MUSIC REVIEWS: Foo Fighters, The Flaming Lips, Slayer, Maps, Wolfmother, Snow Patrol, Devendra Banhart

Foo Fighters
Greatest Hits

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It’s hard to believe that it has been fourteen years since Dave Grohl first stepped out from behind his Nirvana drumkit and unleashed his own mega-successful band, Foo Fighters. Although his previous band came to a sudden, tragic end, Grohl has managed since then to carry on by pumping out loads of quality material under the Foo Fighters moniker as well as with several side projects. The “loudest drummer in the world” has now become one of the most respected musicians of his time and highly sought after in the music industry for collaborative purposes.

So, now that a Greatest Hits collection has been assembled to commemorate the Foo’s career up to this point, what I want to know is, where are the songs that started it all? Neither “Exhausted” (the FF’s first official single) nor “I’ll Stick Around” (their first video) are included in this collection. Don’t start panicking though, there’s plenty of good stuff here. Other gems that are present include “Everlong” (including an additional solo acoustic version), “Big Me,” “Learn To Fly,” “My Hero,” “Monkey Wrench,” “Best Of You,” and “Times Like These.”

Also included are two previously unreleased tracks, “Wheels” and “Word Forward,” which were produced by Butch Vig, the man behind Nirvana’s monumental classic, Nevermind. Now, I’ve never been a fan of when artists include new tunes on a Greatest Hits collection, because generally a new song has no business in the midst of classic compositions. However, there have been occasional previously unreleased tracks that have risen to the occasion. Unfortunately, I felt this wasn’t the case with these two new tracks. Though not completely without merit (let’s face it, everything Dave Grohl touches turns to gold) I would have preferred for these two spots to be taken by actual hits from previous FF albums. It’s still a great compilation though, that should more than satisfy the casual Foo Fighters fan.

E. Grey

The Flaming Lips
(Warner Bros)

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I don’t have to explain the reasons why The Flaming Lips have a huge and dedicated fan base. By far, they remain one of the most unique, eccentric and talented acts out there. For those skeptical of their newest release, let me remind you that this album is not The Soft Bulletin or Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots; Embryonic is an edgy, dark body of music that twists and pulls your auditory senses in a million different directions at once.

“Convinced of the Hex” is an extraordinary opening track, with a pulsing bass line that immediately puts the listener in a mesmerizing, tantric sway. “Evil” and “If” are the haunting, spaced out ballads of this album; the latter song being a response to the first regarding the issue of good vs. evil (and sung by Steven.)

Darkly heavy, bass-driven and dirge-like, “See the Leaves” is an amazing track about death and dying, while “Powerless” is a bluesy, jazz track with a creepy New Orleans-inspired tone and an excellent guitar solo. After the intense “Scorpio Sword” and “Worm Mountain” (featuring MGMT) is “The Impulse;” a sensually mellow track with fitting vocal distortion.

Embryonic does not stop there, however, coming back full force with “Silver Trembling Hands.” This track is my favorite, chugging along at full speed until it drops you into bliss: “She forgets about the fear when she’s high…” Instead of closing the album with the somber “Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast,” (which signals the journey’s end – or rather its beginning), the band decides to leave you in an appropriately frenzied whirl with “Watching the Planets” (featuring Karen O).

I could describe this album as vintage Floyd meets Bowie’s Space Oddity in The Outer Limits. But it’s most definitely not. It’s The Flaming Lips. The guys took a risk with Embryonic, and I think the results are fantastic. (I’m not alone either; for the first time in the band’s career of 26 years, they landed their first top 10 album on the Billboard Top 200 Charts with Embryonic. Congrats!).
If you’re still not convinced, check out The Lips on tour in 2010. I guarantee your mind will change.

Lucy Tonic

World Painted Blood

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Put on your seat belts, Slayer is at it again. From the first blistering rhythm guitar of the opener and title track, through the chunk of “Snuff” where “murder is my future” is the repeated sentiment, to the rolling “Beauty Through Order” (one of the better vocal and nuance drums performances on World Painted Blood) Slayer never lets up once they get you.

Lots of this CD sounds the same, but that’s the thing with a band like Slayer, you give over to the assault and let it give you a neck ache as you thrash and don’t read the lyrics too close. There’s some interesting changes in “Hate Worldwide,” a neat ‘trilly’ (the only way I can describe it) guitar sound on “Public Display Of Dismemberment” (shit, Dave Lombardo can play drums huh?) with a speedup under the guitar lead that’s frightening! A groove (dare I even think it) to “Human Stain” with a single note guitar/talking-vocal bridge section that gives over to the most epic moment on the CD.

“Americon” sees the boys playing at their tightest here, a really good heavy metal commercial attempt. I love the screaming of “Americon” …this is a great great tune and “Playing With Dolls” is quiet (well ‘quieter’) with a real sense of purpose and the best lyric on the whole album, plus an almost annoying single note opening…good stuff to!

What to make of all this blistering meanness? Hell it’s just another Slayer album. Well worth the wait every time.

Ralph Greco, Jr.

Turning the Mind

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Maps is a one man band consisting of Englishman James Chapman, and Turning the Mind is a solid sophomore effort to his debut album, We can Create. Chapman writes, produces, and sings his songs using synthesizer and looping. The new album explores a wider range of sounds than the first and the heavy use of synthesizer does well to compliment Chapman’s dreamy harmonies, which create a sound that is categorized as a combination of shoegazing, symphonic indie rock, and electronica. Turning the Mind starts with the albums title track. The song starts slow but builds and crescendos into a beautiful and familiar type of Chapman song. Songs “Let Go of the Fear” and “Love will Come” depart from Chapman’s traditional sound, using more of a harder beat and taking a techno/electronica turn, sounding like something you would hear in a club. Check out my favorite songs on the album “Everything is Shattering,” “Nothing,” and “Valium in the Sunshine.” Turning the Mind shows evolution by Chapman who successfully explores the boundaries of his own sound, while maintaining everything that was good in the first album, making this effort a great CD that both old Maps fans and new fans alike should equally enjoy.

Paul Kim

Cosmic Egg

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For the past two weeks, I’ve been having Cosmic Egg for breakfast–the latest delectable from Australia’s rock group Wolfmother. Originally a trio, the band broke apart (read: creative differences) and re-invented itself under the guidance of Andrew Stockdale, the group’s original guitarist/vocalist. Hatched in January 2009, Stockdale assembled a new four-man band to bring his brand of bluesrock to life. Named after a yoga pose that tickled Stockdale’s fancy, Cosmic Egg is a 12-course meal that jolts harder than any cuppa joe. Replete with riff-driven tunes and a healthy dose of 60s psychedelia, songs like “In the Morning” recall a time when the Counterculture meant much more than the ironic haircuts and skinny jeans of today. Still, you can expect the expected from this band–often ridiculed for its mirror-visage to rock heavies like Led Zepplin and Steppenwolf–as each savory track includes the requisite guitar shred-session smackdab in the center. Fresh and playful, Wolfmother drops a couple surprises like the tastefully delicate piano accompaniment throughout “Sundial” and at the end “Far Away” for a grandiose finish. Overall, the album is easy listening for a new generation hungry for vintage metal.

Nicole Velasco

Snow Patrol
Up to Now
(Polydor Records)

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Up to Now is a two-disc album that spans the fifteen-year career thus far of Snow Patrol, one of today’s most influential bands.These Scottish rockers have indeed made a name for themselves, creating five albums and selling over ten million copies with the last three.

While it would be easy to label this album a “greatest hits,” it’s important to note that the track selection here allows it not to be. Indeed, Up to Now contains several singles, radio-friendly hits and generally popular songs; however, it also contains tracks from the band’s earlier albums, before they hit commercial success. Says vocalist Gary Lightbody, “We climbed a hill and now we’re looking back and taking in the view for a bit. It’s nice to show people that we didn’t just arrive overnight.”

Disc one opens up with two of the band’s biggest hits to date, “Chocolate” and “Chasing Cars,” while “Crazy in Love” is an interesting cover of the Beyonce original that fans will surely appreciate being included on this compilation. Personally my favorite tracks were the melodic “Making Enemies,” the rocking “Hands Open” and the lullaby “Cartwheels,” which was actually performed by Gary Lightbody’s side project, The Reindeer Section.

Disc two contains a live version of “Chasing Cars,” (from Union Chapel) which is severely dogmatic in comparison to the original. A solo rendition of “An Olive Grove Facing the Sea” is worth the listen, along with “Fifteen Minutes Old,” a song off of 1998’s Songs for Polar Bears that sounds more like Sunny Day Real Estate than Snow Patrol, but in a good way.

The three new tracks the album offers, (“Just Say Yes,” “Give Me Strength,” and “Dark Roman Wine”) seem very gospel and opera-like, which isn’t my style, but perhaps this new sound will draw a new crowd to Snow Patrol’s work. I was surprised this album didn’t contain “How to be Dead,” or my personal favorites, “Somewhere a Clock is Ticking” and “Same.” However, the band was indeed wise in not labeling this a “Best Of” collection, and I think new and old fans alike will come to appreciate this album in time.

Lucy Tonic

Devendra Banhart
What Will We Be
(Warner Bros.)

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If you know Devendra Banhart you probably know him as a weirdo hippie folk singer. Well, you’re not wrong but on What Will We Be he proves he’s capable of a lot more. There’s enough good weirdo hippie folk here for the old fans but there are also plenty of surprises. “Baby” is catchy-as-hell soul, “Foolin’” is pitch-perfect reggae, and “Rats” is straight up blues rock with some nasty riffing. These unusual experiments are also some of What Will We Be’s best songs. Then he brings out a drum machine for “16th & Valencia Roxy Music” which sounds kind of like- take a guess. Again, it’s great. Nothing feels out of place on this album.

One of the biggest standouts though is “Chin Chin & Muck Muck.” Coming at the approximate halfway point of the album, it begins as a lounge jazz song and somehow transforms into Banhart’s more common brand of freak-folk. Then just when you least expect it he throws in a bridge that features crooning like you’ve never heard before on his records. All the while the lyrics are totally far out, with lines about “vulpinous vultures” and “braiding exotic birds in your hair.” Banhart doesn’t need to constantly experiment though to make great music. “First Song For B” and “Brindo” are two of the simplest songs here and also two of the prettiest. If you’re already a fan, a song like the Spanish-language “Brindo” will remind you why. Meanwhile something like “Rats” or “16th & Valencia Roxy Music” could easily bring in totally new fans.

What Will We Be comes with a booklet of lyrics and original art that’s a lot of fun to flip through and may make it worth your while to actually buy the thing. In a way, the pictures in the booklet sum up the music on the album. It’s kind of weird and diverse but it’s all pretty beautiful and somehow it all fits.

Jonathan Zuckerman

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