Go Fly A Kite (Ben Kweller)
Released: February 7, 2012
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Top Two Tracks: “Jealous Girl” & “Mean to Me”
When I saw Ben Kweller open for the Barenaked Ladies a couple years ago, I was floored by this performer who managed to blend a wide variety of influences and crossed the genre lines while maintaining a coherent, high adrenaline rock show. For months afterward, as I picked up his albums, I struggled and largely failed to find anything to match what I had experienced live. Now, with Go Fly A Kite, Kweller has finally recorded an album that properly expresses all his strengths, alternating between electric rockers and softer acoustic tracks, all the while maintaining a power pop energy that works to his strengths. Mainstream music critics will largely ignore this album. Nicholas Moffitt of VZ Magazine went so far as to call it “likeable,” but not before qualifying even this statement with “fans of Kweller and power pop.” Is Go Fly A Kite the next great rock album? I’m not arguing that, but it is one of the few albums in recent memory that relies only upon instrumentation and vocals for its energy. There are no computer tricks employed here: only good, old-fashioned human performance. There isn’t a clunker in the bunch, and the track listing steadily unfolds larger ideas and themes (not to mention the diorama-style CD packaging, which is one of the most imaginative I’ve seen). Forget Moffitt’s qualification: if you’re a fan of rock and upbeat, energetic music, Ben Kweller’s latest is a must-hear.
Kisses on the Bottom (Paul McCartney)
Producer: Tommy LiPuma
Released: February 7, 2012
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Top Two Tracks: “My Valentine” & “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”
A confession before I commence: I’m admittedly predisposed to a bad taste in the mouth upon hearing a well-established artist has decided to record an album of covers. (I know, I know: I write reviews predominantly for a cover songs music video blog. But, to be fair, we post them for free and for practice in between our regularly-scheduled albums of originals.) A brief history of just a few of the cover albums that should compel a roll of the eyes: Michael McDonald’s Motown (2003) and the following year’s oh-so-creatively titled Motown Two, all five volumes of Rod Stewart’s The Great American Songbook series (2002-2005, 2010), and perhaps the most disappointing fall into the valley of covers: Eric Clapton’s Me and Mr. Johnson, a follow-up to 2001’s excellent Reptile album, followed in 2010 by a disappointing album of covers – Clapton – masquerading as his latest solo album. So, when it comes to albums of this ilk, I approach with caution. In this case, it is not so much that McCartney’s Kisses on the Bottom is a bad album. It clearly is a very well-thought-out, passionately rendered record. And yet, on the heels of a string of masterful solo releases – Chaos & Creation in the Backyard (2005) and Memory Almost Full (2007) being probably the best of his career – this collection of traditional pop could do little else than fall short after five years without a new McCartney album. For what they are, the songs are really done quite well. It is clear from interviews with McCartney and his producer Tommy LiPuma that this was a labor of love, and it was even revealed that he held off on this project out of desire to avoid any allegations of jumping on the covers train (he even referenced Stewart’s Songbook series). In the end, the clear standout is “My Valentine,” which just so happens to be one of two McCartney originals on the record. Coincidence? I think not. He has referenced his next album as being along the same vein as the Foo Fighters’ analog, garage rock Wasting Light (2011), so I and others like me can rest easy on that.
Deep Space [EP] (Eisley)
Released: February 14, 2012
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Top Two Tracks: “Lights Out” & “Laugh It Off”
This pretty much fits the archetype of the EP: not bad, not great, just a little something to fill the silence between records. If you enjoyed last year’s outstanding The Valley, then you’ll most likely enjoy Deep Space [EP]. Or, you could save yourself the five bucks and return to The Valley for more songs and a more fulfilling experience.
Sounds from Nowheresville (The Ting Tings)
Producer: Jules De Martino
Released: February 24, 2012
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Top Two Tracks: “Hang It Up” & “Guggenheim”
Don’t let the modern production qualities fool you: there is more here than the extensive list of “engineers” and “mixers” in the credits would have you believe. The critics have called the Ting Tings out for this and any number of other criticisms: the album is too short, too frivolous, inane, etc. What they have missed – and what most tracks on Sounds from Nowheresville have to offer – is energy and ambition, subtle touches in the harmonies beyond what is more readily apparent in the synthesized sounds, not to mention the centrality of Katie White’s guitar (yes, that is a real instrument in the mix and it is the female lead singer playing it; if only for that, I have reason to respect this album). “Hit Me Down Sonny” and “Hang It Up” are as bright, cool, and catchy as you would expect, and yet other tracks like the passionately delivered “Guggenheim” and the tender, acoustic-based “Day to Day” and “Help” express the range the band has to offer. While this is definitely not a development I would have expected, I have to admit that the Ting Tings have put out one of what will probably be the best albums of the year.
Rooms Filled With Light (Fanfarlo)
Released: February 28, 2012
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Top Two Tracks: “Shiny Things” & “Lenslife”
On Rooms Filled With Light, Fanfarlo have done a nice job of bringing a certain bright quality to the domain of oft-introspective synthesized music. Aside from channeling a bit too much Ric Ocasek in his vocals at times, Simon Balthazar and company have recorded and sequenced a cohesive and purposeful record that boasts elements of artistic intention while maintaining pop-ready hooks, riffs, and overall production quality.