Damon Albarn is the musician you never realize you know (at least when you're an American). As the frontman for Britpop behemoth Blur and the voice behind Gorillaz, Albarn has proven himself a musical genius many times over. The first announcement for his solo album came in 2011, just on the heels of the Blur "reunion" that took place in 2009. After four years in the making, Everyday Robots has proven itself to be worth the wait. Album cover for Everyday Robots

Ethereal and a little bit creepy, Everyday Robots opens with the title track and first single, in which Albarn amends his thesis to "Parklife" somewhat by droning, "We are everyday robots on our phones/In the process of getting home." The second song, "Hostiles" finds Albarn picking up where he left off with The Good, the Bad & the Queen. With a similar sound to this short-lived band, Albarn sings, "And the hours pass by/Just left on repeat/It'll be a silent day with you/Fighting off the hostiles." Who the hostiles may be is left to your discretion (though, in an interview, he does mention that hostiles are meant to represent the evil presences in video games).

Pensive mode.

"Lonely Press Play" has a, shall we say, funkier sound. Continuing his comment on modern life (still rubbish), Albarn urges, "If you're lonely, press play." Because, really, that's all you have to do in the twenty-first century to feel like you're connected. Is it misguided to think he's still talking about Justine Frischmann when he says, "You're not resolved in your heart/You're waiting for me to improve"?

Stills from the "Everyday Robots" video

The tempo of the album becomes more upbeat on "Mr. Tembo." Telling the tale of Mr. Tembo (just like Ernold Same and Mr. Robinson before him), Albarn is joined occasionally by the bursting vocals of a choir as he rehashes, "Mr. Tembo's on his way up the hill/With only this song to tell you how feels." You're never really, sure, in the end, how exactly he feels. But, to give you some background, Albarn wrote it about a Tanzanian baby elephant.

The furrowed brow of Albarn

"Parakeet" expresses a whimsical musical tone, and then quickly segues into "The Selfish Giant," which could also be the name of a beautiful Gabriel Garcia Marquez poem (and also features Natasha Khan from Bat For Lashes). In fact, this track is easily one of the most poetic on Everyday Robots. Albarn in his forlorn romantic manner, croons, "I had a dream you were leaving/It's hard to be a lover when the TV's on/Press yourself to me right now/Push yourself deep down now."

During younger days.

"You & Me" (not to be confused with the Cassie song "Me & U") delves into yet another musical motif reminiscent of The Good, the Bad & the Queen. Slow and melancholic, the song is an indication of Albarn's self-exploratory sentiment during the recording of the album as he notes, "Sometimes I look at the morning/Trying to work out how I got here." The eighth track, "Hollow Ponds," is Albarn at his most sinister sounding. Mentioning the early 90s in his distinctly downbeat and contemplative tone, this song is the one to listen to on an especially grey rainy day in London.

http://youtu.be/rjbiUj-FD-o

"Seven High" is a one-minute musical piece heavy on piano that shifts nicely into "Photographs (You Are Taking Now)." A somewhat cautionary tale, Albarn seems to warn against being overly sentimental and taking pictures without thought to the future of their contents--both people and scenery. He sings, "When the photographs you're taking now/Are taken now/Press send," almost as though to say, send it before you have the chance to regret it. A man's voice is interspersed throughout, warning, "This is a precious opportunity/Beware of the photographs you are taking now."

Single cover for "Heavy Seas of Love"

"The History of a Cheating Heart" is as disconsolate as you would expect, with Albarn defending, "The history of the cheating heart is always more than you know." The next track, "Heavy Seas of Love" is the most interesting offering on Everyday Robots in terms of how divergent it is from the rest of the music. With a similar intonation to "Tender," this is by far among Albarn's most joyful song in any aspect of his career. And, most importantly, it features Brian Eno.

http://youtu.be/NliElx3W3nQ

"Father's Daughter's Son," the first of two bonus tracks, continues the jubilant style presented on "Heavy Seas of Love," though to a lesser degree. The final song returns to the rough-hewn edge of slow tempo Damon Albarn--often seen on Think Tank. "Empty Club," incidentally, could very well be Albarn's homage to describing his album as centered around "empty club music." Indeed, no one knows this sound quite as well.

Albarn, at last completely extracted from Blur

While Albarn may always be pigeonholed as the ringleader of Britpop (much to Noel and Liam's chagrin), Everyday Robots shows his evermore palpable breaking away from his musical past.

Surfer Blood's beloved debut, Astro Coast, came out in January of 2010. The long-awaited sophomore effort, Pythons, makes evident the musical maturation (yeah, that word looks like something else) of the band. Between being made sweet love to by Pitchfork coverage, touring with The Pixies and lead singer John Paul Pitts enduring getting arrested for domestic battery, there's been quite a bit leading up to this album's release. Whether or not it has been worth the wait is somewhat difficult to say. If you were expecting more of the same, then you might be disappointed. But, if you're willing to accept a certain amount of growth and stylistic shift, you'll likely be quite pleased with the result. Album artwork for Pythons

"Demon Dance" establishes the 90s, Pixies-esque influence--though that could be because of using Pixies producer Gil Norton--that Surfer Blood has taken on Pythons. Its segue into the upbeat "Gravity" echoes tones of "Anchorage," maintaining something of a surf rock beat throughout. One of the first examples of Surfer Blood's lyrical advancement, Pitts, sings, "I think we both can see our own gravity/Is keeping our orbits in place/We've been around the sun together as one, keeping up a furious pace." Following "Gravity" is the first single "Weird Shapes," a blatant homage to Blue Album-era Weezer. Alluding to the album's title, Pitts affirms, "I'm shedding my skin, I'm spreading my wings/All with the best intentions."

Surfer Blood in their 2013 form

"I Was Wrong" is a slower, lumbering track that showcases a more contemplative Pitts crooning, "Staying up all night with my ball and chain/All the bridges burst into yellow flame/Winning and losing and pushing away/If I fell apart would you stay?" This transitions into "Squeezing Blood," which picks up the pace again with a more lackadaisical tone. "Say Yes To Me" is another Astro Coast-esque song with its fanciful guitar riffs and droning vocals. Its throwback sounding lyrics find Pitts urging, "Ohhh say yes to me, say yes to me/I love you dearly, so let me see the girl I knew is still true blue."

Video for "Demon Dance"

"Blair Witch," the title of which is difficult to gauge in terms of naming, is one of the whinier tracks on Pythons, with Pitts bemoaning, "If I can't touch you, I don't know what to do." The following track, "Needles and Pins," is one of the most successful with regard to Surfer Blood's execution of a slower tempo song. The grave, somber tone of the lyrics match as Pitts confesses, "Immaculate savior, this is my prayer to you/Dampen my tongue so I can't taste the malice/Numb me from any regret..." Subsequently, "Slow Six" starts out with another Pixies-esque riff and is perhaps one of the most singular tracks of the album for its sophisticated musical arrangement.

"Demon Dance" single cover

Not necessarily something you'd want to dance to at your prom, "Prom Song" is an interesting offering with its antithetical prom motif--though it does have the melancholic lilt of a post-prom royalty announcement track. Pitts accuses, "You tell me things aren't fair, like I was unaware," adding to the anti-prom sort of theme. The first of two bonus tracks, "Bird 4 U" showcases the exuberant, upbeat style of Surfer Blood and may very well be the best of of both worlds when it comes to combining Astro Coast and Pythons sensibilities. Concluding with "Phantom Limb" (not to be confused with The Shins song), Surfer Blood chooses a somewhat weak note to end the album on. Pitts' vocals are washed away with the forgettable guitar riffs of "Phantom Limb," leading one to believe that while their sophomore attempt exhibits progress, the band still has plenty of room for perfecting their style.

 

 

Oh Depeche Mode, how do we love thee? As one of the few synth bands from the 80s to remain intact, Depeche Mode has not only maintained their signature sound all these years, but also their edge. Delta Machine marks Depeche Mode’s thirteenth studio release, and while most other groups with this type of longevity tend to adopt an “old man trying to sound young” vibe (Paul McCartney, U2, et. al,), there is something mysteriously timeless about Dave Gahan’s arcane vocal stylings. Returning to producer Ben Hillier (who also worked with them on Sounds of the Universe and Playing the Angel), Depeche Mode continues to sustain the dark, shall we say, almost goth undertones they have become known for. With Flood (who has mixed the likes of New Order and Erasure) mixing the album, the combination makes for a despairing—but never maudlin—effect. Delta Machine album cover

“Welcome to My World” bursts onto the speakers in a synth frenzy that announces Depeche Mode’s return. Grahan insists, “Leave your tranquilizers at home, you don’t need them anymore.” The song transitions into a string-sounding arrangement as Grahan continues to growl, “Welcome to my world.” And what a world it is to be invited to. Following is the first single from the album, “Angel,” is grating at times, and not necessarily the strongest first single they could have chosen. “Heaven” brings the pace to a much slower tempo with Grahan embracing his knack for balladry. At times mimicking the sound and intonation of Lana Del Rey’s “Million Dollar Man,” there is something undeniably sultry about this track.

Still together after all these years.

As the song that most closely resembles something you would hear on the much lauded Violator album, “Secret to the End” is one of the most memorable songs from Delta Machine. Oozing with agony, Grahan questions, “Did I disappoint you?/I wanted to believe it’s true/The book of love was not enough to see us through.” Accusatory and venomous, there is an honesty and purity to this track that makes it one of Depeche Mode’s best in many years. “My Little Universe” briefly resuscitates late 90s electronica with its musical intro (it’s a sound Hot Chip wishes they had come up with). With a controlled sounding musical background that feels like it will burst at any moment, Gahan sings, “Limited consciousness preserves me/It protects me.” As one of the most lyrically poignant offerings on the album, “My Little Universe” refers to the innerworkings of the mind that act as their own sub-planet to Earth.

Basking in the glow.

“Slow” is just that. Toned down, evocative and not in any way related to the Kylie Minogue song. Though it is just as sexual with assertions like, “I don’t need a race in my bed/Speed’s in my heart and speed’s in my head instead/When something’s so good why should we rush it?” Continuing the one-word song title motif, “Broken” is at times moody and a bit trite. Singing “When you’re fallen I will catch you, you don’t have to fall that far/You can make it I will be there, you were broken from the start.”

Synthpop 4eva.

“The Child Inside” is one of the most ambient sounding songs on Delta Machine. With ample death imagery to establish a metaphor for digging away at the remains of the soul to unearth the child inside us all. “Watching from afar, I see a child is drowned/The child inside your heart” implicates that the innocence we all start out with is quite difficult to get back once it’s gone. “Soft Touch/Raw Nerve”—the most creatively named song title on the album—showcases vivacious synths and 80s aplomb. It is Grahan at his most inquisitive as he asks repeatedly, “Have I got a soft touch?/Have I hit a raw nerve?” In spite of his concern for the other party in the scenario, he notes, “I’ve got a confession/Your depression will take me down.” Always one for expressing a dichotomy, this song is one of the most illustrative examples of this skill.

http://youtu.be/1NmjO-Kebn0

“Should Be Higher” instantly sounds like it could have provided the score to Alphaville with its futuristic, slightly upbeat musical background. Hitting home on the Catholic-style theme, “I dream of a day when the shame and the guilt are removed and the truth appears,” “Should Be Higher” is among the most striking and unforgettable songs contained on the record. “Alone” is at once fierce and ominous, opening with the declaration, “I was there when you needed me most/I was there when you wanted me least.” It is a tale of a toxic relationship, one in which someone is giving far more than they should for how little they receive in return.

http://youtu.be/_wlQn6E3DeI

Not in a rush to slow down the mood just because the album is about to come to a close, “Soothe My Soul” has a vital backbeat that is one of the most synth-laden tracks, segueing into a more alt rock-tinged vibe at time as Grahan sings, “There’s only one way to soothe my soul.” Though he never does tell us exactly what that way is.

http://youtu.be/3nzmdeTQVxI

In a move that the Pet Shop Boys would make, Depeche Mode concludes their album with the succinct “Goodbye.” With a twangy, western sort of feel (by Depeche Mode standards of course), the lyrical content of the track is, by this time, a bit played. Again, Grahan rehashes a story of being victimized by another, ultimately deciding to forgive and say goodbye. But, regardless of how drawn out certain motifs are on Delta Machine, so long as Depeche Mode keeps managing to put forth the incredible backing music to go with it, nothing else matters (except the fact that The Strokes also released an album with the word “machine” in it).

The 1990s revival is back, whether you wanted it or not.

Everclear, Sugar Ray, Marcy Playground, Lit, and the Gin Blossoms are on the Summerland Tour together, and a number of bands far removed from their ‘90s success released albums recently. I meant to review them individually, but life got in the way (Blogger Excuse #243)…so, without further ado, here are reviews of Eve 6’s comeback record Speak in Code, Lit’s The View from the Bottom and Everclear’s latest, Invisible Stars.

Eve 6 – Speak in Code

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be honest. I’ve been a fan of Eve 6 ever since hearing Inside Out on the radio and over MTV while I was a fresh-faced eighth-grader. Speak in Code, their first album since 2003’s It’s All in Your Head, is a welcomed return. It’s just nice to hear Max Collins’ voice and clever lyrics, factors that have always been among the band’s strongest suits. While the music on this record is decidedly more pop-oriented than the harder-tinged alternative rock of It’s All in Your Head, there’s no denying the strength of the songwriting.

Opener Curtain is among its highlights, a solid blend of guitar riffs, power-pop melodies and Collins’s hook of So I guess it’s goodbye brother/Goodbye rock ‘n’ roll/Guess it’s goodbye to the only life I know. In many ways, Speak in Code is the sequel to 2000’s Horrorscope in that it also features shimmery production and keyboard flourishes. Its influence is prevalent on some of the songs, including lead single Victoria, Situation Infatuation, B.F.G.F. and Downtown.

http://youtu.be/XsE56PvCOJI

For fans of Eve 6’s more old-school sound, Moon should be right up your alley, an emotional almost-ballad set to acoustic guitars and a slow grind that builds up to a resonant climax. The album’s last song, Pick Up the Pieces, was originally a song belonging to The Sugi Tap, the project between Collins and drummer Tony Fagenson during Eve 6’s hiatus. It’s a great way to cap off the album, more emotive lyrics and a hopeful tone ending things on a bright note.

In short, Speak in Code holds up well compared to Eve 6’s first three albums, and hopefully they won’t go on another extended break before getting to work on another.

Everclear – Invisible Stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just as I spent a ton of time listening to Eve 6’s first three albums, the same can be said for Everclear. There was a stretch where I considered the Art Alexakis/Craig Montoya/Greg Eklund lineup to be my favorite band, as So Much for the Afterglow got spin after spin in my CD player.

Invisible Stars is the second album since Montoya and Eklund quit, and the first from the latest Everclear lineup, which is the third overall.

Still with me?

Musically, Invisible Stars has as more in common with So Much for the Afterglow than any of Everclear’s last four albums. That is to say, the distorted guitars are back, as showcased in the short opener Tiger in a Burning Tree.

Falling in a Good Way covers one of Art’s favorite topics – unhappy people with unfulfilled lives, working at Starbucks despite peaking in high school. Another short song, it’s accentuated with bursts of synth, while Art croons Life goes south when pretty goes away. It sure does!

The album’s single, Be Careful What You Wish For, is a highlight featuring another familiar theme, unhappy relationships.

http://youtu.be/8siYYvP1D4I

Other highlights: Santa Ana Wind (a song about California, obviously), Wishing (desperation and a fractured domestic situation), I Am Better Without You (a defiant ode to an ex), Jackie Robinson (the story of an interracial relationship, much like Sparkle & Fade’s single Heartspark Dollarsign), and Rocket for the Girl.

Sure, Art’s voice has seen better days (he’s 50 now), but Invisible Stars is one of the more complete Everclear records of the past decade or so. This new lineup of accompanying musicians is more than capable, too.

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this album as much as I have, and you might too if you give it a shot.

Lit – The View from the Bottom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lit hadn’t released an album in eight years until this new one, and their latest, produced by mastermind Butch Walker, has some surprisingly solid moments. I didn’t really care for much of 2004’s self-titled album, though it had a few good moments.

This new album is the first since original drummer Allen Shellenberger died from brain cancer in 2009. That they continued on in his absence is admirable on its own, but some of these songs are very enjoyable. Opener C’mon has some HUGE, epic guitars and an arena-rock hook, while single You Tonight is pretty ballsy, lyrically (there’s essentially the word ‘fuck’ before the ‘You’ in its title, but vocalist A. Jay Popoff delivers the line in a clever way). Again, chunky riffs and catchy production are the stars here.

http://youtu.be/YMD1J0A82KQ

Obviously, a lot of these songs involve drinking and its consequences, a longstanding Lit trademark. Popoff even opens Same Shit, Different Drink (yup) with the self-referential line vodka tonic my car is in the front yard/I think I’ve been here before.

The View from the Bottom does have a drawback that takes away from the fun – it’s top-heavy. The first three songs are dirty, sleazy fun, but around the middle of the record things drag a bit.  The songs still sound crisp, Butch Walker’s mastery behind the knobs evident on each song, but it isn’t until Partner in Crime that things pick up again. You can’t help but think of Bon Jovi with the way Popoff uses the same vocal thing that JBJ patented with Living on a Prayer, making the song a grimy 1980s hair-metal stomper.

Simply put: Lit’s latest album isn’t perfect, and it isn’t consistently solid, but there’s enough here to justify their persistence. It’s a fun record from a fun band. Give it a shot.

Personally, it seems bizarre to see how we’ve entered an era where these bands can be considered “throwbacks” to a different scene. We’re far removed from the 1990s, but these three bands continue to do their thing – which has to be commended, regardless of whether or not it garners me any “cool points” among the uber-hip online music journalism world.

But so be it – I’m a 1990s kid forever.

Lostprophets released their new album, Weapons, in the United States last week on Fearless Records.

I've been a fan of theirs ever since I saw the video for Shinobi vs. Dragon Ninja on MTV nearly thirteen years ago, and while their sound has flattened out a bit over the years (from an innovative brand of experimental nu-metal to more radio-friendly arena rock), I've remained a fan.

Their latest album, the first they've officially released in this country since 2006's Liberation Transmission (since 2010's The Betrayed was Europe-only) s a good example of where they're at in 2012. Opener Bring 'Em Down features explosive guitars, Ian Watkins' requisite in-your-face vocals and an almost-dubstep breakdown, and an overall feel that sounds close to their early material.

http://youtu.be/-P-QpZcOu-A

Throughout Weapons, the band expands up on the sort of sound that's made them a stadium-filler overseas, with huge melodies (We Bring An Arsenal), soaring hooks (Jesus Walks, sadly not a Kanye cover), and defiant, high-energy rock anthems (Better Off Dead).

Weapons probably won't make them any bigger in this country than they've ever been, but it does blend their styles effectively - their first two records are the best they've ever done, and this album pays some respect to that sound while continuing the trends employed by past hit singles like Last Train Home and Rooftops.

Check it out if you've ever liked them, and catch 'em on Warped Tour this summer, in what is their first return to stateside performances in at least five years.

Dates & info - click here.

 

Via Coma's debut LP, Figures, was released this week and is rapidly ascending the ranks of my favorite releases of the year.

It gives me a bit of personal pride writing about a band from my hometown of Lafayette, California, and it's especially fun since this is one hell of a debut.

They're amassing a ton of buzz among sites like Absolute Punk, despite not having a label, and they definitely deserve the attention.

If you're into acts like Brand New, Thrice (specifically the more experimental Thrice material, such as parts of the Alchemy Index) and Minus the Bear, you'll probably like Via Coma. The band doesn't adhere to rigid song structures, which is always something to be commended, instead opting for more ethereal, shape-shifting time signatures and melodies.

Figures is the type of record that may require repeated listens to fully appreciate, but when you do "get it", it's worth it. Songs like the opener, Aquanota, demonstrate what the band is all about: shimmery production, hauntingly resonant vocals, and a slow, deliberate pace accentuate the track, which has the same overall feel as Brand New's The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me.

The vocals on Blame elevate it to an album highlight, with the refrain to everyone that I have failed/I'm sorry/You better know that we're all to blame giving you an idea what it's all about, thematically.

Other songs, like Stitches (featuring an excellent combination of keyboards, vocals, and guitars that give the song its melancholy feel), while Iron Horse is held afloat by its affectingly fluttery synth flourish and roboticized vocals.

More than anything, though, Figures is a full album experience - each song flows into the next seamlessly, enveloping the listener in a swirl of emotions, sounds, feelings, and technical precision that pay tribute to the band's inspiration while also forging their own unique sound. It's hard to directly classify this album, and if you know anything about my musical tastes, that's about as high a compliment as I could give.

So yeah, check out Via Coma if you are in the mood for some fantastic new music, as Figures is a very impressive debut record, promising a very bright future for these guys.

Pick it up on iTunes.

Band links: Facebook/Twitter

Silversun Pickups’ latest album, Neck of the Woods, was released last week, and it’s stellar.

If you’re looking for a Panic Switch or Lazy Eye, you might end up disappointed – but if you’re interested in SSPU’s experimental side, this might turn out to be your cup of musical tea.

For one, this is a long album. There aren’t any short songs here; in fact they’re all pretty spread-out. The length of this record allows the band to really go down new avenues. Skin Graph, the album’s 6-minute opener, sets the tone amicably. A slow intro gives way to shimmery guitars and a blast of drums, and it isn’t until nearly the 3-minute mark that the song has its “chorus”.

People have always tended to point out the band’s not-so-hidden love for the shoegaze-y, distorted, moody alternative rock that early Smashing Pumpkins turned out. Taking into consideration their sonic love for the Pumpkins, it isn’t far-fetched to call Neck of the Woods their Siamese Dream.

This isn’t to say, however, that this will turn off ALL fans of Swoon and Carnavas – this album might prove divisive to some (as ballsy albums usually do), since it’s much more of a “let’s try something new” affair, but those that “get it” will love it.

Make Believe sounds a bit Swoon-ish, although it takes a while to get going since it’s another lengthy song.

In terms of a “radio hit”, look for Mean Spirits to end up dominating the airwaves soon. It has that Silversun single sound – fuzzy, electronic-tinged guitars and Brian Aubert’s unmistakable vocal delivery. And it’s damn catchy, too.

Simmer is another key point on the album, an extended exploration into the emotive aspects of their sound as a unit. I can imagine a pretty sweet light show going along with this song live, another tune that dabbles in electronica with its synth blasts and urgent tones.  The same can be said for The Pit, which starts out sounding like a song on the Drive soundtrack.

http://youtu.be/Cejf7E_KKlg

It would be great to see Silversun give Neck of the Woods the full album treatment live, as this is a solid “album experience” more than it is a collection of individual songs. Further, it might actually be a better experience to listen to it all the way through rather than track-by-track, which is a rare thing to say in today’s iTunes-singles dominated music world.

Dots and Dashes (Enough Already) even reminds me a bit of Kasabian, those delightful U.K. electro-rockers who are a personal favorite of mine. It’s weird to say Silversun sounds like Kasabian, but the song’s groove-laden rhythm and melody remind me of something Sergio & the gang would come up with.

If you haven’t gotten the hint yet, Neck of the Woods is a “different” type of album from Silversun Pickups. With this album, they really spread their wings, so to speak, and it results in one of the most solid albums of the year so far.

Personally, I can’t wait to hear where they go from here, because this is one damn good record.

Who needs Oasis?

Noel Gallagher, the songwriting half of the ever-quarreling Gallagher brothers, released his first proper solo album, Noel Gallagher’s High-Flying Birds, today. Well, it came out in the UK last month, but the US had to wait until today for its proper release.

Perhaps predictably, the album is bursting with Britpop flavor delivered with the precision and skill one might expect from a songwriter like Noel, who wrote some of the 1990s’ biggest and most memorable Britpop songs. While it’s true this album might lack a definitive Wonderwall, Champagne Supernova, or Live Forever, that doesn’t take away from its impact one bit.

Opener Everybody’s On the Run begins with a chorus of voices and an orchestral flourish, allowing Gallagher and his team of assembled musicians to drive home the point that this is an album meant to be taken rather seriously. Noel’s sweeping chorus of Hang in there love/ You’ve gotta hold on/Hang in there love/You’ve gotta hold on elevates the song’s overall feel to one of urgency and serves as a gorgeous introduction to Noel’s long-awaited and much-anticipated foray into the "solo artist" world.

Oasis broke up in 2009, Liam’s band Beady Eye quickly put out a debut album (ostensibly just to beat Noel to the punch), but Noel took his time, and it shows.

Dream On is driven by the type of beat that calls to mind Oasis songs like The Importance of Being Idle, among others. Dream On has a rich, engaging melody, the kind that Noel seems to be able to churn out with ease.

If I Had a Gun…, though, is arguably the finest song on this album, and one of the best Noel’s ever composed. If I had a gun/I’d shoot a hole into the sun/And love would burn this city down for you, Noel sings over some gentle guitar chords, before the song takes on “anthem” status. A simple vocal hook drives the song’s standout melody, as well as the chord progression. It’s not a world-changing song structurally, but it does the “Noel Gallagher emotional song” thing exceedingly well. Its cathartic feel and lyrical themes (it’s about love, simple as that) have the power to transport you back to the mid-1990s, when songs like this received the attention they deserved. This is the sort of number that Noel detractors/people who think his creative peak passed after (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? should hear.

Check out the video below.

http://youtu.be/1NMUDb3Ewhs

The Death of You and Me also uses the same rhythmic feel as The Importance of Being Idle, but as the album's first single it boasts one of the strongest choruses, as well.

(I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine is a tune Noel had been working on for years. Originally an Oasis b-side, the song is now much louder and dynamic than the tender acoustic song it once was. It was a good decision to re-vamp Record Machine for this album.

AKA…What A Life! brings with it a sense of urgency, mostly due to the propulsive piano plucks that combine with the percussion to give the song a grabbing, immediate feel. Noel again does the “sweeping vocal hook” thing here, and it pays off as well as it did with If I Had A Gun. Check out the 8-minute video below, and look for the offbeat cameo by Russell Brand.

http://youtu.be/d6m03FUYaTM

AKA…Broken Arrow’s verse strips away the bells and whistles of elaborate instrumentation and choir-like vocals, allowing Noel and his guitar to take center stage. It’s a welcomed switch-up, and when the musical accompaniment returns for the memorable chorus the song is elevated to “album highlight” status. You might think you’ve heard this song before; the chorus is very Oasis-like, melody-wise, but it has the flourishes and accentuations that make up the definitive High-Flying Birds sound.

(Stranded On) The Wrong Beach, a bouncy, swaying jam finds Noel singing Oh, me oh my/I say so long, and baby bye-bye. The song has an almost country twang to it, and Noel tweaks his vocal delivery accordingly. It becomes a bit redundant to say “it has one of the album’s best melodies”, but it really does. He knows a thing or two about writing a catchy tune.

The album concludes with Stop the Clocks, another song Noel has been working on for years. Its pairing of pianos, a slow pace and Noel’s vocals calls to mind Let There Be Love (off Oasis’s 2005 album Don’t Believe the Truth). It’s a perfect album-capper: a dreamlike, atmospheric song that could be the soundtrack to a flight through the clouds, its melodies ascending and expanding with the aid of ethereal vocal choruses before coming back down to Earth for a jangly, horn-filled Britpop coda that serves as an exclamation point to the song’s sonic ups and downs.

(Note: This album has a handful of bonus tracks floating around on its various editions that can expand the track list, but the “standard” edition of the album ends with Stop the Clocks.)

Simply put, Noel Gallagher’s High-Flying Birds is probably the best thing he could have released as a first solo record. Oasis only disbanded two years ago, but Noel’s had some of these songs in the works for quite awhile. He has stated plans to release another album sometime next year, indicating that he still has a lot left in the tank, songwriting-wise.

As a lifelong Oasis fan, this is the album I was anticipating after he and Liam had their big fight in 2009. While they’ve hinted at burying the hatchet AGAIN and re-forming in 2015 for the 20th anniversary of Morning Glory (which would be great), this album shows that Noel is more than capable of continuing his musical legacy well past his original band's expiration date.

Noel might be a polarizing figure, due to his outspoken personality and penchant for saying colorful things, but you can’t deny his songwriting prowess. It shines throughout this album, which can hold its own pretty well against most Oasis records.

Enjoy the video for The Death of You and Me below.

http://youtu.be/kFx_IniNjfE

In a music landscape marred by redundancy and bands that live well beyond their shelf life, it's refreshing to hear Thrice sound as vibrant as ever, more than a decade after they formed. Their newest album, Major/Minor, just might be their crowning achievement thus far.

The Irvine-based band released the follow-up to 2009’s stellar Beggars this week, and it’s a near-perfect encapsulation of the genre-shifting they’ve done since emerging among the "post-hardcore"crowd in the late ‘90s.

No, there’s no Deadbolt or All That’s Left on Major/Minor, but anyone who has followed the band throughout the years knows they’re an entirely different band now.

Replacing the angst and aggro-metal riffs from Identity Crisis and The Illusion of Safety with introspection and a subdued intensity that has come to be their calling card, Thrice should be the envy of many bands: they fully have their own identifiable sound.

Yellow Belly kicks things off with what could be the “heaviest” song on the record; its rough, distorted riff and Dustin Kensrue’s throaty vocal delivery is a telling introduction to the album. By the time Riley Breckenridge’s drums come in, the song explodes into a fury of organized chaos. Kensrue is a master at shout-singing without coming across as abrasive, as he seemingly runs his vocal chords raw with the amount of passion he puts into every syllable.

Promises starts with a steadily increasing rhythm and Teppei Teranishi’s workmanlike riffage, before again exploding into a gorgeous blend of melody and energy. Much like how The Weight explored the concept of marriage and commitment, Promises touches on those themes as well, with Kensrue offering thought-provoking lines like We promise pretty things/ And we pledge with diamond rings; We profess undying love/ But does that word hold any weight?/ We reserve the right to break/Any vow that draws our blood. It’s one of the album’s strongest tracks, although to simplify Major/Minor in such a way would take away from its impact.

Songs like Blinded and Cataracts are the natural progression from the sort of experimentation carried out on Vheissu and Beggars, but with a more…relaxing feel to them. That’s not to say they’re “mellow”; rather, the groove-oriented feel and squealing, post-grunge guitars displayed on Cataracts come across more like Thrice exploring new avenues rather than re-visiting past territory.

That’s really the best quality of Major/Minor: As a band, Thrice have their own unique, identifiable sound now. While most bands struggle for “that sound” that truly sets them apart from their peers, Thrice have achieved it, and it comes across on each song on this album. Kensrue’s masterful vocal performances, Teranishi’s top-notch guitar work, Eddie Breckenridge’s driving bass or Riley Breckenridge’s steady drums have never sounded better, and that’s not a critique of anything they’ve done in the past. They’re just at the top of their game now.

The gorgeous, sprawling Call It in the Air might be one of the best songs Thrice have ever made. In it, the uncertainty of life and its unpredictability are matched with the ideal sonic atmosphere for such themes. A coin tossed into the air will come down/ it will come down somewhere/ Your life is a coin in the air/ it will come down somewhere, Kensrue sings in a hushed tone. His words accentuate the slow, building instrumentation, taking on a sense of urgency and earnestness before leading to a monumentally powerful chorus aided by dark, ominous guitar chords. Life IS as simple as a coin toss, for better or worse, and Thrice couldn’t possibly have expressed that sentiment any more poetically than with Call it in the Air.

Treading Paper continues the melancholic atmosphere created by the previous track, providing even more rich melodies (both in the guitars and vocals) matched with Kensrue’s strained words about restlessness and, again, uncertainty: Because I contend that all of this is more than just a meaningless charade/ That each and every moment is a bottle with a message hid away he says, and the delivery is just amazing.

Blur provides a burst of energy and aggression that counteracts the more tranquil stylings of the previous two songs, before Words in the Water and Listen Through Me bring back the reflective tones. He laid aside his crown/ All our crimes he carried/Was lifted from the ground/With our burdens buried, Kensrue sings on Listen Through Me, a not-so-subtle reference to Jesus. Not many bands would dare throw a song that is implicitly pro-religion on an album, but Thrice do just that with this one. Kensrue has even noted that he had to be careful, considering even his own band mates aren’t the most devout individuals themselves; his own spirituality inspired the song, yet it refrains from coming across as heavy-handed. Well done.

The album closes with Anthology, another candidate for “best thing Thrice has ever done” and Disarmed. The emotive earnestness of Anthology, with its building, swelling guitars and positively uplifting vocals, would have made a fantastic album-capper, but Disarmed brings things to an end with an affecting, cathartic feel. The guitars and backing vocals swirl around at the end, acting as a sensory exclamation point to an emotional album. Musically, this is a life-affirming record, despite its dark lyrical themes, and Disarmed ends it all in a fitting manner.

Major/Minor is simply a near-perfect record. VERY few bands continue to progress and expand with each album without a few misfires here and there; Thrice just don’t adhere to that formula. Each album is more impressive and more challenging than the last. Major/Minor is the definition of a “grower” album, too: it may not be as immediate as Vheissu or Beggars, but if you put in the time, it just might end up being your favorite Thrice record of them all.

They’re a special band, and Major/Minor is a special accomplishment.

Bird by Bird, the Berkeley duo comprised of guitarist  Jonathan Devoto and drummer Ross Traver, released their first proper full-length record, While You Sleep, recently.

The band's first release since 2010's Albatross EP, While You Sleep finds Bird by Bird growing into its own, crafting pleasant rock-pop songs with an earnestness that is reminiscent of Devoto's work with defunct Oakland band The Matches. The music on While You Sleep sounds much more like a full band effort than the work of two people, a testament to the album's great production.

Album opener Simple Days, with its steady drum beat coupled with a choppy guitar rhythm, is almost U2-ish stylistically, giving it a warm, inviting overall feel. Devoto's lyrics about trading grade school lunches and how the "simple days" of the past are now gone touch on issues with which we can all relate, especially those of us in our mid-twenties. The musicianship on this song is top-notch, really demonstrating the band's best attributes perfectly.

Relationships and breakups are the common themes on the album, most evident with She Calls and Break, tender recollections of the kind of emotion that goes along with the highs and lows of love. On Break, the music swells and builds along with Devoto's voice beautifully, a melancholy guitar riff leading the way.

Delirious, which was included on Albatross, comes up again here in re-recorded form, which is great considering it's one of Bird by Bird's more memorable songs, both in catchiness and the strength of Devoto's guitar playing.

Don't Wake Me picks up the pace a bit with a bouncy, drum-led rhythm and "lat-dah-dah-dahs" filling up the background of the song. Throughout the tune, chunky electric guitar riffs play off of the acoustic lead-in, creating a whirlwind of guitar harmony that is quite welcomed.

Let Go demonstrates the duo's ability to switch gears, blending energetic riffs and slower, passionate vocals with lines like You say we're a social animal/More like socially awkward. Originally an acoustic track from Albatross, Let Go sounds great fleshed out in electric form.

The rest of the album continues the blend of harmonic guitar work and emotional songs about life and love, culminating in album-capper Family Tree, which is Bruce Springsteen-ian in its tone, lyrics, and riffs...for the first two minutes, anyway. After that point, the song becomes a feverish jam between the guitars and drums, the rhythm rising and falling rapidly and taking on an improvisational feel. The tune (and album) conclude with a cacophony of sounds, whispered voices, computer beeps and feedback, the audio equivalent of smashing instruments onstage at the end of a show.

While You Sleep is a solid record of guitar-driven rock-pop. Bird by Bird have had many different lineups and personnel over the past couple of years, but Devoto and Traver seem to have settled on their best version yet. Only having two band members is one of the album's strongest aspects, as the songs have an understated simplicity that works consistently well.

In the end, While You Sleep should put Bird by Bird on the map. It's a solid collection of songs by a band that has really progressed in the few years since its inception.

You can check it out for yourself over at the band's Bandcamp page.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers have finally released the artwork for their upcoming John Frusciante-less album I'm With You, which is slated for release on August 30th. As the good people at Antiquiet were quick to notice, the band posted the cover in a newsletter update on their official website, simply saying "Check out our new album cover - officially revealed! Damien Hirst did it for us and we're happy to get this out to ya!"

It will be interesting to hear the sounds made by the band with new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, having replaced the  recently departed (again) guitarist John Frusciante. Hopefully we'll get some musical samples from the new record soon...

Posted
AuthorCheese Sandwich

Are we really that old already?

The Swellers’ new album Good For Me is a top-notch blend of older and newer pop-punk/alternative stylings, but with an added sense of nostalgic homage to the late 1990s that demonstrates that we’ve apparently reached the point where bands refer to that decade with a degree of melancholy and fond memories. Hey, fellow twentysomething music bloggers: we’re getting old.

Album opener Runaway kicks things off with an energetic guitar and drum burst, leading into an upbeat verse with vocalist Nick Diener saying I don’t feel like myself anymore/I need to get out of this room today. Swellers fans familiar with their previous two albums may have found this opening track jarring, as the band seems to have embraced a more straightforward and catchy sound than the rawer tunes on 2009’s breakout album Ups and Downsizing. Runaway is a great introduction to the record, which is full of memorable songs that cast a fond look back to the past.

Inside My Head finds the band channeling both Motion City Soundtrack and Jimmy Eat World. The MCS-like synth and JEW-esque chorus help the song stand out, as it manages to sound like both those bands without sounding like a knockoff. The Swellers are creating their own unique sound using the influence of bands like those two, and it pays off incredibly well. The one-two punch of Runaway and Inside My Head give the album a great opening sequence that leads into The Damage, which starts off a bit slower, allowing Diener’s scruffy voice to take over. The guitar work on this one requires discussion, as both Diener and Ryan Collins alternate between distorted riffage and softer, more melodic notes seamlessly. Some great backup vocals help the bridge shine (something that happens throughout the album).

Parkview keeps the energy going, with Diener expressing that sort of twentysomething layabout boredom that is all too familiar to many of us: It's been four years/And I still don't know what I'm doing here/My friends settled down/And all I do when I'm home is sleep in. The song has a peppy chorus with the narrator lamenting about shoveling snow, being paralyzed and not standing up for himself. Paired with the upbeat music which ultimately leads to some wonderfully melodic background vocals at the very end, the song is a great lead in to the album’s biggest highlight, The Best I Ever Had.

The Best I Ever Had gives me the same sense of nostalgia and melancholic vibe that The Ataris’ In This Diary did back in 2003, but without that tune’s cheesiness. I remember April '94/September '96/And every day of '99 (all of '99)/Whether I waited for those records/Or helped Seattle cry/It was the best I ever had/And I know we'll never die Diener cries, expressing a fond adoration of the songs that shaped his life all those years ago. He later sings about planning his escape from the suit-and-tie lifestyle that eventually plagued so many of his friends (and everyone else's).

It’s something that people my age (read: mid-twenties) can instantly relate to, but it’s approached in a much more enjoyable, wistful fashion than most songs that play the “Oh, I miss being a kid!” card so heavy-handedly. The song is becoming a favorite among the AbsolutePunk crowd, and rightly so.

Better Things begins with some acoustic strumming and Diener talking about being on the way to bigger things, before the song explodes into an irresistible chorus, buoyed by a driving rhythm and chord progression. Lyrically, it’s a confident tune with a slight bitterness about the target of the song, with Diener saying I guess you wouldn’t know since you’re not here, but also wishing her (or him) well. Musically, it’s one of Good For Me’s best songs, fully demonstrating how well the Swellers can do the rock/pop thing.

The grungy guitars of On the Line wouldn’t sound out of place on a Foo Fighters record. The buzzy chords give it a dark energy that carries throughout its 3 minutes and 41 seconds. Diener yells I try to scream but there’s no sound/’Cause you’re alone/And I want you to come around while choppy riffs blaze through the chorus. It’s one of the album’s better songs, due in part to the great guitars. Drummer Jonathan Diener and bassist Anto Boros bring a lot of energy to the track, helping to give it its great grunge flavor.

Nothing More and Prime Meridian are both solid tracks, but they’re sandwiched between two of the album’s strongest moments. The aforementioned On the Line and the album-capper Warming Up are some of the Swellers’ greatest accomplishments on Good For Me. With its Pinkerton-like synth and Diener’s vocal delivery, Warming Up sounds like 1996-era Weezer. It’s really a great song about wishing, dreaming, and how the narrator will never be me without you. Long after the song comes to an end, the keyboards and overall melody of the song will loop in your head, which is always the mark of a memorable album-closer.

With Good for Me, The Swellers have really made a statement. The album shows the band’s best qualities throughout its ten songs: energetic, pop-punk-alternative songs about nostalgia, longing, and youthful exuberance being reflected upon by people who are no longer teenagers. That the band explores these themes while sounding like some of the best bands of the era they’re singing about helps the album leave quite a mark on the listener. It’s been a great year so far for pop punk revivals, and The Swellers may have released the best of the bunch.