Album Reviews

Ode to Songs from Leonard Cohen
November 11, 2016 2:10 pm

In the days since we’ve begun grieving over the results of the 2016 Presidential election, it’s a wonder if this year is worth it altogether. Various news outlets confirmed on November 10 that Canadian music legend Leonard Cohen had died at age of 82, leaving behind family, friends and his latest album, October’s “You Want It Darker“.

Leonard Cohen You Want It Darker

His deep, rugged vocals and a beautifully realized heaviness to delivery adds depths with a sludgy and distilled aftermath on his final work.

Cohen was an inspiration for many artists and it’s easy to hear this influence in artists like Jeff Buckley and Josh Ritter. His infamous song “Hallelujah” has been covered by music’s biggest names at least once in their careers. Cohen’s musical themes range from religion to sex and one can turn to many of his songs in French for a beautiful spin on things. His artistry and talent made him Canada’s equivalent to Bob Dylan or Paul Simon, but with the experimental off the cuff of Tom Waits.

Cohen possessed an impressive catalog outside of “Hallelujah”. His debut album “Songs from Leonard Cohen” was released in 1967 and released shortly after was “Songs from a Room” in 1969, featuring the beautiful “Bird on a Wire“. These are two greatly influential albums for me, although I loved to see him progress to the force he became at the end of an eighteen album run. I love the minimalist style he kept throughout those albums and consider them my keepsakes.

 

Cohen was also known for his poetry and the otherworldly way he crafted language. I imagine a lot of it had to do with his open mind and vast love for experiencing the world. In 1992 he released “The Future”, an album with a dark political tone; I wonder if Cohen knew something we didn’t. Lyrics like “I’ve seen the future brother: it is murder” shows that he didn’t just write songs and poems without thought; he wrote in a way that highlighted his eloquent coordination of words.

In a 2014 interview with Q Magazine, he explained how “Canadians are very involved in our country. We are on the edge of America and we watch America the way women watch men,” before pausing with perfect comic timing and stating “Very, very carefully! So when there’s this continual cultural and political challenge right on the edge of your lives, it develops a sense of solidarity. So yes, it is a very important element in my life.”

America has watched Leonard Cohen “like women watch men”, evident in our own Bob Dylan. It is these types of artists with blind aesthetic brilliance that we savor and hold to elucidate our own lives and trials. We will miss you Leonard; you were a Beast of a lyricist and a lover of all things. Thank you for your legacy.

 

EXPRESS YOUR PINEAPPLE: REMINISCING THE SOUNDTRACK
October 28, 2016 4:20 am

So, here’s the thing. I’m supposed to write a serious music review, and I totally could, except it’s 2AM on a Friday and I’m watching Pineapple Express on TNT (We Know Drama). I should really be sleeping. That’s what a sensible person would be doing. They’d be sleeping there all numbly-bumbly thinking how sweet it is being asleep safe and sound right as rain, all cozied up gaining valuable, usable energy for the strenuous day that may or may not be ahead of them, I don’t know, I don’t know who we’re talking about. But I cherish that thought, that sleepy paradise. I want it so bad. Dammit if I could only just produce some content first lickety split. And also dammit because this is a great movie. I will, without a doubt, watch this entire thing right now instead of sleeping. Can’t leave Dale and Saul hanging.

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This soundtrack too though, this is a work of art. This is the real winner, all the way through til the end. This is a content goldmine staring me square in the face screaming “Hey what’s up let me just turn your whole world upside down for a second here thanks.” I’ve been thinking about this all wrong, what am I doing?! Well I guess about to review this movie soundtrack, that’s what I’m doing. Buckle up.

Okay first we have Paper Planes, duh. Gotta be first on the list. M.I.A. blew up that year, not saying all because of this movie, but hey I’m not saying otherwise neither. That was a great year for everybody. Stay woke. The song isn’t actually in the movie, but I mean everyone remembers that trailer, right? Fuck this is a good movie.

The real headliner is Electric Avenue from Dale’s sweet opening “you’ve been served” montage. Instant classic. The scene, not the song. It’s an old song. Eddy Grant was already “classic.” But the movie really brought him to the forefront, at least for me, and I’ll always be thankful for that. We need to focus on the good things in life. “Out in the streets!” That’s what he says in the song, and it’s pretty good, because it’s a song about a street. Pure genius.

Next up is the most dopety-dope song ever, and by “next” I don’t mean chronologically next, but rather in terms of my vaunted quality-assessment hierarchy, determined through my capacity as self-proclaimed official movie-soundtrack reviewer. I’m talking of course about Poison by Bel Biv Devoe, and if you don’t know that then you don’t know jack. Wake up. Your world is not as it seems. What a seriously good song, mad props to Pineapple Express. They really nailed it with this whole soundtrack. Jeez Louise!

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Uh oh, look out, we got a piping hot track coming fresh out the oven–Public Enemy‘s Lost At Birth. I like this scene because he says “melon farmers,” which is what they say instead of motherfuckers on TNT (We Know Drama). You’re not allowed to swear on television. Wow, Public Enemy really ties this whole scene together. Somebody did their job real good when they picked that song for this scene. What a sick nasty awesome so fucking sick movie soundtrack.

Damn there’s a lotta reggae on this mix. Wanted Dread and Alive (see what they did there? With the dread?! Cuz they have dreads!), a Bob Marley deep cut (well obviously), a reeeal laid-back Ring Of Fire cover (like Johnny Cash but way chiller). See, the movie is named after a kind of marijuana from the movie, and there’s a lot of people who sometimes associate reggae music with marijuana usage for some reason. So when a movie gets made about a hairy Mary Jane strain, they’re gonna mix up a little reggae in there. That’s just the world we live in. We didn’t choose it, we were born into it. Forced from the warmths of prebirth out into the cruel, unforgiving hellscape we inhabit every waking hour of our lives. I mean it’s just monstrous out here.

Well, that’s all the time we have for today. The movie is over so I’ve now fully exhausted my content resource. Thanks to all who participated, especially you still reading this and also the good people over at TNT (We Know Drama). Let it be known that this is a can’t-miss, won’t-disappoint, doesn’t-even-flinch-as-it-knocks-you-out-of-your-socks kinda flick, and if you haven’t seen it, well why did you read this entire review of a soundtrack for a movie you’ve never seen? Yeah, that’s what I thought, you’ve definitely seen Pineapple Express. It has a pretty awesome soundtrack. I know, right? Cool, glad we’re on the same page. Let’s be sure to always stay positive in the face of any near-universal suffering we might encounter on a regular basis. Okay bye!

SAY YES! AN ELLIOTT SMITH TRIBUTE
October 25, 2016 9:49 am

It’s been thirteen long years since Elliott Smith took his own life on October 21st,e 2003. He battled demons a majority of his short life and his music brought so many people the harsh reality of that struggle into the words we could tangibly use to forget our own aches for a few moments, or for an entire album. In my opinion he is one of the most underrated geniuses in modern music.

A group of other musicians apparently felt the same way when they decided to get together and create a tribute album for Smith titled Say Yes! as released by American Laundromat Records. It features bands such as Yuck, Waxatachee and artists like J. Mascis and Julien Baker. A wide array of sludgy rock to intensely acoustic indie artists. I think my favorite from the album is the Yuck version of “Bled White, which is also an all time favorite Elliott song of mine.

I’ve personally covered one Smith song during a live performance “The Biggest Lie”. While I enjoyed singing my heart out, Elliott’s songs are a force to be reckoned with. A tantrum of eloquence and equally as dark currents raging inside of a drowning man. It’s nearly impossible to recreate the feelings Smith captured in his music.

Honestly, I was pretty giddy at first and while I wholeheartedly appreciate these artists showing their influence by Smith, it was almost a little hard to hear the songs without Elliott. The fact that 13 years after I find him, he is no longer putting out new material is a heart wrenching realization for me. There just isn’t a way for other artists to recreate something so personal, and the despair he felt daily triggered the wild agony in his songs. These things made them what they are, and it is a travesty to deny that.

However, these songs are a tribute and we can not look into them as if Elliott is there, but more so that he was inspiration to them.

Songs you can find on this album include but are not limited to, “Waltz #2 done by J. Mascis, “Easy way out” done by Wild Sun, and “Division Day done by Lou Barlow. Yuck’s upbeat version of “Bled White” got me pretty pumped up for the album as the first song I heard with its punchy drums and rock version of a song always adored. In J. Mascis’ version of Waltz #2, he seemingly chose specific parts of the song to use, and it’s very eerily pasted together with slow vocals and droning guitar and drums, at first I wasn’t even sure it was the same song.

We may have lost a very valuable and pivotal force in indie, acoustic and rock and roll music thirteen years ago, but his music transcends time and is not fleeting by any means of the word. Elliott had an unwavering ability to create classic music that would punch you in the gut every time you listen. There is no simplicity, paper thin vocals, shuttering harmonies, both clean and distorted guitar riffs in all the right places, so much Beatles influence you’ll be humming “The Two of Us” or “Helter Skelter” without even knowing why after checking out Figure 8 or From a Basement on a Hill.

Take a listen to this new tribute album, and if you haven’t yet listen to Elliott’s albums front to back in memory of 13 years without him in the physical realm, go and do that too. He’s always here in the musical realm, hats off to you Elliott Smith.

 

THE BLACK PARADE IS BACK IN A NEW WAY
October 19, 2016 11:23 am

“When I was a young boy, my father took me to the city, to see a marching band…”

This line of lyric is so universally known by the rock world that no one can hear this song and not feel some strong attachment to it. My Chemical Romance‘s immersive album The Black Parade was part epic, part tragedy filled with soaring highs and wallowing lows. Rock Sound magazine is celebrating the 10th anniversary of this legendary album with the story of the creation and life of The Black Parade and an incredible amount of content.

9390352-368-k802450A decade is a long time, in 2006, the Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii came out, Casino Royal and Cars debuted, Justin Timberlake was bringing “Sexyback, Shakira’s hips didn’t lie and Daniel Powter was still having his bad days. This was a year of strong movement in pop culture and punk rock was being redefined. My Chemical Romance way making one of the biggest movements because of their raw style of music, fashion and tone in their genre defining The Black Parade.

Rock Sound’s October edition is an essential for any punk, emo, rock or ska fan. There is a beautifully told story of MCR’s creative process of The Black Parade and its life and impact it had on the band. It is filled with a lot of funny small stories and interesting insights on why the band took a break and how they dealt with all of these changes.

However, the part of this edition that seems more interesting and gripping is the cover album that accompanies the issue. Rock Sound gathered a grand collection of artists deep in the indie rock world to cover each song on The Black Parade giving each track new life while saluting them with praise and honor at the same time. From Escape the Fate‘s similar and powerful rendition of “Dead!” to Twenty One Pilot‘s heart breaking performance of Cancer and Against the Current‘s different take on Teenagers, this album brings new life to The Black Parade while reminding you how truly amazing this album was and still is.

I would recommend anyone and everyone who is a fan of MCR, The Black Parade, punk, rock, indie, ska, heavy metal or good music in general to pick up this epic issue of Rock Sound with the additional tribute album. MCR is also celebrating this 10th anniversary with a special deluxe edition that any fan NEEDS to get, you can’t miss this. The Black Parade is amazing in both forms and may their music and memory carry on.

BRAVE BABY BECOMES OUR NEW ELECTRIC FRIENDS
October 18, 2016 9:41 am

Brave Baby are a band from Charleston, South Carolina that currently carries the torch for the niche genre of southern indie rock. That title is normally reserved for bands that have at least one banjo, or cracklin’ piano, not synthesizers, 60’s-style organs, nor lead singer Keon Masters breathy delivery. The 5-piece is an eclectic mix of tender melodies, upbeat, danceable, radio ready singles, and southern charm.
They released their debut record Forty Bells on Charleston indie rock label Hearts and Plugs in 2013 that bring a DIY ethos, self-producing that record in their storage unit turned recording studio. The band released their follow up, Electric Friends, in 2015 to critical acclaim taking a giant step forward in terms of songwriting, and musicianship. The band’s multi-layered, synth-pop approach falls right in line with the millennial culture. Songs like “Daisy Child”, “Ancients”, and “Larry on the Weekend” have poured on comparisons to Arcade Fire, The Shins, and Death Cab for Cutie. The band is at once delicate, needing great care and undivided attention, yet ready for the long road-trip, with too many friends, crammed in the backseat of a Toyota Corolla.

WATSKY’S x INFINITY HARKS BACK TO SLAM-POETRY DAYS
October 7, 2016 9:30 am

On  August 29, 2016, George Watsky, a rapper, poet and artist, released his studio-album x Infinity.  This marks the first studio release by Watsky since his 2014 studio-album All You Can Do.

In accordance with his typical flair, Watsky announced that with the release of x Inifinity, he will be going on tour across the United States, doing stops and shows for fans along the way. 

In a recent YouTube video titled, “New Watsky Album, Tour + Goodbye Subaru,” Watsky said that he will be embarking on this venture in his own Subaru, which was popularized in several of his previous music videos, and at the end of the tour he will be giving away the car to one lucky winner.  The people with the chance to win the car are fans who preordered x Infinity that live in North America.

x Infinity highlights Watsky’s cascading raps, and interweaving lyrics that are reminiscent of his days as a slam-poet. In tracks like “Pink Lemonade,” Watsky draws on heavy-hitting, aggressive vocals tonalities, paired with a synth rooted melodies and backing bass. In tracks like  “Love Letters” and “Talking to Myself” Watsky pulls piano elements, and more traditional tonal progressions, which make the album feel very rooted in hip-hop.

All in all, x Infinity echoes the best aspect about Watsky; the music is unpredictable.  You can’t go into x Infinity with expectations, because each track is different from the one that precedes it.   

Listening to x Infinity I found myself thinking about Watsky’s slam poetry days, and pieces like “Drunk Text Message to God.” x Infinity displays the same creative spirit. Watsky is able to touch on some serious topics, in a lighthearted and interesting atmosphere.

Featured Image Source – Gage Skidmore 

AGE OF YOUNG EMPIRES
October 5, 2016 2:33 pm

Upcoming band alert!  Winston Churchill once said, “The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.” If this is the case then Canadian band Young Empires is on their way to taking over the world. While I’m honestly not a huge fan of electronic music, Young Empires mixes indie rock and electro in a way that is not overbearing and just feels damn good.

The trio from Toronto that formed in 2009 is made up of Matthew Vlahovich, Jacob Palahnuk, and Taylor Hill.  The band experienced major hype after their debut EP, Wake All My Youth, was released in 2012 and high demand for tours took over before they were able to spend a solid amount of time working on their first full-length album, The Gates, which was released last fall.

As empires go, they have been gaining ground internationally and conquering media outlets left and right.  NME compared them to The Killers, Arcade Fire, Yeasayer, and Foals. Quite the compliment from a magazine who gives out “Worst Band” awards.

To me they sound like a blend between Cut Copy and Two Door Cinema Club.  It’s energetically electronic while still being ear-otically pleasing.  You can and may very well want to dance to it, but hey, you can chillax to it too. And it is this very precise balance on which they are building their empire. Their lyrics are quite the balancing act as well. Gospel-like lyrics contain omens of both despair and hope.  For example, their song “The Gates” sings, “No I won’t lose hope, no I won’t lose sight, but heaven is a place I just can’t find” and features a music video that includes haunting scenes of religion displaced with images of humanity, beauty, and destruction. The video recently was names one of Vimeo‘s staff picks and you can watch it here.

LINDSEY STIRLING: BRAVERY IS ENOUGH
September 1, 2016 6:35 pm

 

Lindsey Stirling was a sensation and novelty act years ago, with dancing, dubstep and epic violin solos she broke the mold. Being one part of EDM dubstep, one part classical and one part pop, Lindsey has no fear to be who she truly is. However, like most impressive and creative acts, they can be one hit wonders and terribly repetitive after awhile, lacking creativity or diversity.

I am happy to say, Lindsey Stirling is not like those others and she shows her powerful ability and innovation in her new album Brave Enough.

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I actually saw Lindsey Stirling years ago in a quiet auditorium in at the Visitors Center of the Mormon Temple in Washington DC. She played Shatter Me with such beauty and grace being only accompanied by a man with a drum box and a piano. Her passion was unreal and the whole audience was in awe afterwards. If you ever get the chance to see her, I absolutely recommend it.

Brave Enough is a beautiful and strong example of her abilities to collaborate with others while still emphasizing the special talents of each artist. From Rivers Cuomo (Weezer) to Christina Perri and ZZ Ward to Lecare, Brave Enough is so packed full of artists it’s almost hard to keep track of them all. It is great to see her fame being put to good use bringing them all together in one cohesive piece.

Her strongest point in her music is also a bit of a weakness though. Fast paced violin work mixed with dubstep and drums is a wonderful mix and I love it even more in this album, the songs sound clear and individual, never repetitive. The only thing I would want from her would be some more relaxed and slower song. “Gavi’s Song” is fantastic, and I would love to hear more of this style. but it is only a minor complaint, the album and each track is honestly very good and totally deserves your time and money.

I am happy to see this album exceed my expectations. I thought it would be a set of familiar sounding songs that featured some mediocre singing here and there, but I was wrong. It is a variety in writing and collaborations make a wonderful album filled with enough energy to fuel your night drives, video game marathons or morning workouts. Check it out and love every moment of it.

PAINTED PALMS: LONG DISTANCE DOES WORK
August 30, 2016 11:59 am

Painted Palms had an interesting start to their career. Reese Donohue and Christopher Prudhomme were two cousins growing up together on the same block in Louisiana. But it took Donohue moving to the west coast for the two to begin writing music together. They exchanged tunes online for several years while they both finished working on their degrees. These exchanges resulted in the debut EP Canopy. After the release of Canopy, Kevin Barnes from Of Montreal heard the tracks and invited the duo to be main support for Of Montreal’s tour in 2011. Thus began Painted Palms.

Their music consists of memorable melodies accompanied by balmy synth pop. It’s easy to feel the urge to get up and move when a Painted Palms track starts playing. Their debut EP was only a small taste of what was to come. In 2014, they released their debut album Forever. The album garnered an overall positive review from Pitchfork. The single “Carousel” is a great example of the psych synth pop sound that represents Painted Palms. Their follow up to Forever came two years later in 2015.

Horizons opens up with the single “Refractor.” The video for the song was debuted on Billboard. The video is an interesting combination of live-action and animation. This sophomore album had a large emphasis on the synth pop sound. The melodies continued to flow effortlessly from track to track. They toured that album with another fantastic electronic pop act, Small Black. The consistent aspect between all of Painted Palms releases thus far is their listenability. While their music fits much better soundtracking a summer drive than a cold winter night, if you put on any of their albums you’ll find yourself enjoying it from start to finish.

HOT PANDA: GOOD POP, BAD POP
August 24, 2016 12:06 am

 

Hot, inescapable energy comes charges through some early distortion and coy guitar strumming on “Other Spooky Is the leadoff track to Hot Panda’s 4th studio album, Bad Pop. But once Chris Connelly’s high pitched hollerings kick-in, everything just snowballs from there.

The song’s pace kicks into a completely frantic pace towards the halfway mark, and by that time, a spookier, modulated voice spelling out the title of the song is introduced. Even before this, the title made absolutely no sense. This idea really just doubled down on the nonsense.  As Bad Pop went on, it seemed as though doubling down on nonsense was, in many ways, all part of the Hot Panda charm. Choosing Hot Panda as a name in the first place evokes a sort of inherent silliness.

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There are certainly moments of normalcy to be appreciated on the record, though. Time-travelling Psych-Pop tunes like “Golden Arch are as straightforward and clean cut as they come. The sound is made for the Ed Sullivan show as teens bop their heads back and forth like a newton’s cradle made of skulls. And “On Your Own” provides easily the most tender moment Bad Pop has to offer.

It’s certainly more fun when they decide to embrace their weirdness, though. The perfect example of this being “Linda Ronstadt, a track built on the quirky concept of paying homage to the legendary singer. The quirk also gets a big boost from the charmingly chirpy backing vocals from bassist Catherine Hiltz, whose voice clashes with Connelly’s in a way that makes for a captivating listen.

In an Occam’s razor type of inevitability, however, the true standout here is of course “Bad Pop, the album’s titular track. Not only do their sugar rushed odd ballerey stand out, the lyrics are funny enough to cause some unexpected laughter on a crowded train. An act that still leads to stares from people, even though it should be completely normalized at this point. Regardless, it’s really great hearing Connelly’s maudlin self-awareness that this cheery sounding ditty could easily be used to sling sneakers in a year’s time. I think that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy? I don’t fucking know, I failed psych class.

As Hot Panda powered through their 10 song LP, they displayed a hodgepodge of different ideas. The heavy, fun Power-Pop somehow blends seamlessly with their more psychedelic and jammy moments. It’s all squeezed under their umbrella of strange in Totoro fashion, who wasn’t exactly a panda, but they can’t be too far separated in the animal kingdom.