MUSIC REVIEWS: Monsters of Folk, Flying Machines, Rodrigo Y Gabriela, NOMO, British Sea Power, Julian Plenti, Alexa Wilding
Chocolate is delicious but it’s even better with peanut butter and pretzels and Monsters of Folk which features Jim James from My Morning Jacket, M. Ward, most recently of She & Him, and Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes might be the indie/alt. country/folk rock equivalent. Their premiere self-titled album is a sonically eclectic but thematically coherent musical piece and interestingly it strays quite a distance from “folk” music at times.
The band might be best compared to the original 60’s folk rock super group Crosby Stills Nash (and Young) because the combinations of writing, musical sensibilities, and most notably vocals in combination make for a sum greater than the individual parts. This isn’t true of every track but the standouts such as “Baby Boomer” which is an extraordinary song that gets political in the old school folk tradition certainly shows off how fruitful the collaboration between the members can be.
There are quite a few memorable tracks on the album such as: “Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)” which begins the album on a spiritual note with a colorful blend of 1970’s downbeat disco and folk, “Temazcal” which is a beautiful poem set to music, and “The Right Place” which questions personal ethics with a sound reminiscent of Gram Parsons. For fans of any of these musicians the album is a must have and even in this era of side project madness this one feels a little more special than the rest.
The Flying Machines, with their self-titled album present 10 songs that fall into that category of being really peppy while being about less happy things, in this case misguided and misplaced love. In doing so they evoke some pretty strong influences; a listen provides the sense of slightly lesser versions of Billy Joel, ELO, and Queen mixed together into a somewhat savory pop-rock package.
So do the Flying Machines soar? Sure, on their first five tracks. “Talk About It” has a great chorus and a great keyboard break for the bridge. “On a Whim” is another winner with another peppy chorus that could easily pass for a decent ELO B side. “I Can’t Stop” is great, but perhaps for the wrong reasons as it evokes the nostalgia of an updated 80’s sitcom theme song once it gets going. “I Don’t Remember Why” starts out like a ballad and blooms into a bit of an anthem, but never really completely clicks. It’s kind of a flawed masterpiece. “Stay” rounds out the soaring section of the album with a good riff, although it’s a bit whiney, begging a girl to come back.
And then…crash. The Flying Machines stall and hit the earth. The latter half of the album just doesn’t do it for me. All the clever melding of their influences and decent riff work fall flat and blend into an uninspired blob of generic rock. Perhaps it’s best to forget this section of the album exists and just listen to the first five tracks as an EP, rather than the whole ten tracks as an LP. For a debut album they could do worse than 50/50.
Whether you’re a metal head, a flamenco fanatic, or a jazz nut, 11:11, the new album by genius guitarist masterminds Rodrigo Y Gabriela is a collection of songs you’ll need to take a look at. The Mexican duo of Rodrigo Sánchez and Gabriela Quintero have been every musician’s fan favorite for years now but their blend of classical, metal, jazz, folk, and flamenco along with their amazing talents on the guitar are beginning to get noticed by a wider audience and for good reason.
The songs vary a bit but all show-off the group’s virtuoso skill ranging from the quick paced Spanish style “Hanuman” to the jazzy, melodic “Triveni.” The album is a tribute of sorts to their musical influences and each song was created as a homage to another musician from Hendrix to Pink Floyd. The album features another well known guitar playing duo, Strunz & Farah, on “Master Maqui” which is a gorgeous work that almost leaves you exhausted from the quick fingering. Metallica fans will enjoy “Chac Mool” which brings to mind the beautiful old school introductions in Master of Puppets and Ride the Lightning and “Atman,” a tribute to fallen guitar icon Dimebag Darrell, featuring Testament’s Alex Skolnick which will quickly find itself in the folds of your brain tissue sparking the neurons.
Not every song goes on the iPod playlist but the music inspires awe in anyone who’s held a guitar and the album is great as long-play party music.
Cold Michigan winters can’t stop the afro-beat heat of NOMO. The Fela-inspired band brewed up it’s musical magic in Ann Arbor, Michigan at the eponymous university. Off the label of Ubiquity Records, NOMO’s latest release is a synthesis of sound titled, Invisible Cities. And what instruments got left behind? None. The six-man band utilizes sounds and textures from all instruments, which even include the Conch shell. The songs are compositionally complete and Kuti’s influence can be felt in every splice of the sax, zing of the electric kalimba, and the soul of the drums. Deep grooves and hearty repetitions are the norm but NOMO adds a dash of futuristic funk, spells of avant-garde jazz, and rock vibrations. Like its contemporaries, NOMO holds true to its main musical influence and yet they are stretching afro-beat; cultivating the sounds into their own organism.
If you come to Man Of Aran, the latest work by British Sea Power, expecting another record filled with Do You Like Rock Music? style bombastic rock, you will be sorely disappointed. Instead of releasing another batch of pop songs, the group chose to tackle a much thornier project, sound tracking an old, odd documentary, the silent film Man Of Aran.
The film itself is a sparse, effecting look at the lives of isolated people living on a harsh, isolated rock in the British isles. BSP’s soundtrack is a thing of beauty, using rock instrumentation to bring warmth and life to a documentary about people trying to do just that to the world around them. The soaring instrumentals are eminently enjoyable and expertly orchestrated, providing an agreeable soundscape with or without the accompanying film.
Julian Plenti, lead singer of Interpol has struck out on his own to release a solo album, Julian Plenti…is skyscraper. Good news! It’s nowhere near the abomination that your average Interpol record is. It’s not spectacular though. If anything I get the feeling while listening to it, if you’ll forgive the tortured metaphor, that Julian Plenti went on Wheel of Fortune, said Pat I’d like to buy some intensity, to which Pat Sajak responded, Julian, you can only buy vowels here. Dispondent, he left the Wheel of Fortune Studios, and never got his intensity. Basically, these songs are almost good, but they lack a spark. Plenti’s singing is just too laid back. Furthermore I’m going to make the outragoeus ascertation, that if in some parallel universe this was a U2 album, it’d be U2’s best. The songs have that feel, but Plenti just can’t bring out the anthemic feel of them. Perhaps he’s a good songwriter, but he’s not such a great performer.
The songs? Well…”Skyscraper,” the song, toys with some interesting ideas and is ominous until Plenti sleepwalks through with his vocals. “Madrid Song” does not make me want to go to Madrid. I think Plenti’s trying to be ironic and witty with his stalkerish song “Girl on the Sporting News” but it just comes off as a creepy and bland. I’d also have to say that “Only if you Run” might be one of the most boring opening tracks I’ve heard in a while. Ending the album, “H” is just as boring as the intro. I guess for Interpol fans this could be recommended, but otherwise, avoid.
A breathless captivating beauty emanates from Alexa Wilding’s new self-titled album. The nice buoyancy of her softened vocals build each track against hushes but no less elegantly styled guitar and sparse yet affectionate instrumentation. The pulsating acoustic rhythms are both soothing and poetic. Moving like sonnets, Wilding’s lyrics are saturated in introspective love and mental musings. This 8 song EP was pinned by this Brooklyn-based singer. There is a rare superior quality and tone to Wilding’s voice. The multi-dimensional movement of her vocals is wholly captivating and yearning. Wilding knows exactly how to play even and not get caught up in played about nuances or overused formulas. The music churns right below the surface and all attention is given to Wilding’s subtle yet cathedral reaching voice that is angelic and mystical. “Light,” seems to feature a tale of some sort of loss of radiance while the steely brace of guitar strikes occasionally against a sonic fret board. Beginning with an almost too bright guitar riff that is quickly met by an eerie undertone of acoustic hums, “Black Diamond Day,” doubles Wilding’s vocals and blankets the song in a dreary melodic sensually damp love romp. The pliable mystery of Wilding and the masterful acoustic musicianship allows this album a breezy wholesome feel. The whimsical nature of lyrics, vocals and harmonies create a sonic tapestry that is calmly beautiful, haunting and endearing.