes and began working the table, taking the time to chat with those that came by. Believe me when I tell you she is one the nicest people you will ever meet and also believe me when I say that if you start to develop a slight musical crush on her that you won't be the only one.

After getting the autograph, it was time to regain our position for fun.'s performance. When I got back, I saw the stage now featured a backdrop with the letters "F U N." and screens in between each. We were in for a show.

Coming out to "Some Nights Intro," frontman Nate Ruess crooned the crowd while we all waited in anticipation for what was to come (much like the album itself). A cool moment came when a female in the crowd shouted "I LOVE YOU" just before Ruess delivered the line "And you have every right to be scared."

The band then exploded into the title track from the newest album, getting the crowd rocking and swaying back and forth. I'm not sure if it was a goal in the making of Some Nights, but some of the tracks presented,  such as "It Gets Better," seemed destined to be performed live and the crowd reacted as such.

But admittedly, something I didn't expect took place throughout the night. While fun. is currently riding a popular wave right now with the success of "We Are Young," the crowd really came alive when tracks from Aim and Ignite were played. "Be Calm" was done as more of an acoustic-piano version and when asked to "sing along if you know the words" it was as if the whole crowd was part of the band during "The Gambler."

Even the final song of the night came from A&I, as "Take Your Time" sent everyone happy after a night of jumping up and down and swaying along with one of the funnest bands going today.

Personally, the whole night was one I won't forget. Concerts are something that when I go, I anticipate a full experience, not just basically listening to some songs I like only much louder. Both fun. and Sleeper Agent gave me that and I look forward to the night when I can do it all over again.

Bonus track:

Usually I don't have time to do the "stalk the tour bus till the band comes out" thing, but with the show on a Saturday night, I was determined to try it. After waiting a little bit in the cold night/morning, Ruess and Jack Antonoff came by and seemed almost honored to sign autographs and take pictures.
I had asked that, since he was doing so many standard poses, we could do something fun. He said he would do his eskimo face. I tried myself but ended up laughing when the picture was snapped.
A really cool moment came at the end of the signing/posing when a fan asked Ruess what a certain line from "It Gets Better" (Like starlight crashing through the room / we'll lose our feathers) was supposed to mean. At first he responded by asking them what they thought it meant and each answer was met with a shake of his head. Finally he gave an explanation that I thought at the last-minute to hit record in order to capture.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Double Review: "Reign of Terror" & "Some Nights"

It's been a good past couple weeks for music fans on the Internet.

Last week, the sophomore efforts from fun. and Sleigh Bells made their way onto various streaming sites and the two albums were released for purchase on Tuesday. And though one band has made a name for making noise and the other has made one for having, well... fun, it's fitting the two were released on the same day as there are a few similarities between them.

Both feature artists that found success with previous bands. Derek Miller of Sleigh Bells made waves with Poison the Well and Nate Ruess still has fans from his days with The Format.

Both have been featured in various commercials and TV shows that has taken them from indie darlings to future stars.

And both have made a musical impact doing something that's hard with today's genres - being unique.

So how did the recent releases rank on The Sight of Sound? Read below to find out.

fun. - Some Nights (4 stars)

I'm just going to say this upfront - I am a huge fan of this album. It's only February, but it has set the bar as far as my favorite of 2012 (you hear that Silversun Pickups?) because quite simply put it's a wonderful release.

On the band's debut, Aim and Ignite, Ruess and bandmates Andrew Dost and Jack Antonoff put together a selection of songs that highlighted strings and poetic wordplay. It seemed to have a sense of being serious without taking themselves seriously.

Enter Some Nights and from the very start it's clear the band wanted to go bigger - and they succeeded (look no further than the song currently taking over the world, "We Are Young" featuring the very underrated Janelle Monae). Comparisons have been made to Queen in the opener "Some Nights intro" but the band also employs hip-hop beats on "All Alone" and big bass with an 80s style riff on "It Gets Better."

"Carry On" and "Why Am I The One" call back to the simplicity of the band's debut, but I respect them branching out and trying different styles because when you listen you can tell they were having fun (look, it's a hard pun not to use).

The only issue perhaps is that it's greatest strength does become it's weakness. That is, employing a bunch of different genres and sounds will make for a good shakeup but can be hard to keep up with at times. For example, after the uplifting "All Alright" it's sort of a step in a weird direction when it's followed up by the big band sounding "One Foot."

And the autotune. When I listened to this album for the first time, I live tweeted my thoughts and here is what I said during the closer "Stars" (one of my favorite tracks on the album):

It's simple, but it's how I still feel. Ruess has an amazing voice that doesn't need any help, but the way the band uses it here it's like an additional instrument. Point: I like it.

In summary, fun.'s sophomore effort takes one or two missteps, but overall is a really joyful ride. The greatest albums are about the experience and from start to finish I enjoy my time with Some Nights.

Sleigh Bells - Reign of Terror (3 stars)

The New York duo (Miller along with Betty Page reincarnated into punk form in Alexis Krauss) bring the noise on Reign of Terror, that's for sure, but how much of it is really substantial. Or for that matter, how much of that matters?

I struggle with this band, I really do. At first, I liked their sound. Then hated it. Then loved it. And finally I came to the conclusion that my reasoning for the flip flops is because at times they have a sound that can fill an arena and other times a sound that could barely fill a basement.

Treats provided that same mixture, but where the album dipped with the overplayed "Rill Rill" it bounced back heavily with "Crown on the Ground" and "Infinity Guitars." On the follow-up, they seem to settle down a bit more.

And for me, that's a bit of a setback. I think Sleigh Bells is at their strongest when they absolutely shred speakers and the chaos only picks up sporadically here. But when I got past that, I still recognized a well put together release.

One thing they did beautifully was somehow find a way to be both light and dark at the same time. Take future single "Crush," which swoons quite simply "I got a crush on / I got a crush on you" and then a few tracks later the band goes full on into 80s heavy metal meets Skrillex-style noise in "Demons" ("you'll be taken down brick by brick by brick").

It's a chaotic compromise found throughout the album, at times dragging you to hell with bass in your face and elsewhere lifting you to the heavens with guitars as wings.

Simply put, if you were a fan of Treats then you shouldn't hate Reign of Terror. And if this is your first time hearing any of it, be prepared for some big sounds and lulling vocals. And have some aspirin ready for any possible headbanging.

sidenote: "Demons" is by far my favorite track on the album and right now is my favorite track of the year. It's an absolute beast that should be listened to with the sound turned up as high it can go.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

2012 Most Anticipated Albums

Full disclosure: this post was supposed to show up here about a week or so ago. Alas, I blame life. And stupid things like moving and not having an internet connection in the in-between.

However, this post did show up when it was supposed to elsewhere on the net. Specifically, over at This Song Starts a Craze, hosted my musical partner in crime Mike. I came to him with the idea of continuing our tradition of the two of us looking ahead at what the year had in store. He accepted and like warriors of old, we dusted off our keyboards and went to work. Below is the result of that effort.

(slight author's edit: Just because certain artists may be on one of our lists and not the other doesn't necessarily mean we aren't anticipating them as well. I can honestly not wait for the fun. and sleigh bells albums)

Shared Picks

Green Day - "TBA" (Summer 2012)

Mike: Something interesting is brewing in the world of Green Day, something they can’t quite contain due to sheer excitement. After holding several secret club shows last fall, it’s evident that the Bay Area natives are sitting on an explosive stockpile of new material. Of the 15 new cuts they debuted live, there are brash bar burners like the stutter-stop punch of “Carpe Diem” and sweet, acoustic picked ballads like “Amy.” Rumors are swirling that the yet to be titled album will be reminiscent of nimrod. or Warning:, but what ever it sounds like, you know that the group’s signature energy and snide sense of humor will remain firmly intact. 

Matt: Whether you like the Ramones-style punk of earlier Green Day work or the Queen-style punk (yes, I’m going to say that’s a valid description) of the recent albums, here is one thing to consider - you don’t have to choose between the two. Not much is known about Green Day’s ninth studio album, but I could be happy with it being a call to the Dookie days or a continuation of the storytelling found on American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. Or a combination of the two. Just give me some new music from this band and I will be happy. 

Muse - "TBA" (Fall 2012)

Mike: Though The Resistance was a bit of a grower, Muse have promised fans that their latest musical concoction will be “radically different” than anything they’ve done before. Does that mean more face melting solos? Heavier synthesizers? Symphonic art-rock? Probably all of the above. Boasting the tightest rhythm sections in modern music with Dominic Howard and Chris Wolstenholme, and one of the most recognizable falsettos in Matt Bellamy, Muse sound like they have their sights sets well beyond the Milky Way. Expect it to be brash, expect it to be bold, and expect it to bee 100% Muse. 

Matt: With the expected release date to be sometime late in the year, there is a chance that new material from Muse could be pushed back to 2013. I’m going to still hold out hope that we get it before the world ends. Reports have stated that the material will be something “radically different” and a change of pace is always good. Personally, I think Muse is at their best when they go for a sound that employs the best of their instrumental work (“Knights of Cydonia,” “Time is Running Out”) so my hope is that it at least stays in that direction. But the success of The Resistance shows that the piano-heavy tracks can be a factor too. I expect big things out of this band.

Silversun Pickups - "TBA" (2012)

Mike: Quaintly dubbing their new material 3 via Twitter, the Silversun Pickups seem to be hard at work on the follow-up to their massively successful sophomore album, Swoon. While their last effort incorporated a fuller, thicker wall of sound, and some dramatic strings as accents, it’s still unclear what sonic direction this new material will take. Though the group dropped a glacial and fuzzy 7” a couple weeks ago, those tracks were outtakes from previous recording sessions, rather than a teaser of things to come. In the end, we’ll simply have to keep an ear on the Pickups. Odds are, there will be plenty to swoon over come spring.

Matt: Silversun Pickups have been the dark horse in the alternative scene for a few years now, mainly because their sound is one that you can’t really pinpoint. At times it can be played alongside the heaviest Manchester Orchestra songs and at times alongside the slowest Death Cab for Cutie songs. Using those two bands as comparisons, you can sense my excitement when it was posted that 3 (as it has become unofficially called) was to be “darker.” I’m not sure what this means, or if it was a joke among the band, but I can tell you that I am salivating for this spring release after still giving Swoon some heavy rotation.

Mike's Picks

Bloc Party - "TBA" (Summer 2012)

After quieting the rumor mills revved up over front man Kele Okereke’s supposed exit, Bloc Party confirmed their studio efforts to create new music for this year. Whether it borrows from the spiky energy of Silent Alarm or the heavy electronic stomp of Intimacy, the silence surrounding what kinds of sounds they’re exploring is simply tantalizing. No one knows what Bloc Party is going to sound like in 2012, and that might just be the most exciting part.

Garbage - "Not Your Kind of People" (May 14)

Though Butch Vig has been busy producing everyone from the Foo Fighters to Green Day since Garbage’s 2005 effort Bleed Like Me, it’s exciting to see him back in action with Shirley Mason and the rest of the Garbage crew. Not only that, but their reunion seems fruitful. Vig and Manson and described Not Your Kind Of People as extremely noisy and abrasive, while channeling their energy of their self-titled debut. With the 90s coming back in force it’s nice to see one of the more dynamic groups from that era still kicking out meaty, attitude drenched jams.

Sleigh Bells - "Reign of Terror" (Feb. 21)

Guitarist/producer Derek Miller and hipster siren Alexis Krauss have shared similar sentiments regarding the new Sleigh Bells album, namely, that it’ll be BIGGER than their raucous debut. Reign Of Terror has been billed as a twisting hurricane of Def Leppard guitars, winding arrangements, and machine gun-like beats. If the dizzying helicopter patter of “Born To Lose” and the blitzkrieg R&B onslaught of “Comeback Kid” are any indication, it’s gonna be an atomic bomb of noise pop.

Honorable Mention: 

Best Coast- “TBA” (Summer 2012): Bethany Cosentino swears that the new Best Coast record will boast a “mature” sound and concept. Even if it doesn’t, Jon Brion’s often-pristine production will certainly be an interesting contrast to her typically choppy-surf overtones, and retro fuzz.

Every Time I Die- “Ex-Lives” (Mar. 6): When Keith Buckley isn’t proselytizing about the ills of social media, he continues to contribute grisly vocal performances for the next Every Time I Die record. Judging by the chainsaw frenzied single “Underwater Bimbos From Outer Space,” Ex-Lives alludes to an effort just as punishing as their past records.

fun.- “Some Nights” (Feb. 21): Aiming to prove something past the sunshiny baroque pop of their debut, fun. is looking to really break through with their sophomore album Some Nights. Based on the soaring electro-buzz of “We Are Young (Feat. Janelle MonĂ¡e),” this proves to be a more sophisticated effort than their debut.

The xx- “TBA” (Summer 2012): “Club music” seems to be the loose/ambiguous influence on The xx’s new record. It remains to be heard if they can surprise the world via an Achtung Baby style departure, but hopefully The xx won’t lose their signature sense of space and silky bass lines in the process.

Matt's Picks

Mumford and Sons - "TBA" (Spring/Summer 2012)

A friend of mine once told me that you can’t really call an artist one of your “favorites” until they put out a second album. Until then, you are just a fan of that debut record. And believe me, I was a HUGE fan of Sigh No More, the debut release from Mumford & Sons. In fact, it was the album that introduced me to the folk genre and allowed me to explore other acts. What this new album brings will be the turning point in whether Sigh... was just a fantastic collection of songs or if M&S is a band that is here to stay. If “Ghosts” is any indication, I may just have a new band to call my one of my favorites.

Neon Trees - "Picture Show" (Mar. 27)

I have been itching for new material from this group since 2010's Habits, mainly because the debut album was nothing more than a glorified E.P. Eight tracks clocked in at around 30 minutes that left me wanting more when it was over, especially "In The Next Room" and the smash single "Animal." The Christmas song "Wish List" and the newest single "Everybody Talks" show that the band isn't aiming to change much, which is a good thing. If it ain't broke, why fix it?

Paramore - "TBA" (Spring/Summer 2012)

Four songs have been released since Paramore went through a lineup shakeup that essentially changed nothing: Hayley Williams is still the focus of the band. And her voice carries with the modified sound on released singles such as "Hello Cold World" and "Renegade" as well as "Monster" from the latest Transformers movie. I don't think these will be on Paramore's newest release, but if the new material sounds like those tracks then count me in as a supporter.

Honorable Mention: 

All American Rejects- “Kids In The Street” (Mar. 27): AAR have been a bit all over the place in the near decade since their self-titled album. Along with Fall Out Boy, there are one of the few bands that has strayed into pop that I have actually stuck with. If the new album is anything like “Someday’s Gone,” I’m definitely in. 

Linkin Park- “TBA” (Unknown): Talk about a band that has refused to stay in one genre over the years. I initially hated 2010’s A Thousand Suns but grew to appreciate it. I have no idea what the new material is going to sound like and for that reason alone I’m intrigued. 

No Doubt- “TBA” (Unknown): Will they or won’t they? This reunited album has been in the works for a couple years now but the stars are seeming to align and indicate that something will happen from Gwen Stefani and company in 2012. I sure hope so. 

Pierce The Veil- “TBA” (Unknown): PTV is a band I fell in love with after seeing them live at a time when I had no idea who they were. They've continued to blow me away at shows, and I'm honestly looking forward to their third album so I have new songs to go crazy to at a future Warped Tour.

-- And there we have it. Are you looking forward to some of these? Or is something else on your horizon? Let us know below.
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