MUSIC REVIEWS: Fiery Furnaces, Magic Wands, Ocote Soul Sounds and Adrian Quesada, War Tapes
The Fiery Furnaces are one of those bands that I keep telling myself I’m going to listen to. I even have a couple of their albums. Yet, I consistently forget about them or play a couple of tracks and get bored. I’m Going Away is their eighth release, and has so far been a pretty enjoyable listen.
The album starts with the title track that dives right in and flicks on the lights. A little guitar fuzz and Eleanor Friedman’s warm voice exclaim, “She’s going away, and will be back someday.” And, hey, it sounds like she means it. Following this is “Drive to Dallas,” a nice meandering organ-driven ballad about staying the hell out of Dallas. Which makes sense to me. The next song, “The End Is Near,” sounds kind of the same. This is the album’s major fault; some of the songs come close to being interchangeable, but, altogether, it’s not a huge problem because the songs are all decent. There’s just no real standout for me. It’s a record compiled of piano-heavy songs about getting away. The cadence of Eleanor’s voice and the rhythmic fits and starts keep the songs interesting, which is essential to the overall appeal.
The Friedman’s wrote an album of pleasant songs that bounce between ballady and rocky, but there’s not too much else to parse about the record as a whole. It diminishes it for me that there is no real gem that will lead me back to it, but, again, it’s an agreeable work. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not.
The Magic Wands are a duo from Tennessee. Their new EP is called Magic Love & Dreams and judging by the band name and the names of the songs, these are clearly their fixations. After all, there are only four songs here and one has “magic” in the title while another has “love” in it. This makes it all the more disappointing that there is no magic in these songs, I didn’t love any of them, and I certainly won’t be dreaming about them. The first song is “Black Magic” which is an obvious choice for a leadoff track because it sounds the most like a single. That is, it sounds like a Garbage single minus Shirley Manson’s charisma. “Starships,” the second track, is by far the best song here. It’s the only song on Magic Love & Dreams that’s both original sounding and interesting. The Magic Wands cool detachment and far away new wave sound works best here. The same can’t be said for “Teenage Love.” It’s sparse production and speak-sung lyrics just get old really fast. As for “Kiss Me Dead,” I can’t remember anything about it.
I know this review sounds pretty harsh but I’m just being hard on Magic Wands because I think they have more in them. Magic Love & Dreams isn’t too great but it does show potential. There is at least one song here that I genuinely enjoy. If this band sorts out its strengths from its weaknesses their next release could be a lot better. The main thing they need to learn is that there is a difference between sounding detached and sounding like you’re not even trying.
Ocote Soul Sounds is an impeccable project full of wonderfully crafted tracks that consist of varying degrees of salsa, afro-beat, experimental jazz, trip and hip hop. Easily something that sounds as popping fresh as a set spun by the dopest of dj’s, the live instrumentation on this album was created to astound. Each instrument is boastfully distinct as it grinds out groove after noteworthy groove. Coconut Rock is the third album from Ocote Soul Sounds and is full of chunky bass lines, dance-ready anthems and balmy soul vibes flavored with Latin infused tracks that create an international appeal and make the album organic, ultra-hip and laidback. Downright soulful and all kinds of cool, the seduction is immediate and the allure is long-lasting. Silvery acoustic guitar hops against a soaring flute and the melodious voice of Brazilian singer, Tita Lima on “Vendendo Saude & Fe.” The electric guitar fires up like a flame, ready to devastate everything in sight. Martin Perna, founder of Antibalas and Adrian Quesada of Grupo Fantasma, with members of Antibalas, Grupo Fantasma, and Brownout amongst other artists have collectively released an album that is diverse, bright, at times political and full on funky. “Vampires” tackles capitalism with heavy plunks of bass and the present yet scarcity of guitar yields a rather restrictive tone, perfectly in line with the subject matter. With a 70s disco mantra and a bubbly guitar effect on “Return of the Freak,” the tune bounces into a clever creeper of a hit. Coconut Rock allows the listener to be drawn in to swirling instrumentation with a sort of wound up allure that is both invigorating and sensual.
Is it the reviewer’s place to suggest personnel changes for a band? Regardless here it is for the War Tapes and their new release The Continental Divide: Neil Popkin must not sing. Let him play rhythm guitar until his heart’s content, but his 80’s style retro pop crooning is way out of style. The vocals are enough to bring the band to a much lower level. Listening to some of the material here, such as “Dreaming of You” and “All the World’s a Stage” would lead the listener to thinking they’re listening to a collection of Killer’s B-sides or rejected Interpol material. And this is a shame because there’s a good band lurking here. Suggestion: let his sister, bassist and back up vocalist Rebecca Popkin take over. The band turns into a different animal when her vocals shine through, like on the opening track, “The Night Unfolds,” a fast paced breathtaking song that gives false hope for the album before melding into the aforementioned “Dreaming of You.”argh! For another example of why Rebecca should be lead singer, listen to “Mind is Ugly.” Otherwise, if you like bad Interpol songs, this album is for you! Also I don’t appreciate the final track being called “Fast Lane” while being seven minutes long and incredibly slow. How ironic and clever.
So here we have a band that I almost like. I even want to like them! I just can’t because of the awful vocals. They have potential, and perhaps they’ll realize their potential on future releases.