The Weekend Review: January 2011 Report

Originally posted 2011-05-15 23:30:36. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Hello and welcome to the first Weekend Review of the new year.  I hope you’ll enjoy our new monthly format, optimized for ease of use with the hope that you’ll be able to turn to LaptopSessions.com for new music news in 2011.  Hurry back next weekend for the February report!

The King is Dead
The DecemberistsProducer:
Tucker Martine

Released:
January 14, 2011

Rating:
4.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Rox in the Box” & “Rise to Me”

After the impressive – and yet distracting – complexity of 2009’s The Hazards of Love, the Decemberists return to kick off 2011 with what may very possibly be the best album of the year.  The King is Dead, referred to as a “barn album” by band members in the deluxe edition doc Pendarvia, is an album of simple and yet profound beauty.While, to be fair, it lacks the mind-blowing scale of recent previous efforts, there is something to be said for a cohesive and eminently listenable collection of tracks.

Think of it as an acoustic rock masterpiece, headlined by the soaring “Rox in the Box” and the sing-along anthem waiting to happen “This is Why We Fight.”  Even the fully acoustic, balladic tracks like “Dear Avery” are gorgeous to such an extent that you won’t be able to skip the track, even if you’re on the road looking for a rock song.  Although the lead single, “Down By the Water,” lacks something of the “x factor” that makes songs truly great, it is still a tightly packaged, catchy tune indicative of the best of the King is Dead sound.  Oh, and if you think “Calamity Song” sounds like an aural love-child of R.E.M., you won’t be surprised to learn that it actually features Peter Buck on lead guitar.

Good, good stuff, and a high bar to be set this early in the year.

 

Mine is Yours
Cold War KidsProducer:
Jacquire King

Released:
January 25, 2011

Rating:
2.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Royal Blue” & “Flying Upside Down”

2008’s Loyalty to Loyaltywas the album that introduced me to and left me in awe of the Cold War Kids.  Their unique sound and keen sense for mixing the slow and off-center with the straightforward and single-worthy led me to high expectations for their next release.Well, as is often the case with high expectations, the reality rarely compares.

Whether my reaction is due to what I had expected to find on Mine is Yours is honestly too early to say, but what I’ve heard here is a collection of underwhelming tracks, many of which seem to promise more than they deliver and are often longer than they deserve to be.  Tracks like “Royal Blue,” “Sensitive Kid,” and “Flying Upside Down” stand out as excellent without need of qualification, but others like “Broken Open,” “Louder Than Ever,” and “Cold Toes on the Cold Floor” beg for more consideration, more development, in order to reach the heights established on the previous record.

This is not to say that it should be like a sequel to Loyalty to Loyalty, but the songs of Mine is Yours should at least be as interesting.  While I was initially turned off by the slicker production values, I’ve entirely come around on that, which makes me wish that more attention to detail had been paid.

 

The Party
Ain’t Over

Wanda JacksonProducer:
Jack White

Released:
January 25, 2011

Rating:
3.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Shakin’ All Over” & “Nervous Breakdown”

Slogans like “The Queen of Rockabilly” don’t typically entice me to purchase music, but in this case, it was bookended by Jack White’s name in the production credits and a nod to Bob Dylan’s “Thunder on the Mountain.”In short, I couldn’t resist at least one listen.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that The Party Ain’t Over holds up to repeated listens, fronted by the outstanding “Shakin’ All Over,” a track that aptly blends the gritty alternative sound for which White is so well known with the sonic signature of 50s rock and, I suppose, rockabilly.  Here, as on the rest of the record, riffs abound and Jackson’s ragged voice establishes her in my mind as the female equivalent of a contemporary Dylan, in vocal delivery if not in lyricism, craftsmanship, etc.  In the area of originality, it is clear she doesn’t hold a candle to aforementioned Bard, but her choice of covers is impeccably fitting: a devastating take on “Busted” (see: Johnny Cash), the closest anyone has come to covering a 2000s Dylan track without earning a sneer from me, and a redefining arrangement of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know That I’m No Good.”

Even the latter half tracks are enjoyable, foot-tappers like “Nervous Breakdown” and “Dust on the Bible,” as well as slower tunes such as “Blue Yodel #6” (not to be confused with #4, or my personal favorite, #9).  All in all, for an impulse purchase out of raw curiosity, The Party Ain’t Over is a testament to Jack White’s capabilities as producer and studio musician; it may not be the best album of 2011, but it bears a certain quality and strength of arrangement (both within tracks and across the album) that it deserves to be noticed.

Jack Johnson’s “To The Sea” (2010) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-12-19 12:12:48. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  3 / 5 stars

If you’re looking for a benchmark three-star album, Jack Johnson’s To The Sea is a downright lovely candidate.

To The Sea is a charming little album populated by harmless pop songs that are predominantly driven by Johnson’s guitars, both acoustic and electric.  There is, of course, the basic rhythm section we’ve come to expect: Adam Topol on drums and Merlo Podlewski on bass.  This is all accented quite nicely by Zach Gill’s keyboards.

Here and there, as in the bare bones arrangement and thick harmonies of “When I Look Up,” Johnson diverges from the regularly scheduled program, but, for the most part, this is business as usual.  Excellent tracks like “From the Clouds” and even the single “You and Your Heart” suffer from sounding too choreographed at times.  The former heats up a bit at the end and the latter is catchy and lyrically interesting, so this deficiency is covered over for the most part, though it’s not so well disguised on others like “At or With Me.”

The stripped down, direct sentiment of “My Little Girl” and “Only the Ocean” is proof positive that Johnson hasn’t lost the knack for writing and performing simple songs that present cause for pause and reflection.  Likewise, “Red Wine, Mistakes, Mythology” is a catchy smirk-and-wink of a song, worthy of being termed anthemic even and thus illustrative of Johnson’s pop mentalities and abilities.

These aren’t the issues here.

What is questionable is the manner in which the other tracks blend together.  On the one hand, they operate very cohesively, as an album.  In addition to the commonalities in sound, the rhetoric of “No Good with Faces” on track three easily gives way to that on the third to last track “Pictures of People Taking Pictures,” as it does from the sociological commentary on uncertainty of track four, “At or With Me,” to the directness of the penultimate song, “Anything But the Truth.”

Clearly, To The Sea is more than merely a collection of songs written around the same time.

To The Sea (Jack Johnson, 2010)

To The Sea (Jack Johnson, 2010)

On the other hand, the tracks blend so well as to defy individuality at times.  For instance, it is difficult to decide whether a song like “Turn Your Love” is grooving or falling into a rut.  I have yet to figure out whether “The Upsetter” and “Pictures of People Taking Pictures” are moving, or whether the harmonies make up for what the words and instrumentation lack.

Ironically, this is the first time I’ve ever felt lukewarm about a Jack Johnson release.  Accusations of lukewarmth have followed him his entire career, notably being the mantra chanted by those minimizing such outstanding albums as In Between Dreams and On and On.  (Cough.  Nudge.  This means you and your sub-three star balderdash, Rolling Stone.)

Frankly, I’ve never really gotten into Brushfire Fairytales, but it has an appeal that I won’t deny, and it is also a debut effort.  Likewise, I didn’t like Sleep Through the Static at first — in fact, I hated it.  I felt it was a letdown following the “Jack Johnson goes electric” hype, and I resented the inordinate amount of attention it received from critics.  However, when I eventually warmed to it, it came as a result of realizing that the individual songs were actually of very high quality.  I still don’t think it compares as an album in the ranks of In Between Dreams and On and On, but song for song, it holds its own.

So, in summary, I’ve never felt lukewarm about Jack Johnson’s music.

Until now.

The truth is that To The Sea is a likable — charming, even — studio album that lacks the punch, the elusive “x factor” to make it truly moving.  It functions a little too nicely as background music.  It’s a bit too chill, even for Johnson.  Still, there are those moments, like his tender vocals on “No Good with Faces” and his electric solos on “To The Sea” and “At or With Me” — each singlehandedly better than any electric performance on Sleep Through the Static — that stand out from the rest, as if to remind us that Jack Johnson is an artist not to be underestimated.

You might love this album.  You might think it’s forgettable.  As such, there’s no better reason to award it a three-star rating.

Music Review: Weezer’s “Raditude”

Originally posted 2009-11-15 22:22:09. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

RATING:  1 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore:

I was the first to scoff at early negative reviews of the new Weezer album.  It seemed there was an inordinate number of swipes at the admittedly odd title, Raditude.  After all, I reasoned, Rivers Cuomo hasn’t exactly built his career by being serious.

So, it was with high hopes that I started listening to Raditude.  From the opening track — “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” — it became immediately apparent that the lyrics would be juvenile.

And yet this was never a turn-off.

I had heard this song, the first single, about fifteen or twenty times before the album was even released.  It had been leaked on YouTube, then removed, then reposted by another source, and finally released officially as the single.  And, each time I heard it, I liked it more and more.  This is saying a great deal, considering that the song includes references to watching Titanic and eating meat loaf as key plot points.

The way I see it, there are two types of great Weezer songs:  introverted, introspective ballads and catchy, fun rock/pop gems.

Any serious Weezer fan who will disparage the quality of Cuomo’s lyrics in 2009 needs to think back to such earlier tracks as “No One Else” — “My girl’s got a big mouth, with which she blabbers a lot…” — and “Getchoo” — “Sometimes I push too hard; sometimes you fall and skin your knee…”  And can anyone even begin to transcribe the lyrics to “Hash Pipe”?

I didn’t think so.

Weezer's "Raditude" (2009)

Weezer's "Raditude" (2009)

So, the credibility and entertainment value of “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” being established, the other nine songs on Raditude should be addressed.  In a nutshell, the new album is generally a mixed bag — one part catchy guitar hooks, one part derivative stylistic choices, and two parts juvenile and (to be frank) ridiculous lyrics — that all amounts to a mediocre collection of material.

I’ve always been drawn to Rivers Cuomo’s firm embrace on the simple, pure, and raw emotions that we generally attribute to the innocence (and immaturity) of youth, but this time around, there is little for me to relate to or feel moved by.

“I’m Your Daddy” is about as two dimensional a song as you’ll ever find, stripped of Cuomo’s trademark quirky innocence to reveal an inexperienced Romeo.  It is also a bit creepy to listen to after learning that he began writing it while watching his daughter.

“The Girl Got Hot” is driven by catchy, distortion-drenched guitars, but again the lyrics fall short.  I kept waiting for a moral to the story — I would have settled for something as simple as “don’t judge a book by its cover” — but all I ended up with was the singer’s revelation that, when it comes to Kiki Dee’s friends, “She got hot, and they did not.”  Oh, and the phrase “buyer beware” is potentially problematic, but I won’t even go there.

Then comes the piece de la resistance, “Can’t Stop Partying.”  Again, I waited for the subtext that the lyrics must surely contain, considering the minor chords and Cuomo’s diction — “can’t stop” implies addiction.  And again, I was met with lines like “If you was me, honey, you would do it too” and “Screw rehab; I love my addiction.”  Just when I thought it couldn’t get less redeemable, Lil Wayne lays down a chauvinistic, obscenity laden ode to excess.

The remainder of the album is divided between forgettable, inane tracks — like “In the Mall” — and solid, albeit middle-of-the-road songs — like “Put Me Back Together.”  The latter track is one of my favorites from the new album, even though it is difficult to shake the feeling that this would have been a filler track on any earlier Weezer release.

Other tracks like “Let It All Hang Out” and “Love is the Answer” are debatable — on the upside, they do tap into the aforementioned pure, raw emotions that the band’s best material always has, yet there is nothing extraordinary about them.

At the end of the day, I have to reluctantly admit that my opinion is not so divergent from that of Slant reviewer Huw Jones — strictly in his opinion of this album, but NOT his opinion of Weezer’s overall career arc (he’s seriously off there).  Weezer has finally released an album that I can’t endorse — and that I, unfortunately, can’t listen to for very long without feeling disappointed.

Brett Dennen’s “Hope for the Hopeless” (2008) – Yes, No, or Maybe So

Originally posted 2010-03-03 17:01:37. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Brett Dennen’s Hope for the Hopeless (2008) – YES

Brett Dennen's

Brett Dennen's "Hope for the Hopeless" (2008)

Review:

Sounding like the best parts of Jack Johnson and Gavin DeGraw rolled into one – with a Dylan-esque vocal flair here and there – Brett Dennen’s Hope for the Hopeless is the great album of 2008 that I missed; I love Johnson and Jakob Dylan, but this acoustic rock album blows Sleep Through the Static and Seeing Things away! (…a conclusion supported by the fact that the always frustrating Rolling Stone reviewers barely acknowledged this great release with three stars and a lukewarm paragraph of backhanded compliments.)

Top Two Tracks:

“Heaven” & “San Francisco”