Posts Tagged ‘CDs’

Move Like This - The CarsSeveral times since their breakup in 1988, singer/guitarist Ric Ocasek, one of the founding members of The Cars, stated that the band would never reform. So one has to wonder how much of a roman candle was lit up his butt when, in 2005, erstwhile band mates, guitarist Elliot Easton and keyboardist Greg Hawkes, joined forces with Todd Rundgren to form The New Cars, which performed classic Cars songs and Todd Rundgren songs. Sure, Ric gave them his blessing, but a year later he was on “The Colbert Report” putting Rundgren on notice.

I’m just guessing, but the phrase “Don’t get mad, get your band back” comes to mind. Well, if anyone is capable of filling in for the Toddmeister filling in for Ric Ocasek, it’s probably Ric Ocasek. Cut to the 17th of this month. Ric, Elliot, Greg, and restaurateur and last surviving car member, drummer David Robinson, have released the first video from their upcoming new album Move Like This.

“Blue Tip” is an upbeat pop song that continues The Cars new wave stylings. If you liked them before, you’ll like this song too – they still sound quite like themselves. There will be a different track from the album, “Sad Song” released soon as the first single. We’ll have to wait until May 10th to hear what the bulk of the album sounds like.

Unavoidably absent is singer/bassist Benjamin Orr, who died in 2000. Benjamin had the more “normal” voice, and sang “Drive”, one of their best-remembered songs, so his absence will probably be missed even by the more casual fans.

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Palace - Chapel Club

There’s something I find appealing about “Palace”, the first album release by London Band Chapel Club. Dark, moody and melodic, with plenty of atmospheric echo and sound layering, the music sounds powerful without being overbearing, and fairly orchestral sounding for a five piece with all the standard instrumentation. While tracks seemed a bit too similar by the end of the first listen, subsequent plays reveal a fair bit of variety within the self-imposed constraints of defining a distinct Chapel-Club sound.

That sound owes a fair bit to the 80s. Chapel Club cite New Order as an influence, and you can certainly hear that. I can also hear a bit of Jesus and Mary chain, some Morrissey, and a dash of Echo and the Bunnymen. Front man Lewis Bowman has a lot to do with invoking that vibe, with his deep, relaxed baritone. At his best, Bowman conjures up some decent lyrical imagery that helps put this album a cut above others made by artists of their age. “All the Eastern Girls” is my favourite example of that.

Chapel Club are often most effective when the song pace allows Lewis’s vocals to roll out unhurried, as bassist and drummer Liam Arkle and Rich Mitchell provide steady propulsion below, such as on the opening track, “Surfacing” (which is currently stuck in my brain). The way that the chorus of the Mama Cass standard “Dream a Little Dream of Me” is lifted wholesale and dropped into the refrain of “Surfacing” nearly made me laugh the first time I heard it, but it wasn’t long before the initially jarring juxtaposition felt like a perfect fit.

The role of guitarists Michael Hibbert and Alex Parry seems to be to support the songs, as opposed to being flashy guitar slingers. As such, they fill out the sound with arpeggios and subtle flourishes that work perfectly well without necessarily drawing attention away from the arrangements.

The Deluxe version of “Palaces” includes a four song EP that’s well worth obtaining. These aren’t outtakes, but four songs recorded after the “Palaces” sessions, originally released only on vinyl and available at only one gig in Manchester last December. The sound is slightly different than the album, perhaps not quite as big, but the feel seems to flow a bit easier and be a bit more intimate. I won’t be disappointed if this is a preview of their evolving sound.

“Now I know/that it’s all been done before/it’ll all be done again”. Ain’t that the truth.

The Golden Age of Nowhere - Funeral Party

For the last few weeks, the people who put the money into advertising the Funeral Party have been telling me their band is one of the most exciting I’ll hear all year. Sorry folks, they’re not even the most exciting band I’ve heard all week compared to, say, Chapel Club or Esben and the Witch. However, I can see how the lad’s first album “The Golden Age of Nowhere” might be flavor of the month.

Funeral Party plays Indie pop rock similar to other bands such as the Strokes, the Killers, and Passion Pit, etc., etc. The band sounds young and energetic. The album is laden with hooks, there’s enough variety to sustain the album, and almost every song is a driving force. Even the one relatively slow song, which is buried in the penultimate spot in the track listing, seems to want to kick it up a couple of gears on occasion. The hyperdrive effect is aided by in-your-face production. Despite them being a four piece band, there are times when the compression puts them in danger of sounding like the audio equivalent of the stateroom scene on “A Night at the Opera”.

There’s also enough familiarity to attract people who like what they know, which is my biggest problem with the album; It’s a little too derivative in spots without having enough of an overall individual personality. However, there are some interesting things going on in the song introductions and slotted in here and there that hint at more creativity than we’re getting in these mostly eight-to–the-bar standard song structures.

James Torres’ guitar gives off some nice tones and good riffs, even though none quite reach classic status. Kimo Kauhola and Tim Madrid keep things driving along on bass and drums respectively. For the most part, the lyrics are too generic to be meaningful, but they are stated by singer and keyboardist Chad Elliott with great force and conviction, so one assumes the words mean something to him.

The main sense I get from this album is that it was honed in a live environment, and I can imagine that the material works best with an audience. Two songs (“New York Moves to the Sound of L.A.” and Finale” ) even include scripted crowd chants. There is definitely craftsmanship going on here by a band that has every intention of being around for a while.

OK, so not a bad first effort for these kids, though I can’t see myself coming back to this one too often – there’s not enough individuality and substance for my taste. But lurking in the corners is a promise that the band might get more interesting with subsequent releases.

The King is Dead - The DecemberistsI’ve been some time getting around to The Decemberists, the “indie folk rock” band from Portland Oregon that’s been going for about a decade now. I’ve had their new album, “The King is Dead”, on my iPod for a couple of weeks, and it’s grown on me with each play. Even though that makes me a bit late with this review, I’m glad I took the time to let it work on me.

On the first couple of listens, what I noticed most were the influences. “Down By the Water”, for example, sounds a bit like a moderate tempo Tom Petty country rocker and has Gillian Welch’s voice enriching the harmony. “Calamity Song”, sounds like something R.E.M. would have done back in the “Reckoning” or “Life’s Rich Pageant” days. And why wouldn’t it, with Peter Buck playing guitar on both songs, although singer songwriter Colin Meloy’s strong, earnest vocals are placed much higher up in the mix than Michael Stipe’s ever were (In other words, you can make out what Colin is singing) .

Those songs drew me into the album, giving the rest of the album time to take me deeper into it’s themes of conflict, toil, and faith. The pastoral and sporadic anachronistic images and phrasing make the lyrics seem a bit out-of-time, more 19th century than 21st. The band sounds tight and full throughout, with the usual assortment of country/Americana instrumentation slotting in to support the songs.

“Don’t Carry it All” (with Buck once again) puts us at a turning of the seasons and calls us to support each other in our struggles. The songs progress through a dream premonition of the war of the end times, then questions about whether you are going to stand your ground. “Rox in a Box” gets back to the workman’s struggle – it’s a traditional-sounding mining song seamlessly integrated with a musical quote from the “Raggle Taggle Gypsy”.

“January Hymn” is a melodic lament to a lost love, which is balanced by a more upbeat “June Hymn” later in the album, offering new hope. As the album progresses past the halfway point, the predominant folk feel gives way to more of a country rock feel, even a bit of rabble rousing. The dramatic peak, musically and lyrically, comes in the song’s penultimate track, “This is why We Fight”. “When We Die, We will die with our arms unbound/this is why/Why we fight”.

This album works on several levels. It sounds good; you can just let it play and enjoy it, and there is more beneath the surface when you want to dig deeper. Of all the music I’ve heard so far this year, this is the album I think I’m most likely to be still listening to six months from now.

The Vaccines are the latest in a long line of wall-of-sound garage rock bands epitomized by the Ramones. Reminiscent of late summer nights by the beach in the car with the AM radio blasting (there was no FM), maybe not quite as fast and rough, but close enough, and all the songs are under three minutes. Hey, somebody has to carry the banner.

So far there are two “single” releases (i.e. two songs each). All four songs are from an album due to be released March 21st entitled, “What Do You Expect from the Vaccines”.

The first single, released last November, contains “Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)”, which is the song most likely to get you to go “Hey Ho, Let’s Go”, churning full crunch until it stops dead at 1:25, making it the first new song (I assume) shorter than what I hear are the new preview times at iTunes. Despite, the harsh chords on the intro, “Blow it Up” is moderate-tempo, two-chord, teen-angst splendor. “Were you ever my age? No, I doubt it.” Where have I heard that before? Oh, yeah, I said it 40 years ago, and I’m pretty sure I heard someone say it before me.

The second single, released just a few days ago, continues the sound and style of the first release. The single includes “We’re Happening”. “I don’t want to bore you”, they sing. Not yet anyway. “Post Break-Up Sex”, with it’s line “What do you expect/ from post break-up sex”, may be the one they’ve picked as the big song from the album, given the album title.

All songs have the vocals down in the mix, and the overall reverb turned up to 11. It’s about the feel of the song, and having a few words to sing along to. The style is as old as I am, although it’s all about youth. It sounds OK to me. It remains to be seen whether The Vaccines can compete in the twenty teenies. Hopefully, they can.

Care for something to shake off the January doldrums? Oh, yes please! Then isn’t it lucky that Gang of Four have picked this moment to release their first album of new material in 15 years.

Content - Gang of Four

This post-punk band still sounds as vibrantly angular and jagged as they did when they released their first single in 1978, following through the hole in the polyester torn by bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash. It’s cerebral rock that hits you in the head and the gut, and makes you want to get up and move. It’s music that refuses to play quietly in the corner and be ignored.

Gang of Four push the boundaries of the 4/4 structure, drums working in 4/4 but avoiding anything like a danceable beat until we’re three songs into the album, a harsh, metallic, rhythm guitar driving most of the songs, but the overall sound is kind of funky too. The odd shaped gears mesh into a unified whole, and the production lets you hear how clearly how those pieces fit together.

The band seem to be at their best chronicling alienation and dysfunctionality. “Content” continues this focus. The album opens exceptionally well with the tense twitch of “She Said ‘You Made a Thing of Me’ ”, in which she does, because she’s objectified, taken for granted, and fed up. The couple in the next song don’t fare much better, with the man trying to avoid a heated argument and the drummer letting him know he’s making a bad job of it. Track three invites you to dance to your loss of individual identity, singing along with the refrain “Who am I when everything is me?”

Most of these songs uphold the Gang of Four standard of intensity. Things slow down to a near-sweetness, sort of, on “A Fruit Fly in the Beehive”, then to a dirge on the next song, “It Was Never Going to Turn Out Too Good”. Both songs provide a well timed contrast without dragging down the album.

I don’t want to blow this out of proportion: “Content” provides much of what you’d want from a Gang of Four album, and it is a good listen. However, compared to a lot of the new music I’ve been hearing lately, it’s a bloody great listen.

Hear “Content” by Gang of Four

Q: What’s always coming but never comes?
A: The Beatles on iTunes.

The punch line might not be as old as the joke, but it was catching up. However, the joke became obsolete yesterday when Steve Jobs announced that the Beatles catalog will finally, finally, finally, finally (is that enough finallies?) be available on iTunes from early next year, thus again avoiding the horrendous possibility of the tracks being purchased before Christmas.

The “news” pales in comparison to last year’s reissue of remastered Beatles CDs. If you’re like me, you’ve already bought those CDs and ripped them to higher-quality aiff files. You may have even purchased them at half price, as I did when they were first released, which brought the cost to about what iTunes will be asking for them. Of course, now that they’re back to the regular retail price of over €20, iTunes will be the more cost-effective solution, but you’ll get what you pay for. Trust me, this is one instance where it’s well worth buying the CDs.

Ringo was quoted as saying, “I am particularly glad to no longer be asked when the Beatles are coming to iTunes.” I’ll bet.

Addendum: I just got back from the Apple store, where all the Beatles albums are quite obviously, prominently for sale already, so I guess you can’t believe everything you read. A few extras are available too.