Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Listen to the new Atoms for Peace album AMOK

New band Atoms for Peace, consisting of Thom Yorke of Radiohead fame, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Nigel Godrich, are streaming their exciting new album, AMOK. Listen here:

Sound off below, if you are so inclined. Peace.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Review: Coexist by The xx

In celebration of the New Year I have decided to stop ignoring this blog. I hope you all will be back now that I have decided to return! In celebration of my return, I am posting my review of one of my favorite albums of 2012.

Coexist (don't worry, this has nothing to do with that annoying bumper sticker that pops up everywhere) is the sophomore effort by The xx, a band of youngsters who have got lots of creative ideas, and some genuine guitar/beat-crafting talent. Their first album, xx, was extremely popular among the indie crowd. Somehow, they were less enthusiastic about this new album. In my opinion, this unappreciative response is completely undeserved. The xx have crafted an album that still sounds like nothing else; they've refused to repeat themselves, which in itself is admirable.

My relationship with Coexist was somewhat romantic. My parents and I were coming back from Montreal. I had made a fairly consumerist vow to find and buy a copy of Coexist while on vacation in Canada. While I had already previewed the album online, I had to get this on vinyl, I told myself. I was disappointed in my initial search. Most record stores we stopped by were out. Yet I could not give up. Finally, three days before I got back to Chicago, it happened. In Toronto, at the same record store I had tried a week before, I finally picked up a copy. I was thrilled. The beautiful album cover forced me to open it while we were still on the road, just so I could gaze at the pretty booklet. All this before I even gave this album a real listen. Needless to say, I was hooked.

When I actually started playing the music, I was in awe of the cold beats which shook me out of the dreamy soundscape I was visiting. It was great, like a splash of ice water on my face. "Angels" is by far the most stripped-down track on the album, but it does a great job of setting you up for the overall tone of the music. This has got to be the quietest song I have ever heard that still comes from a rock-influenced genre. There is almost nothing going on, yet it is haunting and entrancing. What is there will just melt you. The rest of the album does not disappoint either. It is mesmerizing, the perfect combination of soulful lyrics, simple, echoey guitar and piano, and the mostly-electronic beats. While I can't say that every track blew me away equally, I was in general struck with how well the band kept their minimalist aesthetic without subjecting the listener to boredom. There's a lot of songs that are in a major key (about half), and therefore as a whole the album is somewhat comforting, if not exactly bursting with energy. It really was like nothing else I've heard, a new and winning combination of torch songs and electronic experiment that won me over.

Now I was so entranced by Coexist that I finally wound up going backwards and listening to their first effort, xx. Overall, I was suitably impressed, and yet I still do not understand what others don't like about Coexist. They are quite different. The xx are like a shotgun in their first album. They try many things, and do almost all of them well. It is also much more upbeat, and the lyrics a little less vague, if more conventionally sensual. Nevertheless, none of those traits strike me as true advantages over Coexist. In fact, because Coexist stays so true to form, it has its own victory over xx. Sure it's a bit more downbeat compared to the sometimes fast-paced songs of their debut, but it has more achingly gorgeous melodies, and some experimental effects that are utterly absorbing. It is bleak and yet hopeful at the same time, and I just love it. I still keep coming back months later, when the shine has worn off. Like a true love, even once it has become familiar there is still gratitude and even some of the old spark you thought would be gone after this much time. One more thing: this music really shines at night. Listen in the dark or with your eyes closed. There's a whole other world out there. That's all I can say.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Album Review: El Camino by The Black Keys

I will admit that I'm a fairly new listener to the Black Keys. Initially, I was somewhat put off by their gritty, no-frills sound. After merely a few encounters with their songs, I was hooked. These hipsters from Ohio who audaciously chose bluesy rock won my admiration. First off, they're a duo, Dan Auerbach, singer and guitarist, and Patrick Carney, drummer, and yet their simple, catchy songs reel me in every time. This new effort is a real stunner, because they honestly choose to give the fans what they want: more hits like Tighten Up, with fewer slow, meditative songs. In spite of the lack of variety in many of these songs, each one is so finely constructed that the album as a whole is great to listen to. Beginning with Lonely Boy, a near clone of Tighten Up (but better), we get the picture that we're in for loud songs that don't spend much time on the quiet side. Gold on the Ceiling, the album's other major single, takes the crunchy guitar and sets it front and center, and Little Black Submarines moves dramatically from soft to punchy and raucous, giving us a thrill ride. The two closing tracks, Nova Baby and Mind Eraser quickly move to a lighter sound, with more of a tender side. There are few weak tracks here; the only flaw this album has is that it's songs are somewhat similar to each other, and therefore it has a bit of a "greatest hits album" aura to it. Nevertheless, if you at all like the style of the Black Keys, it is worth listening to,you'll have a blast from start to finish.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Album Review: Mylo Xyloto by Coldplay

Should you buy it? If you like pop music, go for it.

Mylo Xyloto is a difficult album to review. In one sense, it is hard to fault Coldplay's songs, because more than half of them are musically engaging and enjoyable. At the same time, any longtime fan of Coldplay would admit that their sound has changed, and in most respects has approached a more "mainstream" sound. Is this bad? Not necessarily.

Coldplay's older music was mostly mellow; though they had a few real rockers like "Yellow" and "Shiver," it was clear from their albums that they cherished a more melancholy, contemplative sound. With their 2008 album Viva la Vida (produced by Brian Eno, U2 producer), they changed their "classic" style, and chose instead to make almost every song completely different from the last. Mylo Xyloto completes Coldplay's transition to pop music.

The album starts out strong, with possibly the best song on the whole album, "Hurts Like Heaven." As the songs continue through the first half, the problem is not so much with the quality of the music as the lack of variety and drama. The next four songs are all "pretty," but, as good as they are, listening to them in sequence feels a little like eating four donuts in a row. Sure it's good, but after a while we want some fresh, real food.

In the second half, things get more interesting. Major Minus is a 007-style song, produced and intense, and it saves the album from being a big blob of musical cotton candy. Next, we get a more stripped down sound in "U.F.O.," which is the most beautiful mellow track. For one glorious moment, Coldplay starts sounding like their best moments from the past.

Then it all goes up in flames.

Coldplay and Rihanna sing together on "Princess of China," by far the definitive pop song on the album. The old Coldplay is entirely absent from this song, yet for what it is, it can be appreciated. The last few tracks of the album provide a hodgepodge of ballad, raucous finale, and an attempted experimental outro. None of these are unlistenable, but then none of them, except "Up With The Birds" are standouts.

The problem with Mylo Xyloto is not that it's an alternative band's transition to a pop album. The problem is that their music, with a few exceptions, is less adventurous. The same can be said for their lyrics. This is a concept album, but I would only call it that in the loosest sense of the term. In reality, the concept is painted with such broad strokes that it practically disappears. Most of singer Chris Martin's lyrics are sometimes so vague that they don't really matter except as a vehicle for the melody. When I think back on cryptic yet fascinating songs like Clocks and Politik, it saddens me to see Chris reduced to writing such two-dimensional lyrics. If a concept album is about two lovers, than the characters themselves better be interesting, or else it just sounds silly.

That being said, this album still gets a solid 3.5 out of 5 stars. The songs are entertaining, with such a beautiful and lush sound, that it is highly re-listenable. It's nevertheless a slight disappointment, because Coldplay has set the bar so high from their earlier music that it seems like they weren't putting their heart and soul into this album.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

New posts coming soon!

I apologize that I haven't updated this page in a while. Various events have made my life busy lately. However, I will be back to updating soon, so keep in touch.