Is that Thom Yorke? No it’s the opening track of the debut album from the Radiohead doppelgangers known as Muse. You have to remember though when this record came out Radiohead had abandoned the guitar-driven rock songs in favor of making robot music.
While the sound quality is rough, the distortion is a little sloppy and the band has long since broken up, this song runs the gamut of emotions when someone is the best and worst thing to happen to you.
In Defense of Mumford and Sons (by someone who bought their album for his wife because he wanted to buy something at his local record store on Record Store Day)
If there ever was a case-study for the bizarre reactions people have to rock popularity these days it is Mumford & Sons. The English folk rock band emerged in 2007 and quickly became part of the unofficial “West London Folk Scene” (which the Mumfords dispute but nonetheless was home to several similar-minded bands). Throughout 2008 and into 2009, Mumford & Sons played small venues in the UK and US, exposing audiences to “Little Lion Man” and “The Cave”, both of which were released as singles prior to their their self-financed debut album, Sigh No More.
Released in the UK in October 2009, and five months later in the United States, Sigh No More, emerged at a time when “folk-rock” was seeing a resurgence in the US, alongside other bands like Fleet Foxes, Blitzen Trapper and the Avett Brothers. Like the fields of the English countryside, the reasons for Mumford & Son’s rise in fame are wide and many. While it may be true that their sound was really no different from the multitude of other bands strumming their banjos and stomping their feet, their profile began to rise. Buzz spread along the indie “air waves” but it wasn’t until after an enthusiastic performance at the 2011 Grammy’s that the band’s fame grew exponentially. US sales of their debut album increased by 99% following the ceremony, and the album subsequently peaked at number two on the UK Album Chart and the Billboard 200. As the old adage goes, “It just comes down to who wants it more.” When you watch that performance, on a national stage, playing alongside fellow indie-folk rockers the Avett Brothers and Jack Frost himself, the band clearly stole the show. This was a surprise to me as at the time as the Avett Brothers had a strong following, more songs and equal, if not greater respect in the indie rock community. But the Avett Brothers didn’t blow up. Their album at the time, I and Love and You, peaked at #16 on the Billboard 200 while the Mumfords became a mainstay at the top. Am I saying it all came down to one performance in front of whoever still watches The Grammy Awards? Maybe. Maybe not. But here’s the rub. “You are either with us or you are against us,” cried the indie-rock community as The Avett Brothers’ next album, The Carpenter, (produced by Rick Rubin) received solid reviews in the indie press. What about the Mumford & Sons follow-up album, Babel, which sold 600,000 copies in its first week? Pitchfork didn’t even post a review.
So what is the point of all this? Why does this matter? Do I really like the handful of songs by this mediocre band of pint-clinking pub players so much I would write an article about them? The answer to these questions lies in a riddle.
What type of candy tastes worse the more you share it?
21st century rock n roll.
It’s the same reason everyone says El Camino is the Black Keys’ worst album and The Suburbs is overrated. Are you seeing the trend? Both are actually fine albums and consistent with each bands’ previous works. It’s not like they pulled an Offspring or something.
It used to be that in order to examine something with great scrutiny you needed a magnifying glass but these days we wait for something to grow huge before we lazily pass a judging eye. The bigger something is, the less we trust it and the greater likelihood we will run away from it screaming like a Tokyo native when Godzilla came to town. At the end of the day, Mumford & Sons are doing exactly what they’ve done their entire career. I am sure their time will quickly pass and I imagine they know as much and are just enjoying the ride. They have clearly “won the lottery” by repackaging the age-old genre of folk music blended with pop hooks and bridges and then repeating as desired, but last I heard folk music was intended to be simple and strictly for “the common man.” These “mindless masses” who buy their records just want songs that are fun, whimsical and a little poetic, the essence of traditional folk music. I know this because I am one of them. I saw them live and it wasn’t magical but it was everything I hoped it would be, a lot of smiles, beer and of course, foot tapping. With so many folk bands putting out sad, sulky songs, why is it so bad, so uncool, to put out music that is upbeat and energetic? (Sorry for all you rockers who demand a sense of irony in your music). I won’t argue that all their songs sound very similar, but would indie rockers be as critical if Old Crow Medicine Show had struck it big instead? If “Wagon Wheel” played 24/7 on the local radio do you think we would hold them in the same regard? In the end Mumford & Sons are not misleading people and everyone knows what they’re gonna get. More of what you saw on the Grammy’s, and that’s about it. But they never claimed to be anything else. So if you are ready to start throwing around words like “overrated”, “disingenuous” or “gimmicky” then you are already basing your opinion more on their popularity and quick rise to fame than their music. If anything the band themselves are as simple as the music they play. There are more talented bands playing very similar music who haven’t received this sort of fame and fortune but there are also less talented bands playing worse music with greater fame and fortune. If we as rock n roll fans want to fix this inequality and figure out why aren’t the “good bands” making it big then we need to begin looking at ourselves and what the culture of rock n roll has become. I for one am glad to see more indie rock bands make it big and I hope this trend continues. Rock n roll should not be limited to the privileged few. Sometimes it’s ok to share a few things with the masses.
That opening keyboard riff is my ringtone. Its part-Nintendo, part-Close Enounters of the Third Kind vibe sets the mood for a song packed full of wild vocals and passionate guitar. This just might be Spencer Krug at his best.
Kissing The Beehive (2008)
This 11 minute songs closes out 2008′s At Mount Zoomer. Conjuring a vibe of Roger Waters’ The Wall, the vocals are ambitious and full of symbolism spanning religion, marital infidelity and even Moby Dick. The bridge in the middle is also pretty killer. Epic, to say the least.
As die-hard fan of both space travel and rock n roll, this little number combines both and gives us a true successor to Bowie’s Space Oddity. The harrowing tale of a cosmonaut’ who left his girl for a one-way journey into the dark, cold, empty vacuum of space is sure to bring out the romantic in all of us.
Modern World (2005)
One of the more obscure and bizarre songs on the sampler, the song is well-crafted and simple but touches on issues we’ve all felt about the dark-side of an aggressively commercialized and technologically advanced world.
Ghost Pressure (2010)
A back beat that gets your foot stomping right off the bat and keys that sound like a futuristic organ make this song about haunting memories of “the one that got away” a truly great tune. Dan Boekner’s subdued vocals are perfect.
When I first heard that “the dude from Spoon has a new band with a guy from Wolf Parade”, I was stoked beyond belief. Members from two of the great indie-rock bands in recent history joining forces to create a whole new, dare I say, “group of superiority” known as Divine Fits. The lineup includes Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner, Britt Daniel from Spoon and New Bomb Turks’ Sam Brown. So it’s not a surprise this album is pretty much everything you could wish for if you are a fan of Spoon and/or Boeckner’s Wolf Parade songs. Some of you might be familiar with Boeckner’s other project, Handsome Furs, an indie/electronic duo consisting of he and his wife, Alexei Perry, but the majority of my experience with the Canadian rocker lies amongst the three striking albums from Wolf Parade. There is certainly an electronic influence here but the digital effects aren’t forced and there is plenty of guitar to go around. The synths have a voice all their own and truly serve as a complement to the contagious head-nodding beats.
Album opener “My Love Is Real” perfectly encapsulates Dan Boeckner’s singing style and earnest mood while the spooky Halloween-esque piano riff sets the pace for a song that is both slow-building and intense. “Flaggin A Ride” sounds exactly like Spoon but I must admit I love it as much as any of the other Spoon-ful clap-happy classics. “For Your Heart” and “Shivers” are two superb songs that best illustrate the Divine Fits’ hybrid style as they blend addictive beats with well-placed driving guitar. With Boeckner singing on “Heart” and Daniels on “Shivers”, each tune showcases the respective singers giving it their all with passionate vocals and straining fervor. I’ll be honest, once or twice I lost track of who was actually singing. There is no Spencer Krug (former Wolf Parade co-frontman) of course and while I do miss his maniacal energy and song-writing, Britt Daniel fills that role with a frenzy and vigor all his own. Divine Fits is certainly in a happier place than Wolf Parade was and the songs are slightly more rockin’ than Spoon’s tick-tock approach. At 42 minutes long, this album is a very enjoyable and a perfectly paced listen. A Thing called Divine Fits emerges from the gate as one of my favorites so far this year. And the sound called Divine Fits is a welcome contribution to rock n roll from two of the best players in the game.
A Thing Called Divine Fits is streaming at NRP in its entirety up to its August 28th release date.
Awwww….dream pop… soooooo….dreamy.
What is “dream pop” you may ask?
• It is a frozen treat made of crystalized clouds?
• A Japanese soft-drink sold in a sparkling iridescent bottle?
• What happens when your boss nudges you to wake up in the middle of a long conference call?
Not quite. According to Beach House’s Wikipedia page* “dream pop” is slow, atmospheric rhythms created through mesmerizing texture and ethereal melody. Full disclosure – this is not my usual repertoire. I typically look for albums a little more…full bodied. Something harder and with a kick. This album was not only a pleasant surprise it was a breath of fresh air in it’s less-is-more approach to pop music. Beach House surprisingly is only two people, French-born Victoria Legrand and Baltimore native Alex Scally. Their fourth album, Bloom, released this past May is an addicting 50 minutes of guitars that sound like harps, beautiful haunting vocals and delicately-crafted works of audio art. The inclusion of layered electronics and what I guess is a drum machine fit well as the percussion should be subtle and secondary to Legrand’s swooning voice.
This album has moments of genius that feel quite cinematic at times. It is not the perfect masterpiece I hoped for, but it does convey mastery. Some of the songs blend together but that’s hardly a knock as this sort of thing is common for albums of the slow-moving and melancholy genre. There aren’t many surprises as many of the dreamy tunes end up right where they began but several tracks stand out in particular. Album opener, “Myth”, is the single floating around the interweb and for good reason. The song is four minutes of feel-good beauty which stirs up similar feelings to the first drink at happy hour, the sun shining on your face or the walk home after that first kiss. It’s simple, pure and manages to create a depth and presence quite uncommon for a band with only two people in it. “The Hours” is hard for me to relate to lyrically as I don’t have a lot of experience with “Frightened Eyes” but I can appreciate the song’s polished and alluring style. “On The Sea” opens with a simple piano melody but it’s simplicity is what makes it work so well. A truly captivating song. Adjectives used to describe classical music are more relevant here but since I’m more comfortable arguing the merits of individual Led Zeppelin albums I will refrain from trying. All I can say is that this song could be a lullaby it’s so absorbing and memorable. All in all, the album is a shiny glimmer of hope in an otherwise gloomy category. Beach House is a welcome vacation from most everything else playing right now and one that will haunt you long after it’s over.
Ask any old school roadie or bouncer about “the good ole days” and they’re sure to tell you one of a million ridiculous tales about rock n roll debauchery from days long gone. We’ve all heard the scathing Zeppelin fish one but there are an endless sea of crazy woppers that are too bizarre, too absurd and too damn funny to fade away. This series is dedicated to rockers old and new who aren’t afraid to embrace the darker (or sillier) side of rock n roll. What better way to kick off the storytelling then with the most out of control band in rock n roll history, Led Zeppelin, with a little help from their friend George Harrison.
For fans of the London-based quintet known as Fanfarlo their new album, Rooms Filled With Light, is both a breath of fresh air and a throwback to 80′s new-wave pop at the same time. You’d think sounding like records that are almost 30 years old would seem stale but the current landscape of indie rock has an immediate opening in all things new-wave. The band’s quirky and arty sound has found themselves in playlists alongside bands such as The Cure and Talking Heads. This album will only reinforce those comparisons.
The album opens with a rather intense string-induced “fright fest” called “Replicate” that’s part-Andrew Bird, part-David Byrne but serves as a bizarre and beautiful opener. Track numero dos, “Deconstruction”, is the album’s first single and is a focused and upbeat tune that raises you up but sort of falls apart with with the creepy piano outro. For my money, the light doesn’t fill the room until almost two minutes into the third track “Lenslife” which takes the orchestral pop back to more familiar territory, a la 2008′s Reservoir. A great tune that certainly flows with glimmering ripples and crashing waves. “Tightrope” is a foot-stomper for the internet age and just like the lyrics – it could all come crashing down at any moment. Pretty heavy stuff but what do you expect from a song that may or may not have a harp in it? Once the album gets going it’s actually quite fun. Fanfarlo succeeds in making themes of science and extinction seem fun and quirky. Swedish frontman Simon Balthazar manages to keep an element of hope and youthful energy in a genre that historically includes frontmen who look like Edward Scissorhands or Max Headroom.
Rooms Filled With Light is a little more “out there” than the band’s debut 2008 record Reservoir but the unconventional spirit combined with an electronic and orchestral “double-threat” create a very atmospheric record that would make even Brian Eno proud. They mix elements of folk, indie rock and post-punk using a variety of instruments including the trumpet, violin, mandolin and glockenspiel. A lot of potential combinations there and most of them come together nicely. It’s not the best album of the year but if you’re partial to bands like Belle & Sebastian or Arcade Fire you will fit right in. There’s a depth to the album that I overlooked the first few times but after a few more whirls (and a new set of headphones) I’ve finally seen the light.
Here are live sessions of two great tracks from Rooms Filled With Light.
What do you do when the headliners of the tour you’re on throw in the towel after the first three dates? If you’re the Band of Horses, you saddle up and hit the road your damn selves. After The Kings of Leon called it quits due to “vocal issues and exhaustion”, the opening band, a hard-working five-piece from South Carolina known simply as Band of Horses found themselves with some unforeseen free time and a mission to not let down their fans. Trading in the amphitheaters and outdoor pavilions for cozy concert halls and night clubs, the Horses brought their unique style of indie/southern rock to Virginia Beach’s newly established Jewish Mother.
It’s a rare treat to see one of the best bands in rock right now play a small venue and at a packed house of 450, the sold-out crowd was full of die-hard fans giddy about the band that didn’t leave them behind. The Horses easily could have filled up Richmond’s The National or DC’s 9:30 Club, both with capacities of around 1200, but instead they stayed true to their commitment and galloped through Virginia Beach for an oh-so grateful audience 1/3 the size.
It was all smiles when the band took the stage and lead singer Ben Bridwell immediately threw out his hands to the crowd in a heartfelt gesture of both excitement and gratitude while introducing each of his band-mates. His sincerity continued on when he informed us “things are about to get weird” and the band kicked off with a cover of the mid-60′s soul tune “Am I A Good Man” by Them Two. With Bridwell’s arms flailing about like a man possessed, the raw energy of the crowd elevated to new heights. After thunderous applause, the band dove into their catalog with a trippy version of “Compliments” from last year’s Grammy-nominated album Infinite Arms. The band then played an ideal mix-up of songs from all three of their albums giving each one a new depth and slightly harder edge thanks to an incredibly passionate performance. Rarely have I seen that much sheer enjoyment and energy from a band playing music outside of a final tour or reunion show. The enthusiasm even got the best of lead singer Ben Bridwell once or twice when he forgot lines because he was so caught up in the moment. Mistakes like this are easily forgiven especially when a band offers you the “cheap thrill” of incorporating your town’s name into the lyrics as was done with the earnest ballad “Part One (Savannah). The band was on point in all facets and their easily accessible wispy southern rock was the perfect remedy for a hot summer night.
Crowd favorites “The Great Salt Lake” and “Weed Party” served as raucous anthems to the youth and seemed like perfect songs this close to the fun-in-the-sun of the Atlantic ocean. “The General Specific” was an all-out barn burner and keyboardist Ryan Monroe successfully took the lead on his harmony-laden tune “Older”. The band then played a new song which Bridwell introduced by saying “We’re gonna start making a new records pretty soon I guess. This is one of the songs, a new one, but it has no fuckin chance to make this record.” Applause ensued. “Is There A Ghost” was perfect but “Monsters” stood out as another winner when Bridwell took his seat at the slide guitar and belted out “monsters” in a rage against these “awful people that surround you”. Bridwell’s high-pitch was perfectly complimented by the pounding drums and onslaught of guitars.
After taking another minute or two to thank the crowd, the venue and their crew, Bridell humorously stated there would be one more song. In a jovial manner he then quipped,”Alright, let’s get depressed!” before playing the opening chords to “The Funeral” resulting in a roar of applause from the crowd. Hand’s down the most recognized Band of Horses song, “The Funeral” is a tune equal parts sad and beautiful and in many ways a parallel for the situation these guys found themselves in after the KOL tour died out. Sometimes true greatness can be found in awful situations and there is no better example than the Band of Horses, who have lived to rock another day.
Am I A Good Man (Them Two Cover)
Cigarettes, Wedding Bands
Ode to LRC
Part One (Virginia)
The Great Salt Lake
The General Specific
Mirage – new track “with no fuckin’ chance of making the record”
Is There A Ghost
No One’s Gonna Love You
The second album is by far the most scrutinized release of any band. Fans (and critics) are at their most skeptical when eagerly awaiting “the sequel”. So naturally I approach this release with an air of raised eyebrow. After touting Pete & The Pirates‘ debut record Little Death as vintage Bloc Party I am a bit relieved to say their newest release One Thousand Pictures doesn’t disappoint.
When debut albums are loved or lamented with the greatest of ease, it’s the follow up release that is often the deciding factor in your devotion to an artist. Will it be an expansion of the band’s sound? Something dark and weird? This time around the boys from Reading, England showcase a much stronger electronic influence and stretch the boundaries of their quick-riff/hook-heavy pop songs creating more elaborate tunes with a greater emphasis on building up melodies and layers. Further evidence of this lies in the fact that each song is on average 60 to 90 seconds longer than those on the first record.
On the surface level, most people will notice lead-singer Thomas Sanders’ “very British” vocal style, the guitar-oriented hooks and a rather straightforward percussion line. But the beauty about these guys is their ability to create a package of songs that all sound different and unique while still bouncing along a consistent backbone.
“Shotgun” takes a while to get going but illustrates the band’s new sense of patience and discipline. The clean, atmospheric guitar may remind some listeners of U2′s The Edge or The Doves’ Jez Williams. Similar guitar can be found on “Washing Powder” and results in a beautiful tune where the vocals and melodies play off each other with the greatest of ease.
“Come To The Bar” was the first single of the album and stands out as a darker post-punk entry. While it’s not my personal favorite I appreciate the new direction. “United” is more my speed as a playful faster jam that may or may not be about hooking up with a ladyfriend. “Winter 1″ is another song with heaver electronic overtones and after the second or third listen will certainly be stuck in your head.
“Little Gun” is actually very similar to the songs off Little Death but there is a depth in particular to the bass lines that add a richer quality to this simple pop tune.
As a fan of “jangly” British indie rock I love this record. This is a band with a great sense of humor who appears committed to elevating their sound and not just doing more of the same. It’s a solid indie rock record free of arrogance and ridiculous filler. Hopefully Pete & The Pirates will venture across the Atlantic later this year and plunder a few rock shows in the States.
For nearly two decades the infamous Gallagher brothers were two peas in a pod. Albeit an alcohol-fueled pod full of bitterness and sibling rivalry but a pod nonetheless. However in 2009, following yet another altercation with his younger brother, Oasis’ driving force and songwriter Noel Gallagher left the outfit (and subsequent Britpop movement) he himself started. The remnants of Oasis decided to continue on but as a new band called Beady Eye. It’s strange to experience one Gallagher brother without the other and this album clearly falls on skeptical ears. However, “Oasis-Lite” is pretty decent rock n roll. Liam manages to keep it together long enough to create some solid rock tunes pulling from a variety of elements such as classic Oasis, psychedelic Beatles with occasional hints of acoustic folk.
Look I get it, clearly Liam Gallagher is a prick. This is the guy who upon receiving an award at the 2010 BRIT Awards thanked all the former members of Oasis except for his brother before throwing the award into the audience. Personal antics aside he’s got a killer voice and the erratic vocalist seems to be back at the top of his game. This album is not a “game-changer” in the world of British rock but it’s fast style and free spirit shows a much more energetic sound than recent Oasis records and harks back to their debut record Definitely Maybe. An album which I am proud to say was my first ever compact disc. You get a sense there’s some hunger back in the band and a desire to prove themselves as opposed to creating just more British pop for the masses.
“Standing on the Edge of Noise” is classic Definitely Maybe and the band seems to fire on all cylinders during standout tracks like “The Roller”. It’s nice to see a mix up on tunes like “For Anyone” and “Wind Up Dream” as both display traits of “dreamy day” Lennon. Unfortunately Liam’s efforts to channel The Beatles don’t always work. “The Beat Goes On” comes across as nothing more than a poor man’s “Let It Be”. The piano-driven “Bring The Light” however is a fun jam that sounds the least like an Oasis tune and that makes it all the more endearing.
There are softer personal moments found scattered throughout. “Kill For A Dream” conveys introspection but is a bit too cliche as Liam displays half-hearted regret for his past antics but still keeping his lip curled enough to say “tough shit” in the process. I’m not sure if it’s about Noel specifically but it’s hard not to consider some serious brotherly overtones. Album closer “The Morning Son” is a little more successful but rather vague in its meaning.
At the end of the day Beady Eye’s debut shows the band has a greater desire to rock than be inspirational to a generation of bands. Finally it seems the lads from Manchester have set aside some of their celebrity arrogance in favor of simply cranking up the speakers.