Archive for the ‘Releases’ Category
Bruno Mars’ second album is called Unorthodox Jukebox, though as far as pop records go, it’s pretty conventional.
Mars has spent his entire life in the entertainment business, and after you learn about his childhood experiences impersonating Elvis and performing classic Motown songs onstage, and then watching his preternatural comfort as a first-time performer on the Grammys stage, it’s little wonder that this is what he’s been born and brought up to do. He’s a smooth, suave entertainer (he really does come across more like a polished “act” rather than just a singer), who is heavily influenced by classic pop sounds, and much like his first record (review here), those influences are once again on full display.
Unorthodox, he is not. But his songs are catchy, and they are fun. And more than anything else, those are two ingredients that no pop album can live without.
I concluded my review of Kylesa’s last album, Spiral Shadow, by quoting a lyric from the record: “Keep moving, don’t look back.” I thought that command was an apt one for a band that had just released perhaps its finest work and seemed to be at a creative high point. Well, the guys and gal of Kylesa did indeed intend to pause and look back, and as a result, we now have From the Vaults, Vol. 1.
Odds-and-sods collections can be tricky ventures. Sometimes, they treat fans to mistakenly overlooked and unreleased gems from a band’s stockpile or offer enlightening glimpses into early versions of classic tracks and insight into their sonic evolutions. Seemingly more often than not, however, these releases come off like an attempt to package a handful of rightfully scrapped junk as something new, exciting, and worthy of the same stature as any proper LP.
Thankfully, Georgian metallers Kylesa have far too much integrity (and talent, frankly) to shill garbage. This collection of songs includes all the highlights of a grab bag record – alternate takes, unreleased tracks, covers, and even a brand new song. This variety of material, stretching all the way back to 2005 recordings can’t approach the cohesiveness and power of the band’s best work, but it’s certainly no embarrassment to the Kylesa brand.
The 55th Grammy Awards are taking place tomorrow, and while there likely will be an unfortunate dearth of good ol’ fashioned T&A (come on Grammys, what is your show without a little conspicuous Katy Perry cleavage?!), there will definitely be plenty of worthy musical talent vying for trophies.
Today, I’m going to take a look at four albums that I never got around to reviewing upon their release but are up for awards this year. I mean, this is as good a time as any to evaluate these records’ merit, no? And due to the Grammys’ nomination process, you may notice that some of these records actually came out way back in 2011, but that’s just how these awards shows roll.
So let’s get into it!
The Lumineers – The Lumineers (Best New Artist, Best Americana Album)
A lot of times, the Grammys’ Best New Artist award introduces a young artist or two to a wider audience who had never before heard of them. Let’s be honest, before the 2011 show, who had ever heard of Esperanza Spalding? This year, I can be sure that absolutely everybody, no matter how socially secluded they may be, has heard of The Lumineers. This ragtag troupe exploded seemingly out of nowhere based on the inescapable, utterly infectious two minutes and forty-three seconds that make up “Ho Hey” – perhaps the most culturally ubiquitous song of 2012. That ditty showed up everywhere – played nonstop on radio (some stations going so far as to regularly play it twice in a row) and soundtracking countless TV shows, movie trailers and commercials. Most songs that get this kind of star treatment eventually lose most of their luster, becoming passe’ or seen as a commercial shill. In extreme cases, it causes listeners who at first enjoyed the song to turn their back on it in over-saturated disgust. Amazingly, I don’t think that’s happened yet with “Ho Hey,” and I sincerely hope it never does because as The Lumineers have proven on their debut record, they are the farthest thing from one-hit wonders.
If Deftones’ Diamond Eyes (see review here) represented a sonic and spiritual rejuvenation for the band (it seemed like the band making peace with the idea of once again charging onward without founding bassist Chi Cheng in the fold as he is still in a partially conscious state following a car accident), its successor, Koi No Yokan, cements that rebirth.
It’s a declaration that Diamond Eyes was not the product of an unrepeatable spark of inspiration following the tragic injury to a brother in arms. Rather, it was a foundational, apparent lasting return to the band’s unique, imaginative approach to songwriting following a string of several albums that saw the band leaning too heavily either towards heaviness or experimentation, forsaking in the process the sublime balance that makes them so good. Koi No Yokan (roughly translated from Japanese as “Premonition of Love”) takes the baton from its predecessor at full sprint and continues this criminally overlooked band’s run of successes – many occurring on a plane other bands wouldn’t even think to aim for.
That’s right buckos, today I’m packin’ two reviews in one – that’s double the excitement at no extra charge. On the docket, we’ve got ¡Dos! and ¡Tré!, the latter two thirds of the album trilogy Green Day’s been rolling out over the last few months. [Here's my review of ¡Uno!]
As I wrote in my ¡Uno! review, that record certainly lived up to its pre-release billing as the “power pop” album. ¡Dos! and ¡Tré!, respectively labeled the “garage rock” and “stadium rock” albums, don’t quite match up as strongly with those designations.
When I think of garage rock, I think of raw production values (if there are any production values at all) and an overall dirty, scuzzy sound. I don’t think longtime Green Day producer Rob Cavallo has ever produced something unpolished in his life. That’s not an indictment by any means; it just means that the garage rock sound Green Day is channeling here is more a matter of inspiration than sound. The majority of the songs on ¡Dos! are quick-paced, straight ahead bursts of energy (half the songs clock in under three minutes) akin to the Green Day side project Foxboro Hot Tubs. There’s an unsurprising catchiness to “Lazy Bones” and an undeniable hip-shaking groove on “Stray Heart.” These are qualities Green Day’s perfected over its career, and this entire trilogy feels effortless in that regard.
Oft-divisive pop songstress Lana Del Rey released her debut album Born To Die about a year ago, and she’s now back with the Paradise EP, which has been offered as both a standalone record and repackaged as an add-on to her debut, which makes sense because, while the eight tracks stand up well on their own, they are stylistically similar enough to the LP that they could conceivably be considered b-sides. Though calling Paradise just a collection of b-sides wouldn’t be doing it justice.
In my Born To Die review, I laid out all the criticism Lana’s taken since her very first steps onto the scene, and if you were one of the haters then, this EP isn’t going to change your mind (not that you’d have given it a try anyway). She’s still playing on the retro-chic pinup model style and the sad-sack, morose singing that so set her apart the first time around and that is more moody than technically proficient. But that’s just who she is, and it’s quite refreshing to hear something different among the waves of female pop singers. In fact, Lana sets herself apart from some of the other pop queens by the simple fact that her killer songs have a hard time fitting in on the radio precisely because of how mopey and depressive they can sound. Sure, Adele writes some tear-jerking ballads, but they’re buoyed by pure technical force.
Lana, on the other hand, is a bit delicate, waiflike and far less assertive, and rather than bubbling over with intense emotions, she often sounds like she’s in a struggle just to reconnect and feel anything at all.
If you are at all familiar with Brent Hinds, you likely identify him as the hirsute, face-tattooed hulk of a man whose day job is modern-day guitar hero for heavy metal titans Mastodon. However, you may not know that he’s involved with several side projects, including the band West End Motel, which recently released a new album, Only Time Can Tell.
The work he’s put in with Mastodon is so earth-shatteringly amazing that anything else he lends his playing to is, at the very least, worth checking in with.
However, before diving into Only Time Can Tell, I must warn you to forget about Hinds’ mastodonic claim to fame and prepare yourself for something coming way out of left field. For there is nothing metal about West End Motel or Hinds’ guitar playing in the band. This is a chance for Brent to spread his wings and explore all the other genres that inspire him but that he can’t get away with in the confines of his main gig.
I began my review of Dark Ages, the 2010 release from Canadian sludge metallers Bison b.c., by stating, “”Stressed Elephant,” the first track off Bison B.C.’s new album, is about as fucking metal of a song title as you can get.”
Well, the ante has been raised, my friends. The band’s latest release, Lovelessness – technically an EP – features perhaps the be-all and end-all candidate for metal track titling: “Anxiety Puke/Lovelessness.” I mean, holy fucking shit, right? With a title like “Anxiety Puke” and an album splayed with gory images of viscera and bloody tumors, you already have a pretty damn good idea what these guys are throwing your way before you even crank the volume to 11 and press play.
Of course, if you’ve heard any of the past Bison records, you’d also have an idea of what’s in store here because these six songs stay pretty true to the path this band has stomped out throughout its career. Take a strong foundation in Southern sludge, mix it with a steady diet of hardcore, and occasionally sprinkle in some doom and prog tendencies, and voila, you’ve got Bison b.c.
So what differentiates this EP from Dark Ages and the rest of the band’s catalog?
Ill Nino, never the biggest of metal bands to begin with, almost saw their struggling career kick the bucket back in 2008 when they signed to the indie record label Cement Shoes (which quickly folded) to release the biggest piece of crap of their career, Enigma. I’m not saying Enigma shut the door on that label before it was ever really up and running, but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case (it sold only 5,000 copies its first week, compared to 11,000 first week units moved for their previous record – a precipitous drop-off).
No one would have noticed if Ill Nino was never heard from again. It likely would have been assumed that, like most other bands lumped under the nu-metal brand which skyrocketed to prominence in the early 00′s, Ill Nino was just the latest to suffer its debilitating flameout into insignificance. But the band persevered, coming back two years later with the middling Dead New World, which was no great triumph – though, at least it kinda sorta allowed listeners to move past and forget about Enigma.
And now, two years later, almost like clockwork, Ill Nino is back with another release, Epidemia. This record manages to take one bold step towards revitalizing the group’s signature sound, but like most of Ill Nino’s work, it still ends up falling short of lasting significance.
Remember in high school or college, when there would always be that one band at your school that was bigger than all the others; pretty much everyone liked them and they could generally be counted on to bring a good time to local battles of the bands and various jam nights at the local watering holes?
New Jersey’s Creeptones are past that parochial moment of their career, but they’re still in that ‘tweener stage where they are a regionally-known entity (in this case, in the Garden State) but still waiting for an opportunity to break it big on a wider scale. The release of their debut full-length album, The Creep is Born, is the first step in that direction. And as the case may be, the release of this album was made possible after the Creeptones won ACM Records’ 2011 Battle of the Bands competition, thereby snagging a spot on that label’s talent roster.
For a band that’s only been together for about two years, the fact that they’ve already been signed to a small record label and released an album is impressive. The Creep is Born sounds like you’d expect a hungry, fledgling rock band born in the garage to sound like – raw, jangly guitars fleshing out shambling and mostly upbeat rock songs.