Thursday, 26 May 2011

Dissecting a Debut - Young the Giant

 Young the Giant, despite their grammatically incorrect name, still manage to get a few things rights on their debut effort.

They dish up 12 songs worth of sunny, Orange county, indie pop - fresh with jangly guitars and an all too familiar verse-chorus structure. Our good friends at Pitchfork gave this record a 2.something, which is like kicking a kid in the face because he missed a shot a goal.
 Yeah sure, its nothing grand or even remotely memorable for most of it, but it's difficult to be too critical of YTG, after all, they're clearly not trying to change the game or deliver a masterpiece (well, let's hope they aren't). You have to take this record with a pinch of salt, and realise that this won't be making any top 10 lists for 2011, but just enjoy what they do actually get right.

Take opener 'Apartment', for example. It's catchy, got a cool melody, has a killer chord progression in the chorus and has what the rest of the album ultimately fails to deliver: just a bit of heart and soul.
This is one side of the YTG coin, and on the other is 'My Body'. With its stadium sounding drums, anthemic chorus and raw energy, its clear proof that YTG can belt out a solid and catchy tune aswell as your somewhat cliched heartfelt number.

Unfortunately, much like a coin, there seems to be only two sides to be found on this album - or rather just those two songs. And even more unfortunate is that they're the two opening songs on the album!!! (but we'll address this issue another time).
Ok, the rest of the album isn't terrible. 'I Got' showcases some more tightnit guitar interplay, 'Strings' has some nice intricate melodies and closer, 'Guns Out' contains probably the best vocal delivery of the whole album.
But other songs like '12 Fingers' and 'Cough Syrup' are either unmemorable or just plain annoying. And unfortunately, more than half the tracks on the album fall into one of these categories which on a whole, makes for a relatively uninspiring and a frankly, boring listen.

So all in all, Young the Giant are probably are band to keep an eye on and definitely one that has talent no doubt. But as far as THIS album is concerned, its a bit of let-down. It gets off to a flying start, but there's just too much averageness and mediocrity to save itself by the end. Not even the shuffle button will help listening to this album, but hey at least there's the >> button....


Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Best Albums of 2011 (so far)

Although it’s more than sixth months till ‘list season’ officially starts, it’s always helpful to have a running tab to keep track of the Wide World of Music. Plus there’s a strange euphoria in making a list, probably due to endorphins. As of yet, 2011 is looking pretty swell depending who you ask. Of course, the usual clause still applies – this is restricted to the music I’ve happened to listen to and like, so really it’s a limited, opinionated and incomplete snapshot of what’s happening. What have you enjoyed this year? Share your thoughts.

In no particular order, here are the albums that I’ve found to be quite good in the top half of 2011:

TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light

Period piece: 'Will Do'

Being a long time TVR fan it was with some anxiety that I awaited this new release. Their last few albums offered no clue as to what was coming next, and it was exciting to see which brand-new direction this album would take. Surprisingly, the most noticeable change wasn’t the overall sound, but the mood. They were happy. HAPPY. A band that once described a new relationship as “another noose to fit us” is making upbeat, bouncy pop. It’s almost as if they took the unrestrained optimism and naive bliss of their brilliant ‘golden age’ and expanded it into an entire album. Fortunately, TV on the Radio are much more than the melancholy of their previous albums. You’ll find your fragmented guitar, barbershop harmonies and left-field loops fix here. Just don’t arrive expecting to feel crappy.

Destroyer – Kaputt

Period piece: 'Kaputt'

I’m going to shamelessly direct you to my review. 80s escapism, rock poetry, Kenny G fetishing. Listen.

Panda Bear – Tomboy

Period piece - 'Surfer's Hymn'

Panda Bear has always had a steep listening curve. Dense and near impenetrable, it’s understandable that the inexperienced may be unable to find an entry point. Euphemisms aside, this release is a lateral step from the highly rated Person Pitch, keeping with his expertly mastered reverb-soaked harmony-stuffed chillwave shtick. This didn’t strike me as the masterpiece his previous album was (and I wasn't expecting it to), but providing I have enough time in my life, it may continue to grow on me.

Cold Cave – Cherish the light years

Period piece - 'The Great Pan is Dead'

Courtesy of Scene’s album review division (also known as the ARD, and yes, I do have a jumpsuit with that logo):

Cold Cave’s latest offering is less of a departure from the 80s new wave of their debut and more of a dramatic magnification. The slick synth driven pop is still here, but this time around it’s been blown up to gigantic proportions. Hammering in its intensity, the wailing guitars bombard the listener into submission with a colossal wall of sound, while frontman Wesley Eisold yelps pleas of bleak romance and destruction. Yet through the deafening melodies and apocalyptic lyrics, the music is human, intensely personal. It’s an achievement for a band to make the chaos of your soul this danceable.

The Strokes – Angles

Period piece - 'Under Cover of Darkness'

I’m not going to give you the complete account of the at-times-wonderful-others-traumatic events of the last 10 years; suffice to say this has been a highly anticipated record. Sure, it hasn’t escaped from is this it’s shadow. What could? It is, however, a Strokes record. A good one, with some good songs and some not so good songs. It’s enough.

James Blake – James Blake

Period piece: 'The Wilhem Scream'

The perfect union of the singer/songwriter with electronic music. Extreme autotuning, hypnotisingly repetitive vocals, intricately prepared textures; good ol’ JB crafts affecting, emotional soundscapes with meticulous care. At times bare, other times overwhelming, you can’t help feeling different afterwards.

Radiohead – King of Limbs

Period piece: 'Lotus Flower'

This is the worst Radiohead album in quite some time. It’s also pretty great. A record that doesn’t completely change the game but offers a solid course for the average Radiohead fan. Dubstep inspired, it’s a far more percussive outing than previously, leaving Thom Yorke’s voice in the forefront, where it should be. Never outstaying its welcome, the album clocks in at a lean 40 or so minutes, prompting many to suppose there was to be a second half. We can always hope.

The Weeknd – House of Balloons

Period piece - 'Glass Table Girls' (check out the full song too!)

Swank pads, codeine, empty/meaningful sex. Smooth foyer jams, penthouse parties, cab hailing in the cold light of day. Plenty of crooned “guuurls” but somehow tolerable. Beach House samples!

On my to-listen-to list:

Smith Westerns – dye it blonde
tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l
PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
Toro Y Moi – Underneath the pine
The Antlers – Burst Apart
Okkervil River - I am Very Far

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Darwin Deez @ The Zoo

Ahh Darwin Deez. How your quirky mannerisms and your random, yet somehow perfectly choreographed dance intervals can be so entertaining is beyond me.

Oh right, he plays music aswell. And yeah, he's pretty good at that too.

For starters, they aren't exactly your usual run of the mill performers. Sure, their simplistic, guitar orientated pop sound is nothing innovative, but they do well to break this up with little dance numbers in between songs - somehow making moves that the weird kid at your high school dance would bust out, seem kinda cool. Throw in a completely random rap, that I can't figure out to be ironic or just plain enjoyable, and Darwin Deez show that they are willing to put in that extra effort for their audience and most of all prove that they are just a fun band, and not pretentious fuckwits.

For those who haven't heard a DD song, in short, they essentially sound just like The Strokes, but played at half-speed and without any standout musical prowess, which is saying something (he only has four strings on his guitar for christ's sake!). But while some could see this as lazy, I prefer more chilled out if anything. This is pretty evident in the crowd, who are as about as aggressive as a box of kittens. I'm fine with this though, considering my last visit to the Zoo was a sweat-induced, washing machine of a moshpit also known as a Wavves audience.
Yet some of the more faster and upbeat tracks like 'Radar Detector' and 'Constellations' get the crowd moving pretty well, while other more familiar tracks like 'DNA' and 'Up in the Clouds' also inject a bit of life.

I still don't know what to make of the lyrics though.

I just can't figure whether to laugh or cringe at some of the standout one liners. The very image of Darwin Deez ripping out the last page of someone's 800 page novel and then throwing away the keys to their apartment is nothing short of hilarious (take that you asshole!). But others like "twinkle twinkle little star" (where have i heard that before....) and "dizzy from lack of oxygen or from the mood you put me in" makes me question whether it was Darwin Deez or a 5 year old who writes their lyrics. Nevertheless, for what the songs are, it's hard not to enjoy them as they are so simple and memorable that the crowd knows the words to most of just about every song and who isn't a sucker for crowd involvement.

So despite the slightly steep price of $40 for a band with only one album and a handful of quality songs, Darwin Deez more than make up for it with a surprisingly lively performance with enough initiative and cojones to give the crowd just a little bit more than they were expecting.


Friday, 6 May 2011

Thoughts on the Weeknd

My sometimes-publisher Polaroids of Androids have tasked me this week with writing up a review of The Weeknd's debut album. I'm treating this as a sort of dry-run, a place to bounce some ideas around, discover which direction I'm going to take. Maybe get some choice soundbytes like 'ominous pop' or 'urban nihilism' if I'm lucky.

Now, I've had little to no experience with what the kids are calling 'rhythm and blues'. The sickly smooth autotuned vocals, that mind-numbing drum machine and synth repetition, the overused clubbing vibe... I can't exactly pinpoint the exact root of my revulsion, but it's there, and it takes all my self control to prevent a 'nam flashback whenever chris brown or usher pops up on the radio. Seriously, I have to shut down my body by lowering my heart rate.

Enter the Weeknd. Listen to it. Seriously, listen to it right now: The whole thing, dammit.

Yeah, it's RnB. Yeah, it's got those vocals. Yeah, it's probably about sexin' up bitches and pluggin' niggas. But it's different, isn't it?

Siouxie and the banshees! Vocals coming from the bottom of a well. Echoes and distortion. Disconcerting loops. Sound effects like an 8-bit spaceship plummeting. A spectacular transition into nightmares.

Almost but not quite a concept album, the record gives a fragmented step by step account of an incredible night out - you've got the lines of coke in the penthouse, various parties and even more after-parties, and of course the hazy recollections in the morning. Popping drugs like bubble wrap. Sex like scratching an itch. The pursuit of pleasure above anything else. Nothing new, granted, but approached in an intelligent, self-aware way.

Essentially, it's a bridge between the underground and the mainstream. It sounds as appropriate in your headphones while submerged in your hipster quality isolation chamber as it does at your neighbour's B105 centered party playlist.

So on the whole, highly recommended. Plus their name is really fun to say. Has it opened my mind up to RnB? No, not even a little bit. More on this later.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Welcome to The Modern Daze.

Sam writes for Scene, can make a Big Mac in less than 20 seconds, and downloads music in his sleep.

Steve pours a good beer, has a 1.10 kill/death ratio in COD, and gives a fuck about Oxford commas.