MUSIC REVIEWS: The Black Hollies, Boys Like Girls, Fun, Pax Nicholas, Father Murphy, Modernboys Moderngirls, Bill Engvall, Kurt Vile

The Black Hollies
Softly Towards the Light
(Ernest Jenning Records)

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Softly Towards the Light is the third release from The Black Hollies, and it’s arguably their best yet. Nicholas Ferrante (drums,) Jon Gonnelli (guitar, vocals,) Justin Angelo Morey (vocals, bass) and Herbert Joseph Wiley V (guitar, vocals) make up this psychedelic-pop quartet, who happens to be from Jersey City, NJ. (This album was also recorded in Hoboken’s Pigeon Club!)

At first listen, I almost confused The Black Hollies with 60s rock group, The Hollies (“Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress”) Soon I came to my senses, however, and realized what I was hearing most closely resembled bands like The Zombies, The Yardbirds and The Who, (in their early years.)

The album opens up with “Run with me Run;” the perfect energetically-winding, organ-filled opener. “Gloomy Monday Morning” is a catchy tune of young lust, while “Everything’s Fine” has a bluesy, Jesus and Mary Chain-type feel. “Lead Me to Your Fire” revs up the engine once more with its fervent guitar solos, while “How Did We Get Here” will surely remind you of John Lennon’s solo work.

The album concludes on a jangly, upbeat note with “Don’t Be Afraid to Ask,” and the highlight of this song could easily be found at 2:30 when Ferrante does a drum solo. Indeed, with Softly Towards the Light, The Black Hollies produced a time machine filled with pop hooks and garage rock that will surely make any fan of the 60s era reminisce. We are definitely lucky to have them now. For more from The Black Hollies firsthand, check their MySpace.

Lucy Tonic

Boys Like Girls
Love Drunk

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If you were a fan of Boys Like Girls self-titled debut, their new album Love Drunk is not the right album for you. Catering to a more niche pop-punk scene, Love Drunk indulges the bands most passionate fans while neglecting those who are a fan of the band’s singles.

With that being said, the album is enjoyable and strong for the band and for those who find themselves a fan of their new sound. “She’s Got A Boyfriend Now” indulges in a more electronic vibe than the band had prior. The song brings reference to band’s like hellogoodbye and Metro Station. “Heart Heart Heartbreak” is another standout track on the album featuring an 80’s vibe and lyrics reminiscent of Bon Jovi. In fact, the song feels like many of Bon Jovi’s hits. One of the albums most overlooked songs, “Someone Like You” is perhaps the sweetest song the band has written. Indulging in the vibe of a live show, the song makes listeners want to raise their lighters into the sky. The albums title track “Love Drunk” is perhaps the most memorable song on the album as it will remind older fans of “The Great Escape.”

For fans of the band prior to this album, you may want to stream a few tracks before dedicating yourself to a purchase. For fans of the newer material, the album is likely to keep you coming back for more.

Tania Katherine

Aim and Ignite

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Coming in at #71 on Billboard’s Top 200, Fun has made quite the splash in a very short amount of time. Formed less than a year ago, the three gentlemen, Nate Ruess, Andrew Dost, and Jack Antonoff have given us the 2009 feel-good album of the year. Their smart use of numerous instruments, and inventive hooks make the album danceable (sort of), singable (sort of, it’s always hard to keep up with Ruess) and completely and utterly enjoyable.

This is the album that is in constant rotation on my ipod, and I find something new in the songs each time I listen to it. The best thing about the album might perhaps be that you actually can relate to each song, because Ruess writes such down-to-earth lyrics, and Antonoff and Dost are the ideal complement in terms of their musical visions. They all seem to share a love of retro-pop music, and you can hear the influence of each of their past bands, not to mention bands such as Jellyfish, whose own Roger Manning Jr. arranged several songs on Aim and Ignite (genius move by all of them).

They have successfully intertwined 80s pop and modern rock to create quirky ballads, cheerful love songs, and epic moments of pure…fun. They have a boyish enthusiasm which somehow seeps through your headphones and causes you to unintentionally bust out dance moves in the middle of the street. Trust me, I have done. Aim and Ignite would be my choice for Debut Album of the Year (if I really had that power), but for now I can settle for dancing alone in the streets and hoping someone will ask what I’m listening to. I <3 Fun. Marissa!

Pax Nicholas and the Nettey Family
Na Teef Know De Road of Teef
(Daptone Records)

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Na Teef Know De Road of Teef, the previously unreleased album from Pax Nicholas and the Nettey Family, is a seriously funky slice of afro-funk recorded in Lagos at the height of afrobeat’s summit. Nicholas Addo-Nettey performed and recorded with Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Afrika 70 as a conga player and backup singer from 1971 until 1978 debuting on Shakara and leaving the band during the Berlin Jazz Festival along with Tony Allen and several others. While Allen moved to Paris, Nicholas stayed in Berlin where he continues to make funky music today.

Na Teef Know De Road of Teef was recorded at Ginger Baker’s studio in Lagos, Nigeria in 1973, one of two solo albums Nicholas recorded while with Afrika 70. The album previously went unreleased at the behest of Fela who upon hearing how uncontrollably nasty the album was, forbade it to be played again. As Nicholas was currently living under Fela’s rule in the Kalakuta Republic, he had no choice but to obey. As a result the album was virtually unheard until Frank Gossner (voodoofunk.com) discovered it in a record store in Philly. He brought it to the attention of Daptone Records who gave the world a gift of extreme afro-funk flavor.

This album is heavy. As a percussionist, Nicholas emphasizes a rich texture of interlocking percussion that takes on the identity of the tracks. Nicholas’ voice is melancholy and gloomy which matches the keyboards and guitar lines have an underproduced raw feel. Na Teef Know De Road of Teef represents the craze James Brown unleashed across West Africa and the legions of musicians who were enraptured by the funky interpretation Africa had to offer. Pax Nicholas and the Nettey Family is a cut above the vast majority to come out of the afro-funk wave. Nicholas and the other musicians playing on the album had the pedigree of Afrika 70, the band able to put the most unique stamp on afro-funk, and their musicianship and attitude is evident.

Marc Amigone

Father Murphy
…And He Told us to Turn to the Sun
(Aagoo Records)

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Don’t mind me, just going to pop Father Murphy’s new release …And He Told us to Turn to the Sun into my cd player.

Ok, I can’t listen to this…

What? I have to listen to the whole thing? Dear God, no!

Well, if I must.

This is the worst album I’ve heard in my life; It’s Avant Garde minimalism at its worst. The band planks a few depressing notes on the piano here and there while mumbling some barely comprehensible lyrics. This describes EVERY SONG on the album, without fail. It doesn’t help their cause that they picked the worst possible song titles also.

But you can’t judge a song purely by it’s title! When the songs are this bad, sure I can. It’s like a rancid cherry on top of melted ice cream left in the sun for eight days. Here are two winners for atrocious titles- “So Now You Have To Choose Between My Two (Black) Lungs.” ugh. The only good thing about “I Ran Out of Fuel and a Viper Just Bit Me” is that it reminded me of the soon to be cult classic film Snakes on a Plane, but I do not think that was the band’s intention. (What I do think their intention to do is to annoy the general public with this album.) Also incredibly pretentious titles while being amelodic in a bad way are “We Were Colonists” and “I Sob No More Rage.” Way to give your songs titles that sound like jam poetry b-sides there guys. Avoid at all costs.

Michael Adler

Modernboys Moderngirls
I Might As Well Break It
(MBMG/Fontana North)

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Here’s what I was able to find out about Modernboys Moderngirls: they are Canadian, that’s the only country their album has been released in, and there are no actual girls in the band. People in the States can buy the album digitally if they so desire. For some, it might be worth it. For many others I’m sure it won’t be. What can I say about this album? It’s decent. It isn’t crap but it isn’t particularly exciting either. According to the band, they are a blend of punk and soul. This isn’t exactly right but I don’t know how to get closer to the truth. The music is upbeat for sure and Akira Alemany’s breathless growl does closely approximate that of Tom Gabel from Against Me!. That’s about as far as the punk part goes. They make good use of organs and tambourines but that’s about as far as the soul part goes. Mostly they are just a pop/rock band who’s music is pretty catchy but not catchy enough to really break into the mainstream. The best song by far “My Baby Says Boys, Don’t You Ever Go.” If there is a single on this album than surely this is it. Otherwise the songs are, you know, pleasant enough but nothing special. I’m not trying to give I Might As Well Break It a bad review. It isn’t a bad album by any means. There just wasn’t much here that I connected with. Maybe it’ll be different for you, I don’t know.

Jonathan Zuckerman

Bill Engvall
Aged and Confused
(Warner Bros.)

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I want to like Bill Engvall’s new CD Aged and Confused but I can’t- because I heard it, then I fell asleep (3 times actually) while listening to it. The Blue Collar Comedy alumnus has grown old and unfortunately boring and now he sounds like my girlfriend’s dad who tells pretty much the same stories that are featured on the CD and it’s sad.

The good news is that Bill is probably very rich and people will come see him perform regardless of how quickly the new CD puts them to sleep, it actually may be a blessing in disguise because it’s healthier than Ambien. The comic begins his set talking about how he doesn’t understand why people do the things they do and then mentions a few examples from the news and it’s a bit like watching The Soup or The Daily Show if they replaced their comedy writers with Mr. Shlintz’s 7th grade math class study group.

It’s not that it’s terrible comedy, but we’ve all heard it before and it’s been done better. There is an endless routine about going to the doctor for a colonoscopy and surprise, she’s an attractive woman- we’ve all heard the jokes (I even gave my girlfriend’s dad a homemade card about losing his anal virginity when we picked him up afterwards). The CD is a snoozer but at least this failure isn’t as bad as starring in C.H.U.D. right?

Tim Needles

Kurt Vile
Childish Prodigy
(Matador Records)

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Philadelphia’s self-proclaimed “constant hitmaker,” Kurt Vile, makes his Matador debut with the presumably tongue-in-cheekily entitled Childish Prodigy, which expands on his established lo-fi psych-folk repertoire while straddling the divide between ethereal, let’s-just-chill-right-here-for-a-while blues and urgent, let’s-get-out-of-here, mass appeal American singer-songwriter rock in the vein of Springsteen and Petty. Whether forging expansive psychedelic atmospheres through heavily reverberant harmonica, as on “Inside Lookin’ Out,” or updating The Boss for the post-sincerity crowd on tracks like “Freak Train,” Vile consistently reaches beyond the primarily acoustic, more bare-boned sounds of previous efforts. He eschews more traditional progressions and attacks his lyrics with a guttural growl that is intuitive rather than in accordance with any easily anticipated musical structure; his ability to incorporate modern, independent approaches into a classic rock aesthetic is immediately engaging and impressively effective. Highlights include a newly recorded version of his tune “Hunchback,” and the wispy, somber “He’s Alright.”

Toney Palumbo

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