Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Beck - "Timebomb"

Beck recently caught my ear again, when he released a new single, "Timebomb". Though I hadn't paid much attention to Beck's career, his last album, The Information, hooked me with an experimental, new wave sound. Similar to hits like "Cell Phone's Dead" and "Nausea", "Timebomb" continues the trend with futuristic beeps and kinetic energy abound. I wasn't intrigued the first time I heard it with its non-sense driven chorus, but it grew on me with the tune's bouncy, progressive beat. Clearly, lyrics like "We got a timebomb/We got a timebomb/Na na na na" aren't exactly ground breaking, but synthesized chants mixed with hand claps and a bass guitar make for a catchy fun, song.

Perhaps one of the more interesting notes about the single, is that it is a single. Meaning, that is isn't attached to a Beck album past, present of future. It is a stand alone song released exclusively (at first) on I-Tunes. With the state of abysmal record sales plaguing the record industry, you have to wonder if many artists will release more singles and EPs rather than full length albums. You can't have a record sales showdown every Tuesday....or can you??

Beck - Timebomb

Friday, September 21, 2007

Eisely - Family "Combinations"

Eisley is a collective lead by the serene vocals of Sherri DuPree and made up of four siblings and one cousin. I was made aware of the band when they were featured as the "NPR Song of the Day" last week. They immediately caught my attention as soon as I heard them with intricate indie sensibilities mixed with pop flare and made me an instant fan.

Combinations is their second full length album on Warner Bros Records and it is chock full of lush, indie pop sounds reminiscent of the '60s. Eisley has many of the same ear-pleasing attributes as Rilo Kiley: a great lead singer, catchy, story-like songs and a strong band. The first single, "Invasion" shines as a political statement (possibly?) with an amped up, guitar driven chorus and dramatic lyrics: "And you, you, you, you/you would take the breath from my throat/and you, you, you, you,/you would take the cherished people that i hold". "A Sight to Behold" features the band's Radiohead influence with a heavier sound, but is still very accessible. It matches the love story about a forging ahead despite past failed relationships amid the new wave, bass-laden backing.

"Taking Control" stands out as an immediate favorite that should receive pop attention. The song refers to a romance in a downward spiral, where the narrator has no control of the situation. She finally stands her ground at the end by switching to chorus to the stand offish: "You've been making a joke of our lives/And you've been letting this go/You've been taking control of our lives/And you've been letting this go". Hopefully, it doesn't get overplayed (but I'm sure the band would be flattered) by being picked up by a "Grey's Anatomy"-like show as a theme song or something. I wouldn't be surprised if it did though, because it seems Eisley has crafted an album that shouldn't be overlooked.

Eisley - Invasion

Eisley - Taking Control

Eisely is currently on tour with Mute Math and will be playing at St Andrews Hall on October 13th. Check them out if you are in the area.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Kanye West: "Graduation" with Honors

Kanye West - Graduation 4/5 Narks

With the massive anticipation for Kanye West's third opus, Graduation, many people wondered if he could rise to the top of the class. In the past 2 years, since Late Registration, Kanye has injected his larger than life persona into popular culture by a public displeasure with George Bush, unleashed tirades at various award shows, successfully launched his G.O.O.D. Music label with the help of John Legend and Common, and engaged in a sales competition with 50 Cent. Needless to say, these events gave Kanye plenty of material to create a colorful and inventive new album.

Kanye West continues his flavor of digging in the crates for classic samples on Graduation, but this time he infuses his penchant for soul with a futuristic/new wave sound. T-Pain assists with his trademark vocal distortion over a sample from Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T." and synthesizers on the party driven next single, "Good Life". "Stronger" may not be the first time a hip-hop producer has sampled Daft Punk (see Busta Rhymes' "Touch It" helmed by Swizz Beatz), but it certainly is the best. The futuristic drum beat reverberates through the speakers while Kanye confidently rhymes his way in to space.

While most of West's best raps are boastful, bravado filled with fashion-sense and pop references (see "The Glory"), he usually includes a few tracks that give a more personal look at the inner demons of Kanye West. "Everything I Am" shines as a laid back piano sampled track featuring turntable work courtesy of DJ Premier. He addresses naysayers who chastise his actions and simply states "everything i'm not, made me everything i am". "Big Brother" gives a personal account of West's rise in the Roc-a-Fella crew and his admiration for idol/label head Jay-Z. From being too star struck to speak with 'Hova to trying to match Jay-Z's success and being humbled by Def Jam's president at Madison Square Garden, it shows West's vulnerable side.

While West earns many A's on Graduation, there are still a few spots where you can see he has a few more things to learn from the "Best Rapper Alive". "Drunk and Hot Girls" follows late night exploits of the rich and famous with promiscuous ladies with a lazy, annoying flow. "Barry Bonds" would suffice as a mixtape cut (Lil' Wayne continues his streak of hit guest appearances), but seems out of place with the sonic-soul feel of the album.

Kanye West has quickly risen to the top of the hip-hop A-list with spit fire rhymes paired with innovative production. Graduation continues the tradition with West's earnest, unapologetic approach and catchy, but soulful beats.

BTW, Curtis lost....

Kanye West - The Glory

Kanye West - Everything I Am

Kanye West - Bittersweet ft John Mayer (Bonus Track)

Friday, September 7, 2007

Kanye vs. Curtis: The Heavyweight Matchup

Everyone else has an opinion about it, why not me? Two rap superstars. 1 day. 1 winner. Kanye vs. 50 Cent. Graduation vs. Curtis. The hype surrounding the rap album showdown on Tuesday, September 11th is about to bubble over. Though my interest in today's rap game is waning (can you blame me?), this feud caught my attention. Even my favorite indie rock journal, My Old Kentucky Blog, commented on it. If you have been living under a rock, here's the run down:

50 Cent was set to release Before I Self Destruct earlier this summer. After releasing the lackluster, "Candy Shop" leftover, "Amusement Park" and street single "Straight to the Bank", 50 decided to head back to the studio. After a hilarious feud with rapper Cam'ron, where Killa Cam tried to belittle 50 by calling him by his real first name, 50 changed the name of the album to Curtis. He recruited Akon, JT, Timbaland, Nicole Scherzinger and usual contributors Eminem and Dr. Dre to beef up his lukewarm reception. These changes pushed the album back to September 11th.

Meanwhile, Kanye West had been in the lab crafting his third disc, Graduation, hoping for an August release date. Just when the street single, "Can Tell Me Nothing" was gaining steam, Def Jam decided to delay the disc until September 11th. Even though Curtis was already scheduled to drop, he had the gall to say "I hope that they see and understand what’s getting ready to happen."

What 50 didn't know, was the fire-starter single Kanye had in his back pocket. The Daft Punk sampled single, "Stronger" generated enough buzz to burn G-Unit offices down, getting love from the indie set and mainstream fans. 50 came back with his own scorcher, "I Get Money", but its success has paled in comparison to Kanye's first. Even the release of the JT & Timbaland assisted "AYO Technology" hasn't propelled 50 back to his lofty perch. The latest Billboard Hot 100 singles charts has "Stronger" at #2 and "AYO" at #20. "I Get Money" has made some noise in radio play, but it still can't match Kanye's heat. For those counting, 50 released 4 singles to Kanye's 2. Just wait 'til Kanye drops "Good Life" with T-Pain...

The biggest headline of the story though, is 50's claim that he will retire if Kanye sells more than him the first week. He claims that he won't release any new solo material, but will appear on other artists' records from the G-Unit camp. If that were true, he might as well start looking for a resting spot in Florida now, because Kanye's presales are already beating him.

What do I think? I definitely think Graduation will sell more than Curtis, though they will both hit big numbers. 50 Cent had his time to shine and while his fan base used to be as wide as Eminem's and Dr. Dre's, his arrogance and rap's overall sales decline will take a chunk out of his Soundscan numbers. Kanye West is very arrogant as well, but he still has the hunger to want to be #1 that 50 lost after "In the Club". 50 Cent is a marketing genius, from books to Vitamin Water to clothing. I don't even doubt the possibility that he could have met with Kanye earlier this summer and set this whole charade up. Other labels saw the opportunity and now Kenny Chesney will drop the same day. 50 just isn't as musically innovative and lyrically gifted as Kanye to remain relevant. Kanye might call himself the Louis Vuitton Don, but when he gets respected from backpackers and hip-hop heads for his beats and rhyme skills.

Winner = Kanye West Graduation

Kanye West - Stronger

Kanye West - Good Life ft T-Pain

50 Cent - I Get Money

50 Cent - AYO Technology ft JT & Timbaland

..and Kenny Chesney - Never Wanted Nothin More

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Klaxons: Mercury Winners? Is It A "Myth"?

I have mentioned the Nationwide Mercury Prize a few times in posts, but haven't really explained it. Basically, its an award show that highlights the best British and Irish albums of the past year. The albums nominated are voted on by a board of music executives from across the pond and usually don't get much play in the States (sad, but true).

Klaxons won this year's prize for their 1st album, Myths of the Near Future. The album beat out the likes of Amy Winehouse, Arctic Monkeys (last year's winner), and the New Young Pony Club. Now I would never call my self a journalist or a music critic, I just happen to like writing about music I feel others should pay attention to (or at least give a listen). I don't have a literary degree or have ever been in a band, but I still like to voice my opinion. I just wonder how the "expert" voters came about choosing the Klaxons' album over the list of other nominees. Don't get me wrong, songs like "Golden Skans" and "Gravity's Rainbow" have been in heavy rotation on my i-pod since I heard them. I can definitely appreciate that the band is leading the way in the creation of the "new rave" genre.

The fact of the matter is that Myths of the Near Future is an uneven album, as I mentioned in an earlier post. I may have even been a bit harsh in my initial review, the album was probably a 3 after few more listens. But I have a hard time believing its the best Brit or Irish album of 2007. Especially in comparison to Back to Black and Favourite Worst Nightmare. I am sure Ms. Winehouse will get her due and the Arctic Monkeys got their fair share of praise last year, I just think Klaxons should be rewarded in the "Future", when they create a more focused record.

Klaxons - Golden Skans

Klaxons - Gravity's Rainbow

Bonus: Amy Winehouse - Love Is A Losing Game @ Mercury Prize

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Show Stopper: The Format @ St. Andrew's Hall 8/31/07

The Format - St. Andrew's Hall - Detroit - 8/31/07

Since I have 4 concerts lined up this fall, I figured I would try writing a few concert reviews. One of the first indie bands I was introduced to, also happened to be the first band I saw in concert this year, The Format. The Format are a band from Arizona, who's name refers to their variety in sound, as in, not following the norm. They have released 2 albums (most recently Dog Problems) and a number of EPs that range in style from indie pop to alternative. The were dropped from Atlantic Records, just before the release of Dog Problems, but have gained a huge following due to the band's critical success and loyal fan base.

Last Friday, Laura and I were lucky enough to see The Format at St. Andrew's Hall. The mood was upbeat and harmonious throughout the night and it showed in each of the bands' performances. Members of the Format and the three opening bands frequently sat in on each others sets with ease and excitement.

Since this was an early show (a 5:00 start), we arrived a bit late and missed the first opening band, Reuben's Accomplice. But gladly, we there just in time to take in the scenery before Limbeck took the stage and the sold out crowd began to filter in. I had never been to St. Andrew's before, so I had been looking forward to visiting a new venue. The historic location emitted all of the nostalgic stories I had heard about with its dusty hardwood floor, elevated balcony, and mountainous speakers.

Limbeck was the only band I was able to check out before the concert and they aptly met my expectations. Their indie/alt country sound was very crowd friendly and kept the audience's attention. "Big Drag" and "Honk and Wave" persuaded me to purchase their latest self-titled album. Limbeck was followed by a rousing set by New Jersey's own, Steel Train. Lead singer, Jack Antonoff created a great show with a passionate display of on stage antics echoing the band's classic rock influenced sound. Not to be outdone, Piebald's Travis Shettel had his own way for grabbing the audiences' attention. As I was later told, this would be the band's last stop in Detroit after deciding to amicably break up after the tour and the band played like it. Piebald's entertaining set shot even more adrenaline into the crowd with piano driven indie rock, a crowd surfing attempt and parachuting toy soldiers from the highest speaker in the room.

When the Format reached the stage, it was clear who the Detroit fans were there to see. From the horn-flavored start on "Dog Problems", to the bouncy rendition of "Snails", the crowd served as back-up choir, echoing lead singer Nate Reuss' every word. Though the band only slowed things down a bit on an acoustic session featuring the heartfelt "On Your Porch", it was perfect for the intimate setting. Things quickly picked up with snappy renditions of "The Compromise" and the label-bashing "My First Single" before the raucous encore. The encore came with a run through of "I'm Actual" and "Inches and Falling" and following an invitation, members of all of the opening bands joined in for "Caravan". Nearing the end of a long tour, you could clearly see the new found camaraderie of all the musicians as they grabbed any instrument available to end their Detroit stop on a high note. Concert #1 = Success.

The Format - The First Single (Cause A Scene)

The Format - On Your Porch

The Format - Inches and Falling

*Thanks to a fellow fan who posted more pictures here (I'm too cheap to buy a digital camera).

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The New Pornographers: Taking All "Challengers"

The New Pornographers - Challengers 5/5 Narks

2007 has been the year of the reunion. From the Police to Rage Against the Machine, to Genesis and the Wu Tang Clan, bands are trying to recreate past magic for fans and frankly, one last run at a boat load of cash. One of the lesser-hyped reconciliations of the year, happened when The New Pornographers decided to give it another go. And it might just be the best of the bunch.

The new album Challengers stands out as not only a great reunion, but one of the best albums of 2007. The New Pornographers are made up of some of the most talented Canadian musicians from Vancouver and have the resumes to prove it. Danny Bejar, singer and pianist, also formed indie favorite, Swan Lake. Neko Case gained fame last year with her atl. country album, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Even the band's leader, A.C. Newman, had mild success with a few Canadian indie bands, before heading up the formation of the group. He writes the majority of the band's melodic, hook-flavored music and plays a smattering of instruments, including bass mandolin.

A.C. Newman notes Burt Bacharach and the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson as influences and both are apparent throughout the album's song structure. Songs like the conversational "Myriad Harbor" and the politically charged "My Right Versus Yours" ooze with catchy hooks and sophisticated instrumentation. "Unguided" starts with a minamalist echo-backing, as if the narrator is worried about not having control of their own life. To the chorus of march-worth drum kicks and mindful lyrics ("Killing time because I have to/why?/Because it isn't mine, remember?/Killing time because it wasn't mine"), they later realize that having a plan doesn't mean nature will pay attention to it.

One of the best attributes of The New Pornographers, is that they have the ability to intermingle statements and poignant messages with breezy, pop-friendly hooks. If you don't stop and take a listen to the blasphemous new take on religious figures ("All The Old Showstoppers") or political observations ("My Right Versus Yours"), you might miss what makes the album poetic.

Challengers should mangage to satisfy indie-hipsters along with occasional pop listeners. Even though their music won't match the latest receipts from the Police tour, it will make me anxiously await The New Pornographers' next reunion.

The New Pornographers - My Right Versus Yours

The New Pornographers - Unguided