MUSIC REVIEWS: MGMT, Lou Bond, Inlets, Javelin, White White Lights, Friday Mile, Smile Smile, Las Rubias del Norte
First things first – let’s just get this out of the way. Imagine you just had the most mind-blowing, earth-shattering, quite possibly drug-enhanced, most freakishly amazing orgasm of your entire life. In fact, you’re still quaking from the grandeur. That, my friends, was Oracular Spectacular. Comparatively speaking, your expectations are pretty high the next time around. Let me be clear though – this analogy is in no way an implication that the boys of MGMT have, um, blown their load. Gross analogies aside, standing on its own, Congratulations is a solid piece of work. Seriously, how can you hate on a band that writes a song murder-mystery theater style and sings about Brian Eno coming to “smite” them? Really, you can’t. Stylistically, Congratulations is more subdued, with hints of ‘60s pop in the chorus of songs like “It’s Working,” “Someone’s Missing,” and the first single, “Flash Delirium.” There are a few instrumental sections in songs like “Lady Dada’s Nightmare,” including bits in the epic, twelve-minute long “Siberian Breaks,” with its distinct movements dripping cohesively into one another. In this album, the focus seems to strike more on the musicality, versus the lyrics, although the band has said that Congratulations was written as a kind of response to their fame via Oracular Spectacular. Expect the same psychedelic trippiness from the first album, sweetened up with more of a pop vibe. Though the songs on this album may take a little longer to grow on you -make no mistake- once they do, you’ll appreciate their subtle nuances just as much as you appreciated the insta-hits of MGMT past.
This self-titled six-track album from Memphis soul/blues singer Lou Bond was released in 1974 and is considered his one and only recording. While Lou Bond shared many similar traits of former 60s soul/folk contemporaries like Bob Dylan, Richie Havens, Isaac Hayes and Bill Withers, his work was oddly and unfortunately lost under the radar.
Bond, whose real name is Ronald Edward Lewis, started out on the early Chess record label and then released this album soon after when switching to Stax Records. Lou Bond contains many tracks that are direct political and social statements, such as “To the Establishment” and “Why Must Our Eyes Always Be Turned Backwards.” Others are more comical and satirical, such as “Come on Snob” and “Lucky Me.” The artist is backed on this album by the likes of The Horns of South Memphis and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra’s string section, who are also both synonymous with anonymity.
Perhaps Bond was too diverse for his time. Many of the tracks sound overproduced in the manner that they sound great on headphones, but decades ago these songs may have turned off vinyl-listeners who simply wanted something catchy to listen to. His lyrics were also often a form of freestyle and were full of humor as well as conviction. For whatever reason, it should not come as a surprise for record store frequenters and vinyl collectors that their fingers, at one time or another, have probably skimmed past a Lou Bond record in one of the many packed crates of vintage music.
One of the many images available of Bond shows him looking like a gypsy-hippie, with an acoustic guitar strung around his back. At a time in America where reflection on war, protest and revolution were prevalent in music, albums like Lou Bond would and should have received more recognition, as Bond’s jazzy sound, political lyrics and unique vocals were strong enough to stand alone. However, much is still unknown about Lou Bond’s artistry, and we should consider ourselves lucky to receive this underestimated release from Stax Records. Bond currently resides in Memphis, Tennessee.
From the moment the album begins it becomes quite clear Inter Arbiter’s purpose is to take the listener on a rather extensive journey. A strain of introductory warm jazz piano oddly warns that familiarity will not be a part of the trip. Sometimes as astounding as watching waves roll in on a warm beach, the lo-fi, organically raw tonal quality of strings and vocals hides the depth of lyrical aptitude. With pure poetic remorse, cerebrally enchanting tones and at times hauntingly attractive instrumentation comprised mostly of acoustic strings, wind instruments and a bit of drum pushes the listener in a plush room of solitude and reflection. “Sunfed Shapes” is wistful and needy while strings roll in like breezes through a curtain decorating a window on a crisp spring day. Old World elegance and understated revelry blow by one like clothes on a laundered line of sundried clothing. At the helm of the group, Inlets, is Wisconsin native, Sebastian Krueger who is now a resident of Brooklyn. His breathy beautiful voice along with the help of several different musicians on the album, Inter Arbiter is elegant and attractive. Moody melodies, rising harmonies, low wind instruments, piano, drums and trombones create a perfectly sown alternative music album that shines as a rare gem.
Wondering what would happen if Radiohead married your favorite dance club album? Look no further than Javelin. Taking one part of traditional drum and bass elements with another part modern indie noise, the album creates a spatial piece of art–if you’re into that sort of thing. I don’t recommend picking up the album if you require lyrics in songs, heavy melody or strong feeling. No Mas *Salt Master is about the passion of sound.
The song on the album that feels most indie is “Shadow Heart,” where lyrics come in the form of sing-a-long melodies. The track dances around with a medieval breakdown towards the middle. The song is actually built around the lyric of “shadow heart.” “Dep” is another solid track on the album, mixing lounge and smooth influences for a sultry song. Seriously, the track might force you to the nearest hookah lounge. For the experimentalist, there’s “Goal/Wide.” The song mixes (literally) different parts and sounds for something that sounds like an OK Computer b-side.
Look to purchase the album if you want to hear something different in your background space or like to see something more organic in your music. Take a pass on this album if you’re looking for something you don’t have to think as hard about.
The White White Lights myspace page says they’re experimental/glam/rock. I guess that’s as good a description as any. No two songs on Medium Head Boy sound that much alike so it’s hard to pin them down. “Space Invaders” is a great opener that grabs you instantly and holds you in place with some really rockin’ riffing. They take the crunchy rock even further on “Heresy.” The stomping rhythms and dark organ bring to mind Wolfmother but the female vocals give it an interesting twist. Then to shake things up they toss in “It’s Cold Here In Japan,” a nice ballad that sounds like a Japanese folk song. The last song, “Devil’s Son,” is probably the most memorable. It’s got that blend of attitude and tension that have made so many other songs before it big hits. At seven minutes it’s far too long but if they edited it down I don’t see why it couldn’t be a hit with its wailing vocals and lead guitars that recall The Strokes. The chorus says, “I can’t get you out of my head” and that is often how I feel about this song. The White White Lights do a lot on this 6 song EP. I wonder what they could do with a full length album.
There is nothing much to say except that Good Luck Studio was not long enough to satisfy my thirst for Friday Mile. I have played this album so much that my car stereo speakers are begging for something new. The heavy guitars and whining vocals are like lullabies for adults. Each song makes room for piano, vocals, guitar or whatever deserves showcasing at the time. Trust me, everything on the album that makes a sound deserves its own slice of time. Vocals dominate a lot of the songs with every right. Hannah Williams is not the lead singer but her voice glows through the record. “FYI” is a song glowing with freedom, declaring independence from a possible significant other. “Autograph” is a cheerful ditty about infidelity that makes it seem like it is all okay. Practically all of the songs are upbeat, even if the lyrics are not. The whole time I was listening I was scratching my head wondering why these songs weren’t at the end of a movie when Rachel McAdams is kissing a long lost love. Probably because of the amount of tears that would come out of it, considering the emotions “Good Luck Studio” can provoke. All I know is that as soon as there is an NYC show for Friday Mile, I’ll be there.
Smile Smile members Ryan Hamilton and Jencey Hirunrusme of Dallas, Texas join together to create a lovely blend of folk, pop and rock music. The re-mastered Blue Roses album is a collection of ten touching ballads centered around themes of romantic breakups and love lost in an endearingly sweet compilation of stories about the end of relationships. Soothing vocals and harmonizing melodies describe the heartbreak of relationships where listeners can get an up-close and intimate look. The album opens with “Anymore” a song about the aftermath of a breakup with lyrics such as “I’ll quit hoping that you’re coming back/Because it’s apparent/ That you’re not/Anymore…”
The songs are a blend of folk pop and indie rock and are both catchy and easy to sing along to. Although the subject matter revolves around relationship endings, the album itself carries a hopeful and wistful tone, honoring the love once shared and inevitably lost. A few standout tracks include “Sad Song” – with its lovely piano and guitar strumming and catchy lyrics. Another notable track is the upbeat and rhythmic “Hope Avenue” and the sweet and folksy “Icy and Cold.” While most of the songs are tender and delicate, “Stranger Across the Street” offers a more upbeat and rockier sound. The re-mastered Blue Roses album is a great place to start if you want to track Smile Smile’s earlier history. The Dallas duet recently released their follow-up album Truth on Tape in February this year on Kirtland Records. Fans of love songs, heartfelt lyrics and beautiful vocals can easily embrace the folksy sound and delightful duo of Smile Smile.
Their third album, one might mistake this band for some sort of Latin Dub act by listening to the first track off Ziguala. But the Brooklyn spawned Las Rubias del Norte proves to be so much more over the forty-five minutes that make up this latest offering. Fronted by a pair of classically trained choir singers, the group’s tracks are influenced by disparate styles from locales across the world: be it the Caribbean, Latin/South America, Spain, Greece or India’s own Bollywood.
Channeling the Latin pop music that ruled the beginning of the 1960s before the advent of rock n roll, Las Rubias create what they envision to be the fusion of that era’s instruments; electric organ, guitar, vibraphone and bass, with the mainstays of Latin music; conga, bongo, cuatro, and marimba.
Overall Ziguala is a very mellow album, the majority of songs taking a measured tempo that brilliantly exhibit the female vocals acting in swaying harmony. This leisurely pace with heavy percussion, continues to evoke this feeling of Latin Dub throughout the album, though the vocals and truly on point musicians are threads that run throughout. One of the tracks that stood out for me was ‘el Alcavaran;’ a wonderful up-tempo piece that showcases the tight guitar work that the entire album exhibits. While the song with the quickest tempo is ‘Mana Janab Ne Pukaara Nahin,’ the Bollywood inspired romp with toe tapping percussion, joyful strings, and electric guitar that does a really grand impression of a citar.
A fun and eclectic album from a local act, Ziguala is lounging and perfect for a sunny weekend morning. Kudos to Las Rubias del Norte for holding down this classic yet entirely modern vibe.