Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Year Blog Post?!?

That's right!!! So, to make this more "special", here's a "leap" ahead as to four songs that I will be likely to review within the next month or so:

1. "Can't Find" by Eddie Vedder
2. "Don't Leave Me INe Me Quitte Pas)" by Regina Spektor
3. "Out of the Game" by Rufus Wainwright
4. "This Isn't Everything You Are" by Snow Patrol

And now, on with the REAL show...

“On the Run” by Kaiser Chiefs: I’ll admit, I didn’t think much of Kaiser Chiefs when they debuted in the mid 2000’s with the Knack-ish power pop song “I Predict A Riot”, but they grew on me. “Ruby” is one of the sunniest slices of alt-pop I’ve ever heard, and “Never Miss A Beat” is quite a catchy tune as well. “On the Run” has a bit of a darker tone than the Chiefs’ previous songs, but, like most of their songs, it has memorable moments. The fragmented synthesizer sound of “On the Run” pretty much defines the song, and it has a somewhat danceable rhythm (though not as much as their previous three hits). Paul McCartney was one of the first famous people I knew of to praise the music of The Kaiser Chiefs, and it’s no wonder, really, as both McCartney and Kaiser Chiefs are British rock musicians known for their melodic but irresistibly rhythmic music. “On the Run” doesn’t seem like it has the same sort of sound that McCartney would favor, but what can I say, sometimes bands need room to grow, and Kaiser Chiefs seem like the type of band who would benefit from doing so.

“Primitive Girl” by M. Ward: It’s only two minutes and twenty seconds, but Zooey Deschanel’s backing man from She & Him churns out a charming piano-rocker with “Primitive Girl”. Ward’s material is usually rawer (though still kinda folk-y) and more guitar focused than how he comes off as on “Primitive Girl”, so he almost comes off sounding (musically) more like Zooey than himself! Aptly enough, “Primitive Girl” SOUNDS primitive, with its repetitive note sequences, starkly arranged instrumentation, and small amount of words. Ward’s fans were probably expecting more from him than this, but songs like “Primitive Girl” are among the best kind of indie songs – the cute kind!

“Temporary” by White Rabbits: Despite the name of this band, White Rabbits have little (if anything) to do with Jefferson Airplane. Their sound is a lot more contemporary than that, and comparable to bands like Phoenix, Vampire Weekend, TV on the Radio, and Modest Mouse, all of whom are far more influenced by new wave and post-punk than psychedelic. Unlike most of the songs I review, it’s hard to tell where the guitar is in this song (until the solo), yet it’s quite easy to tell where the bass is throughout the song, as the bass (and synthesizer) serve as the dominant instruments in “Temporary”. In contrast to the thumping bass-and-synth sound of the song, the vocals in “Temporary” are more wry and detached, the combination of which comes off sounding a bit like The Cars crossed with Radiohead, with a techno influence added in as well. In addition, the cover of White Rabbits’ latest album alone gives hints as to how off-the-wall their sensibilities can be. On it, their name is written backwards, the album title is written like an all black Jackson Pollock work of art, and even the title of the album itself (Milk Famous), sounds bizarre and enigmatic.

“That Dangerous Age” by Paul Weller: Paul Weller was once the frontman of the heavily Kinks-influenced British punk group, The Jam (fans of the movie “Stranger Than Fiction” would probably be familiar with their sarcastic “ballad”, “That’s Entertainment”). Since splitting apart from The Jam, Paul has released a couple of solo albums, but so far, no songs from any of those albums have gotten near as much attention as his latest song, “That Dangerous Age”. This time around, though, Ray Davies is not the British rocker Paul Weller is trying to imitate, but instead, the sleek disco-meets-punk type sound David Bowie had in the middle of his career! I have yet to figure out what “dangerous age” Weller is referring to, but at this point, it doesn’t matter, because the song is already catchy enough!! What an awesome comeback!

“When the Ship Comes In” by The Chieftains and The Decemberists: This song is pretty much folk-rock all over the place, but in varying styles! It is a cover of a song by folk-rocker master Bob Dylan, with instrumentation by Irish folk group The Chieftains, and vocals from contemporary folk-rockers The Decemberists! Of course, this being a cover of a Dylan song, the lyrics have a very folk-y feel to them, too, but more in a sea shanty kind of way, with all of its maritime imagery (seagulls, shorelines, sand, ships, etc.) It’s not a very somber song, either, in fact it has a rather jolly, upbeat sound to it, in a way that might create mental imagery of what it would be like if “Riverdance” met “Spongebob Squarepants”. The Decemberists spinning tales from the briny deep?! Hasn’t happened before, but so far, I really like it!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

New songs for February 22nd, 2012

here they are:

“Hallways” by Islands: Islands are an indie band that has been around for a long time, but haven’t gotten much attention for any particular song of theirs until now. Considering how maudlin Islands usually are, “Hallways” comes as a breath of fresh air, and that’s probably why it’s ending up being their “breakthrough” track so far. With its jaunty, piano-based sound, and a rhythm and chord progression that both seem somewhat derived from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s similarly carefree “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”, “Hallways” is not only a catchy song, but also one in which the title of it makes sense in hindsight, in that the rhythm and mood of it leave you wanting to skip and dance merrily through the “hallways”!

“Ho Hey” by Lumineers: “Lumineers” doesn’t exactly sound like the name of a part bluegrass/part indie-pop trio consisting of two men and one woman, but that’s what they are. The Lumineers manage to squeeze essential song elements like harmony, an infectious gets-stuck-in-your-head chorus (“I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweet-ha-art”), and a catchy rhythm section into just two and half minutes in “Ho Hey”, which also boasts some of the most jovial, rockin’ banjos I’ve ever heard! If this song doesn’t put a smile on your face, I don’t know what will!

“It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons: Between the name of this band, and My Pet Dragon from earlier this year, I think I can officially declare that any indie/alt-pop band with the word “Dragon” in their name is pretty cool! The sound of “It’s Time” is absolutely phenomenal, especially during the verses, which seem to combine world music influenced string instrumentation with a marching band type rhythm! It sounds a bit more like a regular alt-pop song during the chorus, but by that time, the listener will probably be hooked on the song enough that it will just blend in with the rest of the song. That’s how “It’s Time” worked out for me, anyway!

“Origins” by Tennis: Along with Hockey (whose “Song Away” was one of the most successful indie/alt songs of 2010), Tennis are one of the few bands I’ve ever known to name themselves after a sport. Unlike Hockey, who had a rather Cars-ish new wave-y sound, Tennis draw inspiration more from bands of the ‘60s, like Jefferson Airplane, The Velvet Underground, and The Zombies (whose “Tell Her No” Tennis do an excellent job at covering) The lead singer of Tennis just happens to be a female with somewhat smoky, detached vocals, which makes them stand out among most contemporary bands. Even the instrumentation of this song is strikingly different, adding in a vintage ‘60s-ish organ sound and a lower than low sounding sax along with the more typical guitar/bass/drums sound. Are there any more good things about “Origins”? Yes, plenty! The lyrics are self-conscious and doubting, but written from an earnest point of view. Oh, and did I mention that lead singer Alaina Moore looks a little like Stevie Nicks?! Think we might just have a new babe in the music biz to talk about!!

“Save the Hammer For the Man” – The Nightwatchman (featuring Ben Harper): While perhaps not quite as unique in sound as the artist formerly known as Tom Morello’s “Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine” (from late summer of last year), “Save the Hammer For the Man” is still a powerful song. Or at least it tries to be. Musically, the sound of it falls somewhat flat (until the guitar solo, that is) in comparison to Tom Morello’s material both with and without Rage Against the Machine. For Ben Harper, it’s a “somewhere in the middle” song. Ben didn’t seem to get too much into exploring the deeper, darker side of blues and rock until about 3 years ago, but he’s been remarkable at doing so. In “Save the Hammer For the Man”, Ben Harper delivers his vocals quite powerfully and convincingly, but musically, it sounds like this could have been just another pre-Relentless 7 Ben Harper song. This is definitely not a bad song, though. Once the guitar solo comes in, “Save the Hammer For the Man” picks up, not just because of the guitar solo either. It carries through stronger afterwards, both musically and vocally. And lyrically, as always, Tom Morello drives home a challenging political statement that is still well worth listening to.

“See It For Yourself” by Sugar and The Hi-Lows: Another cute female indie vocalist?! Could it be?!? Yes, it could!! “Sugar” definitely seems like a good (nick)name for the lead vocalist of this band, not only because of how she looks, but also because of how she delivers the lines of this catchy, blues-y indie rock tune, with vocals that are as sweet and honey voiced as they are sexy! The lyrics of the song almost recall the “there’s no place like home” part of “The Wizard of Oz”, with their “it was right there in front of you all along” theme. Sugar and The Hi-Lows are a pretty new band, so I don’t know the name of the lead singer (or any members) yet, but what I DO know is that she can take my ruby red slippers into the Land of Oz anytime she wants to! Yes, that was a weird attempt at innuendo, wasn’t it?! :P

“Shiny Things” by Fanfarlo: Fan WHAT now?! Well, some of you might be familiar with the song “Harold T. Wilkins” (the one that goes “They sail the same STRAIT! They sail the same STRAIT!” towards the end of it), and Fanfarlo were the ones who did that one. “Shiny Things” comes from Fanfarlo’s second record so far, and its sound is a bit of a departure from the folk-rock sound of “Harold T. Wilkins”, as it goes for more of an icy new wave type sound instead. The sound of “Shiny Things”, combined with how detached the lead singer’s voice sounds, might as well be described as “Joy Division lite”, for while the song comes nowhere near close to the intensity of the late Ian Curtis’s gloomy post-punk band, one can still detect a Joy Division type influence in this song. The video for “Shiny Things”, with its surreal, somewhat disturbing images of people getting swallowed up by gold, also sounds like an idea that’s not too far off from the typical Joy Division song. Unbelievable that the same band who did the bouncy “Harold T. Wilkins” could come up with a more cynical, cold hearted song like “Shiny Things”, but perhaps that means I could expect something different from either of those two songs from Fanfarlo sometime in the future!

“Staircase” by Radiohead: And speaking of bands with a reputation for being icy and detached, Radiohead are probably one of the first bands that come to mind when describing such a musical mood! Truth be told, Radiohead are really much more diverse than that, but, as if by coincidence (from the last song I reviewed), “Staircase” could also be said to be somewhat of a Joy Division sound-alike (though it would probably garner comparisons just as easily to bands like Depeche Mode, New Order, and Kraftwerk). In typically clever Radiohead fashion, the lyrics to “Staircase” READ like a “staircase”, in that they wind up and down continuously. Though a return to folk-rock-y Radiohead (like they did on most of “In Rainbows”) would be nice, “Staircase” isn’t bad as far as the “weirder” songs in their catalog are concerned. Only one question remains. Why did they decide to release a new song in February of THIS year, when they already did so February of LAST year?! I guess we’ll never know, will we?!?

“Untitled (Love Song)” by Counting Crows: Untitled (Love Song) is an Interesting (Piece of Music), and it’s also a Cover (Of an Obscure Indie Song). Though Counting Crows released various songs on and off throughout the 2000’s, none of them came close to what they did in the ‘90s (especially not the mucky pop version they did of the classic Joni Mitchell song, “Big Yellow Taxi”, that should have been a forgotten version of the song, but which instead comes back to haunt me in grocery stores, fast food places, and everywhere else adult cotemporary stations are played). Someone must have talked to Adam Duritz and co and convinced them to crank up the electric guitars on their latest song (which, as mentioned before, isn’t actually theirs), because it sounds closer to the gritty indie-rock sound of Ryan Adams and My Morning Jacket (with a bit of Matthew Sweet influence thrown in for good measure) than it does the folk-y post-grunge of bands like The Wallflowers and The Dave Matthews Band (both of whom were frequently compared to Counting Crows). Not only do Counting Crows have their rock ‘n’ roll groove back on “Untitled (Love Song)”, but their organ player Charlie Gillingham delivers a forceful, dynamic Hammond solo, followed in a verse or two by some of the most Neil Young-ish guitar playing Dan Vickrey has done since the ‘90s!! Welcome back guys! A million other Counting Crows fans and I have really missed the way things used to be with you guys!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

'Twas the day after Valentine's

...and all through this blog, are four new songs, to make you happy as! Anyway, here they are:

"A Little Bit of Everything" by Dawes: If by "everything" you mean "songs that sound like Jackson Browne", then yes, this song IS a little bit of "everything". But seriously, this is a good song (and coincidentally, the members of Dawes just happen to be friends with Jackson Browne). Unlike the previously guitar-oriented songs of Dawes, "A Little Bit of Everything" is mostly a "piano-rock" song, with the exception of the electric guitar solo in the middle (which, once again, sounds like something out of a Jackson Browne song). As their first major song to focus more on piano than guitar, "A Little Bit of Everything" comes off sounding more melancholy than the typical Dawes song. That being said, those attending Coachella this year who happen to be fans of Dawes might be in for a surprise when/if they hear this song from them, but hopefully it will end up being a pleasant surprise!

"Low Fuel Drug Run" by 7Horse: One of the few songs I've ever known to really put the "rock" in "country-rock", "Low Fuel Drug Run" is basically a one chord vamp (built almost entirely around a D chord capoed at the 5th fret), which is more common in blues than country OR rock. It is a fast, fun, and quite catchy tune! The harmonica in "Low Fuel Drug Run" adds a nice touch to it. The vocals in the beginning of the song are higher and easy to understand, but the lead singer quickly switches to lower vocals during the chorus and throughout the second verse, and the speed at which the lyrics are being sung becomes faster, the latter of which bears slight resemblance to Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues". Though drugs (the title of the song) are referenced and alcohol is mentioned (the refrain of the song is "six bottles of whiskey and a bottle of wine"), "Low Fuel Drug Run" still manages to be a lively, high-spirited blues-y romp!

"Meant" by Elizaveta: The dramatic, almost neo-classical intro to "Meant" gives way to a piano arpeggio similar to many of the best-known songs in pop/rock history, from The Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody" to The Beatles' "Oh! Darling" and Queen's "Somebody to Love". Unlike those three songs, "Meant" is written in a minor key, which is fitting for a song about a breakup. The orchestral backing instruments add to the intensity of this song, giving it a very powerful, convincing sound. Of course, breakup songs are nothing new, but classical and opera influenced arrangements to such songs?! I don't recall that happening before, so therefore, I think "Meant" puts a whole new spin on breakup songs. It also makes me think Elizaveta's musical influences reach from many different genres, so I look forward to hearing what she will come up with next!

"Movement And Location" by Punch Brothers: Not since the days of The Velvet Underground has a string instrument other than guitar been used so intensely that it sounds like an instrument from a typical rock band!! In "Movement And Location"'s case, TWO instruments - violin and mandolin! Though there are no electric guitars present on "Movement And Location", it seems to take cues from progressive rock songs in that it is structured more like a suite than a pop song (thankfully it's only 4 minutes and 6 seconds for those who feel bored/irritated by the incredible length of most progressive rock songs). "Bluegrass-rock" has become pretty common by now, especially in alt/indie rock music, but not typically with the sort of of craftsmanship and in-your-face vibe that shows up in "Movement And Location"!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

New songs for February 8th, 2012

Here they are:

"Brothers" by The War On Drugs: If Bob Dylan were the lead singer (and sole harmonica player) of Arcade Fire, it would probably sound like "Brothers" by The War On Drugs. The Dylan influence shouldn't come as too much of a surprise for those who know the solo work of The War On Drug's lead singer, Kurt Vile, who has a bit less of an electronic/ambient influence on his solo records. The depth of the lyrical content and the melancholy feel of "Brothers" is contrasted by how there are only 3 chords throughout the entire song. Kurt Vile and co manage to deliver a bittersweet, affecting, memorable song nonetheless, though, with "Brothers".

"Gotta Be Wrong Sometimes" by O.A.R.: O.A.R. are one of those "hit-or-miss" bands for me. This has been especially apparent ever since they switched their sound from jam band to alt-pop back in 2008. Sometimes O.A.R. still manage to deliver a relatively decent song, though, and "Gotta Be Wrong Sometimes" is one such song. "Gotta Be Wrong Sometimes" also adds a new musical facet to O.A.R.'s catalog - reggae. The throbbing bass sound and pulsating guitar riffs indicate this. Much like The Police and The Clash (among others), O.A.R. add a more rock 'n' roll element to "Gotta Be Wrong Sometimes" once the chorus comes around (and also during the bridge). The song also wraps up nicely with acoustic guitars being strummed.

"Love Interruption" by Jack White: So when's the White Stripes reunion gonna be?! Yeah, I know, Jack White announced the breakup of his one man/one woman rock band last year, but I think he's just pulling our leg. Jack released the moderately successful "Two Against One" with Danger Mouse around May of last year, and now he's got an entire solo ALBUM!! "Love Interruption" is also the most anticipated new song this week, zooming up both the adult alternative and "regular" alternative charts! Amazing how Jack started with rough, garage rock-ish songs like "Fell In Love With A Girl", and now he's progressed to Dylan-esque folk-rock with "Love Interruption". Acoustic guitar is one of the only instruments in "Love Interruption", actually, supported only by Jack's vocals, female backing vocals, and an organ (perhaps the best part of this song). Sadly, "Love Interruption" is only about two and a half minutes long. Why couldn't it have been longer?! Oh well, better that than nothing at all, I say!

"Midnight In Harlem" by The Tedeschi-Trucks Band: What's this?! Susan and Derek now have a FOURTH song hitting the adult alt airwaves?!? Never would've expected THAT!! Neither of them have gotten this much success before! Perhaps it's the diversity of musical influences they've chosen, from gospel, to hard rock, to straight up blues, that has gotten Tedeschi and Trucks this much attention. "Midnight In Harlem" seems to recall the melancholy country-rock of people like Bonnie Raitt (likely one of Susan Tedeschi's biggest influences). Certainly a change of pace from the relentless energy of the other three songs that have gotten attention from The Tedeschi-Trucks band, but "Midnight In Harlem" definitely gels, especially due to the honest, heartfelt emotion that Susan Tedeschi puts into the song! Derek Trucks also puts about as much emotion into his guitar playing as Tedeschi puts into the vocal parts of this song, making for a winning combination once again!

"Old Lady" by Sinead O'Connor: With The Cranberries having also released a new song just three months before this one, I think I can officially say that Irish alt-rock gals are taking over once again! "Old Lady" marks a couple high points for Sinead, I think. First of all, the lyrics to the song are probably some of the most pensive, most reflective I've ever heard from her, revolving around hope that her relationship will literally last a lifetime. Instrumentally, "Old Lady" delivers too. Sinead seemed to move away from alternative rock and more into pop and folk by the time her popularity started to fade away around the mid-'90s, but "Old Lady" picks up where songs like "The Emperor's New Clothes" and "Mandinka" left off. It doesn't have as much of a propulsive, rocking sound as either of those songs, but it does make it sound as though Sinead has gotten more attuned to newer alt-pop/rockers like Snow Patrol, (early) Coldplay, and Travis. Perhaps not what most Sinead fans were expecting, but it seems to be pretty well received so far nonetheless, and, might I add, quite deservedly so

"Rainy Day Girl" by The Villains: The Villains aren't very villainous, are they?! Quite the opposite, really. They have a very benign, accessible sound, and they don't really sound as spectacular or memorable as most of the songs/performers on this week's list, but the faux-U2 sound of this song has still managed to please me, perhaps because it just sounds natural to me, and not so over the top like most of the modern bands influenced by U2. The electric guitar solo in the middle (and end) of "Rainy Day Girl" came as a bit of a surprise to me since most of the song seems more mellow than that. Yeah, the lyrics are pretty generic, but there's still something about this song I like!

"Save Your Best Bits" by The Parlotones: The Parlotones seemed like they got their first taste of attention when they decided to be a supporting act for Coldplay one of their tours, but this sounds more like Cold War Kids than Coldplay. This song is also a far cry from the surging, urgent, energetic feel of The Parlotones' first big song, "Should We Fight Back?" "Save Your Best Bits" is a slower, more heartfelt song. The 'Tones still have some backbone on this song, though. "Save Your Best Bits" is backed by electric guitars that seem to have a "U2 goes indie" sort of sound. That being said, "Save Your Best Bits" really has only one major flaw. Why isn't it longer than three minutes?!? Oh well, it's still likable, and that's what matters the most here.

"You As You Were" by Shearwater: This song comes off like a "piano-rock" version of bands like Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear. The lead singer of Shearwater sounds like a cross between Morrissey from The Smiths and Pete Townshend from The Who on this song. So far, this is probably an odd description for "You As You Were", but it's actually one of the best songs on this list as far as I'm concerned! But why?! Well, perhaps because the passionate vocals of the lead singer match almost perfectly with the song's equally passionate piano playing. "You As You Were" seems like it's as much of a sad song as it is a "rush of energy" song. Not many have been able to pull both of those aspects off in such a powerful manner, but Shearwater does so on "You As You Were" with tremendous effort and commitment!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

No Lennon, No Cry

Interestingly, two of the entries for this week blend rock with reggae. I dunno what's up with that - maybe the ghost of Bob Marley has been haunting Bonnie Raitt and Ringo Starr!! Anyway, here they are:

"Cough Syrup" by Young the Giant: Every rock star has his/her sensitive side, and that includes recent ones like Young the Giant. "Cough Syrup" is an especially interesting ballad, musically it is almost like "Hey There Delilah" with electric guitars and drums instead of acoustic guitars. Unlike "Hey There Delilah", which is clearly a love song, "Cough Syrup" deals with tougher issues, like the bleakness that life sometimes offers and (from what I can tell), drug addiction. Never thought a band like Young the Giant, who don't exactly seem like the "softest" band in the world, could pull off such a bittersweet, affecting song like "Cough Syrup", but they do a good job at it! "Cough Syrup" also bears slight similarities to songs like Jimmy Eat World's "The Middle" and Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody", which makes me want to nickname Young the Giant, "Jimmy Eats Leon"!!

"Right Down the Line" by Bonnie Raitt: After 7 years out of the limelight, Bonnie is back!! One of my fave critically acclaimed rock musicians does it again, with...a cover of a song by '70s soft rocker Gerry Rafferty?!? Hmm, wasn't expecting that! Oh, yeah, and did I mention it is also a REGGAE version of that song?!? What the?!?! Seriously?!? A bit of a weird stunt for Bonnie to pull after three years short of a decade, but she does manage to make it work here!! The trademark bluesy guitar solos are present in this song, and Bonnie makes a song that was once a relatively benign song with somewhat lukewarm emotional quality sound steamy, even sexy in comparison! One more interesting aspect to note about Bonnie's cover of Gerry Rafferty (the latter of whom, sadly, passed away in January of last year) is that she changes the word "woman" in the original to "baby".

"Wings" by Ringo Starr: Not only is this the only other song in this edition of my music blog by a musician that has been active for a little over 40 years, but it is also the only other song in this entry that blends reggae and rock together ("roggae"?!) "Wings" was originally a song that Ringo did back in 1977, and it had a bit more of a rock 'n' roll sound than this version does. However, Ringo blends the reggae beat and rock instrumentation well enough here that it becomes an enjoyable version of the original "Wings" (which, by the way, is NOT about Paul McCartney's post-Beatles band, like I originally thought it would be). Hey, at least this is better (WAY better, I think) than what the other surviving Beatle released this year!