Saturday, April 29, 2006

Review: The Streets, "The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living"

This is the third album from Mike Skinner, a.k.a. The Streets. This British rapper’s first two albums (Original Pirate Material, 2002, and A Grand Don’t Come For Free, 2004) are among the highest quality in lyricism, beat composition, and overall sound production. Original Pirate Material is exactly what you would expect: guerilla samplings layered over stunning beats, with occasional bursts of lyrical genius. “A Grand” is a bit of a departure and represents the first-ever British hip-hopera, according to my infinite knowledge at least. The sound is relatively the same with production skill, lyrics, and songwriting all elevated.

Skinner has a lot to live up to with “Hardest Way…” and he doesn’t disappoint.

Released on 4/25/06, “The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living” finds Skinner in a different place. This album is not about the struggles of a poor London boy, but rather about the trappings of fame. With songs about cocaine use (Pranging Out), destroying hotel rooms (Hotel Expressionism), and extravagant spending (Memento Mori), he loses the common man appeal that worked for him “when you wasn’t famous.”

In an exclusive interview on the iTunes version of the disc, Skinner states, “I don’t think this album is as much about empathy... it is as honest, if not more honest than the previous albums…I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for me, and I think you could have done that on the previous albums.” This is interesting because he sees the transition to fame and is aware of the dangers associated, but still writes an honest record that shows (at least a little bit) of what ego does to a man of humble roots.

Skinner stands on his head producing this record. Listen to the opening seconds of “Pranging Out,” and be blown away.

Though due to his fame we lose contact with Mike Skinner on this album, he manages to not alienate us completely by just writing good songs.

RIYL: Dizzee Rascal, Sway DaSafo, DANGERDOOM

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Band of Horses, Everything All the Time

The first thing you are going to think is this: “My Morning Jacket rip-off! They’re just jumping on the MMJ bandwagon!” Well, your first mistake would be in thinking there is a bandwagon behind MMJ. Ain’t gonna happen, my friends.

Your second mistake would be thinking that Band of Horses have co-opted the MMJ sound. Not so. I mean, there is the reverb thing. Everything All the Time is drenched in soggy reverb. In my intergalactic travels through the universe, I have never heard a record so wet (except on the last MMJ record). And certainly, the vocal style bares more than a resemblance to Jim James’ folk-y/Neil Young-ish warble. But once you swim past the reverb, you begin to see the wide variety of musical influences here.

Shoegaze-y guitars are featured prominently throughout the record, while most of the vocal melodies find their origin is the underground psychedelic rock of the 60s, a la the Shins. The jangly guitars of “Weed Party” make me think of R.E.M. and Tom Petty. The angular riffs on “Wicked Gil” could be found on any Strokes/Franz/etc. record today.

But by far the two stand-outs on this album are the majesty of “The Great Salt Lake” and the haunting riff and chord progression of “The Funeral.” Both songs feature incredible dynamics that make you forget all about MMJ. Lyrics like, “At every occasion I’ll be ready for the funeral,” hint at a deep sea of longing that could make Band of Horses great song-writers for a long time to come.

Download “The Funeral” from or from Free Radio Sub Pop podcast on Itunes.

Band of Horse-sized Dogs

Lynchland: The Liam Lynch Podcast

Liam Lynch is the last guy I would have guessed to have the do-it-yourself spirit. I mean, he did a show for MTV (Sifl and Olly). He’s the guy responsible for that “United States of Whatever” song. He’s buddies with Jack Black. How could this guy possibly have an indie mindset?

But it’s true! Liam Lynch is a true blue spokesman for the independent media. He believes in the revolution, friends! Just check out his new podcast, Lynchland, which you can download from or Itunes. Liam’s vision for the future of visual media is clear: 100% independent production, free from the touch of the corporate world, all thanks to the proliferation of technology! Why should the corporate world have so much to say about our entertainment choices? As one of Liam’s songs put so eloquently, “Internet killed the video star.”

Just think about part of Liam’s manifesto, which he’s been spewing on Lynchland: “Watching any TV show is becoming more and more frustrating and more and more a waste of time because you can’t access it at your own will…Podcasting is really to me cable access TV for the world except you can do it right out of your house. And to me that is so exciting: to just say, ‘Everybody jump on a surfboard that goes over and crushes every television station ever’….There’s going to be podcasts that are more popular than TV shows and these large companies are going to have to find a ways of getting their advertisement into some kid’s podcast that he’s making in his basement.”

It is an exciting vision for the future of entertainment. Will visual entertainment finally be freed from the shackles of the Clear Channel, Sony, Donald Trump, etc.? Liam’s passion for the independent media is inspiring, but what is really great about Lynchland is that it is so entertaining.

Lynchland is a variety show. Liam throws together his music videos, animations, absurdist comedy skits (a la Andy Milonakis) and spiel for a really creative mix. Sifl and Olly make some appearances, along with Chester. (Check out Chester’s recipe in episode two.) Liam is also a big tech head, so he talks about his animations, favorite video games and the future of robots in the home. I think the show will be worth following if for no other reason than to hear about Liam cloning his favorite cat, Frankie Forcefield (see episode five for more on cloning Frankie). Probably the best thing about Lynchland is that it is brimming with personality; the show is a representation of Liam and his friends, not an advertisement for zit cream. (That’s right! I’m calling you out, MTV!)

Apparently, Lynchland has over 90,000 viewers. Maybe Liam’s vision will come true sooner than later.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Review: Mates of State, "Bring it Back"

Although it may fit as an embedded lyric, the title of Mates of State's newest release is a striking misnomer. This album does everything but "Bring it Back." Jason and Kori, the matrimonious keyboard-and-drums duo, have made major changes to their sound this time around. Usually a sign of break-out record, these changes will likely alienate the fan base without impressing new listeners. What went wrong?

Alien Corpse first saw Mates perform as an opening act for fellow-Lawrence-Kansas-based indie rockers Appleseed Cast at Chicago's Fireside Bowl. I chuckled in the back as I watched them set up an ancient keyboard and stripped down drum set which faced each other instead of the crowd. By the end of the first song I had moved up to the front row, mesmerized by their impossible combination of quirkiness and power.

Unfortunately, their studio albums have faltered in capturing the strength of their live sound. Mates of State always sounds small and unimpressive on record. For me, their albums are best used to recollect and anticipate their live shows. Every record, they have had to search for a new producer to take on the daunting task of increasing the space of their studio sound without losing the powerful simplicity of their two-voice, two-instrument live show. Although the previous producers have fallen short in the power department, none of them has succumbed to the temptation of sacrificing the simplicity of Mates' arrangement. Such a caveat cannot be said of the production of "Bring it Back."

"Bring it Back" is boiling over with overdubbed vocals, extra pianos, splashes of guitar, strings, effects, etc. In order enlarge the sound, much of the uniqueness of Mates of State has been lost. Furthermore, the vocals are all set in a lower register, so that Kori never belts out her signature wail. Now I am no purist fan, intolerant of artistic development. But in this case, the changes didn't work. Although the mix is somewhat improved, the sound of the record remains small. The additions did not create space; they created clutter. And the vocals can be heard better than ever, but they are no longer worth hearing because they don't reach their usual harmonic heights. Let's hope that the accompanying tour will release these songs from their over-produced chains.

Although I wholeheartedly recommend Mates of State as one of the most endearing and enduring indie pop bands, I would encourage new listeners to start with a more representative record such as "Our Constant Concern" or "Team Boo."

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Pearl Jam on SNL

Tonight was a historic night. Pearl Jam performed live for the first time since 1998, wow, I can't believe it's been 8 years...What? They've been performing all along, you say? Huh? They've released 2 studio albums (Binaural, 2000, Riot Act, 2002), a rarieties and B-sides album (Lost Dogs, 2003), a live "album" (Live On Two Legs, 1998), a greatest hits record (Rearviewmirror, 2004), and a string of 72 live concert CDs in the last 8 years? REALLY? Huh.

Anyway, I listened to this haggard quintet perform two new songs on tonight's episode of SNL, and I don't remember a single chord, growl, or harmonizing drummer's note. All I kept thinking was, "GEEZ, Vedder, you look O-L-D." I guess that's what happens when you've been in the spotlight for 15 years, well except for that 8 year stretch where we all forgot you existed.

I must admit, though, that after ripping Pearl Jam and sitting thinking about how this album will probably be their last, all I can hear is, "Don't call me daughter, not fit to, the picture kept will remi-i-i-nd me..." over and over and over.

Maybe these bands that do hold a place in our collective memory banks could get press every four or five years to remind people to pull out old albums, re-buy songs that skip from iTunes, or just put one solid album back into the rotation. That would at least keep us from listening to a new, SELF-TITLED, album from a band that's been around since before I could listen to "secular" music.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

William Orbit - "Hello Waveforms"

Release Date: Feb. 21, 2006
Okay so before a few weeks ago I had heard of William Orbit in the same way the rest of the non-undergroundelectronichip world had - through his collaboration with Madonna on her last album "Ray of Light". I was reasonably impressed by this album while listening to any Madonna album is confined to the guilty pleasure category. I guess I had also heard his remix of Electrical Storm (U2) and maybe vaguely remembered something about his electronic remaking of classical pieces on "Adagio for Strings". I was not among the hardcore Orbiters who waited six years for this anticipated solo project - and who were therefore mostly disappointed - I mean six years is a long time to wait. I suppose this gives me a certain innocence/ignorance in reviewing this album.
The first track I heard was "They Live in the Sky" (Listen) I happened on it on the radio and craved it for a week until I could figure out where it came from. The song typifies what is beautiful about Orbit's distinctive sound - the sweeping synth sounds that you could never find on your sister's casio, the simple bubbling melodies, the sense of dynamic direction without abusing mechanisms typical of electro-pop like bass breakdowns and stereo flange. The songs are eloquent and carry this kind of brooding sense of anticipation. This anticipation is what most people seem to critique about the album - It anticipates but does not deliver leaving you nowhere. I was rather fond of the insatiated anticipation - the lack of resolve into quarter notes on the kick and a blaring anthem. The album seems to me to have been a bit like going out for a walk and finally deciding that actually getting somewhere couldn't be near as fun as the adventure of just exploring around a bit.
Other favorite tracks were "Bubble Universe" "Sea Green" "Colours from Nowhere"
I will say that my least favorite track on the album is the first single "Spiral". The album also seems to me to be a bit overly song-oriented. If an album brings on the chill I prefer a bit more continuity between tracks.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Review #1: The Appleseed Cast - Peregrin (Militia)
Release Date: March, 21, 2006

The Appleseed Cast is back with their 7th full-length in 8 years ("The End of the Ring Wars" was released by Deep Elm in '98). Apleseed is best known for their two-volume release "Low Level Owl Vols. I & II" (2001), which sparked interest in their music across pop-culture. It was not bizarre to hear Appleseed Cast songs on MTV or Abercrombie ads. The band has become more obscure in the ensuing 4+years, though that may all change with March's release of "Peregrin." Peregrin has all the spit and sparkle of Low Level Owl, mixed with some of the rampaging energy the band displayed with 2000's "Mare Vitalis."

The danger and the beauty that has always existed with The Cast's work is how one song folds into the next. This is dangerous because it so easily becomes noise, and beautiful because it's so easy to get lost floating around in their ambiance. If you're looking for a record to sing along to, keep looking. However, if you are interested in losing yourself in some layered, beautifully complex sounds, this is the record. The Appleseed Cast is one of the few bands still capable of constructing an "album," rather than a collection of songs.

Longevity Rating: 3.5 UFOs out of 5.

List #1: Top 5 songs.

Your iPod has malfunctioned and you can only manage to sqeeze 5 songs into its memory (but the battery just won't die), you are leaving to sail deep into the Pacific (who knows, maybe a deserted island is in your near future), and have no other way of hearing music until you return in 3 months. Which 5 songs occupy your pocket?

Here's a suggestion list to get you thinking.

  1. Sufjan Stevens ~ John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (Illinoise!)
  2. Weezer ~ Say It Ain't So (Weezer)
  3. The Ramones ~ Blitzkrieg Bop (The Ramones)
  4. Damien Jurado & Gathered in Song ~ Paper Wings (I Break Chairs)
  5. Sluttering (May 4th) ~ Jawbreaker (Dear You)