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Author: Kyle West

Citizen 5's Circles: Super Globalized Yet Super Indie

Citizen 5, out of Norman, OK, is a band of many roots, musically and geographically. Musically, they range from pop country of the lead singer Jimmilea Manley to the Latin influences of keyboardist Ricardo Sasaki to the heavy rock of guitarist Scott Sunderman to the indie influences of bassist Jason Long.

They come from many places, from Bolivia to Mexico to just local homegrown Oklahomans. Citizen 5 is unique in that they are a globalized band, which ties into their name, connected with the fact that they are five citizens of the world. This is where they are talented, and even the title of the album plays on the interconnection of everyone.

Definitely Citizen 5’s melding of genres and styles helps make them unique an indie market where being unique is a prerequisite for success. The intro and outro, for example, are Latin-influenced,with a talented trumpeter from the premier mariachi band in Oklahoma playing a Latin dirge. New wave influences can be heard in much of the music, notably in “Make it Real,” where singer Jimmilea Manley’s strong and soaring vocals add a womanly, southern twang, strangely complimenting the indie and psychedelic influences already at play. Add to that their retro eighties-like chord progressions, you’d think these guys would be going overboard. But the band manages to make solid pop songs that tie all these influences together without really jumping off the experimental cliff.

I had the chance to sit down keyboardist and producer Ricardo Sasaki, who said Citizen 5 has been influenced by acts ranging from Led Zeppelin to David Bowie to Oklahoma’s greatest recent psychedelic success story, the Flaming Lips. Produced by very indie label Ares Recording (which has only been in business for about three weeks), right next door to a Starlight Mints-owned Opolis, a live act club, Citizen 5 definitely has the indie cred to make a footprint on the music world outside the local scene.

But more important than the connections that Sasaki has from his eighteen years of producing and world tromping is just the talent I heard when listening to Circles. Sometimes its buried, but I can still hear it – this is a band that has yet to realize its potential. Things I was impressed with include the way the band manages to craft very familiar lyrics and chord progressions without sounding cliché. Perhaps the influence of all the aforementioned backgrounds of the members of Citizen 5 keep things fresh, like a mango from South America or a homegrown tomato from an Oklahoma backyard.

Sasaki himself said that their next LP, currently untitled and due for release in a few months, is better than the first. I am eagerly awaiting that release, hoping that in it that the band’s voice rings stronger than the first. If I had to guess, I would say the band’s voice can be found from the melding of their different backgrounds, musical and geographical. I think that if they just somehow amplified all these influences and dared to experiment a little more, they could be scary good.

But for what it’s worth, I recommend Citizen 5 and Circles heartily. It’s a fun indie/retro listen.

We Sing the Body Electric Misses a Few Notes

I was a bit let down by the Lonely Forest’s We Sing the Body Electric – I expected great things from the first hard-hitting notes of “Two Pink Pills.” While the The Lonely Forest is capable of some intricate musicality and occasionally setting a mood that is uniquely theirs,  the album suffers from two things: sameness from song to song and a very annoying voice.

Though I don’t like to admit it, I can barely stand the voice of the lead singer, who sounds like Kermit the Frog. I would hate it if someone said I sounded like Kermit the Frog, but I found it really hard to enjoy the music past the first few songs when I felt like I was being sung to by a Muppet. While this closed-off throat sound and self-deprecating style is still fashionable for up-and-coming bands, it’s going to sound really dated ten years from now.

But for some positive things: The Lonely Forest is usually capable of coming up with some unique moods that might suffice for someone looking for something out of the way. Most songs are not too varied, but there is a moment of what I would almost call “sheer brilliance.”

The highlight of the album for me is “Tomato Soup,” an original piano-based song that is deceptively simple. I like this simplicity; it shows the band’s softer side, and here the band finds a sound that really works. “Tomato Soup” is almost ballad-like, and I like this song much better than their straight-ahead pop/rock songs, which seem to try too hard to be like Death Cab for Cutie.

Another ballad-like song, “Julia,” is also pretty good. Overall, the band is stronger on their down tempo tracks that happen to feature piano.

I didn’t really enjoy the Lonely Forest’s We Sing the Body Electric. It does have its moments, but consistently, the songs are just pale imitations of bands that are better them. Combined with a grating voice and songs that seem to sound the same from one to the next, it was hard to listen to at times. I would reccommend the magnificent “Tomato Soup” and “Julia,” but I would pass on the album.

Attention Planet Earth: Corinne Gooden is Absolutely Amazing!

Released in 2008, All My Days is perhaps the most heartfelt album I’ve reviewed this year. Corinne Gooden’s voice has a warm country twinge which simply arrested me on first listen. Her voice is intimate and makes you have to sit and listen. Corinne’s feelings are obviously completely entwined in her words and notes. It’s impossible to listen to All My Days without feeling along with her. Corinne has a rare gift for drawing you in and letting you feel her love, her happiness, her pain, her heartbreak, and her hope.

Corinne’s voice can be haunting, especially on track three, “All My Days.” Corinne sings a melody here that’s so innately familiar, yet original in its own right. Her voice is painted over a perfect tapestry of her interlocking acoustic guitar and what seems to be a keyboard, the latter of which begins and ends the song. The drums provide perfect accentuation to the notes and lyrics. The lyrics are perfect, the chorus saying: “All my days/a world which pushes down the pain/I cannot make this go away/all my nights/a dream that haunts my sleep again/I cannot seem to make you stay.” Simply beautiful. Make no mistake – “All My Days” is a hit.

But Corinne doesn’t stop here. All her following songs are great (as well as those preceding “All My Days”). “Come This Far,” rocks pretty hard. The bridge is very powerful and Corinne’s voice really shines here, offering a nice contrast to “All My Days.”  “Come This Far” also lets her accompaniment shine; they really help Corinne to reach high in this album.

“17th Street” is a tragic yet beautiful song dealing with something many struggle with. The song is about how people pass a homeless man on the corner  in their cars, completely ignoring him. Corinne isn’t accusatory – she admits she does the same, and that this is even normal. The tragedy lies just in the fact that it’s normal. This song takes this example to expose the numbness in the human heart, a numbness which makes us forget that we need each other.

Corinne is talented as a songwriter and has the ability to draw the listener in and make him or her feel. I would definitely like more people to know about Corinne Gooden, because she is simply amazing. She is the best female vocalist I’ve heard this year, hands down. She has crafted the kind of album where, after listening to it, you feel like you know her.

She has song samples on both her site and her MySpace – be sure to check them out!

Sunny Days Ahead is a bright ray of sunshine.

When someone says “Seattle scene,” my thoughts instantly jump to Nirvana, Soundgarden, and any whatever-have-you grunge band.

Flash forward to the Seattle of the 2000s, and you will find the power pop scene. In that scene, there is a wonderful band called Shake Some Action! which plays some sweet pop songs which shine like the sun in otherwise cloudy Seattle.

Sunny Days Ahead is the second album by Shake Some Action! I haven’t listened to the first, but the strength of this one makes me want to pick it up. Being part of a genre called “power pop,” Shake Some Action! is expectedly very catchy.  Now, I don’t listen to super-catchy music very often, but just listening to Sunny Days Ahead makes me think this is a wrong lifestyle choice. Catchy music is amazing because it’s so happy-sounding and can really lift your mood. It’s bands like Shake Some Action! that give me faith that there are plenty of bands out there who can craft pop masterpieces, even if they mostly go unnoticed.

Shake Some Action! seem to be drawing inspiration from the Monkees, early Beatles,  the Beach Boys…pretty much any super catchy ’60s music group. Now take the harder edge of the Kinks, and add it to some roughness from punk. And voila, you have their brand of power pop.

Shake Some Action! is hardly the only power pop band around, but it’s the only one I’ve heard.  The music style is reminscent of early R.E.M. for being so jangly and fun, probably along the lines of R.E.M’s  Life’s Rich Pageant and Green.  I’m almost tempted to call them a more fun version of R.E.M that doesn’t really mess around with all the heavy and cryptic lyrics.

This album was entirely recorded by one person – James Hall, who played drums, two guitar parts, and bass for the recording. This quite impressive feat goes to show Hall’s musical talent. For live shows, Hall has recruited a band that now frequently plays shows in the Seattle area. Now, if only they got a little bigger and did a tour which came through Oklahoma.

The album is short mostly because the songs are short. These are pop songs, and are meant to be brief and fun. The lyrics don’t really talk about anything deep, but don’t mistake that to mean they don’t talk about anything meaningful. They mostly deal with the theme that makes any pop song great: love. I would call the lyrics familiar rather than cliche.

I recommend Sunny Days Ahead to anyone looking for something poppy, fast-paced, and fun. It’s easy to enjoy as there’s not really much to wrap your head around. Just sit back and have fun!

RadioRadio – Alarm 1 Alarm 2 EP

I enjoyed RadioRadio’s EP Alarm 1 Alarm 2.  Being a fan of eighties music, this retro-leaning band would seem a pretty good fit for me. And being from my own backyard in Tulsa, OK, makes them all the more interesting. I can probably look forward to a live show sometime soon.

On to the music.  I would classify RadioRadio’s music as alternative retro, with a very big focus on the eighties. Although Alarm 1 Alarm 2 is strong enough to make me pick up their debut album, Watch ‘Em All Come Runnin’, RadioRadio’s Alarm 1 Alarm 2 doesn’t stand out to me.

This made me a little frustrasted, because this shouldn’t be the case. Singer Greg Hosterman has a good voice, and bassist Paul Cristiano really grooves. Drummer Paul Sanders and guitarist Jay Hunt do their parts well.  The production is good, and RadioRadio’s incorporation of electronica is well-placed and not overdone–the bane of much eighties music. Though this band has only been recording and playing since 2007, they have a lot of talent and work cohesively as a group.

So what is it about this EP that makes it so-so to me? The fact that they are retro might have something to do with it. Listening to Alarm 1 Alarm 2, it’s not hard to imagine that it might have come straight out of the eighties. The band’s potential originality is buried under ideas that have already been exhausted.  For example, the bass lines reminded me of Joy Division. This is in and of itself isn’t a bad thing; Interpol’s debut album is highly inspired by Joy Division. The difference between Interpol and RadioRadio is that the former doesn’t sound exactly like the eighties; there are some updates to the sound.

I know it’s unfair to compare RadioRadio with Interpol, one of my favorite bands. RadioRadio do a good a job for what they’re trying to accomplish – be an eighties-inspired rock band. Fans looking for this will love RadioRadio. As for me, someone who has listened to a lot of eighties music, RadioRadio doesn’t seem fresh and new. Perhaps this will not be the case for someone who has not listened to a lot of eighties music.

It seems impossible in today’s world to just be a “normal” rock band. There always has to be some sort of spin that makes the band different – for RadioRadio, that spin is their eighties flavor, which, admittedly, not too many bands do. Unfortunately, at least for me, this keeps some freshness and originality out of their music.

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.