Crocodiles: Sleep Forever Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Sleep Forever by Crocodiles.
C. Hontana (Food Pyramid)
Crocodiles’ 2nd album continues with the Jesus and Mary Chain worship that defines this band’s recorded output. They’ve added some electronics and wall of sound production techniques, and have taken a few more liberties with the songwriting, but ultimately the atmosphere and aesthetics alone can’t carry this album’s weight. Sleep Forever is too burdened with its own self-consciousness that it (like the band’s last album) can’t rise above the single band that it emulates. True, there are elements of the originality of its creators and of other musical influences, but when you have Psychocandy and Darklands why would you want to listen to this? My only explanation is that they appeal to a cross-section of the music buying/downloading public that is too young to haveappreciated the original thing. This naivety allows fans to accept (without question) a cheap, second-hand replica updated to fit current musical trends. The greatest thing about JAMC was that they embraced an era of pop music’s past with an idiosyncratic attitude and vision. The same can’t be said of Crocodiles, because while they too embrace an era of pop music’s past, they don’t have the purpose or imagination that made that past so compelling.
Mike Watton (Haunted House)
Crocodiles wore sunglasses inside last year at their Seventh Street Entry show. As anyone who has been there knows, it’s an extremely black room. But this is how they roll. And it comes across in their recorded material. They’re trying to create an aesthetic of dark cool, and they succeed. Unfortunately, like their choice of nightime eye wear, it feels very self-conscious. They go back and forth between too nice or too down and scary, and either way it comes across as a business decision. Not that they’re looking for the limelight, but it does seem like they could’ve sat around a table and made a plan for what emotions they wanted to bring to the album, possibly using charts and spreadsheets. In the two minute introduction to the opening track “Mirrors,” there’s a lot of intrigue and potential for some brutally interesting pop. But instead of taking off into the air, the plane immediately crashes into a candy shop when the verse kicks in, and the album never truly regains that potential. That’s because they’re obsessed with one idea, and they don’t havethe artistic chops to pull it off. Behind those sunglasses are the eyes of a cartoon deer. They don’t seem familiar with the necessary danger and desperation to make the album they’d like to.
Howard W. Hamilton III (Red Pens)
I love worshiping Jesus and Mary Chain as they are my all time favorite. Crocodiles love it too, last year’s “summer of hate” was practically a tribute to Psychocandy, thatsall you could think of when listening to it. This time around on “sleep forever” they sound more original and way more polished without being too slick for their own good. Last I checked this was a two piece band and a youtube video I saw showed them fiddling with an ipod for backing tracks andthe liveshow was pretty much two guys trying to pull of the great songs on the debut with so-so results. I think this time around they might have a few more bodies on stage to pull these songs off. Like someone handed them Pet Sounds and some Suicide tapes. They sound more like the Raveonettes this time with a little more guts and even smarter lyrics. Sleep forever is a great record. Dirty, tasteful, hip and smarmy all in the best ways possible.
I know I probably shouldn’t like Crocodiles. Their sound, both on their debut record and their sophomore release, Sleep Forever, are thinly veiled Jesus and Mary Chain rip-offs. Their live show at the Entry last year featured two pompousassholes who looked like they were desperately trying to look like Lou Reed but played songs backed by an ipodthat sounded like shit. They wore leather jackets and sunglasses when they are inside. At night. Yet despite doing nearly everything that they can to be the stereotypical band that I hate, I can’t get enough of them. With songs like the demented “Hollow Hollow Eyes,” the hazy, fuzzed out “Mirrors” and the rambunctious pop of “Billy Speed,” I can’t help but be enamored. Maybe it is because the sound they so blatantly rip off is one I love, but I findtheir second release as consistentlyrewarding as their first. While I understand how, and why, people won’t like this band, Sleep Forever will be joining Summer of Hate as an album that I think I will find myself listening to over and over again both in the near and distant future, even if the guys do seem a little bit like jack-offs and aren’t particularly inventive or cutting edge. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, right?
Crocodiles- Sleep Forever
Sleep Forever is out now on Fat Possum
Sufjan Stevens: The Age of Adz Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on the new live album The Age of Adz by Sufjan Stevens.
Matt Linden (Reviler)
The past could prove to be a tricky little bastard when longtime fans of Sufjan Stevens begin the wrap their heads around the singer’s sixth proper album, The Age of Adz.But it’s not because this is a whole new Sufjan – because, indeed, this is the same man that brought us so beautifully to Illinoise and back. It’s just that The Age of Adz, sonically, is just a completely different beast that listeners are used to Sufjan taming. It is, as you may have guessed, just as grandiose and equally filled with richly orchestrated arrangements as its predecessor – but Adz adds to what the singer was teasing at with his most recent release All Delighted People: the man knows and is exuberantly comfortable in laying his brand of folk onto electronically-laden soundscapes. And he does it so, so well. People have recently said that this shift somehow shows Sufjan taking a page from Radiohead in opting for electronics after their breakout album. But that cop out only degrades this soon-to-be masterpiece in Sufjan’s catalog. Adz is as big and bright and filled with wonder as Illinoise. And if this is the reason we had to wait 5 years to hear anything new then more power to you, Sufjan.
The Age of Adzshould be everything any Sufjan fan would have hoped it would be. People might pine at the fact that Sufjan has jumped on the proverbial post-Merriweather Post Pavilion wagon – but those people would be missing the point. Mostly for the fact that on his 2001 album Enjoy Your Rabbit, Sufjan proved that he previously had electronic chops to pull off Adz without the help of others. I could write a full essay decoding and breaking down specific songs, so instead I’ll try and sum it up quick with some of my favorites and highlights: Opener, “Futile Devices,” starts the album with a gloomy Simon and Garfunkel-type croon. The one-two punch of “Too Much” and into the tail end of “Age of Adz” shows the new/old Sufjan in full-orchestrated force. While the slow-moving, bass-heavy “Get Right Get Real” kicks and crawls through as many time changes as it does instruments. At a lengthy 25 minutes, “Impossible Soul” plays out like an epic, tragic opus – and, surprisingly, it’s not difficult to get through the entire song on repeated listens. After listening to the album numerous times on speakers I began asking myself is this was meant to be a headphones record.
I don’t think I could put any other album on par with Adz as the year and decade come to a close. And although it’s yet to be seen if Adz will become a more poignant musical statement than the monstrous Illinoise, there are times on the album when Sufjan himself is assured that Adz is bound for glory: Halfway through the dizzying “I Want to Be Well” the singer repeatedly proclaims, “I’m not fucking around.” Yeah, Sufjan, we know and don’t worry, we’re listening.
Sufjan Stevens is nothing if he isn’t adventurous. After building critical (and mild commercial) success as a gentle folky, he now is branching out with music that pumps energy into his usual somber, pretty tracks. While his new album, Age of Adz,starts out with the classic “Sufjan” sounding track “Futile Devices,” the rest of the album will sound foreign to fans who haven’t kept tabs on Stevens since Illinoise. I was lucky enough to get into his show at the 400 bar last year that sold out in minutes, so I saw a little of his prog influenced, multi part songs, but it is still jarring to hear on a full length record. From the twitchy, bubbling electronics of “Too Much” to the spaceship pop of “I Walked” to the epic album closer “Impossible Soul,” Stevens seems invigorated by the new tools at his disposal. While I am sure this album is not going to sit well with fans of “Jacksonville” or “Seven Swans,” it seems to me like a cool step for an artist that refuses to be pinned down. If you can get past the wild electronics and widely long songs, you will find an album just as engrossing and mesmerizing as anything Stevens has done in the past.
Ali Elabbady (Background Noise Crew, Egypto Knuckles)
If there’s one thing you can say about Sufjan, it’s that to keep us waiting 5 years with the jewels in his creative arsenal seemed to asked a lot of us. 2010 is the year he’s being spontaneous and surprising; after dropping the unexpected yet pleasant All Delighted People EP, he returns with his first full length player, The Age of Adz. Adz still sticks to its alt-folk roots, while straying away from it with more electronic instrumentation, you can hear it in the dizzying spins of the title track, however, there are spurts of moments when the instrumentation gets a little more personal, such as the chorus howls on “Now That I’m Older,” while punched-up kicks and menacing flutes invade “Get Real, Get Right” which is one of the many highlights. However it all comes to a head with the ambient and soft-spoken “Vesuvius”, while “I Want To Be Well” is almost like a packed metropolis, floating by with instruments and vocals abound. Make no mistake about it, Sufjan and his creativity haven’t lost a step, and The Age of Adz proves it. Maybe its a tad lengthy at 74 minutes, but can you blame the guy? It has been awhile.
Jon Behm (Reviler)
Paradigm shift! Folk/pop troubadour Sufjan Stevens has gotten all electric on us. Anyone who became concerned after hearing “I Walked” on Stevens’ recent EP All Delighted People can break out the full on panic: that tune was a signifier of things to come (and appears again here). On Stevens’ new record The Age of Adz, Sufjan and his Soul Sonic Force has definitely found a new muse in the synthesizer.
And my feeling is that the fan response to the new sound will be judged, not on how well Stevens adapts the new method, but rather on whether or not people are comfortable with hearing something new from a trusted old friend. For my part, based on only a few listens so far, I think Steven does a terrific job of co-opting his newfound sound by keeping strong elements of his old self around – the grand orchestral sweep, the whispery lyrical intimacy, as well as the occasional flute and horn. It will doubtlessly take awhile to let everything sink in to form a solid opinion but thus far I think Age of Adz is mostly a winner. I particularly love the angelic choruses that punctuate several tracks and add warmth to what may have otherwise become an electronic coldness. What I am not so sure about is the singer’s cluttered stab at funkiness, “Too Much,” his weird self-referencing in “Vesusvius,” and the occasional preachiness (am I wrong or is he singing “get real, get right with the lord” on “Get Real, Get Right”?). Many of the songs are also on the long side but it generally doesn’t bother me, except in “I Want to Be Well,” which gives epic scope to a song that just isn’t particularly good.
Still, this is just a first impression so I look forward to delving in for many more listens. Stevens definitely has me intrigued, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the more time I spend with Age of Adz, the more I will like it.
Sufjan Stevens-I Walked
Age of Adz is out Nov 9th on Asthmatic Kitty. Sufjan will be in Minneapolis on Oct 16th at the Orpheum Theater.
Fresh and Onlys: Play it Strange Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Play it Strange by Fresh and Onlys.
Chris Polley (PRGHS)
The Fresh & Onlys are a band that have for the past year or so existed in what I tend to call “the indie ether.” They’ve kind of effortlessly floated in a hazy space occupied largely by bands that pop up out of nowhere with a large amount of record reviews and blog posts not because they’re particularly notable or unique, but because they’re on a label that is equal parts prolific and reliable. Woodsist was the label for their 2009 breakthrough release (and I’m using the term “breakthrough” in literal terms here, as it was the record that got them into the indie crowd’s wheelhouse) and In The Red is the label for the new release. The former also gave us mildly enjoyable but largely forgettable (though this never precluded them from critical acclaim) bands like Real Estate and Crystal Stilts. Add The Fresh & Onlys to the bunch and you have a bunch of songs with curious textures but that’s about it. It’s straight line retro music that is inoffensive and bland. Joining the In The Red team is a step up because it places The Fresh & Onlys amongst some talent that is still predominantly straight line retro (this time more narrowly focused on the garage scene) but at least it’s brash and attention-seeking, such as The Dirtbombs and The Strange Boys. All this reductive labeling (pun intended) aside, the new Fresh & Onlys record is still nothing that makes them a must-listen unless you’re a dedicated In The Red enthusiast, but at least it sounds like they’re trying more on a few specific tracks. The main melody of “Fascinated” is downright inspired in its infectiousness and “Be My Hooker”, despite it blending in with the other tracks, is a wonderful name for a song. It’s more music that doesn’t stand out and just kind of wafts amongst the indie ether because of the label it’s on, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s also not really anything to write an overly long paragraph about. Woops.
Jon Schober (Radio K)
For the people who know me well, it is common knowledge that The Fresh & Onlys are just about my favorite band ever, a group I only came to know after I was given the album to review at Radio K when I was a new volunteer two years ago. Then I managed to see them at the Woodsist showcase in Austin this past year for SXSW, and as my suspicions were confirmed, their live show is just as solid as anything they have ever put out.
These guys are pretty prolific. Is this the third album in just 1 ½ years? It’s insane how many ideas they have brewing in their heads and how they manage to transgress any genre boundaries they might be accused of. Their self-titled debut was grunge pop, Grey-Eyed Girls moved straight into the realm of pure, brooding garage rock, and this new effort Play It Strange is total up-tempo nostalgia. The album starts with arguably the best two songs they’ve ever done and ends with two of the next best songs they have ever done. Lead single “Waterfall” in particular is one of the purest hooks you will ever hear and closer “Red Light Green Light” is made special with some almost indistinguishable features, whether it be the women chanting in the background during the chorus, or that southern siren sound exploding out of the reverb. The middle of the album is slightly muddled- it might be the almost 8-minute “Tropical Island Suite” which comes early on, a true “gotcha” moment to fans who thought they could never make a song longer than 3 ½ minutes. That being said, their material is more succinct in the shorter format.
As always, this band never fails to make an album full of gorgeously executed rock songs, and if you don’t start moving or dancing at their show with Clinic in November, I don’t know what will.
Adam Bubolz (Reviler)
The Fresh & Onlys come from the fertile garage rock scene of San Francisco, alongside of bands like Thee Oh Sees, Sic Alps, Sonny & the Sunsets and many more. After a handful of Eps and one full length, Play It Strange is their first full length for legendary label In The Red.
The opener “Summer of Love” starts out kind of dull, leading into the next tracks which kind of pick up the pace. The album really gets to the point it wants with the pounding “Tropical Island Suite” which drives itself into a noisy crescendo before it’s hazy coda. Other standouts include the almost spaghetti western sounding riff opening “Plague of Frogs”. The album closes on it’s slowest number “I’m A Thief” which sort of steals its bassline and melody from Little Peggy March’s “I Will Follow Him”.
Once in a while, the band hits the mark, but overall Play It Strange fails to be memorable. The vocals seem to follow the same pattern most of the time and the band never really seems to open up like they do at times. After at least 3 Eps so far this year, the Fresh & Onlys could benefit from a little bit of self editing.
Coming from a vibrant west coast garage rock scene (Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, Sonny and the Sunsets, etc), the Fresh and Onlys have consistently put out great records over the last few years while still riding under the radar. The group hopes to break that cycle (at least the under the radar part) with their latest LP, Play it Strange.
The funny thing about the title of this record is that I would actually use it as a statement if the band asked me what they could have done better. While the album is still really good, from the poppy 1-2 punch of “Summer of Love” and “Waterfall” to the demented surf rock of “Until the End of Time,” the sound on Play it Strange is the most polished and straightforward from the band yet. Highlights included the nearly 8 minute jam “Tropical Island Suite” and the nostalgic “Fascinated.”
The whole album is solid (as everything they have done so far has been), but I can’t help but feel the extra layer of shine actually takes away from the groups usual garage rock swagger. While it isn’t my favorite output by the band, it still is really solid and I really do hope it exposes them to a bigger audience.
Fresh and Onlys- Waterfall
Fresh and Onlys Myspace Catch the band on 11/12 at the 7th Street Entry with Clinic
Marnie Stern: Marnie Stern Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Marnie Stern by Marnie Stern.
The dust was barely settled on me writing my less than positive review of the new Screaming Females record when I got my first listen to the songs from Marnie Stern’s new, self titled album. It would be easy to think that I would come to the same conclusion on Stern as I did for Screaming Females. Both are rock bands fronted by female guitar shredders, but to me, that is where they stop being equal. Where all of the solos on Castle Talk seemed masturbatory and too closely linked to 80′s hair metal, Stern uses her prodigious guitar playing ability to integrate her deft playing into her songwriting structure. Songs like the previously lauded “For Ash,” the pummeling “Transparency is the new Mystery,” “Female Guitar Players are the new Black” and “Cinco De Mayo” show an aritst able to use their exceptional talent without feeling like you are listening to someone in complete awe of their talent. Instead of seeming like a talent show showoff, Stern mixes in her massive guitar riffs with syncopated drumming and her plaintive, yearning vocals. The final result is an album that is confident without being cocky, emotive without being cheesy and talented while still showing heart. Marnie Stern is an album I would be wildly impressed with, even if I wasn’t comparing it directly to an album that I really didn’t like.
Jon Behm (Reviler)
As a “music dork” I am supposed to really be into Marnie Stern, right? Because she’s a super great guitarist, the second coming of Sleater Kinney, a total babe, etc. Right? Right? I have heard these arguments from music critics time and time again but it still doesn’t change the fact that Stern’s music, in the end, does very little for me. While I think that Stern is an uber-talented guitar virtuosic, and her drummer Zach Hill (Hella) is probably one of the better percussionists of our time – overall I find their music cluttered and uninspiring. It’s as if in their desire to cram as many shrieking guitar chords and time signature shifts into each song, they forget that music is meant to be enjoyed on more than just a purely technical level. I find that while I admire the prowess involved in the band’s self-titled third album, the impeccable fretwork and meticulous drumming are precise to the point of being clinically sterile. It sort of reminds me of listening to a Van Halen album on fast forward (I would say on speed except that drugs might imply some sort of imprecision on the band’s part). Yeah, musical talent is terrific – but it certainly doesn’t necessarily equate great songs (see also: Peter Frampton). To my ear, at least, these songs lack the “soul” that I think makes music great. I don’t, however, expect many people to agree with me and certainly wouldn’t fault anyone for digging Stern, as far as musicianship goes, she’s about as talented as they come.
Erica Krumm(Sharp Teeth)
You should never read an interview with a musician you are unfamiliar with, before reviewing their album. It muddies the organic experience, and this new knowledge creeps into your mind and skews your own personal, honest first impression of the music itself. It changes your perception. I will admit that I unfortunately made that mistake, and so now instead, to be fair, I am not going to so much “review” Marnie Stern’s third, full length, self titled release, as I am going to point out some interesting things about it.
1. The swelling, epic, love-ache sound in the first track, “For Ash” is quite beautiful.
2.The overall feel of this record is fast and driving, with shredding guitars, and drums like an overactive heartbeat.
3. Stern’s vocals fade in and out of range, sliding from pretty and melodic, to art-punk sass. Her vocal style, in my opinion is comparable to Pretty Girls Make Graves’ Andrea Zollo.
4. “Risky Biz,” and “Female Guitar Players are the New Black,” are song titles on this album.
5.While thoughtful lyrics poke through here and there, Stern relies heavily on both technically proficient and creative instrumentation to get her emotions across.
6. Stern would be well advised to practice her professional interviewee skills. No publicly trash talking other bands, especially bands in your scene, and no talking about how you will sell out to anyone, for the right price. Even if it’s true.
7. I want to love this record because it’s quite good. I wont make this mistake again, I promise.
John Grimley (Radio K, Green Shoelace)
Marnie Stern loves contrast. She contrasts distorted, fuzzy guitars with clean, snappy drums. Fast building intros with plodding finishes. She contrasts her beautiful vocals with a high pitched croon. Her latest batch of songs are full of clashing themes and that can be good and bad.
When her dual approach works, as with the opener “For Ash,” it makes the song feel fresh and surprising. The rapid buildup of guitar, drums and Marnie’s high-octave vocals are suddenly slowed down as she switches to a more subdued singing style. Marnie’s voice is a beacon amid the foggy guitars and clashing drums as she sings “I cannot fail” forcefully enough that you have no choice but to believe her.
When it falls flat, it devolves into just a lot of noise aimed at your general direction, as with “Female Guitar Players Are The New Black” where her wail overtakes her singing a little too frequently and the guitars feel like background noise instead of music.
Luckily for us (and Marnie), with her third full length Marnie Stern she makes two contrasting sounds work more often than not. This album has a lot of originality and new ideas and they shine much brighter than the occasional misstep. On this album, Marnie Stern shows that she has the creativity and musicianship to go beyond any one genre. She understands experimenting is half the fun of being an artist.
Marnie Stern – Transparency Is the New Mystery
Marnie Stern’s self titled record will be out on Oct 5th on Kill Rock Stars
Marnie Stern: Myspace
The Clientele: Minotaur Ep Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Minotaur by The Clientele.
While The Clientele have always been a band heavily indebted to the past, especially 1960s Brit-pop, at their best they’ve been able to transform those influences into something contemporary and vital, as on 2005’s Strange Geometry. However, their latest “mini-album” (don’t call it an EP!) Minotaur is neither. It instead feels like a series of bland genre experiments in psychedelic and bubblegum pop (excluding the five minute spoken-word interlude “The Green Man,” which is itself risible, but for entirely different reasons). The absolute superfluity of this album is epitomized by “Paul Verlaine,” in which the tragic, fin de siècle, French minimalist poet is honored with a three minute pop song that sounds like a second-rate Herman’s Hermits cover. The next time you’re feeling nostalgic for the good old days of the 1960s, skip this one, and reach instead for The Zombies or even – and why not? – Herman’s Hermits.
When Bonfires on the Heath came out last year many Clientele fans crossed their fingers for a return to the band’s Violet Hour/Strange Geometry days of gentle English psych-pop. While many of them were in the end disappointed, the band’s new EP Minotaur may actually bring them back into the fold. If anything, Minotaur sounds quite a bit like and extension of the group’s pop-sensible Strange Geometry days – with its breathy melodies, dark surrealism, and atmosphere-drenched pop. But in the end, unless you are paying really close attention the differences between the Clientele’s records are generally negligible, at best. To most people this is undoubtedly the Clientele, sounding as they ever did and always will, with maybe slightly more accessible hooks than we have heard recently.
Still, the titular track and follower “Jerry” are two of the best Clientele efforts that I have heard in some time, better than anything on Bonfires. And the spoken word piece “The Green Man,” probably would seem trite in written format, but spoken by Alasdair MacLean alongside a spooky array of industrial clickety-clack it is downright terrifying. MacLeanhas always warned us about the degeneration of the bucolic countryside, but “Green Man” brings a whole new level of vivid melancholy that is downright affecting. My only real beef is that EP closer “Nothing Here is What it Seems” seems an ill-fitting follow-up to that piece – yanking the listener back out of his despair just as he has gotten comfortable.
I’ve always had a bystander attitude towards The Clientele. I’ve never fully committed myself to their albums to call myself a big fan. That being said, I would never give up the opportunity to see them live or act like I don’t respect what they do. I think the problem may be that they are a tad bit too twee for my liking. There’s just not going enough aggression to feed my punk tendencies and they just aren’t zany enough to feed my urge for throwback, psychedelic pop – something that I think they are going for. I mean, shit, if I wanted to hear some sappy, Brit-pop as depressingly blissful as this I would dust of my copy of The Queen is Deadand smoke some cigarettes. I did enjoy the dreamy feel of “As the World Rises and Falls” and “The Minotaur” was a fine enough introduction to the ‘mini-album.’ But they completely lost me with the off-beat, spoken-word track “The Green Man.” There was something eerie, creepy and very Pulp-esque about the song, but it just seemed very out of place – especially when it is the longest track on an album that only holds about 20 minutes of actual music. That, and Alasdair doesn’t exactly have the scariest voice on the planet. I think this short album would please both casual and diehard fans of The Clientele – or at least hold them over until their next proper full-length. It’s a fine enough listen to be told, but with so much great music this year/fall, I’ll let this one slip through the cracks for the most part. But let me end the review by setting in stone the fact that I thought The Clientele had the best cover on A.V. Club’s “25 Bands and 25 Covers” special with their version of M.I.A.’s mega hit “Paper Planes.” So they do have that going for them.
Antony and the Johnsons: Thank You For Your Love EP Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Thank You For Your Love by Antony and the Johnsons.
Jon Behm (Reviler)
I almost had a revelation the morning I first listened to Antony and the Johnson’s new EP on my way to work. The first strains of music I heard where fast, electronic, danceable instrumentals – stuff unlike anything I had ever heard from the emotive songwriter (save for his Hercules and Love Affair work). “This is amazing,” I thought, “Antony’s finally branching out again and trying a new style.”
The trouble is, I was wrong. I didn’t realize the radio was still on and while my ipod played away silently, what was playing out my car speakers was Radio K’s Rock and Roll Over. Flipping to the right channel I finally located Thank You For Your Love –delicate strains of somewhat baroque pop depression sung in a fluttery male soprano – Antony and the Johnsons, undoubtedly. And I am afraid to say that initial disappointment colored the rest of my listening experience. There is something so familiar, so unmistakable about the band’s sound that renders it at first novel, but monotonous upon repeat listens. While I like Hegarty and his band I just don’t feel like Thank You represents any territory that the band hasn’t already worn to death. It is pretty, it is sad, it’s a must have for hardcore Antony fans. As for me though I eagerly await the next time Hegarty tries something a little outside his comfort zone.
William Freed (Dada Trash Collage)
While listening through the 5 songs on “Thank You For Your Love”, I found myself gravitating twards the emotional honesty of the record, as if the hollowed vocals of Antony Hegarty were a constant reminder that public personas can still be a simple amplification of something real. The problem with a record like “Thank You For Your Love”, is the simple fact that great records are rarely built on emotion alone. While Antony’s stellar vocals draw you into the heart and mind of another human being, the musical arrangments of the songs rarely keep your attention as your thoughts wander.
Sections, like the second half of album opener and title track “Thank You For Your Love”, make it painfully obvious that there is a lack of substance present when Antony’s vocals don’t take the lead. I often wondered if the musical aspect of the recordings wouldn’t have been more interesting had the songs been recorded as solo performances.
Easily the most surprising track on the record for me was the album’s closer, a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine”. Antony somehow manages to create a refreshing take on a song that we’ve heard a million different ways. When I hear John Lennon sing “Imagine”, I hear a man trying to convince the ignorant masses to embrace the concept of common sense. Antony’s version however, resonates with the true emotion of a man greatly impacted by that ignorance, and the simple accoustic guitar/vocal arrangment keeps the listeners focus where it belongs. All in all, the songwriting on “Thank You For Your Love” never dissapoints. Sadley, it is the production that allows these recordings to be easily forgotten, making “Thank You For Your Love” an unlikely choice while flipping through your record collection.
Jon Schober (Radio K)
I earnestly believe you need to be in a specific mood to listen to Antony and the Johnsons. Needless to say, starting classes again and the level of stress which comes with that and multiple jobs does not fare well against the quivering of that voice. I’ve never liked Antony unless it was lent to collaborations with artists such as Bjork, Hercules and Love Affair, or Nico Muhly; at least then these other musicians could slightly cover up the dissonance that those vocals provide on a constant basis.
While he supplies a level of mastery to these other projects, his own band is ridiculously boring, a harsh statement to make in the midst of nearly universal critical acclaim. And maybe that’s what blows my mind: I can’t understand what is so appealing about any music that comes out of this band. While I would be pressed to say there is a certain level of melodic beauty going on here, I can’t even lie about that. This EP is so sparse it feels like Antony Hegarty is singing by himself, to himself, and without anything to accompany him, making this a terribly long listening journey even with only five songs.
The only redeeming quality here is “Thank You For Your Love.” It’s the one song that feels like there is some substance (not to mention instruments) to frame Antony’s words in. Fittingly so, it is the title track from their next album Swanlights. Let’s home their style only evolves from this one, because from there it goes downhill, including two frightening renditions of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Bob Dylan’s “Pressing On.”
Also to note, looking at their album artwork is always slightly disturbing- this is no different. With a nipple on the back cover staring you in the face and a dead animal in the inside, this becomes another depressing as hell work to get through.
Anything as eccentric and arty as the music of Antony and the Johnson’s is bound to divide opinion. For me, the divide comes in the form of the groups exciting entrance into the scene to the point now where I had trouble finding interest to listen to their short new EP more than a few times. For the groups debut record, I was enchanted with Antony’s androgynous vocals and the simple yet mournful music on songs like “Fistful of Love” and “I Hope Theres Someone.” In the subsequent years, the shine has worn off a little and I kind of let their last album just graze past me without it making a strong impression either way. I didn’t have that opportunity to ignore the group with their latest EP, titled Thank You For Your Love, as I needed to listen to the five song EP to review it. The songs haven’t changed a ton, but whatever it was the grabbed me with the first release doesn’t seem to be present on the latest record. The record ranges from the simple, horn filled title track to the not as horrible as it could be cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” over its short lifespan, but it never seems to pick up steam. Listening to it late at night the first few times did little more than lull me closer to my impending sleep. The spine tingling beauty I first saw from the band somehow has been reduced to background music on Thank You For Your Love, which is a shame.
The Walkmen: Lisbon Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Lisbon by The Walkmen.
Howard W. Hamilton III (Red Pens)
I feel like the Walkmen lost me around the time of their Dylan covers cd. I have to say I have always wanted to write something about these guys just to mention Jonathan Fire*Eater who the band had obviously made the press put a gag-order on the mere mention of their earlier incarnation. I loved Fire*Eater and the notion at the time of the possibility of a band like them blowing up on a major label and them being great live and commercial too. When I first heard about the Walkmen I was reluctant to hear they replaced the singer with a new guy. Over the course of a more than a handful of releases the Walkmen have come up with very satisfying but slightly under-whelming efforts never really living up to their first album’s greatness.
The new album Lisbon has it’s moments but for the most part it’s loaded with your typical over-ochestrating on songs that don’t deserve the royal treatment. There are alot of Pogues-esque drinking songs and borderline sea shanties. I can only imagine how boring some of this material would be live. I do however love the more rocking songs which come about every third or fourth song. If you loved their last album you will love this one, if you have been waiting for a break out rocking Walkmen release this isn’t it. These guys are about as talented as it comes they just need something wild to happen in their lives to write some songs about. Until then I will check every release until it happens.
Raghav Mehta (MN Daily)
I’ve always been at this perpetual disconnect with the Walkmen. Something about the albums never clicked with me and I always just ended up passively listening to them while occupied with something else – it was like my indie go-to for background music. That said, I was wary, if not uninterested, before listening to Lisbon. Musically, there’s nothing on the album that seemed strikingly different from the Walkmen’s signature fare of reverb-soaked garage rock. But when you get down to the mechanics of it all, Lisbon just sounds so much more ambitious and, well, bigger. Replete and neatly arranged with rousing horn sections and elegiac string, the Walkmen don’t settle for anything less than grandiose. From Leithauser’s stirring wail in the opener “Juveniles” to the gorgeous ballroom waltz of “Torch Song,” the band has never sounded so focused and engaging at the same time. The album carries the same atmospherics as You & Me but the tracks don’t sound rushed and lack some of the punch that made their previous efforts so accessible to listeners. And while Lisbon delivers more pop than punk, tracks like the aptly titled “Angela Surf City” and “Woe is Me,” serve as a nostalgic throwback to the band’s surf heyday. If you’re Walkmenfaithful you’ll probably enjoy Lisbon. And if you were skeptic like me, give it a spin. Its just damn good pop music and we can all dig that right?
The Walkmen, much like the National, have seemingly matured in the public eye (at least as far as the public eye cares about indie rock bands). Both bands have transitioned from boisterous rock and roll of their early albums, with lead singers not averse to shredding their vocal chords, to more lush, orchestrated sounds. Like their last album You and Me, their latest album Lisbon is a restrained, pretty album that finds lead singer Hamilton Leithauser crooning over mostly mellow songs, many featuring the horns the band began prominently using on the last album. The album is cool and easy to like, although near the end (especially the final two songs “While I Shovel the Snow” and “Lisbon”) it gets a little sleepy. For a band who burst into many peoples radar with the scalding single “The Rat” (although many of those people missed their amazing debut album Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone), the group has shown their more mature side while not succumbing to becoming a “adult contemporary” act.
C. Hontana (Food Pyramid)
Lisbon is one of the best albums of the year. The Walkmen have yet to misstep (as long as we don’t count the fun but uninspiring Pussycats as part of their proper oeuvre) and Lisbon expands, and reiterates what makes the Walkmen one of my favorite bands playing today: an evocative and genuine voice that is at odds with so many younger, fresher, and more self-important musicians that populate our current musical terrain. You & Me was a mellower and more sentimental album – a side of the band that was only brushed upon on earlier albums. Lisbon successfully embraces the autumnal themes of that album but is altogether sunnier (think A Hundred Miles Off) and sadder. It’s the most mature record they’ve made. Tracks like Angela Surf City and Woe Is Me are among the best songs they’ve ever written. I look forward (and presumably so do they) to when those songs will replace The Rat as the must-play crowd pleaser. There’s no need for a band with as much depth as The Walkmen to revisit old themes or individual songs. There’s nothing better than a new Walkmen album just in time for fall.
No Age: Everything In Between Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Everything In Between by No Age.
Jon Schober (Radio K)
Dean Spunt and Randy Randall are at it again: continuously pushing the boundaries of noise rock, they’ve now turned to a sort of sonic escapism on the new album “Everything In Between.” Their biography on Sub Pop explains their method; “they are on a constant journey to explore the furthest reaches of sound.” This effort is easily their most listenable, and I won’t lie, I was not a big fan of “Weirdo Rippers” because it was so unbelievably choppy, perhaps now in retrospect because it was collection of 7”s instead of a cohesive set. The accessibility comes at a time when their opening tour for Pavement is going to create thousands of new fans and potentially turn the band into one of the leaders on Sub Pop’s roster. Could it be they will surpass Beach House’s popularity?
This thing is totally solid. Lead single “Glitter” was great, but it’s nothing compared to the rest of the album. The hook on “Fever Dreaming” is catchy as hell, fast and breathless, and the vox are somewhat more coherent than previous efforts. The duoare playing with as much energy as they can muster; it’s no surprise they hurt themselves during their shows. In general there are just more melodies to remember on the album and things are sounding a little more surf-rocky (“Valley Hump Crash”). My only complaint here is a personal preference- when it comes to this type of sound, I can’t handle it for too long before the fuzziness overloads my head. It’s only a roughly 40-minute album, but 13 tracks is a lot to process, especially when I’m used to the 25-30 minute influx of garage rock albums that have come out this year.
John Grimley (Radio K, Green Shoelace)
Fuzz-popsters No Age have been at this for a while, having risen from the ashes of the seminal punk outfit Wives back in 2005. Their newest record, “Everything In Between” has much of the hazy pop that No-Age fans may be used to but it also includes instrumentals and somewhat paradoxically, ambient punk.
The first half of the album refuses to be predictable, setting the tone with the opener “Life Prowler”, a slow burning and melodic song that comes at you in waves, eventually retreating into silence. The album then abruptly mixes up the pace with the third song, “Fever Dreaming,” which sounds like tamer, gentler Oblivians.
With “Everything In Between” No Age has basically, like many other bands before them, proved that punk rockers are “real” musicians not confined to power chords. From the instrumental “Katerpillar” to the gloomy electro-pop of “Sorts” No Age delights in showing off the different ways they can present material.
“Everything In Between” tends to fade toward the end (they could have done with one instrumental instead of three) but the band should be commended for experimenting. Even though the results aren’t all positive, the first half of the album shows a band that can switch skins easily and still be distinctly No Age.
Matt Linden (Reviler)
Skuzzy, skuzzy, skuzzy. Damn, The Ramones and The Stooges and would be very proud grandfathers if they heard the third full length from the lo-fi punk revivalists No Age. So much of what these two guys are able to accomplish is indebted to their punk forefathers and they wear that fact readily on their sleeves. And much like their previous efforts, it’s an ongoing mystery as to how only two men can make a wall of sound this immense. But unlike Nouns and Weird Rippers, from the onset of Everything In Between, it’s apparent that the duo have kicked in a few extra bucks for production and hushed up the swaths of reverb a bit. They are still whirling in their lo-fi haze, as frantically as ever, and with enough energy to start a mosh pit at an old folks home – See: the chaos that ensues on “Fever Dreaming.” But there is a change is their songwriting approach, which sees the band calculating the vocal hooks to make catchier pop gems. “Skinned,” for instance, is one of the most straight forward pop punk songs the band has written and could see repeated radio play while “Depletion” is steeped in 90s alternative nostalgia. But six tracks in is where things go from as traditional as traditional can go with No Age to the wall of noise that I mentioned above. Once “Skinned” fades out the two meander through tracks filled to the brim with glitchy riffs, ambient noise, crunchy reverb and almost no vocals – save for the banger “Valley Hump Crash” and the shrouded vocals on “Sorts.” “Dusted” is the perfect No Age trademark that shows the guys creating something from nearly nothing as they loop one washed out guitar over another. After wandering they kick back in with two strong tracks with “Shred and Trasend” and brilliant driving closer “Chem Trails.” While Everything In Between probably has a few of my favorite single tracks from No Age, I don’t think it lived up to Nouns as a whole. For me, I would like to see the band bang out 10-11 tracks of songs rather than dedicating half of an album to pure noise. That being said, the guys deliver on their new LP and fans of the band are going to fall in frenzied, spazztic love all over again.
For me, it doesn’t get much better than when a band is able to deftly mix noise-y, punk ethos with some solid pop songwriting. One of the best bands doing that right now is No Age, and they provide more evidence with their latest record Everything In Between, which follows up last years excellent Nouns. Starting with the straightforward (at least for them) “Life Prowler” and “Glitter,” the production and execution on Everything in Between is as good as anything the group has ever recorded. The first half of the album is more pop focused, with the back half turning the groups attention to more noisy aspect of their songwriting. The group walks a tightrope of dissonecence and beautify just about better than anyone these days, and Everything in Between is another example of their readily evident talents. From the slacker rock of “Common Heat” to the wild dissonence of “Shred and Transcend,” No Age prove again with Everything In Between to be a band that is hard to pin down, but very easy to like.
The Thermals: Personal Life Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Personal Life by The Thermals.
Chris Besinger (STNNNG)
Prior to listening to this record all I knew about the Thermals was that they had terrible album covers. Now I can report that they also play bland and by-the-numbers “punk music”. Every song is hooky in that vague, abstract way all pop-punk is, that slips into your brain like a virus and later you find yourself humming it without being able to recall where you heard it. Every song the singer guy bares his emotions in plain lyrics that are ultimately unaffecting. Every song has the same flat production value. And every single damn song on this thing has the title for the chorus.
Nothing on this record is egregiously terrible, it’s just boring and in a way that’s even worse. Because, if the music isn’t life-affirming or life-negating or nasty or giddy or embarrassing or incredible or whatever, then why bother wasting anyone’s time? No one would be offended by this record, my mom could probably get down with this album, which is fine, but I don’t really want my mom to be digging on the same rock albums that I do. And I’m not suggesting that offending the listener should be a goal, but if no one is offended, then no one is excited either.
At the very least it is short, so that’s something.
Mojo Marshall (Switchblade Comb)
The Thermals aren’t exactly breaking the mold on their sound for Personal Life. But with a winning formula maybe that’s a good thing. The Thermals reminds me of the Ramones’ in that way: High energy, fast, fuzzy, simple, fun, and most of all pretty consistent over their discography. The main noticeable change I hear on Personal Life over their previous albums is the songs sound more, uh, well, personal. Hutch Harris appears wiser and more patient as he sings about love, success, loss, betrayal, triumph, failure, and growth. Personal Life is a solid record that shouldn’t disappoint most Thermals fans and may just pick up a few new ones along the way.
Kyle Matteson (Twitter)
The Thermal’s fifth album ‘Personal Life’ won’t come as a big surprise to anyone who is familiar with their back catalog. It’s a tight collection of 10 pop/punk songs with their usual incredibly catchy refrains. They brought Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla back to produce the record, just as he did their sophomore album ‘Fuckin A’, but overall the production doesn’t really deviate from their past few records much. I can’t imagine this album winning over too many people who haven’t cared for them in the past or finding too many new fans, but I also feel like if you like what The Thermals do then chances are you’ll enjoy this record to varying degrees.
Matt Linden (Reviler)
With four frenzied, simplistic and youthful albums under their belt, did you really expect the Portland-based punkers The Thermals to drastically change up their formula on their newest offering Personal Life? At this point, if they were to tone it down it would just be a slap in the face. When you hear about a new album from The Thermals you know what you’re getting yourself into. That’s not to say that the band doesn’t throw a few curveballs in the mix here, but for the most part these tracks are served up just the way we like them: fast-as-hell, full of big hooks and delivered with an enlarged heart-on-sleeve. But for front man Hutch Harris, as indicated in the album’s name, this outing is, well, a more personal affair on more levels than their last two efforts. The first being the concept album about a couple fleeing the U.S. from fascist faux-Christians on The Body, The Blood, The Machine and then the philosophical-leaning Now We Can See. The lyrical content on Personal Lifecertainly stems from experiences Harris has gone through in the past, present and probable future. This is clear in song titles like album opener “I’m Gonna Change Your Life” as well as “Never Listen to Me,” “Not Life Any Other Feeling” and “You Changed My Life.” The most notable difference in the band’s overall sound is a more subtle approach instead of banging out tracks as hard and fast as they possibly can. They show a little more restraint and allow Harris’ lyricism come to the forefront – which is may not mesh well with fans of their earlier work. There is a softer, gentler side to this record that takes precedent, whereas on early albums we would only see glimpses of that said style. “Your Love is So Strong,” though, backed by its classic Thermal “Ohh-wee-ohhs” is a true to form one-off. For me, The Thermal’s are the kind of band that are very likeable because they are completely free of pretensions. They aren’t simple for simple’s sake nor do they try and stuff their statements down any throats. They take what they see, lay it out in front of us and let us borrow whatever we wish. And it’s their take-it-or-leave-it attitude that makes The Thermals so refreshing and needed in today’s indie scene – a scene where it sometimes seems like sweating the small stuff is the only thing we have to live for. If you can dig that, you’ll dig this record. And everything will be just fine.
The Thermals- I Don’t Believe You