MUSIC REVIEWS: Settle, B-Real, Elfin Saddle, Condo Fucks, Elvis Perkins in Dearland
The group Settle is recklessly unapologetic, feisty and sharp-witted. Part garage, part emo with a whole lot of angst and temperamental tunes comprise At Home We Are Tourists. This exhilaratingly super catchy collection of songs is built on the foundation of rapid-fire fuzzy guitars and hyper-accelerated punk-inspired drums. Easily meant to be played so that it can crash through open windows and doors, there is also a nice harmonious exchange of vocals as well. The guitarist and lead singer is Nick Rose with Willie Rose on drums, Dave Goletz also on guitar and Chris Burcin on bass. Settle won “Best Music on Campus” in 2006 which was a competition backed by MTV. The new album is the first full-length album from this Easton, Pennsylvania band. Their particularly pointed lyrics poke through as a separate yet interesting entity. “Naked At A Family Function” paves the way for piercing commentary by the title alone and is synth heavy taking on a more indie rock appeal with layered guitars. The low end percussion is a nice opposite against Nick’s high-arching vocals. A party album and somewhat indie-rock formatted along with excitable lyrics, Settle’s formula is worthy of high honor.
Smoke N Mirrors is a very diversified rap album. B-Real, of Cypress Hill, effectively weaves many different facets of rap and hip hop into one album whether he is raunching it up or educating the lost. Staccato rhyme delivery has always been B-Real’s signature. Like an artist who is very familiar with the politics of the music industry, B-Real at times sounds like a father figure to those easily seduced by celebrity and prominence in the always rapidly changing trends of music. He addresses selling out in the industry, material wealth, millions, sudden fame, media, then the next big thing and the loss of the spotlight in “6 minutes.” “Gangsta Music” makes the personal political and vice versa. He works hard at speaking on the struggle to survive and how even that struggle destroys. He also reiterates how the dangerous game of certain street life is not the way out but how art can be no matter if your street life is in the suburbs or the city. The title track, “Smoke N Mirrors” starts off with a well-placed high-pitched sample of the Stylistics’ “Children of Night.” What makes this album so good is that B-Real not only educates onlookers to the realness of life and fame but he does it in a very ‘been there, done that’ mentality over just enough heavy bass beats and occasional guitar that create a fresh hip hop existence. “Fire” is a luscious soca-inspired dancehall scorcher featuring Damian Marley. Very charming and very intelligent, “Smoke N Mirrors” is everyone’s rap album. It rings true authentically, stylistically and beat-wise.
If you told me to critique a band whose album consisted of nine tracks, four of which were sung in Japanese and two of which were instrumental, I’d probably go with my initial predilections and have to pass. Luckily, I was able to stint this narrow-mindedness by playing the entire album in full before looking at the cover sleeve.
Ringing for the Begin Again was at first intimidating, but my ears easily adapted by the second or third track, and immediately I wanted to hear more from this band called Elfin Saddle. Track one, “The Bringer,” instantly grabbed my attention. The song begins with a mournful-toned narration and then unexpectedly breaks into a frenzy of psychedelic and questionably upbeat sounds. Along with track seven, ironically titled “The Procession,” I felt these songs were not songs at all, but weirdly optimistic, folk-like dirges whose unique sound could only be recreated if bandsKing Crimson and Gogol Bordello got together to jam.
Undoubtedly, it is the instruments fluent throughout the album that make Elfin Saddle a rare success in “mood music.” The violin, trumpet, accordion, ukulele, banjo, contrabass, tuba, xylophone, (and various combinations of each,) allows listeners to forget the fact that they don’t know the words. Vocalist Emi Honda’s light but high-pitched vocals accompany the music perfectly, and while this alone is guaranteed to satisfy, lyric buffs will be pleased to know that the songs are fused with poetry about life, death and nature.
With a name like that, you’d assume they’re punk rock and I assure you won’t be disappointed. Stripped down, lo-fi, hi-distortion, and the rawness of reality snakes it’s way through this three piece set; basic drums, bass, guitar driving an infective vibe. From the false start on “So Easy Baby,” a fun track that exhibits this endearing quality, the foot tappin’ beat under a scraping six string as the bass moseys and the whole band gets into the lyrical act; creating an unlikely anthem.
To “The Kid With The Replaceable Head” having an almost proto-pop feel to it, the band actually reveals themselves as being punk surf rock, their tempo eliciting party times as the backing vocals chime in with familiar hoo-hoos.
Earlier in the album, but also following in this vein, though with a style all it’s own, is a slower track; “This Is Where I Belong.” The distortion disappears, though the low fidelity fuzz remains, one can really get a feel for how all three instruments unite to become more than the sum of their parts. It seems each musician sings as well, the ghostly background vocals shadowing the soothing croon of the main vocalist.
Short songs, fast tempo on the whole, and a minimalist garage rock sensibility make Condo Fucks the low budget but fun and oh so authentic act that one can’t help but rock out to.
If their last track, “Gudbuy T’Jane,” is any indication, these guys know how to break off a lil’ party and bring varied tools in their musical belt along for the ride. Repping punk, surf rock, and good old Americana, the Condo Fucks have a unique sound in that they evoke so many different genres and some how encompass them all. A successful album and a fun ride, I’d recommend this act to any who already enjoy Weezer.
There are some albums that you either love or hate. This is not one of them. There’s nothing to hate about it but there’s really nothing to love either. Elvis Perkins in Dearland is a decent album but an unassuming one. All the songs are mellow and folky and feature Elvis’ chilled out voice which bears resemblance to Devendra Banhart and Win Butler of The Arcade Fire. Like both of those singers, he has an intriguing quality to his voice that does grab your attention but can get a little old. That distinctive voice and the mostly acoustic instrumentation make these songs feel kind of similar and not too much really sticks out. Even so, songs like “Hey” and “Hours Last Stand” grow on you even as you are listening to them. “Doomsday” is the biggest standout, if not simply because it sounds so much like an Arcade Fire song. This song sounds like a big celebration at the end of the world with upright bass and horns. It would easily be right at home on Neon Bible. “Doomsday” also stands out for lyrics like “though you voted for that evil man/I couldn’t refuse your hand on doomsday.” The song definitely has some magic, I just wish it didn’t sound like an imitation. At any rate there’s good stuff here and lots of people will like it a lot. For me, it’s not an album I’d put on again and again.