Posts Tagged ‘review’

jew-damageLet’s be honest with ourselves here—there will never be another Clarity or Bleed American, simply because those records are modern classics, and Jimmy Eat World got older, and so did we. These days, I’m not expecting JEW to put out the next Clarity, because it’s not 1999 anymore, it’s 2013.

That being said, I don’t want them to abandon what made them excellent in the first place. I don’t think they ever completely did, but some of their previous records flirted with it, becoming poppier and more produced than I would have liked.

Damage is the closest Jimmy Eat World has come to returning to their classic emo/alternative rock roots in many years, and it is excellent indeed. The record seems to mix the older stripped-down emo sounds with the Futures-and-onward full-bodied aesthetic. In short, it’s a good mix of the old and new Jimmy Eat World.

Right off the bat, “Appreciation” hits the listener with an organic guitar-based approach that typifies most of Damage. It’s probably thanks to the bare-bones recording-to-tape approach used by producer Alain Johannes, a regular Queens of the Stone Age collaborator. The title track, “Lean,” and “Book of Love” are upbeat, jaunty pop-rock songs. Lead single “I Will Steal You Back” boasts one of the stronger choruses on the album.

“Please Say No” might be the “Hear You Me” of Damage; a gradually-building slow-tempo ballad with deeply personal and specific lyrics. The next two tracks step up the energy—the exceptional “How’d You Have Me” is full of driving guitar and catchy hooks, and “No, Never” is the closest thing to Bleed American/Futures-era Jimmy Eat World I’ve heard the band produce since those records were released.

JEW has always thrived in the open spaces—expansive, mid-tempo rock songs with emotive lyrics from frontman Jim Adkins. The superb “Byebyelove” is a great example: another standout for sure, and one of my favorites. Album closer “You Were Good” is a simple acoustic song that almost sounds like it could have been found on one of JEW’s lesser-known EPs like Firestarter, the self-titled EP, or Stay On My Side Tonight.

Along with guitarist Tom Linton, bassist Rick Burch, and drummer Zach Lind, Adkins has crafted another masterwork here with Jimmy Eat World’s seventh studio full-length. Although the record is rather short—ten tracks, clocking in at just over a half-hour—the band consistently pulls off what they do best: sweet and simple emo-rock songs that stick with you. 2013’s Damage is unexpectedly excellent.

~ J.M.

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.

The-National-Trouble-Will-Find-Me-608x608With each full-length from Brooklyn’s The National, the band has progressed and grown in sound and scope. They continue the trend with their sixth LP, Trouble Will Find Me. While—for me personally at least—the novelty of The National’s sound may have worn off a bit considering I listened to Alligator, Boxer, and High Violet about a trillion times each, their new material is certainly as solid as anything they’ve released, and will be unanimously praised by fans of their prior work.

Trouble sees vocalist Matt Berninger stretching his limits like never before. On opener “I Should Live In Salt,” he sings in a higher register than normal, almost sounding like a normal indie band vocalist instead of the baritone bass crooner we know him as.  His whimsical ruminations rise to the forefront on songs like “Heavenfaced” and “Fireproof” in a way they usually don’t—most of the time, Berninger’s lyrics lurk behind the groove, rather than standing out front. Personal stories, regrets, worries, tales of love and loss—Berninger doesn’t break too much new ground here lyrically, but as per usual submits his lines expertly and humorously.

I’m also intrigued by the odd time signatures that occasionally crop up within Trouble Will Find Me. It’s most notable in lead single “Demons,” where an otherwise-standard National song is made unique thanks to a 7/8 groove, lead by drummer Bryan Devendorf. Devendorf’s parts seem a little less frenetic and busy than usual, opting instead to support the tunes tastefully rather than stealing the spotlight.

Some of the songs on Trouble are classic National (“Graceless,” “Don’t Swallow The Cap,” “Humiliation”) while some are more whimsy and fleeting than usual (“Heavenfaced,” “I Need My Girl”). “Pink Rabbits” utilizes a nice slow swing/shuffle type of groove that suits the band well, especially Berninger’s somber illustrations of his experiences. Closer “Hard to Find” ends the album with a subdued piano ballad, only introducing a light percussion part in the final minute—a cerebral closing to an album that sees the band covering some new ground.

I can’t say Trouble Will Find Me is blowing me away like 2007’s Boxer or even the band’s earlier records did, but as I said, it might just be that the charm wore off a little. That’s not The National’s fault, it’s mine. In addition, most National albums take a few weeks to really settle in and grow on the listener, so I’ll probably be more stoked on Trouble by the summer.

It may seem obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: those who already enjoy The National will like this record, and the band’s detractors, who might foolishly label this music “boring,” probably won’t find a whole lot to gravitate toward this time around. Even so, Trouble Will Find Me continues this band’s incredible growth and expansion, and is a solid addition to their existing powerhouse of a catalog.

~ J.M.

lucero-texas-and-tennesseeI pretty much divide Lucero into two eras nowadays: the old half and the new half. The old half, back in the That Much Further West/Nobody’s Darlings period, when the band had a more punk-influenced sound with crappier production values and more whiskey-powered sadness, seems to have waned in recent years. It’s given way to the new half, spanning 2009’s 1372 Overton Park until the present, which includes brass instruments and a healthy helping of Memphis blues and soul.

I enjoy both halves of the band’s career, although I prefer the old. On Lucero’s new four-track EP, Texas & Tennessee—to my knowledge, the first EP of their long career—they dip back into the old style a bit on the first two tracks, then give way to the rambling bluesy aesthetic on the last two. All in all, it’s a refreshing mix of their new full-bodied sound with a touch of the old depressing Lucero of yore.

The title track starts things off with an acoustic guitar that could fit it on some of the first Lucero records. Understated brass, a tasteful tambourine, and frontman Ben Nichols’s gravelly vocals round out the track nicely. Possibly the most solid tune on the EP.

My favorite part of “Union Pacific Line” is the beautiful finger-picking lead guitar part, supported by the full-bodied bass underneath. As with the first song, gentle brass swells accent the choruses—this is how I prefer the brass in Lucero’s sound: as supporting characters, accents to provide depth and emotion as Nichols groans on mournfully.

As mentioned, the last half of the EP relies on Lucero’s newer sound, a swinging blues-and-soul influenced aesthetic that seems decidedly, well, happier than the EP’s first two tracks. “Breathless Love” is a triplet-based groove with tinkling piano and more upfront trumpet lines. “Other Side of Lonesome” ends the EP in a ramblin’ Texas sort of way, complete with southern-style guitar riffs and a jolly tambourine-and-bass-drum foundation. These two tracks could have appeared on Lucero’s last full-length, 2012’s Women & Work.

Whichever side of Lucero you prefer, the Texas & Tennessee EP offers a little bit of both. If you like alt-country, southern blues, or soul music, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this latest offering. Texas & Tennessee might not be essential for a skimming of the Lucero catalog, or even a good place to start digging into the band, but it’s definitely a must-have for longtime Lucero fanatics or any fan of alt-country.

~ J.M.

P.S. Does anyone else think it’s weird that Lucero’s sophomore album was called simply Tennessee, and now this EP is called Texas & Tennessee? Maybe it’s suggesting an expansion of the old Lucero, adding a “Texas” style of rambling country to the old Tennessee sound. Or maybe they didn’t think twice about it and just liked the name. Conjecture on my part!

PERILS_Digipak-4 panelTwo of Open Bar Reception’s previously-featured artists, Mark Kozelek and Jimmy LaValle, have teamed up under their pseudonyms—Sun Kil Moon and The Album Leaf, respectively—to release one of my most highly-anticipated albums of 2013, Perils from the Sea. At first blush, the pairing seems unorthodox—mixing Kozelek’s low, droning ruminations with LaValle’s electronica-based bleeps and gurgles, which brings to mind the more electronic side of Radiohead as well as another well-known sound engineer/vocalist combo, The Postal Service. But, as with most things Mark Kozelek touches, this album is fantastic, even if the combination sounds strange at first.

Maybe this SKM/TAL combination is a sort of next-decade Postal Service, although I’d venture to say that Perils from the Sea imparts a depth and somberness that Ben Gibbard and company never quite attained. That’s mostly thanks to Kozelek, a sort of godfather of down-tempo and indie-folk thanks to his first band, Red House Painters. LaValle’s contributions shouldn’t go unmentioned, though, as his 8-bit synth sounds and Daft Punk-esque techno drum machines bolster the whole project. In fact, if it weren’t for LaValle stepping out of his comfort zone here, there wouldn’t be much to separate Perils from the Sea from recent Sun Kil Moon albums or records Kozelek releases under his own name.

Kozelek’s lyrics touch on relationships, traveling, touring, family, hotels, and his own songwriting process and career. As usual, he communicates them with an honesty and bluntness that makes every song a valuable slice of Kozelek’s musical output. Another thing I like is the length of the songs. Not only do you get the most bang for your buck—a solid hour and 17 minutes of music—but this genre seems to lend itself to lengthy, repetitive compositions. Not one tune is under five minutes, and half of them stretch over the seven-minute mark. Kozelek’s pondering verses expand over these longer tunes, weaving in and out of LaValle’s bloops and bleeps entrancingly.

“Ceiling Gazing,” an eight-minute tune composed mostly of droning organs, seems to be the most popular track, judging from iTunes ratings and what I’ve been reading from other critics. It’s a decent song, but definitely not one of my favorites. I much prefer the excellent “By The Time That I Awoke” or lead singles “What Happened to My Brother” and “Caroline.” The plodding “You Missed My Heart” tells a strange story of murder and arrest; something in the lyrics and the way Kozelek sings the verses reminds me of Modest Mouse—and maybe that’s not far-fetched, keeping in mind Sun Kil Moon’s 2002 collection of Modest Mouse covers, Tiny Cities. “1936,” “Gustavo,” “Baby In Death Can I Rest Next To Your Grave” and “Here Come More Perils from the Sea” shore up the rest of the album sturdily.

If I had to make a complaint, I’d say that by the time you’re through with the whole affair, some of the songs start to blend together because of the formulaic nature of these tunes—Kozelek’s rise-and-fall lyrical styling in front of LaValle’s drum machines starts to feel a bit pedestrian. I like the repetition within each track, but one has to wonder if the formula was used one too many times.

If you’re a fan of Mark Kozelek’s work, you’ll love Perils from the Sea. If you’re not, maybe this is the moment of his career that can be your ticket in. I highly recommend listening to this album with headphones, or at least loudly. You can’t hear the intricacies (especially LaValle’s background atmosphere-building parts) by playing this record quietly. While unexpected, this is a surprisingly great combination that in turn produced a great record. Here’s hoping this isn’t the last time Kozelek and LaValle team up.

~ J.M.

12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007}Lawrence, Kansas’s The Appleseed Cast return in 2013 with their eighth full-length, Illumination Ritual. Boasting heavy nautical, astrological, and geographical themes via the artwork and song titles, Illumination Ritual is in some ways a conceptual record and is best listened to as such: from front to back, without pause, in order to soak in the entire thing as one composition.

Musically, the album isn’t drastically different from TAC’s other work from recent years—splicing together sweeping instrumental sections with rollicking technical parts—but manages to feel fresh and relevant nonetheless. In typical Appleseed fashion, singer/guitarist Chris Crisci’s vocal is far back in the mix, echoing hauntingly behind the guitars and bass. Drummer Nathan Wilder’s parts oscillate between open beats and more intricate, busy sections—sometimes almost distractingly busy. Then again, it wouldn’t really be an Appleseed record without that, would it?

We begin with the wonderful “Adriatic To Black Sea.” The track demonstrates the band’s uncanny ability to maintain a flow and smoothness in a math-rock type of song. I can’t think of many other bands that pull that off, although American Football and latter-day Minus The Bear do come to mind. In fact, “Adriatic…” reminds me quite a bit of the leadoff track from American Football’s eponymous album, “Never Meant.” Interlocking guitars, a long intro before the vocal, a solid bass line—the comparisons are there.

“Great Lake Derelict” is one of the more powerful songs on Illumination Ritual, boasting an epic outro and a stellar lead guitar line. It’s sure to be a winner on the live stage. “30 Degrees 3 AM” is another solid tune that seems like it could have fit on Peregrine or one of the Low Level Owl albums; it also has a touch of the melodic tendencies of Two Conversations. “Branches on the Arrow Peak Revelation” is a cool instrumental interlude, followed by three more good songs in “Barrier Islands,” lead single “North Star Ordination,” and “Clearing Life.” The latter utilizes a perfectly subdued and overlaid vocal track behind repetitive drums and guitars.

The album rounds out with the title track, another instrumental. I’d prefer if the last song wasn’t an instrumental, but it’s a minor complaint and the song is still a good one. Also, a quick warning: the synth action in the middle of the song sounds just like police sirens—if you’re driving while listening to it, don’t worry, you’re not getting pulled over, so don’t look around frantically like a clown the way I did.

From the epic nautical and astrological motifs to the sweeping soundscapes, intricate instrumentation, and nifty artwork, The Appleseed Cast’s Illumination Ritual is one of 2013’s most depth-filled and ethereal releases so far. A highly-recommended listen from a band that has yet to let me down.

~ J.M.

What You Don't See

It’s safe to say that The Story So Far’s 2011 debut full-length album, Under Soil and Dirt, threw me back in my chair, like it did for most, the first time I heard its brutal yet catchy approach to the ever-typical sound of pop-punk.  By the way, I was sitting in a swivel computer-chair that also rocks back and forth, which would’ve made the whole flailing mess horribly embarrassing to watch (just saying).  Just as they did with Under Soil and Dirt, I’m finding that everyone seems to have a different set of favorite songs from The Story So Far’s 2013 sophomore album, What You Don’t See, which tells me that The Story So Far made a well-rounded album packed full of at least decent, if not spectacular, songs.

Right off the bat with the first track, “Things I Can’t Change,” the four Cali-boys set the general song structure and rhythm-centered standard for the rest of the album.  Take notice to that cleverly placed bass drum from the hard-hitting Ryan Torf.  Songs like “Stifled,” “All Wrong,” and “Face Value” show a lyrical theme of longing for friends and loved ones, which isn’t exactly rewriting the book on writing lyrics, but singer Parker Cannon still manages to do so thoughtfully and (as in true The Story So Far fashion) with a hint of angry accusations and finger pointing.

What You Don’t See’s real adrenaline-fed climb begins at track five with the song, and first single having been released earlier this month and constantly screamed back from fans at shows, “Right Here” is only the beginning of what I found to be the album’s three peak songs.  “Empty Space” is arguably the title-track, the album’s highest regarded song, and is just packed with anthemic lines including “I know it seems like I’m always upset!” which makes me (being over presumptuous about these types of things and all) think this track could prove to be a kind of “Quicksand Part II.”  Finishing out the album’s top three gems, “The Glass” provides What You Don’t See’s best outro, by far.

“Bad Luck” and “Face Value” prove the notion that The Story So Far didn’t just create a second Under Soil and Dirt but managed to demonstrate instrumental growth in their sound – exploring more hooks, adding interesting new rhythms as well as unfamiliar chords, and all leading to a slightly more mature and complex sound (now, granted this is still pop-punk – obviously nobody’s breaking down any barriers like their John Cage or something).  It might just be my overly-presumptuous excitement again, but is it just me or does Kelen Capener’s little bass ditty at around the two-minute mark in the track “Face Value” sound like something Mark Hoppus has done before in fifty other songs?  The album’s closer, “Framework,” displays a fine example of just how The Story So Far skillfully manages to mold hardcore into pop-punk without having to utilize those dreaded Four Year Strong/A Day To Remember/Same As Sunday-break-down-beats that even their self-proclaim predecessors, Set Your Goals, managed to fall victim to in some of their own songs every now and again.

The largest of the very few criticisms I have of What You Don’t See would have to be my favorite tracks of the albums’ tendencies to also be the shortest in length, but I guess that’s what you get for liking a punk band.  If nothing else the album is well done solely on the grounds that no one else in pop-punk is successfully making this type of sound, not the same way The Story So Far has been.  Well maybe Such Gold (shameless plug), but still, not with the same simplicity that The Story So Far manages to accomplish.  Just as they did with their acclaimed debut album Under Soil and Dirt, The Story So Far’s sophomore spectacle, What You Don’t See, continues to lay the path for the future of a more hardcore, yet still predictable, pop-punk.

~ D.B.