Posts Tagged ‘pop’

tumblr_mn4v1iFEE71qm9pv9o1_500One has to wonder what guitarist Tomo Miličević was really doing half the time while 30 Seconds to Mars recorded their latest album, Love Lust Faith + Dreams, because there’s really not a whole lot of guitar to speak of. It’s been replaced by synths, orchestral swells, and electronic percussion sounds (which begs the question of what drummer Shannon Leto was doing half the time, too). I guess they were busy fiddling with keyboards and drum machines, because I’m afraid 30STM’s latest album sees the band give way to the over-processed modern dance-pop sound instead of the straight-ahead alternative rock from their early days, or even the U2-inspired arena-rock from their last disc, 2009’s This Is War.

Jared Leto and company try so hard to be astronomically grandiose, to be the biggest band on the planet, to be some kind of rock messiahs, that it just ends up coming across as empty, contrived, and more than a little cheesy. This trend reared its head occasionally on This Is War, but I did like that album because I felt the grandiose ambitions didn’t completely overwhelm the quality of music. On Love Lust Faith + Dreams, the ambition has eclipsed everything else.

Little things irritate me about this record. It’s divided into four categories, based on the four names in the title of the disc. Okay, good enough. So then why is “End of All Days,” whose chorus finds Jared repeating “All we need is faith” over and over in his best Rhianna impression, found in the “Lust” section? Further down, we come across “Bright Lights,” which in its defense is probably one of the more solid songs, if we were forced to pick. Three tracks later a song comes along called “Northern Lights.” Bright lights, Northern lights… too many lights. It bugs me when track names are so similar, especially found so close together and not intended to complement one another.

Lead single “Up In The Air” sounds like a dancey Maroon 5 song… not that I have anything against Maroon 5, since they never claimed to be anything other than what they were. The aforementioned “End of All Days” sounds like a Rhianna piano ballad with Leto’s voice instead of Rhianna. The interlude-esque “Pires of Varanasi” brings in some world music touches along with orchestra dirges ripped straight from The Dark Knight Rises soundtrack… it might be cool if it wasn’t so cheesy. “Do or Die” is an okay song, probably one of the better ones, although the main riff sounds very similar to “Night of the Hunter” from This Is War.

Almost every song utilizes a four-on-the-floor quarter-note bass drum pulse, giving almost every track a dancey club feel, considering the bass drum is heavily processed every time. It’s as if 30STM pulled the classic “sell out” maneuver, changing their sound to suit the mainstream radio crowd, but the band members remain completely oblivious and think their music is the greatest gift to mankind that they could have possibly rendered. Okay, so Jared Leto’s voice is very impressive, as always, but his lyrics are so unimaginative, so pompously grandiose, that he comes across as a self-important rock star with a god complex.

If 30 Seconds to Mars had turned down the cheese factor, upped the humble factor, and focused more on inventive and exciting songwriting, Love Lust Faith + Dreams might have impressed me more as the follow-up to This Is War. Years ago, I read an article in which a bandleader complained that Jared Leto was just acting out the part of a rock star frontman. I didn’t agree at the time, thinking that those other bandleaders wouldn’t say that if Jared Leto wasn’t in fact a successful actor. Now, though, I’m starting to agree with that sentiment. It seems like 30STM is more focused on acting out the image and grandiose messages they wish to send, rather than the actual quality of music they’re putting out. Even if that’s totally not what they think, Love Lust Faith + Dreams certainly makes it come across that way.

~ J.M.

Mae Destination Beautiful cover artThe year 2003 was a pretty genre-defining year in music – or at least in rock sub-genres.  The Postal Service released their debut album (along with bands like Copeland and The Format), Blink-182 released their self-titled album, and tons of the latest bands we listen to in 2013 were graduating from high school.  And as it just so happens on this particular day (February 25th) back in 2003 Mae released their debut album entitled Destination: Beautiful and showed a bunch of track-jacket-and-Dickies wearing emo kids how to actually have “happy” feelings for once.

I might just be amusing myself, but Mae had brought a new element to emo that I don’t really think was there before Destination: Beautiful – joy.  Before 2003 everyone playing the arguably indefinable genre of “emo” was singing about how sad they were about their feelings, relationships, and parents, but Destination: Beautiful accomplished something a bit different.  Even though these songs appealed to fans of the emo genre of the time, singer/guitarist, Dave Elkins, started singing about finding hope and all things generally uplifting.  Instead of putting marks on your wrist, Mae’s debut album would leave smiles on your face.

Mae starts off almost slow with the fan favorite “Embers and Envelopes.”  The song does a really good job of defining Mae’s signature sound for the rest of the album; spacey emo, distorted and palm muted guitars, catchy choruses, and keen drumming abilities provided throughout the album by the ever technical Jacob Marshell.  “This Time Is The Last Time” is a true measure of the album’s ability to be dynamic as it starts with an acoustic guitar melody, moves into a booming chorus, and finishes out with the same acoustic guitar.  The next track, “All Deliberate Speed,” is quite possibly my favorite track on the entire album.  The low bass and background harmonies that show up every now and then are almost eerie for such a generally cheery song.  I really think the drummer in me loves the technical rhythms between the guitars and drums, and the bass drum to hi-hat build until the end makes me levitate in my chair.  “Runaway” has most likely the catchiest chorus on the album.  “Sun” provides a change of pace (but only sort of, if that makes any sense) for the middle of the album with its piano ballad outro serving as a kind of album-interlude.  Also a favorite of mine, “Last Call” features the tight and packy snare that was a part of the trademark early 00’s punk/emo drummers.  The song “Skyline Drive” was written with Elkins’ previous band, Sky’s The Limit, and (if the album even has one) might serve as the album’s ballad.  With its poppy chorus and matching guitar and synth riff during the bridge and outro, I can see “Soundtrack For Our Movie” being poppy enough to air time on radio back in 2003, though it sadly never got the chance.  Easily the hardest track off Destination: Beautiful, “Summertime” provides my favorite outro on the release.  For all of you drumming aficionado OBR readers; notice how the snare sounds different compared to the other tracks, it’s warmer and has a kind of looser attack.  Finally, the album ends with the fittingly huge, uplifting, and appropriately named “Goodbye, Goodnight.”

Destination: Beautiful references driving and the sky in quite possibly every song.  Elkins has even mentioned before that around the time of writing songs for the album he would “gather [his] thoughts and eventually turn those thoughts into lyrics” during his long drives as a commuting student in college.  Having commuted to school for a year, I have to say, Dave Elkins crushed the nail on the head.  Destination: Beautiful is great album to listen to while driving or sailing or flying… or wearing that blue Starting Line t-shirt with a three leaf clover on it that is too small for you like it’s 2003.

~ D.B.

“Why would anyone ever want to be screamed at?”

That, dear readers, is my mother’s thoughtful assessment of screamo, hardcore, metal, and the like. Whatever you call it, Momma Bear doesn’t understand hard music with screaming. She thinks the vocalists are screaming at us, the listeners. I try to explain that they’re not screaming at us, they’re screaming at the world, at their problems, at injustice, at stupidity, at females, at whatever. And the point is that sometimes our own aggressions can mirror theirs, and it can be cathartic or something like that. Or we just like the way it sounds.

In any case, she hates any music with screaming. I played some Norma Jean songs in the car for her once. She insisted that it wasn’t really music, and that she could in fact “do that,” meaning scream the way vocalist Cory Brandan does, so therefore it was nothing special. I chuckled and tried to explain that in the grand scheme of things, Norma Jean is practically soft compared to some bands. Then I played a Converge song. She just rolled her eyes.

The majority of modern alternative rock type of stuff is out as well. A Perfect Circle garnered this response: “Who taught this guy how to sing?” Never mind that Maynard is one of the most respected singers in modern rock, and probably ever. An epic Tool composition elicited an even blunter response: “I hate this type of music.” So prog-rock stuff is clearly out—The Mars Volta, Coheed & Cambria, Porcupine Tree—all total fails. When I played a softer song by the latter, she actually kind of enjoyed it, until the vocals came in. So I guess British accents are a no-go as well.

Rock, alternative, punk, prog, metal, screamo—all terrible, in my mom’s opinion. So what does the woman like? You may be surprised to hear that she does actually enjoy a decent amount of stuff released within the past couple of years—but I’ve figured out that it either has to be basically pop music, or stuff that sort of sounds like it came from her generation.

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Case in point: The Gaslight Anthem. When I was first spinning their breakthrough disc, The ’59 Sound, in my car, my mom’s ears perked up. “Who are these guys?” she inquired innocently. She likes them, because the whole point of that album was that it was engineered and mixed to sound like it could have been made in, well, 1959. She likes some Band of Horses tracks, too, probably because they have that Neil Young/Creedence type of vibe going on sometimes.

Then you get to the huge bands like the Chili Peppers, Coldplay, and Dave Matthews Band. Let’s get real—all moms enjoy jigging around to “Viva la Vida.”  For some reason she also enjoys “Reckoner” by Radiohead. This would lead me to believe that the really popular arena-playing bands are usually what she likes. But dear mother likes to throw a curveball here as well, because it doesn’t always hold true. She thinks Counting Crows sounds terrible, and reggae-influenced stuff like 311 is “druggie music” (although she may not be too far off with that one).

Further curveballs appear: she absolutely loves “Missed the Boat” by Modest Mouse, but if you play any of the old MM stuff she’ll laugh at it. Same with Against Me!. Their last album, White Crosses, prompted her to praise Laura Jane Grace’s (formerly Tom Gabel) voice quite highly, but when I played an older punk song of theirs she refused to believe it was even the same singer.

90s music is a mixed bag as well. Mom enjoys some of it—The Wallflowers, Hootie and the Blowfish, Gin Blossoms—but bands like Pearl Jam or Bush are generally met with sneers. There’s no point in even trying out Nirvana or the Pumpkins.

The point is, I just can’t figure out what my mom likes, exactly. She just likes what she likes and dislikes what she doesn’t. Some pop stuff, some “indier” stuff, some rockish stuff. But there’s never any clear-cut boundaries. After she made me link Hoobastank’s “The Reason” to her desktop for quick listening, I gave up trying to suggest good bands. More recently, though, she asked who the band was after I’d played an Alkaline Trio song. GAAHHHH! It’s mind boggling.

~ J.M.