Archive | June, 2013

Sunny Day Real Estate – Diary

28 Jun

Sunny Day Real Estate’s debut album is a landmark in the punk subgenre of Emo. The influence of this and the followup LP2 (or self titled depending on which catalog you’re looking at) are still felt in the genre a decade after their release, and helped redefine the second wave of Emo in the 90’s. With their sound, SDRE successfully mixed the sounds of Post-Hardcore with Indie Rock and mashed it together with personal and confessional lyrics, much like the title states, a diary.

While SDRE are from Seattle and this album was around during the Grunge heyday, there is a divergence from the Seattle sound. While the album has some Grunge cliche’s like having the dynamics between the loud distorted chorus and the quiet verses, it diverges a lot and the quieter and mellow moments of the song are the main focuses of many of the songs. The only song on the album that could really pass off as a Grunge song would be In Circles.

Musicanshipwise, the band is pretty talented. The guitarwork isn’t fantastic, but they fit the music very well, but they aren’t the focus of many of the songs; the rhythm section is the highlight of their music. Bassist Nate Mendel is a fantastic bassist, his basslines aren’t difficult on a technical level, but they tend to be quite melodic and can tend to fit when the emotions of the song spiral around, and he also has restraint. Instead of spending the entire album showing off his skills, he is able to find the right time and place to show off his bass playing while in other parts he can focus on just playing root notes when the part of the song calls for it. The drummer William Goldsmith is a beast at the drums. His drumming style can be monstrous and chaotic like in Seven, and can be very soft and mellow like in Song for an Angel. Like bassist Mendel, he knows the perfect moment to show off his drum fills, and when to restrain himself for either a softer performance. If the names Nate Mendel and William Goldsmith sound familiar, it’s because they were in the Foo Fighters. Goldsmith was only around for a few recordings and music videos, but Mendel is a full member of the band and has appeared in all of their albums since their second one.

Lyrically, they have a very poetic feel, especially when you sit down and read them. Vocalist Jeremy Enigk has a very nasal voice which may drive away some people, but if you can get past his quirky voice, it suits the music very well. It can be difficult at times deciphering what he’s saying. The vocals, at times, can be  mixed low into the song, and even during the mellow parts, his voice is still  quite soft at times. Despite the lyrics being confessional, a  lot of the focus of the songs are on the actual music than on the lyrics.

This is a must have for those who are fond of Post-Hardcore and a definite for any Emo fan.

Grungie’s rating: 5/5

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Sigur Rós- Kveikur

20 Jun

Kveikur, the seventh full length album from the Icelandic post-rock group, sees the band depart from their typical sound. It is released just over a year after their first post-hiatus album, Valtari, which was criticised by many fans for being more of the same.

This release is far from being more of the same. Kveikur takes the band in a heavier, but simpler direction. It is notable for being the first release since the departure of multi-instrumentalist Kjartan Sveinsson and their first release as a trio since their 1997 début, Von. In contrast to the thinned out production of 2008’s Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust, Kveikur is arguably the most over-produced album the band has released, using a similar production style to Valtari. The use of reverb is even more extensive on this album than any of their past work, and there is a greater influence of electronic elements.

Kveikur shows a change in dynamic within the band itself. The three remaining members gain the spotlight more often they did in the past, especially percussionist Orri Páll Dýrason and bassist Georg Holm, who shine more here than on any past Sigur Rós album. Lead singer and guitarist Jónsi continues to perform well with his signature falsetto vocals and bowed guitar playing. The ambient driven sections and orchestral arrangements remain important to the band’s music, but this time around the songs are shorter with more emphasis on the rock instrumentation.

The songs on this album can, for the most part, be divided into two categories: heavier, industrial influenced rock songs and more easy-listening, pop-oriented songs. ‘Brenninstein’ opens the album with a bang, instantly making it clear that the band have taken a new direction. ‘Hraftinna’, one of the band’s best songs to date and the best song on the album, continues with a ballad song structure and less focus on electronics. This song continues the trend of pounding electric guitars, bass, and drums, but features an interesting assortment of percussion instruments, and the most prominent string and horn arrangements on the album. The song ends with a simple, but haunting horn section that adds a nice sense of closure to the song. The title track, ‘Kveikur’ is the final of the industrial driven songs, coming in a little over the halfway mark. It is similar to ‘Hrafntinna’, but is faster-paced, almost capable of competing with the famous ‘Untitled 8’  for the ‘heaviest song’ title if the song had a more interesting build up.

In between these heavy tracks are the gleeful, pop tracks. These are more aggressive than past Sigur Ros ‘pop songs’ in that they are shorter, have more explosive choruses, and use the most standard song structures in their entire discography. ‘Isjaki’ has the best example of an ‘explosive chorus’ on the album (arguably from their entire career), while ‘Stormur’ is the most mellow of them, almost a throwback to previous Sigur Rós songs by utilising pretty glockenspiel melodies and the most traditional guitar playing on the album. ‘Rafstraumur’ is sonically captivating, but at times almost feels like generic, ‘uplifting’, advertisement music. It is well performed, but something a bit more creative would be expected from Sigur Rós.

In addition to the heavy and pop tracks, there are those that stand on their own. ‘Yfirborð’ is placed in between ‘Isjaki’ and ‘Stormur’, functioning as a darker, mellower break between the album’s two most blissful tracks. This song was criticised for being underwhelming by many fans who first saw it performed live. While not exploding like other tracks on the album, this song is great in its own way, making interesting use of electronic instruments and being a good song to listen to on proper headphones. ‘Bláþráður’ initially seemed compositionally weak and predictable, but the dramatic pacing and pulsating drums make it a grower. The only downfall is the generic atmospheric section at its closure that has no real purpose. The album finishes with ‘Var’, a short piano outro in the style of several past compositions, designed to evoke a wide variety of emotions at the close of the album. This trick is just as effective here as it has been in the past.

Kveikur is an album that shows Sigur Rós becoming a more accessible, ‘normal’ band, but this does not mean they have given up on the experimentation they are known for. The band is as experimental as ever, just in a different way. This is a solid release filled with wonderful songs, but is not quite as interesting as past releases such as Takk… and Ágætis byrjun. Despite that, Sigur Rós have found a new, more conventional style that they excel at during a time when fans were not sure how much longer the band could continue composing consistently great music in their usual style.

carlcockatoo’s rating: 4.5/5

Kanye West – Yeezy

18 Jun

File:Yeezus Kanye West.jpg

Initially I had no plans to write out a review for Kanye West’s anticipated release Yeezus, but as I have seen reviews for it both overly positive and overly negative, I feel a sort of inspiration and obligation to give my thoughts on the album.

Kanye West is a universally known symbol for the ego. He is the self-anointed “Voice of this Generation.” He dates (and now fathers the child of) Kim Kardashian, a controversial figure in her own right. He stole the spotlight of Taylor Swift once, an act whose worst offense is the ad nauseum repetition of jokes regarding the act. His ego has led to hype, and that hype ends up being the force that hurts Yeezus the most.

Take the title: Yeezus. An obvious play on the name by which he is known colloquially combined with Jesus. That Kanye wishes to compare himself to Jesus is no surprise to any fan of Yeezy’s. However, it does propagate the annoying egotism that is starting to lose its cuteness. Now look at the cover of the album, which just looks like one of the blank CDs anybody could buy in a pack at Wal-mart. And that’s fine, I quite like the simple and careless cover. It gives off a cool vibe that challenges the status quo regarding the importance of album covers, I guess. It’s interesting and fairly original. But that does not make it any less a representation of pretentiousness and egotism. Having the ego is fine as long as it can be backed up. The problem with Yeezus is that it spends too much time feeding the ego and hype without supporting it enough with the kind of brilliance that was shown on Kanye’s 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

In spite of that complaint, the album is pretty good. There is a song on the album called “I Am A God,” and it is the one that is able to balance his egotism with his brilliance, from its discussion with Jesus about his millions to its repetitive, House-inspired synth, and the haunting refrain of screams and gasps that occur throughout its four minutes. Apart from those four minutes that demonstrate a hint of Kanye’s brilliance, there are a handful of others that are able to keep up with that pace. “Blood on the Leaves” beautifully samples TNGHT among others, and reminds me a lot of “Heartless” off of West’s 808s & Heartbreak album with its melody and vocals being predominately auto-tuned. The difference is that “Blood on the Leaves” transforms into aggression about halfway through, which makes the song dynamic and interesting.

When does Yeezus falter the most? Disregarding the Kid Cudi collab “Guilt Trip” which is terribly drab, its biggest failures are related to the quality of its lyrics. There is a painfully disappointing disconnect in lyrical content in some places on the album. “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves,” as is evident by their titles are a kind of social commentary on racism. “Black Skinhead” features lines discussing the state of racism in America by calling out religious groups, particularly conservative Baptists. In “New Slaves” he reminds us about his mother growing up in a time when racial tensions were reaching their climax and brought about an ongoing denouement, invoking the status of institutional racism in society.

These socially conscious lyrics put in our minds a hope for poignancy for the rest of the album. But it turns out rather than being a sign of a theme on the album, the two songs act only as a couple of rest stops where we are engaged to see something real and genuine that becomes a way to give ourselves a break from the barrage of disappointment in the lyrics on the majority of the rest of the album. For whatever reason, the rest of the album is full of lines that are funny, yes, but incredibly juvenile when heard in the context of “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves.” From there it is a battle between Kanye’s contrived ego (as represented by the juvenile lyrics) and Kanye’s genuine confidence (as represented by “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves”).  It is Kanye’s lack of commitment to either a direction of egotism or a direction of confidence that makes Yeezus disappointingly inconsistent.

Without a doubt at all, the best song on this album is its closing track. “Bound 2” has one of the most effective uses of sampling I’ve ever heard from Kanye. Its hook is catchy as hell, and Kanye’s rapping compliments it very well. The whole song sounds so open and relaxed that it seems like Kanye is shrugging off the aggression featured on the nine tracks before it. It’s refreshing, and it makes me think of what could have been with a little more focus.

Yeezus is good. Without the hype produced by Kanye, it would’ve been better. Without Kanye’s ego which has become less of a character trait and more of an affectation, it would’ve been even better. But it is good, for what it is. There are good songs on it, with good moments. What is the statement Kanye is trying to make with Yeezus? In his own words, “With this album, we ain’t drop no single to radio. We ain’t got no NBA campaign, nothing like that. Shit, we ain’t even got no cover. We just made some real music.” And I guess judging by those terms, it’s good enough. It is primal, minimalistic, aggressive, stripped down, and for the most part sonically fulfilling. I just wonder if Kanye reached his climax with MBDTF or if he will fully actualize the direction shown on those two tracks on Yeezus. Maybe my hopes are too high.

bbbrad’s rating: 3.5/5

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

16 Jun

Why hasn’t Vampire Weekend failed yet? They released their self-titled debut in 2008 to great critical acclaim. In the years between 2008 and the 2010 release of Contra their reputation grew to be that of one-album-wonders, with many many many people growing tired of the preppy and constantly upbeat debut that had been adopted by teen mall-shoppers. It had become common among the hipper-than-thou music community to believe that the band had no substance whatsoever. So while waiting for Contra to be released, interest became less in how they were going to keep fresh and more in how they were going to fall flat on their faces. However, upon the release of the album, it received just as much critical acclaim as their debut, if not more.

Contra became regarded as a small step up from the debut, featuring a more expansive sound that, while keeping true to the “substanceless” joy of previous, managed to also make a couple of strides that allowed the band’s sound to stay fresh. But again, the band was soon seen as nothing more than mindless fun for youngsters unfamiliar with the work of Paul Simon. I even began to think, “Vampire Weekend is just catchy and fun and as long as they keep that up I’ll listen to it regardless of whether or not they have any substance,” and that was my highest expectation coming into the newest album. But to my surprise, listening to Modern Vampires of the City, feels like listening to something important, which is something I’ve never felt while listening to past Vampire Weekend albums.

Modern Vampires brings with it a new dimension for Vampire Weekend. The most noticeable difference between “old” Vampire Weekend and new is the fact that they are playing slower songs. The speed of their first two albums is what drew people to them; they were quick and catchy. Bringing slower songs into the mix would worry anybody who doesn’t believe in Koenig and co.’s ability to progress in musical style. Playing slow songs in the same style (both musically and lyrically) of past Vampire Weekend albums would be a treacherous task. Realizing this, Vampire Weekend adapted as they saw fit. Gone are the shrugged off references to Cape Cod and the like. Instead, the lyrics are now about things like spirituality. This growth in lyrical maturity dictates the sound and the speed of the songs. With lyrical matter built from references to places like Cape Cod, it isn’t necessary to spend time allowing the themes to grow; but with newer spiritual lyrics in songs like “Worship You,” a song that sounds so familiarly churchy, and “Ya Hey,” a personal and absolute favorite that gives off a relatable sense of disillusionment, they finally have a reason to change their dynamic.

The song that best represents this growth is “Hannah Hunt,” which very well might be the most accomplished Vampire Weekend song released to date. It begins with some fuzz, a lone piano, and Ezra Koenig’s softly-sung voice. The further along the song goes, the more elements enter. After two minutes, a bass guitar, the patting of drums, and some harmony in the vocals can be heard. As the third minute of the song is entered, some sort of piano/guitar solo raises the song up with the addition of prominently banged drums. The glue that holds this together is the risen vocals of Ezra, which become more shouty than softly-sung. The song grows into a true climax that best embodies the growth of the band on this album.

“Unbelievers” is a song on the album worth noting due to its ability to mesh the spiritual theme into a catchy love song that reminds us that the Cape Cod-era Vampy Weeks is still there. This song possesses a Buddy Holly rockabilly kind of vibe that drives it, much like what occurs during “Diane Young” as well. Musically, there is no greater treat than the ending of the song “Don’t Lie” which features a short, nostalgic guitar outro that has the wavering sound of an old vinyl record. Also of note is “Hudson,” a pseudo-closing track that contradicts everything we’ve known Vampire Weekend to be. It is dark and haunting, and its lyrics discuss death. When horns emerge near the midway point of the song, they only plunge the song further into the depths of some Westerny, circus nightmare, and it works in favor of the band as it adds another component to their sound.

And now to return to the opening question: Why hasn’t Vampire Weekend failed yet? Everybody is waiting for it, preparing themselves. The months following new Vampire Weekend releases carry anticipation for their impending crash to earth. After their third release, it is becoming clear that they haven’t failed because they are too good for that. As is evident by their album-by-album progression, they are too talented to simply out themselves as faux. We are watching and hearing a growth from the naïve and collegiate Vampire Weekend on their debut album to the contemplative and mature band we see with the release of Modern Vampires of the City. The public perception of them as an artificial indie-of-the-week band continues to diminish in spite of the public’s almost sick desire to have their beliefs confirmed. With Modern Vampires the question stops being “Why hasn’t Vampire Weekend failed yet?” and becomes a rhetorical “Why are we waiting for Vampire Weekend to fail?” The exponential growth heard on this album forces us to examine that question. Get back to me when you find an adequate answer.

bbbrad’s rating: 5/5

This Town Needs Guns – Animals

12 Jun

This Town Needs Guns is a British Math Rock band and Animals is their debut album and their last featuring vocalist Stuart Smith. While keeping with the complex guitar rhythms that is a common trope with Math Rock, the vocals are more influenced by Emo music. While the vocals are very well, the instrumental aspects are the main focus of the music and the vocals seem to take a backseat to the rest of the band.

The guitar work is pretty phenomenal, there are some very complex and hypnotic and fit the songs very well. They do a good job of not trying too hard to show off their skill like several other technical bands. They make an effort not to make every song a guitar wankfest by changing it up by not having every song be a technical riff for technicality’s sake. The songs themselves are very well written, and while keeping with the common tropes of Math Rock, they make their sound easily listenable to those who aren’t versed in music technicality are still able to enjoy them, while still catering to those who love technical music.

This band does seem to suffer the same problem as many other Math Rock bands, every song kind of sounds the same. Even though you can easily tell which song is which based on the riff, soundwise, there isn’t much variety. The only thing they seem to change up is the tempo and some guitar lines aren’t as complex as others, but for the most part, most of the guitar and vocal work sounds too much like each other. Some people seem to be okay with every song on an album sounding the same, but having a consistent sound and still keeping diversity between the individual songs keeps the other listeners from getting bored of hearing the same thing over and over.

Even though almost every song sounds too much like each other, it’s still a fairly solid album. Plus it also has a pretty awesome album cover, how could you hate something with a big panda on the front?

Grungie’s rating: 4/5