Archive for the ‘Old Reviews’ Category

h1

Stars – Sad Robots EP

01/18/2009

sad-robots

As the band of choice for Canadian college girls considering themselves “indie”, Stars has enjoyed tremendous success since their third album (and first with Arts & Crafts) Set Yourself on Fire. Characterized by the captivating voices and lyrics of Amy Millan and Torque Campbell, a Stars song always has a place on a romantic mix-tape from lover to lover. The band’s latest work, the Sad Robots EP, contains five new songs and one live take of the oldie “Going, Going, Gone”. Unfortunately for those of us who enjoy hearing a band’s sound and lyrical subject matter evolve, this EP essentially continues along the same tracks as their previous efforts.

As with In Our Bedroom After the War, The Sad Robots EP beings with an intrumental track. Titled “Maintenance Hall, 4am”, and containing synthetic robotic noises and voices over a continuous piano part, this opening track originally led me to believe that it was the first song in a concept EP about robots. Unfortunately the rest of the album contains no references to any cybernetic beings of any kind, just some more songs about relationship trouble to add to the six trillion others in Stars’ catalogue.

Stars again manages to sprinkle a smidgen of war protest amongst their love songs. Although not as blatent as “Celebration Guns” from Set Yourself on Fire, the band sneaks the words “Fuck the war!” into “A Thread Cut With A Carving Knife”, a song about life’s possibilities that exist tomorrow.

Although the EP has nothing new to add, I find it impossible to find anything else bad about it. Amy Millan and Torque Campbell are simply incredible singers and somehow manage to write catchy yet heartfelt lyrics over and over. Anyone who has enjoyed any of Stars’ previous work will likely get the same enjoyment out of this set of songs.

72

[Arts and Crafts; 2008]
http://www.arts-crafts.ca/stars/

h1

The Hold Steady – Live at Fingerprints

01/16/2009

live-at-fingerprints

For a band characterized by its loud hard rock guitar and vocals that can come off as pretty aggressive at times, it may seem out of place for them to release an album of their acoustic set played live at Fingerprints in Long Beach, California. What makes this release even stranger is the addition of an accordion, which actually doesn’t seem as strange once you hear how good it sounds paired with Craig Finn’s stories of teenage escapades. The track list includes “Cattle and the Creeping Things” from their second album, Separation Sunday, three songs from 2006’s Boys and Girls in America (“Chips Ahoy”, “You Can Make Him Like You” and” Citrus”) and the B-Side “You Gotta Dance (With Who You Came to the Dance With)”.

One thing I hate about bands is that when they play live, a lot of the time they merely recreate exactly the song the way it was played on the album. This is definitely not true of The Hold Steady based on the live footage I have seen and obviously they sound pretty different on this acoustic EP. Craig Finn fiddles around with the lyrics, extending and switching around the words when he sings (speaks?). The front man also offers some amusing between song banter, introducing and talking about the songs which are always a great thing to include in live albums. Guitarist Tad Kubler keeps the rhythm going on the acoustic guitar while a lot of the lead guitar and keyboard parts are played by the accordion manned by keyboard and harmonica player Franz Nicolay.

All in all this live EP gives fans of the Hold Steady to hear a different take on some of their great songs and a B-Side you maybe never heard before.

75

[Vagrant; 2007]
http://www.theholdsteady.com/

h1

Minus the Bear – Planet of Ice

01/16/2009

planet-of-ice

I wish I remembered who recommended that I listen to Minus the Bear; I could not thank them enough. After my first listen of their debut album Highly Refined Pirates, the band quickly raised the ranks and landed among my favourite bands. Their sophomore album Menos el Oso had some great tracks but as a whole seemed more like a compilation of leftover tracks from Highly Refined Pirates. On Planet of Ice, the band pulls a Crane Wife and lets their prog rock influences loose, coupled with the material they are known for.

The album opens with some strange noise effects that lead up to an explosion of every instrument, vocals including, starting at once. It’s a kick to the face and a great way to start off the album. Like many of the tracks, “Burying Luck” combines beautiful melodies, an aggressiveness that allows for some light head banging and sing-along choruses. The off-time outro complete with excellent work by new member Alex Rose leads into “Ice Monster” which gradually picks up until the triumphant chorus. Dave Knudson’s signature guitar work shines through on the verses in this song and the hand-clapping breakdown adds to the multitude of ingredients that make this song one of the best on the record. Third track “Knights” is the first single from the album and is complete with a headache inducing video. Although it is one of my least favourite tracks on the album, it’s not a bad song by any means and fits its role as a single quite well. Highlight of the album, “Part 2” includes a stunning guitar intro and is easily the best song on the album and the biggest departure from what the band has done in the past. The final track “Lotus” which clocks in at close to nine minutes in a way defines the entire album as it contains elements of every song on the record. From the striking melodies, the technical and complex musicianship to the new prog rock influences, Lotus has it all. The near silent interlude lasts a bit too long and leaves you eagerly anticipating the David Gilmour-esque guitar solo that immediately follows it. Every member of the band hammers on their instrument to deliver the outro to the song and album that ends just as it began.

951

[Suicide Squeeze; 2007]
http://www.minusthebear.com

h1

Radio Moscow – Radio Moscow

01/16/2009

radio-moscow

Radio Moscow is blues rock at its very best. This self titled debut album by the band released earlier this year was produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and is one of the best albums to hit the shelves all year. Hendrix’s body may be rotting six feet under, but his soul lives on through Radio Moscow front man and multi instrumentalist Parker Griggs, who plays every instrument on the album except for bass (played by Luke Duff) and slide guitar on “Deep Blue Sea” which is played by Dan Auerbach.

The band wastes no time getting right into it, the first track “Introduction” sets the pace for the whole album. Parker shows off his guitar skills with a wailing guitar solo that lasts the entire track. The song seamlessly moves into the next with a grooving bass line. Vocals appear for the first time on this track, and they are what you would expect from a blues rock band. The solo on “Frustrating Sound” is broken into two parts and separated by a bass breakdown which highlights the importance of the bass in the band as there is no rhythm guitar to fill the gaps. “Luckydutch” begins with a lo-fi drum intro reminiscent of something off a Black Keys album and then moves into something that the White Stripes wish they could pull off. Songs like “Lickskillet” and “Deep Blue Sea” showcase the slower side of the blues, with acoustic and slide guitar and Parker’s vocals really shine through on these tracks. Album closer “Fuse” is a fantastic finale, a face melting jam that blasts through your speakers.

Radio Moscow combine the blues rock riffs of Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughn with a Sabbath mentality. It’s a combination that rocks and if this album is any indication there is more great material to come from this band.

85

[Alive; 2007]
http://www.radiomoscow.net/

h1

The Cure – Trilogy DVD

01/16/2009

trilogy

The Cure Trilogy DVD features a live concert of the band playing their three darkest and emotional albums, Pornography, Disintegration and Bloodflowers, in their entirety. It was filmed on location in Berlin over two nights using twelve cameras. The performance also includes two encore songs, “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep” and “The Kiss”, both from the Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me album, and an interview with the band discussing the idea behind the DVD and its execution.

The film starts at a high point with Pornography’s “One Hundred Years” and remains there for the full length of the performance. The entire Pornography set is played with an anger and depression that original album was doused in. Twenty years after the release of the Pornography album, and many, many years since the songs were played live; this set is arguably the best on the DVD. The live versions of the songs found on this DVD not only surpass the original tracks but any other live versions I have ever heard. This remains true with most songs on the DVD. This phenomenal set ends with Robert Smith telling the audience he will see them in seven years.

The Disintegration set begins with the majestic keys and grooving bass of “Plainsong”, with Robert Smith looking out at the audience with a look of amazement on his face. The Trilogy DVD was his idea and you can tell he is very proud of these three albums, as he should be. The highlight of the Disintegration set for me was “Lullaby” and “Fascination Street”, this pair of songs went so well together live and was highlighted with excellent backdrops and a spectacular light show. Robert Smith’s hand actions while singing the creepy lyrics to “Lullaby” set the mood perfectly and the quick camera cuts and movements during “Fascination Street” highlights a song that already sticks out among the slower, moodier songs on the album like the next two songs. The set gets another jolt with one of my favourite Cure songs and the title track, “Disintegration”. I have always loved the album track of this song and never thought it could be outdone but I was very wrong. This version easily surpasses the original, there is so much emotion in the way Robert Smith sings these lyrics that makes it really something special. Eleven years until Bloodflowers.

All three of these albums are notable for the way the individual songs mesh together to form an album, but I find this to be particularly true with Bloodflowers. It seems not like just a collection of songs but a perfect progression of despair. The acoustic guitar on Bloodflowers adds something new that wasn’t there in the previous two sets but it still retains the same gloomy atmosphere. Bloodflowers is also home to some great guitar solos, by both Robert Smith and Perry Bamonte. Perry’s solo on “Watching Me Fall” is a treat to watch and to hear. Robert Smith takes the lead guitar role on “39” and “Bloodflowers” delivering a fantastic display. Coupled with the amazing lighting display on these two songs (particularly “39”), the climax of not only this set but the entire DVD is at hand.

95

[Eagle Rock Entertainment; 2003]
http://www.thecure.com/

h1

Interpol – Our Love to Admrie

01/16/2009

our-love-to-admire

The New York City foursome Interpol released their debut album Turn on the Bright Lights back in 2002 and instantly became a household name in the indie community. Turn on the Bright Lights was received so well by critics it not only topped Best Debut album lists but most Best Album of 2002 lists as well. I first heard this album through my older brother’s recommendation (I would discover a lot of music this way). Once I heard it I would borrow it everyday and listen to it on the bus to school. I don’t want to go as far to say that this album changed my life but it certainly had a significant impact on what would become my taste in music and led me on a path to discovering bands that have become my favourites.

Interpol are back with their third album, Our Love to Admire, the follow-up to 2004’s Antics. The band stays true to their old habits and opens the album with an atmospheric masterpiece. The first tracks of both Bright Lights and Antics are both characterized with haunting, echoing instruments and the same is true for “Pioneer to the Falls”. Undoubtedly the strongest track on the whole album, it is very reminiscent of the dark tone that graced the bands debut. The public first got a look at this song through a YouTube video of the song being played live several months ago. Due to its similarities to some tracks from Bright Lights the video generated hype for the album because many fans, being somewhat disappointed with Antics, longed for the band to return to the dark atmospheres of Turn on the Bright Lights. While they did not exactly get what they wanted, Our Love to Admire is not by any means a failure. The disc contains some of the best songs the band has ever written including of course “Pioneer to the Falls”, the single “The Heinrich Maneuver” and the soothing “The Lighthouse”. While not technically an artistic breakthrough, mid album track “Mammoth” is one of my personal favourites on the album, containing both the drum focused rock found on Antics and the slower beautiful guitar melodies that launched the bands career.

Unfortunately for them, Interpol are a band that is doomed to always have their albums be compared to and never to top their debut, much like the Strokes and their 2001 debut Is This It? and The Arcade Fire with Funeral. I believe that many other critics who reviewed this album and labeled it as an unsuccessful rehash of previous songs don’t realize that Interpol have found their sound and aren’t going to change something they are comfortable with. In my opinion, Interpol wouldn’t be Interpol without the rhythmic beats of drummer Sam Fogarino, groovy bass lines of Carlos D, intricate guitar work of Daniel Kessler and the dreary vocals from Paul Banks.

71

[Capitol; 2007]
http://www.interpolnyc.com/

h1

Matthew Good – Hospital Music

01/16/2009

hospital-music

Matt recently went public with his struggle with bipolar disorder in a post on his blog back in April. The post goes into great detail, beginning first with his troubles with being a hyperactive child, to his addiction to anti-depressants and his sudden, multiple times daily vomiting. I would suggest that everyone read what Matt has written on his blog, it gives a great insight into what he went through during his years in Matthew Good Band and during his solo tours.

Hospital Music is the third solo release from the Matthew Good Band front man. Matt performed nearly all of the instruments himself with the exception of the drums (played by Pat Steward) and a few guitar and bass parts here and there. The album contains the longest song Matt has ever written, the opener “Champions of Nothing” which clocks in at 9:33. This song also happens to be one of the strongest on the album, starting slow with an intro consisting of looping voice clips and gloomy acoustic guitar, the song really starts close to the two minute mark. The track continuously picks up adding more instruments until it climaxes just after the seven minute mark with an enchanting guitar solo performed by Rod Bruno (described quite hilariously on Matt’s website). The formula of a slow start leading to an explosion of instruments is used again on the next track titled “A Single Explosion”. Matt references his addiction in this song, “I can’t write love songs when I’m on these things / I’m affable, responsible, but hard to be around”. It becomes apparent as you listen that the lyrics on this album are of a very personal nature and the acoustic guitar that is used on most of the songs really reflects that.

The lead single “Born Losers” comes in as the fifth track and was featured as the US iTunes single of the week starting July 31st, strange for an artist that never received much exposure in the United States. The usual acoustic intro that has become a staple of this album leads into a rocking tune with a catchy guitar hook. I’ve always thought that one of the strongest points of Matthew Good’s career, even going back to the Matthew Good Band, was his vocal abilities. His voice perfectly fits into any type of song, whether it is a straight out rock tune like “Load Me Up” (From Beautiful Midnight) or one of the many emotional, personal tracks from Hospital Music such as “Black Helicopter” and “She’s In It for the Money”.

Hospital Music contains two covers. The first, The Dead Kennedys’ “Moon Over Marin” is a radical transformation from the distortion laden punk rock mess to a beautiful stripped down version which fits nicely among the other songs on the album. The second cover is Daniel Johnstons’ “True Love Will Find You In The End”, which gracefully closes the album.

8

[Universal; 2007]
http://www.matthewgood.org