Iceland’s Of Monsters and Men started making waves in the U.S. around this time last year when their debut album, My Head Is An Animal, was picked up by Universal Music Group for a worldwide release, six months after it had reached the top of the Icelandic charts. And with a new single on the radio and an SNL performance lined up in a few weeks, they’re only posed to gain even wider acceptance here in the states.
Coming from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun and from where the hot springs blow, this Scandinavian troupe has certainly made strong inroads to becoming the “overlords” of American alternative radio, particularly with the smash hit “Little Talks.” Chances are, if you’ve listened to the radio in the last year, you’ve come across that song at some point.
And it’s a great song. There’s no question about that. The only problem with it, if you can call it that, is that it sounds exactly like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ “Home” (minus the whistling) which gained some cultural saturation in the U.S. about a year before My Head Is An Animal. I’m not in any way suggesting that Of Monsters and Men deliberately ripped off the “Home” formula, but as the second in line, “Little Talks” inevitably forfeits some of the intrigue and splendor that it would have aroused had something so similar not already made a splash.
I caught Youth Lagoon, the one-man dream pop project of Trevor Powers, on his tour last year opening for Death Cab for Cutie, and he hooked me in pretty quick, quirks and all. His debut album lived up to the promise of his live show and provided ample reason to be excited about the direction Powers would take his project in the future.
Well, the future is now, and unfortunately Youth Lagoon hit the sophomore slump in a big way; I’m talking like MGMT’s Congratulations level of slumping here (and if you’re somebody who thinks Congratulations was a great album, well…we don’t share the same taste in music). The difference with Youth Lagoon is that Powers’ debut album didn’t make the same giant splash and set huge demanding expectations for this second go-’round. He easily could have hammered away and refined the very cool and interesting style he exhibited the first time. Instead, he put every egg in the experimental weirdness basket, leaving the pop hooks and catchy looped beats to blow away in the wind.
As I wrote in my Congratulations review–and which holds true in this case: “these boys just backed away and decided if they couldn’t make the music better, they’d just settle for weirder. And that’s too bad – because pop hooks and weirdness aren’t mutually exclusive.” It’s a lesson I wish Powers had learned before recording this record.
I’m a certified Game of Thrones junkie, and thus, like any good GoT aficionado, I spent the hour between 9 and 10 PM on Sunday night firmly anchored to the couch in front of the TV, naturally tuned into HBO.
This week’s episode (don’t worry, I wouldn’t give away any spoilers) contained a special delight for those fans who’ve read the books the shows are based on. With each massive tome coming in around 1,000 pages, there is far more detail and worldly minutiae on the printed page than can feasibly fit into the televised adaptation. But the show spared about twenty seconds to throw a bone to the avid readers in the audience, showing a rather inconsequential scene of Vargo Hoat (who for some reason goes by the name Locke on the show; same thing for Theon Greyjoy’s sister Asha, who goes by the name Yara on TV – what’s the deal with that? And let’s not even get into the whole Talisa Stark vs. Jeyne Westerling swap-out) and his crew traveling through the forest.
Seems rather dull, no? But it was the song they were singing that made it such a great scene. That song–“The Bear and the Maiden Fair”–is oft referenced in the books. It’s a fun, perhaps raunchy, song made for chanting and merrymaking, and it’s something that would only really hit home for those who’ve read the books. It was a small but meaningful addition to the episode.
But that wasn’t all! The show got the band The Hold Steady to record a version of the song, which is really quite good, and certainly in the ribald spirit of the source material. Unfortunately, I don’t think the placement of this modern version could have been timed worse within the episode. Again, I’m not spoiling anything, but this episode ends with a rather dramatic scene before cutting to black and then the credits. It’s the type of scene that deserves to be followed by silence or at least restrained, contemplative instrumental music. However, the producers thought it would be a good time to throw The Hold Steady version over the credits, and it really ruined the emotion of the moment. They tried something similar last season with The National’s cover of “The Rains of Castamere,” but at least that song was emotionally appropriate for the moment it followed. I just think GoT is so defined by its complete immersion into another world of fantasy that the show does itself a disservice by trying to shoehorn these modern rock bands onto the credits, even if the songs themselves might be pretty good.
Anyways, here’s The Hold Steady’s take on “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”:
For a musician whose time in the limelight came and went in the lighting-quick span of four years, Jimi Hendrix sure did leave behind a lot of worthwhile material that is still being released to this day, more than forty years after his untimely death.
In fact, there have been at least three times as many posthumous Hendrix releases as the groundbreaking records that established his legend in the late Sixties. The latest of these efforts is People, Hell and Angels, a collection of never before released studio recordings showcasing his post-Electric Ladyland machinations. These twelve tracks were all recorded between 1968 and 1969 as Hendrix tried to figure out and nail down his sound apart from the Jimi Hendrix Experience trio in which he had made his name.
Like many of his other posthumous records, People, Hell and Angels is touted as a “brand new studio album.” While technically true, all of these songs have indeed appeared elsewhere in different versions, with different musicians, and/or with different overdubs. However, the versions that have been available were either very difficult to come by or generally a step or two distanced from the pure, raw ideas Hendrix laid to tape all those years ago. That is where the value of this record shows itself. By and large, these tracks are lovingly culled straight from the master recordings, with every effort made to select the very best takes from each studio reel.
This is sad news. Deftones’ founding bassist Chi Cheng died yesterday morning. Cheng had been battling to recover from a 2008 car crash that left him in a coma. Recent reports told of minor improvements he had been making. No official word has been released on the cause of his death.
The Deftones had trudged on without their bandmate and friend, but he was a vital part of creating the band’s signature sound and vaunted legacy. He will be missed.
Now is an appropriate time to revisit this charity song put together by Fieldy from Korn to help raise money for Cheng’s medical bills. It features tons of metal musicians who came together to support their friend and is a good example of the respect Cheng’s peers had for him.
On the very first track of How To Destroy Angels’ debut full-length album, Welcome Oblivion, lead singer Mariqueen Maandig asks “Is anybody listening?” Later on in the record, she slightly rephrases her question as “Am I just talking to myself?”
Both are apt questions. You see, in case you aren’t familiar with HTDA, it’s Trent Reznor’s post-Nine Inch Nails collaboration with his wife, Maandig, and longtime NIN collaborator Atticus Ross. The group’s debut self-titled EP painted the group as a feminized version of NIN, with Maandig’s definitively feminine vocals intertwining and sometimes fighting with Reznor’s patented electronic rhythms and warfare. It was an exciting new twist on a beloved formula.
But HTDA is not NIN, nor do I think it should try to be. HTDA garners its unique flavor predominately from the vocal work of Maandig, and that’s why it’s a little disconcerting that this time around, she’s had her voice piled under even more layers of electronics and distortion than before. Thus, it ends up sounding more like a NIN clone than before.
But Maandig–in this setting at least–is truly a secret weapon, and the group is doing itself a disservice by making her compete with the music or intentionally burying her beneath it for effect. Reznor and Ross probably disagree, but I feel like HTDA could and should be Maandig’s star vehicle, not theirs.
We all know about breakup albums. They are as germane to music as love songs or three-chord progressions. But what about divorce albums? Those are certainly a rarer breed, and they bring added possibilities and intrigues to the table.
There’s an explicit extra depth to a record written in the wake of a divorce as opposed to a run of the mill breakup. The end of a marriage means that a lifelong commitment has been negated; what was thought to be forever has now proven to be crushingly finite, and the once-committed is now faced with picking up the pieces and beginning anew a process he believed was firmly in the rear view mirror of his life’s history. Divorce records are basically like breakup albums on steroids.
Josh Ritter is the latest artist faced with the daunting task of relating just such an experience through music, and his new album, The Beast In Its Tracks, is the result.
Nick Cave is one strange cat; a strange, dark, brooding cat who has firmly entrenched himself on the periphery of the rock music landscape over the course of his more than three decades long career. That’s quite an accomplishment, and judging by his most recent effort alongside his backing band The Bad Seeds, Push The Sky Away, he’s not nearly out of ideas yet.
The question is whether it’s in his best interest to pursue every product of his fertile imagination.
Cave’s music is defined by its album-to-album slipperiness–never settling on any one style or genre for too long. But he’s revisited certain themes often enough–gothic, noir, cabaret, jazzy piano soul man–that he isn’t a complete chameleon. And on Push The Sky Away he generally sticks to those blackened, bluesy, emotionally scatter-brained chords he’s best known for.
At its best, Push The Sky Away resembles one of Cave’s finest works, The Boatman’s Call, with its soft, intimate melodies underlying often intense ruminations on love and death and culture. Unfortunately, those best moments are left to contend with incongruous flights of Cave’s imaginative fancy, and they don’t always come out on top.
Pusicfer are quite the motley crew of musicians. Essentially Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan’s solo project, the group features a rotating menagerie of friends and fellow musicians. You never can be quite sure what the latest Puscifer release is going to bring to the table; it could just as easily be a dark, sultry, seductive track like “REV 22:20″ as it could be a raucous, comedic jaunt listing one man’s entire catalog of country music stars/sexual conquests (“Cuntry Boner”). In that sense, Puscifer music is rather indescribable, at least as an entire oeuvre. Sometimes I feel like Puscifer music is just the random results of Keenan getting hammered off whatever kind of wine he’s brewing up at his Arizona vineyard and then stumbling into a recording studio to unload his latest ideas.
Unsurprisingly, the results are a mixed bag. Some Puscifer material is great. A lot of it is head-scratching flights of fancy. And some of it is just dreck. Unfortunately, with Keenan’s main outfits–Tool and A Perfect Circle–in indefinite holding patterns, Puscifer is all the Keenan we can hope for at the moment.
With that in mind, we have the latest Puscifer release, the Donkey Punch The Night EP. It’s basically two cover songs, two new tracks, and three redundant remixes of songs already on this EP.
Sometimes, all it takes for a new band to grab me hook, line and sinker in the span of a single recorded live performance is to transfer the crazy amounts of energy they’re feeling while performing to me–the viewer sitting at home watching them through a TV or computer screen. It’s not an easy task to accomplish, especially on a standard talk show setting. It’s much easier to convey excitement and vigor when you’re being taped at your own concert, onstage with some of your wildest fans five feet from your face. That’s the natural order of things. On talk shows, however, the bands are generally more than a dozen yards away from the seated audiences, most of whom probably didn’t show up to see the musical act anyway (or even know who they are, for that matter). It’s generally a stacked deck against the performers.
That’s why it always stands out when a band overcomes those obstacles and manages to make its presence felt in a meaningful and lasting way. Perhaps in that sense, talk show performances are the truest test of all; Do you feel enough confidence and excitement in your own music to demand that I feel the same way too?
That’s exactly what happened a few years ago, when the Welsh trio, The Joy Formidable, took the stage on Conan and let loose a guitar freakout with no abandon that left my jaw dropped and my ears certain they wanted to hear more.