Another victim of expectation. So it goes, …Like Clockwork

220px-Queens_of_the_Stone_Age_-_…Like_ClockworkQueens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork – Album Review

6.5/10

…Like Clockwork is Queens of the Stone Age’s sixth studio album.  It was released on June 4th, 2013 via Matador Records.  The release marked QOTSA’s return from a rather lengthy hiatus.  It’s predecessor was 2007’s spectacular Era Vulgaris.  …Like Clockwork was released to critical and commercial acclaim, charting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

If Era Vulgaris is Marcia Brady, …Like Clockwork has got to feel a little bit like Jan.  Shucks, she’s a real nice girl and everything, but Marcia’s such a foxy chick!  Where Era wowed at every turn, Clockwork only shines here and there.  If it’s any consolation, where it shines, it shines just as brightly.

The first of such highlights is the buzzed-out ballad, “The Vampyre of Time and Memory”.  It’s a heartbreaking ride that sweeps the feet and waxes poetic even through humorous exclamations such as “I’m alive!  Hooray!”.  It’s a three and a half minute joy that really should go on twice as long.

Even though “My God is the Sun” serves as the social centerpiece on Clockwork, the following track, “Kalopsia”, is a far superior tune with its sleepy verses that trip into its roaring chorus with all the grace that you’ve come to expect from Josh Homme’s crew.  Really, that’s where these boys bring their game, in the reel ’em in and knock ’em out moments.  It’s too bad they’re so few and far between on this disc.

Where Clockwork falls short is with promises like a collaboration with a least-likely candidate such as Elton John on “Fairweather Friends”.  It’s fun, but Elton’s presence is NOT felt the way anybody was expecting, and it just leaves you unimpressed and let down.  Also, I don’t feel the swagger that should be present here.  Songs like “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” and the all-too-bluesy, “Smooth Sailing” just don’t deliver for me.  There’s more impressions of former glory than the punchy triumphs I was left expecting.

I do give the album artwork (designed by the British artist Boneface) high honors.  The stark contrast of the black and white on a bright red background really draws the eye, and the fella wearing the skull mask is friggin’ cool.  So there’s that.

Really, in the end, there was just too much potential that wasn’t lived up to.  Especially given the six year hiatus and exciting return of Dave Grohl on drums, and Nick Oliveri on bass.  To call it a disappointment would be overzealous, but …Like Clockwork does leave a bit too much to be desired.  Poor Jan, forever the second fiddle.  Of course, in my analogy Songs for the Deaf would be second fiddle, so Clockwork is more like the little one, what was her name?  Sally, or Susie, or something?  Clockwork is Little Girl Brady.

Posted in Album Reviews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

If the theme songs from 70’s PBS children’s programming were an album, and it was completely awesome…

220px-Tame_Impala_Lonerism_CoverTame Impala – Lonerism – Album Review

9.5 / 10

Lonerism is Tame Impala’s second full-length album, the first being 2010’s great, but not quite as close to perfect effort, Innerspeaker.  Lonerism was released on October 5th, 2012 on Modular Recordings.      Reviews were almost entirely positive, Lonerism even won the coveted Australian J Award (as did Innerspeaker, making them the only band to have won two J Awards).  Impressive, huh?  Yeah, I don’t know what a J Award is either.  Can’t be a bad thing, though.

Tame Impala hasn’t been on the grid for a very long time, therefore most people aren’t privy to their massive talent.  However, if their progression continues the way it’s gone so far, by the time their third or fourth LP comes out, there won’t be many who still don’t know their name.  In a perfect world, that would be the case right now.  Oh how I would love to live in a world where Maroon 5 could be replaced by Tame Impala…

Back to it.  Lonerism is high energy, rip-roaring razzamatazz at it’s finest.  It’s futuristic bleeps and bloops, fuzzed-out percussion, dense synth keyboard rhythms, and beautifully harmonized, effect-drenched vocal track make for one of the best albums of last year.

The opening track, and one of the best songs on the disc, “Be Above It” smacks you in the face and draws you in like a frog’s tongue might do to an unsuspecting blowfly.  It reads like a self-help tape, mainly consisting of the lyrics “I know that I gotta be above it, now” set in a heavy helping of synthesized wonder.  Once you hear it, there’s no way you’re turning the album off until it’s through, and there’s a good chance you’re hitting play again just to hear “Be Above It” for the second time.  But again, pretty much the whole album follows suit.  Brilliant, exciting music in such tight grouping is pretty hard to come by.

One of the singles off the album was the aggressive, blues rock tour de force, “Elephant”.  It sounds very close to something that might have appeared on T. Rex’s goliath of an album, The Slider.  It’s driving power chord backdrop takes a back seat only to one of the coolest keyboard solos you might ever hear in your lifetime.  Oddly enough, front man Kevin Parker has said that “Elephant” is one of the oldest songs in his repertoire and was recorded for the album almost as an afterthought.  This makes sense though, given that the tone on the song is the least like any other song on Lonerism.  It doesn’t take away from the song, but it’s worth noting.

The only track I didn’t fall in love with on this album is the closer, “Sun’s Coming Up”.  It’s Tame Impala’s best impression of The Rolling Stones or possibly The Zombies in their sombre piano mode, a la The Zombies’ “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)”.  While not a bad song, it just kinda leaves the album drop off some kind of strange, morose cliff for no apparent reason.  I often think that it wouldn’t have been such a pox on Lonerism if it were placed somewhere in the middle.  It’s a minor nitpick that unfortunately keeps the album from a perfect score in my book.

Any fan of 70’s rock would do themselves the highest service by picking this up and adding it to their rotation as soon as possible.  I hate gushing about albums, but this one is worth the aggravation.  Buy it.  Now.  Especially because there’s still some summer left and you could put the top down on your convertible while you blast it and stuff.

 

 

Posted in Album Reviews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Love it? Hate it? Yeezus, I’m not sure. Love it, I guess.

220px-Yeezus_Kanye_WestKanye West – Yeezus – Album Review

8.0/10

Yeezus is the sixth studio album by the lovable, not in the least bit sociopathic hip-hoppist/producer Kanye West.  It was released on July 18, 2013 by Rock-A-Fella Records and Def Jam Recordings.  Just four days prior, the album leaked via the internet.  The results were nothing short of interesting.  Some fell to their hands and knees to lap up what they could, while others screamed, stood up out of their computer chairs, and raised their hands as if the music was the bile of a homeless man.

There aren’t many artists who are as polarizing, to me, as Kanye West.  On a personal level, his antics are none too appealing.  On a musical level…  Where do I begin…?  But Yeezus is no exception.

The actual musical composition and choice of samples is so stellar that I would love nothing more than to give Yeezus a perfect score. I can’t… but I really would love to.  I’ll get back to the good bits later.  I’d like to concentrate on the not so good bits for the moment.

Where Mr. West fails, as he always does with me, is in his need to be such a damn instigator all the time.  Not to mention the rampant sexism and self-aggrandizing.  Now, I now what you’re thinking.

“Hey Zak, it sounds like you don’t have a problem with Kanye West so much as you have a problem with rappers in general.  Why don’t you just avoid rap altogether?”

Because he’s too damn talented to ignore, that’s why.  It’s just that Kanye is so especially “in your face” and “a jackass” that I can’t help but get pissed off.  Yeah, that’s right.  My reviews are more like editorials.  Let’s call them Reviewitorials.  Moving on…  At least 30% (This number is an estimate that may or may not be even close to an actual accurate percentage) of the lyrics on Yeezus have to do with Kanye’s unit being in or around a female, often times having just released its “male essence” on the female subject.  I could see 2 or 3% of the lyrics being on that subject matter, but c’mon.  I was talking to a friend about the album when he said “Yeah, he doesn’t seem to be too excited to be having a kid.”  That pretty much summed it up for me.  I’ll bet Miss Kardashian won’t be letting little North listen to it any time soon.

Also, the third track is entitled “I Am a God (feat. God)”.  Seriously, Kanye?  I didn’t hear God on the track even once.  What a tease.  I hear He can play one hell of a 12-string guitar solo.  Yeezus is not an album for the conservative church-going types, that’s for sure.  Then again, those folks aren’t really his market.

On the music.  Production values on Yeezus are out in orbit somewhere.  This is some of the best composition I’ve heard in the last couple of years.  It’s obvious that Mr. West had a lot of upper echelon help, the likes of Daft Punk and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.  The resulting beats and harmonies are driving and shiny all at once.  On the opening track “On Sight”, West immediately kicks it in high gear with a heavily synthesized back beat that shifts and changes perfectly throughout the song.  There’s a rhythm to it that only the best of the best could muster.  If there’s one adjective I could choose to describe Yeezus, it’s aggressive.  So damn aggressive.  “Black Skinhead”, “New Slaves”, and “Blood on the Leaves” are all good examples of this.

Kanye’s choices of samples, as I mentioned before, are just inspired.  “New Slaves” ends with a minute and a half sample of a song entitled “Gyöngyhajú lány” by Omega, a 60’s rock group from Hungary.  It’s amazingly playful and stunning piece of work that fits beautifully into the context of the album.

As a matter of fact, believe it or not, playful is another great adjective to describe Yeezus.  For instance, the closing track “Bound 2” which is my personal favorite track on the album, is a bright, emotional cut which samples, among other things, a song called “Bound,” which was written by Bobby Massey and Robert Dukes and performed by Ponderosa Twins Plus One.  The song is outright bubbly in comparison to the rest of the album.  It’s a welcome touching moment that is among the several highlights on Yeezus.  The chorus, which is belted out by Charlie Wilson, soul singer and former lead vocalist for The Gap Band, is a heartfelt segment stating “I know you’re tired of loving, with nobody to love.”  Damn straight.

In the end, Yeezus has most certainly bought me a copy of his follow-up whenever that might come around, but I wouldn’t play it in front of too many young children.

Posted in Album Reviews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

How Do Such Bad Seeds Give Way To Such A Good Crop?

220px-Push_the_Sky_AwayNick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away – Album Review

8.5/10

Push the Sky Away is Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ fifteenth studio album.  It was released on February 13th, 2013 on Bad Seed Ltd., the band’s very own label.  The album was released to very favorable reviews.

I’m not going to sit here and talk about Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds as if I know who they are or what they stand for or how they normally sound.  Embarrassingly enough, as a music fan, Push the Sky Away is the very first Bad Seeds album I’ve ever made the time to listen to.  There are some people, mostly Australian people, who would give me quite the verbal lashing for that.  “Fourteen albums!”  They would say.  “You couldn’t listen to even one of them?”  The band is a bit of a source of pride for their fellow countrymen.  I would humbly take the blame for my negligence.  Perhaps even apologize a little bit.  However, I would argue this.  If the rest of their works sound anything like Push the Sky Away, it is only myself who I have been hurting.

As a matter of taste, the word “brooding”, more often than not, comes up in lists of adjectives describing my favorite albums.  As far as this album is concerned, they could have named it “Brooding” and no sane individual could possibly wonder why.

Musically, the album sounds like a dying man’s answer to “If given a second run at it, what would you change?”.   Lyrically, the album sounds like a dying man’s answer to “If asked to write down a set of lyrics that could make a house cat tear up, what would you write down?”  In an effort to explain that one, I’ll say that house cats, though adorable, are in my experience mostly emotionless.  Therefore, making one of them tear up would be one hell of an accomplishment.

Like I said, I’m not going to assume that this is standard fare for these Bad Seeds, but I would love to.  There isn’t one track on this album that isn’t striking in one way or another.  Opener “We No Who U R”, though grammatically troublesome in title, hits you right away with a kind of echoey goodness that makes you want to go skip stones at your local lake on a cloudy day, if you’re lucky enough to have a local lake and enjoy a climate that allows for a few cloudy days here and there.  Its unsettling chorus consists of a simple “We know who you are/and we know where you live/and we know there’s no need to forgive”.  It ingeniously leaves you threatened and consoled all in the same line.  It’s just good songwriting.

Another stand out track, “Jubilee Street”, starts with a simple guitar riff that reminds me a bit of John Frusciante’s famous riff at the beginning of the RHCP staple, “Under the Bridge”.  This haunting riff, at one speed or another, continues throughout the entire six and a half minute running time, but not for one second do you want it to stop.  Pepper in bubblegum/next level lyrics like “I got love in my tummy and a tiny little pain/and a ten ton catastrophe on a sixty pound chain” and you’ve got yet another song that should make every top ten list but never will.

This is the kind of album that would be great to turn on while you’re upset and just say things like “That’s right!” and “So true, brother!” to yourself out loud.  Matter of fact, I think i’ll do that right now.  Even though I’m not upset because I’m so pumped about this album.

This so far gushing review is not to say that Push the Sky Away doesn’t have its faults.  There are times when you, as the listener, might want the tempo to pick up a bit.  It will not.  It is a crawler, for better or worse.  So if you’re not the silent, wait your turn type, maybe steer clear of this disc, but know that you’re a fool for doing so.  Also, there are times when front man Nick Cave sounds like he’s doing his best impression of Warren Zevon.  Again, a good problem to have, and he might do that all the time, I don’t know.  Still, if I’m noticing it, it’s a distraction.

Other notable tracks include, “Finishing Jubilee Street”, “Wide Lovely Eyes”, and the title track.  I’m going to go listen to some earlier Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds albums and get those Aussies off my back.  Consider Push the Sky Away recommended.

 

Posted in Album Reviews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Never saw myself as the historical fiction type. Yeah well.

The following is a short story I wrote very recently.  Please let me know what you think.  Forgive any formating issues, not very fond of this interface in that regard.  I hope you enjoy it.

Cargo

A Short Story

by

Zak Bowen

     It was nearly dawn, the match warmed The Good Doctor’s aching fingers as it rested against the bowl of his pipe.  Incessant sea breezes made his muscles quiver.  Fatigue plagued him.  It had been a long time since he was able to stand on his own.  It had been longer still since he enjoyed even the most trivial of comforts, such as a puff of his pipe.  He closed his eyes as he inhaled.  He hadn’t been this calm in what had to have been weeks.  Smoldering tobacco bathed his face in a cherry red glow which made the jagged scar along his left jawline look even more fierce than it truly was.  The mark, which traveled from just below his left eye to less than an inch from his jugular vein, had only graduated from flesh wound in the past few days.  It was sure to be a grim reminder of a voyage never meant to have been made.

With his right hand he flicked the spent match off the starboard bow.  He watched as it fell to its new dark-blue home.  The match struck him as lucky to have finished its voyage, given that his own was only partially completed.  The estimated four month expedition into Southeast Russia had doubled in length due to unpredicted difficulties, as did most of the expeditions he had ever heard of.  It was to be another few months until they would see their home again.  Difficulty seemed the theme of this twisted trek through the forests West of Vladivostok.  His mind, weary from exhaustion, struggled to tally the departed.

…Donovan, Lyons and O’Shea make twelve, the English brothers make five more.  If we do in fact make it back to inform their loved ones, there’s sure to be much grieving done in Aldershott on their behalf.  All told, our crew of thirty men has been reduced to a mere quarter of its original number, give or take a few unfortunate corpses.  What am I thinking?… to label the dead members of this crew as unfortunate would suggest that the survivors have good fortune spilling from their cups.  My cup is not full.  Nor is any other cup belonging to those still sharing in this horrid endeavor.

A silver pocket watch with an engraving that read, “Time is but a series of heartbeats, may you never forget that one could not possibly exist without the other.”, sat ten miles away, lodged between a couple of large rocks on the forest floor instead of the breast pocket it was meant to occupy.  All but confirming the watch’s implication, time seemed to stop in the moments his heart did while his hand feverishly scoured an empty pocket.  “No!  Shit!  No No No!  Where the hell is it?”, he screamed, frantically looking around on the planks around him, hoping madly for a glimpse of silver.  Having caught no such glimpse, he turned and headed toward the stairwell that led to the cargo hold.  Catching the toe of his boot on the edge of a loose plank, he toppled over, landing on his side with a thud.  The impact knocked the wind from him.  His pipe flung from his lips, slid across the deck, and launched itself overboard.  Startled by the fall, he immediately began to cough and pant.  Panting turned to weeping.  Weeping turned to anger.  Anger turned to ambition.  He pulled himself up with help from the sill of a nearby porthole, and began stomping along the teak deck in a manner that was as completely out of character as his ranting and raving had been.

He slammed the stairway door against the wall as he opened it and dashed down the stairs like a child on Christmas morning.  Halfway down, a flash of hesitation came over him.  He stopped in his tracks and gazed hypnotically down the stairs to the deafening dark below.  Behind him, the wind blew the open door against the cabin wall.  Tick… tick… tick… tick.  He raced back up to close it.  He gathered his thoughts, still clouded by anger.  A mixture of courage and rage forced him slowly down the stairs.  Having reached the bottom, he lit a lantern hanging on the wall and held it in his right hand as he entered the room.  The hold was impressively large.  Much bigger than the ship looked from the outside.  It was mostly empty.  There were a few small boxes in the corner as well as sacks of food and other rations.  Along the far wall he noticed a handful of bird cages with several species of birds in them.  He counted seven birds altogether.  Two of the seven were lying dead at the bottom of their cages.  Most likely the result of trauma given the circumstances of their last moments alive.  Their fate held no consequence, the birds were of no concern to him whatsoever.  His target lay ahead.

The six by ten box sat in the center of the room draped in a sheet of burlap.  It stood seven feet tall and seemed like double that.  Even with his aggressive disposition, it frightened him.  Fear was not a fair description of an emotion such as this.  His left hand darted to his jawline, tracing a path with its middle finger.  It was still tender, as it sent a sharp chill through his skull and down his back.  Weakness consumed him, hope evaded him.  These were harsh times he was sharing with this wicked box.  Panic took hold as he realized more than ever that he was alone.  More alone than he had ever been.  The men upstairs had been keeping their distance for fear of catching some terrible foreign disease, and now the memories associated with his pocket watch were all but doomed to fade into oblivion.  Still, two of the men upstairs had saved his life.  To those two men, and nobody else, he owed completion of his task at hand.

He was locked in a trance by the sight of the looming monolith.  That moment, constructed of but fifteen seconds, seemed like days.  Above him, no fewer than six stout irishmen sang drinking songs with obnoxious pride, as Irishmen are wont to do.  At his left, five large birds made the wretched sounds that five large birds make.  Surrounding him on all sides, the ocean bellowed its maddening, perpetual cacophony.  He hadn’t registered one decibel uttered by any of them as he inched his way toward the ominous cloth covered box that his anger so contently drew him to.  He stopped not three feet shy.  His arm stretched outward toward the burlap covering, halting but four inches away.  Silence poured over him like a wall of water threatening to drown him as sure as he stood there.  It built up like a roaring crescendo, until as if by divine intervention, he reconsidered.  In one swift motion he drew his hand back down to his waist, clutched the hilt of the dagger on his hip, and took a large step backwards.

His senses came back with a bullet as he scrambled to find a place to sit down.  Placing the lantern on the ground beside him, he dragged one of the boxes from its corner to where he was standing and had a seat.  He could hear everything now.  His heart sounded as though it were going to tear its way through his chest and flop around on the floorboards for a spell.  Again, he began to weep.

     Without my watch, this heart of mine might just as well burst as it would keep on beating.  That was the last piece of her in my possession.  Am I such a fool as my actions might portray me to be?  A menagerie, they said.  Ohhh, what a spectacle it will be!  Dublin be damned, they said.  A little adventure might do you good, boyo.  Take your mind off of the past they said.  …and what an argument I put up.  Whiskey isn’t as much a friend to me as I think it is.  I’m learning that much.  Though I long for its company now.  

The box was neither dead nor alive as it stood motionless in front of him.  All at once it seemed to speak, a quiet whisper of a sound seeped across the gap between them, echoing for a moment until he finally acknowledged it.  What’s this?  The waking beast?  “Seems I’ve got you at a disadvantage,” he said, as the low rolling growl hit his ears.  “I am not afraid of you.”  He spoke more to himself than to another, as if he weren’t sure he was really hearing the heavy panting from the other side of the burlap.  The same panting had serenaded him just before the wilderness split his face in two.  Shaking and covered in sweat, he taunted, “I do so hope you’re comfortable, laddie.  We have a lengthy journey ahead, the two of us.”  His newfound arrogance merely a futile ruse, he was indeed afraid.  Fear all but strangled him into submission.

     If this place revealed itself as hell, I would not require convincing.  I doubt very much that I’ve earned this fate.  Yet here I am, the devil in front of me, foolishness behind me, and these infernal birds…!  Won’t they stifle themselves long enough for me to think?  It will be at least a month or two before we get home.  How does anyone expect me to sleep down here?  Lord have mercy on a beaten man.  Lord let be what will be.  

He imagined hurling the lantern into the sacks of wheat and flour to his left.  Hypothetical flames ignited the foodstuffs, setting the ship ablaze. In his mind, he took the bottle of animal sedative from his bag, drank it, and drifted off to dream of her.  Imaginary flames escorted him to Avalon.  His head was racing with these plans.  These delusions.  Glorious paths of promise that were to lead him out of this grotesque situation.  Such a pity, as it were, his heart knew that none of those paths were cleared for travel.

His clammy hand atop an empty breast pocket, he could see her hazel eyes right there in front of him.  Eyes he prayed would never leave his thoughts.  He recalled the reason he came on this trip in the first place.

     Forgive me for wishing your memory away.  What would you tell me to do?  What should be done?  Perhaps forgiveness would beget forgiveness.  You were always better at it than I was.  I dare not forget my training.  A fortnight in disrepair would not excuse something so unprofessional in civilized surroundings, so why would these surroundings be any different?  Even a murderous wretch like the one before me deserves a few square meals now and then.  To let it wither away and die would render my life’s work a waste of time.  I won’t stand for it.

     “Wouldn’t you agree, laddie?  Why shouldn’t I treat you professionally?  A veterinarian the likes of myself ought be embarrassed to even ask such a question, no matter how grim the doctor-patient relationship may be.”  With a labored grunt, he stood again to try his bravery.  “One might argue that I was intruding in your territory.  One would be right in saying so.  Still, a bit harsh, your reaction.  Wouldn’t you say?  You’ve made a bit of a monster out of me.  A lucky thing it is that cholera took the only one to which my appearance held any consequence.  That’s how life is forcing me to see it.”  Having limped his way across the room, he opened one of the barrels to his right.  It was filled with salted meats.  Mostly goat and sheep.  He pulled a slab from the barrel and inspected it in the light of the lantern.  “This certainly won’t be your finest meal, laddie.  Still, you’ll be glad for it.”  A heavy snort to his left brought a cautious grin to his altered face.

Being careful not to get too close, he grasped the slab of meat with some tongs and slid it between the bars, leaving it sit near the edge of the cage.  He watched, holding his breath.  The meat didn’t move for a matter of minutes.  “Laddie?  Should I have cause for concern?  Perhaps you are smarter than I’ve allowed credit for.  What did I tell ya earlier?  Professionalism guaranteed, laddie.  Outside of losing my watch at your expense, I hold no grudge.  Certainly none worth losing my self-respect over.  Have at it.  I know damn well that you’re hungry.  Your last meal was thankfully deprived of ya, so as I stand here.”  As if he were expecting an immediate response, he was disappointed to see the meat remain.  “I’m going to go over there and throw some seed at those awful neighbors of yours in hopes their beaks might be distracted and grant me a moment’s peace.  I trust I’ll return to departed mutton.”

He turned and started towards the bags of birdseed, listening for any signs of stirring from the box.  He heard none.  He entertained the thought of removing the burlap sheet from its resting place, almost instantaneously his heartbeat sped up to three times its normal rate.  He was not ready.  That much was clear.  The sound of his heart slowed down, the rapid thuds were eventually replaced by a slow tick… tick… tick…tick.  Startled, he stopped what he was doing and furrowed his brow inquisitively.

The sound of blood-caked claws against hardwood meant a successful feeding.  He hastily pitched a scoop full of birdseed across the floors of the cages along the wall and hurried over to see that the meat was no longer there.  “Right, laddie.  I’m off to get some rest.  Do try not to kill me before I wake.  You’ve already had your chance.”

Feeling the weight of the day upon his aching shoulders, he headed for the few sacks of flour against the wall in hopes to find a moment of slumber.  He sat down, said a prayer, and thought twice before blowing out his lantern.  In the dark there was no ruckus from the upper deck.  The birds did not stir.  Even the sea was humble enough to let The Good Doctor rest.  Silence, like a warm blanket, cradled him tightly.  In the dark she held him as they let the box lull them to sleep with a gentle tick… tick… tick… tick.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Talented Mr. Blake

James Blake – Enough Thunder EP – Album Review

9.5/10

Enough Thunder is the latest EP from James Blake, the boyish producer turned full fledged crooner from across the pond.  It was released in October of 2011 to favorable reviews.

From the moment I heard of James Blake until now, not much more than a year has passed.  I was late to the game, but not very.  My take on his first efforts wasn’t a flattering one.  I dismissed his tunes as busy, childish, and obnoxiously electro-chic.  By the fifth time I heard his hit single, CMYK, Blake had jimmied the lock on the back door to my brain, moved some wires around and seized control of the ship.  He’s been climbing to the top of my pile of favorites ever since.

Blake isn’t only convincing, he’s ever-changing, much like the night sky or the staff of any given Taco Bell.  In the beginning he was a producer, the likes of Diplo or Danger Mouse.  His music mellow dubstep with a come hither stare on its face.  Then came his full length self-titled LP with which he introduced his vocal chords to the world.  His music was only the better for it.

On Enough Thunder, Blake takes it to a whole new plane of musical being.  He eases up on the mixing board and let’s some piano wire have it.  It plays like a ransom note demanding the listener’s soul in exchange for its contents.  The listener should be more than glad to give it up.  Every track is fantastic.  “We Might Feel Unsound”, the EP’s second track mixes fast, albeit understated percussion with slow, haunting vocals.  One would think that would be confusing to the ear.  However, it’s not so much confusing as it is blissful.  I have no idea how he does it, but Blake is a master artist and it shows.

The following track entitled “Fall Creek Boys Choir” was released via the internet.  It was a collaboration between Blake and indie-rock god/king of endearingly unintelligible lyrics, Justin Vernon(Bon Iver).  The result was as exciting and beautiful as the news of the collaboration itself.  4 and a half minutes of sheer beauty.  He follows with an out of left field cover of a beloved Joni Mitchell B-side “A Case of You”.  A nod to his Canadian fans?  I don’t know.  Maybe.  Either way it sounds great.

Blake rounds off the EP with “Not Long Now”, the most reminiscent of his earlier EPs like CMYK or The Bells Sketch, and the heartfelt title track, in which Blake exclaims “we can hope for heartbreak now.”  I’d rather hope for new James Blake to make its way to my ears as soon as possible.

Posted in Album Reviews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

If it weren’t so trite, this post would be titled “Less is more.”.

Peter, Bjorn, and John – Living Thing – Album Review

9/10

Living Thing is Peter, Bjorn, and John’s fifth studio album.  It was released stateside in late March of 2009 on Almost Gold Recordings.  Reviews were varied but leaning toward favorable.

When it comes to Peter, Bjorn, and John, I am torn.  Or should I say tjorn.  No… I shouldn’t.  I’m sorry.  I don’t think that they take themselves seriously enough.  I like that they’re light hearted and fun, but I hate that they’re so light hearted and fun.  That’s my way of saying I don’t like their selection of singles.  I find that their B-sides are far too enjoyable to be B-sides and their singles are always bubbly and stereotype PB&J unjustly.  I never put that PB&J thing together before.  Coincidence, or planned name arrangement?  Interesting.  I wonder where Swedes stand on crust v. no crust.  Probably neutral.

Despite my wavering on PB&J, I love Living Thing.  It strikes a lovely balance.  The tone here is unique among their albums.  Living Thing sounds like a dance party in a cave with only a small set of computer speakers.  It’s sparse in all the right places, while still being fun and quirky.  There’s a lot of silence on the disc.  The space between, as Dave Matthews might put it, is just as crucial to the songs as the actual musical bits.  It had to take some faith in their fans to let this one loose on ’em.  First impressions were probably quite unsettling amongst the following bunch.

Let there be no misunderstandings, singles “Nothing To Worry About” and “It Don’t Move Me” are standard PB&J fare, albeit with a slight twist.  So much so that the former is almost worth calling “Amsterdam Pt. 2”.   However, title track “Living Thing” and opener “The Feeling” are good examples of PB&J turning themselves on their heads.  On tracks like these, percussion takes center stage letting the beat drive the songs, leaving the vocals in an unusual second fiddle position.  The heart is in the hand claps, the rhythmic timing.  The arrangement works, and it works better than the usual in my opinion.  It’s experimental.  You can tell they sat down and told themselves they were going to do something different.  I love when decisions like these are so evident in the results.  Like Radiohead’s pow wow before they sat down to write Kid A did for them.

Maybe the normally fast-paced drive of Peter, Bjorn and John is your thing.  Perhaps Living Thing isn’t for you.  I think it’s a diamond in the rough.  As with any music, it’s really your call.

Posted in Album Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment