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Month: January 2009

Linda Lovelace for President, and Marc with a C as speech writer!

Marc with a C writes some amazing lyrics. All of the songs on this CD, with the exception of three written by Chris Zabriskie, were penned by the well-versed Marc Sirdoreus. Although the music left me feeling flat, the lyrics excited me. I would hungrily sit down to read any ranting by Sirdoreus or any book of poetry he may decide to write.

My problem with the music is it is so cliché. I’ve heard these chords before, on every grassy expanse of land on every college campus in the United States of America. The first thing I noticed was perhaps a David Bowie/Beatles/Bob Dylan/Something more recent influence in the music. It is your average acoustic guitar, sometimes accompanied by a little percussion here and there, but not often. The songs are poppy and light; however, they are enjoyable, no doubt. But something is just not there in the music and in his voice. It’s been done. There are slight variations from song to song, but not enough to make me gasp and say “WOW!” In order to really draw a listener in with this type of acoustic guitar, Sirdoreus’ voice needs more girth or something that would make it unique to balance out the averageness of each song.

But keep in mind that not all is lost with this album. “All My Drug Use Is Accidental” pleased me. It really drove home my feeling that this album is worth listening to purely for the lyrical value. “Born Vintage” was notable too, for its music as well as lyrics. A sampling of why I love the lyrics on this album: “You’re not right and we’re not wrong,” as well as “What’s the point of being punk if punk means I belong?” The song “Jessica, I Heard You Like The Who” forced me to fall in love with it. The lyrics are appealing because they touch on familiar subjects, and even thoughts I have had, which I thought no one would ever dare to think.

As is the case with almost every song on Linda Lovelace for President, the album itself starts out strong, and then seems to lose passion and inspiration by the end, musically. The harmonies present in a lot of the tracks are the same in every song; nice, but repetitive. The music is one-dimensional, but the feeling I get from listening to his words, the sense of his wit and the humor that comes across in the lyrics really stand out.

You know what, Marc with a C? Regardless of how I feel about the college campus guitar, I’m putting you on my iPod. Because I enjoyed what you have to say just enough to play Linda Lovelace for President next time I am road tripping to wherever.

A musical trip around the world

The group Funkadesi hails from Chicago, but their music is literally far-reaching and across-the-board. Their style is a combination of reggae, funk, dance, and pop, and their influences range from African tribal beats to Indian pop. I always thought that the term “world music” was vague, especially since it seemed to encompass all music that wasn’t American or classical, but if any band deserves this title, the very “worldly” Funkadesi does.

I first encountered this group at a party in my very own home, when a friend slyly switched the music that was playing with a Funkadesi album. It took a moment to catch on, but soon enough, every other person was asking about the music. (Those who didn’t ask merely danced.) Once the mystery was cleared up, it became obvious that this group was irresistible. A steady, pulsing dance beat mixed with a gorgeous Indian vocals or a Jamaican-styled rap, I learned, is undeniably fun. (It also proved fortunate that the aforementioned friend brought over not one, but two, albums.)
While some songs like “Crash Da Party” don’t exactly send out a political message, all of Funkadesi’s songs (that I’ve heard, anyway) sound optimistic, and many of them encourage togetherness and unity. Not all of the songs are in English, but translated lyrics are included with the albums. On the unsigned group’s website and myspace, they espouse the motto “one family… many children.” Aww. Funkadesi is not for the cynical.

Another cool thing about Funkadesi? Even the President thinks they’re awesome! Barack Obama himself said, “Funkadesi knows how to get a crowd fired up!” Check out the Youtube video on the band’s website for the then-Senator’s comments about Funkadesi.

A spazzy, delightful trip down Victorian Halls

Spastic. Screech. Lunacy. Lovely?

I decided the best way to kick off a review of Victorian Halls’ unique CD would be to write the first four descriptive words that popped into my head concerning the sounds of the first track, entitled “Pop, Pop, Pop.” Honestly, I cann ot think of a more fitting song title. Those four seem to cover it pretty well.

I initially picked this CD to listen to because it had the most fanciful art on the cover: blue buildings, pink smoke, a pill taking flight into the brown sky via its angel wings. The art translates to the music in the most delightful way possible. This is not another case of the listener being intrigued by the album art, and then miserably disappointed by the content of the CD – which i’m sure has happened to more music fans than just me. No, the music on the album Springteen is arousingly funky. It is perkier than a high school cheerleader on crack. Although the hyperactivity starts out strong on Springteen, it doesn’t fade. This is a cohesive album to the very end, but NEVER boring.

The second track, “Persecution of Bellissima Morte,” comes across as though it was written in anger. Singers Sean Lenart and Carlos Luna scream at the listener with utmost screechy passion. I use the term screechy in the most loving way possible, I might add. The vocals are jarring, constantly jabbing at your eardrums. But it is a strange kind of pain – the kind you want more of. Victorian Halls knows they aren’t a band your mother would love, as Lenart can be quoted as saying. But they are one you will love. I loved them, especially after they pleased my ears with the intricate, creepy, militant “Go! Razorbacks! Go!” “Greed” is a hidden jem, too, changing it up with fuller vocals. The last track gives you a peek into their acoustic sound. Amazing through and through.
To sum it up, Springteen is spazzy and mezmerizing. The drums are straightforward, the guitar is punky, the bass is speedy, and the piano strikes beautifully throughout the songs. This band is so worth a listen that I can’t stress it enough. I spend so much time wishing for something edgy, unique, and totally different than what I have ever heard before to come along. Victorian Halls totally fulfilled that wish.

The Mirror Stage turns the mirror on the human spirit.

The Mirror Stage shows a lot of promise. As I listened to their debut EP Ten Thousand Tongues, I could hear hints of greatness to come. Actually, I’m listening to it now for the third time – it certainly is enjoyable to listen to. If I could use one word to describe their sound, it would be atmospheric. Think post-rock along the lines of Explosions in the Sky, only with words and a pop/indie spin.

It is obvious the band is relatively new at what they’re doing. As far as I know, they’ve only been recording, playing, and touring since 2008. Understandably, they are not on the spot in every song. While some new bands find it hard to break out of their comfort zones and experiment, the Mirror Stage isn’t in the least bashful about this. Their experimentation isn’t bad, per se – it’s just not focused, almost like they’re trying too many ideas at once.

I’m not saying the Mirror Stage isn’t good – far from it. I believe this roughness is merely birth pangs of something better to come. Time would fail me to list every phenomenal band playing today that had a rough start.

Despite the roughness around the edges that inevitably comes with a first recording, there is a lot of heart and a lot of potential, and I can see the Mirror Stage going far. The Mirror Stage’s post-rock influences are obvious, as well as drawing inspiration from the indie genre. I’m sure as they record and play more, they will begin to discover who they are. With more recognition, time, practice, inspiration, etc., I could easily see this band going from being good to being great, and catching the eye (and ears!) of other music publications and listeners. James McAnally, the band’s singer, has a good voice, and can only get stronger with time and practice.

For me, the highlights of this five track EP are “At the Still Point of the Burning World” and “Hymn of an Amen.” “At the Still Point of the Burning World” in particular seems to resonate deeply – the song surprised me with its depth and originality. I expected the solo to go one way when it went another. The song is certainly a high point of the album. The song reaches and touches deeply at the core of what makes us human. I think this is what the band is trying to do, and they pulled it off masterfully with this song.

Yes, I would recommend this band to a friend. Yes, I would recommend A Thousand Tongues. Keep looking out for the Mirror Stage. If this is where they’re at now, then the future should hold great things for them, if they remain true to themselves and their purpose.

Get it? Good.

Keith Goodwin
Tim Arnold
Dan Schwartz

Good Old War is another band created in the black void of a group on hiatus, and to our gain. The band begins Only Way to Be Alone with the sound of a tambourine clattering (or is it glass shattering?).  Rolling guitar licks enter, which cue the sincere vocals and handclaps. “Coney Island” is the song; it’s an earworm, but a comforting one.

Many of these folksy, acoustic-led pop songs invoke a feeling of warmth, not unlike slipping on your favorite pair of sweatpants made of cottony glory. The male vocal harmonies in songs like “No Time” and “That’s What’s Wrong” are reminiscent of The Beatles’ Rubber Soul with simple lyrics. “Stay By My Side” incorporates female vocals swooning alongside the melancholy male vocalist, and is that a sitar in the background? Good Old War’s first effort is familiar in an “apple pie smell wafting from the oven” kind of way.

Melt That Old Stereotype of Pretentious Jazz

The Jonbear Fourtet employs a rarely-used lineup: guitar, vocals, drums, trumpet. If this were a pop-rock band, we’d have Cake. But the trumpet is about all that connect Jonbear and John McCrea. Jonbear and his lads are a jazz band playing pop ditties. If I had a smoking jacket and a pipe, I’d probably slap the vinyl of Melt That Cold on my turntable and discuss weighty topics with my New Yorker-reading friends.

That is, except for the fact that the jazz occasionally turns into jubilation. The party-hearty mood that the Fourtet occasionally channels is fun beyond reason, and totally doesn’t fit with the bearded, philosophical stereotype that is called up on first take.

Now, this isn’t big band, swing-style jazz; you’ve already been told that there are only four dudes in the fourtet (Ben Folds, take notice). The jazz comes from the guitar, whose strum patterns and style are very specific to jazz; the jazz drumming; and the trumpet’s bright tone. The pop comes from the clearly pop-minded song structures and the hummable melodies in the vocals.

The Fourtet pulls off the mashup of jazz and pop very deftly, never getting too cerebral or too sugar-coated. This is doubly impressive when considering the lyrics, which are made up of cute images (the first three song titles are  “Peaches and Puppies,” “Bumble Bee,” and “Mr. Spring”). It takes talent to take a serious medium and inject life (and irony) into it effectively.

And that’s exactly what they do for most of this album. Standout “Bumble Bee” uses the trumpet to great effect as the main melody-maker. This is a standard operating procedure for the Fourtet, as the guitar often carries the rhythm and structure of the song, but the trumpet’s presence is especially noted here. This a faster track, one of the more jubilant ones, and it’s a foot-tapper and a sing-along. There are crooners, like the sultry “Mr. Spring” and the dreamy closer “Snow Ice Cream,” where the vocals take front and center with their breathy, intriguing tone.

The only detractor on Melt That Cold is that with only three instruments (and maybe a second guitar here and there), the album starts to feel repetitive in the middle. The mood shifts and tempo changes help, but there needs to be a little more variety; the Fourtet needs to get some extra cameo instrumentalists on their next album to create a full experience.

For those of you who like something different, this should be the next thing to satiate your desire. It’s definitely without compare in my mind. I’m sure there’s someone out there doing stuff like this, but not many. An admirable and enjoyable effort by the The Jonbear Fourtet.

Follow the Turquoise Trail to your next rave.

Pictureplane is one-man electronic artist Travis Edgey from Denver, Colorado. He gained fame last year with the remixes of “lost time” on noise-rockers Health’s  remix album “Health//Disco” and of Crystal Castle’s “Air War.”  Last year also saw the very,very independent release of his debut Turquoise Trail.  To sum up Pictureplane’s sound as underground electronic dance music would be misleading,  and to attempt to explain the experience that is “Turquoise Trail” leaves much to be desired.

With Edgey’s ghostly crooning in the background, synths rip open and quickly flare up on the album opener “The Turquoise Trail,” which barely makes it over two minutes. The vocals can barely be made out on most songs, making Edgey’s mouth just another element of  the crazy, cracked-out dance tracks on Turquoise Trail that weave together seamlessly but pop in with unexpected beats.  For instance, on “Wearing a Nothing Cloak,” a pulsing drumbeat partnered with an instrumental that sounds like the baby of a saxophone and a tuba prepares the listener for a darker beat. But as soon as such an assumption is made, the intro gets pierced by a much lighter sounding synth that eventually takes over.

Every song on Turquoise Trail is unique, and also makes one reminisce of sounds produced by other artists occasionally, while still maintaining its own identity. For instance, “Temporary Infinity” begins with light, Daft Punk-esque jagged synths that burst into a trancey dance banger. It’s a shift that is quick, but fluid.

My favorite track on Turqoise Trail at the moment, is “Tha Dark Lord/Warp to Level8.” It begins with some heavy, glitchy, dark synths that open to some slow, heavy-hitting snares. It’s a track full of all the  intensity and bang one could ever desire in a minute and a half.

Every track on Turqoise Trail has something to keep the listener entertained and occupied. With about 200% more influences on sound than world music, Pictureplane has a killer debut album that is an excellent starting block for so much more incredible music. I would say it was the best six dollars by mail I have ever s(p)ent.

Jr. Juggernaut keeps alt-country fresh

These days it seems like every other band out there is toting the “alt-country” tag, and the term “Americana” gets tossed around a lot. Keeping this is mind, bands in this genre need to work a little harder to stand out. However, Jr. Juggernaut, a three-piece alt-country group from Los Angeles, manages to do just this on their album Ghost Poison.

So, how have they done it? Jr. Juggernaut makes it look simple, really. Lead singer and guitarist Mike Williamson has a gruff, deep voice that stands out right away, but with back-up vocals from bassist Kevin Keller and drummer Waleed Rashidi, he doesn’t come off as sounding too rough. Williamson’s coarseness balances perfectly with the harmonies, and gives Jr. Juggernaut’s music a fun, poppy flavor. The catchy chorus of the track “Believe in Something” displays this balance well, and sounds a bit like Ted Leo + Pharmacists.

But even more than adding pop to their alt-country sound, Jr. Juggernaut frequently rocks, and rocks hard, on Ghost Poison. On “Wailing West,” Williamson has a scorching guitar solo that just begs the listener to crank the volume up. Most of the songs on the album are up-tempo and just plain fun to listen to, even when the song’s lyrics don’t match its cheerful music. (One of the album’s best tracks, “Gone Before You Start,” mixes the subject of a child’s death with a foot-tapping, harmonica-blasting, rockin’ beat.)

Ghost Poison is, overall, a very solid album that deserves to be listened to loudly, and Jr. Juggernaut should not be written off as just another alt-country band.

A new star begins to shine in City Light

City Light is made up of four guys, but  it’s headed up by Matthew Shaw, a Seattle-based singer/songwriter that makes use of fuzzy synths and electronic beats as the main instruments in his solo work. Shaw is fascinated with the pros and cons of modern life, and his music and lyrics display this motif very effectively. Technology and its positive and negative effects on daily life merits special attention, seeing as up until now, Shaw’s work has been mostly created with the very technology that he can’t make up his mind about. He knows this; it’s an irony that he gently acknowledges within his work.

The lyrics this time around do not stray far from his formula: two parts modern angst, one part women trouble, one part description. It is a solid formula, and it works within the surprisingly full-bodied sound.

That full-bodied sound in City Light’s Down the Pacific is a dramatic step forward from Shaw’s solo work. Although the general mood is similar, thanks to Shaw’s careening, dramatic vocals, the method of getting there is much different. Instead of electronic beats dominating the time-keeping, the drummer spends a fair amount of time producing down-tempo breakbeats, similar to stuff Portishead would turn out.

This is especially true on stand-out track “Hwy 99.” There are still twinkling keys and buzzing electronic bass notes, but the strong presence of insistent drums and chiming guitar creates a song that Shaw could not have produced on his own. “Hang On” similarly makes great use of multiple vocalists to produce a full sound.

The band shines most when it acts like a band: “Cityscape,” which is heavy on the music and light on the amount of vocals, is a perfect example. The moments that Down the Pacific falters a bit are the moments that are heavy on the electronics and light on band interplay; the songs that take this track seem to be merely Matthew Shaw vehicles, and that’s not what this album is for. These songs don’t have the depth of feeling and creativity that other songs that show the band fully portray.

If you’re into moody, haunting, electronic indie-rock, you would do well to check out City Light. Their debut effort is a little uneven as a result of still getting to know each other as a band, but the moments that shine do so very brightly.

Wife: Consensual

Wife, the latest effort by St. Louis dark-wave ensemble Chapters, is one of those albums you’ve just got to listen to straight through – its impact builds over the course of the album. These guys combine rhythmic, beating melodies with compelling lyrics. You can’t help but get caught up in it.

The album begins with “Side Effect,” a brooding, dark track that quickly sets the tone for the rest of the album. The music is entrancing, but what really caught my attention were the lyrics. Frontman Vincent Marks opens with “Take it or leave it now/ Open your legs or not / Trust me, babe/ Ask your friends / I won’t wait on you.”

Marks was formerly a fiction writer, and it shows in his music. Slowly, phrase by phrase, each song reveals a story – something tragic. In “Critical End,” he relates – you guessed it – the end of a relationship, saying, “I only wish you knew/ How the time we had was pointless.” “Consensual” is about illicit relationships, and the betrayal, the guilt, and lies that go along with them. In contrast, “Climax and Exoneration” almost has a triumphant feeling, one of independence and moving on.

Whether you’re in it for the great dance music or for the emotional journey, Chapters is a solid band, and Wife is proof of that. The group has two distinct elements going on – the music and the lyrics. They act as a sort of yin and yang, at once reacting to each other and blending perfectly. If this album is any indication, Chapters is only going to get better. They tour regionally in Missouri and Illinois; try to catch them if you’re in the area.