Wednesday, December 14, 2011

7 new releases, 2 Christmas songs, and a partridge in a pear tree...

Happy Holidays everyone!! :) 'Tis the season to review new Christmas songs from She & Him and The Killers, not to mention 5 other non-Christmas related tracks. Here goes:

"I Didn't Mean It" by The Belle Brigade: Why is the sky blue? Who (or what) created the universe? Of all these age old questions that have never quite reached a universally agreed upon answer, the one I'd like to know the most right now is this - why do so many great songs and artists end up on the "Twilight" soundtracks?! While I don't think I'll have an answer for that in quite a long time, it just so happens that the latest song to get attention from indie rockers The Belle Brigade is on the "Breaking Dawn" soundtrack of the "Twilight" series. This doesn't mean The Belle Brigade have become "sellouts" (yet), but I can't help but notice how strikingly different this sounds to their other big song, "Losers", released earlier this year in the summer. Where "Losers" was a somber, regretful folk-rock song, "I Didn't Mean It" approaches more of a catchy, alt-pop type sound, almost as if Ben Folds were female and tried covering the Linda Ronstadt version of "You're No Good". Perhaps most interesting of all is how, out of the two songs I know so far from The Belle Brigade, the slower, sadder one ("Losers") is written in a major key, yet the pop-ier, faster one ("I Didn't Mean It") is written in a minor key!! That being said, there must be some really clever people involved in that band!

"Lights" by Ellie Goulding: Is anyone here sick of how much attention Lady Gaga has gotten ever since she debuted? (I know I am!) Looking for a fresher, less sexually excessive alternative to her that sounds kind of like an indie-pop version of Lady Gaga? Perhaps not, but now there is one!! The first major song to get attention from British pop starlet Ellie Goulding, "Lights", is like a hip dance-pop song for those who prefer Tori Amos to Madonna. Like Gaga, Ellie's a blond haired girl who knows how to dance. Unlike Gaga, Ellie seems like she dances more for fun than for promiscuity and/or (desperate) attention. "Lights" is a unique, catchy song, and probably one of the few that can appeal to both the hipsters and the just plain hip!

"Somebody That I Used to Know" by Gotye: In the 21st century, the world-music-meets-rock-music flame that Peter Gabriel and Sting became well known for using in the '80s has been kept alive by musicians like Robbie Robertson and Paul Simon (both of whom also used that sound frequently in the '80s). Have there been any new artists that have been successful in using that sound, though?! With the possible exception of Vampire Weekend, probably not (and even Vampire Weekend's songs were a bit too bouncy to fully emulate the more reflective Gabriel/Sting sound). After all these years, however, someone has come along to return the world-music-meets-rock-music-sound to the music world as if it were fresh and brand new again, and he goes by the stage name of Gotye (pronounced GO-tee-yay). The ambiance of Gotye's first major song, "Somebody That I Used to Know" (not to be confused with the Elliott Smith song of the same title), is icy and haunting, and seems to borrow heavily from Peter Gabriel's almost equally haunting "Games Without Frontiers", and his vocals are somewhat similar to Sting's, especially as the song draws closer towards the chorus. The "cold shoulder" vibe of the lyrics, combined with the already frigid atmosphere of the song itself makes "Somebody That I Used to Know" the perfect non-Christmas listen for the winter season!!

"That Old Black Hole" by Dr. Dog: So far, Dr. Dog have gotten attention with two songs on adult alt radio, with the jaunty, Beatlesque "Stranger", and the folk-rock-y, Neil Young-ish "Shadow People" (which also manages to sound like The Beatles during the second half). Dr. Dog's latest song, then, "That Old Black Hole", marks a musical departure from the typical neo-psychedelic, "retro" indie-pop of their music, as it sounds more like the type of song a band like Modest Mouse might have done. Speaking of "mouse", another way Dr. Dog have, perhaps, sought for a larger audience in "That Old Black Hole" is through its video, whose only consistent image is of a hamster on a wheel. Other images appear in the video, but they are a bit too brief and surreal for me to find truly memorable in comparison to the hamster. The video for "That Old Black Hole" can be viewed here!! (

"The Christmas Waltz" by She & Him: 'Tis the season to be Zooey!! The most beautiful woman in indie-land (and her performing partner, fellow indie musician Matt "M." Ward) has released a heartwarming, sentimental version of the classic Christmas song that states the time it is performed in ("and this song of mine, in three-quarter time...") Zooey's vocals in this are absolutely irresistible!! Matt does a good job at this song too, though, bringing jazz chords to his acoustic guitar in the finest, most tender fashion since Sammy Davis Jr. The whole ALBUM ("A Very She & Him Christmas") that this is on is great, actually, but this song is a standout, for being the opening track, the track that's gotten the most attention so far on adult alt radio stations, and for having the most snuggly, cozy feel of all the songs on the CD!!

"The Cowboys' Christmas Ball" by The Killers: Ever since 2006, Brandon Flowers and his fellow elves, umm, I mean, musicians, have released one Christmas song each December, perhaps the best of which was the one they put out during that year ("A Great Big Sled"). "The Cowboys' Christmas Ball" might not be the best Christmas song The Killers have released, but it's a breath of fresh, energetic air compared to the decent (but dreary) "Boots" they released last year. The uptempo beat and tinkly keyboards set the mood for a Christmas song that takes place in the Wild Wild West, with quirky lyrics, and Brandon Flowers singing as though he had a slight "Southern" drawl in his voice. A surprisingly friendly, bubbly song for The Killers, but it still manages to work!!

"The Same Thing" by Cass McCombs: Before I get on with my review for this song, "Cass" might sound like the name of a female performer, but is, in fact, a guy in this case. Its sound is suggestive of Pete Yorn, while the lyrics take on a more Dylan-esque quality ("Nothing in common, our blood thicker than broth/We're cut from different sides of the same cloth"). Both Dylan and Yorn are known for composing melancholy folk-rock songs, and "The Same Thing" also has that sort of sound. Vocally, McCombs seems to derive from Elliott Smith, who, again, has a melancholy folk-rock sort of sound. Cass McCombs seems to have that "lonely guy with a sad, sentimental acoustic guitar sound" pretty good! Perhaps not everyone's cup of tea, but it certainly is mine!