Apology/Game Plan

July 21, 2010

To all our blog’s beloved viewers,

What’s it been? Five months? The two principal writers of KJNB reviews have been abroad for the past semester, and thus become extremely neglectful. We are resuming our duties presently! Below you will find a list of albums we intended to get to but didn’t, and below that our make-up reviews of albums extending back to February with Jaga Jazzist’s One-Armed Bandit. Thank you all very much for your interest and input. This is quite frankly a great year for music. See you around!

The Tallest Man On Earth – Wild Hunt (Positive)

Fionn Regan – Shadow Of An Empire (Mixed)

Foals – Total Life Forever (Negative)

Black Keys – Brothers (Positive)

The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang (Positive)

Jason Moran – Ten (???)

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END OF DECADE SPECIAL

December 29, 2009

Some people look at the Fallout Boys and Brokencydes of the world and think ‘ugh, that’s my generation’. To those of you guilty of such thoughts, can it.

Molly Hatchet, Vanilla Ice, Chumbawumba, R.E.M. (yeah, I went there,) Cannibal Corpse, The Scorpions, The Rubettes. Any of these ring a bell? Painful, hollow bands will always exist so long as formula music yields Beverly Hills vistas and groupies. Not everybody knows this, but Fallout Boy used to be a mediocre metal band until they realized that their mockery of pop rock was insanely lucrative. Living a lie is pretty metal, as is bassist Pete Wentz’ intimidating demonstrated understanding of the industry beneath the marketed douchebag exterior.

Anyway, the point was that there is hope, and some wonderful things to remember this decade by…good bands and good albums have continued to emerge. Without further ado, a little time capsule — good things that happened in the 00’s:

Explanation mark.
1. Jaga Jazzist, The Books, and Tyondai Braxton
Electronic music makes its point with a bang.
The relationship of computers and music could get so ugly sometimes — inorganic, inflated, cheap, goofy. We gave it time, and these artists ensure it will pay off. The 00’s saw the decline of Richard D. James, who reminded the world that the computer didn’t need to make all the sounds it processed, tinkering endlessly to establish a plethora of new distortions and mechanical beats using anything he could get his hands on. Sampling allows a small band of talented individuals to produce any composition that’s on their minds, disregarding any technical challenge or expense their ambitions would have faced in the past. Sampling has, with these three groups, found its use for jazz, folk, and classical music. All genres are now [more] free to mingle.

An unbroken gaze.
2. Meshuggah
Rise of the Polymeter.
Meshuggah used to be nobodies in the world of metal, with repetitive drives and nonsensical jabberings about thought control. They looked back on jazz theory, had a few revelations and technical overhauls, and came back in the 00’s with I, Nothing, Catch 33, and ObZen to live up to their name (Yiddish for ‘insane’). The premise was simple: to use the old fishing metaphor, two hooks are better than one. Polymeter is what it sounds like, the simultaneous use of multiple meters, and along with the use of polyrhythm the result in Meshuggah’s work is truly mind boggling. Not content to be outdone for ‘heaviness’ by the largely disgraced Nu Metal genre, the guitarists bought eight-string guitars and dropped them a couple steps, squealing through tritones and always following their drummer’s masterful lead. This new sound caught the attention of fans and skeptics alike as a hypnotic percussive din that brought the world of metal quaking to its knees. The material is far from perfect, but it defies any other artist of any other style to imitate and improve upon their method. So far, few to no takers.

Hot as you've got.
3. At The Drive-In
Black sheep bite back.
At The Drive-In took the hand of punk aesthetics and twisted, hard. None of their trademarks should sound good: hyper, flailing vocals, dissonant harmonies, stream-of-consciousness rants…but it all makes a wonderful impression. The effort couldn’t be called innovative, but it proved influential. At the lip of the 00’s, the band fashioned their strongest album with a bullet, Relationship Of Command. It’s an acquired taste, but an invaluable lesson that many rockers hereafter have heeded, because every aspect of At The Drive-In’s sound is a tremendous risk that allowed them to soar above the conventions of pop punk peers. One more reminder that music needed the gritty eclecticism of Sonic Youth a lot more than it seemed to at the time.

Clowne towne.
4. Xiu Xiu
Pop returns to the shadows.
Pop music gets a bad rap for avoiding any form of independence or perspective. All Xiu Xiu had to do was the opposite. As far as ‘indie’ and hipsterisms go, the dynamic duo is the cream of the crop, building their own Dr. Seuss-like instruments from children’s toys and employing eastern styles of percussion and melody while investigating a brutal, cynical masochism that puts the whining of ’emo’ stereotypes to shame. As an ex-elementary teacher, frontman Jamie Stewart holds an exquisite talent for tapping into the tone and psyche of youth, and by holding this up to the events of his private life he most acutely expresses an otherwise nameless suffering. As the son of a California engineer and producer, he ensures that the instrumentation and compositions of Xiu Xiu match this tone with precision, plunging bubbling sing-alongs into wrenching atony. Experimental from the ground up, the band extends countless unique hooks from a hostile parallel universe.

A touch of class.
5. Outkast
No good thing ever dies.
Alright, Outkast may have been around since the mid-90’s, but it took until 2000 for them to explode into view with
Stankonia. Accessible and open-minded, the band blended funk, soul, pop, and hip-hop to crank out singles beloved by kids, parents, grandparents, domestic pets, and certain varieties of plantlife. Never the biggest band on earth, but always playing like it, the flair and short attention spans of their tracks produce something almost unthinkable by modern standards: mainstream music everyone can agree to enjoy.

 Sam Beam
6. Iron & Wine
Always more to say.
Iron & Wine may be a dorm standard by now, but Zach Braff’s endorsement doesn’t make Sam Beam any less of a songwriter. His voice is distinct from the greats, but the barrage of imagery always has a firm hold on the listener. The debut album,
Creek Drank The Cradle, is also far closer to genuine folk than whatever ‘alternative’ is — one man alone in a room with his thoughts — but Beam displays excellence in storytelling above all things.

Who can't find me?
7. MF Doom
Feasting on scraps.
Daniel Dumille is a face in his crowd, but the mask makes him the perfect subject. His theory: anybody can rap. Dumille has constructed his image by hopping into the shoes of anybody; a career made of side projects, cameos, and elevator music confirms him as hip-hop’s Frankenstein monster. Even the pied but logical progression of his rhymes make his writing seem like it’s been exhumed from beneath the concrete. His big break? Late night cartoons. Dumille is an after-hours sort of performer who doesn’t want to get found or be figured out, relying on cultural madness to have a method, and every critical and commercial success proves he’s not alone.

We'll make something out of them.
8. The White Stripes
We’ll make something out of ’em.
Ridiculously plain yet incomparably bizarre and inventive, The White Stripes are a hard slap in the face concerning the artistic mind and its inner workings. It’s all in the arrangement. Jack White has been so overrated as a guitarist that people seem to forget what a mastermind he is as a lyricist and sloganeer. He and his ex-wife have made six critically acclaimed albums with little more than power chords and a cymbal because of his feverish commitment to analyzing what’s right under everyone’s nose. The band’s work will find use for years to come more as a riddle and an icon than music, the product of absolutely subtle, absolutely simple songcraft that practically screams ‘Dylan just ain’t dead.’

Come on up to the house.
9. Bob Dylan and Tom Waits
Golden years.
Oh, that’s right. They’re still alive. They’re still great. They can make you feel like their best work is still ahead of them. While we’re at it, let’s not forget Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, Rufus Wainright, and Beck.

Your life here.
10. THE INTERNET
10001110101
The internet. It holds the names, the histories, and the music of almost every band you’ll ever hear of. The computer has made it easier than ever to get both good and bad exposure. I know my library would be a quarter of the size it is if it weren’t for Wikipedia, Pandora, and the HUB.

Hope you have all appreciated the ups and downs of this crazy decade, and are ready for another. Once more with feeling…

 

Concept: Psychedelic electronic pop group refuses to rest on its new laurels.

Sound: The opening track marks an even more ethereal tone for the band, and is musically more complex than most of their previous work. Unfortunately, the following tracks fall short of the promises of the first, more repetitive and tepid than new fans would expect. Here at KJNB, we’ve decided on the Animal Collective mantra: arpeggio, ostinato, reverb, offbeats, triplets. That is what Animal Collective ultimately is; the rest is subject to change. Graze is one exception to shelve with Lion In A Coma.

Lyrics: Again, Animal Collective, in relying on substance abuse, grapples with the confusion and inanity of their inspiration along with the chance glimmer of spirituality and wisdom. The lyrics betray a sense of the band spinning their wheels more than the music does.

Quick And Dirty: A dismissive and timely followup to Merriweather Post Pavilion that establishes the next destination without giving away too much. (♦♦♦½)

Concept: QOTSA guitarist/vocalist, Nirvana drummer, and Led Zeppelin bassist get together for whatever. It’s amazing it wasn’t hyped more.

Sound: There’s a wealth of addictive riffs on this album. The problem is that half of them serve as bookends or are hidden halfway into otherwise dull tracks like No One Loves Me And Neither Do I and Elephants. There are maybe five tracks that follow through with their nugget of pure rock fury. Dave Grohl is a perceptive and creative drummer, the same one that helped make a retro masterpiece of Queens Of The Stone Age’s Songs For The Deaf. Homme’s penchant for beating a riff into the listener’s skull is refined by violent rhythmic cuts and switches, which makes the difference on many songs. Although some of his old tricks are heavily recycled, Grohl and John Paul Jones put a new atmospheric spin on it so that it’s more of an acidic regurgitation. Reptiles and Interlude With Ludes present a relatively new sound for each of the collaborators, justifying the project. The theatrics they make on the side count for a lot of the album’s appeal. Jones uses a grotesque effect on slap bass to imitate the croaking of raptors, and Homme bends his strings to breaking point in open sections of verse to twist melody askew, punctuating the lyricism appropriately.

Lyrics: There are some albums that suffer from too much talk. Homme leaves little breathing room for the music, and sometimes his words just aren’t catchy enough to flow so freely. Having said that, while the occasional cliche and smarmy self-contradicting phrase takes the swagger out of a song, dark humor and machismo keeps the mood intact. “I’m going to smother you with my love/ forever and ever. Also, forever./…/ Is my face still bleeding?/ Then what is your problem?/…/ Sometimes you break a finger/ on the other hand/ I think you got me confused for a better man/…/ I think you got me confused.”

Quick And Derivative: Suffering from some derivative approaches, there are spacey, rocket-fueled highs and miserable, puttering lows. There’s tons of material on the album, plenty worth listening to, and the group clearly has the potential to make something spectacular in the future. (♦♦♦½)

Concept: An eclectic/random assortment of compositions by a local artist.

Sound: Competent if conventional easy listening jazz progressions, choral arrangements, and a closing industrial rock track for the SJU football team. The range of vocal talent is apparent but overwrought with compositional bravado. Grace notes and tremolo ahoy.

Lyrics: Somebody kill me. Overdetermined musical-style lyricism and embarrassing airbrushed heartbreak doodles. When You Said Goodbye gets two consecutive renditions for maximum torture. The arrogant, nearly sacrilegious tone of What Will You Do, God, When I Die? is repellant.

Quick And Dirty: Musician for hire at http://www.georgemaurer.com. (♦½)

Concept: It’s a CD.

Sound: Funk rock, some bluegrass influence. It’s no stretch to give the description Incubus + Sister Hazel. Divergence, Take A Ride, and A Cup Of Love stand out as the best tracks on the album, closer to the skill and intensity of the live show.

Lyrics: …Lyrics are hard. Even the better tracks have pretty unremarkable lines. It’s not the focus anyway.

Quick And Dirty: There are some good grooves, but the album as a whole is diluted and could use more up tempo work or warm a cappella exhibitions like the ‘secret song’ at the end of the album. (♦♦♦½)

The breakdown for the night was simple, Mister opening for Sepia Tone. SJU’s local favorites had a friend in from the cities on saxophone, walking the razor’s edge after 36 hours without sleep.

Mister burned right through their set at high speed; drummer Grant Gibeau’s warmup diet of bear-related snacks had him popping along in a private war between himself and his sweatband. The band has translated well into electric. Scott Heins showed grace under pressure as a soloist, rhythm guitarist, and backing vocalist. The sax is a rock instrument, let there be no doubt, and at the end of the day a crowd just wants to hear it scream. Although Mister’s earlier work better compliments vocal harmonies than adjacent improvisation, they opened up the latter half of some songs to make the best of their setup, and the response at Brother Willie’s affirmed the choice. The show was as energetic as the band has ever been.

Sepia Tone had a bleak start with half the crowd headed for the doors and balconies and a microphone crapping out on them (later to be salvaged; I believe the credit is to Cooper Lund?). The group rose to the occasion with ‘Superstition’. Sepia Tone uses covers the right way: do the songs justice, break the ice, gain momentum. Bassist Jason Mclean was fabulous — the man knows how to find and fill a break. It became evident as the night wore on in the two hour set that the band had no weak members. Aaron Brostrom’s voice is, to be frank, hot. Both Nick Johnson and Kyle Tennis (a firm backbone for the band) can shred, and Anthony Bloch demonstrated for everyone that drum solos aren’t just about beating the bejesus out of your kit. All of them can sing. As a whole, Sepia Tone held tight and had an intuition for grooves. Anyone that stuck around can confirm that it’s a fun show; they’re welcome back any time.

Hopefully there won’t be any pyrotechnics from the speakers in the future.

Now, I’m not hanging up my hat just yet, but I think it’s safe to say the results are in for best albums of the year. While we try to avoid junk here at KJNB, that doesn’t mean we don’t get the occasional doozy, so there’s a ‘5’ for that, too. If you have any death threats you wish to express, you may direct them towards M2JOHNSON@csbsju.edu. Hope the rest of the year treats you well, Collegeville.

*****

TOP 5 ALBUMS OF 2009

5. St. Vincent – Actor

4. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca

3. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

2. Zu – Carboniferous

1. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

(Honorable Mention: Wild Beasts – Two Dancers, Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II, DM Stith – Heavy Ghost)

*****

BOTTOM 5

5. Pearl Jam – Backspacer

4. Destroyer – Bay Of Pigs

3. Potluck – Pipe Dreams

2. Bob Dylan – Christmas In The Heart

1. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez – Despair

(Dishonorable Mention: Portugal The Man – The Satanic Satanist, Dream Theater – Black Clouds & Silver Linings, Clutch – Strange Cousins From The West, The Decemberists – The Hazards Of Love)

His master's wakka-wakka-wakka.

Concept: The Strokes’ frontman holds tight to the 80’s pop aesthetic that drained the East Side punch out of the band’s third album, and tries to make it match his iconic soulless stare.

Sound: Casablancas’ talent for melody is as strong as ever, and the songs have plenty of motion to them, but believe it or not the music deeply wants more organic elements. This is probably what he was going for, since he always seems to look for the most depressing aspects of ‘feel-good music’. The songs will occasionally put out a hook, a fade out or an extra deteriorating measure, where it seems like the composer is looking desperately for a way to leave the song, finds nowhere to go, and turns back around; the impact of this is often greater than Julian’s harmonizing. The miserable and elaborate fantasies of the album deserve more investigation, and at eight standard-sized tracks this feels more like a studio-generated preview than an independent work.

Lyrics: It’s hard to say what it is, but Casablancas’ lyricism has been losing its edge since First Impressions Of Earth. There was catchy wit and a subtle poetry to the concision and small turns his narratives used to take, and in cranking out phrases for the young he used to present the listener something to lose, or at least the illusion of it, floating on a river of fatalism. There’s nothing young about the blurry, drunken lectures on this album. His favorite themes of falling back in love with Big Brother and the abyss of other people are only fleetingly present. Tokens of his old form are rare and overdrawn, like on the album’s strongest track, River Of Brakelights: “getting the hang of it/nothing is everything/timing is everything/timing the hang of it/getting is everything/getting the time of it/everything hanging is/hanging the getting of/timing the everything”. Julian never explicitly hits on a central point, but with nothing implied over most of the album it’s just a snapshot of his detachment, not ours. His mistrust of everything has made him ostentatious, although perhaps this was predictable from the start of his career.

Quick And Dirty: The music is still powerful, but the presentation and the man behind it seem weary, spiteful, and bloodless. (♦♦♦½)

Devendra Banhart's interdimensional war uterus.

Concept: Freak folk favorite Banhart releases his seventh studio LP, continuing with the stylistic left turn of the previous Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon.

Sound: Banhart has changed a lot in the time since Cripple Crow, and this album seems to acknowledge or even document the transformative period. It used to be that his happiest songs were his most disturbing, and his libidinous eccentricity could be contained within sparse acoustic folk arrangements. The album starts with a complacent, utopian four track lull, continuing to neglect his haggard but effeminate upper range in favor of a lazy Jim Morrison croon. Rather than hold the album to this tone or burst back into his recent affair with rock, Banhart begins to gather the storm clouds with two songs ‘for B’ until the mood of the album seems to have erased itself, and then rattles off a series of disconnected jams. He knows his music history, and he fiddles with an uncommon amount of diversity in genre and tone. Banhart fills in the blanks that the modern burst of folk rock has left. Where most acts will water down their influences and rub them together, Banhart tries to replicate sounds and stack them against each other; whether this is appealing or important is up to the listener.

Lyrics: This is where Banhart seems to be changing the most. His old penchant for simple, grotesque, vaguely mythological blurbs has given way to spiritualization of decrepit rock slang. “Since time began/ you been a long time, and/ Mama ain’t it grand/ that I get to be the fool again…Cause every kiss that I don’t get’s/ another life that I don’t live…Who do you love:/ the lover you can’t forget/ or the lover you haven’t met?” Wiping away his absurdities has only strengthened the other interstitial ballads in which he’s so practiced: “Now I take everything as a good sign/ because I’m in love/ I take everything as a sign from God…Please destroy me/ please destroy me/ please destroy me…A child born singing.

Quick And Dirty: The title says it all. This could be a footnote in Banhart’s career, or a ditch, but Banhart’s path to rejuvenate Americana seems to have such personal ends and means that the flux and hesitation of this album presents voices all equally worthy of being held to. (♦♦♦♦)