Mar 202008

Artist: Flogging Molly
Album: Float
Label: Side One Dummy
Release Date: Tuesday, 2008.3.4
Score: 8.5/10

Flogging Molly’s fourth studio album, Float, is a return to form for the band, after 2004’s more slightly more experimental album, Within a Mile of Home. Float features the same sort of solid, energetic Celt rock that fans will be well familiar with, minus some of the genre-blurring goofiness of their last album. This gives it an overall feel much closer to Drunken Lullabies than their more recent Within a Mile of Home.

“Lightning Storm”, for example wouldn’t sound out of place on Swagger or Drunken Lullabies, with its fast-paced, snare-driven drums and sweeping, brogued vocal lines. It effortlessly combines Gaelic-sounding violins with thick guitar power chords and shows off the band’s ability to seamlessly combine the two disparate styles. “On The Back of a Broken Dream” makes good use of rattling, energetic drums and smooth vocal lines to create a similarly effective combination.

As with previous albums, two the band’s biggest strengths are Dave King’s powerful, expressive voice and his distinctive lyrical style. As with previous releases, the lyrics often have a political theme, and usually a fairly straight-forward one at that (“there’s a government whip cracked across your back”). Where the lyrics aren’t political, they cover themes familiar to Flogging Molly fans: love, loss, alienation and the ex patriot experience.

Musically, while sounding closer to their earlier work than their last album, Float seems to make heavier use of Flogging Molly’s Celtic folk roots than previous albums. On most tunes, the electric guitars are relegated to harmonic support and musical texture. Melodies are primarily carried in the vocal and violin lines and the drums are syncopated and snare-heavy. The net effect is that Float is decidedly more of a folk album than it is a rock album, and much more so than its aesthetic predecessors, Drunken Lullabies and Swagger.

Overall, Float, feels like a much mature album than Flogging Molly’s previous works. All of the elements which seemed to be at times at odds with one another come together remarkably well in this latest effort. Swagger‘s blustery rock enthusiasm, Drunken Lullabies‘ political bend and lyrical emphasis, and Within a Mile of Home‘s decided folk slant have all been woven together in a much better crafted manner. Whereas Drunken Lullabies often feels didactic and Within a Mile of Home strikes many as just flat goofy, Float is a well-crafted, well-executed album that brings together a lot of different elements and makes out of them a whole musical cloth.

That being said, Float will not break new ground for fans, but it will give them exactly what they love about Flogging Molly: energetic, well-crafted Celt Rock. Those not familiar with Flogging Molly may want to start with their (in my opinion) superior debut, Swagger before grabbing Float. That being said, Float is a fantastic album which any fan of the genre is likely to enjoy.

Feb 262008

Speakeasy, All Your New Favorite Songs

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Artist: Speakeasy
Album: All Your New Favorite Songs
Label: Zarr Records
Release Date: Tuesday, 2008.2.12
Score: 8/10

All Your Favorite Songs, the debut studio LP from Springfield, Missouri quartet Speakeasy, is a funky, busy affair. All of the tracks (which each come individually labeled “explicit” from the Amazon download store, despite fairly inoffensive contents) are energetic and groovy, displaying bold Funk and Rock and Roll roots. Combine this rollocking style with the stellar production work of Pete Matthews and some serious musical talent and the result is a fun, boisterous record.

I have to admit that Speakeasy play in a groove that I have a lot of affection for. They have a rock/funk fusion sound not unlike Steely Dan or The Slip, two bands of which I am a rather devoted fan. That being said, Speakeasy eschew the West Coast Jazz trappings of Steely Dan and the bright, ethereal guitars of The Slip and replace them with crunchy, overdriven melodies and thick, thundering bass lines. The classic fusion energy remains, with all of its attendant complex, driving melodies and funky rhythms. “Already Wanted You”, for instance, features catchy blues/funk bass and guitar lines, with some especially groovy hooks coming from the strings of bassist Reed Herron. Another good example is “Dirty Dishes”, which is a funky, if lyrically semi-sensical (an extended metaphor comparing a lover to a dirty dish), tune with more great bass work, a great guitar solo, and some exceptionally groovy drumming.

Speakeasy’s lyrics tend to be both personal and a bit eccentric. They’re very evocative and direct, largely foregoing cleverness in favor of simple expression. While I have to confess I’m normally a sucker for the glib and the clever, I am charmed by the to-the-point honesty coupled of the lyrics. Especially so when coupled with the passionate, though often rough vocals of singer Shawn Eckels. From the simple sincerity of “cheers to you my friends” (“Bad Apples”) to the honest hyperbole of “Atlas ain’t got shit on you” (“Jimmy”) (which is, by the way, quickly becoming one of my new favorite compliments), Eckels gives the distinct impression of saying not only just what he means but, more importantly, just what he feels.

One thing with which I was impressed was how clean a sound Speakeasy managed to attain, despite the relative busyness of many of their songs. A lot of bands try for the sorts of complex three-part harmonies that Speakeasy uses and wind up just sounding muddled or overly chaotic. Speakeasy, on the other hand, sound tight and professional. This is due largely to the obvious musical talent of the band members, I would imagine, but also partly due to the production work of Pete Matthews. Between the two, the complex, intertwining parts wind up sounding clean and precise, lending a lot of power to what could otherwise be a jumbled mess.

If you like Groove Rock or and of the various genres of Rock Fusion, then All Your New Favorite Songs should definitely be on your list of albums to hear. It probably won’t rewrite the genre, but it’s a sterling example of it. It packs a lot of energy and some truly awesome grooves into a very listenable package.

Jan 222008

Artist: The Shondes
Album: The Red Sea
Label: N/A (Self-Released)
Release Date: Tuesday, 2008.1.8
Score: 8.5/10

The Red Sea, the debut album from The Shondes was pretty obviously cooked up for the express purpose of making me dance around my room in my boxers at four in the morning. Between its driving, punk-influenced beats; its lilting, exotic violin melodies; and its crying, Dolores O’Riordan-esque lyrics, it’s basically a designer musical drug. And I’ve been doing big, fat lines of it for a week now, and loving every minute of it.

Admittedly, part of the reason I’m so addicted is because it hits a lot of my musical buttons. Punk influences? Check. Slick melodic hooks? Check. Complete disregard for genre boundaries? Check. Wrap all that and more up in a tight, well-presented package and it’s a fair guarantee that I’ll be mainlining it for quite awhile. Unfortunately for the Shondes, not everyone shares my same set of musical cravings, but even without sharing my musical aesthetic, there’s a lot in The Red Sea for any listener.

Songs like “Winter”, for example, with its brooding, jangly guitar lines, soaring vocal lines, and interesting lyrical images is not only a good listen, but warrants coming back for several listens. Similarly, the energetic “At The Water” is a song that begs to be put on repeat, not only for its rollicking energy, but also for the fact that it’s melodically and lyrically rich enough to reward repeat listening. This depth is not limited to a few tunes, but rather is endemic to the album, which features excellent songwriting, catchy melodies, and (with a few exceptions, such as the heavy-handed “What Love Is”) engaging lyrics.

Probably the most interest aspects of the album, however, are not strictly compositional, but rather stylistic. The Shondes have managed to take a diverse set of influences and weave them together into something truly new and unique. On “Don’t Whisper”, for example, exotic, folky violin lines support growling guitars and wailing lyrics to create a song which obviously borrows widely from the musical spectrum, including punk, classic rock, and folk to create something which is intriguing and new. The whole album draws musically from wide enough sources that many individual aspects feel familiar, while the whole is something altogether new and different.
This blending of so many different genres is used to great effect most of the time, though there are times when drawing together so many stylistic threads seems to have gotten in the way. The result is that, while The Red Sea really is a great album, it tends to get a bit confused and muddy at times. “Let’s Go” is a prime example of this. It tries too hard to be too many things at once and winds up sounding a bit like a bar brawl between the Ramones and the Cranberries as reinterpreted by a modern-day Rogers and Hammerstein. That is to say that it’s odd, and quirky, and if it ran with any one of its musical themes, it could be really cool. As it is, it’s random to the point of incoherence.

The Red Sea is a great album from a promising new band, with a unique sound and a hell of a lot of talent. And while it is undoubtedly rough or muddled at times, it’s an impressive first release from a group of great musicians. It’s well worth price ($10 from the band’s MySpace via MySpace’s SnoCap download service) and a sure sign that The Shondes are a band to listen for in the future.

Nov 212007

Dust Galaxy, Dust Galaxy

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Artist: Dust Galaxy
Album: Dust Galaxy
Label: Eighteenth Street Lounge (ESL)
Release Date: Tuesday, 2007.11.6
Score: 7.5/10

The solo debut from Rob Garza (late of Thievery Corporation) with his new project Dust Galaxy has all the musical charm of an artist going through a kind of aesthetic adolescence. It seems like Garza, after a professional lifetime of making world-influenced dub and lounge music as half of Thievery Corporation has discovered that great swaths of the wide musical world are open to him and has set out to hit them all. The result is an eclectic album which is laden both with potential and a lot of talent, but is hindered because of its shifting, uncohesive feel and occasionally shallow execution.

Dust Galaxy starts in exceptionally familiar territory with the the groovy “Sun in Your Head”, which would sound right at home on any of Thievery Corporation’s albums. “Sun in Your Head”, however, is more a point of departure than an indication of things to come. Almost immediately the listener is thrown a curve ball by the boogying, vocally-intensive “Limitless”, which features some wicked bass lines and some fairly odd lyrically imagery (“My love for you is limitless, more than there are whores in Los Angeles”).

From there the album begins a long, meandering walk through a variety of genres from politically-themed Reggae (“Sons of Washington”) to the blues-folk closer “Crying To The Night.” This incredibly broad approach to genre is both interesting and frustrating. Interesting, because after years of loving the dub/techno material that Garza produced with Thievery Corporation, it’s fascinating and fun to hear him try his hand at other kinds of music. The frustration sets in, however, when, after listening to one of the more impressive cuts off the album (“Down” is a favorite of mine), one is left wanting more while Garza shifts gears to do something completely different. This frustration is heightened by the fact that the quality of the tunes is decidedly mixed. It ranges from the cringe-and-skip-worthy “Cherubim” to the haunting, engaging “Come Hear the Trumpets”.

Overall, this albums is one that I think is probably best bought piecemeal off of iTunes or via the new Amazon download service. There’s a fantastic EP to be made out of this album, but unfortunately the album as a whole feels fragmentary and hit-or-miss. Thievery Corporation fans might be interested enough in Garza’s musical experimentation and maturation to spring for the whole thing, but most listeners won’t miss out if they only go and listen to the samples and snag the tastiest-sounding tracks. Personally, I would highly recommend “Sun in Your Head”, “It’s All Yours”, “Sons of Washington”, “Down”, “Come Hear the Trumpets”, and “Crying to the Night”. Those tracks are all great listening on their own and, taken collectively, give one a sense of where Rob Garza’s coming from and where he might be headed with Dust Galaxy.

Nov 012007

Serj Tankian, Elect the Dead

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Artist: Serj Tankian
Album: Elect the Dead
Label: Reprise / Serjical Strike
Release Date: Tuesday, 2007.10.23
Score: 8.5/10

The first solo album from System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian is one of the rare albums that, while it may not redefine a genre, definitely shows it in new and interesting lights. Mr. Tankian mainly breathes this much-needed life back into hard rock by juxtaposing it with an impressively wide variety of other genres. The resulting effort, Elect the Dead, distills a lot of the creativity and artfulness that made System of a Down such dynamic force in the hard rock scene.

At its core, Elect the Dead is a politically fueled hard-rock album, full of all the attendant boons and banes of the genre. The distinctively hard rock portions of the album feature heavy drums and plenty of overdrive on the guitars. Tight, rapid-fire hooks and busy fills are the norm. But Elect the Dead is not a run-of-the-mill rock album.

First of all, the thematic strains in the album are much more direct and clear than others. This is, largely, a political album. Songs like “Empty Walls”, “The Unthinking Majority”, and “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” are pointedly critical of the American sociopolitical climate. This should come as little surprise to System of a Down fans or anyone familiar with Tankian’s various politically- and social-justice-oriented endeavors, such as the Axis of Justice. And while this commentary can be a little heavy-handed at times (e.g. “I believe that you’re wrong, insinuating they hold the bomb, clearing the way for the oil brigade”). But for all his ham-handedness, Tankian occasionally gets in a few clean, clever jabs. His references to the World War Two song “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition”, for example, masterfully turns it from a rallying cry to comment on the central role of religion in American society.

Lyrically, Tankian is at his campy best on this album. Some of his lines, while perfectly correct in a grammatical sense feel at turns odd and absurd. His unique voice couples well with his unique grasp of language and lyric to create an aesthetic familiar from his System of a Down days. It is direct, clear, and nice change from the muddy, inarticulate “vocal” style which a lot of other hard rock singers have opted for.

Another thing about Elect the Dead which is atypical is Tankian’s use of a wide variety of genres and influences in creating an album which is incredibly rich and diverse in its sound. From the Nick-Cave-esque “Lie Lie Lie”, with its psychological bent and its high, sweet female vocal chorus, to the jaunty, almost baroque piano lines which open “Honking Antelope”, the various stylistic juxtapositions show Tankian to be someone with broad musical interests and talents.

Elect the Dead delivers an impressive range of variation on the hard rock theme. Its to-the-point commentary and sometimes repetitive hook-heavy sound may turn some people off, but for anyone who’s either a System of a Down fan or who’s eager to finally hear something new and interesting in the hard rock genre, it’s a must-hear album. Tankian has distilled in Elect the Dead a lot of what attracted people to his previous projects, and the result is both powerful and an entertaining listen.

Oct 082007

Bruce Springsteen, Magic

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Artist: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Album: Magic
Label: Columbia Records
Release Date: Tuesday, 2007.10.2
Score: 8/10

Well, the Boss is back with the E Street Band for their first album since 2002’s The Rising. This is something that I, as well as many Springsteen fans I’m sure, are thankful for, since the E Street Band is one of the finest, most talented, most cohesive bands in the business. Its impressive musical roster includes such greats as drummer Max Weinberg, saxophonist Clarence Clemmons, and guitarist Steve van Zandt, among others. The new album has been the subject of hot speculation and eager anticipation, which was only fueled by the release of the awesome single “Radio Nowhere” back in late August. Top all this off with production work by Brendan O’Brien and Magic was an album with a lot of promise.

Which makes the final product a little disappointing because, for all the epic promise, what we got was a pretty good rock album with a few stellar tracks. The album opens with the quintessentially Boss rock single “Radio Nowhere”, ends with the beautifully, touching remembrance of “Terry’s Song”, and in between is solid, if often unremarkable. The music is competent, though often uninspiring and flat, the lyrics are sometimes pure genius, sometimes filler fluff. Generally the album is pretty good. It’s Springsteen doing twangy, hook-laden rock music. And that that’s really about all that can be said about most of the album is, in light of the genius of the few high points, a bit unfortunate.

Which isn’t to say it’s a bad album. Far from it. But people who go into it expecting every song to be as high-energy, danceable, and/or genius as “Radio Nowhere” will be a bit disappointed and perhaps find themselves flirting with the track skip button as they wade through competent, well-crafted, but comparatively dull tunes like “You’ll Be Comin’ Down” and “Girls in Their Summer Clothes”. Fortunately, songs like the brooding title track “Magic” and the image-laden “I’ll Work For Your Love”, both of which are an impressive combination of musically catchy and lyrically deep, ensure that there’s plenty of truly excellent rock to be found on the album.

One aspect of the album that I was impressed with is the lyrical skill and depth that Springsteen displays. When I think “Springsteen”, I tend to think groovy, guitar-driven rock with a lot instrumental depth. What I don’t tend to think of is ingenious, clever, interesting lyrics. Lines like “I’ll watch the bones in your back / like the stations of the cross” and “the freedom that you sought’s / drifting like a ghost amongst the trees” make a strong case for Springsteen being an exceptional lyricist as well as musician and vocalist.

While most of the songs on Magic lack the heartfelt pathos of “Terry’s Song” or the rock brilliance of “Radio Nowhere”, there really isn’t a bad song on the album. Some of them are merely competent, but I’ll take competent rock from Springsteen and the E Street Band over a lot of the swill that’s on the market any day. At worst it’s well-crafted rock competence, at its best it’s truly inspired, overall it is well worth a listen.

Sep 272007

Artist: Dropkick Murphys
Album: The Meanest of Times
Label: Born & Bred Records
Release Date: Tuesday, 2007.9.18
Score: 8/10

The sixth LP from The Dropkick Murphys, Boston’s famous celt-punk yobs, upholds a long history of solid rock music with thick Irish folk roots. From start to finish, this album showcases the kind of energetic Celt-rock that has worked so well for the Dropkicks throughout their career. And while the listener might (accurately) fault the album for mainly just recycling the sounds that have worked for them in the past, one might just as well say that there’s no shame in that and that there’s a reason why those musical ideas work so well: they’re really good ideas.

As with a lot of previous Dropkick Murphys work, tradition, family, and society are important lyrical themes. The Meanest of Times is an album that comfortably walks the line between acknowledging its roots and being fettered by them. From the melodies and instrumentation, to the narrative themes and vocal flourishes, this is an album steeped in the Irish-American culture of Boston. The album opener, “Famous for Nothing”, in particular, sets this tone and treats themes of, in the words of the band themselves, “growing up in a tight knit parochial environment.”

This treatment of themes of friendship, relation, and roots stretches throughout the album, persistently accompanied by excellent, if uninventive, Irish-folk-influenced rock. Marching snare lines and bagpipes combine with snarling guitars rumbling baselines to that is a more Irish-folk than Stiff Little Fingers and more rock-and-roll than Flogging Molly. This fusion culminates, in many ways, in the cover of the traditional Irish folk song “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya.” What at first sounds like it could be a very conventional treatment of a classic suddenly explodes in a flurry drum fills and buzzsaw guitars. And yet, it sounds every bit as right for the Dropkick Murphys to be bashing and snarling their way through it as it does being drawled out in a drowsy brogue.

But for all its rock bombast, The Meanest of Times is far from empty or thoughtless. Indeed, it is the most reflective album yet from the Dropkicks. From the sociopolitical criticisms of “The State of Massachusetts” to the anti-Nihilism of “Loyal to No One”, The Meanest of Times shows that the Dropkicks know how to use their music to communicate and comment. I was particularly impressed with “Loyal to No One” which, while recycling some familiar Dropkick Murphys tropes, simply and concisely makes a point: “don’t count the cash, ’cause you’ll leave it behind.”

One song of particular note on the album is “(F)lannigan’s Ball” which, aside from being an excellently raucous pub song, features vocals from Spider Stacy (of the Pogues) and irish folk legend Ronnie Drew (perhaps most famously of the Dubliners). Stacy’s sly, punkish brogue and Drew’s deep, gravel-gargling baritone help add to the rowdy, drinking song feel of the tune. Both of them are exceptionally expressive singers and in good form for their brief cameos.

One fine Dropkicks tradition that The Meanest of Times continues is that of supremely excellent covers of classic folk tunes. Their version of “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya” is driving and energetic, while managing to retain a great deal of the power of the song. Similarly, the song “Fairmount Hill” is a raucous, celt-punk, Boston-centric version of “Spancil Hill”. The Dropkicks do an excellent job of giving the song a modern feel and re-setting the song in their native Boston while keeping all of the reminiscent melancholy of the original.

This is really one for the fans. If you like what the Dropkick Murphys do, than this is a brilliant album. It’s not anything new or revolutionary, but it’s quality, high-energy Celt-rock. It’s often messy, always rowdy, and if you listen carefully, it’s sometimes deeper than you’d first suspect. And while it’s not the epitome of the genre, or even the best work the Dropkick Murphys have done (I, personally, think that Sing Loud, Sing Proud is their best work to date), it’s thoroughly Dropkicks, and it thoroughly rocks.

Aug 152007

Interpol, Our Love to Admire

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Artist: Interpol
Album: Our Love to Admire
Label: Capitol Records
Release Date: Tuesday, 2007.7.10
Score:8.5/10

Interpol’s much-anticipated major label debut, Our Love to Admire is, in many ways, Interpol’s strongest record to date. It feels like the album in which the group finally found their minimalistic groove. Where as their 2004 release Antics seemed unfocused, incohesive, and scattered, their Our Love to Admire feels like an album from a band which has finally found its feet. The album is a collection of deceptively simple-sounding tracks in which the parts all click together with clockwork precision. The brooding, rhythmic rock that the first two albums promised, but never fully delivered on has finally come to fruition.

Tunes like “Pace is the Trick”, with its focus on its somewhat surreal, abstract lyrics and its simple, yet imminately catchy guitar hooks, really drives home the spare, hook-laden aesthetic that Interpol have been trying to master for years. It perfects the mopey, abstract rock that was evident on Antics. Whereas prior offerings have sounded experimental and somewhat muddled, tunes like “Pace is the Trick” sound professional and mature.

Another song which exemplifies this newfound maturity and development is the lead track, “Pioneer to the Falls.” Supremely simple guitar licks click neatly with the sporadic, syncopated drum lines. The lyrics, as they do across the album, drift between the bizarre, but comprehensible (“So much for make believe, I’m not sold. / So much for dreams we see I’m not prepared to know.”), to Shins-esque resonant gibberish (“In a passion it broke, I pull the black from the grey”).

What’s most interesting is that, to a great extent, the simplicity that the album plays at (and sells quite well) is really kind of a sham. There’s actually a lot of scoring going on, with thickly layered guitar and bass lines, and remarkably intricate percussion work laced throughout. That such musical depth can feel like such simple and effortless artistry is impressive. It’s also a testament to the band’s growth, since the same kinds of tunes which sounded busy and cluttered in 2004 now fall together seamlessly.

The lyrics add another level of complexity to the album. While they retain a great deal of the abstract resonance that characterized the work on previous albums, there’s definitely been more thought put into them. Not only has Paul Banks kept the lyrical power, he’s also learned, it seems to blend that power with the other instrumentation. On “The Scale” for example, the interplay between the imagistic lyrics (“I have a sequin for an eye / pick a rose and hide my face”) and the music is impeccable. The instrumentation doesn’t simply underpin or support the lyrics, but rather the two work together reciprocally. And while it seems like a comparatively simple thing, it’s remarkable the extent to which instrumentation and vocals tend to get in one another’s way in a lot of modern music, including quite a few previous efforts from Interpol.

Our Love to Admire isn’t, in any sense, a new direction for the band, but it is a codification and a realization of what they’ve always been trying to do. This is the kind and caliber of album that Antics had the potential to be. But whereas Antics and (interesting, to a lesser extent) their debut, Turn on the Bright Lights feel unpolished and uncertain, Our Love to Admire is a confident and mature release. Interpol always knew what they wanted to accomplish, but this is the first album where it really feels like they’ve done it.

Aug 092007

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Is Is

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Artist: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Album: Is Is
Label: Interscope
Release Date: Tuesday, 2007.8.24
Score: 8/10

Well, another one of the latest releases from Interscope Records and I’m starting to think that I should just subscribe to their catalog. (Though that may be a bit hasty, since word is that they’re thinking of helping Justin Timberlake start up his own subsidiary label.) I haven’t yet heard anything in their recent lineup that I haven’t liked. I was especially pleasantly surprised with this latest acquisition, which is the latest EP from New York-based rock trio Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Before grabbing this EP, the only exposure I’d had to Yeah Yeah Yeahs was hearing their latest single, “Down Boy” once or twice on streaming radio at work. Is Is, which includes “Down Boy”, has served as an excellent introduction to the band and definitely put Yeah Yeah Yeahs on my list of bands to listen for.

Which is all a convoluted way of saying that Is Is seriously rocks. It’s the kind of EP which, in a way, acts as an advertisement for the band. It doesn’t try to do everything or be everything to every listener. Rather it simply presents five dark, often messy rock tunes, which are all obviously drawn from the same aesthetic. Whether it’s accurate advertising or just baseless musical propaganda is something I guess I won’t know until I hear more of their work, but for now, I’m intrigued.

Especially grabbing is the single, “Down Boy”. It’s a haunting, yet energetic tune, reminiscent of Evanescence. Its busy drum work and its eerie, atmospheric keyboards make for a rich background and nicely support some cool, syncopated guitar hooks and some almost lazy lyrical work from vocalist Karen O. The over-all effect is deceptively dark, while still managing to be energetic and somewhat dancy. It also features some superbly noisy guitar solos with plenty of crunchy overdrive, which makes for an interesting juxtaposition.

Another song I particularly like is the sinister-sounding “ISIS”, which reminds me somewhat of Godsmack’s “Voodoo”. (I had something of a Godsmack obsession for awhile in high school.) The drums really set the tone, with tom-heavy rhythms punctuated by cymbal fills, giving an rich, exotic feel. The guitars pick up the exotic theme with broad, unhurried melodies. The effect is completed by Karen O’s wailing vocals and occasional yelps.

One of the notable things about Is Is is how tightly it all works. The album is exceedingly well produced (and with Nick Launay having a hand in the recording and production of the album, it’s not really any wonder), and all the songs are well-written and tightly played. This quality, along with a uniformly dark aesthetic throughout make for an EP than really works as a whole unit. While this is much easier to do with an EP than a whole album, it’s also probably more important for the shorter format of an EP to have it work as a whole. After all, if someone’s going to take the time to listen to these few songs over and over, it helps if the whole 20+ minutes of the disc works together. Is Is does just that, giving a great listening experience through out and as a whole, not just in the individual tracks.

If you’ve never heard the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but like good rock music, then you owe it to yourself to grab Is Is. It’s not even seven bucks, if you get it from Amazon.com, so you won’t be out much, if it’s not your thing. The EP packages together a few really solid, fairly dark rock tunes into a nice, tight package.

Jul 272007

They Might Be Giants, The Else

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Artist: They Might Be Giants
Album: The Else
Label: Idlewild
Release Date: Tuesday, 2007.7.10
Score: 8.5/10

One of the first songs I remember hearing on the radio and really falling in love with is They Might Be Giants’ cover of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” (originally recorded by The Four Lads). One of the first CDs I ever bought was a copy of their album Flood. As such, I’ve always had a special place in my musical heart for TMBG and their unique brand of semi-absurd pop. So I have to admit that, when The Else popped up on the voting options, I was secretly hoping it would win the vote. It did and so, well, here we are.

The album is the 12th studio album from the Brooklyn-based duo. It continues a long, proud tradition of fun, well-crafted, often absurd pop music. The Else also comes with a bonus disc called Cast Your Pod to the Wind, which is chock full of rarities and unreleased material. The album features production work from the Dust Brothers and from Grammy Award-winning producer Pat Dillet, whose production work TMBG fans will be familiar with from several of the band’s previous albums.

A close listen of The Else will provide ample evidence that, not only are They Might Be Giants a group which hasn’t lost its touch, but also that they’re a band which is continuing to grow and mature, even after almost two decades in the industry. In particular, the melodic and harmonic themes in The Else are richer and more polished than most previous TMBG releases. Whereas before one got the sense that the music was decidedly secondary to the lyrics, such can’t be said as readily this time around. Songs like “Climbing the Walls”, which features rich harmonies and some really cool guitar hooks, for example, seem to indicate that a lot more thought has gone into the non-verbal portions of the music. “Feign Amnesia” features sparse, syncopated guitars, admirably accompanied with solid drumming.

For all the little concessions to musical maturity, they are just that: small nods in the direction of a more refined, “respectable” sound. The album still drips with classic They Might Be Giants surrealism and joyful exuberance. Songs like “The Mesopotamians” (“Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh!”) and “Bee of the Bird of the Moth” could only have been pulled off by TMBG. They’re groovy, catchy, and gleefully absurd. It’s rare that a band develops a voice so unique that not only does no other band try to ape them, but no other band even could. This album is a TMBG album through and through and there is absolutely no mistaking that. No other band could ever quite replicate the same delicate musical blend of silliness, pop excellence, musical talent, and lyrical wit.

And really, it’s the lyrics that set this album apart. They range from remarkably subtle and sly-grin-inducing satire (“The Shadow Government” – “Crawling out of the flophouse, I saw the mayor stealing my junk / I doth protest / citizen’s arrest / now my body’s in his trunk”) to the fantastically silly (“The Cap’m” debates the finer points of the use of contracted nautical honorifics) to the delightfully imagistic and abstract. Songs like “Contrecoup” make one think that, really, maybe other bands are just taking themselves too seriously and, perhaps, a little lyrical levity might actually improve things. I mean, hey, any song that can actually pull off using words like “craniopsophic” and “limerent” gets major points in my book. And TMBG manage to use them while discussing phrenology AND lamenting lost love. Bonus!

The Else is a must-have album for anyone who likes a levity, wit, and listenable pop music. It’s easy on the ears, fun for the mind, and soft on the pop sensibilities. If you’ve ever heard and enjoyed a They Might Be Giants album, this is a great place to start. The solid full-length album and the bonus disc of rarities and unreleased material makes it a great value, and its fun, simplicity, and G-rated content make it fun for the whole family. A safe buy for anyone looking for good, enjoyable music who doesn’t mind a healthy dose of absurdity in their auditory diet.