Monday, May 30, 2011

Conor Oberst out of Key on latest from Bright Eyes

Something's not quite right with Conor Oberst.

The point man behind Bright Eyes established himself as a legend in the indie scene when he self released his debut album at the age of 14 and piloted his own record label from the ground up.

Since then Oberst has watched his profile steadily rise, peaking with arguably his greatest work with 2005's I'm Wide Awake It's Morning. After nearly two decades, there is talk that the band's latest release, The People's Key, may be it's last.

If that's so, it's a real shame. The People's Key is far from being a good album.

 Bright Eyes has historically been known for Oberst's folksy, singer/songwriter, roots style approach. The new LP abandons that in favor of a more alternative vein, emphasizing the sound of the band as a whole. In the process he's managed to rip out everything that made Bright Eyes what it is.

It's risky business for an artist to dramatically alter their musical makeup. Radiohead showed it could work by whitewashing their Brit-rock roots on Kid A. More recently, Deerhunter's Halcyon Digest demonstrated how to mold a simpler, pop-based song structure while still keeping the core elements of their sound intact.

The People's Key, on the other hand, quite simply lacks the power, emotion, and immediacy heard in the band's prior works  The first thing that jumps out is the lack of distinctive melodies; most songs are carried along by the same recycled bouncy beat, supplemented by keyboards.

The lead single, "Shell Games," is the catchiest tune on disc, making it a sure highlight. "Triple Spiral" is alright too, I suppose.

Periodically throughout the disc you'll hear from a narrator who sounds like a slightly more intelligent version of Randy from My Name is Earl. He has some interesting things to say, but suffers from being too wordy and takes too long to get to his point.

And that's perhaps the problem with the lyrics on this album in general. As always, Mr. Oberst has some great words to share, but you have to dig for it. Whereas on earlier material he's made a point of setting a scene or creating a mood much more immediately.

Compare what you get to here to the soul baring confession of "First Day of My Life," or the sense of urgency on "At the Bottom of Everything," both from I'm Wide Awake It's Morning.

For that matter, take a glimpse at the opening of "Four Winds," the lead single from 2007's Cassadaga:

"Your class, your caste, your country, sect, your name or your tribe
There is people always dying trying to keep them alive."

A knockout political salvo in just two lines. And catchy as hell too.

If there is one song that comes close to recapturing Oberst's glory it is "Ladder Song," near the album's close. The lonely piano and haunted vocal immediately evoke a feeling of desolation and loss, and stands out above most everything else on the disc.

The People's Key is certainly listenable and not a bad effort per se, but there isn't much redeeming about it. It's not about the shift in sound for me. Bright Eyes is a band perfectly capable of pulling off the alternative vibe; they just didn't nail it here.

Next time I'll take catchier melodies and ACTUALLY showing a sense of emotion, please and thank you.

Score: 65/100

Friday, May 27, 2011

Tomboy's densely layered melodies among top treats of 2011

One of the most exciting parts of following music today is finding someone who pushes the envelope.

With all the stale ideas floating around in many music circles today, an innovator, a pioneer is what we need. I jubiliate when I find someone with new ideas, with the potential to push music forward into the future.

I think I've struck gold with Panda Bear.

Noah Lennox, better known as Panda bear, better known as a member of the indie/electronic pop supergroup Animal Collective. Tomboy, Lennox's fourth solo release, highlights his best attributes as a composer and also showcases much of what made AnCo an indie sensation.

You may remember Avey Tare, Animal Collective's other major player, released his solo debut Down There last October. If that disc championed the band's more exotic and experimental side, then Tomboy is a picture perfect demonstration of Lennox's ability to create rich layers and textures upon a musical landscape.

Rich with lush, vibrant, and deeply detailed layering, and featuring Panda Bear's pristine vocal harmonization, Tomboy stands as one of the most exciting works of the year thus far.

There are a couple of remarkable different things he is able to here. Most songs can be classified into general melody based songs. Here, you'll find some real gems, including Surfer's Hymn, Slow Motion, Last Night at the Jetty,and my personal favorite, Alsatian Darn.

Then there are what you categorize as being mood pieces. The sixth track is pervaded by an eerie ominous buzz, with scant vocals that seem to drift along, but you're never quite sure where they came from or where they're leading you.

The vibe and feeling created by the song can be perfectly described as a drone, which is why it's so fitting that that also happens to the the title of the track.

"Scheherazade" is even more haunting, with its minimalist techno and elegiac ,subdued vocal that seems to drift up from the depths of Lennox's tortured soul.

Tomboy is also strong lyrically. Panda's main strength is to take a single statement or concept, simple but profound, and to create a rich texture with it.

"Slow Motion" questions conventional wisdom and declares that it's more important to look within yourself, while "Last Night at the Jetty" takes a simple moment spent with friends and turns it into a powerful testament about how happy memories can have a dynamic impact on the fabric of life.

Tomboy floats by like a hazy, half realized dream, which reveals more and more of its subtle nuances and secrets each time you relive it. It sounds like nothing, acts like nothing, and more importantly feels like nothing that I've heard in quite some time.

Score: 90/100

Ott's Mir showcases a smorgasbord of musical expression

Alright, everybody:

Go listen to Ott and prepare to have your minds blown.

Honestly, that could be the whole review right there. But I am so esteemed about this album that I simply want to tell you more about it. I want to explain to you its every little facet and nuance.

And I want you to leave feeling as enamored about this album as I am. To deny you that would be an injustice. And I can tell you aren't really conviced yet.

Fair enough.

Ott is an electronic music producer associated with Brian Eno who is best known for being to create a kaleidescope of textures and soundscapes. I'm sure you hear the term musical journey thrown around often, but Mir truly encapsulates what an odyssey is all about.

The opener, "One Day I Wish to Have This Kind of Time," has a warm hypnotic feel underscoring an spoken word intro which lays out the album's central message - don't get too caught up in trying to analyze the what the music is all about; just chill out and let your mind soak it all in.

That is followed by six minutes of cool Caribbean themed music with a nice beat and melody. You can practically feel the waves lapping over your bare feet.

The followup track, "Adrift in Hilbert Space," is perfectly representative of its title. It presents a very relaxed and chilled out vibe, as though you're floating along in space, while distant wispy vocals float alongside you.

After that, prepare to descend to the depths of "Owl Stretching Time," a darker, more sinister piece of electronica that at times threatens to veer into dubstep.

There's plenty of other great musical ideas at play here later on. Psyched out Indian vocals, mellow, spacey guitar playing, and even lush underwater dreamscapes.

It's very clear Ott is into psychedelia, but it's not overdone. Just enough of it to serve as a catalyst on this mystical and often wacked out journey that is known as Mir. 

Many artistic musical works have attempted to do what Mir does, but none have done it quite like Mir has - because it refuses to take itself seriously, and never gets bogged down by being to pretensions or artsy.

Best of all, it never calls for an overwrought level of analysis or introspection. It simply is what it is. Now go buy the damn thing.

Score: 91/100

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Peelander Z blasts the midstate with wild wacky cartoon punk

This past week, I was surveying my friends to see who was going to see Peelander Z. The responses were very simple. Their replies, respectively, were

God no


Hell no.

I asked one of them why the hate? That answer was also simple: they suck.

Suffice it to say I wasn't quite sure what I was in for when I made the trip down to The End in Nashville this past Friday. My main interest was in seeing chiptune pioneers Anamanaguchi, so at least if Peelander sucked it wouldn't be a totally wasted trip.

So how was this wild, weird cartoon/action/whatever the fuck band from Japan? I, too, will keep my verdict simple:


Peter Berkman rocks a hacked NES like none other.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. First you need the lowdown on Anamanaguchi, the warm-up act. As you may know, these New York rockers compose music in a very unique way - by drawing from the sound template of hacked NES and Gameboy systems.

That's pretty much the highlight of their live show - taking in the energetic video gameish music and analyzing the nuances of the composition. The records are a blast to listen to, but the raw energy and spontaneity doesn't translate quite as well to the stage.

Instrumental-wise, drummer Luke Silas is impressive, but the guitar and bass playing doesn't stand out much. There is probably the potential to create a pretty neat stage show around their initial chiptune/video game idea, but as it is their live act is solid but not top tier.

Peelander, on the other hand, is a trip.It's the most random and bizarre performance you're ever like to see while also being most entertaining and enrapturing at the same time.

The frontman, Peelander Yellow, takes center stage with his bald head, stringy hair, and dinged up guitar looking not unlike Goldmember from that awful Austin Powers movie.

In a little over an hour, the band blasted through a set filled with songs about tacos, songs about ninjas going to high school, even songs about wild tigers. Musically this band gets ragged on a quite a bit, and understandably so.

But they have improved with the addition of their new guitarist, Peelander Black. Dude is by far the best musician in the group and provides a solid musical backdrop whenever the rest of the band is goofing off with other antics.

I'd like to say more to give you an idea of what this band is like, but at this point it's the type of show that is better described with pictures than words. So:

Peelander Z goes Super Saiyan on your ass.
A giant fish guitar on stage? Why not?
Peelander Red provides support with the four string
Hey look! Peelander fans can play guitar just about as well as they can!
Time to get hyped up for the mad tiger!
To infinity! And beyond!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Wounded Rhymes proves Lykke Li is ready for the big time

There are two types of albums. The first kind features two or maybe three songs that just totally blow your mind. You know, the type of tune that screams song of the year and stays on your playlist for months on end. Meanwhile, the rest of the album fails to live up to the gold standard of those obligatory smashes.

Then there are albums that are a tad more consistent. There may not be any songs that reshape your perceptions of music, but every track is consistently good, some even great.

Lykke Li's Wounded Rhymes falls into the latter category. Prepare to be swept away by the thick sultry voice of this Swedish chanteuse. Perhaps her greatest strength is her ability to evoke a wide array of emotions. Li goes from being fun and playful on cuts like "I Follow Rivers" and "Youth Knows No Pain" to mournful on "Unrequited Love" and thoughtful and pensive on "Sadness is a Blessing" and "Rich Kids Blues."

You're also sure to notice a dash of sexuality also mixed into the pot here. It may be most noticeable on the aggressively erotic "Get Some," but also rears its head on a couple other places on the album.

Throughout the disc you'll hear a very subtle but definite 60s pop/soul vibe, particularly in some of the synthesizer sequences. The opener, "Youth Knows No Pain," sports a sort of 60s spy film vibe.

One of the best cuts may be "Love Out of Lust." It's majestic, breathtaking, and powerful, like the musical equivalent of  rowing your canoe down a channel in Venice. something I haven't heard a pop song that's pulled that off since Madonna's Ray of Light.

If there's anything I'd have liked seen handled differently, it's in the backing music. It's pretty minimalistic for the most part, which leaves Li to carry each song on her own. She does a more than adequate job, but I think they could add a little more flavor if the instrumentation/backing music was spiced up a little.

At any rate, Wounded Rhymes is sure to serve a a major coming out party for this killer new songstress, and with all the different styles she pulls off it should be easy to find something here that suits your fancy.

Score: 79/100