Friday, April 27, 2007

Arctic Monkeys: Far From A "Nightmare"

Arctic Monkeys Favourite Worst Nightmare - 4/5 Narks

The Sheffield, England-based Arctic Monkeys stormed onto the indie rock scene last year with an unprecedented amount of internet/myspace buzz and a party-starter single, "I Bet You Look Good On the Dance Floor". The success translated into a #1 album ("Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not") in the U.K., the coveted 2006 Mercury album prize, and the crown of "fastest-selling debut album in British chart history." The Arctic Monkeys quickly gained buzz as "the next great Brit band" in the U.S. and the pressured mounted for their stateside arrival. Surprisingly, the album failed to match the commercial splash it made in the U.K. (debuted at #24, 34,000 copies), but was still revered by critics, bloggers, and fans alike. Wasting no time, the Arctic Monkeys are back (less than 6 months later) with the solid sophomore effort "Favourite Worst Nightmare".

"Favourite Worst Nightware" is hardly a bad dream but showcases a faster, louder, more focused sound, that shows the band's growth over the past year. The race begins on "Brainstorm" with adrenaline-laden guitar strums that could be mistaken for a tornado. This ode to a fashion conscious, Cassanova-type bloke named "Brian", easily matches the intensity of "I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor", while painting a telling portrait of the main character. The tales of infidelity and romance gone awry continue on as the album progresses. "The Bad Thing" sounds like a story the aforementioned "Brian" might use to entice an an engaged female into trouble at an upbeat tempo. "Do Me A Favour" starts slow, incorporating a surf-like beat on the road to impending doom. It is very effective in making sure the listener takes note of the story that unfolds and ends with a bang (as a bad break-up would).

"Nightmare" only drifts into the shadows in a few places, on the psychedelic, but bluesy "Only Ones Who Know" and "This House Is A Circus" (skippable, but not terrible). "Only Ones Who Know" seems out of place, but gives the listener a chance to breathe before the next hit parade.

"Teddy Picker" shines as a criticism of reality stars trying to steal the spotlight from talented performers the easy way over a bouncy beat. Lead singer, Alex Turner, questions their motives and asks " D'you reckon that they do it for a joke?/D'you reckon that they make 'em take an oath?." "505" fittingly ends with a "nightmare", as Turner leaves heartbroken without the person he longs for. As a send off, the song shouts "I'm going back to 505/If its a 7 hour flight or a 45 minute drive/In my imagination you're waiting lying on your side/With your hands between your thighs and a smile."

The Arctic Monkeys have made of what could have been a sophomore slump, into a solid follow-up to a great debut. Turner is great at weaving interesting tales of faltering relationships and vulnerable situations over more than complimentary Brit rock. He has a penchant for making the listener think they are actually in a dim-lit bar watching these events take place. The Arctic Monkeys should easily shed the "nightmare" of being labeled the latest "over-hyped" British band in 2007.

Arctic Monkeys - Do Me A Favour

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Jenny Owen Youngs: Hot In Herre...As In Michigan

A new artist I found out about yesterday is folk/indie rocker Jenny Owen Youngs. I was referred to her by the amazing weekly podcast, Pop Candy. The podcast is written by USA Today blogger Whitney Matheson and covers everything in pop culture ("Lost", "30 Rock", concerts, movies, etc.) and she usually gives some good music recommendations as well. I was particularly impressed with Jenny Owen Youngs with her earnest approach and pop potential (and lets face it, I've been a sucker for a lot of singer-songwriter types lately).

Jenny Owen Youngs has some great songs (especially "Drinking Song" and "F*** Was I") on her myspace page and I hope to hear more ("Voice On Tape" is very Rilo Kiley-esque = a good thing). The tracks seemed accessible and easy to relate to (especially for college-age listeners). Her latest album, "Batten the Hatches", was re-released on April 10th. The album was previously self-released by Youngs in 2005 and seems to have stood the test of time.

Although I won't be able to attend, she is the opener for the talented Vienna Teng tonight (4/25) at The Ark in Ann Arbor and I advise anyone in the area to check out both musicians. There are two shows listed (7 pm & 10 pm), but it isn't clear if Youngs will be performing at both, but 7pm for sure.

Listen to Jenny Owen Youngs have a little fun with a classic from a few years ago. I don't usually like rap/hip-hop covers, but this one is worth a listen...or seven (pardon the sound quality).

Jenny Owens Young - Hot in Herre (Cover)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Winterpills: Pleasantly "Light"

Winterpills The Light Divides - 4/5 Narks

An afternoon nap on a warm day. A relaxing, gradual boat ride down a narrow waterway. Being read to by the perfect story teller. These are all calming ways to unwind after a busy day/week. Using a mixture of acoustic folk/indie rock with subtle fabling, these are the same feelings evoked the Winterpills sophomore album, "The Light Divides".

The Winterpills are fronted by guitarist and lead singer Phillip Price along with keyboardist Flora Reed. The duo's chemistry elevates the quartet's "The Light Divides" with constant, layered male/female harmonies, which increases the fragile feel of the album. The album begins with the airy, lovestruck "Lay Your Heartbreak" about a person longing to be with another (perhaps without words). Simply, the acoustic fare states "she may never take the cure/she’s been through that/she would rather not be pure/than to be alone." The Winterpills effectively layer Price and Reed's vocals on the gem, "Hide Me". It is the story of a heartbroken person who subconsciously may or may not want to be noticed. With the chorus "hide me/Tell everyone where I am but please hide me/Tell everyone where I am but please hide me/sell everyone the map's to what's inside me," the song is very accessible and relatable.

Rarely does the tempo move past coasting, but when it does, it is a welcomed change of pace. On the upbeat but melancholy "Broken Arm" (look for the under appreciated reprise that closes the album), the Winterpills masterfully compliment precise acoustic guitar strums with an equally crisp electric guitar appearance. They also give a throwback to '60's folk-pop by beginning the song with the chorus rather than a verse (a welcome surprise). "July" also shines as a mid-tempo lesson in dejected foreshadowing. The song is wary about an impending, post-winter break-up and fears "and i have to face July with two holes in my heart/and i have to face this life with two hearts."

Most of "The Light Divides" tracks ("June Eyes", "Shameful", "Folded Cloth", etc.) all move at a snails pace, but succeed with Price and Reed's voices intertwined over light guitar strums and delicate percussion. The Winterpills soothe every ache and stress of their listeners like a trained masseuse with melodies that are effortless to listen to but poignant enough to keep your attention.

The Winterpills - Hide Me

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Klaxons: 'Myth'ilogical Ravers

The Klaxons Myths of the Near Future - 2.5/5 Narks

Another Brit import entered Stateside airwaves in late 2006 and early 2007, ushering in a new form of music, "new rave". The Klaxons have managed to infuse elements of electronica, disco, and punk with tales of fantasy and the supernatural on their 1st album, "Myths of the Near Future" (released in January '07 in the U.S.). The album was highly revered in their homeland, entering the UK charts at #2, and is building steam indie circles abroad. Their success was sure to only continue with a schedule tour of the U.S., but has reportedly derailed due to problems obtaining visas.

The first single I heard, the disco anthem "Golden Skans", and all of the hype made me very intrigued for the rest of the album. "Myths of the Near Future" has some stand out tracks that feature heavy bass lines ("Gravity's Rainbow", "As Above So Below") mixed with catchy futuristic hooks ("Golden Skans") and creepy love stories ("Isle of Her").

Unfortunately, the rest of the album tries to cover too much ground at one time. "Four Horsemen of 2012" awkwardly sets the stage for a freaky apocalypse, while "Atlantis to Interzone" tries to mash-up techno with surf rock unsuccessfully. It sounds like an emergency system programmed by a raver being backed by a cult-choir.

Either way, the Klaxons are very much worth checking out. When they are inspired and focused, they are stellar. When they have a barrage ideas, they leave songs that sound like a garbage truck full of instruments. Hopefully, more experience will make the The Klaxons more than 'Myths'.

The Klaxons - Golden Skans

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Tilly and the Wall: Tap Your Pants Off

One thing about music that made me panic at first, is how there is so so so much of it. Some of you have expressed the concern to me on many occasions. It is hard to keep up. Just when you think you found an amazing new band, Rolling Stone or SPIN or a random blog throw another artist in your face. I have come to embrace this fact as of late. Especially, the more you branch out and are open to new artists and genres of music. A song could be 15 years old and still make you want to dig in the crates to find more.

Tilly and the Wall were a prime example of music overload for me. I heard about them at a time when I was listening to new albums by Arcade Fire, Kings of Leon, Bright Eyes and more than a handfuls of new singles. As I shuffled through the numerous files, "Bad Education" (released in May 2006) immediately stood out of the crowd.

The song begins with a mix of stomping and handclapping, while propelling to a flamenco trumpet, that brings to mind a bull-fight and a marachi band in the hottest part of Mexico. They even use tap dancing as a percusion instrument (genius!). The song is about a person with split-personality disorder, which the music reflects by stripping the sound down to choir-like vocals and light percussion by way of tambourine. The chorus is filled with enough anxiety to make an OCD sufferer pass out. "Tugging at the seatbelt/I’m jumping out the saddle/I’m shuffling my feet around/I’m kneeling at the steeple/When will my heart teeter, tatter?/I‘m a believer, I’m solid matter."

Tilly and the Wall was formed in Omaha, Nebraska and recorded their first release, "Woo", in Bright Eyes' Connor Oberherst's garage. They have released two records so far and frequently collaborate with Saddle Creek artists (Bright Eyes, Park Ave...). They performed at SXSW in Austin, TX and should be rounding out the festival circuit through out the year.

Here is a taste of Tilly and the Wall:

Bad Education

Modest Mouse: "Ship" Far From Sinking

Modest Mouse We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank - 4/5 Narks

First and foremost, I am not a sailor. When I am on a boat, I am usually sitting back, relaxing with a cold beverage, while the "Captain" is leading the charge through channels and small lakes. The able seaman of Modest Mouse, Isaac Brock, had been chartering the indie-waters for years, until their breakthrough single "Float On" in 2001. With the mainstream success of "Good News For People Who Love Bad News", cruise ship-size pressure is on for the band to match that voyage on "We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank." Modest Mouse easily proves they could man any vessel when it comes to keeping an album afloat.

Much of the hype that has accompanied Modest Mouse's latest album is the addition of a new crew member, Johnny Marr. It was first rumored that former Smiths' guitarist was helping produce and write songs for "Sank". Brock has recently confirmed Marr as a "full-blown member." Marr's presence is felt immediately on the hit 1st single, "Dashboard". The song's rapid-fire chorus easily keeps up with the speedy guitar licks on this apocalyptic tale on a journey gone bad, but "still have the radio."

The voyage begins on the triumphant lead track, "March Into the Sea". Brock snarls and cackles his way through the track bouncing off the wavy atmosphere the percussion creates. It comes off perfectly as though a drunken fearless pirate is waging war with a stormy sea. One of the strengths of the album is how Brock can make any noise he wants to mimic the music his band members arrange and it is a testament to their chemistry (also see "Steam Enginius" and "Spitting Venom"). The mix of wails and shouts continues on "Invisible", where the crew of Modest Mouse defiantly stands there ground against the sea. The paranoia-filled song reaches its peak at the end by repeating the "We'll get crushed by the ocean/But it will not get us wet" in unison.

Even a surprise guest pops up on "We've Got Everything" and the wistful tale about the tides of life, "Missed the Boat" is James Mercer, of the Shins. Mercer doesn't steal the show from his Northwest associates, but adds a nice touch with faint back up vocals.

The album doesn't wade through calm waters often and the results are mixed when it does. "Parting of the Sensory", a rant of sorts about an argument with a superior and is one of the gems of the album. The last :30 are the most impactful with the militant send off "Someday you will die somehow and somethings gonna steal your carbon." The increase in percussion sounds like an exultant march off the ship in mutiny. On "Little Motel", the pace is slowed to a crawl and is one of the few spots "Sank" feels anchored to the dock. The tale of a bitter ex-lover seems forced and attempts to capsize the effort, but unsuccessfully.

"We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank" proves that Modest Mouse is neither "dead" nor have they "sank". Whether it was intended or not, it has many of the attributes of a concept album, and a very good one. If there were more albums like this, maybe the music industry could keep afloat...

Modest Mouse - Spitting Venom

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Timbaland: Shockingly Good Pt. II

Timbaland - Timbaland Presents...Shock Value 4/5 Narks

On Shock Value, Timbaland experiments more than ever with new twists on familiar territory (Hip-Hop and R&B) and uncharted waters (New Wave and Rock). No matter the musical flavor, the production is solid on all fronts. Most of all, Timbaland sounds like he is having good time doing it. He does everything from beatboxing to crooning to rapping seamlessly without a care.

The all star line-up of guests do most of the lyrical work and Timbaland, similar to Rick Rubin and Dr. Dre, gets the most of his artists. The album starts with the only solo of the album, "Oh Timbaland". The song finds the super-producer spitting boastful rhymes like "Now I'm in a whole 'nother zone/you can let me do me/u can do u" aimed at copycats. The disses continue on the 1st single "Give It To Me". With assistance from frequent collaborators Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake, Timbaland fires a light-hearted shot at Scott Storch ("I'm a real producer and you just the piano man/your song gonna top the charts,I hear'em, I'm not a fan-n-n-n-n"). JT shows up again on "Release" which should heat up the charts/dancefloors just in time for the summer. Of all the features on Shock Value, newcomer Keri Hilson shines on 3 tracks, especially the syntisizer/beat box friendly "Miscommunication." Look for Mosley Music Group artist to have a big year in 2007 with her Timbaland executive produced album due.

The album only falters in a few spots and it isn't for lack of good production. "Bounce" looks like a sure-fire hit when Dr. Dre, Missy Elliot and JT show up on the liner notes, but falls flat with a senseless command to "Bounce that ass like you've got the hiccups" (filthy!). "Kill Yourself" features a particularly disturbing message to haters, but has a hauntingly good beat that would have been much better served with a verse from Eminem (Sebastian and Attitude don't cut it). 50 Cent sounds like he phoned in a recycled verse on "Come and Get Me" over the militia-like beat with choir-backing (how many times can 50 say the same thing over and over before the rest of the world figures it out?).

The second half of the album is especially diverse with Middle-Eastern samples ("Bombay"), punk rock (the Hives assisted "Throw It On Me"), and power pop on "The One & Only" (You have to love Timbaland's attempt at a Fall Out Boy impression with lead singer Patrick Stump already on the track). "Time", a tale about a love that can't be trusted by either party, stands out from the crowd on this stellar compilation. Up and coming new wavers She Wants Revenge help out one of their mentors on this 80's inspired tale full of exact snare drum, layered with synthesizers Duran Duran would be jealous of.

The only knock most naysayers have on Timbaland is his rhyming skills, but if you are looking for mind-blowing lyrics, you don't understand a Timbaland album. He won't blow your mind with 16 bars of philosophy (mostly bravado and partying), but he will by supplying the soundtrack to an album without musical barriers.

Timbaland ft She Wants Revenge - Time

Timbaland: Shockingly Good Pt. 1

Part I

One of the most anticipated albums of the year for me has finally arrived, Timbaland Presents...Shock Value, and it not so "shock"ingly, it delivers. I have been following Timbaland's production career since the Ginuwine and Aaliyah days and it is amazing how he created so many unique sounds and create new trends over and over. From the use of animal noise to bringing back the human beat box to overpowering synthesizers, Timbaland has amassed a number of copycats (which he addresses on "Give It To Me"). Somehow he has mangaed to stay consistent in the most fickle musical genre there is, rap.

To name a few:
-Ginuwine "Pony", "Whats So Different"
-Aaliyah "One In A Million", "Are You That Somebody", "Try Again"
-Missy Elliot "The Rain", "Get UR Freak On", "Work It"
-Jay-Z "Big Pimpin'", "Dirt Off Your Shoulder"
-Bubba Sparxxx "Deliverance", "Ugly"
-Justin Timberlake "Cry Me A River", "Sexyback", "My Love"
-Nelly Furtado "Promiscuous", "Say It Right", "Maneater"

Only Dr. Dre and the Neptunes come close when you look at his resume over the last 10 years. Timbaland's resurgence (w/ the help of co-producer Danjahandz) by way of Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake has only bolstered his pop presence. He is reportedly working with Coldplay, 50 Cent, Bjork, Britney Spears, TI, Duran Duran and Jay-Z in the next few months.

Check back for the full review later. For now, here's a preview of my bet for the next single:

Timbaland ft Justin Timberlake "Release"

Monday, April 2, 2007

Eclectipus: The Bees

The Bees - Octopus 4/5 Narks

Another band I have been listening to as much as possible (Spring = album release fiesta) is The Bees. Straight outta the British Isles, this band quickly became every indie critic's darling in 2002 with Sunshine Hit Me, which was reportedly recorded in lead singer, Paul Butler's garden. The band gained praise for its eclectic sound and was nominated for a prestigious Mercury Award.

Three years later, The Bees continue their genre-bending (ha!) resume with their third release, Octopus. The album kicks off with an exploration in bluegrass on the stellar "Who Cares What The Question Is?" and fall back into the '60's with the Allman Brothersesque "Love In The Harbor." The journey continues on "Leftfoot Stepdown" (which eerily sounds as though it was taken from The Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World) and reaches its peak on "Got To Let Go". The jazz-influenced track (no, I don't mean the so-called "jazz" that my dad, dentist, pharmacist and elevator musician enjoy) catches the listeners ear with the under-used electric organ (not to be confused with the pipe organ) and a horn section that steals the show on the chorus.

The album only falters on the final track, "End Of The Street", which sounds like a drunk teenager got a hold of a sound effects closet and had to try each sound three times to make sure they worked (or didn't in this case).

With only 10 songs on the album, The Bees either make a bold statement or just don't care what listeners think. By refusing to be pigeon-holed by one sound, the result is the former. The Bees prove the theory of "quiting while you're ahead" and successfully acheive in making a concise and eclectic album.

The Bees - Got To Let Go