Archive for December, 2010

ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Vampire Weekend – Contra

Posted in Rock on December 31, 2010 by evilpacman18

Indie Rock; 2010

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I’m sure a lot of people saw this coming a mile away. I had this preordered at the beginning of the year. It came out on the 11th of January and was immediately album of the year. The only album that I even considered might be album of the year over this one was Treats but it really just doesn’t match up given a lot of thought. I’m biased. They’re my favorite band.

In 2008 Vampire Weekend debuted with a self-titled album. They were getting lots of hype even before that album came out. I first heard them when the best song on their debut album, A-Punk, was on Guitar Hero 5. I loved that song so I looked them up and the second song I heard by them was Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa. I understood why they interested me so much when I heard that one. I grew up (age 2-11) in Swaziland, Africa, which (since most people haven’t heard of it) shares over 75% of it’s borders with South Africa. Vampire Weekend were, on that album and ESPECIALLY on Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, heavily inspired by South African Pop music. They’re by far the most blatant of all the blatant Paul Simon rip-offs in Indie Rock recently but the mix of that South African-inspired American Pop with the “Indie” sound allows them to rip-off Paul Simon without actually being bad for it.

That was them in 2008. I’ll get to a review of that album one of these days. When I’m a capable enough writer to do it the justice it deserves.

As with any good band, you can expect some evolution in between the debut album and sophomore album. Some bands (Sparta) experience “sophomore slump” and fall off after a great debut album. Other bands (Kings of Leon) create a masterpiece that blows away the debut in every way possible. But the one that interests me the most is when a band with a debut album you think can’t be topped releases a second album that is equal to the first album but COMPLETELY different. It’s the case here.

It’s very tempting to define this album by comparing it to the debut. I’ll avoid that as much as possible for two reasons. The first being not everybody has heard the debut. The second is because they’re just on different sides of a spectrum. It’s mandatory that I make some comparisons though so bear with me.

Ezra takes an audible inhale before singing the opening line of Horchata, the first track. I kinda wish he would have ended the album with an exhale. Horchata is an upbeat track. Almost orchestral but still driven by a keyboard. The song is driven by a marimba. Little eccentricities like that give the album quirk. Every song is very experimental but deeply rooted in Pop. This album has a way of drawing fans from all over. I know people who only listen to the radio, in love with Taio Cruz and Lil Wayne. Whatever. They love Vampire Weekend. The people I’ve met because of my interest in obscure and underground Rap, a lot of them love Vampire Weekend. I got my mom and dad into Vampire Weekend. But then again, they got me into Paul Simon so that one probably makes sense. I won’t say there’s something for everyone here, there isn’t. But they do have a way of attracting attention from sources that other bands would fail to interest. Every single song has uncanny amounts of depth to it to the point where it’s impossible to listen to songs like Taxi Cab, Horchata, or Diplomat’s Son or I Think Ur a Contra or California English (it’d be easier to name the simple songs) and catch every carefully placed sound byte in under three listens. But ostensibly, the songs are fun and upbeat and mainstream-ready. Last.fm reported that Vampire Weekend was listened to more than Eminem through the whole year. An almost miraculous feat in itself, and even moreso given the intricacy of every single song. Just about every song has a strings arrangement and background vocals. Piano/keyboard is important in certain songs, especially Taxi Cab and Diplomat’s Son. The South African sound is still there in certain basslines (especially Run) but it’s been mostly abandoned in favor of a more American sound, or in the case of Cousins, Mexican. Run and Giving Up the Gun are the two most guitar-driven pieces, and possibly the least busy songs though a lot happens even in these two. They both have very electronic sounds to them.

The album ends on I Think Ur a Contra, my personal favorite. It’s a break from  the sound of the rest of the album. Their first song to make use of acoustic instruments. They used an acoustic guitar and piano. It manages to be the busiest song on the album without assaulting your ears. Ezra croons sweetly “I think you’re a contra/ I think that you lie/ don’t call me a contra/ till you’ve tried” before it goes into one of the many strings arrangements that Rostam wrote for this album. Bongos (and possibly a kick pedal. I don’t know my drum sounds) and those shakey things with tiny rocks in them (-__-) are the only percussion. The rest of the music fades out and they remain to close the song.

1. Horchata
2. White Sky
3. Holiday
4. California English
5. Taxi Cab
6. Run
7. Cousins
8. Giving Up the Gun
9. Diplomat’s Son
10. I Think Ur a Contra

Stand-out tracks:
I Think Ur a Contra
Taxi Cab
Cousins

-Jerry

Electric Wizard – Black Masses

Posted in Metal on December 26, 2010 by evilpacman18

Doom Metal/Stoner Doom; 2010

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No review for this one. I’m pretty tired and I haven’t listened to this enough times but I wanted to get this up today in lieu of The Sword’s album since they both play Stoner Doom and they both made one of the best albums of this year. Also, Venus in Furs isn’t a cover. I was disappointed too. But if you REALLY wanna hear a Doom Metal cover of The Velvet Underground, Monster Magnet have an actual Venus in Furs cover you can find on youtube.

1. Black Mass
2. Venus in Furs
3. The Nightchild
4. Patterns of Evil
5. Satyr IX
6. Turn Off Your Mind
7. Scorpio Curse
8. Crypt of Drugula

-Jerry

The Sword – Warp Riders

Posted in Metal on December 24, 2010 by evilpacman18

Stoner Metal; 2010

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There’s a lot of common musical subtleties lost on modern Metal. One of them is the art of staccato. I wouldn’t be able to explain it to those of you who aren’t so music term-savvy but that’s what Google is for, isn’t it? The first thing that stood out on this album (after the fairly mundane “epic” symphonic opening) was the grasp of staccato that both guitarists, John Cronise and Kyle Shutt, have. It really makes the first riff stand out and you’ll remember it for a while. The first track is instrumental, as it has been on their other two album’s although this is the longest of their three intros.

As with just about any Stoner Metal album, this album is about the riffs. Neither Shutt nor Cronise are masters of their guitar, but they can compose like nothing else. Unlike most albums Metal albums that are more focused on riffs than epic solos and mad guitar skillz, each song isn’t a wild, eclectic, and unfocused group of unrelated riffs. Each song has pretty basic song structure, but the single main riff in each song takes up most of the duration of the song. There’s a solo, of course, in every song, but it’s really unimportant compared to the rest of the song in MOST cases. In other songs, Astraea’s Dream for instance, the solo steals the show with relative ease.

You’ll wanna listen to the lyrics for this album. It’s a concept album! “The story of Warp Riders, entitled “The Night The Sky Cried Tears Of Fire” (written by Cronise), follows Ereth as he discovers a mysterious orb and meets the Chronomancer, a being beyond time and space who enlists him in a quest to restore the planet’s balance. Along the way he encounters strange warriors, mysterious witches, ancient androids, and a crew of space pirates with a vessel that will alter the course of history… a vessel known as, The Sword.” It doesn’t get much more Metal than that.

Tres Brujas is the second track on the album and the lead single. The Sword is actually one of the first Rock Bands I really liked. Haven’t been listening to Rock that long, actually, probably just over a year by now, and I got into them because The Black River (off their 2008 album Gods of the Earth) was on Guitar Hero: Metallica and it was awesome. So I had this sound of theirs in my head, and when Cronise started singing, I had to get on Wikipedia and make sure they didn’t get a new singer. I haven’t heard such a big change in vocal style since Scott Jeffreys in between Condemned and Unraveled. It’s mostly Tres Brujas though. He starts to sound like himself more on the later songs in the album. I’m glad.

I still feel like I have a lot to say about this album but I’ll stop here. One of the best albums of 2010. Go listen to it.

1. Acheron/Unearthing the Orb
2. Tres Brujas
3. Arrows in the Dark
4. The Chronomancer I: Hubris
5. Lawless Lands
6. Astraea’s Dream
7. The Warp Riders
8. Night City (lol cowbell)
9. The Chronomancer II: Nemesis
10. (The Night the Sky Cried) Tears of Fire

Stand-out tracks
Astraea’s Dream
The Chronomancer I: Hubris
The Chronomancer II: Nemesis

-Jerry

Sleigh Bells – Treats

Posted in Pop on December 21, 2010 by evilpacman18

Noise Pop; 2010

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EDIT: They took my mediafire upload down within 24 hours. I’m not gonna reupload it just so that my mediafire account doesn’t get suspended. The new link is to a torrent but if you don’t use torrents you’ll have to find a way to get it yourself. If you’re interested in learning how to use torrents (by far the best way to download music) then contact me or something.

The website where I downloaded that album cover from says about this album “Disclaimer: There is no point in listening to Treats on anything but max volume.” The band consists of Derek Miller who handles all the songwriting, plays the guitar, and does all the production. Alexis Krauss just sings and looks pretty. Each song on this album has a HARD-hitting drum beat, with Miller’s guitar lines played over it, and possibly the most impressive female vocals I’ve ever heard. Not just because she’s talented but because she’s actually fun to listen to, which unfortunately isn’t something I can say for a lot of the female singers I’ve heard in the past. Her voice almost makes some of the songs sound sarcastic because of how much you’d expect her singing to not be so perfect for the instrumentals. Her lyrics are frequently drowned out in the fully intentional low-fi onslaught of Miller’s guitar-playing. Some of the experimental sounds on the album are clearly influenced by MIA’s rare excursions into the avant-garde. Her and Miller have worked together in the past. There’s really not much more to say about this album. Ideally, listen to this on something that has a big subwoofer. It’ll shake up the room.

One more interesting note, the instrumentals during Sleigh Bell shows are all played off of Miller’s iPod. That should give you an idea of just how intentional the bad production quality is.

1. Tell ‘Em
2. Kids
3. Riot Rhythm
4. Infinity Guitars
5. Run the Heart
6. Rachel
7. Rill Rill
8. Crown on the Ground
9. Straight A’s
10. A/B Machines
11. Treats

Stand-out tracks:
Tell ‘Em
Infinity Guitars
Rill Rill

-Jerry

Fang Island – Fang Island

Posted in Rock on December 19, 2010 by evilpacman18

Indie Rock/Math Rock; 2010

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^My own upload

2010 has really been a year for Indie. If that’s not your thing, don’t worry I do have several non-Indie albums planned for the next few days (got some GREAT Stoner/Doom Metal coming up and a mind-blowing Jazz Fusion album among others) but this is one I’ve been listening to A LOT lately and I can’t get enough of it.

Now as far as pretension goes hipsters (lol) are some of the worst offenders in most peoples’ eyes. I’ve seen lots of arguments around teh internetz about whether or not music can be pretentious. I think it can and frequently is. I made a list of things that can make music pretentious. Maybe I’ll post it one day. Another argument that spawns out of the aforementioned one is whether or not pretension is inherently BAD. I don’t think it is. I think King Crimson, for instance, are super duper pretentious, and they’re one of my top bands. All this is to say that Fang Island takes some of the most pretentious things musicians can do (including playing Math Rock, making a self-titled album, and being hipsterish [lol]) and combine it into an album that disdainfully scoffs at most other music from its high plateau. And maybe it has the right to. It’s freaking good stuff.

The album starts off with Dream of Dreams. It’s just under 2 minutes long and more of an intro track than anything. It starts off with some low-fi crackling and then I guess it’s a keyboard playing this really warm melody. It stops for a more solemn sounding church organ sound when several recordings of the same person laid on top of each other begin to sing “they are all within my reach. they are free.” After he sings that twice, there’s 7 of the same chord played on the guitar. Almost like a count off except that it’s counting into the next song. So Dream of Dreams ends right there and Careful Crosses immediately kicks off and it’s the sound of pure joy translated into guitars and percussion. It’s possible to cry tears of happiness just from hearing the first minute of this track. These musicians seem like benevolent people to me, just for being capable of making music that makes you feel so good. The album goes on in a similar fashion until the end, everything extremely happy. There’s lots of slow and quiet sections but it never takes a break. The keyboard never gets off that organ setting and the drummer never gets of those cymbals and the guitars never get off those high notes. The album isn’t TOO technical, it never loses its sense of rhythm for the sake of impressing listeners with instrumental virtuosity. That’s not the point and they don’t have that skill anyway. It’s still Indie Rock at its core. Vocals are minimal and always on the slowed down parts of songs. They’re always sung in a chant-sing that’s usually just short of intelligible. The lyrics aren’t the point.

1. Dream of Dreams
2. Careful Crossers
3. Daisy
4. Life Coach
5. Sideswiper
6. The Illinois
7. Treeton
8. Davey Crockett
9. Welcome Wagon
10. Dorian

Stand-out tracks:
Sideswiper
Careful Crossers
Davey Crockett

Albums of the year

Posted in Uncategorized on December 18, 2010 by evilpacman18

From now until the end of the year all the albums I post will be albums I consider to be some of the best of this year. Since I’ve already posted a few of my favorite albums of the year (and tacking them back up on the front page would make all my newer posts fall way under them) I’ll just link them in this post.

On December 31st I’ll post my single favorite album of the whole year.

Francis and the Lights – It’ll Be Better (Indie Pop/Electrofunk)
Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid (Pop)
The Drums – The Drums (Indie Pop)
-Jerry

The Fall of Troy – In the Unlikely Event

Posted in Rock on December 13, 2010 by evilpacman18

Post-hardcore, Prog Rock; 2009

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I’ll admit, this is sort of a rainy day album. I have a bunch. Albums I’ve listened to dozens of times but haven’t posted yet so I can post them when I’m busy but I’m also long overdue to put something new up. I’d like to try something here. This could go very right or very wrong. Instead of a review covering the full album, I wanna do each song one-by-one. So…

 

1. Panic Attack!
FANTASTIC opening to the album. I got into this band because of how fun this song was when I downloaded it on Guitar Hero 5. The other two songs in the pack were Single and A Classic Case of Transference but they didn’t interest me nearly as much. This song has a bunch of different riffs. Some of them, particularly the main riff and the riff in the middle, are really melodic. The riff in the middle has the best bass work in the song. Then there’s some heavier riffs with some good drumming and a nice solo-type thing that sounds more impressive than it actually is because of some nice guitar effects. It’s a really great track, one of my favorites on the album.

2. Straight-Jacket Keelhauled
My favorite song on the album, this one is probably the most hit-or-miss out of all the songs. Thomas Erak’s vocals in most of the songs combine his great singing voice AND his high-pitched screams but this one is entirely his screaming which, admittedly, sounds fairly juvenile. Since I’m a big fan of high-pitched screams, especially in Emo off-shoot genres (which post-hardcore is), I love it, but some people may disagree. There’s also a really great breakdown, which is another reason people may dislike this, since apparently a lot of people think breakdowns exist for untalented players to avoid solos, but the song ends in a pretty impressive solo (well I don’t know much about playing solos but still). Again, I don’t blame anybody if they don’t like this one as much as I do.

3. Battleship Graveyard
Some really sweet melodies in this. Along with my favorite breakdown on the whole thing. His screams might even be higher pitched than Track 2, which I love. Similar to Panic Attack! this song is several different riffs put together. Each of them could be their own song. I’m not big on cohesiveness but, for instance, with BTBAM (see my Metal reviews) a lot of peoples’ problem with their albums are that they don’t really feel together. Their songs are more a collection of riffs than a whole composition. I’m ok with that as long as the transitions between each riff aren’t too painful and I think the transitions throughout this album (and Colors) are done really well. This song is a good example of that.

4. A Classic Case of Transference
“Get me off, then get off me, I’ve had enough of you. Your name, your frame and nothing else.”
You’ll wanna listen to the lyrics in this song. They’re a bit immature, something a 10th grader would find hilarious, but there is some really clever lines. “If I could say one thing, I’d probably have a conniption fit.”

5. Single
This is the second-shortest song on the album, after Track 2. If you’re looking for that cohesiveness I was talking about on Battleship Graveyard, you’ll find it here. This song feels really together. That’s probably why it’s so short.

6. Empty the Clip, the King Has Been Slain, Long Live the Queen!
At this point the album begins to lose some quality. The second half isn’t nearly as good as the first half. Every song is still good (except one that I’ll mention when I get there) but I think this song marks the change in the album. Not sure if it’s because the album just gets old after a bit, I can’t figure out what EXACTLY is wrong with this song (it actually has one of my favorite guitar solos) but… idk. Maybe it’s the vocals. The vocals could be better.

7. People and Their Lives
The intro to this song kinda reminds me of Chop Suey by System of a Down. Just a tiny bit. Erak sings in a different tone on this song for some reason. Again, it’s a bit of a step down. Once the song picks up after the short intro, the instrumental is really good. The drummer’s use of snare in this song is beautiful.

8. Dirty Pillow Talk
The first verse of this song is sung by Rody Walker from Protest the Hero (Canadian Mathcore band) and it sounds like he had a hand in writing the music too (don’t quote me on that), just because of the avant-garde influence that’s obvious here. Around 2 minutes in, there’s one of the worst transitions between riffs the album has. But since the standalone riffs are good, it’s forgiveable.

9. Nobody’s Perfect
This song would be easy to ignore if not for the AMAZING riff between 0:55 and 1:30. One of the high points on the song and even the album. At around 2:40 the song slows down into a 2-minute coda that reminded me of vampires. Like Dracula, not the sparkly kind. The end of this could be the credits song on like Van Helsing or something.

10. Webs
AVOID THIS SONG AT ALL COSTS IT’S SO BAD.

11. Walk of Fame
Webs is the sort of song that most bands would put at the end to ruin an otherwise great album. I’m glad they didn’t do that here. And these last two songs sort of pick up the greatness in the album where the first 5 tracks left it off. Another proggy song with good vocals and some drumming that’s really unique for the album.

12. Nature Vs. Nurture
Meh. It’s a better ending than Webs but still the second-worst song on the album. The spoken word piece in the middle is pretty pathetic. I’d say just listen to the last minute of this song. It’s about 6 minutes long and REALLY picks up in that last minute. Another great coda, but this one doesn’t sound like vampires.

SO ANYWAY
Yeah I’m never doing a song-by-song review again. One of my favorite albums, barring track 10.

-Jerry