Archive for the Album Reviews Category

“Listen” – The Kooks

Posted in Album Reviews on September 7, 2014 by occupyairwaves

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Over the years, I’ve noticed that many bands, after putting out several albums of music with a similar theme or music that is decidedly “their sound,” feel the need to put out an album of music that sounds absolutely nothing like any of their old material. They do this because they want to prove to their audience that they’re a band of many talents and so their band isn’t stereotyped as one specific genre. Although occasionally this strategy plays out well (see Tegan and Sara’s surprisingly catchy ’80s-influenced Heartthrob from last year), these bands run the risk of being called very ugly things like “sell-outs.” Even worse, the bands could just end up releasing a garbage album. Enter the Kooks.

If you’re like me and love the Kooks for their indie pop-rock hits like “Ooh La” and “Junk Of The Heart (Happy),” then do the opposite of what the band’s new album says and DON’T listen to Listen. The album opens very deceptively with two pretty catchy tracks, “Around Town” and “Forgive & Forget,” but right away you can tell that the Kooks’ sound is completely gone besides frontman Luke Pritchard’s distinctive vocals. The reason for this is because Pritchard thought it would be a good idea to bring in London-based hip hop producer Inflo (discovered via Soundcloud) to help produce the record. The rest of Listen is pretty basic generic synth rock with the occasional hint of funk. The record’s first single, “Down,” was a terrible choice for a single in my opinion, especially since the chorus is literally one word and goes something like, “Down down dickity down down dicky dicky” (not to knock one word choruses of songs that are actually really awesome *cough* Nirvana *cough*). The album closes with a song called “Sweet Emotion.” And no, it is not an Aerosmith cover, so that should tell you everything you need to know right there.

Honestly, I was disappointed with Listen. Hopefully the Kooks didn’t waste too much time and effort on this album and can go back to their old awesome ways on their next LP.

-Joe MacPhee

Recommended Jams: Around Town, Forgive & Forget, It Was London

“Rose EP” – The Front Bottoms

Posted in Album Reviews on June 20, 2014 by occupyairwaves

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I have always felt that when a band reaches a certain degree of fame, they should be required to re-record the old hits and underground favorites that helped fuel their success in the first place. Enter the Front Bottoms, whose first two self-released albums (2008’s I Hate My Friends and 2009’s My Grandma Vs. Pneumonia) and EP (Brothers Can’t Be Friends, also ’08) contributed to the band’s rise to NJ stardom. All three releases collectively contain some of the catchiest and most heartfelt songs the band has ever written, yet the recording quality from these early sessions leaves something to be desired. As a response to these facts, the Front Bottoms recently put out the Rose EP – named after drummer Mathew Uychich’s grandmother – which consists of six freshly recorded fan favorites from the early era of the Bottoms. Some of the listed tracks will be easily recognizable to longtime fans of the band. In fact, “Flying Model Rockets” and “12 Feet Deep” continue to be two of the most frequently requested songs at Front Bottoms concerts. Some of the less familiar tunes were included because according to the band, they were songs that Mat’s grandmother particularly liked.

Coming in at under 20 minutes in length, Rose EP is certainly a quick listen, but it helps demonstrate how the Front Bottoms’ old tunes stack up against their breakout self-titled album and 2013’s impressive Talon Of The Hawk. The catchy choruses and depressing lyrics are all still there (“And I’m scared I’m gonna die / As lonely as I feel right now.”), but with a new tightness and power that the band has finally mastered. The improved quality of the recordings gives these songs some added freshness too. One major complaint of the Rose EP comes from hardcore fans of the Bottoms, who claim that the original versions of the songs are far superior to their updated counterparts. Granted, frontman Brian Sella has changed some vocal melodies here and there, and the drum beats are a bit more dancey at times. Nevertheless, the changes aren’t enough to really detract from the quality of the songwriting. Plus, people just getting into the Front Bottoms who have never heard anything earlier than 2011’s self-titled album wouldn’t know the difference anyway.

While the original recordings from ’08/’09 and earlier hold a special place in many fans’ hearts, Rose EP helps to keep these songs fresh and relevant. Those who appreciate this EP will also be pleased to know that Rose is just the first in a series of “grandmother EPs” of re-recorded oldies that the Front Bottoms plan to put out in the near future. So if you were also upset that songs like “Somebody Else” and “Christians Vs. The Indians” didn’t make the cut this time around, don’t be discouraged! For the time being, Rose EP is more than enough to keep fans satisfied. It’s yet another near-perfect release from a band that never fails to disappoint.

-Joe MacPhee

Recommended Jams: 12 Feet Deep, Flying Model Rockets, Jim Bogart

“Lazaretto” – Jack White / “Hebrews” – Say Anything

Posted in Album Reviews on June 6, 2014 by occupyairwaves

Thanks to the modern marvel known as the internet, Jack White’s new album, Lazaretto, has been streaming in its entirety for free on iTunes, while the same is true for Say Anything’s new record, Hebrews, over on Spotify. Since both albums will officially be released on the same day (Tuesday, June 10th), I figured I would do two reviews for the price of one! Enjoy.

-Joe MacPhee

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Jack White’s second solo effort takes everything fans loved about his first album, Blunderbuss, and bumps that up a couple notches. The recording quality is generally much richer, and the guitar riffs and solos are way grittier. With all the added “oomph,” it’s still pure Jack White at its core.

“Three Women” starts things off with funky twelve bar blues and some nice “lawdy-lawds.” “Lazaretto,” the album’s first confirmed single, is perhaps the most diverse track on the whole album. The vicious guitar solo and heavy breakdown towards the middle of the track are standard Jack White, but he delivers a lyrical performance that verges on hip-hop. A dueling violins solo directly following the breakdown adds some peculiarity, but it’s definitely an interesting way to keep the song flowing. Other stand-out tracks are the super-fuzz instrumental, “High Ball Stepper,” the bar rock ‘n roller, “Just One Drink,” and “That Black Bat Licorice” (my personal favorite), which conjures up thoughts of “I Cut Like A Buffalo” and other tracks from one of White’s other bands, The Dead Weather.

The songs on Lazaretto are incredibly varied, and they each rip in their own way. A few tunes on the record, like “Temporary Ground” and “Entitlement,” are straight country songs, and as much as I know that Jack White grew up on classic blues and folk records, I feel that these are the weakest couple of songs on Lazaretto. Just my own personal bias. Nevertheless, Lazaretto is certainly a step up from Blunderbuss. It’s good to see that Jack’s still on his upward spiral.

Recommended Jams: Lazaretto, Just One Drink, That Black Bat Licorice, Three Women

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It is undeniable that Hebrews is very ambitious, even for a band like Say Anything. First of all, the album doesn’t feature a single guitar part. Just bass, drums, synth, and strings. Then there’s the fact that the record has just about as many guest vocalists as Say Anything’s earlier album, In Defense Of The Genre, with half as many songs. No doubt that there is a lot going on here.

“Six Six Six,” the first single off Hebrews, is the first song on the record that really gives you a feel for the synth/string sound featured on the remaining ten tracks. It’s got an airy feeling while still retaining the punk edge of earlier Say Anything hits. “Kall Me Kubrick” takes this same energy and converts it into a darker – yet somehow more dancey – rocker. Following that up is one of the album’s more interesting tunes, “My Greatest Fear Is Splendid.” Just the intro alone demonstrates that frontman Max Bemis hasn’t lost his goofy, cynical touch when it comes to songwriting (even after it was sorely missed on Say Anything’s last record, Anarchy, My Dear). Other tracks like “Hebrews” and “Nibble Nibble” most strongly continue the album’s synth/string punk sound, which by this point has started to sound very natural. “Nibble Nibble” features arguably the biggest, most surprising guest vocalist on Hebrews: Tom DeLonge of Blink-182 and Angels And Airwaves fame. Lyrically, Max Bemis sings about coming to terms with being both a husband and a father, religion, and self-doubt, and all the psychological ramifications that come along with these issues.

In truth, Hebrews has quickly become a very polarizing album for Say Anything. Fans have been claiming that the band has lost its edge based on what Max is singing about now as opposed to the content of, say, …Is A Real Boy, one of the band’s earliest albums. Not only that, but the complete absence of guitars on all twelve tracks has undoubtedly made some fans lose faith. Personally, I think the whole approach of Hebrews was very ambitious, and the end result is a record that is both very fresh and still incredibly catchy. Granted, it’s not a perfect album, but I think Max has certainly brought Say Anything back into the spotlight.

Recommended Jams: Six Six Six, Hebrews, Nibble Nibble, Kall Me Kubrick

“Turn Blue” – The Black Keys

Posted in Album Reviews on May 14, 2014 by occupyairwaves

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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Anything that producer Danger Mouse (a.k.a. Brian Burton) touches is pure gold. Not only did he co-produce The Black Keys’ eighth studio album, Turn Blue, but he also co-wrote a lot of the songs with guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney. This fact is very evident in the album’s opening song, “Weight Of Love.” It sounds a lot like another album Danger Mouse worked on earlier this year, Broken Bells’ After The Disco. A nearly seven-minute-long opening track was a bold move for the Keys, but it plays out well and fully introduces the new psychedelic sound of the band. Auerbach stated that Turn Blue would be primarily a “headphone record,” which it undoubtedly is, once again made evident by “Weight Of Love.”

The record’s first single, “Fever,” was met with mixed feelings, as many fans worried there would be less guitar and more synth than on previous Keys albums. Although there is clearly more emphasis on synth leads and basslines on Turn Blue, there is still plenty of guitar riffing to go around. For example, one of my personal favorites, album closer “Gotta Get Away,” is pure classic rock with a guitar solo and power chords galore. Growing up listening to bands like The Eagles and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, I instantly fell in love with this track. Meanwhile, songs like the searing “Bullet In The Brain” showcase the aforementioned new emphasis on synth and bass.

The album title, Turn Blue, describes the Keys’ lyrical content pretty well on its own: The lyrics all point to Auerbach’s vicious divorce, and you can really hear his pain as he sings lines like “Pour me down the drain, I disappear / Like every honest thing I used to hear.” As truly heartbreaking as Turn Blue is, it still manages to be one of the best albums of 2014 so far. If you like the rest of the Keys’ discography, you’ll grow to love their new psychedelic sound.

-Joe MacPhee

Recommended Jams: Weight Of Love, Fever, Bullet In The Brain, Gotta Get Away

“Snapshot” – The Strypes

Posted in Album Reviews on April 22, 2014 by occupyairwaves

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I typically only do album reviews for records that have come out in the past week or two, but this one was just too good to ignore. The Strypes are an Irish four-piece rock band (guitar, drums, bass, vocals), and I would have never heard of them if it hadn’t been for their feature in the most recent issue of Rolling Stone. At first, I wrote them off as another throw-away blues band, considering how terribly misleading Rolling Stone music reviews are. Luckily, my view on the band completely changed when I actually gave them a chance. Although the Strypes sound just like any other late ’60s throwback blues rock band, what really sets them apart from their counterparts is the fact that the band members are only between 16 and 18 years old! The raw talent of each member at such a young age is truly awe-inspiring.

Like I said, the band’s debut album, Snapshot, was released in North America back on March 18, and it sounds like a mix of the hard-rocking elements of Jet with the blues twang of the Rolling Stones (termed “speed blues”). Lead vocalist Ross Farrelly’s vocal delivery and harmonica solos, mixed with lead guitarist Josh McClorey’s blistering leads, bassist Pete O’Hanlon’s constantly walking basslines, and drummer Evan Walsh’s incredibly tight fills make this album sound astonishingly mature. In fact, if you just listened to this record without looking up a picture of the band, you would have no idea that they’re all under 20 years old.

The Strypes also threw on a few classic rhythm and blues covers (“You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover” and “Rollin’ And Tumblin'”), but with their own rock interpretations. No doubt that these are the types of songs the band draws on as primary influences. The only complaint to be made about Snapshot is that the band relies a bit too heavily on 12-bar blues. It is more than okay to write one song with this chord progression (especially considering it’s the most popular progression in music), but when you have five songs on your record that all sound the same, it gets a bit tiresome. Despite this, the Strypes have put out a masterful piece of work, and I am very excited to see what these Irishmen have in store as they mature in the coming years (literally).

-Joe MacPhee

Recommended Jams: Blue Collar Jane, What The People Don’t See, Perfect Storm

“Education, Education, Education & War” – Kaiser Chiefs / “Cope” – Manchester Orchestra

Posted in Album Reviews on April 9, 2014 by occupyairwaves

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English indie rockers Kaiser Chiefs are back with their fifth studio album, titled Education, Education, Education & War. Many critics compare the repetitive album title to the repetitive nature of its tracks when compared to the band’s earlier work. Speaking as a casual fan who really likes the group’s older number one hit, “Ruby,” and not much else, I cannot quite speak from experience and say whether or not I agree with these critics. Nevertheless, I feel this album is something fresh and listenable, and the production has definitely been stepped up a notch or two.

As with most Kaiser Chiefs songs, these tunes give off a whiff of post-punk revival, much like The Fratellis or The Hives. The political, revolutionist undertones can be at bit much by the end of the album (see “The Factory Gates,” “Bows & Arrows,” “Cannons,” etc.), but the Chiefs throw in a lot of different sounds to at least try and break this up. “Misery Company” is a stomping good time (with two, count ’em, TWO guitar solos), while “Meanwhile Up In Heaven” is a big new wave throwback. “Cannons” is a six-minute song with only four minutes of actual song because of the spoken word prose poem at the end of the track. I’m sure the poem would be very interesting on its own, but it definitely feels out of place on this album.

Overall, Education, Education, Education & War succeeds as a straight rock album. Standard alt rock tracks like “Coming Home” (the first US single off the record) and “My Life” keep the album going amid some awkward political and poetic experiments. It’s good to hear that Kaiser Chiefs are still going strong after fourteen years or so, but don’t expect any sparks of originality with the new release.

-Joe MacPhee

Recommended Jams: Coming Home, Misery Company, My Life

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I always thought Manchester Orchestra were one of those bands with a frontman donning a big ol’ mountain man beard. Then I looked up a picture of the band online and found out that I was right. Just thought I’d share that tidbit. Ok, moving on.

Manchester Orchestra return with studio album number four, Cope, as their album cover so artistically points out. Don’t let the boring artwork give you any false perceptions about the music itself though. There are some seriously heavy tracks here. The press release for the record really hit the nail on the head when it described the collection of songs as an “unrelenting and unapologetically heavy 38 minutes of rock.” Fans who were disappointed with some of the sparse, boring tracks off the group’s last album, Simple Math, will be more than satisfied with Cope.

Manchester Orchestra lay the sludge on thick on tracks like “Top Notch,” “The Mansion,” and ESPECIALLY on the album closer, title track “Cope.” Hell, it’s practically sludge metal. They never overdo it though; the crunch is always just as powerful as it needs to be. Despite the extensive grunge atmosphere of the record, some other sounds are mixed in to keep the album a little more varied. “Indentions” is actually more of a rock ballad with a subtle synth lead. The spot-on harmonies on this and other more toned down tracks on Cope are also tastefully done and mix in well. The fuzzy opening guitar lead on “Trees” is perhaps my personal favorite part of the album, especially when it then rips into an epic-sounding riff before frontman Andy Hull takes over: “I used to feel some guilt / Now I just feel empty.” Oof.

After an album of mostly throwaway tracks, it’s great to see Manchester Orchestra returning to what they do best on Cope: making incredibly heavy, yet incredibly enjoyable music.

-JM

Recommended Jams: The Mansion, Every Stone, Trees, Cope

“Supermodel” – Foster The People

Posted in Album Reviews on March 25, 2014 by occupyairwaves

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I’m gonna go ahead and answer the question that is on everyone’s mind: No, there is no “Pumped Up Kicks” on Foster The People’s second studio album, Supermodel. However, the band’s frontman Mark Foster claims he didn’t even bother trying to write a song as big as the band’s prior multiplatinum hit. “I feel like trying to write a song in order to be a big hit is just not something I’m interested in because it’s not going to come from an authentic place of expression,” Foster said in a recent interview. You can’t blame the man. Nevertheless, the band’s second studio album is a pleasant listen.

Rolling Stone recently made the claim that Supermodel is “Passion Pit without the passion, Imagine Dragons without imagination.” This is true in the sense that the album’s big singles do sound like rip-offs of other bands. “Best Friend” sounds scarily like a Passion Pit jammer, and opening track “Are You What You Want To Be?” has verses that resemble a Vampire Weekend tune. However, it is difficult to agree with Rolling Stone‘s claim that this album lacks passion. Just listen to the album closer, “Fire Escape.” This somber tune sounds like it came straight out of Mark Foster’s dark closet of haunting secrets: “I am a fire escape, my spine is made of iron, my heart pumps that old red paint. Save yourself, save yourself…” It is hard to deny that some serious emotion went into this album.

In fact, Foster and bassist Cubbie Fink traveled to North Africa and the Middle East searching for the inspiration behind Supermodel. Talk about commitment to crafting an album! You can definitely hear the cultural influences fused into the band’s original sound.

Overall, it is true that Supermodel is by no means the best album to come out so far this year, nor does it contain a track that even remotely comes close to the smash hit that is “Pumped Up Kicks.” However, it is also true that Foster The People’s second studio album is a pleasant collection of indie rock jams, and friends of mine know that I’m a sucker for just that.

-Joe MacPhee

Recommended Jams: Are You What You Want To Be?, Coming Of Age, Best Friend