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Author: Megan Morgan

Plajia: Hard to pronouce, hard to classify, easy to like

Beautiful Explosion from the Montreal-based three-piece Plajia is difficult to classify, since the album is extremely diverse, with ambient, rock, pop, and folk elements. But who said that bands need to fit into a genre, anyway? Plajia’s debut full-length album might make you believe that classification is overrated.

The album opens with “Dummy,” an indie-rock lullaby with social commentary. Patrick Pleau’s soaring vocals sound a bit like Matthew Bellamy of Muse, and at times throughout Beautiful Explosion, the vocal lines sound like Muse, too. This is a compliment to the band and a benefit to the listener. “Dummy” starts off a bit slow, with a dreamy and atmospheric feel, but it builds really well and works up to a very rockin’ guitar solo. The song tapers off nicely, creating a well-planned arc effect.

“God’s Waiting in Line” is pretty catchy, and the violin (and flute?) in “Sleeping” are gorgeous in a wow-this-is-making-me-tired way, but Beautiful Explosion really picks up with the title track. It is instantly up-tempo, staccato, and light, which might throw you off after hearing the previous three songs. The surprise, however, is a good one, because “Beautiful Explosion” is a spunky pop song which continues to surprise as you listen. Changing styles right before your ears, this song will encourage the use of the repeat button.

Another track that stands out is the acoustic folk song “Beating the Charms.” While some of Plajia’s slower songs can get a little boring, “Beating the Charms” remains interesting because of its touches of glockenspiel and a pretty little whistling solo. The song changes halfway through, with the addition of bass guitar and more percussion, but the soothing feel remains. I have no idea what this song is about (especially since there are some French lyrics at the end), but it doesn’t really matter since the music is so pleasant.

Beautiful Explosion closes with the scorcher “The Other Side of Squared Pixels,” which also comes out of left field, like the title track. The heavy distortion on guitar, driving drum beat, thumping bass line, and distorted vocal effects are like nothing else on the album. It even transitions into funk for a little while. In fact, several other styles find their way into this eight-minute finale, too. Within the context of the song, these musical shifts sound natural, but taken with the rest of the album, it sounds a little out of place.

This shouldn’t discourage anyone from checking out Plajia, however, because there are some very innovative and interesting moments on this debut. Beautiful Explosion is recommended for anyone who likes surprises, or for someone who can’t figure out what kind of music they like.

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.

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.