MUSIC REVIEWS: Yeasayer, Title Tracks, Helado Negro, Arc Angels, Bouncing Souls, Githead, Bad Lieutenant
Are you craving the chattering, repetitive keyboards of Michael Sembello’s “Maniac”? Didn’t think so. Do you yearn for the tuned, gated drums of Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone”? Thought not. Are you secretly missing the corporate rock of Mr. Mister, Asia and Toto? God help you if you are. While we’re on the subject of God, let’s all hold hands and say a prayer for Yeasayer, because while their fellow Brooklyn bands are seeking inspiration from the hipper New Wave sounds of Gary Numan, Blondie and The Cure, on their new album Odd Blood, Yeasayer are bringing back the 80’s that nobody in their right mind would ever want to hear again. Gone are the folky, sincere ballads like “Red Cave” and the lo-fi drums and world music nods of “2080” from their debut, All Hour Cymbals. Now it’s “Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto.” This is the music Kurt Cobain was put on earth to destroy.
There’s just one problem. The first five songs are the catchiest you’ll hear this year. It’s hard to believe there’ll be anything that sticks in my head like the first single, “Ambling Alp,” with its fist-pumping message to “Stick up for yourself, son.” I’ve probably played it 40 times already. It ends tonight.
Too bad the next five are such a bummer, filled with paranoia and weird whimpering. Is there a concept here? That all hope must eventually be crushed? That dreams die and love fades away? Maybe. Side one proves Yeasayer know their way around a pop song, so Side two is no accident. But without great songs, all we’re left with is the super-compressed, tighter than a duck’s ass sound we’ve spent decades burying. Let’s hope on the next record, the band brings more yea and less nay.
Here’s an album that’s almost definitely not going to get the appreciation it deserves. These songs are so catchy but the way the music industry is today I know it won’t reach as many people as it should. Title Tracks is just one guy, John Davis (not the one from Korn), who writes all the songs and plays all the instruments. Davis is a musical triple threat in that he’s adept at every instrument, his songwriting is skillful and honest, and he has a real gift for crafting hooks. Songs like “Every Little Bit Hurts,” “Black Bubblegum,” and “Steady Love” get stuck in your head immediately and don’t leave without a fight. Davis is joined by Camera Obscura front woman Tracyanne Campbell for “No, Girl” and a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher than the Rest” which fits in nicely among Davis’s own compositions.
It Was Easy is a pop album but it has a lot to offer. “Hello There” is funky and danceable while parts of “No, Girl” have a reggae feel. Then you have “At Fifteen” which is the album’s standout emotional ballad. Davis handles all these moods and styles with no problem. On It Was Easy he proves that he’s a talent to look out for, and to be reckoned with. If you like catchy pop/rock I urge you to seek this album out. Make Title Tracks a big hit. Prove me wrong.
Spawned from the talent and soul of Roberto Carlos Lange, Helado Negro is a Brooklyn based group that blends a Latin groove with airy experimental ambience.
Having got his start in South Florida, Lange seems to have imbibed the dream-like quality of the beach and sea. Awe Owe as an album has the same ebb and flow of the ocean, with constant rhythms and loops that remind you of steady movement. Helado Negro’s music encompasses various non-instrumental sounds recorded live in Lange’s Brooklyn studio, record samples, aural loops, and a plethora of live instruments; clave, xylophone, clarinet, and nylon string guitar.
A producer for acts like Prefuse 73 and School of Seven Bells, Lange’s arrangement of each song seems wholly organic while remaining orchestral. Indeed his calming voice, truly multi-layered tracks, and easy flow from Latin to Funk to Jazz whilst teasing out dreamy experimental ambience is an exciting product to enjoy. I was amazed at how beautiful aural touchstones were blended into each track to guide a listener.
The opener, “Venceremos” is a fresh breeze, reminding me of the feeling one might have when speeding down a beachside highway on the way to a great party, the top down and the salty air ruffling your hair. Musically, it is the most accessible of the album’s tracks and is supremely poppy, fun, and very Bossa Nova. I was surprised the lyrics weren’t in Portuguese.
“I Wish” on the other hand, presses on like a train. It’s rhythm infectious and propulsive, layer upon layer added as it chugs on, until halfway through all drops out save the beat, as new yet familiar sounds are layered over once more. This song really shows the ability of Helado Negro to use a common thread in their songs to great effect.
On the whole, Awe Owe is a very enjoyable album for those interested in any kind of ambient music and especially those with a taste for Latin flair, airy melodies, and soundscapes created to evoke scenes and feelings. Definitely check this one out.
Living in a Dream is the live CD/DVD release from the blues-rock super group Arc Angels. It consists of thirteen tracks from the band performing live at Stubb’s, a DVD/documentary containing footage of this performance and a bonus disc containing three new studio tracks.
Members Doyle Bramhall II (vocals, guitars,) Chris Layton (drums,) Tommy Shannon (bass) and Charlie Sexton (vocals, guitar) all have had successful careers, aside from the Arc Angels, and this is no understatement.
Before the Arc Angels formed, Sexton had already fronted his own band (who would eventually open up for The Clash) and recorded two successful solo albums by the age of 20. When the Arc Angels temporarily disbanded in 1993, he went on to record with Bob Dylan and produce records of musicians like Lucinda Williams and Edie Brickell. Shannon was a member of Johnny Progressive Blues Experiment, played Woodstock in 1969 an even lent Hendrix a guitar once. Bramhall eventually recorded a self-titled CD in 1996 and toured with Roger Waters in 1999-2001, along with working, recording and touring with Eric Clapton.
However, the essential element tying these three talents together is none other than legendary rock god Stevie Ray Vaughn. Layton and Shannon both eventually became members of Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble, while Bramhall (besides being taught guitar at a young age by Stevie) joined the Fabulous Thunderbirds at age 17 (featuring Jimmie Vaughn- Stevie’s brother.) Sexton was essentially baby-sat and taken under Stevie’s wing as a child.
When Stevie passed in 1990, it just so happened these four talented musicians were back in Texas, and in a twist of fate, decided to form a band together. After disbanding in 1993, they decided to give it a go again in 2009.
Essentially, the Arc Angels is a group of extremely talented and influential musicians, who managed to maintain a loyal fan base and consistently sell out shows, despite the fact that they only recorded one album. This DVD was created to officially document the magic created by these musicians when they’re on stage.
Favorite tracks include “Good Time,” where the band asks the audience if they’re “ready to get funky,” the seven minute long, thundering guitar-jam “She’s Alright” and the album’s title track, which could easily be the band’s best. The bonus disc contains new, worthwhile studio tracks, including a cover of Paul McCartney’s “Too Many People.”
The DVD, which also contains interview footage, was directed by Kyle Ellison and produced by Mark Proct and Charlie Boswell.
New Brunswick New Jersey’s own Bouncing Souls return celebrating their 20th anniversary, with their long awaited Ghosts of The Boardwalk their first full length release in over three years, and the first not to be released on Epitaph Records since ’95s Maniacal Laughter.
Ghosts of The Boardwalk is another raucous jaunt of pop sensibilities and hijinx. Transporting fans to the boardwalks’ of New Jersey with catchy songs for fans to get their “pogo” on and bring the spring back to their steps. This record covers all the bases from the fast paced, mosh pit approved track”Badass” to the bouncy, upbeat tunes “I Think That The World..” and “Never Say Die/When You’re Young” to the more pop friendly songs “Big Eyes” and “Like the Sun,” this record is sure to please all punk music enthusiasts and definitely has something for everyone.
It’s been a twenty year journey for the Bouncing Souls and this album marks another chapter in the Bouncing Souls story. It is sure to please and worth checking out for fans both old and new.
Githead could easily be labeled as a super group, with its four members each belonging to separate, successful musical entities. Max Franken (drums) and Malka Spigel (bass, vocals) were each members of Minimal Compact, while Colin Newman (vocals, guitar) belonged to Wire and Robin Rimbaud (guitar, vocals) a member of Scanner.
Initially many critics were skeptical that these four musicians could come together and create a sound unique to what each has already done musically. Their 2004 pop-rock EP Headgit positively surprised many, while debut album Profile and second album Art Pop received successful reviews as well. Their third album, Landing, continues to prove that Githead can create distinguished songs which form a satisfyingly consummate album, and do so without sounding like a copycat of former bands.
Landing consists of tracks that interweave smoothly, from opening song “Faster,” which is instrumental but filled with a pulsating guitar and bass line that appropriately accompany the song’s title, to concluding track “Transmission Tower,” which starts out slow with soothing vocals, only to break into a heavier solo.
If no vocals were present, the album in its entirety would have reminded me of something the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mogwai or The Cult had created, essentially due to the electric combination of Newman and Rimbaud’s guitar and Spigel’s bass. However, Colin Newman’s distorted vocals are what make the songs stand apart, and as a whole, the album is experimental ambience at its finest. Essentially, Landing is in the vein of Kraut-rock, in that you can rock out to it without having to actually move any parts of your body.
Sad to say that there’s not much that can be said about Bad Lieutenant. In fact, I knew exactly what it was going to sound like before hearing it. Think of the most recent albums by the likes of New Order, U2, or Echo & the Bunnymen (to name a few) that exemplify a trend continued with Never Cry Another Tear.
It’s a formula that so many have followed to a T: seminal XYZ-genre artist returns with a “mature” new album that eschews the edge and creativity that made them good in the first place for some strictly mid-tempo, unadventurous guitar pop.
Bad Lieutenant is led by former New Order frontman Bernard Sumner (with contributions from former NO drummer Stephen Morris and Blur’s Alex James). And, no surprise, the group delivers an album of mostly bland Britpop that does little to distinguish itself from track to track. Song structures and instrumentation are relatively the same throughout, with electric and acoustic guitars upfront, and some synths providing mostly peripheral window dressing. Lest I forget Sumner’s voice, which was never great, but in the past was well at home in the contexts of his former bands.
It’s not an outright terrible album by any stretch – a few tracks are at least set apart by able-voiced guitarist Jake Evans’ lead vocals, and there’s plenty of fine musical touches throughout, as on “Summer Days” and “This is Home,” which boast wispy, dreamy choruses that stand out in an album already full of wispy, dreamy choruses. The former track also boasts jabby rhythm guitars and processed, panning vocals.
Overall though, I’m left with the sad reminder that as long as there are legacies to live off of, plenty of our favorite musicians will continue making music long after they’ve run out of ideas or perhaps even the desire to do anything exciting or more than just “good enough.”