Monday, January 31, 2005
score: 4 out of 5
Just as you would hope to expect from any album titled "Decadence", Head Automatica's first release is full of unrestrained self-gratifying party mentality. The band is largely the collaboration of producer Dan "the Automator" Nakamura of Gorillaz and vocalist Daryl Palumbo of Long Island hardcore band, Glassjaw. The project finds both reaching away from their past music experiences. Palumbo strives to prove that he is more than a one-dimensional talent - pulling a musical spectrum of influences to the mix, and asking you to check any preconceived notions at the door. From beginning to end, Palumbo’s voice is the one truly unifying factor that glues the whole thing together. Within seconds of the first slice, Head Automatica opens a door into a world of lavish debauchery and excess. From the start, the band takes the listener on a joyride through the streets of Sex, Drugs, and Rock n Roll. Full of lust and greed, Decadence could easily be the gratuitous soundtrack for an evening of cocaine, strippers, slot machines, and car chases with the police.
The listener is greeted by the pub-rock flare of At the Speed of a Yellow Bullet, an uptempo jam in the flavor of The Black Crowes, or more recently, Jet. But be careful getting too comfortable in your listening, because the album makes sure it switch hits as frequently as possible.
Before you know it, the second track, Brooklyn is Burning, leaps into a funky 70's television groove, reminiscent of Shaft, except with breakbeats.
An early single, Beating Heart Baby, packs in as much sugar as a mouthful of poprocks. The infectious melodies and vocal nuances are sure to keep the listener's head bobbing throughout.
Just when you think it can't get much catchier, the album breaks into Please Please Please (Young Hollywood), arguably one of the disc's finest cuts. Lyrics like "let me devalue what's inside you" provide all the raunchy details you need.
At track five, King Caesar is possibly one of the album's weakest tracks. The song as a whole is actually quite decent, but the nauseating pop-punk chorus tries too hard to be catchy, and seems to force itself on the listener like a date-rapist (then again, maybe that's the idea?). No worries. It's still better than anything by Simple Plan.
Any shortcomings suffered are quickly smashed by following track. The Razor is full of energy and emotion, at times bearing resemblance to groups like Taking Back Sunday. Dance Party Plus drives the ball even further, with it's disco-trash-punk. Not only does Rancid's Tim Armstrong add vocals, but a female contribution on the chorus brings out one of the album's crowning achievements.
If it weren't for Palumbo's signature voice, the funk of track 8, Disco Hades II, could have you swearing you had entered another era.
Solid Gold Telephone brings in a slightly more lounge atmosphere, with a piano taking the place of the organ that is commonly used throughout the album.
Head Automatica Soundsystem finds the band changing their sound once again - this time adding some R&B with vocals that occasionally turn to the kind of cheesy rap you would expect from a boy band. Even though I wouldn’t call this one of the album’s top songs, it is still quirky enough to work.
The final track is humorously titled I Shot William H. Macy, and slams on the pedal for a high-powered conclusion. Palumbo’s momentum bursts as he shouts, “You wanna pop pop pop, you wanna click click click, you wanna shoot, you wanna shoot, shoot wanna shoot.” As if the car chase of an album is finally over, the song spins out of control and the album meets its inevitable end.
Head Automatica soars ahead with their original twists on classic sounds. Palumbo gets his chance to evolve from the angst that many have pigeonholed him to for years. He pulls through with a strong performance and pays homage to a wide array of the music that has been an inspiration to him along the way. Released in late 2004, Decadence proves to be a highly creative and worthwhile listen for those who have an appreciation for a variety of music.
Sunday, January 30, 2005
4.0 out of 5
With a clappity-clap and a whoo, The Shins open up their major label sophomore release, Chutes Too Narrow. This New Mexican quartet in many ways could be mistaken for Beach Boys incarnate (see The Thrills ), although they emit more sheer power in many of their songs than the Brian Wilson led group. But, like the Beach Boys, The Shins implement poppy hooks, clever harminization and adroit brevity into each of their ten songs contained on this album, marking this as one of 2003's most overlooked releases.
Rockabilly, folk and acoustic rock are what mark The Shins' sound, and 'Kissing the Lipless' doesn't fail in those regards. The opening track begins like a bonfire serenade, with lead singer James Mercer almost whispering along to light acoustic accompaniment. The beat soon picks up and Mercer changes his voice from soft to a pleaful wail. Interwoven between states of folk and harder rock, 'Kissing the Lipless' provides a propitious introduction.
Another notable track, 'So Says I' brings out that all too familiar beach rock sound described earlier. Two-and-a-half minutes long, layered vocals and a catchy guitar push this song over the edge, making it one of the best songs on the disc. Profoundly poetic, Mercer yearns, "In our darkest hours we have all asked for some angel to come sprinkle his dust all around, but all our crying voices they can't turn it around and you've had some crazy conversations of your own." I shall leave all interpretations up to the listener.
By far the greatest song on the album, 'Turn a Square' contains Mercer's signature witty lyrics."
"She shone up bright like a knife, wearing tennis shorts made of stripes. Hand in hand to the grass, and we got it right. Got it nice, nice, nice. Just a glimpse of an ankle and I react like it's 1805."
A song about simultaneous feelings of love and lust, 'Turn a Square' is the most Romantic track on the record. "My head's like a kite" and "I'm a walking cliche'" describe the powerful spell that love can have upon a person. Contrary to the complex prose, the music itself is quite modest. Purposfully simple guitar riffs and drum beats provide a well-balanced base for such an elegant lyrical message.
Chutes Too Narrow is simple and brief, yet it is that very quality of minimalism that makes this album work. Slowly rising to the forefront of Indie rock, look for these guys to blast out of college and satellite radio obscurity and into the mainstream. Don't believe me? Look at Modest Mouse.
Thursday, January 27, 2005
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
"Wilco are offering free bonus tracks to people who have purchased their A Ghost Is Born CD. On March 7th, Ghost outtakes 'Panthers' and 'Kicking Television,' along with live versions of 'Handshake Drugs,' 'The Late Greats' and 'At Least That's What You Said,' will be available for download at wilcoworld.net. Visitors must insert a copy of the CD into their computers to gain access to the downloads."
A great fusion of electronic and traditional media services, hopefully other bands follow suit.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Score: 3 out of 5
I saw a television commercial a while back advertising that Action Action is a combination of Depeche Mode, The Killers and Franz Ferdinand. But it would be a travesty to marginalize this stellar new group into such narrow categories. On their first major label debut, Action Action fuses industrial rock with synth-pop, college indie with a little pop-punk. Clearly a product of the current musical time, the group may have reached a fork in the road as to which path they should take with their music. Yet, as Yogi Berra once said, "If you reach a fork in the road, take it." With their debut, Action Action certainly makes a noble attempt to do just that.
Don't Cut Your Fabric to this Year's Fashion "greets" the listener with a deep and brooding synth chord. "Welcome to our dark world," seems to be the message that this gothic track would be wanting to emote. The mood lightens somewhat, however, as soon as the first chorus sounds, probably to serve as an intro to their similarly sounding debut single 'Drug Like.' Whimsical synthesizer, combined with pleading vocals, 'Drug Like" resonates as a cry for help. The subject matter is deep and rather depressing. A collective epiphany seems to occur once the chorus strikes as you discover along with vocalist Thomas Kluepfel that, "I'm starting to scare myself." Kluepfel's personal pain and experience transcends itself beyond the recording studio and into your soul.
On 'Eighth Grade Summer Romance' a clear transformation occurs from dark and brooding to bouncy power-pop. The fork in the road reference made above becomes more and more apparent as Kluepfel's vocals sound more like Art Alexakas of Everclear's than his own more natural sounding, pleading drone of earlier on the record. Perhaps creative differences within the band account for this dramatic shift from the beginning of the disc? The guitars are simpler and more bouncy here as well, although this should not ruin the credibility of the band by any means. In fact, 'Eighth Grade Summer Romance' is catchy in all the right ways, and its purposeful immaturity is directly analogous to the subject matter its title references. Yet while titles are one thing, lyrics are another altogether. Another song about flirtations with suicide, 'Eighth Grade' provides the listener with a more tongue-in-cheek look at the topic.
On 'Four Piece Jigsaw Puzzle' the synthesizers are turned off, and the drum sticks are retired. Simplicity is the name of the game with this simple ballad, as acoustic guitar, melodious vocals and limited piano are the only instruments used. Maybe it is at the end of 'Four Piece' that Action Action figures out exactly where they want to go when Kluepfel sincerely sings, "I'm starting to understand." Immediately, the disc turns back towards the beginning roots of the disc and a reprise of 'This Year's Fashion' begins.
'Don't Cut Your Fabric' is an upbeat rendition of track number one's 'This Year's Fashion.' With pretty much the same lyrics as track number one, 'Don't Cut' appears to exude much more confidence---to be much more sure of itself than its track one partner. A delicate balance between goth and pop is reached, and Action Action seems to have found their niche by the time 'Don't Cut' leads into 'The Short Weekend Begins With a Longing,' the album's finale.
Don't Cut Your Fabric to This Year's Fashion is not your kid sister's album. Serious, thoughtful, dark, deep and complex, Don't Cut requires serious commitment on part of the listener. While this may discourage many novice listeners, in the long run Action Action are doing themselves a favor while they continue to refine their sound.
For a debut disc, this album performs. Yet Don't Cut falls short in just a few ways to keep them from reaching full potential. The rock fan will be disappointed by Action Action's flirtation with power-pop, while the pop fan will find it hard to bob their head to any one song. This lack of true definition raises a lot of questions, and will subsequently have a hard time convincing the one-genre-only listener to buy this disc. On the other hand, music fans with an open mind will appreciate the variety of talent the band displays and their poetic lyrics. The eclectic fan will recognize that Action Action holds tremendous strength for future discs.
score: 3.5 out of 5
In the midst of the recent grunge movement that was taking the nation by storm in the early 90's, lesser-noticed groups continued to evolve the medium of electronic, keyboard-infused rock n roll that had built itself up in the 80's with the help of alternative crossover groups like Depeche Mode. Electronic hard rock was beginning to gain more acceptance with groups like Nine Inch Nails releasing albums at the turn of the decade. When Nirvana broke into the mainstream with their distortion-fed power chords, the music media switched it's focus to grunge. Singing about 'girls, girls, girls' and competing for the biggest hair was being traded away for raw emotion and flannel. Many other groups who had formed years earlier were beginning to gain attention now. Not every kid on the block traded away their keyboards however...
Two such kids were native Pennsylvanian's David Reilly and Jeff Turzo, who after recording a techno song for a party in 1993, decided to form a band, adding guitar to the mix. That band would become known as God Lives Underwater. GLU quickly gained the attention of producer Rick Rubin of American Recordings, who helped them put out a self-titled EP in 1995. Soon thereafter, GLU added a drummer and guitarist for live shows, and proceeded to record their first full-length album before year end. That album was titled Empty. Other groups with similar characteristics to GLU include Gravity Kills and Stabbing Westward, however GLU was the earliest of the three to record an LP for a label, even though GLU was perhaps the most overlooked overall. Despite this lack of attention, GLU has continued to make music in some form or another in the 10 years since their debut. As far as I know, "empty" is now out of print, but I was able to obtain a copy in near mint condition for only $1.50 + shipping on half.com.
And now.... the review of God Lives Underwater - Empty
The beautifully eerie album art focuses on some photography of a submerged statue of Jesus Christ which can be found off the coast of Florida. With arms outstretched, reaching for the surface, the statue beckons the album listener to look deeper into the name God Lives Underwater. When paired with the word "empty", the album cover leaves room for interpretation, while grabbing for your attention.
The opening track introduces the listener to the overall sound of the album - experimental, repeating loops layered with samples and chunky, distorted guitar riffs that repeat themselves. The guitars and drums on the album never reach for soloist awards, but provide a sturdy base for the funky, space-age electronics to balance on. The second track, "All Wrong" was a moderately successful radio single, incorporating relatively simple riffs and multi-level electronic rhythms with Reilly's scratchy vocals. Just as the influence of groups like Depeche Mode are evident here, the vocals take on many characteristics reminiscent of singers such as Alice in Chains' Layne Staley. Reilly stays within a somewhat limited vocal range, but is able to successfully supplement the music with hauntingly pretty melodies that will stick in your head for days. Lyrics such as "Here I am, my anger and me" couple well with the dark atmosphere, but a catchy chorus stops the listener from slipping into the shadows completely. GLU is able to write many songs that drag, but hold the listener's attention.
Other gems, like the title track "empty", and "no more love" are equally intoxicating, and help the pick up the overall pace of the album. "23" is a trippy, less raucous adventure, drawing from a soft, looped guitar effect to create a spatial tonality to add to the feeling of emptiness that the album name suggests. "Tortoise" is a track that relies more on the group's electronic capabilities than their guitars. The more upbeat tracks are sometimes spaced apart by less interesting songs that occasionally may find the listener wanting to skip ahead, but the monotonous nature of the entire album also helps hold it together.
The album concludes with a short acoustic number, called "Scared," which lightens the mood of the album, but may leave the listener with the question of "is that how it ends?" Although "Scared" could be seen as a weak track, pulling away the cohesiveness of the other tracks, its separation from the overall sound does provide a calming conclusion, despite lyrics like "you only make me unhappy." Perhaps this ending intentionally begs for questioning. Perhaps it is meant to evoke the emotions outlined by the album title....emotions of what it feels like to be "empty."
Monday, January 24, 2005
"In addition, hundreds of radio stations around the globe are planning to broadcast the song on Friday at noon Eastern time to mark the 20th anniversary of the recording, organizers said on Monday. "
In brief music news "We Are the World" will be turning 20 years old on Friday. The famine combating song has raised over 60 million dollars since its original recording that has been used to help alleviate hunger in Africa.
According to the Yahoo! article, the song was almost never recorded:
A manager for one of the artists complained that "the rockers don't care for the song that much and they don't want to stand next to the non-rockers," co-organizer Kragen recounted. "They felt it was going to hurt their credibility."
In retrospect, it was most definitely good to see that the artists accepted differences and left their egos at the door. "We Are the World" helped clear the way for other music aid projects including the highly notable "Live Aid."
Saturday, January 01, 2005
Foo Fighters - In Your Honor
Honeymoon Machine - Transistor Go Go
Hood - Outside Closer
Institute - Distort Yourself
Low - The Great Destroyer
The Lovemakers - Times of Romance
The Most Terrifying Thing - Victoriana
Pinback - Summer In Abandon
The Shins - Shoots Too Narrow
Spoon - Gimme Fiction
- Journey - Separate Ways (World's Apart)
- God Lives Underwater - 'From Your Mouth'
- 'Re-'Michael'ing McDonald
- New Order - 'True Faith'
- Jamiroquai - 'Virtual Insanity'
- Cranberries - 'Zombie'
- Weird Al Yankovich - 'Smells Like Nirvana'
- Stan Bush - The Touch
- Live - 'I Alone'
- Seal - 'Kiss From a Rose'
- Silverchair - 'Anthem (For the Year 2000)
- Fiona Apple - 'Criminal'
- Tom Petty - 'Mary Jane's Last Dance'
- Aerosmith - 'Crazy'
- Guns N' Roses - 'Estranged'
- The Arcade Fire - 'Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)'
- Zack Hexum - 'Met A Girl Like You Once'
- Elliot Smith - 'A Fond Farewell'
- Hot Hot Heat - 'Goodnight Goodnight'
- Cells - 'The Servant'
- Submersed - 'Hollow'
- Trust Company - 'Stronger'
- The Doves - 'Black and White Town'
- Mindless Self Indulgence - 'Straight to Video'
- Recover - 'F**k Me For Free'
- Five Song Special featuring 'Blue Orchid,' 'L.S.F.,' 'The Truth,' 'An Honest Mistake,' & 'Betrayal' by The White Stripes, Kasabian, Limp Bizkit, The Bravery & The Black Maria, respectively
- Coldplay - 'Speed of Sound'
- Aqualung - 'Strange and Beautiful (I'll Put a Spell on You)'
- Beck - 'Girl'
- Alkaline Trio - 'Time to Waste'
- The Czars - 'I Am the Man'
- The Smashing Pumpkins - 'The End is the Beginning is the End'
- Action Action - 'Smoke and Mirrors'
- The Flaming Lips - 'The W.A.N.D.'
- Tim Capello - 'I Still Believe'
- Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - 'The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth'
- Matisyahu - 'King Without a Crown'
- The Rasmus - 'In the Shadows'
- Three Song Special featuring 'Why, Part 2,' 'Walking After You,' & 'Freetime' by Collective Soul, the Foo Fighters & Kenna, respectively
- Three Song Special featuring 'Love and Memories,' 'Kansas City Shuffle,' & 'Vicarious' by O.A.R., J. Ralph & Tool, respectively
- A Perfect Circle - 'The Hollow'
- Red Hot Chili Peppers - 'Taste the Pain'
- Angels and Airwaves - 'The Adventure'
- Imaad Wasif - 'Out in the Black'
- iForward Russia! - 'Twelve'
- Heart - 'Alone'
- The Happy Bullets - 'The Vice and Virtue of Ministry'
- He Is Legend - 'Either They Decorated for Christmas Early or They're All Dead'