Welcome to Check Your Mode

The all-inclusive, ever-changing, and uncomfortably flexible guide to all things music in the 2010's.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Avenged Sevenfold - Nightmare: A

On December 28th, 2009, Avenged Sevenfold's drummer and occasional vocalist Jimmy Owen Sullivan, better known as The Rev, was found dead in his home. The news of the tragedy came at a time when it seemed as if celebrities were dying left and right, so, when I first heard it, I was skeptical. But The Rev's death, at age 29, was anything but a hoax, and was nothing if not unexpected to occur to a musician who appeared to be at the peak of his abilities. However, what I found nearly as puzzling was the lack of coverage for the man's death. Here was the loss of arguably the best drummer of my generation, and the only remotely in-depth article I could find on the subject was a lone MTV article, and little else. Avenged Sevenfold are seen as a somewhat polarizing force in modern metal, so I suppose few news outlets took the band seriously enough to give them the time of day to cover the loss of a person whose musical ability will be inspiring drummers for generations.

Avenged Sevenfold were in the midst of the demoing phase of Nightmare by the time The Rev died, so the album plays out less like a tribute to their fallen comrade and more like the band's final creative product with him. In this case, The Rev literally ghostwrites for Dream Theater drummer, Mike Portnoy, who takes over drum duties for the album. Portnoy has stated in interviews that his intent on Nightmare was to stay as close as possible to what the late drummer had written. The man was chosen less for his immense creative ability than his technical skill to play the, at times, exhausting rhythms that The Rev had planned to play throughout the album. And it all works. A person listening to Nightmare without the pretense of a great caveat would think that this was The Rev performing, and this is thanks to Nightmare's mixer, Andy Wallace, who has been working with the band since City of Evil, and producer Mike Elizondo, who I was surprised to find had never worked with the band before.

It also helps that The Rev left the band with a multitude of musical ideas to spare. The band's immensely disappointing self-titled follow-up to the band's watershed moment, City of Evil, was both saved and fundamentally faulted for its overeagerness to reach out to larger audiences. The album did Avenged Sevenfold no help in quelling peoples' accusations of the band being pop-metal posers, and, after the band's success with singles like "Afterlife" and "Almost Easy", I was almost certain that the band was going to forever suppress their predilection for suitably unwieldy techniques in favor of a saccharine sheen; one that would continue to isolate and motivate the band's fan base to abandon them, altogether. And, reading Nightmare's tracklisting, one would think that this was the path the band had decided to go. If there is one thing I can fault Nightmare for, it is for its unnecessarily melodramatic song titles. Names like "So Far Away", "Victim" and "God Hates Us" won't convert listeners surveying the album with any preconceived notion of how the band operates. However, an actual listen to Nightmare will reveal that Avenged Sevenfold pulled the rare feat of taking a step back from their undoubtedly successful dreck to craft an album that is on a sonic plane much closer to City of Evil than Avenged Sevenfold.

In fact, a significant amount of Nightmare can be compared to City of Evil and the highlights of Avenged Sevenfold. The staccato propulsion of the drums on the title track are reminiscent of "Critical Acclaim", while the introductory clean guitar picking in "God Hates Us" sounds like that of "Strength of the World". The choruses of songs like "Danger Line" and "Welcome to the Family" do an excellent job of keeping afloat engaging melodies while still maintaining an aggressive edge that was perfectly employed on City of Evil, and ultimately defined the "Avenged Sevenfold sound". You see, Avenged Sevenfold are best when their winds are long and their concepts are high. The band's ability to bob and weave through multiple and contrary moods and styles throughout the course of a single song made City of Evil such a wonderful experience, and, on Nightmare, the band does a remarkably amiable job of hearkening back to that technique. My theory is this: After seeing that much of their core fan base hated the turn they were taking with Avenged Sevenfold, the band decided to go back to the style that made them so beloved by fans like myself. The only consequence was that some of Nightmare's originality in practice was comprised.

However, what Nightmare may lack in originality from its obvious reference point, it makes up in being a genuinely enjoyable listen. "Nightmare", the album's first single, is excellent practice of Avenged's versatility; transitioning from the band's aforementioned trademark to a "Creeping Death"-style chant-along whose inclusion, alone, makes me want to go see the band on their next tour. "Buried Alive" has a similar approach, changing from a mid-tempo number rich in harmonies from guitarists Synyster Gates and Zachy Vengeance to a heavy, growling affair that climaxes in double-bass-aided triplets. Avenged separate their songs by tempo on Nightmare more than they did on City of Evil, but that does not mean that you should skip the ballads, because every single one of them is a keeper. M. Shadows even turns in a double-take-inducing vocal performance on "Tonight the World Dies" and ropes in an uncharacteristically memorable lyric in "Save Me" ("They say all beauty must die / I say it just moves on.")

Nightmare also nods to the band's first two albums with great success. The muffled screaming in the bridge of "God Hates Us" is the spitting image of late-career Phil Anselmo, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. And the metalcore riffage in "Save Me" shows that such a guitar technique can sound amazing when used in moderation.

And the band also nods to an introduction of new sounds that could be an indication of where the band will go, next. The whistling in "Danger Line" fits the song's funeral procession of an ending, wonderfully, and the "Great Gig in the Sky" singing that bookends "Victim" is surprising, but no less welcome than the throwbacks to City of Evil. A reason Nightmare has renewed my confidence in Avenged Sevenfold is because what I view to be the album's highlight lies in this category. A deliciously devious piano line opens penultimate track "Fiction", immediately separating the track from the rest of the proceedings. The song is, more or less, a ballad, but the unconventionally double-tracked vocals of M. Shadows and the last work recorded by The Rev keep your ears swimming in pure glee. The Rev's screaming of "Burn!" to the heavens would send chills down your spine whether the man was alive or dead. "Fiction" is the prime kind of expansion of sound that I would most likely applaud the band for on future releases.

Nightmare doesn't so much eclipse City of Evil as much as stand on its tippy-toes to maintain in its frame. However, as a standalone release, it is a truly remarkable accomplishment; given the circumstances, even greater. Those looking for Synyster Gates' guitar heroics in the vein of "Afterlife" or "Bat County" may be disappointed, as his sweeps and tapping are relegated to aural plaster, and are very rarely a prominent lead coat. Instead, Nightmare shows Avenged at a maturity that you would be hard pressed to find in bands that have been around for twice as long. There's no way of knowing where Avenged Sevenfold will go from here with one of their key songwriters missing in action. I believe, though, that Nightmare will recruit Avenged fans new and old to support the band for whatever direction that may be.


Menomena - Mines: A-

"Have you seen your ghost? / It says things that you won't"

There are countless analogies that can be attributed to what I experience when I listen to Menomena's new album. I like to think (or rather it is my interpretation) that, when "Queen Black Acid" begins Mines, you are being handcuffed to a man slowly descending into alcoholism in an attempt to futilely mask the fact that his life is falling apart. Lines so insignificant yet so revealing as that quote up there boil over the subject's subconscious to be heard by others, and, ultimately, you. Let the music engulf you and Mines can be the mot depressing album you'll ever hear. But the album is such a masterful character study, I have to recommend the album despite that necessary evil.

At face value, the playful bass and bright chords of opener "Queen Black Acid" can seem like your standardly quaint indie rock song. The same can be said for second track, "Taos", whose ramshackle drum parts and blithe interchange of instruments are charming and seem almost uplifting. I see "Queen Black Acid" as the listener's exposition to the story of the album's subject. You can tell from the lyrics that he is having relationship troubles ("You barely notice what I say / You're busy looking around the room instead."), but it is also revealed that his internal weakness may be just if not more troubling ("You're five foot five not one hundred pounds / I'm scared to death of every single ounce"). "Taos" seems to be high on a misplaced confidence, as the subject seems to find so much glee in knowing what you might like, despite admitting that he really has no idea. I say it sounds like the the subject is drunk, but it could be a multitude of things. What is certain, though, is that, from that point on, things get immensely dark, and by the end, it's all you can do to keep from crying for this person.

Piano inflections, rummaging toms and shakers drop out of the mix on third track "Killemall", leaving lead singer Justin Harris with nothing but an ominous bassline to say the lyric that begins this piece. It's one of those moments that, from that point on, you can't not listen to the lyrics, and, from that point on, the lyrics become increasingly bleak. "Dirty Cartoons"'s chorus is a call-and-response between Harris and a mob; he wails "Go home", they sigh "I'd like to". First single, "Five Little Rooms" finds the subject describing a McDonalds in a suburban shopping mall, then snidely remarks "All this could be yours some day". All the negativity turns outright transcendent on "Tithe", as a faint piano line underscores Harris as he sings, "Spending the best years / Of a childhood / Horizontal on the floor / Like a bobsled / Without the teamwork / Or the televised support." Those pauses he takes are painfully trenchant and I find myself inexplicably clinging to them as I listen to the track. Mines has many of these moments, and the overriding negativity can be strangely satisfying, even if you have no idea why.

Does Mines have a happy ending? As Harris intones "I fear I'm showing my age" leading into the album's closer, you wouldn't think so. But on the final track, itself, a glimmer of light appears, but it isn't from the finding of solution, but acceptance. When I think of "Sleeping Beauty", that final track, I imagine the subject of Mines kneeling at the foot of a bed, running his fingers through the hair of a woman. It could be a new love or an offspring, but I see it as less of a turning point, and more of a clean slate of the vicarious sort. Some may not find that particularly reassuring, but, based on how Menomena seem to get themselves lost within the song's dream-like reverb, I would say they think so.

I'm sorry I didn't write anything about the actual music of Mines. I felt the lyrical content was brilliant enough to warrant a standalone analysis. I promise you this, though: This will not be last time I will be writing about this album.


Max Richter - Infra: B+


The sun is slowly setting as Joshua appears to be fully coated in orange from the strong shade of the sun. He leans on a post pensively, staring at the ground.

(looking up)
You know we can't keep doing this?


You know.

Seriously, what?



Joshua turns to Kaitlin and holds her hands, rubbing them, affectionately.


But what do we do about it?

I'm not sure. I need to think. And that thinking's gotta be intense. I mean this is some serious thinking fodder.

I've got just the thing.

Josh walks to the CD player conveniently placed on a bench and PRESSES play. Max Richter's "Infra 5" begins.

Woah. You weren't kidding.

Josh walks up to Kaitlin and goes back to the position they were at before.

(still whispering)
Yeah. I just got this album. It seems like it was specifically made for pensive thought in a melodramatic movie.

It certainly is dramatic.

(raising his voice)
Like you would know!

Joshua runs off, arms flailing, frantically. Kaitlin SITS at the bench next to the CD player, presses the rewind button eight times to "Journey 1", and RAISES the volume.

Wow, no matter how hard I try, I can't help but have my eyes widen at this wonderfully crafted music. I mean, it seems it's either just really emotional piano or orchestral arrangements. Fantastic.

Kaitlin skips three tracks to "Journey 2"

Oh, and experimental drone tracks. But it all seems to convey, perfectly, the silent but precious atmosphere of deep, intense thought.

Joshua bursts through the doors to the patio, arms flailing slightly less.

Have you made your decision, yet?

No. I think I'll need more time to think. And could you burn me this album? It's exquisite!

You like it? I think it's great. Especially "Infra 5". It's just this rich orchestral piece that you think is going to release this great catharsis at the end, but is undercut by the drone of what sounds like an intercom. Sure, it's a little frustrating, but Max's artistry won't let you take the easy way out.

(gets up from bench)
Kinda like emotional blue balls.

Well you're much more experienced in that field than I am.

Oh, you ass. Come on. We'll think together, intensely, while we listen to Max Richter's new album.

Sounds good. I need to get to the hospital anyway. That dramatic burst through the doors to the patio has left my arms mangled with splinters, and I'm pretty sure I have some glass sticking out of my palm.

Kaitlin offers her hand to Joshua, Joshua shakes his head, Kaitlin shrugs, and the two walk into the sunset, knowing full well that, by the time Kaitlin returns, her house will be infested with bugs from leaving the patio doors open for so long.


Mount Kimbie - Crooks & Lovers: B

It seems to me that Mount Kimbie released their debut LP at the exact wrong time. With already great to excellent releases from electronic artists Toro y Moi, Flying Lotus and Guido this year alone, I can't help but compare every track of Crooks & Lovers in some way to the hazy glo fi of the first, the skittery IDM of the second or the conservative dubset of the third.

This doesn't necessarily preclude a good listening experience. But, for anyone who has heard the newest albums from any of the three artists I just mentioned, Crooks & Lovers will smack of unoriginality.

What does sound original on Crooks & Lovers is the implementation of unique percussion styles. The foundation of "Before I Move Off", for example, is comprised of the clicking of one's tongue against the roof of their mouth at different frequencies. The groove of "Carbonated" sounds to me like the dropping of a pebble into a puddle and the repeated flicking of a carpet. "Ruby" sounds like a game of table tennis is being played throughout the duration of the song, and, oh look at that! Flying Lotus already did that on his song "Table Tennis" ("But, Paul. You can't honestly think that just because Flying Lotus had the sound of table tennis in his song you can fault everyone else who does it on their album." In fact I can. Few artists can lay claim to that playing style, and FlyLo pretty much perfected it on his album.). However intriguing these production tics can get, they might as well be filed under "Wow Factor" for their failure to compensate for an album's worth of material.

By the end of Crooks & Lovers, we do get to see Mount Kimbie come into their own with a sound purely theirs. "Mayor", "Between Time" and the last minute and fifteen seconds of "Field" all hint at the duo's unique composition abilities, and might make for a good album if expanded on a future release.

If Crooks & Lovers proves to be the album where Mount Kimbie get their footing and name out there, I will be more than happy with that. The album's final seven minutes show that the group has the potential to be a reckoning force in modern electronic music. I look forward to seeing what the group comes up with next, but am a little frustrated at how little Crooks &Lovers will maintain that enthusiasm until then.


Lil' Wayne - The Rebirth: B-

Rock album? More like hip-hop with guitars playing over it. I've heard more rock from Gnarls Barkley and Lupe Fiasco.

Emo? Sure, "Prom Queen" is undoubtedly crappy for Lil' Wayne's unnecessary eagerness to tack his heart to his sleeve, but the rest of The Rebirth, to Wayne's credit, experiments with multiple facets of rock music, whether it be through the No Doubt spunk of "Get A Life" or the tom-heavy funk of "Ground Zero".

Worst album of the year? Hardly. The Rebirth is by no means a masterpiece, but I've heard much worse. Despite nearly an all-out refusal to spit more than two good verses ON HIS OWN ALBUM, Wayne's newest is kept afloat by beats that can range from the interesting to replay-worthy. Take "Knockout" for example. Wayne's verses are adequate at best, but that Blink-182-style guitar line and that scene-stealing turn from Nikki Minaj make for a song that's significantly better than decent.

So everything you've been told about The Rebirth is wrong. It's listenable, and, considering how much crappy press it's gotten since its release, it might just exceed your expectations. That said, The Rebirth isn't really worth your money. Buy "Knockout" and maybe "On Fire" and call it a day, because there are far too many times when The Rebirth lives up to its anti-hype, such as every ballad and whenever Lil' Wayne mixes his Auto-Tune with his distortion. "The Price is Wrong", in fact, could be the worst song of the year. It's all pretty much a misstep, but it won't disgust you quite as much as people would have you believe.


Midlake - The Courage of Others: B+

"I will never have the courage of others," goes the chorus to the title track of Midlake's third album. So, yeah, don't expect the folk rock band to be painting on Five Hour Energy smiles any time soon. As disparaging as the themes of Midlake's newest can get, the album is impeccably produced. Melancholied harmonies soar and tepid fingers pluck while tempos slow to a crawl, and, if you immerse yourself enough, you can imagine yourself in feudal England, where I guess this would be the equivalent of grunge. Regardless, The Courage of Others is an acoustic album that is sound enough that, when the electric moments do come, you're pleasantly surprised as opposed to breathing a sigh of relief.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Kylie Minogue - Aphrodite: A-

Earlier this year, Goldfrapp released an album of heavily '80's-influenced dance music, entitled Head First. Fake drums echoed, synths squealed, and Goldfrapp winked at the listener as hard as she could, all while making a pretty good album in the process. Although many cited Olivia Newton-John as a clear influence, one could argue that Goldfrapp entrenched herself on Head First into an exaggeration of a sound pioneered by Kylie Minogue, and, ultimately, perfected by Cascada's "Everytime We Touch". Essentially, Goldfrapp was making a Kylie Minogue parody with Head First, but little did she know that Kylie Minogue was going to do a better Kylie Minogue parody in the same year.

Currently, I write my reviews in the living room of a house in the suburbs, so one can imagine how ridiculous it looks when I try to resist putting my hands up at Kylie Minogue's command in "Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love)". It's a cliched demand for anyone who's set foot in a school dance, but, inexplicably, Mingue makes it sound fresh. Absurdly unselfconscious lines like "All we need is love in this life, it's true" are forgiven amidst infectious production. On Aphrodite, Kylie makes it clear she knows what she's good at and delivers to the best of her ability; no guests, no experimentation. There's a song to strut to ("Everything Is Beautiful"), kiss to ("Cupid Boy"), kiss off to ("Get Outta My Way") and dance to (All of them). It's one of those dance albums that covers all of the bases within its provincial purpose and is oddly versatile for it. You could just put Aphrodite on and never have to skip a track.

And dance's most reliable songstress has saved the summer, again.


Big Boi - Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty: A+

Usually, when it comes to hip-hop albums, it is the beat that initially garners my interest. The lyrical content can either elevate or diminish my impression of a song or album, but, undoubtedly, this is almost always a secondary judgement. Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, Big Boi's first solo outing from his mainstay, Outkast, worked, for me, in the exact opposite way. Don't get me wrong: The beats of "Shutterbug" and "General Patton" are some of the most inventive I have ever heard. But, from a purely melodic standpoint, most of the songs of Sir Luscious Left Foot do not break much new ground. Instead, the vocal performances of Big Boi and his compatriots captured my interest; the music, itself, revealing its greatness with repeated listens.

EVERY voice here sounds perfectly positioned to compliment the music. Big Boi, himself, is always rapping on some level of profundity; not once does he show flaw or blunder. His role as the center of the show is unquestioned, throughout, so I want to take some time to give some much-deserved respect to the proverbial stage hands and dressing-room consultants who allow the man to perform at his most spry. T.I.'s elastic drawl fits wonderfully on the DIRTY (feel free to add "r"'s to your leisure) "Tangerine". Yelawolf's verses on "You Ain't No DJ" are both aurally pleasing and lyrically splendid, his hilariously manic annunciation one of the many highlights of the album ("And God said 'Look to the burning bush'/Now turned to weed/So I jumped on my shit when I saw my mamma burning trees"). Although the performance, itself, is nothing spectacular, Janelle Monae's maturely subdued tone compliments the neo-soul romp of "Be Still", perfectly. The post-chorus of "Hustle Blood" is pure comedic gold. The skit at the end of "You Ain't No DJ" is so brilliant, it should be featured in the lyrics booklet. And, of course, the David Blaine, which I will probably never forget, whether I want to or not.

A moment to list a few notable words and phrases on Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (pronunciations included when appropriate):

  • Anything ending in "er"
  • With [weeth]
  • Kodak You ("Kodak" being a verb in this case)
  • Pretty Bitties
  • Outdoors [out-douz]
  • Alligator Souffle
  • Patton [pateyn] [patuhn]
  • Semi Up To This Tow Truck
  • Ayalabiameyayagains [Good fucking luck]
  • Chicken Chow Mein
  • The entire chorus of "Fo Yo Sorrows"
  • Must Be Teatime
  • Perimeter
  • Obsolete [ob-suh-leyt]
  • Feel Me
If reviewers are reluctant to award Sir Luscious Left Foot the classic status it deserves due to the hype machine that still hums in the distance, allow me to speak for them by saying it is the greatest rap album released in at least four years. This is one of those albums that comes around every once in a while that perfectly exemplifies an hour of pure good times. Not a moment of Sir Luscious Left Foot is wasted, so the least anyone can do is waste no time in listening to it.


The Magnetic Fields - Realism: A-

  • Stephen Merritt has said this is The Magnetic Fields' "folk album"
  • The band's still satirical after all these years, and is still obsessed with undermining the "pop" formula, a word whose definition seems to change with every Magnetic Fields album
If you've heard anything about this album, you already know the above two points; points that are absolutely right. After more than a decade of having his tongue firmly in his cheek, one would think that Stephen Merritt's muscles would weaken before our ears. But here we are in 2010, and The Magnetic Fields haven't really changed, and, which is probably a bigger accomplishment, they are still funny.

First track, "You Must Be Out of Your Mind" is straightforward wry humor ("You can't go around just saying stuff / Because it's pretty / And I no longer drink enough / To think you're witty") and "The Doll's Tea Party" is your standard critique of upper-middle class ennui ("We won't have it said / We're fashion obsessed / We're just prettier ladies / Than most of the rest"). And, though the subject matter isn't revelatory, the band's parodies of them are still quite enjoyable. I giggled when I heard Merritt murmur "I could throw you off the nearest cliff" at the end of "I Don't Know What to Say" and I smiled at the seemingly random reference to Ho Chi Minh in the German-speaking "Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree". The banjo-dominated production, bereft of all distortion and most amplification, sounds great as well, and is never at odds with the, at times, scathing lyrical content.

If you're looking for more than just a facade of sincerity, I would direct you away from Realism and the rest of the Magnetic Fields discography for that matter. However, everyone's inner cynic will love this album, because it is (arguably) healthy to get bogged down in the lovesick every once in a while.


School of Seven Bells - Disconnect From Desire: B+

I wouldn't expect more than just an enjoyable listening experience with Disconnect From Desire. School of Seven Bells play a kind of ethereal pop that can either keep you smiling or get you really annoyed. Thankfully, they never get very close to the latter, as there is always something to keep your interest amidst all of the fuzz and cooing. "Windstorm" is a clear highlight, its choir-like chorus making an immediate case for the album. And the rest either plays off a catchy riff ("Camarilla", "Dust Devil") or just plays off a confidence you are actually convinced of (Spoon take heed).

For an album so musically winsome, singer Alejandra Deheza's lyrics are surprisingly bleak and lovelorn. "You don't have to be cruel," she sings among perfect harmonies on "Dust Devil". "But time has a heart for cruelty". In "I L U", Alejandra states her emotions most explicitly. Its unique phrasing allows her say "Looking into your eyes for a sign that maybe you feel the same," without any obvious feeling of caesura in addition to this key detail: "But you don't". It's moments like those that give Disconnect From Desire more depth than one who just listens to the music would give them credit for.

I wouldn't take my rating for Disconnect From Desire too seriously, because, over the time I listened to it, my rating increased significantly, so it may be greater as the year goes on. I would suggest giving this album a listen, simply because it may grow on you as it did for me. The first half of 2010 has yielded some pretty amazing music, so calling this one slightly above average in comparison is more of a compliment than you'd think.


RJD2 - The Colossus: A-

Most of those who have problems with RJD2's most recent material don't like Ramble Jon Krohn's increased vocal role in the songs he creates, arguing that his range isn't flexible enough to be employed for all of the genres he likes to experiment with. With the Colossus, I would not tend to agree with this assessment; Krohn's reedy tone is nothing if not adequate to fit the material on here. However, I will say that the best moments on The Colossus are when nobody sings. The jazzy pulp of "Let There Be Horns" is absolute fun, and more hip hop-oriented instrumentals like "Small Plans" and "Tin Flower" are clear highlights on an album full of them. It is here where Krohn's songwriting ability truly shines, unafraid to indulge in a creepy choir-led interlude in "The Stranger" or break out a harpsichord solo in "Giant Squid".

The songs with vocals are also excellent, but clearly show Krohn playing within definite parameters. The Phonte Coleman-helmed "The Shining Path" is a great slice of soul with its plunking piano keys and relaxed percussion and "Games You Can Win" features a good vocal performance from an artist I thought had dropped off the face of the Earth (Kenna in case you were wondering). The only weak track present is "A Son's Cycle", which features rappers The Catalyst, Illogic and NP performing over three revolving beats, and, although it is an interesting premise, it does not translate into a song that flows particularly well.

Many RJD2 fans fault Krohn for branching off into other genres (mainly soul and R&B) as opposed to making the more traditional hop hop featured on his earlier albums, but I honestly wouldn't mind if Krohn kept coming out with albums like The Colossus for a while. Sure, innovation is key to any artist, but, with The Colossus, RjD2 shows that he continues to be a versatile force to be reckoned with.


Four Tet - There Is Love in You: C+

For an album that has been so critically reveled, I am surprised at how little of a reaction I got from Four Tet's newest album. In my M.I.A. review, I spoke of songs that just wash over me with little fanfare in any particular direction, but when There Is Love In You finished the first time I heard it, I almost immediately forgot what I had just listened to. It's not so much that the album is boring, but the quintessence of forgettable. I would suggest just listening to There Is Love In You only if you were desperate for some sort of musical accompaniment, but, you could probably get more revelations if you kept your window open. At least then there's a sliver of a chance something interesting will happen, whereas, on There Is Love In You, that chance is all but obliterated. The concept of why people find so much to like in this record is almost as difficult to me as trying to remember the title of this album AS I REVIEW IT. I would say that There Is Love In You is a snooze, but it doesn't even help you sleep, either. So you tell me: What the hell is the point of this album?


Los Campesinos! - Romance Is Boring: A-

William Falkner would be proud. That's right. An indie-rock band from The UK has come out with an album with enough confusing time signatures to rival a Mastodon album and enough run-on sentences to melt your frontal cortex. Gareth and the rest of the Campesinos pack Romance Is Boring with enough references and easter eggs to keep you finding new material for years and years (or at least until the next Los Campesinos! album comes out). For some, it will be a clever and engaging endeavor, for others life-changing. At the moment, I'm somewhere in between, but I promise you, on some level, Romance Is Boring will engage your thirst for nostalgia, melancholy, and catharsis.


Citay - Dream Get Together: B+

The first band that came to mind while listening to Dream Get Together was Boston. Now, Citay's brand of rock and roll is a little bit farther up the Appalachian trail if you know what I mean. Riffs like that of "Careful With That Hat" are far too immediately jovial to be featured on any of that band's records, but those twin guitar leads and that feathered production make it hard to think of any other reference point short of just citing all of the rock of the 1970's.

Dream Get Together is its own album, mind you. Song lengths are vast and group vocals are employed, often, creating a sound that is nothing if not rich; something to, at the very least, marvel at when the guitar solos get a little long-winded. On that note, sometimes you wish that Citay would just write a regular pop-song, because you know, with all the elements they employ on Dream Get Together, they would do it masterfully. But I guess that dedication to the purity of their craft is another reason to enjoy Dream Get Together, even if, at times, you may find it difficult to do so.


Infinite Body - Carve Out the Face of My God: F

The only way to gauge how truly awful Carve Out the Face of My God is is to see how long it takes for Infinite Body to release a new album, because if it isn't longer than 8 months, this album is going on my list of worst albums I have ever had the displeasure of hearing.

Every song on the album is literally comprised of these five steps:

1. Turn on recording device
2. Turn on amp
3. Wait 2-3 minutes
4. Turn off amp
5. Turn off recording device.

The only difference between songs is that the guy (Kyle Parker) uses a different amp or a different guitar, but the process is frustratingly unchanged. If I wanted to hear this kind of music, I would just show up early to hear the soundcheck at a Sonic Youth concert. The idea that Parker is trying to pass this off as good art is both laughable and insulting.

If you gave me a guitar, an amp, and a mic, I could make thousands of Infinite Body albums in a month. Imagine this guy touring off this crock? Ha! I'd just as soon swallow a tuning fork than pay to see this guy flick a switch and walk offstage.


Ihsahn - Ihsahn: B+

If you listen to only one song on former Emperor front-man, Ihsahn's third album (which I would strongly advise against), make it the album's final song, "On the Shores". Jorgan Munkeby's saxophone performance is one for the history books, as he is given full stretches of the ten minute song to just go into all-out free-form jazz mode. It's a gloriously hectic performance of which few others I have ever heard. The simple contrast of saxophone and Emperor-style metal is staunch, but the musicianship is so mind-blowing, I would rather just direct you to the link than try to articulate its majesty for much longer.

And the rest of Ihsahn is cool, too. Ihsahn, aside from the saxophone, recorded all of the parts, himself, which is incredible once you hear the fantastic musicianship on all fronts. The harmonies of "After" are executed, wonderfully and prove to be the poppiest moment on the album, and there are enough blast beats and guitar solos abound for any metal fan to celebrate.

Is it metal album of the year? No, but for anyone who craves music on the onset of innovation, Ihsahn is a pretty demonstrative of where 2010's metal may be headed. Every other genre melded in the 2000's, so I welcome this sound. Metal's a genre I don't hear enough about, so Ihsahn is proof that the genre is still going into new and exciting places.


Carolina Chocolate Drops - Genuine Negro Jig: B+

Short of Manowar coming out with an album of Viking sea shanties, Carolina Chocolate Drops are about as retro a sound as you're bound to get. The trio play Reconstruction-era bluegrass; stand-up bass and all. And, though some may think that style would be campy or entertaining in novelty value, only, Genuine Negro Jig is a surprisingly varied listen. Although songs like "Cindy Gal" and "Cornbread and Butterbeans" can sound almost laughably dated, Carolina Chocolate Drops do a pretty good job, overall, of maintaining your interest despite their limited playing field.

All three Drops have their own distinct voices, so at times, Genuine Negro Jig can sound like an ensemble piece. At the center of this, no doubt, is Rhiannon Giddens, whose nimble violin playing makes the instrumentals colorful and whose voice can either sound deliciously vindictive, as on the Blu Cantrell cover, "Hit 'Em Up Style", or plaintively delicate ("Reynadine").

At times it can sound profound, but it is clear that, with Genuine Negro Jig, Carolina Chocolate Drops were just making to write a hootenanny of a record, albeit a low-key one. For that they have succeeded, as Genuine Negro Jig is the sound of a band that knows what they do well and acts upon it as such.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

M.I.A. - /\/\/\Y/\: B-

M.I.A. and I have had a troublesome relationship over the past few years. Before I started this blog and in the midst of building up my music taste and collection, I conducted an annual list for no one in particular of the greatest albums of a given year, collated from the top ten lists of every publication I could find. For both 2005 and 2007, M.I.A. made an appearance, which was fine. My problem was that, no matter how many times I tried to, I could not figure out why people believed her music was good. Her style seemed to take pride in collecting disparate (but not necessarily musical) sounds and throwing them into a single product. And, though I can applaud that kind of thirst for experimentation, time and time again I would find M.I.A.'s music to be, to put it lightly, annoying.

With that in mind, one would think I would give /\/\/\Y/\, M.I.A.'s third album, a much harsher score than a B-. For me, though, in order for an album to receive a rating less than that, it must offend me in some way. And, strangely enough, /\/\/\Y/\ never really "accomplishes" this. Nor does it ever particularly push me in the other direction, either. More often than not, the songs of /\/\/\Y/\ tend to go by, passively; never making much of an impression in general.

/\/\/\Y/\ can be divided into two distinct halves. The first, from "The Message" to "Story to Be Told", has a sound one can only describe as industrial and conspiratorial. If you're not hearing synths blaring like police sirens, M.I.A.'s heavily Auto-Tuned voice is trying its best to replicate them. There are times when you can literally hear power tools operating. Lyrics are either unintelligible or unintelligent. "The Message" makes a tenuous connection between Google and the government. A choice lyric from "Lovealot" ("They told me this was a free country / But now it feels like a chicken factory") can give you a taste of how laughably self-serious M.I.A.'s words can get. And the only thing particularly enjoyable of the lot is "Steppin' Up" if only for the fact that it goes all out in terms of self-aggrandizing bravado ("You know who I am / I run this fucking club"). And, although "XXXO" is, admittedly, catchy, it's a drop in the pan as far as saving this album goes.

It's clear that, with /\/\/\Y/\, M.I.A. was planning to make a confrontational album. The first six songs are by no means easily accessible and often give one the impression that they were crafted for personal exploration, M.I.A. telling herself "I really love a lot" as much as anyone else that's listening. With the first six tracks of /\/\/\Y/\, M.I.A. makes it quite clear that she could care less if you like this or hate it with a passion.

Which makes /\/\/\Y/\'s second half all the more befuddling. With the exception of the transitional "It Takes a Muscle", M.I.A. goes into almost full-on pop mode. There tends to be more singing than rapping or talk-singing and the synths and percussion that were once so ravenous in the first half soften significantly on songs like "It Iz What It Iz" and "Space". "Tell Me Why" even sounds like an explicit attempt to replicate the success of "Paper Planes", imploring "If life is such a game / Why do people all act the same?" over choir samples and bookended rimshots. The vague preaching trespasses dangerously into "Where Is the Love?" territory, and is a curious song choice for an album that made such an effort to be subversive in its first half.

There is one other exception to the second half of /\/\/\Y/\, though, and that is lead single, "Born Free"; appropriately, the album's highlight. A barreling Suicide sample sounds promising for the first few measures until M.I.A.'s reverb-saturated voice engulfs everything around it, ruining a potentially good song in an album that starves for just one. Keep in mind it is still the highlight of the album. My sentiments exactly.

/\/\/\Y/\ is the first M.I.A. album the I have given more than just a cursory listen to, so I don't really know what an M.I.A. album is supposed to sound like. The controversy over the "Born Free" video, the New York Times article, and the almost poetic criticisms of producer Diplo don't really have much of an effect on me, because they allegedly tarnish a reputation I never knew about in the first place. However, I do know this: If M.I.A. wanted me to hate /\/\/\Y/\, she fundamentally failed. However, if she wanted me to like this crap, she is sorely mistaken. Ultimately, I never experience any fanfare for /\/\/\Y/\ in any particular direction, instead allowing dud after dud to wash over me like any half-decent party album would. And something tells me that is the worst kind of description to give an M.I.A. album, because much of her allure relies on the assumption you care about what she's releasing. "I just give a damn," M.I.A. deadpans in "Meds and Feds". If only the feeling was mutual.


HellYeah - Stampede: C+

Initially, I was going to write a scathing review of Stampede in the form of the abstract of a college thesis analyzing the modern-day cowboy and how, based on the most recent findings of "cowboy specialists" Vinnie Paul and his newest research group, the cowboy life may be shrinking from society's collective nostalgic awe if not already dead. That was, however, until my fifth listen, when I decided to heed Stampede's lyrics more carefully and found that the album has slightly more depth than I had originally perceived. "Better Man", for example, tells the story of a man who tries to reconcile his life's actions while trying to distance himself from a destructive father he knows he can never truly escape. It's an endearing song, considering how one-dimensional every song on HellYeah's debut was.

Don't get me wrong, though. Stampede is not a good album. As much as I was pleasantly surprised by "Better Man", there is no excuse for a song as chauvinistic and uninspired as "Pole Rider" ("She'll make you sun rise." What does that even mean?) and the band still sounds like Great Southern Trendkill-era Pantera; stale and humorless. I just wanted to note that Stampede is a better album than any person who has heard a second of HellYeah would think. If you haven't heard a stitch of HellYeah's music, then just forget this album exists, entirely.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Beach House - Teen Dream: A

In a way, I hate Teen Dream, because everytime I think critically about it, this happens:

- Hmmmm, what's Teen Dream's best song? "Zebra" or "Silver Soul"

- Well, "Zebra"'s just a consistently fantastic song. I'd say go with that.

- But wait. There's no doubting Victoria Legrand's amazing vocal performance in "Silver Soul". It's the stuff of indie rock royalty.

- Absolutely true. "Silver Soul" it is.

- Hey, what about "Norway"? Wasn't that the song that perked your interest in this album in the first place?

- Yeah, you're right. That song is just the perfect single. I have to go with it.

- And not "Walk in the Park"? I saw you the other day singing the shit out of that song! How can't it be the best?

- Oh damn you're right. That song's got legs, whatever that means.

- I'm sorry. I can't stay silent about this if "Used to Be" isn't even mentioned. That song is just perfection in four minutes. It's the most wistfully melancholy song I've ever heard. Are you just only liking the happy songs? Is that it?

- NO NO NO! I would never typecast my favorite songs! "Used To Be" is wonderful!

- And I guess "Lover of Mine" is just chopped liver.

And it's like this for every song on the fucking album. Get this thing. It'll make you forget what a filler is for a month at least.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Race Horses - Goodbye Falkenburg: B+

Race Horses attempt to tow the line between the wry narratives of Los Campesinos! and the fetching richness of The Hives. Unfortunately for Race Horses, Goodbye Falkenburg has neither the playback-pleading cleverness of the former nor the immediate catchiness of the latter. And, although Falkenburg is an above average album, it does not bode well for Race Horses that it is released at a time when groups with similar sounds are releasing far superior material at an almost dizzying frequency. Let's hope the group learns fast and finds more definition for their next album.