What I’m Listening to: MGMT – Congratulations

13 09 2010

You can make cool music with your shirts on guys.

The boys of psychedelic rock phenomenon MGMT warned the world that their sophomore release would not be the catchy, synth-laden, electro-pop that their massively successful debut was.  They risked completely losing the frat-boy fan base that launched them into stardom over the last couple years. Personally, when I heard the words MGMT and surf-rock in the same sentence, I must admit I was skeptical, and my preconceived notions of what Congratulations would be kept me from giving it the attention I soon realized it deserved. Surf-rock and frat-boy labels aside this album is a legitimate attempt at something fresh and unique.  For a second time Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser have ripped the rugs out from under our collective feet and sent us free-falling into musical bliss, once again demonstrating a connection with the new youth counterculture displayed by few other artists. Read the rest of this entry »


New Music: Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

18 03 2010

Gorillaz third release is every bit as genre-shattering as the first one

It’s the time of year where I get to write more about new music than the older stuff that just happens to be popping through my computer speakers, and that is something to be excited about.  Just this week new albums from Gorillaz and Broken Bells (more on them later) dropped new albums, and new cuts from MGMT, The National, Erykah Badu, Band of Horses, and Nas and Damien Marley are all expected before May.  Not to mention Drake, LCD Soundsystem, and The Arcade Fire all expected out before the end of the year, plus whispers of a new Radiohead album (SHH! they can hear you thinking about it).

The third release from Gorillaz, Plastic Beach, is pretty much what you expect from Damon Albarn and his animated company; which is the unexpected. Read the rest of this entry »

What I’m Listening To – OK Go: Of the Blue Colour of the Sky

22 02 2010

OK Go should be quite the show at Bonnaroo this summer

OK Go have been around since 2002 when they released their self-titled debut.  Despite all the attention they’ve garnered for their outreageously choreographed music videos, fights with their record label over embedding videos, or opening up for Panic(!) at the Disco on tour, I must admit I never payed much attention to them (probably for the exact reasons listed above).  Associating themselves with Panic(?) at the Disco definitely placed them into a specific, judgmental category for me: Don’t bother listening.  So when did the change take place?  Bonnaroo announced their line-up for the 2010 festival about a week ago, and near the top of the list was OK Go.  Having attended ‘Roo last year I know that they don’t mess around when it comes to booking acts for the festival.  It is the most eclectic gathering of musicians in the world.  From old to new, Hip-Hop to death metal to Jimmy Buffet, Bonnaroo knows how to throw a party, and even the artists you’ve never heard of always manage to entertain.  So since I plan on returning to the massive farm in the middle of nowhere for a weekend of only god knows what this summer, I figured I would check out all the acts I’ve never heard that are scheduled to play.  So I got my hands on most of it, put it into a giant iTunes playlist, hit shuffle, and let the thing run while I screw around on the internet for hours doing nothing.  After listening for a while I started to realize that every time I came across a really cool song, it was OK Go who was responsible for said song.  So finally this morning I decided to just listen to the album all the way through.

Of the Blue Color of the Sky is OK Go’s third album, and it’s fantastic.  They are one of those rare bands that has a flare for the outlandish, electronic, and psychedelic rock that doesn’t usually have mass appeal, but they maintain a pop sensibility about their melodies and song writing that crosses over genres and makes for REAL pop-music (sorry Lady Gaga you don’t qualify as real music to me).  The rhythms are basic, dancey, and upbeat.  The mix of synths, arena-rock guitars, and robot vocals (Before the Earth was Round), makes for a dynamic, enthralling listen.  Later in the album they pull out the acoustic guitar for a downtrodden ballad (Last Leaf) and keep it out for a little bit of the exciting psychedelic rock (Back from Kathmandu) I mentioned before.  OK Go worked with producer Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, MGMT) on this album, and his influence shines through on all the aspects of the album that I mentioned earlier.  I hadn’t heard of Mr. Fridmann until recently, but I am a HUGE fan of this guys work.  Everything he touches seems to come out completely original, and he has a way of taking things out of the mainstream, yet maintaining mass appeal (if that makes sense), which is the yellow brick road of success for indie rock bands these days.

All in all I must say that I am really looking forward to seeing these guys live this summer.  They remind me a lot of TV on the Radio who played an amazing set at Bonnaroo last year, so I expect more of the same from OK Go…don’t disappoint me guys I just wrote a lot of really good things about your music!

Key Tracks: Back from Kathmandu, In the Glass, This too Shall Pass

You Might Also Like: TV on the Radio, Animal Collective, Spoon

What I’m Listening To – Akron/Family

19 02 2010

This album cover looks like something my grandma would have on her wall

Akron/Family’s 2005 self titled debut pretty much sounds like a bunch of noise the first time you hear it.  It reminds me of a little kid mulling around the kitchen, banging pots and pans to get his mothers attention as she prepares dinner.  Then they put forth something that sounds conceivably like regular pop-music, and then they take it away and go back to noise.   Needless to say, I LOVE IT.

So as noted by my previous posts on Grizzly Bear and MGMT, I love a good psychedelic, artsy rock record, but Akron/Family is different.  As opposed to being rooted in rock, they instead hold a foot in the realm of folk.  Almost all of the guitar is acoustic, the songs are driven by polyrhythmic, tribal like drums and percussion, and the vocals are imperfect and driven by emotion, like all good vocals should be in the age of Pro Tools where everything is too perfect.  After listening to the album it is pretty crazy to think that the entire thing was performed by only three musicians, rotating instrumental and vocal duties.  Nothing really to specific to say about this album, but in general its another personal favorite of mine, and everyone should check it out.

Key Tracks: Running, Returning.  Italy.  Before and Again.

You might also like: Animal Collective, Annuals

What I’m Listening To – Arcade Fire: Funeral

16 02 2010

Arcade Fire's debut "Funeral" is a personal favorite

So the word on the street is that the Arcade Fire have a new album due out this year, combine this with new albums due out from MGMT and Radiohead and it should be a great year for music. Arcade Fire have been one of the most innovative, original bands, both in the studio, and live, of the last five or six years. The news of their highly anticipated third studio album had me excited and so I went back to listen to their brilliant debut: Funeral.

I must admit that I was unaware of this album when it was first released, and I didn’t even learn of this band until the follow-up Neon Bible was released in 2007. Even though Neon Bible was every bit as critically acclaimed as their debut, there is still something about Funeral that I can personally connect to more than its successor. After listening to this album it is no surprise that these songs were the inspiration to the recent film Where the Wild Things are. Oft-ignored childhood themes of dissonance, isolation, rebellion, and free spirit are all touched upon. These are not things that a normal rock band would address, but Arcade Fire do it with such passion and conviction that it is hard to not be emotionally connected to such relevant song-writing. The Lyrics to “Wake Up” really hit on a lot of these points. Lead man Win Butler sings:

“But now that I’m older/ My heart is colder/ and I can see that its a lie./ Children wake up/ hold your mistakes up/ before they turn the summer into dust./ Children don’t grow up/ our bodies get bigger/ but our hearts get torn up./ We’re just a million little gods causing rainstorms/ turning everything good to rust.”

The childhood themes don’t stop with the lyrics. The upbeat, yet serious, anthemic feel that makes the Arcade Fire who they are is all over this album and it fits perfectly with the aforementioned writing style. After reading the lyrics to Wake Up (above) it might be hard to envision the song being placed in NFL advertisements, but the epic guitar makes it perfect. Side note is that Arcade Fire NEVER lisence their music to outside sources (minus the WTWTA) trailor, and idiotic copyright laws allow the NFL to use their music for 15 seconds or less, despite the band’s attempts to protect their music, but that’s a topic for another day.

This is one of those albums that brightens your day for reasons that you can’t quite put your finger on.  Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) puts a smile on my face every time.  All of us remember waking up with the power out and going back to sleep, claiming ignorance, to try and get out of school.  This song is the embodiment of what I said before about the lyrics and  the music coming together to put forth such an emotionally charged, easily relatable rock performance that is as of now unmatched by artists everywhere., and I’m certain that Arcade Fire will continue to break new ground for years to come.  Good luck musicians of the world, Arcade Fire have set the bar, and they have set it high.

What I’m Listening To – KiD CuDi – Man on the Moon: The End of the Day

5 02 2010

Kid Cudi's new breed of hip-hop is breathing life into the game

Has Kid Cudi changed hip-hop forever? The jury is still out on that, but on his debut album Man on the Moon: The End of the Day Cudi takes the first step towards accomplishing such a feat.  The album is absent of poppy, sampled, repetitive hip-hop beats (minus the mandatory Kanye appearance), and instead is full of spacey, pulsating synths accompanied by Cudi’s trademark sing-song delivery.

Apart from the alien beats and Cudi’s effortless vocals, there is something that sets his music far and above the rest: His lyrics.  On his mixtape, A Kid Named Cudi, Cudi drops a line about his desire to be remembered for his substance: “Make my words important so if I slip away/ if I die today/ the last thing you remember won’t be about some apple-bottom jeans with the boots with the furs.”  In my opinion this is one of the boldest, most important statements in the last decade of hip-hop, and this attitude carried over to Man on the Moon. On the first real track after the intro (Soundtrack to my Life)  Cudi sings: “I’ve got some issues that nobody can see/ and all of these emotions are pouring out of me/ I bring them to the light for you/ it’s only right/ this is the soundtrack to my life.”  This sort of emotional openness and introspection has rarely, if ever, been seen in hip-hop before.

The other bright spot of the album is Cudi’s eclectic choice of collaborators.  Guest spots from electronic-pop duos Ratatat and MGMT catch the eye and ear immediately. There’s the aforementioned mandatory Kanye appearance, along with one of my personal favorites Common, on the cheeky, innuendo-filled, Lady Gaga sample Make Her Say, which apparently only made the album due to pressure from the label. Finally, there’s Hyyerr, a beautiful ode to fellow Cleveland rap pioneers Bone Thugs N Harmony, featuring Cudi’s partner in crime Chip tha Ripper.  I can’t tell if the song is more of a tribute to Bone or weed, but either way it’s an awesome song and Chip delivers a great performance.

I guess we’ll have to wait till his next official album drops to say if he’s actually moving hip-hop in a new direction, but given the rise of artists like Drake, my prediction is that we’ll start to see more emotionally charged, musically competent hip-hop music than ever before, and that my friends is a step in the right direction.

Key Tracks: Soundtrack to my Life, Hyyerr, Heart of a Lion, Pursuit of Happiness

You might also like: Drake, Wale, MGMT, Chip tha Ripper, Bone Thugs N Harmony

Award show? More like a freak show.

1 02 2010

The downfall of the Grammy's is unfortunate

If your reading this and you didn’t know that the Grammy’s were last night then your either the dumbest, or the smartest person I’ve ever met (never mind that we may have never met, you get it).  You may be the dumb one because, honestly, how do you not know that something like that is happening?  You either don’t own a TV, or you live under a rock which makes your patronage here at my blog quite suspicious.  Those computers at the library are for learning, not for people who live under rocks to read stupid blogs!  I digress.  You may, though, be the smart person because they weren’t worth watching even if you were aware.  Since my ultimate goal in life is to work in the industry that puts on this type of show, I figured I should tune in.  Needless to say I was quite disappointed.

I know that there are dozens of awards handed out every year by the Academy,  but last night I feel like only about ten were actually handed out during the three and a half hour marathon that is the Grammy’s.  This show had more commercials and crap performances than if the Super Bowl was played by the two worst teams in the NFL.  Does anybody care that Pink can hang suspended, soaking wet over the audience while kind of singing a little bit?  Are the Black-Eyed Peas not the most famous yet least talented grouping of individuals since LFO (I know you all know the words to Summer Girls)?  It’s real cool and all that Lady Gaga is gay (I think? Who the hell knows anymore), and so is Elton John, but what is the Grammy’s obsession with putting old, irrelevant artists together with new, hot, and unfortunately relevant pop acts?  There were, however, good performances to speak of, from Dave Matthews Band and the Lil Wayne, Eminem, Drake, and Travis Barker combo.  DMB was fantastic as always, especially backed up by the strings, horns, and choir.  Maybe they should think about taking that show on the road with them this summer.  Their most recent album obviously isn’t even close to their big three albums from the 90’s, but it was good, and it’s nice to see those songs translate to the live setting.  Now on to my main gripe with this show last night: Censorship

The aforementioned performance from Weezy, Drake, Em, and Barker was as rapper Wale put it via twitter the “mostODeditever”.  That is in reference to the absolutely TERRIBLE censoring job CBS did of this performance.  If you didn’t see it, go youtube it (thats for those of you at the library who live under rocks), and you’ll see for yourself how unnecessary it was.  It was to the point where there was more silence than music.  It was the last performance of the show, bringing four great artists together for their hit song, sans Kanye (thankfully), for what would have been easily the BEST performance of the night.  They were censoring words that weren’t even swear words because apparently the mute button over at CBS has a minimum “mute time” of like 15 seconds.

The Academy’s attempt at taking its show and awards more to the mainstream is a TERRIBLE decision.  It completely removes the integrity of the worlds most respected music awards, and while it may gain viewers for CBS (who shamelessly self-promoted their network by having the “stars” of their terrible shows present what few awards were actually handed out to the least-deserving artists, if you can call them artists anyways), it completely disregards the truly talented, original artists that are out there making good music.  How does MGMT lose out to f-ing Green Day for best rock album?  Speaking of Green Day will anyone go see that stupid broadway show based off their stupid over-rated album?  I understand that in this day and age when everyone steals your music that it’s kind of necessary to sell-out to be successful, but you don’t have to abandon what made you who you are.  Anyways I’m getting off topic so I’ll stop ranting for now, but I hope this trend towards the mainstream doesn’t continue, because it has hardly become difficult to win a Grammy, and that my friends is unacceptable.