Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Lucky number seven strikes again!!!

This is the third time within about a month long period that I've reviewed seven songs!! Must be my lucky month!

One more thing before I begin. An edit to last week's post, in which I referred to Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. as one guy - they are actually two people, not one. I apologize. The kids these days and their weird band names, and their gadgets and gizmos and...ok enough of that. On with the reviews!!

"Did I Let You Know?" by Red Hot Chili Peppers: So how have RHCP decided to follow up their smash hit of summer 2011, "The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie"?! The answer to that is with "Did I Let You Know?", a song that delves into rather eclectic territory for The Chili Peppers, with its tropical island-y sound (and rad sax solos to boot!) The goofy but craftily delivered lyrics (i.e. "I want to lean on you/Get Jan and Dean on you", and "I like your cheeky/Oh so Mozambique-y") also seem to make it clear that RHCP probably intended the "island-y" sound they went for on this song, what with the references to surf music (Jan and Dean) and countries where the temperature is more likely to be warmer than colder (Mozambique). If The Chili Peppers had only decided to release their latest CD, "I'm With You" in late spring instead of mid-summer, "Did I Let You Know?" probably would have made the perfect summer hit!! Better late than never, though, I suppose.

"Don't Stop (Color On the Walls)" by Foster the People: Do Foster the People have a knack for making catchy songs, or what?!? Their late spring/early-to-mid summer smash, "Pumped Up Kicks", a song that brings to mind the lyrical dissonance of other happy, melodic songs with questionable lyrics like The Boomtown Rats' "I Don't Like Mondays", became one of the most successful songs of the year (in multiple genres, at that). Where "Pumped Up Kicks" went for a rather mysterious, keyboard dominated, new wave-y sound, FTP's latest tune, "Don't Stop (Color On the Walls)" centers more around the guitar (both acoustic and electric are used here), is bouncy all the way around, and evokes the swirly vibes of neo-psychedelia. For those concerned about lyrical content, "Don't Stop (Color On the Walls)" provides an interesting contrast to "Pumped Up Kicks" in that context as well. The lyrics almost seem childlike in "Don't Stop..." (for instance, in the second verse, "We're all just having fun/Sleigh boat ride, piggy back ride/I'm going to show them all how I can ride/1, 2, 3, close your eyes and count to four, I like to hide behind my bedroom door/Crayons on walls, I'll color on them all")

"Miami Virtue" by Umphrey's McGee: If you put The Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd's music and put them in a blender, you'd probably get a sound close to the half jam band/half progressive rock sound of Umphrey's McGee, a band with a considerable cult following, but who had never (until now) got airplay even on "underground" radio stations, probably because they were more about experimentation than melody and/or catchiness. Their latest, "Miami Virtue", definitely sounds more like Floyd than it does The Dead (with traces of Canadian prog-rock band Rush in there too, much to my surprise). Never would have expected so many flashy synthesizers dueling with '70s style electric guitar distortion in a song by Umphrey's McGee, but if that's what it takes to make people want to pay more attention to them, that's not necessarily a bad thing. "Miami Virtue" has enough memorable hooks to get stuck in one's head easily (something that probably can't be said about most of Umphrey's material). Just try to remember that if you hear this song mixed in with various indie, alt-pop, and contemporary folk songs that the station that played that has NOT switched over to a "classic rock" format without warning.

"Saw You First" by Givers: "Givers" seems like such a fitting name for a band with such a bright, optimistic sound (as though they're "giving" their music to share with all the world)! The irresistibly catchy "Up Up Up" was a great song to dance and sing along to in the summer of this year, and as fall approaches, their song "Saw You First" is also apt for the season it's come out in, with its more melancholy but still harmonious, chirpy sound. A bit more acoustic/electric mingling on "Saw You First" as well, which is another factor that makes it worth listening to in my opinion. In spite of the rather yearning emotions "Saw You First" tends to elicit, it's still a fun song to dance to! Please check this one out if you haven't already!!

"Surfer King" by A.A. Bondy: A.A. Bondy is one of those musicians who has been loved among indie fans for quite awhile now, but is only starting to gain attention on adult alt radio stations. If "Surfer King" ends up becoming the one song he's known for, it will probably end up representing his typical sound well (though I don't know for sure since this is the only song I really know by him so far). It is a gentle, sighing, breezy song that sounds a lot like the "softer" material of bands like My Morning Jacket and Band of Horses (it uses similar distortion to MMJ's "Thank You Too!" and BOH's "No One's Gonna Love You"). Even Bondy's vocals sound a bit like Jim James from My Morning Jacket in this song. "Surfer King" is an absolutely beautiful, poignant, poetic song that paints pictures of a purplish-pink sunset along the ocean waves in my head. I think this is my fave song of the week!! Highly recommended!!

"The Keeper" by Chris Cornell: In his glory days with the grunge band Soundgarden, the words "Chris Cornell" and "soothing" might not have been used in the same sentence very often. Chris started to explore more acoustic guitar once he went solo, however, and "The Keeper" is his most sentimental song to date, putting him in the same musical class as other rock 'n' roll giants gone folk such as Robert Plant and Eddie Vedder. Lyrically, "The Keeper" is a very sad song with a rather mysterious central message ("I may not be The Keeper of the flame/But I am The Keeper"). Perhaps this song might make some of Soundgarden's most loyal fanbase a bit upset, but it's nice to hear the quieter side of Cornell, away from the chaos and anger that surrounded songs like "Black Hole Sun" and "Fell On Black Days".

"Well Well" by Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa: Beth Hart was a singer/songwriter from the early '00s, best known for the vaguely Alanis Morissette-ish "L.A. Song". Joe Bonamassa is one of the few contemporary country singers not to have a "commercial" flavor or approach to his music. So what do they sound like together?!? A jammin' country-blues-rock duo, that's what!! A bit more fiery and Allman Brothers-ish ("One Way Out", anyone?) than most of the material either of them have done, "Well Well" serves a high point for both Beth and Joe! Who knew Beth Hart had such a convincing, powerful inner Janis Joplin?! I sure didn't, but she's good at it. Joe's vocal contributions to the song aren't as distinctive but he still manages to do a decent job at it!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

new songs for September 21st, 2011

here they are:

"Holocene" by Bon Iver: Of all the songs I'm reviewing this week, this is by far the most serene, bittersweet, and just plain awe inspiring! Earlier, in June of this year, their latest album was released, and the song "Calgary" became the first song off of the album to get airplay on adult alt stations. Though I love Bon Iver dearly, "Calgary" seemed like their attempt at a pop song (albeit with Bon Iver's trademark icy yet ethereal emotional quality attached to it). The most recent song to get attention in Bon Iver's catalog, "Holocene", is a much better song, I think, due in large part to how stark, yet still hauntingly beautiful its instrumentation is. Justin Vernon's high pitched but breathy vocals also add a unique touch to to this song, and his echoing in the chorus of "I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles" might even outdo Pete Townshend's similarly worded chorus to The Who's "I Can See For Miles" (though probably not many people will agree with me on this).

"Knots" by Lisa Hannigan: The artist formerly known as Damien Rice's backing vocalist first made a name for herself as a solo artist about two and a half years ago, with a charming, lighthearted folk-pop ditty called "I Don't Know". In Lisa's latest song, "Knots", the folky part is still there, but the pop part? Well, not so much here, as "Knots" delves into more thought provoking sounds and more complex chord structures (especially how she goes from a regularly used chord and immediately leaps into a more exotic one afterwards during the verses). The music video for this song REALLY makes it stand out, though! It is a synesthetic treat, in which Lisa makes various colors in a paint set come to life as musical instruments, resulting in a fun, artsy mess!! The video for "Knots" can be viewed here (

"Same Mistake" by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: With "Same Mistake", the cumbersomely named indie-pop group, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, brings catchy, buoyant, somewhat Beatlesque three-chord pop 'n' roll to the table. Though it's obvious from listening that "Same Mistake" is a recent song, I can't help but feel like CYHSY are using 12-string guitars (which were more popular in the '60s than in other decades) in it, even though I know they really aren't (and that the trick they are using to make this song sound so "retro" and 12-string-ish is using the third fret of the thin "E" string for each chord, as well as the groovy distortion this song has). Vocally, "Same Mistake" also seems to be a time twister, in that, although the vocals sound too "modern" to have come from, say, Ray Davies, Roger McGuinn, Brian Wilson, or Paul McCartney, the way the harmony of the vocals flow in this song does seem to be influenced by such performers. Though sunny, happy songs like this seem to be getting increasingly more common within the indie world, there's really nothing wrong with 'em, and "Same Mistake" is certainly NOT a mistake, as far as I'm concerned!

"Simple Girl" by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.: Before I get to reviewing this song, let me inform you, you are NOT hallucinating, and I did NOT make a typo, his name really IS Dale Earnhardt "Jr. Jr.", with the word "junior" repeated twice! And now, back to the song. "Simple Girl" is a simple song. In a good way, though, since it's one of the many indie-pop songs that have come out in the last couple years with an irresistible, somewhat childlike ambiance to it. It is also simple in its length, at slightly less than two and a half minutes. And the vocals are (here comes that word again) SIMPLE, with the repeating, infectious, "ba-da-ba, ba-da-ba-da-ba-ba-ba"'s in the chorus. This song totally fits its title, but like I said earlier, in a good way! I can only assume that the lyrics are, well, simple (but hopefully also somewhat clever).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

new songs for September 14th, 2011

here they are:

"Live It Up" by Chris Isaak: For those who forgot Chris Isaak is more than just the seductive balladeer who did smooth songs like "Wicked Game", his latest song, "Live It Up" is a reminder that Chris also has a rockin' side that easily brings to mind the pioneers of rock 'n' roll like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis! Frankly I'm quite surprised Chris's most recent song sounds the way it does, as he seemed to focus almost entirely on ballads throughout the 2000's ("Let Me Down Easy", "King Without A Castle", and "We Let Her Down" are three such examples). As someone who thought his sound got increasingly more generic with each attempt at a slower song he did in the 2000's, "Live It Up" is quite a refreshing song to hear!! '50s rock 'n' roll music was one of the first forms of popular music I was exposed to as a kid, so "Live It Up" is also very fun and nostalgic for me to hear! I hope Chris focuses more on his rock 'n' roll side as the 2010's progress!!

"Miss K" by Deer Tick: There have been plenty of bands that have attempted to emulate the "jam band" side of The Grateful Dead (Phish and Widespread Panic are two of the best known in this category), but not many are known for evoking The Dead's more country-folk-rock influenced side. "Miss K" by alt-country rockers Deer Tick might just be a first, then. Musically, it seems like what could have been the missing cut from The Dead's "American Beauty", with its slight resemblance to songs like "Friend of the Devil" and "Ripple" (though the beat of the song sounds more like "Bertha", which is from a different album and centers more around electric guitar than it does acoustic). Even the vocalist sounds a little like Jerry Garcia to me (though that comparison might be stretching it a bit for some people). So what are sleazy lyrics like "talk dirty, turn me on" doing in an otherwise beautiful song?! Oh well, "Miss K" is still very much worth listening to, I think!

"Second Song" by TV on the Radio: Really, they couldn't come up with a better title?! Don't get me wrong, TV on the Radio is great (well, their latest songs are anyway), but "Second Song"?! The words "second song" aren't found anywhere in the lyrics, and it is actually the FIRST song off their CD "Nine Types of Light". The only way in which the title is appropriate is that it IS the "second song" they've released as a SINGLE from "Nine Types of Light". Well, now that I've gotten that out of the way, on with the song itself. I can't help but be reminded of how "Alive And Kicking" by '80s new wave group Simple Minds might sound if it came out in the 21st century, as it uses practically the same chords and rhythm (though "Second Song" has a B flat that "Alive And Kicking" doesn't have). TVOTR also manages to set "Second Song" apart from "Alive And Kicking" with the saxophone solos that happen during various parts of the song. As for the lyrics? Well, let's just say that when Tunde Adebimpe sings parts of the song like, "Shaking hands move to tear my face away/And when the night comes I'm flaming like a pyro", it bears similarity to a song about a certain drug beginning with "H" that the grandaddy of all alt-rock bands, The Velvet Underground, sang about on their debut.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

7 MORE songs?!?!? WHAAA....?!?!

That's right!!! 7 MORE songs!! Perfect way to start the month of September! Here they are:

"Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine" by The Nightwatchman (a.k.a. Tom Morello, ex-Rage Against the Machine member): Would you have expected the guitarist of '90s hard rock group Rage Against the Machine to have suddenly reinvented himself as a Dylan-esque folk singer?! Probably not many of you would have, but around the mid 2000's he did so, and he did a mighty fine job at it too! The latest from Morello, "Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine" seems like where ends would meet for him, musically. While acoustic guitar and harmonica both play a central role in "Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine", the fast pace of the percussion makes it sound more like a rock song, and the chorus (just the song's title, really) is "sung-spoken" in an aggressive fashion more typical of a Rage song than a Dylan song. Hope to hear more of Morello channeling his inner Dylan sometime soon, he really does an excellent job at it!

"Bright Lights" by Gary Clark Jr.: Amazingly, there are three songs from blues musicians that are being reviewed this week, and this one is first in line! This song, Gary Clark Jr.'s ode to New York City (as he states in the opening line, "Woke up in New York City"), sounds more like it belongs in the 1970's than it does to the 21st century, with its flashy guitar solos and its propulsive boogie beat! Somehow, though, whoever produced this song made it sound polished enough that it sounds recent, in spite of the instrumental techniques used in this song. At 5 minutes and 13 seconds, the length of the song also seems more suited to classic rock than it does to modern/alt rock. Ultimately, though, it's songs like this one that make music all the more worth listening to in the 21st century, and it's also proof that rock 'n' roll is not "dead", despite what some people might think.

"Cruel" by St. Vincent: So how exactly does one classify a song like "Cruel"?! Electro-disco-classical-post-punk-hard-rock?!? Somehow, it kinda sounds like that. Aside from incorporating influences from multiple genres, "Cruel" also manages to evoke multiple emotions. The overall tone of the song is dark, yet the lead singer has very melodic (but sometimes desperate) vocals, and it's also a song that makes me want to dance AND play air guitar at the same time!! Yet I don't know if I'd feel entirely comfortable dancing to a song that's so ominous sounding, and also what is a rock 'n' roll guitar solo doing in a song that's supposed to be disco inflected...with post-punk creepiness?! There doesn't seem to be an easy way to define this song, but sometimes those are the best kinds of songs!!

"If I Had A Gun" by Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds: Oasis might not be as big as they once were in the '90s, but WOW, the members are definitely still active!! Around February of this year, the band Beady Eye (featuring Liam Gallagher from Oasis on lead vocals) came out and released a fun, jaunty Beatlesque tune called "The Roller". Now it's the other Oasis brother, Noel Gallagher's turn in the spotlight. "If I Had A Gun" provides an introspective, poignant contrast to the bouncy, pop-y aspects of "The Roller". In some ways "If I Had A Gun" almost sounds like a "sequel" to Oasis' biggest hit, "Wonderwall", as both songs are slow, sweet sounding, prolific, and even in the same key (F sharp minor, though "Wonderwall" was capoed). It's unfair, though, to dismiss "If I Had A Gun" as a "ripoff" of "Wonderwall", since it is a song that takes on beautiful, reflective qualities of its own!

"Love the Way You Walk Away" by Blitzen Trapper: Though I only know three songs (including this one) by Blitzen Trapper, I love pretty much everything they have released so far! Much like Fleet Foxes, Mumford and Sons, and The Decemberists (all of whom Blitzen Trapper have probably been compared to by now), Blitzen Trapper are a bittersweet sounding neo-folk-rock band that have made a name for themselves among indie rock fans (including me)! That being said, I was looking forward to hearing what their latest song, "Love the Way You Walk Away" was going to sound like. Its sound seems kind of country-folk influenced, in a very laid-back, "traveling back home on the highway" kind of way. Though I was expecting it to have more of a Donovan-esque "psych-folk" sound the way other Blitzen Trapper songs (especially "Dragon's Song") typically do, "Love the Way You Walk Away" does have a very earnest, heartfelt sort of sound. This one (and probably the Noel Gallagher song as well) are my fave releases of the week so far!!

"River's Gonna Rise" by Warren Haynes: Like his song released earlier this year, "Man In Motion", the part-time Allman Brothers and Gov't Mule guitarist lays down some mean blues licks once again on his latest effort, "River's Gonna Rise". Unlike the frenzied, enthusiastic guitar playing "Man In Motion" boasted, "River's Gonna Rise" is a bit of a calmer song. This does not mean Warren doesn't show off his chops on his axe, though, he most certainly does. However, the feel of this song is a bit more earthy like B.B. King, and not so much a "guitar hero" Eric Clapton type sound. Somehow, the title alone seemed to indicate to me that this would be a calmer song, as this song uses the word "river" in the title, and that's what rivers usually are.

"T-Bone Shuffle" by Johnny Winter: It's quite amazing to me that three of the songs I've reviewed this week are blues songs. "T-Bone Shuffle", however, is by far the blues-iest of the three!! No complex emotions or "deep" lyrics in this song, and no weird chords or odd song structure either, just your basic 12 bar blues. As much as the gentle, poignant, bittersweet songs I review have become close to my heart, sometimes it's fun to just play the blues! It's great to listen to, and fun to dance to. No song I've reviewed so far has come as close to reviving the spirit of the blues as "T-Bone Shuffle" has, with its feel-good, toe-tappin', guitar blastin' sound!!