Your New Music Report! (May 2010)

Originally posted 2010-05-15 17:24:30. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Well, it seems that I won’t be able to post the set-list for tonight’s Pearl Jam concert in real-time after all, due to either issues with the site or my WordPress app or both.

Instead, let’s talk new music!

It’s been two weeks since the first third of the year flashed by, and it’s been quite a year for new music.  Perhaps my surprise and excitement is due to the fact that I didn’t have high hopes for this year.  After all, nearly all of my favorite bands have put out music very recently (i.e. the past two years).  And yet there have been more than enough new releases to pick from these past four months.

Some artists, like Ringo Starr and Jakob Dylan, continue to put out music that lives in the shadow of their greater efforts of the past.  Others, like the Barenaked Ladies and Spoon, have somehow managed to create some of the best music of their lengthy careers.  Still others, such as She & Him and Broken Bells, are creating music and casting the shadows that future efforts will need to live up to.

This year has certainly had its hits and its misses, and it got off to an eclectic but ho-hum start, but I have already been hooked by five outstanding records.  Now, only one of these has received my five-star stamp of approval (All in Good Time), but the other four are a full four stars without question (Broken Bells, Volume Two, Heaven is Whenever, & Sea of Cowards).

The latter four albums represent an interesting range of sounds and influences.  Broken Bells have found a compelling sound by blending the rock basics with some more experimental, synthesized sounds.  She & Him give you the eery feeling that you’ve stepped into the past without actually sounding dated.  The Hold Steady have put together the best all-out rock and roll album of the year, to be sure.  And the Dead Weather present an out of control frenzy of rock, this time around with more single-worthy songs and considerably better continuity as an album.

In the midst of the outstanding and the forgettable are some interesting records.  Take American VI: Ain’t No Grave, Johnny Cash’s final posthumous release of new material.  It certainly doesn’t stand up to IV or even V, but it is such a beautiful that includes a perfect closing track for his long and storied career.  Steven Page’s first solo effort incited extreme reactions from most fans and critics, divisions in both categories respectively hating it for being so unlike his other music and loving it for… well, the same reason, I suppose.  As for me, I’ve very much enjoyed A Singer Must Die, although I rarely listen to it in the car and I’m very anxious to hear his first solo album proper, which should arrive later this year.  (And, to be fair, I downgraded it from four to three and a half stars in deference to what a full four stars should really represent.)

If you haven’t been listening to the first albums of the new decade, then you’ve been missing some real gems.  And, if you’ve missed my reviews along the way, I’ve compiled them below for your reference.  I’ve even translated my “Yes, No, or Maybe So” reviews to the standard five star system for your ease.   I’ve been listening constantly to the four listed as “coming soon” — between rounds of BnL, She & Him, and the Wallflowers, that is — and I’ll have those reviews posted throughout the next two weeks.

New Albums, 2010:

Y Not (Ringo Starr) – 2.5 stars

Transference (Spoon) – 3.5 stars

Realism (Magnetic Fields) – 2.5 stars

Heligoland (Massive Attack) – 2 stars

A Singer Must Die (Steven Page with the Art of Time Ensemble) – 3.5 stars

American VI: Ain’t No Grave (Johnny Cash) – 3 stars

Broken Bells (Broken Bells) – 4 stars

All in Good Time (Barenaked Ladies) – 5 stars

Volume Two (She & Him) – 4 stars

Women & Country (Jakob Dylan) – 2.5 stars

Forgiveness Rock Record (Broken Social Scene) – coming soon!

Court Yard Hounds (Court Yard Hounds) – coming soon!

Heaven is Whenever (The Hold Steady) – 4 stars

Sea of Cowards (The Dead Weather) – 4 stars

High Violet (The National) – 3.5 stars

Broken Bells’ “Broken Bells” (2010) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-04-04 21:21:23. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  4 / 5 stars

Having never heard a Shins album (or even as much as a thirty-second preview clip of a Shins song), I came to Broken Bells with no expectations or preconceived notions of how it should sound.  To be fair, that isn’t entirely accurate.  Seeing Danger Mouse’s name in the mix made me wonder just how experimental, or just how “far out,” this would be.  When my wondering gave way to actual listening, I found something I hadn’t expected.

Simply stated, Broken Bells is a beautiful collage of influences finely knit together with unique modern qualities that set this record distinctly apart from the jurisdiction of terms like “retro” or “derivative.”

Still, never in one album have I found such a wide range of interesting influences.  Here and there, a pinch at a time, I have perceived subtle flecks of styles from the Beach Boys to Elliott Smith to Weezer to Phantom Planet and back to the Bee Gees, or perhaps the Scissor Sisters.  As was the case with his collaboration with Beck on 2008’s Modern Guilt, Danger Mouse’s more synthetic sounds and beats are finely balanced out by the more conventional instrumentation and sensibilities of the Shins’ lead vocalist and guitarist James Mercer.  Between the two, Broken Bells is a celebration of many sounds that have come before, newly contextualized and altered here to create something new, something all their own.

This is also the rare record that only gets better as it stretches out.  Without question, the first two tracks are the standout efforts of the album.  That being said, the album does lag a bit after them, particularly after “Your Head is On Fire” fades out.  However, as the second half of the album kicks off with “Trap Doors,” it is only onward and upward from there.  By the time “The Mall & Misery” closes the album, it would be difficult to deny another go-round kicked off by lead single and opening track “The High Road.”

Broken Bells' self-titled debut (2010)

Broken Bells' self-titled debut (2010)

“The High Road” is an excellent choice for leading off the album, as well as representing it as a single.  Danger Mouse’s synthesized sounds somehow manage to appear random while obviously being the result of a very purposeful pattern.  Under all the layers lies a fairly straightforward piano ballad, a simplicity that is realized in the stripped-down outro.

From the piano and vocal fade follows the acoustic and vocal intro to “Vaporize,” another standout track on the album.  This is where Broken Bells start to lay out some of the themes that will follow in the songs to come.  As Mercer sings,  “Common fears start to multiply; we realize we’re paralyzed.”  He continues, “It’s not too late to feel a little more alive.”

What an excellent lyrical anchor for an album that is all about shaking up the format.

“Your Head is On Fire” is a particularly fascinating track.  It kicks off with instrumentation and a vocal arrangement that strongly conjures seventies Beach Boys (my favorite!), with a particularly heavy emphasis on sounds characteristic of Dennis Wilson’s solo effort Pacific Ocean Blue.  By the time the acoustic guitars strum in, the song proceeds to a second movement, but it does return for one more retro romp in the outro that would have felt right at home on SMiLE.

The following two tracks — “The Ghost Inside” and “Sailing to Nowhere” — carve out a clearer idea of what the Broken Bells sound is going to be.  Although they are strong tracks, they are the sort of fare you might expect in the half to three-quarters swampland of your typical record.

Instead, Broken Bells comes alive with new vitality in that region, kicking off with the steady beat and buildup of “Trap Doors,” followed closely by the multi-movement “Citizen.”  The latter peaks with an essential question: “From the moment that we’re born, ’til we’re old and tired out: Do we ever know?”

The opening piano riff of “October” may conjure Phantom Planet’s “California,” but it quickly progresses into the multi-vocal attack that Broken Bells have asserted as their own throughout this record.  And the pace isn’t lost on the low-register vocals of the next track, the beat-driven “Mongrel Heart.”

The aforementioned “Mongrel Heart” blends seamlessly into the album’s final stop.  “The Mall & Misery” is an exercise in perfect timing, another gorgeous mixture of beautiful acoustic guitars, lush harmonies, and a bed of beats and other synthesized sounds.  “Use your intuition; it’s all you’ve got,” Mercer declares.  Every lyric resource on the Internet seems to disagree with me, but I read the refrain as “I know what I know will not fill a thimble.”  I won’t even share what the misconception (?) is; I’m quite attached to what I’ve heard.  At the close of the stylistic odyssey that is Broken Bells, what a fitting final thought.

All in all, Broken Bells’ self-titled debut is a sharp, vivid album that presents a series of interesting lyrics and sounds mostly by way of tight but thoughtful little pop songs, the pieces which work together to form a greater whole.

And that’s more than enough to hook me.

The Best Music Videos of 2010

Originally posted 2010-12-26 10:00:09. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

We’ve all heard — and perhaps even echoed — the common complaint about the contemporary treatment of music videos on broadcast television.  It’s typically voiced in a sarcastic question, something like:

Do you remember when MTV used to play music videos?

These days, the music video feels like a lost art form.  They’re more readily available than ever before, what with digital download software like iTunes and websites like Amazon.com, never mind free sites — like YouTube — where copyright is a questionable notion pushed to its limits by users and exploited by record labels in the form of add-on ads.

This being said, the Weekend Review’s “Best Music Videos of 2010” is one of the biggest lists of the season, and perhaps the one that calls for the most interaction from you, the reader.  If there are any videos that you haven’t seen yet, you should definitely search them on YouTube and, depending on how far up the list they are, consider breaking down to download them.

These videos will hopefully remind you that the music video can be a fascinating and fun extension of songs and, sometimes even, albums.

The Black Keys take to the playground for a good old fashioned fight over a woman in “Tighten Up,” which ends up being hilarious.  “Saskia Hamilton” and “King of Anything” are fast-paced, well-edited videos, the former being all the more impressive for being fan-created and Ben Folds-endorsed.  Get ready for white rooms and clothes and lots and lots of paint in Locksley’s take on “The Whip,” and prepare to love the claustrophobic setting of Spoon’s “Written in Reverse.”

You get the idea: these videos run the gamut.  I hope you’ll check them out — YouTube is probably the first, best place; simply search the title, artist, and term “music video.”  This should keep you busy until tomorrow’s list!

The BEST MUSIC VIDEOS of 2010

1)  “Tighten Up” – The Black Keys (Brothers)

2)  “Saskia Hamilton” – Ben Folds & Nick Hornby (Lonely Avenue) – produced by charlieissocoollike

3)  “King of Anything” – Sara Bareilles (Kaleidoscope Heart) – dir. by Laurent Brie

4)  “The Whip” – Locksley (Be in Love)

5)  “Written in Reverse” – Spoon (Transference)

6)  “In the Sun” – She & Him (Volume Two) – dir. by Peyton Reed

7)  “Memories” – Weezer (Hurley)

8)  “By Some Miracle” – Philip Selway (Familial) – dir. by David Altobelli

9)  “God Save the Foolish Kings” – House of Heroes (Surburba)

10)  “Between the Lines” – Stone Temple Pilots (Stone Temple Pilots) – dir. by Christopher Sims

Honorable Mentions:

“Jefferson Jericho Blues” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Mojo)

“From Above” – Ben Folds & Nick Hornby (Lonely Avenue)

“Help Me Rhonda” – Al Jardine with Steve Miller (A Postcard from California)

Broken Social Scene’s “Lo-Fi for the Dividing Nights” (2010) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-09-05 13:00:39. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  3 / 5 stars

Otherworldly and haunting, yet so pretty and longing.

This is the best way I can think of to describe Lo-Fi for the Dividing Nights, the EP that Broken Social Scene tacked onto some editions of this year’s Forgiveness Rock Record.  In keeping with the aesthetics of the tracks, the physical release is plain; if you’ve seen the album cover, you’ve pretty much seen it all, except for a similar back cover and a navy blue disc with white letters.

And yet, there is a simple beauty to the ten brief songs that are appended to the full album.  Forgiveness Rock Record is a solid album, one which I will review before the year is out, and yet it is not as notable as this little, possibly forgettable, largely instrumental ten-track EP.

It is in the concision of its songs that this collection shines.

Unlike its full-length counterpart, which suffers at times from not knowing when to stop, Lo-Fi for the Dividing Nights does not let any one track stretch out for too long.  No single idea, riff, or sound is carried out for more than a minute or two, and this is what propels this album.

Broken Social Scene's "Lo-Fi for the Dividing Nights" (2010)

Broken Social Scene's "Lo-Fi for the Dividing Nights" (2010)

TRACK LISTING:

1)  New Instructions

2)  Sudden Foot Loss

3)  Shabba Lights

4)  Song for Dee

5)  Eling’s Haus

6)  Professor Sambo

7)  Never Felt Alive

8)  Paperweight Room

9)  Turbo Mouse

10) Far Out

“Song for Dee,” in asking, “Good times, where’d you go?,” provides the central motivation for the melancholy that permeates these tracks.  Even the comparably brighter “Eling’s Haus” which follows “Song for Dee” is constrained by the repeated drone that sets the rhythm of the song.

“New Instructions” provides an opening for the EP that sounds vaguely like the acoustic fingerpicking from a Simon and Garfunkel single, but the subsequent layers that are added steers the track in a new direction.  “Sudden Foot Loss” follows; it is also acoustic in nature, but is much more unified in its sound, with one strong guitar up front and center in the mix.  The picking here is very simple and regular, with fleeting yet also regular flourishes between repetitions of the riff.  The background invites the mood of a dream, which is explored further on the track that follows.

“Shabba Lights” hints at human voices in the ah’s and ooh’s that accompany the horns and bells.  This introduces “Song for Dee,” which would be the simplest and unassuming track in any other context; here it is the only song that sounds like, well, a song.

Unlike the others, it has verses and words.

The second half of Lo-Fi for the Dividing Nights drags a bit, with “Professor Sambo” providing ample time and space to consider what else might be said about Dee or other causes of the somber, trance-like tone of this EP.  More vocals arrive on “Never Felt Alive,” but the words are difficult to make out, other than the three that comprise the title.

If regret could be translated into sounds, then it would sound precisely like “Paperweight Room,” a song whose title invites the listener to imagine a space, perhaps composed of memories, characterized by its ability to weigh one down.

The acoustic picking on “Turbo Mouse” is as pretty as the accompanying music is sad and offputting.  It all builds up to the aptly titled final track, “Far Out,” which sounds as though it is set in outer space.

In the end, Lo-Fi for the Dividing Nights doesn’t say much.

Literally.

And yet it is the otherworldly, haunting, and yet beautiful textures that make the EP alluring and compelling.  By saying less, it invites more imagination, and it is unsurprisingly an excellent choice of music to put on after dark.

This Broken Social Scene EP is one of the pleasant surprises of the year.  You won’t hear much about it, but it is one of the most compelling collections of stripped down acoustic instrumentals I’ve heard in a long time — I dare say, perhaps ever.