Tom Waits: Bad As Me 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 Bad As Me by Tom Waits.
Chris Besinger (STNNNG)
Eschewing the dark and clanging noise of Real Gone and Blood Money (actually every record since Bone Machine) Tom Waits’s new album Bad as Me may not be as caustic but its production style is just as extreme. It mimics a mono mix, a mono mix that is then played back through a transistor radio making the album sound like some forgotten crooner’s old 78s. Which of course with Waits is always the point, rarely has someone identified as a “singer/songwriter” taken such pains to create a complete sound world, an alternate reality where torch song singers fronted junkyard jazz bands and had albums produced by Harry Partch that were only released in Mexico.
On the first couple of spins none of the tunes here jumped out as obvious classics and nothing here isn’t anything Waits’s hasn’t done before, which is not to say that he’s phoning it in or the performances aren’t up to snuff. He is in clear voice throughout, showing off his falsetto range (“Talking at the Same Time”) and his gruff bark (“Hell Broke Luce”) in equal measure. The record’s comparatively sunny disposition makes it a throwback to Waits’s 80s material, especially Frank’s Wild Years. “Chicago” kicks the record off, pounding like an urgent, almost frantic swing number and “Let’s Get Lost” he sings with real joy and glee. Backed, not only by his usual cast of players, Marc Ribot, David Hidalgo, Casey Waits, and Greg Cohen, but also Keith Richards on several songs, including “Satisfied” an answer tune of sorts to “Satisfaction”. As always with Waits there is also going to be a certain amount of shtick, but on Bad as Me it feels mostly turned down. The ballads aren’t as maudlin or schmaltzy as they could be and he certainly doesn’t abandon his love of noise, “Hell Broke Luce” could have been on the first Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds record. The sequencing of the record is a little odd, it never gets a real flow together with a series of ballads all coming together on the first half and “Hell Broke Luce” sitting awkwardly between “Last Leaf” and the closer “New Year’s Eve”. Overall, it’s a tighter and more direct album, coming in at a brief 45 minutes (as mandated but his wife and writing partner Kathleen Brennan), maybe not a classic, but hardly a disappointment.
I can’t believe its really been seven years since Real Gone already. How time flies. Not for Tom Waits though. Despite the years Waits seems perpetually stuck in his own time-averse version of Americana, a niche that is easily described in most contexts as “Waitsian.” If you don’t know by now what Tom Waits sounds like by now I am going to leave it for you to discover on your own. Waits’ newest record Bad As Me finds the artist once again growling and crooning over a set of brand new songs. And despite the generally universal acclaim the album has already received (as well as my own Waits fandom) I am only really into about half of the new album. Most of the first half of Bad as Me is decent but somewhat forgettable, with the possible exception of “Chicago” and definite exception of “Talking At The Same Time,” which I had to look up to make sure that, yes, that was in fact Waits singing in a spooky falsetto. The worst of the lot is “Satisfied” with its cringeworthy lyrics and “Hell Broke Luce,” which sounds like Waits made up on the spot. On the flipside I have found that Waits’ sadder side seems to improve exceptionally over time – his ballads ‘Kiss Me” and “Last leaf on the Tree” I would name as amongst his best sad sack blues joints. Overall it adds up to some exceptional, some mediocre and some in the middle. Frankly I’ll take it. Despite bad As me not really tickling me all the way through I am still just grateful that Waits is still out there making records.
Tom Waits has always been an artist that keeps you on your toes, from album to album changing his sound and always mixing and matching his first love of back alley ballads and his penchant for chain rattling, Howlin Wolf inspired folk dirges. On his latest album, Bad As Me, he changes the game from song to song, showing both his tender and introspective side and his massive, earth shaking rock and roll growl, making an unsteady but rewarding LP. Waits is tender and worn on tracks like “Talking at the Same Time,” “Face to the Highway,” “Pay Me,” “Back in the Crowd,” “New Years Eve,” “Kiss Me” and the heartbreaking lament “Last Leaf.” The other half is pure hell and brimstone Waits, lead by the raucous title track and the sinister “Hell Broke Luce.” He is joined by his friend Keith Richards on the album and you can hear his influence on the rootsy “Satisfied” and the wobbly swing of “Chicago.” A listener who is jacked up from the more upbeat material or lulled into tranquility by the slower songs will be quickly snapped back into the reality of listening to a genius chameleon like Waits. His madcat ideas are so exciting to soak in and his style, indebted to many but beholden to none, is a breath of fresh air in a world full of fakers and thieves. After waiting seven years since his last LP and then hearing the bursting waves of material so full of life, one can only hope we don’t have to wait so long for his next LP.
It’s been seven long years since we’ve last heard anything new from Tom Waits and let me tell you this: it’s been worth it. Bad As Me is 17th album from Waits and is all co-written with his wife Kathleen Brennan and features the usual cast of characters we’ve come to expect on a 90s and beyond Tom Waits record: Marc Ribot, Keith Richards, Flea, Les Claypool, etc. Where Bad As Me starts to differ is the programmed elements, samples, turntables experiments and similar have started working themselves back out of the mix into a more classic Rain Dogs era sound.
The records kicks off in a flurry of banjo and horns (not to mention Richards on guitar) with Chicago. “Raised Right Men” is pretty standard fair for a post-90s Waits, punctuated by sharp stabs of Organ. “Talking At The Same Time” is a wonderful piece of hazy jazz noir hearkening back to the Rain Dogs era which fades into the souped up Eddie Cochran rock n roll of “Get Lost”. Waits slows down on a couple of tracks as well, the accordion ballad “Pay Me” and the scratchy record sound of “Kiss Me”. We even hear Waits hitting his heaviest with the metal-esque guitars and stomp of “Hell Broke Luce”. It’s the title track however that is the standout of the entire album with a split personality set of vocals and Marc Ribot’s always fascinating guitar playing.
Bad As Me is the strongest offering we’ve seen from Tom Waits in a few albums and one of the better things I’ve heard all year. It seems that the longer we have to wait (Bone Machine to Mule Variations was the last 7 year break between albums) the better we get.
M83: Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming Review (Three 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 three reactions, three impressions, Three Takes on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming by M83.
There’s no contesting the fact that Anthony Gonzales’ new album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is a grand statement. It’s a a double-album in the truest sense: 22 songs over 72 minutes. There are flashes of full-blown pop, unwinding instrumental interludes and cascades of spacey soundscapes fans have come to know from the band. While the album is a clear display of Gonzales pushing his own conceptual boundaries, the sounds within play out like retrospective, with him not only showing his new confidence as a singer, but also making continual nods to his discography. It’s a bold move for any musician nowadays to drop the double album and it’s daunting as a listener. In a lot of ways I think the album is incredibly bogged down by its length, but it’s not without its rewards.
Luckily, Hurry Up kicks off with six excellent tracks that each feed off the energy that comes before them. Together, “Midnight City,” “New Map” “OK Pal” and “Reunion” show a more confident Gonzales stepping up and delivering some of the best and biggest vocal performances in his catalog. His voice reaches out of the synth haze that once washed over them and it becomes the main focal point. This is probably the biggest difference that longtime M83 fans will notice on the new album. And for how good all of the tracks play out, it’s kind of a shame that it took so long for him to step up and command mic. The album then drips into the kind of ambient headspace that he’s always dabbled with before coming back with the piano ballad “Splendor.” One of the better standout tracks towards the end is the head-spinning “Steve McQueen,” which will probably be a great live staple.
Now, in all honesty, I’m pretty back and forth with the record as a whole. I want to dislike it just because it’s so long and I rarely want to sit through the whole thing, but there are some tremendous songs on this album and plenty that I enjoy. And just like his other releases, there’s an abundance of wonder and nostalgia and adolescence that cast a really dream-y mood to the whole thing. In the end, though, I think this album is better, and more enjoyable, in small EP-sized doses – which it has about 4 of. What’s really impressive is that throughout the 20+ song album there aren’t as many interlude tracks as I was expecting. And many of the songs clock at 4+ minutes. It’s a real feat that Gonzales was able to realize this album for better or worse, even if some will feel like me. Props to him for seemingly doing the unthinkable: making a double album in a time when the “album” seems obsolete.
Steve Skavnak (@steveskavnak)
Maroon 5. Matchbox 20. 30 Seconds to Mars. There have been plenty of bands that have taken a giant turd on the ‘numbered’ band name. Enough so that instant skepticism shrouds my subconscious whenever any band, no matter the positivity of their past output, releases a new record under a numerical moniker.
M83’s first record since 2008’s slightly over-hyped Saturdays = Youth is a behemoth in both size and scope. The fact that Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is double album is a bit curious, though. Over the two discs we’re given 22 songs, 6 of which clock in at under 2 minutes each, almost acting as interludes than songs themselves, and often times seeming a bit pointless & unfinished. While a good percentage of the rest of the tracks are smartly constructed and feature epic crescendos, the half-dozen shorties really seem out of place. Oh, and then there’s “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire,” a seemingly childish tale that is actually about tripping on frogs, which seems oddly ok even though a 7 year old is narrating the story.
Overall, this is a nice change of pace record. Rather than fixating on the backing sound wall, M83 expertly executes some addictive hooks that take a page from the MGMT playbook, but are obviously created more for a live setting than the album itself. Is this an album of the year contender? No. Is it even in the Top 10? Probably not. It is, however, the kind of kick-you-in-the-pants fun suitable for 6pm on a Friday, when you’re sick of the U2 & 3 Doors Down your less interesting coworkers have been streaming all week.
Ali Elabbady (Background Noise Crew, Egypto Knuckles)
You know, its become too few and far between that we get some multi-disc efforts. And maybe perhaps we have Joanna Newsom to thank, after all her last opus “Have One On Me”, sprawled over 3 discs, was surprisingly consistent for anything of a multi-disc effort. When talk arose that M83 would do the same with his newest record, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, many never questioned it, especially being the talented visionary that Anthony Gonzales is. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming picks right up in creating a similar mood and feel to Saturdays = Youth, although he focuses more on the youth sound of the equation, especially after hearing the slick dance jam of the lead single “Midnight City.” Elsewhere, there’s “Reunion” which is more along the lines of XTC meets Talking Heads, whereas such interludes as “Where The Boats Go,” and “Train to Plutton,” among many others serve as great segways between the energetic tunes and the odes to the 80s new-wave, dashed in shoegaze. Without contention, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming continues the streak that M83 has continued to ride on since he put out Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts. Gonzales and company have yet to make a mediocre record.
Justice: Audio, Video, Disco Review (Three 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 three reactions, three impressions, Three Takes on Audio, Video, Disco by Justice.
Ali Elabbady (Background Noise Crew, Egypto Knuckles)
It’s been four years since the debut album from Justice. † was an interesting record nonetheless, if not for its exercise if microsampling, then the numerous dance jams it created. “DVNO,” and “D.A.N.C.E” were just all around fun party anthems if nothing else, and their new record, Audio, Video, Disco, should come as no surprise in the natural progression of what Justice wants to create. Although this go round, as wonderful as the song structures are this go round, some of the memorable antics of what made us love Justice in the first place is a tad hard to swallow. Prog-rock, when sampled correctly at least can create some epic breakdowns, beginnings, and endings for song structure, and in this aspect, Justice does the best with what they’re given, and for the most part it works, especially when songs like “On’N’On” and “Canon (Primo)” come into play. For the most part though, Audio, Video, Disco attempts to put more structure into the prog-rock jams they’re trying to create, and while the attempts are honest, there are few occasions in which the execution sometimes comes off as half-assed, such as on “New Lands” or “Helix. Regardless, it should be interesting to see where both members of Justice are able to create after such a feat as Audio, Video, Disco.
Justice’s Audio, Video, Disco isn’t one of those records that takes a lot of time to get into. From the aggressive opening of “Horsepower” onward it’s pretty evident that the record is going to be a huge hit. The French pair has shifted their sound from hyper electronic dance music to a more prog-influenced, 70’s metal/rock sound. And on top of that very electric guitar-heavy base is a sort of electronic veneer that lends the sound the sort of tinny quality of early video games. It’s a bit like if the SNES had come out with Rock Band in 1992 and then filled it with Rush and Queen songs.
The sonic shift is a good move for the band – simply going down the same road as Cross over again ran the risk of sounding stale and un-creative (despite how great that record was). The only misstep is in “Brainvision” which sounds like Justice invited Ratatat into the studio to record for them (one of the more irritating bands of recent memory).
Great bands need to keep their sound on the move to a certain extent, and that is precisely what Justice has excelled at here. What remains to be seen is how much staying power AVD will have. Since I haven’t had that much time to listen to it I am still mainly just wowed by its glossy veneer. Will it still resonate a year from now? My gut says that it will. It’s a tough call though. Despite loving “D.A.N.C.E.” (from the first record) enthusiastically for at least a year or two I am finally kind of sick of hearing it. “Civilization” is definitely AVD’s “D.A.N.C.E.” and correspondingly, I currently love it to death. I just hope the love lasts.
Earlier this year there was a fake Justice song that dropped on the internet, which sounded like a crappier version of the banging electronic jams they brought on their debut LP Cross. Fans were relieved to find out it wasn’t the band taking a step back, but I couldn’t help thinking in the back of my head as I listened to their sophomore LP Audio, Video, Disco, that the 11 song LP felt like a tired pastiche compared with the Cross. While songs like “Civilization” and “Cannon” bring that bass rattling, Daft Punk emulating synth raucous that made the band so big, most of the album feels tired and half baked. “Horsepower” feels like a paper tiger, “Brainvision” is a song that has no heart (or beat) and the title track is just outright cheesy. While Audio, Video, Disco is Justice taking a step back, you have to take into account what that means. Justice at half strength still have crisper synths and heavier beats than most bands doing what they do. While I listened to Audio, Video, Disco I couldn’t help but wishing I could keep the good songs and pretend the less stellar ones were fakes, I realized that wasn’t the case in this situation. Maybe their debut set the bar too high for me, but their sophomore effort feels like a step backwards, even if that step backwards still leaves them miles ahead of most of their peers.
Atlas Sound: Parallax Review (Three 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 three reactions, three impressions, Three Takes on Parallax by Atlas Sound.
It’s starting to seem like Bradford Cox can do no wrong. Every Deerhunter album has been stronger than the last (Halcyon Digest topped my “Best of 2010” list) and the same seems to be true for his solo side-project, Atlas Sound. Parallax, had a tall order to fill following up on 2009’s winning Logos, but it manages brilliantly. Cox once again uses the Atlas Sound moniker to explore more of his pop sensibilities, staying away from the psychedelic noise-rock elements that characterize the Deerhunter sound. This is not to say that he gives up any of the complexity. On the contrary, Parallax has an incredibly intricate and dense sound for something from a one-man pop band. Most of these tracks are built out of simple lines from an array of instruments, all layered into a contrapuntal harmony, with melodies so sad they’re happy – or so happy they’re sad. The first three tracks on this album – “The Shakes,” “Amplifiers,” and “Te Amo” – are among his best ever. And, while the album drags a bit in the middle with “Mona Lisa” (intoning the grating lyric, “the Mona Lisa has got you, oh oh), as well as with “Praying Man,” and “Doldrums,” it picks up quickly with the catchy “My Angel is Broken” and ends on a sunny note with “Lightworks.” It says everything that the kind of song that most bands spend their career trying to write, Bradford Cox throws in at the #12 spot.
Between Deerhunter and Atlas Sound, Bradford Cox keeps up such a steady stream of output that I keep thinking that sooner or later some of it is going to be terrible. So far though, Cox seems par for the course – pretty much just releasing solid effort after solid effort, sometimes sublime and sometimes just plain good. And based on a few weeks of listening to the new Atlas Sound record Parallax, I think it belongs mostly in the just “good” category. While it’s got some really great tunes (particularly towards the end – the last four songs are an excellent bloc) there are also some songs (like “Mona Lisa” and “Amplifiers”) that I like but am not in love with just for the simple fact that they don’t sweep me off my feet. I am likely setting the bar a little too high considering how much I loved the past few Deerhunter and Atlas Sound albums, but try as I might I just can’t connect with the new record the way I have done with Logos, Halcyon Digest, Microcastle, etc. A lot of Cox’s works have been slow builders for me though so ask me in a few months and I may have grown to love Parallax.
Bradford Cox is almost too talented for his own good. With his seemingly endless releases with Deerhunter and his more solo based work as Atlas Sound coming in wave after dreamy pop wave, it is hard to keep up with him. His material ranges from good to amazing, so the good material can sometimes find a way to get lost in the noise. His latest Atlas Sound LP, Parallax, is one of those “good” records. It is a quiet, contemplative record featuring minimal guitar work layered with Cox’s brittle but powerful vocals. Ranging from the really sleepy “Terra Incognita” to the somber but somewhat propulsive “Nightworks,” Parallax does what the other Atlas Sound projects have done and really highlights the intimate, cut-open-a-vein songwriting that Cox does so well. Highlights include album opener “The Shakes” and the wobbly, static filled title track. Parallax is another great effort by Cox and company and shows again why he is one of the most consistently rewarding indie songwriters around right now. Is it his best work? No. Is work that isn’t his best still probably better than 90% of people doing similar things right now? Definitely.
The Rapture: In the Grace of Your Love Review (Three 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 three reactions, three impressions, Three Takes on In the Grace of Your Love by The Rapture.
Michael Herriges (Midwest Broadcast)
The Rapture have been around for over a decade, but it seems as if the majority of that time has been spent not making music. It’s been five years since their last release. Furthermore, their history as a band has been nothing short of tumultuous, filled with interpersonal conflict between members — their one-time bassist/singer quit, and frontman Luke Jenner quit and rejoined. Despite their apparently inconsistent recording habits and lineup changes, the Rapture’s new album, In the Grace of Your Love, still successfully sounds like a Rapture album. And a good one at that.
In interviews Luke Jenner stated that he wanted to make a more positive-sounding album, so he studied gospel music and even joined a church choir. These influences are apparent throughout the album, primarily lyrically. Jenner’s songs touch on deeply personal topics — the loss of his mother and learning to be a father. This makes the album their most intimate yet, a true labor of love and mourning.
The album also continues on the path of 2006’s Pieces of the People We Love, straying further from their punk roots. Much of In the Grace of Your Love is variegated. Consecutive songs often sound like they don’t belong on the same album. The guitar driven “Blue Bird” segues right into the dance floor polka of “Come Back To Me.” The languid-psych of “Roller Coaster” transitions into the hook-driven synth-pop of “Children.” Of course there’s the absolute monster of a single “How Deep Is Your Love?”, powered by a disco piano loop and a glorious fuzzy bass line. The closer, “It Takes Time To Be A Man,” ends on a beautiful chorus of Jenner wailing “Hallelujah,” a final nod to the gospel impulse that drives much of the album.
The Rapture have grown gracefully since 2003’s Echoes. Jenner’s paranoiac wail of a voice is now more mature and melodic, but he hasn’t lost his knack for writing a great hook. The band’s signature punk sound is gone, but they still kept one foot on the dance floor. In the Grace of Your Love succeeds by showcasing the band’s new directions while still recognizing their past. It may have taken five years to get this far, but it’s good to have the Rapture back.
Ali Elabbady (CEO/Producer; Background Noise, Egypto Knuckles)
To get a bit personal, I still remember the first time I heard The Rapture’s Echoes. While it was a great album, I kinda felt a little jilted when I heard their 3rd album, Pieces of the People We Love, not because I didn’t like it, it was definitely everything the band hoped for, but perhaps the concept didn’t strike my ear in the way Echoes once did, but then it definitely grew on me, unlike some folks who were seeking another Echoes. Enter their new record In The Grace of Your Love, which was produced by Phillip Zdar. Yes, he’s the guy that produced some album called Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. And in a lot of ways the spirit of Wolfgang is entrenched in this record, but the lyrics definitely provided a much darker sound, specifically after the untimely suicide of Luke Jenner’s Mother. You can hear it in “Miss You,” and the nicely done subtleties of “Sail Away.” “Blue Bird” definitely is a dark yet dancy jam, folks that dug a lot of Echoes might see it as a hidden jab at a return to form. Some songs like “Come Back To Me” and the title track wouldn’t sound out of place at your favorite frat party, or even your favorite light-show ridden night club, brooding synths and drums that build a groove into a skyscraper. A return to form it is not, but it is definitely a welcome back, and a homely welcome at that.
I am a giant DFA geek and was just about the target age when their big album Echos came out in 2003, but for whatever reason I have never fully connected with The Rapture during their heyday, and have never really caught on to their work to this day. Coming into their latest work In The Grace of Your Love pretty much neutral, I left feeling like I had just listened to the most hollow, generic indie rock album of the year. Sounding nothing like their dance floor filling DFA ilk, In the Grace of Love feels more like a less creative Yeasayer record or a less funky TV on the Radio LP pulled together will little creativity and less musical chops. From the lifeless “Miss You” to the busy but lackluster “Rollercoaster” to the hollow, cheesy faux soul funk of “Never Die Again,” the record feels like an extended test session that never delivers on any of the structural promises the genre jumping music could provide. The title track pumps a little life into the record, but for the most part each song served as an excruciating test to see if I could make it through the entire track before having to endure the next. I am starting to think I didn’t miss much back in 2003.
Catch the band Sept 26th at the Varsity Theater.
Girls: Father, Son, Holy Ghost Review (ThreeTakes)
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 three reactions, three impressions, Three Takes on Father, Son, Holy Ghost by Girls.
Steve Skavnak (Twitter)
“Honey Bunny” and “Alex,” the first two tracks off of Girls’ second full length, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, pick up exactly where their excellent debut (Album) left off. They’re sunny, punchy and energetic, showing that the band, which has earned plenty of divisive reviews in the past, might have some long-term promise. Unfortunately for the listener, though, the band hits their creative precipice early, and the rest of the album is just a slow tumble.
Father, Son, Holy Ghost lacks proper direction and is void of any considerable ambition. Christopher Owens often offers up a wannabe Randy Newman vocal vibe, but sounds more like what your parents hear when you’re on the phone with them and they ask if “you’re in a tunnel.” “Die” seems to have been written solely for Guitar Hero, while “Saying I Love You” sounds like a suburban high school garage band readying themselves for their big gig at prom. “Vomit” properly induces its own name; it’s a confused mess for 5 minutes until a curious crescendo brings forth over-the-top Hammond organ and forced Gospel vocal accompaniment. Thankfully later in the album, “Love, Like A River” and “Jamie Marie” bring back both the organ and backing vocals in a more appropriate manner, resulting in a couple of rare bright spots.
Above all else, Girls just seem a little bored, as if they were making the record they thought they should make, not the one they wanted to. Father, Son, Holy Ghost is an unfortunate step backwards for a buzz band on the incline, but many have tackled that obstacle in the past, and let’s hope that Girls are the most recent addition.
Father, Son, Holy Ghost has cemented my opinion that San Francisco’s Girls are some of the most maddeningly inconsistent indie rockers of recent memory. Their debut Album juxtaposed some really terrific singles with some less than stellar material. After that, their Broken Dreams Club EP thoroughly wowed me from start to finish. But just when I thought the band was on an upward tilt, their most recent LP seems to have set them back well behind where they started. Simply put, Father, Son, Holy Ghost leaves something to be desired. It’s full of very conventional melodies that are accentuated by the band’s recent addition of three new members (swelling from 2 to 5). The additions make for a fuller sound but one that only serves to underline the banality of the simple Beach Boys-influenced garage pop. These songs sound like they didn’t take much time or effort to construct, regardless of what “spiritual” message frontman Christopher Owen has tried to instill in them. If this sound is religious then consider me an atheist.
Zoe Prinds-Flash (site)
Though the sound is fuller, Father, Son, Holy Ghost is one of the least focused albums I’ve heard in a long time. Vocally, the band has matured– featuring a more personal look at Christopher Owens as a lead singer, however each song seems to be going in a totally different direction with nothing to tie them all together. The first two songs, “Alex,” and “Die,” are blatant imitations of other popular bands sounds’– “Alex,” sounds like it’s trying for more of an Arcade Fire sound a la The Suburbs, while I first confused “Die,” for the latest Black Mountain single.
Though the lack of structure puts me off, there are a few songs that I really dig. Owens’ voice truly is excellent, and it might be the one thing that I consistently enjoy about this band. “Jamie Marie,” where Owens voice is most excellent, won me over instantly and “Honey Bunny” is a perfect example of their Beach-Boys-esque poptastic groove, and though it borders on too corny, I still enjoy it.
The rest of the album bounces back and forth between sappy love themed songs, and plugged-in Neil Young riffs that are extremely hit or miss. The album ends with their previously released single, which I enjoy, but feel that they’re trying to stuff every different sound featured on the album and the result is a totally directionless and 6-minute song, appropriately titled, “Vomit.”
I wish the band could find one of their many successful sounds and produce something cohesive, but until then, I will spin Album endlessly and listen to a few excellent choice songs.
Balam Acab: Wander/Wonder Review (Three 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 three reactions, three impressions, Three Takes on Wander/Wonder by Balam Acab.
I admire Balam Acab’s debut record quite a bit but also have a few issues with it which are entirely due to my own personal aesthetic. First the good: Alec Koone has created a wondrous series of atmospheric, ambient music. The record’s eclectic sounds are absolutely drenched in samples of running/dripping/splashing water that combine for a very moody, slow moving sound that is as unpredictable as it is soaked.
What I don’t care for is the vocal samples that Koone favors, which are distorted to sounding like the kind of chirpy female vocals you might hear in an anime film. I know that this shit is in fashion right now but I still can’t hear it without being turned off by the grating sense of cutesiness. I want my “witch house” to be dark and brooding but every time I hear one of these samples I think of Hello Kitty purses and the like. For me that juxtaposition doesn’t work but for most I suppose it will seem wonderful. If it wasn’t for that I would probably love this album. As it is I only just like it.
People like to compartmentalize bands in music. That’s why we have absurd, useless sub-genres to keep everything in order: people want to believe that everything fits in it’s right place. And that’s why we have a fucking genre with the term “witch” in it. “Witch house,” “Rape Gaze, “Drag” – these are all pseudonyms used to describe a form of dark, atmospheric and Gothic electronic music that begin to take shape a little over a year ago. For the most part, and truth be told, a lot of the groups coming out of said genre are crap: weak imitators that gravitate to the allure of mystique and satanic imagery for any given reason. Much of it is one-off, unlistenable drivel that is torture to the ears. But then you have a guy like 20-year-old Alec Koone of Balam Acab who gets unjustifiably stuck in said “witchy” genre. I unjustifiably because unlike his peers, Blam Acab’s music isn’t good – it’s great. And I’ll be the first to call them by a new name: dream-step. (Because why the hell not?) But that’s besides the point, because when it boils down to it, Balam Acab is not(!) witch house.
However, Koone’s music is ghostly. It’s liquid, it’s translucent and it’s bass-heavy. It’s atmospheric, but it retains a very real and very deep emotional center. As noted by the title, Wander/Wonder holds its own kind of inward-facing childlike nostalgia that makes it feel like a dream you’ve experience before. And in the long player format, Koone is able to express a bit more than what was possible on the already impressive See Birds EP. Using crippled R&B samples, field recordings including splashing water and James Blake-rivaling bass thumps, he is able to create some of the most forward-thinking and impressive electronic music of 2k11 – quite the feat for the young 20-year-old. The album flows like a lucid dream, allowing the individual tracks to become part of a whole, not their own entity. The bottom all but drops out on “Motion” before the natural elements and thundering bass take it to a whole other level. Whereas “Now Time” leans on echos and static hiss before it descends into a dreary gloom. Koone is excellent at toying with emotion. He continually goes back and forth between dark and light, hopelessness and joy, and stillness to motion. It’s his awareness of these feelings that makes the experience impressive.
When people hold an ear to 2k11, searching for a shining example of what can be accomplished in the bass/electronic/”dream-step” genre, Wander/Wonder should be at the top of their list. This is the kind of relentless album that pulls you in on the outset and doesn’t let you go until it’s ready. It’s an impressive debut, one that will have many asking where will he could possibly go next. And that’s exactly what he intended.
Have been on something of a Tri Angle records kick lately, so I went into the highly anticipated debut LP Wander/Wonder from Balam Acab (whose EP was the first release the label put out) with gigantically high expectations. I left the record not quite at the (probably unrealistic) dizzying heights I had hoped, but still was impressed with the dark, warped electro grooves of Wander/Wonder. The album is seeped in the metaphor of water, both literally and physically, with effect laden vocals and shimmering soundscapes meshing with actual sounds of water, which pop up at multiple points in the record. The record as a whole is a memorizing collection of electronic pop ditties sent through the spin cycle from hell. The vocals, a soft and serene soprano, only add to the delicacy of the music and help to add a layer of intrigue to the music.
Highlights from the record include the delirious pop of “Oh Why” and the water infused beauty of “Await,” both of which convey the beauty and sadness that make the album so resounding. Why the whole “witchhouse” genre is causing a backlash, Balam Acab has proven that he both a)was there at the start and b)has the talent to super cede the run of the mill bands looking to hop on the Tri Angle bandwagon. Like fellow label mates How to Dress Well, Balam Acab find a way to distort and bend ambient electronic music into something almost spiritual, with a soulful R&B bend that helps to add emotion to songs that are otherwise chilly and distant. Wander/Wonder is a good album to zonk out to, a mellow vibe to chill you out when your copy of Untrue is missing. While it isn’t the holy grail of ambient R&B that myself (and others) had hoped, it still is a damn good album.
Kanye West & Jay Z: Watch the Throne 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 Watch the Throne by Kanye West and Jay Z.
Kyle Tran Myhre (Guante)
I’ll be honest: the contrarian in me wanted to hate this album. Both artists are incredibly talented and incredibly frustrating—two top-tier lyricists with access to the best production on the planet, a history of subject matter that’s equal parts thought-provoking and thought-aborting, and a media chokehold that guarantees that the world will go nuts no matter how brilliant or boring their actual music is. But while “Watch the Throne” certainly isn’t any kind of revolutionary, game-changing hip hop manifesto, it more-or-less won me over.
The album is book-ended by a pair of great moments, the sinister, propulsive opening of “No Church in the Wild,” and the back-and-forth rhyme pyrotechnics at the end of “Why I Love You.” Those tracks, along with the late-album highlight “Murder to Excellence,” fulfill the promise of the collaboration, and everything in between is cool but nothing special (aside from the Beyonce-assisted “Lift Off,” which is just awful). The two MCs don’t have a ton of chemistry (they definitely still sound like two solo acts), but each has a unique, engaging voice; while the overall message in most of these songs might be predictable (“it’s so fun/hard being famous!”), the line-by-line content thankfully isn’t. The production is solid, with a few head-nodding outliers—mostly, it’s just nice to know that pop rap is finally moving away from that Euro-club synth bullshit.
“Watch the Throne” is a great album is you like both artists but don’t own a CD changer that can flip between “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and “The Black Album.” It definitely doesn’t live up to the hype, but when the hype is bigger than the known universe, how could it?
Michael Herriges (Midwest Broadcast)
We first heard a sample from Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne with the brash, if not obnoxious, single “H•a•m” The song hinted that the duo’s long-awaited full-length collaboration album would be a quick and haphazardly thrown together project, offering little beyond a platform for the two rappers to discuss their greatness. After that, Jay and Ye made multiple returns to the studio — excuse me, luxury hotel — to rework the album into a more cohesive unit. The tinkering paid off and Watch the Throne is actually quite good.
The most distinctive aspect of the album is that it sounds epic, which is to be expected with what Jay and Kanye were working with. They broke the bank to sample Otis Redding, Nina Simone, James Brown (on four different songs) and Curtis Mayfield. The collection of producers working on Watch the Throne is astounding: The RZA, Q-Tip, The Neptunes, No I.D., Pete Rock, 88-Keys and more. Even with that all-star lineup, Kanye was the architect behind the album and his perfectionist touches are noticeable on each track. Kanye’s been on an impeccable creative streak since MBDTF, and only he can successfully pull off the maximalist sonics present on songs like “Why I Love You” and “Who Gon Stop Me.” The real key though, is he knows when to back off. While the album does not flow perfectly, the subtler songs like “No Church in the Wild” and “Made in America” provide a much-needed balance to the flashier moments.
Topically, the biggest complaint with Watch the Throne is the excessive stunting Jay and Kanye do. The two rap about private jets, Maybachs, priceless art, and designer clothes; that the album’s release coincided with a stock market collapse does exactly not make it a sign of the times. But to their credit, at least the rapping is executed well. The album is chock full of double entendres from both rappers (especially the not-at-all-soulful but still fun bragfest “Otis”) and subtle nods to early hip-hop. Jay-Z in particular sounds in better form on the Watch the Throne than he has recently. Sure, he raps about being ridiculously, ridiculously wealthy, but Jay has always rapped about that. On this album he also pens a verse to his unborn son (“New Day”), raps about his broken relationships with his former friends and labelmates (“Why I Love You”), and comments on inner-city crime and the lack of black men and women in powerful positions in America (on the fantastic centerpiece “Murder to Excellence”). To argue that Watch the Throne is a one-sided affair is to not give it a fair and in-depth listen; the album is more complex than that.
There are a few stinkers. The Beyoncé-featuring track “Lift Off” is awful, the trippy second half of “Who Gon Stop Me” almost ruins the song, and Swizz Beatz turned in a dud of a beat for “Welcome to the Jungle.” Jay-Z and Kanye have both rapped and produced better in the past. Watch the Throne isn’t better than any of Kanye’s solo albums or any of Jay’s finer career moments (The Blueprint, The Black Album), but that isn’t important. In spite of its shortcomings, Watch the Throne an interesting and very well-crafted album by the best duo hip-hop has seen in the past decade.
Ali Elabbady (Background Noise Crew, Egypto Knuckles)
This year, we’ve gotten a handful of dope side projects from teamups we either didn’t expect or imagine; take for example Eminem & Royce Da 5’9″ reprising their persona as Bad Meets Evil, and so far the best one has been Random Axe with Sean Price, Black Milk and Guilty Simpson as the super group Random Axe. The only other project that comes close to being mentioned among these three is obvious: that Kanye West and Jay-Z dropped Watch The Throne on Monday. Now there has been a steady stream of critique and praise for this project. On the one hand, it’s basically high-end rap in the sense that one listening to the album should have a healthy 401(k) and a multi-million dollar trust fund that reached maturity. And for the most part, it works; and the reason it works is that both are at the height of their braggadocio; and the production from such names as The Neptunes, Lex Luger, Pete Rock, Swizz Beatz, S1, The RZA and Kanye himself help provide the lush and rich soundscapes. Take for example “Otis,” which reduces Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness” to hellish grunts as the backdrop for Kanye and Jay’s back-and-forth, or even “Murder To Excellence” which plays as a two-part track which decries black-on-black crime and the flipside celebrates the hope that both men want to see their fellow folks be like them and aspire for the big things. Or even on “New Day” which shows Kanye and Jay writing a letter to their unborn children, and to autotune a Nina Simone sample is a gutsy risk that pays off in making the RZA’s backdrop sound a little more like Dilla. Both Kanye and Jay work best when they’re just shooting the shit, such as on “That’s My Bitch” with a little assistance from Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, or on the previously released “The Joy” produced by Pete Rock (which was released as part of the G.O.O.D. Music Fridays and comes as a form of one of four bonus tracks on the deluxe edition). The flipside comes on tracks such as “Lift Off” where Beyonce comes off as a Yoko Ono, while Kanye and Jay play Lennon, which is sort of imbalanced, but gets left alone due to great production. Other tracks share that similar drawback such as “Why I Love You” featuring Mr. Hudson. But overall, its a genuine project coming from a genuine place, which makes Watch The Throne all the more intriguing and awesome. Far from being top honors for album of the year (though that may change with a few more listens), its still entertaining to hear two titans making this type of a project.
Jon Jon Scott (Sound Verite)
Rap’s royalty decides to go all in and introduces “Luxury Rap”. The ever brass, cocky and mouthy, yet lovable Kayne West and hip-hop’s reigning icon and statesman Jay-Z have teamed up to show rap and pop suckas whose’ game this really is. While the first single “H.A.M.” didn’t set the world on fire, the second track “Otis” featuring an Otis Redding sample with no hooks and chorus. Now they have my attention.
Opening salvo “No Church In The Wild” features the lo-fi vocal beauty of R&B “it” boy, newcomer Frank Ocean from Odd Future. Frank Oceans lays the background as Kanye & Jay-Z play verbal ping-pong. “Lift Off” with Beyonce is side dish for radio. On “Niggas In Paris” Jay-Z & Kanye basically “ball so hard” trading verses on the life of an elite baller. Kanye West proclaims ”Sophisticated ignorance, I write my curses in cursive” on “Otis” as it rides a Otis Redding’s 1966 classic “Try A Little Tenderness”. The sinister brilliance of “Gotta Have It” where West kicks it off ”Lolololo white America assassinate my character”. Jay-Z wishes he could give you the feeling of “blinking on a million” as he reminisce of his earlier days “prior to this shit, moving freebase”. Kanye West masterfully imagines the trails and tribulation on his unborn son “I’ll never let my son have an ego. “He’ll be nice to everyone wherever we go, I mean, I might even make him be Republican, So everybody know he love white people.” That’s just West part on “New Day” with moody production assist from the RZA and a Nina Simone sample “Feeling Good”. Jay-Z responds “Sorry, junior,I already ruined ya’, you ain’t even alive, paparazzi pursuing ya.’ ”. The bouncy “That’s My Bitch” is underwhelming, even with great production and Bon Iver on background vocals. Kanye West opens “This is something like the Holocaust, million of our people lost” on “Who Gon Stop Me” followed by Jay goes in “black cars, black cards, black on black, black broads…middle finger to my old life”. The black daily life narrative of “Murder to Excellence” has Jay-Z inundated rhyming on wealth, celebration, crime and status. “It’s a celebration of black excellence,” he goes on “opulence, decadence, tuxes next to the president.” Holy shit that’s gangsta. West fires back “314 died in Iraq, 519 died in Chicago” on the American black hero salute “Murder to Excellence”. The duo shouts out Betty Shabazz, Martin L. King, Malcolm X, Mary , Joseph on “Made It In America” as Frank Ocean lays the vocal “sweet baby Jesus, we made it in America”. “Why I Love You” with Mr. Hudson addresses their haters, it’s quite alright. The deluxe edition has 3 more tracks “H.A. M.”, “Primetime” and the Curtis Mayfield looping of “Made In America” on “Joy” originally from West’ Good Music Friday series.
With standout tracks like “Otis”, “Gotta Have It”, “New Day”, “Who Gon Stop Me”, “Murder to Excellence” and “Made It In America” Kanye & Jay-Z deliver with a record, full of excitement and graduer, despite the Beyonce assist on “Lift Off” and the unnecessary club jump “Is That My Bitch”. While it doesn’t have the orchestral elegance of West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or the rawest of Jay-Z’s debut Reasonable Doubt it does capture moments of both artist at the head of the class. Watch The Throne is that black eloquence, black excellence, black decadence & black celebration of reaching the elite status so few if any American blacks have ever become a part of, Mazel tov.
Iceage: New Brigade Review (Three 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 three reactions, three impressions, Three Takes on New Brigade by Iceage.
I like New Brigade, the debut album from Danish punks Iceage, but at the same time I feel like some of the hyperbole getting thrown around them these days is a little much. I agree that the young quartet has produced some really intensely magnetic punk music, but I disagree that they are necessarily coming from any bold new direction. “Goth,” “Post Punk,” “Hardcore.” That’s the mix of elements that make up the core of Iceage’s sound and it’s not like it’s a revolutionary new concept to mix any combination of the three together. Yeah, they do it well – at times even bordering on the sublime. But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that we’re dealing with some radical new concept. New Brigade is a very good punk album, nothing more or less. Personally I think that is enough.
Howard Hamilton (Red Pens)
Iceage is one of those bands that sound super fresh even though they sound like everyone you love mashed together. These kids are young and from Denmark, Iceage are smart, creative and just snotty enough. The album is sloppy and slick at the same time it makes you wish this was your band it sounds effortless yet well thought out. It sounds punk and sometimes sounds like 90’s detuned Chapel Hill Polvo out-takes could be the cheap guitars with bad intonation, it’s all on purpose which makes it even dreamier. Every song is great, you hear a little more every listen and when it ends you want to play it again which is my number one goal when making a record. If you want something noisy, bright, raw, serious, fast, and infectious seek out Iceage New Brigade now.
It is a bummer that punk rock went and died, huh? It seemed like it had so much potential, but I guess it just didn’t have the strength to keep on…..wait, what? There is an album that is going to bring punk back to life? Even for those who were not aware there was a problem, here comes a solution! New Brigade, the short, fierce and powerful debut by four Danish teenagers Iceage, is just that album. Just ask longtime punk rock scene supporters the New York Times. It seems like we recently had a group of young, angry, loud and brash teens who captivated the music nerderrati (*cough*oddfuture*cough*), but take their word for it….these guys are the real deal. All joking aside, New Brigade is a solid (if short) 20 minutes of furious noise and sonic pummeling that shows some great potential for this young band, ranging from the rapturous “New Brigade,” “White Rune” and “Broken Bone” to the almost melodic post-punk of “Remember,” “Never Return,” “Total Drench” and “Broken Bone.” Don’t usually get your recommendations for new punk music from the New Yorker (or Reviler) and wonder if we have any idea what we are talking about? Check out the band in the flesh tonight and see if they are the real deal or not. You can even wrap your hands around a physical copy of the album that changed the world!
See the band tonight with Safewords and Maledicere at the Triple Rock Social Club