Photograph by Dierdre O'Callaghan

Photograph by Dierdre O’Callaghan

Listeners—and some critics—have accused The National of being too dreary, too drunk, too awash in self-pity. They’re not totally wrong, and on their sixth record, Trouble Will Find Me, the band has sunk further into their swamp of sadness than ever before. But The National are getting older, and if they sound defeated it only makes sense. Once upon a time, frontman Matt Berninger sang about the twenty-something transition into “the un-magnificent lives of adults.” Trouble Will Find Me is what it sounds like when you’re finally there.

There’s something about the 13 tracks on Trouble Will Find Me that feels very adult, even for The National. These are complex, layered melodies, and band MVP Bryan Devendorf still carries tracks like the first single “Sea of Love” and “Graceless” with his driving drums. But the band’s frantic energy, which burned so brightly on Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers and Alligator, has dimmed over the years. The man who used to scream “My mind’s not right!” on “Abel” is still here, but now he’s come to terms with his situation.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Berninger’s lyrics are still wonderfully weird, and on songs like “Pink Rabbits,” his grandiose, tragicomic imagery fits perfectly with the music’s heaviness: pianos and choirs are moaning right along with him. These songs aren’t meant to build you up, the way that rock music often does; they’re designed to weigh you down instead. Trouble Will Find Me is the soundtrack to the life the band is living rather than the life you want them to be living, and in that, it’s shamelessly honest. Sooner or later, we all have a moment where we need our girl.

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— , June 3, 2013    1 Comment

Photograph by Richard Dumas

These days it’s seemingly impossible to distance one’s self from the gripping distraction that is technology. With handheld devices that do a million things and the internet just a click away, we’ve become enslaved by it. It’s ironic because technology, under our control, is designed to simplify our lives, and yet we’ve become dependent on it to the point where it controls us. Our daily routines are dictated by our phones and computers, our actions sparked by the looming desire to share a photo or update one’s status. In this world of technological diversions and piercing stimuli, Savages are grasping for something organic, something raw. And if their concert signs (or the album name, for that matter) aren’t obvious enough, the music they make drives the point home. Savages want your attention and that alone. No videos, no flash photography, nothing. Just music.

But don’t misinterpret their back-to-basics philosophy as an act of simplicity. On Silence Yourself, the all-female quartet’s brand of gothic post punk is equal parts chaotic and composed, and showcases a knack for musical diversity. From harsh punk (“Hit Me”) to sprawling, atmospheric compositions (“Waiting for a Sign”, “Marshal Dear”), Savages are able to cover a lot of ground. Much of the credit goes to the band’s playing abilities. Jehnny Beth’s voice is energetic yet sorrowful, and her banshee-like wails on songs like “I Am Here” are spine-chilling. Ayse Hassan’s throbbing bass and Fay Milton’s powerful drumming form a menacing rhythm section. But guitarist Gemma Thompson steals the spotlight. Her dynamic style transitions from shimmering melodies to distorted power chords to noisy waves of feedback, albeit with such poise and certainty. Together, these four women burn through song after song with relentless stamina and passion.

Musically, Silence Yourself is a turbulent mix of gloom, fright, and angst, and the lyrics only amplify those feelings. Album opener “Shut Up” is a bold statement about the distractions of today’s world and how they rob us of our identities. “No Face” follows in a similar vein, but delves into desperate pretension and mimicry as a means of defining one’s personality. And “She Will” is a tale of lust, sexuality, and the consequences that may ensue upon the embodiment of such traits.

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— , May 26, 2013    2 Comments
Photograph by Dan Martensen

Photograph by Dan Martensen

I consider myself an atypical Yeah Yeah Yeahs fan, in that I’ve always preferred It’s Blitz to Fever to Tell. Then again, I’ve always been more into “Y Control” than “Date with the Night,” so the poppy electronics of It’s Blitz were incredibly appealing. Mosquito finds the band reverting back to a more rocky sound, though not quite as edgy as their earlier stuff. I’m not sure what the goal of the hideous album art is, but despite the initial impression, Mosquito is mostly alright.

The biggest issue is one shared with their second album, Show Your Bones. Beyond the singles, the songs blend together into an indistinguishable mush. It’s fine to listen to, but doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression. Dr. Octagon’s rap on “Buried Alive” seems like it should be an exciting divergence from the rest of the album’s sound, but beyond calling himself Doc Ock and getting me thinking of Spider-Man again, it’s not particularly interesting. Opening track “Sacrilege” hinted at a more adventurous album. Yeah Yeah Yeahs and a gospel choir!  And it works! I just wish the rest of the album lived up to the promise.

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— , April 9, 2013    Comments Off on Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Mosquito
Photograph by Neil Krug

Photograph by Neil Krug

In the spring of 2010, a song called “Ffunny Ffrends” was uploaded to a Bandcamp page. Little was known about the track until a backlash fueled by angry bloggers and viral reposts forced Ruban Nielson and company to claim it as their own. A year later, Unknown Mortal Orchestra had signed to Fat Possum Records and were jamming in the studio. It’s a success story we’ve heard before, but the band couldn’t have been more nonchalant about it. They’ve learned to accept whatever progress has been made and focus their efforts on what matters: the music. UMO prefer the easygoing life, the ability to lie in an open field, limbs spread apart, and bask in the sun’s rays. If only life could be like that all the time.

Much like the band’s rise to fame, II is a carefree affair, a loose collection of ideas you may happen to stumble upon as you rummage through dusty stacks of forgotten basement cassettes. Its lo-fi, sepia-toned recording emits an old-school charm and pays homage to The Beach Boys, Southern California sunsets, and Polaroid pictures. The songs are grainy yet vibrant, boasting colourful, steady drumming and whimsical guitar playing. II, for these reasons, is relaxed without succumbing to laziness, and demands your attention without conceding to brute force.

UMO aren’t afraid to get a little flashy with their influences either. Opener “From the Sun” could be a Sgt. Pepper’s B-side, and “One At a Time” is the result of listening to one too many Funkadelic records. “Dawn” is a short, pulsating instrumental which could be easily mistaken for a Boards of Canada song. And “No Need for a Leader” is a must for any road trip soundtrack with its driving backbeat and fuzzy guitar riff. Unfortunately, the band can get a little repetitive, as they do on “Monki”, a 7-minute tune with what is essentially the same exact chorus on loop (thank Elvis the song has a bridge). And “So Good At Being in Trouble”, while delightful with its crooning vocals and shimmering guitar lick, ends up feeling empty and hollow, as if a piece of the puzzle is missing.

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— , March 2, 2013    Comments Off on Unknown Mortal Orchestra: II

Foxygen - Angel Ceballos

Jagjaguwar’s release of Foxygen’s Take the Kids Off Broadway last year introduced audiences to a duo of psych-pop revivalists that made it their mission to cram as many influences as they could into one album. Although fuzzy and unkempt, it was a laudable endeavor. On We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, Foxygen continue their shtick, but this time around it is much more polished. Crammed-full of familiar melodies and elements of superstars from the ’60s and ’70s – with famed multil-instrumentalist Richard Swift producing – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic is a full-bodied album that is far away from the lo-fi world of their debut.  From Sgt. Peppered album opener “In the Darkness” and “Oh No 2,” to the Dylanisms scattered across “No Destruction” to  Bowie, Lou Reed (in the Velvet Underground days), and all eras of Mick Jagger – especially on the title track – Foxygen are appreciative of the sound that defines them, and they do their upmost not to mimic, but to pay tribute.

There have been plenty of bands that would fall into the realm of reconstruction, but Foxygen spans two decades of past musical high notes, quite the accomplishment for a band that have been recording under their current name since the age of fifteen. Countless bands before Foxygen have dabbled with quick change and cosmic patchworks of older influences, but few have succeeded in crafting songs as moving and catchy as these. The thick accents and psychedelic swirl of “San Francisco” walk the line of being patronizingly nostalgic until the hook-heavy chorus comes in.  Singer Sam France is a nostalgic virtuoso, who can not only throw his voice into any era, but can do so while always maintaining the flow of the song. Foxygen are in complete songwriting control.

We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic is a beautiful, non-stop convergence of ideas, some borrowed, some original, some revised, and some outright plagiarized. In the end, however, the album’s coherence comes in its incredible architecture of all these ideas, and the way the band sells them with a carefree, fun-loving attitude.  France and bandmate Jonathan Rado give it everything they’ve got, taking a project that could have very well ended in disaster and allowed their nostalgic hearts to fully grasp the predecessors that shaped them, creating a delightfully frantic, yet playful ode to the yesteryears.

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— , February 21, 2013    Comments Off on Foxygen: We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic