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Ben Folds has been actively making music nonstop since the mid-90s, but most of that work has been as a solo artist.  It’s been a whopping thirteen years since he last recorded with his band, the amusingly named trio Ben Folds Five.  I can’t say for sure what caused the guys to get the ol’ gang  back together after such a long time off – maybe they all just wanted to spice things up in their respective music careers, maybe they were looking for some nostalgic inspiration, or maybe they just wanted to cash in?  I don’t have an answer for you other than the fact that BFF reunited recently to pen a few tracks for Ben’s career retrospective project and I’m guessing they had a swell enough time making music together again that they decided to make a proper album.  Nevertheless, a new Ben Folds Five album is interesting enough in and of itself without knowing the exact story behind its genesis.

Ben Folds Five has never been radically different from Ben Folds, but there’s got to be something that sets it apart, otherwise, why even bother with it, right?  BFF’s new album, The Sound of the Life of the Mind provides just enough of a band dynamic to differentiate it from solo Folds, but thirteen years later, these guys certainly aren’t reinventing the wheel or looking to shake the established Ben Folds boat too much.

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Gojira – L’Enfant Sauvage Album Review

26 SeptemberComments Off
Author: Sam

Getting signed to Roadrunner Records – a subsidiary of Warner Music Group and home to such big-time acts as Killswitch Engage, Slipknot, and Stone Sour, among many others – is generally considered a sign that a metal band has broken through to the big time – not necessarily in terms of ability, per se, but certainly in terms of mass appeal.

The only reason I caveat the ability factor of the equation is because Roadrunner’s roster includes steaming piles like Nickelback and Alter Bridge.  It has absolutely nothing to do with Gojira, one of the label’s newest signees, and a clear bastion of musical integrity that must never be lumped into any conceivable categorization with those other, lesser bands.  And I point out this label change not in order to suggest a selling-out, but to acknowledge that Gojira’s new album, L’Enfant Sauvage, marks the culmination of a long-gestating rise to popular appeal for this French band (popular, at least, within the relative confines of the metal universe).

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The Avett Brothers – The Carpenter

22 SeptemberComments Off
Author: Sam

I’ve never liked the attempted genre-defining term “alt-country.”  I mean, what does it really mean?  Wilco is probably the biggest band to have been given that label, and perhaps they are the ones who it was invented for.  And while I don’t profess to call myself a die-hard Wilco fan, I still wouldn’t necessarily call them alt-country.

I think what is causing the hang-up is the “country” part of the equation.

Because you see, other than Johnny Cash and maybe some choice Willie Nelson cuts, country is a cesspool of a genre, or at least it has morphed into one.  Today’s country music scene is either pop radio acts masquerading under the country label in order to drive red-state sales (Lady Antebellum, Faith Hill), or it’s the type of irredeemable redneck drivel about dead dogs and jingoistic boots-up-asses (Alan Jackson).  And it’s that kind of representation that makes me instantly cringe whenever the word “country” is attached to anything musical.

And so I wince when The Avett Brothers get slapped with that tag as well.  The Carpenter, their seventh album, is probably the least country sounding record they’ve made, but genre-descriptions die hard I suppose.  Do the guys still play banjos and organs and upright basses?  You bet your ass they do, but those things alone don’t make something country.  So if you’re biased like I am, please don’t let external descriptors of dubious authenticity scare you away from this album.  It’s got a lot to offer, and you’d be missing out.

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Cat Power – Sun Album Review

18 SeptemberComments Off
Author: Sam

I was kind of surprised to learn that Cat Power’s new album, Sun, is her ninth.  I don’t claim to be a long time fan, but I hadn’t even really heard of Cat Power (aka Chan Marshall) until perhaps the past five years, when several of her songs managed to float into my musical consciousness, whether through soundtracks or blogs or what have you.  In any case, I was lucky to find her because she possesses one of the most naturally beautiful and emotive voices I’ve heard – at times smoky and sultry, at times icy and distant, and always soulful.

That’s why the stylistic direction of Sun was also a bit of a surprise.

It takes what I view as her music’s strongest characteristic – her voice – and makes it contend with the trappings of modern pop music, otherwise known as electronics, synths, computerized beats, and (gasp!) even some auto-tune.  This isn’t an electronic album in any sense of the word, nor is it a complete 180 degree turn from her previous output, but at least half of the material on Sun could be correctly classified as synth-pop or some derivation thereof.

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For some people, Wes Borland will always be a joke.

His time spent slathering himself in body paint and/or wearing costumes while playing knuckle-dragging riffs for Fred Durst and Limp Bizkit is an unforgivable sin to many music lovers, regardless of the identity he’s tried to craft through his fledgling solo outfit Black Light Burns.  In BLB, Wes controls the entire show.  He’s the engineer, the producer, the visual artist, the singer, and he plays nearly every instrument to boot.  No one can point to Fred Durst and say he’s had a hand in any of this stuff.  And yet, sometimes the shadow of shit that accompanies Durst everywhere he goes (The Unquestionable Truth not entirely included) is too much to look past for some.  They’ll never give BLB a shot.

Which is kind of sad because BLB’s debut record, Cruel Melody wasn’t half bad, and the follow-up, The Moment You Realize You’re Going to Fall, has some worthwhile music as well.  These aren’t great albums by any stretch of the imagination, but if you pick and choose, you’ll find some tunes that you might actually enjoy.

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Quirk is so often the name of the game in today’s entertainment business, but contemporary folk-pop singer Regina Spektor has been peddling her own brand of outre music long before it became the fashionable thing to do.  Her sixth album, What We Saw From The Cheap Seats, is made up of both new songs and recorded versions of long-time live staples.  And as somewhat of a summation of her body of work to this point, the album benefits from its wise culling of the very best this uniquely talented and just plain unique singer has to offer.

If there’s a singer in this world with more smooth vocal dexterity than Spektor, I haven’t heard them.  Everyone familiar with her work knows about the zany accents and affectations, and those are certainly well-represented here – everything from faux-Italian to vocal percussion and kazooing to eerily haunting gasps of breath, not to mention French choruses set to tropically flared  music.  She’s totally unabashed to be corny and kitschy at times, but whereas in the past she walked a fine line between cloying and sincere (and fell on the wrong side as often as she hit the mark), it appears she’s managed to perfect her delicate balancing act.  If that means reigning in some of her wildest extravagances or simply limiting them for effect, it’s nevertheless a welcome maturation.  She’s still the same eccentric with a voice of gold, only now with laser focus.

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Serj Tankian – Harakiri Album Review

5 AugustComments Off
Author: Sam

System of a Down, one of my all-time favorite bands, recently set out on a short tour of the U.S., and I’ll be seeing them at their Washington, D.C. date this Tuesday.  This tour is significant because (I believe) it marks the band’s first U.S. tour since they went on hiatus in 2006.  That’s far too long in my book, and even though the band members have been adamant that the tour does not necessarily mean they’ll be getting back together in a studio to record new music any time soon, at this point, I’ll take what I can get.

But in System’s absence, the two bandleaders – singer Serj Tankian and guitarist Daron Malakian – have been busy with their own solo projects.  Neither solo project even comes close to the stratospheric heights achieved by System, but they did both result in quality records.  Serj Tankian recently released his third post-System album, Harakiri.

It succeeds in avoiding the at-times unlistenable orchestral-electro experimentations of his last album, Imperfect Harmonies (review here), and is comparable to his rookie rocker Elect the Dead.  Still, it’s no SOAD, and that’ll always be the mark Serj and Daron face off against as long as they continue their solo careers whilst System lays idle.

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John 5 – God Told Me To Album Review

28 JulyComments Off
Author: Sam

John 5, who, if you don’t already know, is the former guitar player for David Lee Roth and Marilyn Manson and the current one for Rob Zombie, is back with another solo outing.

Despite all the success he’s garnered playing axeman to the stars, John 5 (aka John Lowery) is really a superstar in his own right who just so happens to be a mercenary shredder for hire for some musicians who’ve overshadowed him and his abilities.  That’s why these solo albums he releases are such a treat.  They show him off in his own element, which, oftentimes coincides with the work he does for those other guys, but which just as often casts him in an entirely new light.  John 5 isn’t just an industrial riff rocker.  He’s a master of his instrument and in possession of a curiosity to take his talents into all kinds of different styles and genres.

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Baroness – Yellow & Green Album Review

22 JulyComments Off
Author: Sam

Baroness’ monstrous new double album, Yellow & Green, begins with its “Yellow Theme,” a mellow segue from their last record’s closing track, “Bullhead’s Lament.”  And spanning over the next 17 tracks, Baroness continues its evolution as a band.

Much like Mastodon, that other metal band from Georgia sitting atop the metallic throne, Baroness has used a groundbreaking triumph of heavy metal (2009′s Blue Record) as a springboard into an entirely new sonic framework, foregoing the choice to follow up their masterpiece with a sequel and instead looking to alter the conception of what Baroness is all about as a band.  Whereas Mastodon made the transition from its own masterpiece, Crack the Skye, to The Hunter by focusing less on intricately woven song structure and more on massively appealing hooks, Baroness has chosen to maintain the sonic variation of Blue Record while tempering most of the anger and heaviness.  Yellow & Green really aren’t metal albums.  What’s left is a broad hard rock backbone and a band oozing with creativity.

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Jason Myles Goss – Radio Dial Album Review

1 JulyComments Off
Author: Sam

I reviewed a concert (and album) by folk singer Jason Myles Goss back in 2010, and I made specific mention of a song he played that had to do with a cancer patient in a hospital.  One of the first things I did when I got back home that night was to try and find which album of Goss’ that song had appeared on.  To my dismay, it was a new song that hadn’t yet found its way onto a record.  I didn’t know what it was exactly, but something about that song just stuck with me.

Little did I know that one month later, I would experience my own kind of hospital trial by fire.  In the aftermath, I found myself searching the words of that song and finding a meaning that I had previously only grasped through estimation.  That song, “Hospital Shirt,” thankfully is included on Goss’ new record, Radio Dial.  Suffice to say, it is a talented songwriter who can write such a poignant song that sticks with you even when you have no real experiential connection to it and then reveals even more layers when and if you do.

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