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Tag: Bloc Party

Teleprompter's enthusiastic post-punk/post-hardcore calls up great references

Two of my all-time faves are Bloc Party and LCD Soundsystem. Both are currently not in existence (although BP is supposedly coming back!), which is a depressing state of affairs. But Teleprompter made my day as soon as I pulled up their self-titled EP, as the band sounds almost exactly like Silent Alarm-era Bloc Party. And I love them for it.

When I say exactly, I mean down to the guitar tone. The vocals are higher in pitch than Kele Okereke’s, but other than that, these songs could be outtakes from BP’s masterful debut. Again, this is nothing but a compliment: the reason these could be outtakes is because the songs are the same quality as the A-sides these are aping. And if you cry foul, I dare you to listen and discredit. These songs are legit.

From the guitar storm at the end of “Dinobot” to the herky-jerky riffs and dance-rock drums of “Banshee” to the chiming melodic patterns of “Lung-Tied,” these songs evoke all the best parts of early ’00s indie-rock. But then there’s a hard right midway through “Lung-tied” and into “Lambda”; the band starts showing off its post-hardcore elements as opposed to its post-punk forebears. MeWithoutYou fans, eat your heart out: the vocalist starts hollering like Aaron Weiss, and the band drops into a groove that wouldn’t be out of place on Catch For Us the Foxes. Did I mention that one of the first bands that got me into serious music was MeWithoutYou?

Is Teleprompter’s self-titled EP stuff you’ve heard before? Yes. But it’s stuff that you can’t get anymore; MeWithoutYou and Bloc Party have long since shed these personas. Teleprompter shows a lot of promise to grow into something fantastic; they’re definitely on my top newcomers of the year based on the strength of this five-song EP (There’s a clubtastic remix of an old tune tacked on the end; it’s fun but not indicative of their future).

And if they don’t change at all? I’ll still love ’em.

Only Thieves write heartfelt, upbeat rock on "Heartless Romantics"

Oklahoma can’t seem to shake winter off my back (low of 38? When does the “out like a lamb” part get here?), but Only Thieves are certainly doing their best to bring summer my way with their album Heartless Romantics. The band’s jubilant, overclocked rock’n’roll harnesses crashing guitars, towering drums and passionate hollering into a barely contained boil. These are the type of songs sound 85% better with the windows down.

“Discoveries” has a buzzing riff that interlocks neatly with a drum pattern, and the same is true for “All the Sad Young Men.” The former eschews any hint of subtlety and just throws down for the entire song. The latter sets up the verses so the chorus is a payoff.”Pioneer Repair” shows a more pensive side that almost recalls Bloc Party, but the raw vocals invade the space and create a distinctly Only Thieves song.

The title track is a pensive piano rumination, which is somewhat surprising and somewhat not. It doesn’t feel like Only Thieves really mean it when they’re snide; it feels like they’re hiding their wounded hearts in layers of sneer and stomp. “Heartless Romantic” pulls back the veneer and displays the wounds that power the rest of these tunes. It even drops in a heartrending voicemail message from an ex. Somehow, it transcends cliche and becomes gorgeous.

Only Thieves know how to write guitar-centric upbeat rock. It’s not power-pop — it’s way heavier than The Cars or the Replacements — but it hearkens to that time period. If you get your rock on with huge, bright guitar riffs and sing/screaming till your voice hurts while driving around in the country, this one’s for you.

Diskjokke is electronic disco delight

I had never heard of Diskjokke before I was handed a copy of his 2010 release En Fin Tid, which drops today. Doing a little bit of Internet searching, I found that Joachim Dyrdahl (the man behind Diskjokke) has put out remixes and is planning to release remixes for some relevant names (Crystal Castles, Bloc Party, the xx, etc.). Remixes are some of my favorite things that electronic artists do, but I feel that sometimes content and quality control of solo albums creates a product that is a bit less accessible.

With En Fin Tid, I was afraid of getting such an album with the 9-minute-long opener “reset and begin.” I like my electronic music to be dancy, and this track is more ambient.  It’s a gentle introduction to an hour-long groovefest, though.  Diskjokke’s buildups are incredibly tight, and I don’t think I can compare his style to anything else out right now. That’s an incredibly good thing in today’s oversaturated electronic market. On “Big Flash,” a conga-sounding drum loop rides along with wobbly synths, giving the tune a jungle theme while still being very electronic. On “1987,” the listener gets bass grooves reminiscent of 80’s pop that are chopped up and manipulated.

I would say that En Fin Tid is an interesting release for this year. At first listen, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. But like all good electronic albums, it’s got depth that allows one to listen to it repeatedly.  The tracks slide in and out of each other while all being unique. Diskjokke has created a pretty cohesive album. Let’s see if he will give us more releases like this in the coming years.

Kings & Queens create an engrossing, entertaining trip-hop album

It’s kind of amazing how much Portishead has affected modern music. Their landscape-altering output only consisted of two LPs and a live album, but much of the downtempo, trip-hop electronica going on today can directly trace its roots back to the Bristol threesome (or Massive Attack, but I like Portishead more, so I name-check them more often). Kings & Queens is no exception to the downtempo family tree, and Jet in Carina owes much to its British forefathers.

But this is no mere tribute. Although Kings & Queens’ oversaturated emotions and massive beats are common to both artists, the direction of the tunes is entirely different. Portishead made/makes (if you count their new album as part of their groundbreaking work) paeans to solitude, disenchantment and discomfort musically and lyrically; they use emotions as a weapon to get points across. Kings & Queens does no such thing. Instead of making hollowed-out, icy-cold tracks, the members of K&Q layer on the sounds, coming to a sound that often evokes the morose glee of The Arcade Fire.

The permanently buzzing guitar, pulsing bass, vibrant keys and precise drumming propel the sound forward, not leaving any space to lag behind. Songwriter Rich Good makes sure that the tracks all have some element that the listener can hang on to, whether it be a line of lyrics, a hummable vocal fragment, or a distinctive instrumental moment. Even with the energy devoted to making these songs unique, the whole album flows in an incredibly satisfying way. Other than occasionally weird guitar work on opener “Who’s Thinking,” this is a chilled out, cerebral, deeply grooving album that commands attention and does not let go. When played in a room, the songs have the ability to change the whole atmosphere of a situation (and did several times while I was listening to review this).

Any song can be picked at random and extolled as a highlight. For example, “Signs” has a propulsive bass line that is contrasted by a heavily reverb-laden guitar line, creating a fascinating mood and tension. “Hold Your Fire” ratchets up in intensity from nothing until it sounds like the aforementioned Arcade Fire’s sweeping rock. “Origins of Things” has an incredibly tight interplay between bass and drums that excites like a lost Bloc Party song, circa Silent Alarm. Closer “Examples” turns a consistent four-on-the-floor bass drum beat into an eerie tune, which is harder to do than it sounds.

In terms of mood control, Kings & Queens Jet in Carina is one of the most engrossing records I’ve heard this year. The sound that the band crafted doesn’t just reside on CD; it gets into your head and into your mood. It’s gorgeous at times, heart-pounding at others, and morose at still other times, but throughout it all, a consistent mood is retained. If all trip-hop sounded like this, I’d be way more interested in the genre beyond Portishead. Highly recommended to fans of electronic music, downtempo, or soundtracks.

Audio-OK displays a great new sound that needs more tinkering

Good Man by Audio-OK is a great idea that needs more work. The wiry art-punk that Audio-OK plays is filled out not with yelling or singing, but with CAKE-esque speak-singing. It’s like listening to a slowed-down, mellowed-out version of Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm, but with the guy from “The Distance” doing vocals instead of the freaked out howl of Kele Okereke. It is an incredibly interesting idea that I can’t wait to hear more of.

The problem is that while the band has figured out what they want to do, they haven’t clicked yet. The drummer, who was recruited very late in the songwriting process, doesn’t ever really gel with the band. He keeps fine rhythm, but he hasn’t picked up on the tight-knit unity of the bass, guitar and vocals yet. Tightly crafted songs like “Bad News” need to have a much tighter drum part than they currently do; that will come with age and experience, as the band grows into a cohesive whole.

Nevertheless, the creepy “The Good Man” works perfectly. The drums fit perfectly into the dark, rhythmic song, as dual speak-sung vocals create spoken harmony over some furious guitar and bass work. But it’s still the drums fitting in right as opposed to contributing. The same is true with closer “Higher,” although the heavier nature of the song allows for the drums to thrash a bit more and fit in that way. Power isn’t necessarily a substitute for complex and clear, but it certainly can be a nice stopgap for a while. “Higher” is the loudest track here, and it’s not one of the more unique ones, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

Audio-OK has a great, unique sound that they can build on. They need to keep growing and writing material together, but they have the elements to make a really tight, unique album in the future. Right now, Good Man is the sound of a band in progress. There are some great tracks, but there are also tracks where greatness peeks around the corner, then hides again. Lots and lots of promise in this band.

ZUU falls a bit short with the serious tunes

Making “serious music” is always kind of a gamble. When you’re making standard pop music, you can pretty much guarantee that at the very least, drunk guys at the bar are going to think you’re freakin’ awesome and buy a CD. But when you’re making a statement and causing people to think about your music, dudebro is actually disinclined to like your music. You need real fans, or you need leathery skin to keep doing it in the face of animosity.

I’m not sure which side of the fence ZUU falls on, but they fall somewhere.Everywhere is  serious music in the vein of OK Computer, Bloc Party’s Intimacy, and the like. There’s few hooks to hang your ears on, and there’s enough foggy mood and atmosphere to make Seattle jealous. ZUU’s chops are on display, and they’re writing songs that are powerful.

The problem is that I have no idea what they’re trying to say. While the mood is consistent throughout, there are few to no clues as to the meaning of the album. The title is unhelpful, the art is pretty but not revealing, and the lyrics don’t seem to have any overt theme tying them together. I could be missing something on the lyrical front, but if you have to try that hard to even glean the slightest hint of what’s going on, that’s a problem.

So, scratching the album as a whole (which is unfortunate, because I really think they’re trying to say something), the songs individually are pretty solid. Their best work comes when the bass player dominates the song and the guitarist does atmospheric work, a la the Edge. “Sigh,” “Only One” and “Resolve” are the tracks that really shine, as they flaunt their talents (interlocking guitar parts, smooth vocals, rhythm, cohesiveness of songwriting). When the guitars kick it into distortion (“Wasted Today,” “Loaded”), a lot of the songwriting chemistry is covered up. The heavier songs, while not bad, are just not impressive, because much of the draw of ZUU is lost.

There’s a slight psychedelic edge to these songs, as well as a slight African bent because of the percussion choices. But it’s not enough to make a huge difference on the overall feel of the album, which lands somewhere between a piano-less The National and a less-guitar-happy Radiohead. “Weaning Nettles” and “Only One” are the best tracks here, and worth a look even if you don’t do the whole album.

ZUU has significant chops and great songwriting skills. They just didn’t tie the whole package together right this time. I think that they can definitely accomplish a project of major magnitude if they set out to do so. If that’s not their goal, then I’m a little lost. Recommended for major fans of serious music, but the world at large should wait for ZUU’s next offering.