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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