MUSIC REVIEWS: Zero 7, Turbo Fruits, Crocodiles, Grizzly Bear, Deer Tick, tUnE-yArDs
A very seducing, funk, dance, electro-groove wall of sound, Yeah Ghost, is Zero 7’s fourth studio album. Tracks range from Southern gospel to indie breeze to dance party scorchers. The song, “Mr. McGhee” kicks up an unapologetic upbeat club romp. Like neon lights and city life, the pop glow of bounce riot against surefire strong armed, sweaty beats. The beautiful shimmery resilience of “Pop Art Blue” is dizzily somber slow blues-jazz. The soft shuffles of drum against sauntering guitar alongside elegantly warm vocals by Martha Tilston is so good the track hangs in mid-air like sun dried laundry. Zero 7 is made up of UK’s Sam Hardaker and Henry Binns. The group often lays out wildy appealing beat-infused melodies of rock and rhythm and blues terrains superglued and made more biting by some of the best vocals around, having worked with artists such as Sia Furler, Jose Gonzalez and Mozez. The group’s 2007 album The Garden was nominated for Best Electronic/Dance Album. Zero 7’s music has been used in many films and TV shows. “Medicine Man” moves with such a superior shoulder shrugging electrifying dance disco, the over the top vocals are fist-pumping female powered and catchy, dominated by astounding jazz/soul artist, Eska Mtungwazi. Shrouded in mantra-breakbeat, “Ghost sYMbOL” is suffocating and dub heavy. The bass lines oscillate against ambitious pulsating throbs. The track shatters away into a stripped down ambient feat, full of spiraling orchestras of tumbling drums and keyboards that sound like disjointed fuzz pianos and aluminum can thumps. Yeah Ghost enhances as its given repetitive listens and the styles and structure never pale.
The first thing you hear on Echo Kid is the sound of a motorcycle revving followed by some of the craziest rock ‘n’ roll madness you’ve probably heard in a long time. This amazing song is called “Want Some Mo’” and as soon as it’s over you do. Fortunately, you get some mo’ with “Naked With You.” These two songs are very hard to follow and the rest of the album has a hard time doing so. “Want Some Mo’” is hard enough to follow but “Naked With You” puts up a valiant effort. Still, there is some other good music to be found here. The mock 60’s ballad “My Stupid Heart” is almost as good as anything else on the album and how could you not love a song called “Mama’s Mad Cos I Fried My Brain?” That one has some perfectly idiotic lyrics but it just gets better when you get to the super-catchy whistled chorus. But while simplicity in lyrics is always something I’ve been a fan of, this is also the album’s Achilles’ heel. The lyrics for “Get Up Get On Down (Tonight)” sound like no thought was put into them whatsoever. It starts with tired old lines like “Come on baby/ Be my lady/ Don’t be shady” and ends up completely abandoning its rhyme scheme altogether. “On the Road” is another tune that’s catchy enough but is mired by archaic rock clichés. Everyone doesn’t have to be a poet but some originality goes a long way. Especially when matched with the fun music and otherwise good idea that abound on Echo Kid. But the worst you can say about it is that it’s a good album with a few great songs and a couple of clunkers. I still enjoy it and it deserves a chance. Jonas Stein is too talented and his taste is too good to let him disappear again like his last incredible band Be Your Own Pet.
This new album from the band named after either the big-jawed reptile, or the funny gardening shoe, is sexy, and metallically romantic. Instrument heavy and gloriously distorted vocals make the album sound like it belongs to a strange genre from the future. Having never seen them live, but just from listening to the first song on the album, I imagine this grand stage, filled with infinite instruments, musicians and microphones strewn about the stage, and long hair and sweat everywhere. After looking them up, it’s actually two guys, and they create a sound larger than life. Crocodiles’ newest venture is gravelly but reminiscent of techno clubs, complete with glow sticks, dancing with your eyes closed, and lots of bright lights. The beautifully simple, “Here Comes the Sky,” is the sensitive rockstar track, complete with distant echoes and floaty lyrics, but manages to remain peaceful rather than cheesy. “Flash of Light,” another winning track, sounds like a bad-boy anthem for a new-fangled television show, and continues the band’s ability to create catchy, steamy tunes. Each song on the album has a gritty, bedroom quality to it. I think, a great first album, and it leaves them the chance to either continue with this style they seem to have such a grasp on, or to go in an entirely different direction. Either way, it’s looking very promising.
The new thing in indie rock these days seems to be the orchestral/jazz-influenced composition—“We’re making rock smarter” is the impetus, I guess. Luckily this approach works on Grizzly Bear’s new album Veckatimest. Fervent attention to detail and intricate melodic cadence are the hallmarks of this record, which makes it a pleasure to listen to. Attempted by a lesser band such an experiment might have foundered in the murky waters of creative dissonance. This record makes me feel as if I’m in a dream, in that the aural creations teem with the sense of celestial roaming somewhere within a garden-like wonderland. At least that’s the imagery that I conjure. Coupled with the elusive answers that the songs elicit, the pacing is suggestive of a fantastical adventure and the events that unfold along the way.
Opening with “Southern Point,” the album evokes the smoky underground of a late-night jazz club: an evening of intrigue and seduction that inevitably leads to the bursting into the early morning light. Each track has a whimsy of its own that is reminiscent of Sgt. Pepper’s-era Beatles, but the general tone is of simultaneously operatic grandiosity and orchestral subtlety; the album is rich with various instrumentation and studio wizardry. The highlights are too abundant to individually note, but my favorite songs have to be the meandering “I Live With You,” and the lullabyish “Foreground,” as they close the record with a reflection on things past and recognition of things to come. Big thumbs up.
“You don’t know how easy it is” intones Deer Tick singer John McCauley on album opener “Easy.” And the truth is we don’t have a clue how easy it is or isn’t, because McCauley and crew have, in Born on Flag Day created an album of seemingly effortless rootsy classic rock. This batch of songs sound awesome blaring from a car stereo on a hot summer day (preferably June 14th) and acting as a casual soundtrack to a barbecue.
Deer Tick’s Americana is contagious, catchy and the perfect anecdote to a summer over-loaded with self-concious indie pop that strains to be something it’s not. The boys in Deer Tick know who they are and what they like and are comfortable with those truths. And that makes for some refreshing music.
tUnE-yArDs might have a penchant for odd formatting but don’t let that fool you, BiRd-BrAiNs is a simple album. “Jumping Jack” doesn’t sound like the type of song you would play for your friends who like popular music but the type you would play for your friends in the band. It combines altered vocals with strong, pulsing drums. The song has a drum and bass meets hip hop vibe to it. It is in contrast to “For You,” a track that sounds like Pink Floyd has come back to save us all. It is almost a romantic song, minus the children’s talking voices.
Unfortunately, most of the rest of the album loses what made “Jumping Jack” special. “News” is entertaining and has the strongest lyrics on the album but it does not bring the dichotomous sound that other tracks did. “Safety” almost sounds like a Christmas song brought a few months too early. Though grating, it is not dynamic. tUnE-yArDs produces a great song in “Jumping Jack.” The song is so good–in fact– that you should go out and get your hands on it right now. The rest of the album, however, can wait.