Welcome to Check Your Mode

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

Monday, May 23, 2011

Robbie Robertson - How to Become Clairvoyant: B+

Let’s be honest; if Robbie Robertson wasn’t in The Band, nobody would give a shit about How to Become Clairvoyant. The guy was in a pioneering rock band, left, got into some controversy over buying copyrights and alienated most of his fan base, so now we’re here in 2011 with his fifth solo effort invading our short term memory and clogging up our bandwidth. Robertson’s a couple years from hitting 70, now, so I don’t really have to tell you how ambitious How To Become Clairvoyant is. Understated production and, with the exception of a cool instrumental and an Eric Clapton cameo, no flourishes, whatsoever. Ya know, “Just a bunch of guys gettin’ in a room and jammin’!” kinda thing. Basically, How to Become Clairvoyant sounds like what your uncle would have made if he decided to realize his dreams of being a rock n’ roller during his mid-life crisis, and, admittedly, that has a slight allure to it. The album is pleasant and slightly better than the other input by washed-up rock stars as of late. Also, I love my uncles. So this one’s for you!


Phideaux - Snowtorch: B-

Just some really lame, really boring prog rock. It’s a shame that it’s so difficult to satiate one’s taste for the expansive and flourished in the modern musical landscape, but, if you’re looking for it, you’re not going to find it here. Snowtorch, more than anything else, makes me wish that Rush would release their newest album, already. Other than that, it’s highly skippable.


Sum 41 - Screaming Bloody Murder: B-

The new census has been released and so comes a new Sum 41 album. Working off the 2000 census, the group had a lot of trouble gauging what the angst-ridden and disaffected youth were listening to and were angry about towards the end of the decade, and, as a result, their attempt to rewrite their past glories in 2007’s dreadful Underclass Hero was a total failure. Working off that dated census, Sum 41 was becoming increasingly desperate to get that demographic riled up to listen to their pop punk tunes, and, now, with fresh data to analyze, they could finally pander to that teenage anguish so that adolescents would, once again, purchase their shit.

Dr. Livingston prepared the cryogenic pods for release. He tenderly typed the release code into the keypad and watched, expressionless, as, one by one, all the members of Sum 41 emerged from their four-year slumber. It took the boys a minute or so to shake off their stiffness from being frozen for so long, but, once they had, they brushed off their tattooed arms like it was 2007 again, and looked to Livingston for what to do next. Without speaking, Livingston walked toward the Information Center, the flaps of his white lab coat moving a second behind him. The boys looked to each other, shrugged and followed him.

The Information Center had not changed since 2000. It was still lined with steel panels, flashing lights and buttons placed indiscriminately along them that’s purpose the group could not begin to understand. They followed Dr. Livingston to the opposing end of the domed room, where a myriad of televisions screens covered the wall and an enormous control panel wrapped around them, covered in innumerable buttons that looked like goose bumps on skin.

They watched as Livingston conferred with Dr. Harris, who sat at the control panel, pressing buttons with seemingly no discretion. After some spoken words, the two nodded to each other and Dr. Livingston made his way to what looked like a printing module positioned on the right side of the room. The module hummed with life as, one by one, sheets of paper emerged from it like a financial calculator. Dr. Livingston grasped and examined each sheet as it came out, his eyes scanning the data quickly as if it were written in binary code.

After about ten minutes of inspecting what looked like fifty sheets of paper, Livingston shifted his gaze from his reading material to Sum 41. With a look of genuine interest, he spoke to the group for the first time in almost half a decade.

“Apparently, Green Day’s still popular,” he said.

“Huh,” responded Daryck Whibley. “Well, I guess that makes it pretty easy for us, doesn’t it.”

“Pretty much,” responded Dr. Livingston, taking his pair of reading glasses out of his breast pocket and inspecting the data with more detail. “Also, this group Avenged Sevenfold cleaned up and made a pretty successful pop metal album.”

“Uh huh,” responded Whibley, taking out his notepad. He brushed off the permafrost and began taking notes.

“And this band My Chemical Romance released an album in 2004 that made quite a bit of money,” continued Livingston. “They were apparently a little more theatrical, so you guys are going to have to go a little bit more in that direction.”

“Fantastic,” quipped Whibley jotting down the last few words into his notebook. He put it back into his pocket and brushed back his blonde hair, which still pointed directly at the ceiling like when he entered the chamber in 2007. “That all?”

“Yep,” said Livingston. “I think that should get you through an album.”

“Alright then,” Whibley said. With that, he turned to his bandmates, nodded at them and the group began walking out of the Information Center toward the facility’s recording room. Knowing Livingston’s schedule, they would probably have to pump out an album within the week. They walked with purpose, determined to sell out harder on this release than any other they had made in the past. With this knowledge, they definitely had a chance.

Livingston looked on, his expression unchanging as the group turned the corner and disappeared from sight.

“You know, one day, we will have to replace them,” Dr. Harris remarked, turning from his control panel to look at Livingston. “They’re already fifteen years old.”

“I know,” responded Livingston as he too began leaving the Information Center. “I dread it every day.”


The Kills - Blood Pressures: A-

I’m one of the few people who were introduced to The Kills through Alison Mossheart’s Jack White-helmed side project, The Dead Weather. Their first album, Horehound, was the last fantastic product White put his name on. It was dark, perverted and great fun for its sheer lack of fucks to give and chutzpah density. I fell in love with its harrowed greasiness immediately, and it claimed the top spot of my albums of 2009 list with great help from Mossheart’s lead singing performance. Her work was balls-out and uncompromising. A place in my heart was secured for her when she lost all resolve at the close of “Bone House” and positively screamed her last verse with wild abandon like she had nothing left to lose.

As a part of The Kills, however, Mossheart does not come close to the bellowing behemoth featured so prominently on Horehound. Instead, we have a simmering, slinking singer who has less of a personality than a voice to share. She simply sings Blood Pressure’s melodies well and is more than happy to cede some vocal presence to her bandmate, Jamie Hince. “I swear this is the last goodbye,” she sings at the beginning of “The Last Goodbye”, implying a weakness and frailty toward leave a detrimental lover, a sentiment that would belie the mindset of the femme fatale that had a bullet burning a hole in her pocket on Horehound. On Blood Pressures, Mossheart isn’t the centerpiece of her songs, sharing significant space with other melodies and Hince’s guitar lines.

The good news is that the album does not lose much as a result of Mossheart’s loss in prominence, as Hince’s guitar lines and the group’s melodies are fantastic. Blood Pressures is an excellent record, even if it cruises in comparison to The Dead Weather discography. Every track is good for at least one catchy hook, and most have several. “Nail in My Coffin” floats atop a buoyant bass drum and snare pattern. “Damned If She Do” smolders with skuzzy guitar and drum machine and “Pots and Pans” thumps along with a foreboding acoustic and Mossheart’s playful derision of her lover’s high expectations. “Baby Says” is unique for featuring light verses that ceaselessly dive into an ominously jaded guitar riff. Mossheart raises her voice to excellent effect in “DNA”, as she is backed by group vocals that build around the line, “We will not be moved by it.”

My only criticism of Blood Pressures is that it is just a collection of excellent songs from a group I believe could have a more cohesive theme to their records. Regardless, the album is fantastic pop, however dark that pop may be. It is another great addition to the group’s assembly of tracks destined to slaughter when slathered in darkness and cigarette smoke when played on a stage. While not as crazed as a Mossheart project can be, Blood Pressures will not disappoint for its great riffs and nimble songwriting.