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Month: July 2010

The Shoreline produces a stellar pop-punk cover … and some other songs

I used to hate covers, because I thought they showed a lack of originality on the part of a band. Now I see that in addition to paying homage to a respected band, a good cover can be just as creative (and just as satisfying, if not more so) than a good original.

That’s why The Shoreline‘s cover of “I Gotta Feelin'” is my favorite track on their EP Fake It Till You Make It. Their cover re-envisions the party anthem as a pop-rock anthem. They remain faithful to the lyrics, mood and song structure; they just infuse the tune with a lot of guitar strumming and a pop-punk high-pitched voice. And while some covers become cloying in their pandering (someone played me a copy of a “Tik Tok” pop-punk cover that I could barely make it through), The Shoreline’s version of the Black Eyed Peas tune doesn’t get repetitive, annoying or gratuitous. It makes the point, slams it home and gets on to the next thing. It’s great. I like this song just as much as I like the original version, for completely different reasons. That’s the mark of a great cover.

The rest of the EP doesn’t have anything that possesses that sort of clarity and focus. As a result, the tunes are difficult to remember and just don’t make a big impact. If you like current pop-punk (e.g. Boys Like Girls, Angels and Airwaves, We the Kings, Fall Out Boy – especially in “Let’s Make a Mess”), you’ll like The Shoreline. But they won’t be your favorite band off the strength of this EP. Perhaps they have more in the tank, and they’re just getting started from here.

For now, I highly recommend “I Gotta Feelin'” to anyone and Fake It ‘Til You Make It to fans of the genre.

The Wind Up Radio Sessions show they're at their best when they're easygoing

The Wind Up Radio Sessions is a band, and their album is titled Red Brick House. This took me a while to wrap my head around. If you like the easygoing beach vibe of old Jack Johnson tunes, but wish that there had been more substance to the arrangements, The Wind Up Radio Sessions is your band. Their acoustic pop tunes feature drums and other instruments to fill out the sound, but not in a too-complex way. When they’re at their best (“Let Me Go,” “Registration”), they crank out loose, relaxed songs with the chill vibe of Johnson but more guts; perhaps like a peppier Ben Harper or a seriously chillaxin’ early-era Switchfoot.

When their songs lose their looseness and develop a formality, they lose some of their charm. “Me and My Doe,” In the Morning” and “Oh Well” aren’t bad songs, but they have a bit of a stilted feel. The Wind Up Radio Sessions don’t need to pour their vibe into constricting song structures to make great songs, and that’s why “Let Me Go” and “Pigeons” have such a charming and sunshiny vibe. They just roll with how the songs come, and that produces magic.

They don’t all fall on the extremes of the stilted/easy-going spectrum; there are tunes in the middle that work to varying degrees. But it’s easiest to enjoy the Wind Up Radio Sessions when they’re taking it easy. And that’s good for everyone. Pre-beach party chillaxin’ music, or lazy summer day porch music; and seriously, who couldn’t use more of that in their life?

The Honest Mistakes write guitar pop and poignant lyrics that don't mesh

One of the great things about The Honest Mistakes Break Up is that it’s a breakup album with little to no wallowing in depressing sounds. The members of The Honest Mistakes made an upbeat pop album with jangly guitars, cheery organs, snappy drums and tambourines to chronicle their breakup (or breakups). While this is a refreshing take on the breakup album (seriously, I only need one Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space), the music nearly indicates at some points that breakups are flippant or even to be celebrated. It’s a bit incongruous.

The lyrics are firmly grounded in breakupland, (“days all measured in defeat/nights spent wandering the streets” from the musically perky “Feel Good”), meaning they’re sometimes at odds with the music. Even “If It Isn’t Me,” the most heartbreaking lyric on the album, has an upbeat feel.

The songs themselves are great. The jangly guitars support buoyant vocal melodies and tight harmonies; the rhythm section holds its own nicely. The songs range from charmingly twee (“Tell Everybody,” complete with whistling and tap dancing) to bouncy (“Long Way Around,” which is a highlight) to beach-party-groovin’ (the excellent “Stay”).

If these songs were paired with any other set of lyrics (like, perhaps, Fountains of Wayne’s Welcome Interstate Managers, which draws off corporate suburban America for lyrical matter), this would be an amazing album. The songs themselves are awesome, but the juxtaposition with the lyrics is odd and difficult for me to get over. If you’re one of those people who never hears lyrics anyway, jump all over The Honest Mistakes Break Up. You will wordlessly hum the totally poppy tunes and necessarily be summery and enthused. It’s just that type of wonderful album. But if you’re a lyric-ponderer, this will leave you scratching your head. You’ll still tap your toe, but with confusion.

Grant Valdes shows promising creativity at CD release of 'At Peace At Last'

As a newcomer to the Seattle music scene, I was eagerly anticipating my inevitable introduction to the many talented local artists that the Pacific Northwest is producing. I got just such an opportunity when Stephen asked me to review the album and CD release of Grant Valdes and his newest album of indie-folk, At Peace At Last. Valdes was previously the primary songwriter in The Empty Mirror.

Grant’s talent as both a musician and a songwriter was obvious from the start of the show as he began with “What the Hell Do I Know” and “When We are Dead” off his new album. Grant led his trio with guitar and keyboard melodies that were well conceived. He conducted the violinist and dreadlocked cellist, who accompanied him in a clear and connected way. The simple combination of strings and piano matched Grant’s singular, full-toned voice and created a haunting, poignant sound that lingered in my head as I hummed between tunes.

Grant also showed an impressive ability to invent lyrics that dramatically communicate his exploration of the purpose of life, death, and love in a creative and unique way. Let’s face it, that’s often hard to find. He explores the never-ending question of politics on “Fear the A-Bomb” and “Plutocracy,” and his conclusions seem to be familiar and attractive to his audiences. The songs brought a strong response and energy from the crowd who made it to the release show.

Grant’s vocals are especially effective because of his ability to move between his breathy falsetto and his stronger voicing in a way that communicates unbiased emotion in each and every tune. This is especially true on “A Lesson for Kurt,” “I Know,” and “The Gift of a Poor Memory.” His strongest vocals appear on “Antithing” and “Fear the A-Bomb.”

All around, Grant is a talented musician and songwriter whose tunes are bound to get stuck in your head – and you will like it. His compositions for piano and guitar are creative, but his experimentation in composing for violin and cello really makes the album a step above the rest in this category. His insightful lyrics are hauntingly perceptive to the human condition. For some indie-folk that will catch your attention and satisfy your desire for both melodic and lyrical potency, be sure to look for more on Grant Valdes and At Peace At Last.

Corrin Campbell shows versatility in modern rock and pop

It’s a good time for women in rock. Paramore is having enormous success, Flyleaf is rockin’ it, and many more women in rock are coming out of the woodwork. Corrin Campbell is one of those.

The best moments of Campbell’s Game Night come when her vocals and songwriting style fall firmly in the arena with Paramore and Flyleaf’s melodic heavy rock. She does have some passable lighter material where she plays keys, but the best work is when she picks up her bass and rocks out. “Sunbeam”  channels Muse, opener “Find Your Way” has an Evanescence feel (remember them?), and “Always Be” feels like a heavier Kelly Clarkson.

Of the lighter stuff, “Remember Me” has a nice driving vibe, and “A New Page” is pretty, but the rock songs make a more consistent impression. Her voice fits over the keys nicely, in a very different way than her voice fits over the rock songs, which is a nice surprise. It’s good to hear a voice with versatility.

Corrin Campbell’s Game Night is a solid effort that establishes Campbell as a songwriter with a lot of room to grow in any direction. She could choose rock or mellow pop and run with it for a very solid collection of songs. She just needs to choose where she wants to go and go there.  Recommended for fans of rock bands with girl singers.

Atrocity Solution drops old-school pop-punk songs with a modern fury

There’s not a lot of protest going on in music today. Atrocity Solution is, well, part of the solution. They’re a ferocious punk band that’s heavy on protest. From the title of their album Tomorrow’s Too Late to song titles like “The Protest Song” and “The Scales of Injustice,” they’re out to stick it to the problems of the world.

And while their music is snare-heavy pop-punk with tight hooks, they deliver vocals most often in a throat-shredding hardcore-esque snarl, with occasional whoa-ohs. While the strength of the songs would amp the band from in line with everyone else to way above the crowd, the delivery and attitude of the vocals shoots Atrocity Solution into the stratosphere.

There are some songs where the vocalist sings. But he sings in the same way that the band plays ska; yeah, there are some moments with the upstroke (“Down the Alleyway,” “Scales of Injustice”) and some moments with singing/spoken word (“Change the Channel, “Voices of the Underground”), but they are the exception.

This band rips through punk songs and rips through vocal chords. They do it with abandon, power and finesse. These are punk songs of the highest order, refugees from the ’80s era when punk was a meaningful lifestyle choice and not just a musical classification. Tomorrow’s Too Late is easily the best punk CD I’ve heard this year thus far.

Loomis and the Lust know summer pop backwards and forwards

Loomis and the Lust‘s Nagasha is five songs of pure summer pop. Guitar hooks, hand claps, tambourines, melodies that will implant in your brain, upbeat mood, the whole nine yards. “Break on Love” is the funkiest pop song I’ve heard in a long time that didn’t sound cheesy, “Cure for Sale” channels the emotive moments of Jimmy Eat World, and “Girl Next Door” must be a lost Jet song.

But the standout is the so-pop-it-must-be-illegal “Bright Red Chords,” which claims that “Dancing to the beat, the music is primal,” and they couldn’t be more right. “It hits my hips before my mind,” indeed. Highly recommended for people who like summer music.