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.

“Black” (Pearl Jam Cover)

Originally posted 2008-05-23 21:15:13. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jeff Copperthite:

Good evening! Welcome to your Friday installment of The Laptop Sessions. I hope you are ready to celebrate a three-day weekend, and plan on seeing family, friends, and perhaps enjoy a nice cookout or two in the process.

Meanwhile, I get to bring to you one of my favorite songs. It’s Pearl Jam tonight with a song from their first album Ten. Track #5 is Black from that album and that is the song I bring to you tonight.

It has a great background electric guitar and Eddie Vedder sings a wonderful vocal melody in the entire song. Vedder is known to go in between styles back and forth and this song showcases that talent of his. From the soft verses to the emotional outro of the song, I attempt to emulate what Eddie can do. I think I do a good job, but then again i’m no Eddie Vedder. I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Also, this song translates wonderfully to acoustic guitar, and I substitute a minor change in the guitar part at the end of the song instead of the vocal “do do doo doo do do dooo” that the recording has. And as with all songs that fade out, I picked the chord that sounded best to end on and went with that.

I want to thank all of you for visiting, commenting, rating, and subscribing. This is among the sessions I am most proud of.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Jim’s latest session, then come Sunday we bring another special week of songs to you. You’ll have to check out Chris’s session on Sunday to find out just what that is!

Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, Jeff’s acoustic cover song music videos are no longer on YouTube, but we decided to keep his cover song blog posts up.  We figured these music blog entries would be good for posterity’s sake and because Jeff always gave such insightful posts each Session.  We hope to see Jeff’s impressive catalog of acoustic rock songs here on the Laptop Sessions cover songs and original music blog again in the future.  But, for now, please make sure to check-out hundreds of other acoustic cover songs from all of your favorite bands here on the Laptop Sessions music blog!

The Weekend Review New Music Report: 2010 Edition

Originally posted 2011-01-17 10:00:06. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

In the past, before the Weekend Review was officially a segment on the Laptop Sessions blog and my articles had the oh-so-clever title of “Music Review” — and I know, I know, “the Weekend Review” isn’t all that much more clever — I have been accused of writing reviews that were positive to a fault.

This may well be true, as I have found it challenging these past couple years to define and refine my voice as a music critic who is also a singer/songwriter.  After all, it has been difficult to find a comfortable middle ground between praising music simply because someone labored over it and pointing out flaws to bring others down a notch.

Being an “amateur” has allowed me the opportunity and relative privacy to hone my craft.

I’ve come a long way from the every-so-often, knee-jerk nature of my early “CD Reviews,” articles that I typed and saved on my computer long before the Fusco-Moore Productions blog — now known as the Laptop Sessions blog — was launched.  I’ve also come a significant way since the aforementioned “Music Reviews.”  And, I’d like to think that I’ve progressed as a writer over the past year of “Weekend Reviews.”

So, this being my fifty-second and final Weekend Review of 2010, I decided to dedicate it to laying out a table of contents of sorts for the fifty-four reviews I’ve written this year (including “Yes, No, Maybe So?” one-sentence reviews).  They’re arranged below in descending order from my one five-star rating down to my handful of one-star reviews.

What it all amounts to is a lot of music from a diverse range of artists that run the genre gamut.  The one common denominator here, the one solid link between all subjects of the Weekend Review, is the presence of the singer/songwriter.  With the exception of a couple of cover song albums, these are albums of original music released in 2010.

The best I can offer as an overall statement for the year’s music is that this was, overall, an excellent year for new music.  The range tended to follow the bell curve (1 five star, 14 four stars, 23 three stars, 13 two stars, and 3 one stars), but this should not undercut the fact that there were fourteen very strong, interesting, entertaining albums released this year.

In all fairness, what the year was lacking was any albums that really blew everything else out of the water.  Although several have argued this point with me, I do not hesitate a moment to give All in Good Time (BnL) the full five-star nod.  That being said, I do not consider it their best album, not by a long shot.

So, where does that leave us?

In my opinion, it leaves 2010 as a very strong year with at least fifteen strong reasons to buy new albums, but it also leaves a gap for those attuned to and awaiting the next, best classic albums for the ages.

I hope you’ll check back for my final post (at least for a while) on the blog tomorrow and that you’ll consider checking some of these albums out while they’re still available on the ever-increasingly trend- and contempo-centric CD shelves.

54 New Albums, 2010: Arranged in descending order of star ranking (out of 5).

All in Good Time (Barenaked Ladies) – 5 stars
Bad Books (Bad Books) – 4.5 stars
Be in Love (Locksley) – 4 stars
Broken Bells (Broken Bells) – 4 stars
Heaven is Whenever (The Hold Steady) – 4 stars
Kaleidoscope Heart (Sara Bareilles) – 4 stars
Lonely Avenue (Ben Folds & Nick Hornby) – 4 stars
Mines (Menomena) – 4 stars
Mojo (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers) – 4 stars (4.5 w/o “Candy” & “Takin’ My Time”)
Night Work – (Scissor Sisters) – 4 stars
Sea of Cowards (The Dead Weather) – 4 stars
Suburba – House of Heroes – 4 stars
The Grand Theatre Volume One (Old 97’s) – 4 stars
The Suburbs (Arcade Fire) – 4 stars
Volume Two (She & Him) – 4 stars
A Postcard from California (Al Jardine) – 3.5 stars
A Singer Must Die (Steven Page with the Art of Time Ensemble) – 3.5 stars
American Slang (The Gaslight Anthem) – 3 stars
American VI: Ain’t No Grave (Johnny Cash) – 3 stars
As I Call You Down (Fistful of Mercy) – 3.5 stars
Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin (Brian Wilson) – 3.5 stars
Brothers (The Black Keys) – 3.5 stars
Dark Night of the Soul (Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse) – 3.5 stars
Death to False Metal (Weezer) – 3 stars
Destroyer of the Void – (Blitzen Trapper) – 3.5 stars
Easy Wonderful (Guster) – 3 stars
Everything Under the Sun (Jukebox the Ghost) – 3.5 stars
High Violet (The National) – 3.5 stars
How to Destroy Angels (How to Destroy Angels) – 3 stars
Hurley (Weezer) – 3.5 stars
Light You Up (Shawn Mullins) – 3 stars
Lo-Fi for the Dividing Nights (Broken Social Scene) – 3 stars
Page One (Steven Page) – 3.5 stars
Sigh No More (Mumford & Sons) – 3.5 stars
Something for the Rest of Us (Goo Goo Dolls) – 3.5 stars
Stone Temple Pilots (Stone Temple Pilots) – 3.5 stars
To The Sea (Jack Johnson) – 3 stars
Transference (Spoon) – 3.5 stars
Court Yard Hounds (Court Yard Hounds) – 2.5 stars
Crazy for You (Best Coast) – 2.5 stars
Eureka (Rooney) – 2 stars
Everything Comes and Goes (Michelle Branch) – 2 stars
Familial (Philip Selway) – 2.5 stars
Forgiveness Rock Record (Broken Social Scene) – 2 stars
Heligoland (Massive Attack) – 2 stars
Infinite Arms (Band of Horses) – 2 stars
National Ransom (Elvis Costello) – 2 stars
Realism (Magnetic Fields) – 2.5 stars
Women & Country (Jakob Dylan) – 2.5 stars
Write About Love (Belle & Sebastian) – 2.5 stars
Y Not (Ringo Starr) – 2.5 stars
100 Miles from Memphis (Sheryl Crow) – 1.5 stars
Clapton (Eric Clapton) – 1 star
Interpol (Interpol) – 1 star

“Run” (Snow Patrol Cover)

Originally posted 2008-11-15 23:45:09. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Greetings from the other side of the midnight chimes — this is your latest (and late) Laptop Session!  Tonight, I bring you a new band to the sessions… Snow Patrol.  Specifically, this is “Run,” the seventh track of their 2003 album Final Straw.  This album was first recommended to me by then-fellow Staples Copy Center employee John Fortin, after he heard the Chris, Jim, and Becky album Live in the Studio.  He said, based on our album, he thought I might enjoy the band.

At first, I liked the album, but I wasn’t crazy about it.  It became one of those albums you go back to every so often, and over time, I grew to like it more and more.  Recently, as I went back to both this album and their subsequent one, Eyes Open, I fell in love with the songs of Final Straw.  The next album is solid, but lacks the hooks and flairs — really, the strength of individual tracks that are great and stand on their own — of the 2003 release.

My sister has also become a fan of Snow Patrol, so I hope that she gets a chance to read this post and check out the video.  Jaime and I have fairly divergent tastes in music, but we have found much more overlap in the past few years — we can especially agree on the awesome-ness of Ben Folds and Elliott Smith!  We actually both had a similar reaction to the new Snow Patrol single, “Take Back the City.”  Specifically, we were hesitant about the new album based on the strength of this track.  I can’t speak for her, but I know that — for me — the song seemed a bit forced at first, as if they were trying to make a hit single that could climb the charts as well as their last big hit, “Chasing Cars,” did.  Really, though, what was most off-putting to me was what I initially interpreted as being a line — “God knows you’ve put your life into it tons.”  Tons?  Really?  Is this the poetry I’m rushing to the store to purchase?

Well, those of you who know me will check this off on the list of times that I misinterpret something due to an accent.  (Stories for another time…)  The line is really “God knows you’ve put your life into its hands.”  Lead singer Gary Lightbody’s Irish accent through me off.  And, while I’m in a confessional mode, can I also admit that one of the factors that has always prevented me from entirely liking the band was the way Lightbody sings?  Yes, it’s true… It took me until a few weeks ago to research and discover that they’re an Irish band.  How I didn’t figure that out before is beyond me!  But, now that I know, I’ve been going through a Snow Patrol renaissance of sorts.

Their 2008 release, A Hundred Million Suns, is — in my opinion — their best work since Final Straw.  I was hesitant to buy it at first, based on their 2006 album and the aforementioned single.  But, I’m really glad I did buy it.  The opening track “If There’s a Rocket Tie Me to It” is one of my favorite track ones in a long time.  Track two, “Crack the Shutters,” is one of my favorite songs on the album and would have been my choice for a single (To date, it has reached #9 on the iTunes alternative rock charts!).  Then, track three is the single.  Track four, “Lifeboats,” slows it down a bit and is another of my favorites.  And it goes on from there…

I found it really interesting to read that the band considered this to be a more upbeat and “cheerful” album than previous releases.  I didn’t really interpret it that way, but that could just be my current state of mind.  Regardless, I do agree with their statement that it is their best album to date.

Well, that’s enough ranting and rambling about Snow Patrol for one post!  In other news, I broke down and bought the first season of the Chappelle show, with hopes that Jim will want to watch some of the episodes.  So far, I’ve only watched the first episode, which includes not only my favorite sketch (the Clayton Bigsby, black white supremacist skit) but also the Pop Copy sketch that so wonderfully makes fun of my previous profession as a Staples Copy Center employee!  So, as you see, this post really comes full circle.  It started with a band that was recommended to me by a Copy Center co-worker and ends with me going off to watch Pop Copy!

But, before I go, I should also mention that I have not made my last post of the day.  In fact, there may be as many as two new posts from me in the next few hours.  So stay tuned and come back soon for much more brand new fun on the best acoustic rock cover songs blog in the universe — the Laptop Session!

See you next session!