Oct 282008

Intro: Well, fall is in the air, the rock shows are moving inside, and the hipsters are trying to decide which kafia best compliments their boxframe glasses.  It also means, unfortunately, that I was well due for my semiannual illness, hence my missing last week’s column.  Again, my apologies for that.

Listening: Fall for me also means digging out old albums that I haven’t listened to in awhile.  Whether this is because fall makes me nostalgic or because the record companies are hoarding all their promising releases until Fat Sacks of Money DayChristmas is probably even odds.

Most recently, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to the two Loudermilk full-length albums.  Now, I will fully admit that I like the Loudermilk albums more than they deserve.  Man with Gun Kills Three and The Red Record are great albums.  But for me, they’re both the sort of albums that I could only in good conscience give a 10 to if we were talking about a 5-point scale.  The Red Record in particular is one of the best rock albums I’ve ever heard.  That the first rock show I ever went to was a Loudermilk show, or that I spent most of my formative years desperately wanting to be Mark Watrous probably has nothing to do with it.

Another such disk is an EP by a Portland-based band called PDeX, which has been soundtracking my drive to and from work the past couple days.  I’m actually working on a post/review/essay thing about that EP, so I’ll say no more about it for now, other than that it’s another fine example of music from the halcyon days of my youth.

On a more modern note, I became one of the last people in the world to acquire a copy of Carnavas by Silversun Pickups.  It’s awesome.  The single off of it, “Lazy Eye”, is pretty representative of the album both stylistically and quality-wise.  So basically my review is this – listen to the below and if you think you’d like that plus 10 more tracks kinda like it, well, then you should probably grab Carnavas:

Upcoming: New albums out today by Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, The Cure, and Kaiser Chiefs.  Next week sees the release of new material from Sarah Brightman and Travis, as well as the US release of the entire Stereophonics back catalog.

Thinking: Honestly, I’ve been a little too busy to do much music-related thinking of late.  Most of my mental energy has been work- and/or thesis-oriented the past couple of weeks.  That being said, I had an interesting conversation a few weeks ago with my friend Becky about certain similarities between art (particularly music) and religion (particularly sacraments).  Now, it bears mentioning that I go back on forth on why, exactly, we make music and what it is we’re doing when we listen to it.  I do, however, think that at some level it’s about communicating important parts of the human experience which can’t be relayed any other way.  I mean, I could tell someone what Leonard Cohen meant by the lyrics in “Hallelujah”, that would, in a way, totally be missing the point of the song.  If I really wanted to communicate to someone what the song was all about, I think I’d have no other recourse than to just sit them down and play it for them.

And in this communicative aspect, I think, lies the core of the sacramental nature of music: in listening to music, we’re recipients of a message which transcends words.  It’s a level of communication which is entirely beyond normal verbal transactions.  At the moment, I’m pretty sure that that’s why we listen to music.  Each song is a message that cuts deeper than language, right to some deep and important structure of what it means to be human.

News: Island Records is turning 50.  Which in some circles is synonymous with saying that music itself is now a half-century old.  Island’s been responsible for a large portion of the good things to happen to the music industry in the past 50 years (though on the downside they’re also responsible for U2).  I mean, everyone from Led Zeppelin to Tom Waits released on Island at one point or another.  So, from Fifty-Two Tuesdays, happy birthday, Island!  I sincerely hope I’ll get to say the same in another 50 years.

In sadder news, Levi Stubbs, the lead singer of the Four Tops, died awhile ago.  If anyone ever wonders what Motown was about, they need look no further than Stubbs and company.  Here’s perhaps the defining tune of the whole Motown phenonemon, “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” by the Four Tops.

Rest in Peace.

Song of the Week: But on a happier note, what do you get when you combine Gosling (formerly Loudermilk) and David Bowie?   Pure, uncut awesome, that’s what.  Here they are doing “Cat People (Putting Out the Fire)”, originally by David Bowie:

Apr 032007

Well kids, you did it to me. I trusted you with democracy and gave you all the vote and this is how you repay me – I’ll be reviewing Hilary Duff’s new release Dignity for next Tuesday. Et vos lectores? And even after I panned Yours Truly, Angry Mob for you. For YOU.

I imagine I’ll probably survive the experience, though, so I should probably throw up some offerings for the 10th for you rabblesome lot to paw over and vote on. Your options (collated, as always, from a variety of internet sources) are as follows:

Blonde Redhead, 23
Bright Eyes, Cassadaga
Brother Ali, The Undisputed Truth
CocoRosie, The Adventures of Ghosthorse & Stillborn
Grinderman, Grinderman [Note: Grinderman is a new project from the inimitable Nick Cave]
Talib Kweli, Ear Drum
Love of Diagrams, Mosaic
Rosebuds, Night of the Furies
DJ Tiesto, Elements of Life
El Perro del Mar, El Perro del Mar
From Autumn to Ashes, Holding a Wolf by the Ears
Astarte, Demonized
Guster, Satellite

Apr 032007

Kaiser Chiefs, Yours Truly, Angry Mob

Uncategorized Comments Off on Kaiser Chiefs, Yours Truly, Angry Mob

Artist: Kaiser Chiefs
Album: Yours Truly, Angry Mob
Label: B-Unique / Polydor
Release Date: Tuesday, 2007.3.27
Score: 6.5/10

The much anticipated sophomore release from Leeds-based Brit Rock darlings Kaiser Chiefs, Yours Truly, Angry Mob is an album that is, in a sense, deceptively solid. It’s a well-produced, musically unreproachable disc full of rock songs, the majority of which are unmemorable and many of which are simply uninteresting. To paraphrase Irwin from Alan Bennet’s History Boys “it’s not wrong, it’s just boring.” There’s very little new or, really, even interesting here. The album is full of the same stripe of buzzing guitars, off-handedly clever lyrics and solid, supportive drumming (transparent in just the right way) that made their NME-award-winning 2005 release Employment a shining example of exuberant Brit Rock done right. But Yours Truly, Angry Mob fails to deliver on the formula that Employment exploited so well. As I said, it’s not a bad album, it’s just not all that good.

Which isn’t to say that the album doesn’t have its moments. The art rock crib sheet (stereotypical, oft-distorted rock guitars alternately growl over top of standard issue drum hooks, accompanied by barely-audible bass lines and occasionally-interesting syncopated piano) from which Kaiser Chiefs are filching their notes is popular exactly because it’s a good one. And on Yours Truly, Angry Mob it does help them deliver some good times. This is especially true because of band’s penchant for one-off lyrical cleverness, which is simultaneously gratifying and frustrating. Songs like “Ruby” are full of lines that, taken on their own, have the sound of great lyrics in the making, but fall flat when taken in context. “Due to lack of interest tomorrow is canceled” frontman Ricky Wilson sings, sounding, perhaps tellingly, more bored than anything else. (Then again Wilson manages throughout much of the album to sound like he has something better to do.) The rest of the UK-chart-topping single is fairly forgettable. Aside from an exceptionally catchy intro, and the occasional lyrical bon mot, I can’t hear any reason why this would be chart-ranking material. Which isn’t to say it’s a bad song, really, I’m just puzzled as to why anyone would think it’s a great one.

This pattern of lyrical cleverness and occasional melodic interest popping up in otherwise unimpressive songs is one that spans the whole album. Good examples of this include the light, tinkling ballad “Love’s Not a Competition (But I’m Winning)” which is fairly unimpressive, despite (or perhaps owing to) a pleasant, milquetoast ballad melody and perfect, dull form. Which wouldn’t bear comment, if the it weren’t well-titled and didn’t feature what could be moving lyrics if they weren’t set to a song that was so strictly competent. The aptly-titled “Everything is Average Nowadays” is pleasantly ironic, considering the album as a whole and the straight-ahead, power-pop feel to it. It comes pre-equipped with perfect, repetitive drum hooks, new-wave-y vocal melody and social commentary so broad and shallow that it can’t help but be accurate. “Heat Dies Down” features a few smile-worthy quips sprinkled throughout otherwise bland lyrics and wrapped around an honestly catchy chorus. The dark, anti-heroic “You’re My Kind of Guy”, an homage to a violent bastard, manages to seem dragging and lackluster, despite promising lyrics and melodic themes. The solo piano ballad “Boxing Champ” is probably the only song on the entire album that I felt was really, honestly good. Not average, not plain, but positively good. Sweet, well-witted lyrics, supported by gorgeous, lush melodies and expressed honestly and clearly. It combines the best vocals and best piano work on the entire album. And at a minute and a half, it’s over almost before it begins, delivering the unique kind of frustration the only known source of which is a brilliant song cut drastically short.

There is one song off the album that I’d feel remiss about not commenting on: the semi-titular “The Angry Mob”. Now, it’s really easy to screw up socio-political commentary. So easy that I am of the opinion that the majority of bands shouldn’t bother themselves with it overmuch. Social critique is one of the things that music is well-suited for. In fact I think music is better suited for it than many other kinds of aesthetic endeavors. But critique done poorly makes for some of the most trite, hackneyed shit imaginable. “The Angry Mob” starts off as a fairly unremarkable rock tune and, after several layers of cheap, uncritical commentary slathered over the top and topped off with a trite, repetitive denouement that starts out as simply banal (“we are the angry mob / we read the papers every day / we like who we like, we hate who we hate, but we’re also easily swayed”) but, after about the dozenth repetition, manages to become seriously irritating. The last two minutes of the song (which are given over to this exercise in lyrical masturbation) are why CD players have track skip buttons.

I guess in the end, I can’t really fault the album for anything. Which is, in a way, a problem, since it doesn’t have much positive to recommend it, either. It’s straight-forward, solid, competent art rock, with a tinge of the latest British invasion about it. Does that sound like your thing? Do you already have Employment and wouldn’t mind another 13 tracks of similar, if less impressive, material? If so, then it will be right up your alley. And since it’s running at about $8 on Amazon.com right now, it certainly won’t break your bank. In general, though, I would say it’s an album that can be safely skipped.

Mar 272007

Hey folks, thanks to every who dropped by and voted last time around. It looks like the Democratic process has decreed that next Tuesday I’ll be reviewing the Kaiser Chief’s second album, Yours Truly, Angry Mob. I’ve just this moment purchased it off of Amazon and shall put it into heavy rotation just as soon as it arrives in my hot little hands.

Also, in case anyone missed it, my review of Low‘s Drums and Guns is up. Link.

Now comes the moment you’ve all been waiting for, the list of candidates for next Tuesday’s purchase, to be reviewed on April 10th. Your options, as presented by Metacritic and augmented by a few choice options from Billboard and TopHitsOnline are:

Jarvis Cocker, Jarvis
Hilary Duff, Dignity
The Field, From Here We Go Sublime
Fountains of Wayne, Traffic and Weather
Kings of Leon, Because of the Times
Ozomatli, Don’t Mess With the Dragon
Partridge-Andrews-Barker Project, Monstrance
Sister Vanilla, Little Pop Rock
Throbbing Gristle, Part Two – The Endless Not
Paul Wall, Get Money– Stay True
Venetian Snares, Pink + Green
Timbaland, Timbaland Presents Shock Value
Chevelle, Vena Sera
Static-X, Cannibal

Cast your votes now!

*One note: I removed the new boxed set of The Wedding Present’s Complete Peel Sessions. Why? Because I don’t want to spend $77 bucks on a bunch of material from a band that I’ve never been that big on. It’s not that I think too many people would vote for it, but on the off chance that they did, I wouldn’t want to let them down by punking out and not getting it. Besides, no one wants to sit through me reviewing 6 discs worth of The Wedding Present.