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Tag: Coldplay

Steve Pomplon Band releases some very nice, listenable pop

It always worries me when someone gets compared to James Taylor. Whether it’s a self-comparison or an outside evaluation, it’s just discomforting to hear new artists compared to the king of nice. JT, for all his talent, specialized in nice tunes. They didn’t push the envelope, rock the boat, make waves, innovate, or blow the doors off. They just were really solid, pretty, nice songs. The reason he got away with being so static in his songwriting was that his voice is ab-so-lute-ly gorgeous. “Mexico” is not that exciting musically, but I feel like James Taylor is hugging me when he starts singing.

And unless you’ve got golden pipes, getting compared to James Taylor means bad things for your songwriting.

The Steve Pomplon Band compared themselves to JT in their neatly handwritten note accompanying their album (note to other artists: handwritten notes = WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN). After hearing 9:31 several times through, I can come to no better comparison than that. Pomplon’s voice, while not as smooth and effortless as Taylor’s, is definitely easy on the ears. The songs incorporate folk influences into the easy-going pop sound, but not enough to make this a folk album. This is a straight-up pop album, a little to the right of Coldplay’s Parachutes and a little to the left of Ben Harper. It’s a solid debut that avoids all missteps by not taking big steps of any kind.

Highlights include the bouncy “Journeys”; the easy-swaying, romantic closer  “This Little Song”; and the dreamy “Pripyat.” There isn’t a bad song in the nine, but those that aren’t mentioned are all just nice. They don’t offend, but they don’t excite too strongly either.

The Steve Pomplon band has chops and songwriting skill, but it feels like they played it safe on this album. If this is their sound, they’ve got some tweaking to do before they have a recognizable signature. If this is just the jumping-off point for something bigger and better, then bring it on. I hear the talent here, but only in snatches and phrases here and there. There’s a lot of room for growth in the Steve Pomplon Band; but until then, they’ve put out some very listenable tunes in 9:31. For fans of Maroon 5, early Coldplay, Five for Fighting, Jack Johnson, early John Mayer, and the like. Oh, and James Taylor.

Gerard Daley's different states are confusing but listenable

The best artists have distinct phases of their work. Some confine their phase to a single album (i.e. Coldplay), a few albums (Radiohead), wide swaths of albums (The Mountain Goats). Some artists jam all of their phases together (uh, Low Anthem? Are you a rock band or a folk band?).

Gerard Daley, longtime member of The Stuntcar Drivers and Delta House (two bands I’ve never heard), decided to release all of his solo demos from a nine-year period on one CD and call it Diff’rent States. The overlying problem is not his songwriting skill, but the fact that there are an incredible amount of genres and moods on this CD. It’s very clearly a collection of demos. For a person who doesn’t have a love affair with either of the main bands, it’s difficult to muster up enough enthusiasm to power through the myriad of mood changes to make sense of the material.

And I do mean myriad. There’s Counting Crows-esque pop (“Diff’rent States”), a downtempo Pink Floyd-esque number (“Romantic”), punk rock with shoegaze-style vocals (“Superstar”), folky protest tunes (“Stranded Generation”), and a pensive acoustic guitar track with the sound of the waves playing through the entire track. That’s just the first five tracks.

The three things that are constant on Diff’rent States are Daley’s prowess with an acoustic guitar, his lyrical themes and his vocals. Whenever he drops the distortion and goes for the acoustic, his results are solid and enjoyable. His distorted tracks can not consistently lay claim to that honor. From the dramatic beginning of  “Buildings” to the romantic “My Lady” to the full-band folk of “The Wrongness of Righteousness,” the results of the acoustic-heavy tracks are just more reliably good than their distorted brethren.

The lyrics are consistently searching throughout. He talks consistently about seeking out truth, understanding what he believes, and questioning perceptions. It’s a refreshing change from breakup albums and love songs, which is what I’ve been encountering tons of lately. Not that there aren’t love songs here (the aforementioned “My Lady”), but it’s not the main focus. And that’s nice.

Daley’s vocals are consistent as well. He has a folk-singer’s voice; it breaks, it cracks, and it generally isn’t perfect. If you’re into the Bob Dylan sound, you may even find Daley’s vocals endearing. If you think that Bob Dylan was one of the worst things to happen to pop music (and there are those people), you should not check out Daley. You will not be pleased.

Diff’rent States is the type of release I would be all over if one of my favorite bands released it. Nine years of unheard demos is just a treasure chest of unheard ideas. But if you’re not familiar with the original work that made the artist worth listening to in the first place, it’s like looking in someone’s attic to try to get to know them. It doesn’t make much sense. There are some good tunes here (“Stranded Generation,” “Forgotten How to Fake” and more), but it’s just hard to “get” it.

Their Planes Will Block Out the Sun have more than just a cool band name

Confession: if you have a cool name, I will listen to your band. I listened to White Dancer by Their Planes Will Block Out the Sun because, well, that’s a heck of a lot planes.  Say it out loud. It just flows. See? Undeniably awesome.

Their music fits their name incredibly well, but not in the way I would expect. I expected some brooding, epic post-rock (perhaps only because the names Explosions in the Sky and Their Planes Will Block Out the Sun go together thematically). Instead, I found meticulously-crafted, calculated indie-rock.

The members of Planes have their sound down on this album. They start off with a mood cornerstone, like an arpeggiated guitar riff, a synthesizer, a piano line, or some combination of those. Then they build on it. A snappy, precise drummer adds the backbone of the sound. Buoyant bass lines bring a lot of energy to the otherwise very organized sound. The guitars add a layer of mood, not often strumming consistently. The vocals dispatch the lyrics with a disaffected, almost sinister intonation. When the band takes darker turns, the vocals truly get pointed, but throughout there’s an underlying disdain and sarcasm that comes through in the lyrics and/or the melodies.

The whole sound is incredibly tight. It’s hard to compare to, because none of the comparisons are exactly correct. “The Flood, The Dead, The Escape” brings to mind the Arcade Fire. “How I Learned to Love the Bomb” makes me think Muse. If Coldplay’s X&Y scrubbed the majority of its emotions, the synthesizer-laden interlocking parts would resemble White Dancer. If the epic aspirations and huge guitar washes of OK Computer were removed, the stark, cold sound left might be somewhat akin to Planes. Planes’ songwriting doesn’t match that of either Coldplay or Radiohead (because of the aforementioned parts that would have to be removed for the comparisons to work), but that’s the track that Planes is on. They aren’t making warm, fuzzy pop music; they’re making serious music. They mean it, and it shows.

So, if you’re a fan of any of the aforementioned bands, you will find things to like in Their Planes Will Block Out The Sun. It’s not the most joyous music in the world, but it’s a meticulously crafted, very well-done release. They know their idiom, they have their niche, and they’re churning out the tunes the way they want to. Unique and enjoyable indie-rock.

Andy Davis successfully appeals to many listeners with piano

Andy DavisNew History EP falls neatly into the mature pop genre. Davis’ clear, soulful tenor fits neatly into the constraints of the genre, and his paino-led songwriting does similarly. It’s no knock to the quality of the EP; that’s just the way it is. If you like Mraz, the Fray, John Mayer, even Michael Buble, you’ll love Andy Davis.

Opener “That’s Where My Head Is” provides a twinge of country to the epic sweep of his piano and vocal melodies through harmonica and organ. The song shows that Davis knows how to write songs to best dramatic effect, and that he can make hits if he keeps writing long enough with the right breaks. “New History” is an upbeat version of the same theme, played on a keyboard instead of a true piano. The chorus breaks into an unusual mood, but it’s definitely enjoyable. “Hard to Believe” is a “Fix You”-esque ballad where Davis puts his full emotional scope on display. It’s easily the best overall track on the EP, and it will certainly find placement on future mixtapes.

The most intriguing track of the five-song EP, however, is “Passing Trains.” Davis abandons well-worn chords and sounds to produce a more free-flowing style, creating a distinct mood. The song sticks out on the EP, which is otherwise very standard songs that are easily palatable radio songs (again, not a dig; that’s what it is). The heavily atmospheric mood that’s created through percussion, reverb, unusual instruments and wordless vocals is incredibly interesting and merits repeated listens. I listened to it most out of all the tracks.

Andy Davis’ New History EP is a great collection of songs. For those who love “I’m Yours,” all songs but track two will pique your interest. If you like unusual and progressive songwriting, “Passing Trains” will give you pause. To appeal to such disparate audiences on the same short EP is impressive. If Davis finds a way to meld the two approaches, he will be on to something fantastic.

Jacob Magers' folk-inspired pop tunes mostly succeed.

I often wonder how artists title things. It’s become a little less of a mystery since I started writing my own albums, but I’m still boggled sometimes. Jacob Magers’ EP Pendulums is named after not only the least entertaining song on his EP, but the only one that relies on a gimmick.

See, Jacob Magers’ folk-inspired music is melodic, spacious, and engrossing; from the choir of “ah”s opening up “Point of Reference” to the trumpets on “Shanghai,” this EP is faultlessly entertaining. Except. Except. The title track “Pendulums” uses what sounds like an inverted and backwards loop of “Life in Technicolor” by Coldplay as its basis. It sounds weird, and it doesn’t contribute to the song at all. The song that follows after the goofy gimmick is solid, but it’s tarnished by the spectre of the odd loop. I have no clue why Magers chose to use the weird loop, or why he chose to use it as the title track, because there are wonders to behold elsewhere.

Jacob Magers is a supreme storyteller, and the best moments of this album are the most fully-realized stories. “Overboard and Down” is the last thoughts of a drowning sailor; “Smiling at Strangers” is the tragic tale of a woeful bet. “Shanghai,” the highlight of the EP, is the tale of two separated lovers longing to get back together.

The songwriting in “Shanghai” makes the tale pop with excellence, as Magers eschews stripped down folk antics for a more fully-realized sound, reminescent of Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos or maybe even I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning-era Bright Eyes. There are trumpets, violins,  twinkling electric guitar, bass guitar, and even a drum kit filling out the song. It sounds wonderful. It’s easily the best track here, as Magers sounds the most comfortable within the confines of the song. That confidence makes the melodies glow with a warmth and passion that are hinted at throughout the album. When Magers calls out “No, no, no!” and the violins pick up his sorrow with frantic bowing, it feels like the Decemberists but without the jagged edges.

In short, the best songs here are pop songs full of warmth and good storytelling. Magers’ voice and guitar produce melodies that are simply enjoyable. Other than that very odd track in the middle of the EP, Magers’ Pendulums is quite an exciting and well-realized piece. I hope to hear more from him.

We Are The City Unleashes Exciting Indie-rock on the World

It’s hard to judge objectively something that you are intimately acquainted with. Vocalists have a tough time taking other vocalists seriously, and writers are notoriously hard on other writers. That’s why We Are the City‘s accomplishment with In a Quiet World is so astonishing. They’ve made the piano (something I play on a daily basis) incredibly exciting.

To clarify the staggering worth of this achievement, consider this: you can be the most talented pianist in the world and still not excite me with your work. I can realize it as incredibly talented and enjoyable (i.e. everything in Ben Folds’ canon), even learn to play it. But get truly excited? Rare as snow in San Francisco.