Aug 302007

Well folks, I have something of a dilemma. Well, two dilemmas, actually. One of these is poor voter turnout in the last round of voting. That’s easily settled enough, I’ll just dust off my tie-breaking vote and cast it in favor of Liars, so expect a review of it next week.

The other dilemma results from a combination of circumstances: Firstly, I have a backlogged review (Mandy Moore, if you remember). Secondly, It’s the start of a new semester so until I get into the swing of things, I’m not sure how much I’ll extra time I’ll have, so tacking another review on. Finally, and I’ve resisted saying this in the past, but the releases this week pretty much suck. I’ve been able to track down NOTHING good coming out this week. (If anyone knows of anything, please do tell.)

Which is kind of unfortunate, because there’s some awesome stuff coming out in the week after. It’d be nice if they’d split up the goodies a little bit, but alas such is not our fate.

So I think that there will be no new voting this week. I’ll have a review of Liars’ self-titled next week, along with new voting options next week, and get review Mandy Moore’s Wild Hope sometime in the next couple weeks as I have time. That should square us up even, yes?

In other news, I just felt I should say: this has, so far, been far more successful than I could have possibly hoped. Thanks everybody.

Aug 292007

The New Pornographers, Challengers

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Artist: The New Pornographers
Album: Challengers
Label: Matador
Release Date: Tuesday, 2007.8.21
Score: 9/10

It’s fair to say that I think that The New Pornographers are one of the most interesting bands recording today. Combine that with the fact that my aesthetics definitely favor interesting music (which is sometimes in opposition with the music being very listenable) and you could probably infer, quite correctly, that I’m a huge New Pornographers fan. I’m also an unapologetically huge fan of vocalists A. C. Newman and Neko Case. So Challengers is, to be perfectly fair, an album from a band that was basically tailor-made to get its hooks into me.

I say these things in the interest of full disclosure. And so that when I say that it’s the best power pop album I’ve heard so far this year, my detractors will be able to accuse me of being biased towards my own tastes. I imagine them sneering, raising their noses, and carrying on with the polite fiction of “objective” criticism.

I also imagine them all wearing berets and smoking clove cigarettes through ludicrously long holders, but that’s probably beside the point.

What’s particularly remarkable about Challengers is its consistency. It lacks the scattershot feel of Twin Cinema and Mass Romantic. It also eschews some of the edge found in both those albums, and trades it for a much lighter, more straight forward feel. While the lyrical and musical complexity remain (“All the Things That Go to Make Heaven and Earth” is particularly strong evidence of that), the band seems to have threaded the various complex strains together so that the album feels much more consistent and cohesive. Whereas Mass Romantic felt like a collection of songs, Challengers is most definitely an album, in the finest music-snob tradition. To listen to any one song off of Challengers is to miss a big part of the experience.

Which isn’t to say that the songs can’t stand on their own. There’s some of the catchiest, most interesting, and all-around best songs I’ve heard in awhile in this album. (“Myriad Harbour”, in particular, has been stuck in my head since I got the album.) Tunes like “Entering White Cecilia” seem tailor made to catch the ear of any listener who has an inclination towards power pop or clever, hooky music. The Steely-Dan-esque chorus is positively charming, as is its reverb-laden bridge.

Challengers is a brilliant album shot through with the kind of two-faced levity that could just as easily be a grimace as a grin. “My Rights Versus Yours” backs lyrical descriptions of “empires in rags” with smile-inducing melodic hooks and wonderfully upbeat harmonies. “Mutiny, I Promise You” similarly combines broad, sweeping, melodic swells and jaunty, bright chord progressions with emotionally mixed lyrics (e.g. “What’s the weight of the world worth? / … / And here is where you got lost / and here is how you got by / and here’s the mutiny I promised you”). The effect is one of powerful cognitive dissonance. But while New Pornographers excel at exploiting such emotional conflicts between lyrics and music, they are most in their element when they are when they direct all their musical energies in one emotional direction. Such is the case on the wistful, redemptive “Adventures in Solitude,” a song of survival, homecoming, and redemption with thick, lush (almost choral) vocal work.

I think the thing that I found most surprising about Challengers was how much it reminded me of classic 70s power pop. Tunes like the polyvocal, slightly surrealistic “Myriad Harbour” wouldn’t be out of place in the song books of any of the good psych rock bands of the late 60s or early 70s. The use of mandolin, melodion, a diverse percussion section, banjo, and other instruments give many of the tunes the kind of folk tinge which hasn’t really been in vogue in pop/rock genres for the past few decades.

Challengers is a brilliant album. For fans of good pop music, especially those who appreciate folk influences, Challengers is definitely an album to consider picking up. It is musically rich, lyrically interesting, and as emotionally powerful as any album I’ve heard this year.

Aug 282007

"Listenin’ too long to one song"

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My review this week is going to be a touch on the late side. It’ll probably be up tomorrow evening some time. Today was the first day of classes and the past few days have been crazy, so I’ve not really had time to give to the album like I should.

So, to tide you over, here’s the music video for “Sing Me Spanish Techno” off of their album Twin Cinema:

Aug 262007

"Caviar and cigarettes / well-versed in etiquette"

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Congratulations, Dr. Brian May!

Aug 232007

"And all the drugs in the world, can’t save us from ourselves."

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Manic Street Preachers, “There by the Grace of God”. Listen to it. Watch if you feel like it (classic Manics video: people + slow motion + band). It’s songs like this that make me think that maybe music (and perhaps art writ large, but music is my artistic drug of choice) is one of the most important things that we do as a species.

Aug 222007

This just in from the “Miracles Never Cease” department: I almost managed to post a weekly review on the day it was supposed to go up. Also, I think in the future I’ll make an effort to diversify the genre offerings a little bit. The Paul van Dyk review I just posted was a bit of a bitch to write because I’m not nearly as familiar with Trance as I am with a lot of other genres of music.

In the meantime, picking from the paucity of votes for last week, I think I’m going to go ahead and grab the latest New Pornographer’s disc to review for next Tuesday. Of course I’ll ALSO probably be grabbing the new Rilo-Kiley because, well, I honestly can’t get enough of Jenny Lewis’ voice. (Apologies for leaving the Darren Hayes album off last week’s voting. I completely spaced that it was coming out and I know that some *cough*Ann*cough* of you are pretty stoked about it.)

Here’s hoping I don’t leave any big releases off this time around:

Aesop Rock, None Shall Pass
Ben Harper, Lifelines
Liars, Liars
Angie Mattson, Given to Sudden Panic and Noisy Retreat
Northern State, Can I Keep This Pen?

Aug 202007

Paul van Dyk, In Between

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Artist: Paul van Dyk
Album: In Between
Label: Mute Records
Release Date: Tuesday, 2007.8.14
Score: 9/10

This past week I’ve been kind of hammered with work. Not entirely from my job, but from all the various irons I tend to keep roasting away in the fire. Fortunately, I had the excellent luck of managing to get exactly the right album to soundtrack my furious slog through the week. So while my review may somewhat be colored by the fact that In Between was the right disc at the right time, the fact remains that Paul van Dyk has once again clearly demonstrated that he’s the best Trance artist in the world today.

But PvD is not the only top talent with a hand in the album. While he produced all the music, he enlisted a number of talented artists in helping him realizing the final product. Jessica Sutta (most notably of the Pussycat Dolls) lends her vocal talents to “White Lies” and Talking Heads alum David Byrne is heard on album closer “Fall With Me”. Other vocalists featured on the album include Ryan Merchant, Wayne Jackson, and Ashley Tomberlin.

This plethora of vocalists is worth noting because In Between is an unusually vocally-oriented album. Not only do most of the songs make heavy use of vocals, but the vocals take a fairly central role. And while Trance is a little less voice-shy than other EDM genres, it’s hardly on par with any of the pop-rock genres in terms of placing emphasis on vocal work. But many of the tracks off of In Between use vocals more like one would expect of a synth-pop tune than a banging Trance dance track. That the CD insert includes several pages of lyrics (alongside numerous glamor shots of the undeniably attractive van Dyk) is kind of unusual.

But not at all unwelcome. PvD displays extreme comfort and competence with lyrics, and his lines are far from the cringe-worthy melodrama one would expect from an artist just getting the feel for lyric writing. Some of the lines are, in fact, down right inspired. (“I watch the sky turn black to blush”; “when everything is soundin’ like a battle cry / no promise is good enough to take”).

PvD’s effective use of lyrics is, throughout the album, underscored by some truly excellent Trance beats. The energy is excellent across the album and the mixing is impeccable. When I first got the CD, I wasn’t aware that it was a mixed album. It wasn’t until I was 10 minutes in and thinking “man, this is a long, disjoint song” that I realized I was on track three and just hadn’t been paying close enough attention. The disc is a whole cloth of high-energy, well-produced trance.

Aside from its vocal emphasis, there isn’t too much, stylistically, that sets In Between apart in PvD’s discography. He doesn’t stray out of the Trance / Progressive trance territory but that’s not really a problem since it’s turf with which he is well familiar. This experience leads to an album that delivers an extremely solid Trance experience with the added interest of getting to hear what happens when Paul van Dyk decides to really apply himself to the world of lyrics. The result is definitely an album worth having for any Trance fan and well worth considering for anyone who likes high-quality, energetic dance music.

Aug 202007

Because I can’t get enough of this song, and because The Who kick prodigious amounts of ass:

The Who, “Baba O’Reilly”

Aug 202007

"It’s nothin’ dangerous, I feel no pain"

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Ted Nugent is considering running for Governor of Michigan:

Yes, THAT Ted Nugent:

For all of his wild-man antics, the politically conservative Nugent is talking about following in the footsteps of celebrities such as actor Arnold Schwarzenegger or wrestler Jesse Ventura, who won gubernatorial races.

“That would be beautiful,” Nugent said when asked if he would run for governor of Michigan in 2010. “I have threatened to do so and I was sincere.”

“Threatened” is right.

And of course, if he runs, he’ll win. No doubt about it. How can I be so confident? He’s Ted Nugent – he’ll kill, grill, and eat anyone who stands in his way.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the man who may well be the next governor of Michigan:

Aug 192007

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Springsteen’s back with the E Street Band, and they’re releasing a new album in October on Capitol Records.

A new Springsteen album is reason enough to celebrate, but I’m particularly stoked about a new Springsteen + E Street effort. The E Street Band are one of the tightest, most talented bands in modern music.