casiotone for the painfully alone - etiquette

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Album: Etiquette
Artist: Casiotone for the Painfully Alone
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Not a lot of music fans will probably get excited to hear a new release by a guy who uses only the type of keyboards you see in the Sally Ann and some drum machines to craft his beats and melodies. What you don't expect from these types of songs is vivid character descriptions and stories crammed into joyous two or three-minutes pop songs.

That is why Owen Ashworth is not your average songwriter. A film school dropout (not a beauty school drop out), Owen now uses a shorter, cheaper medium to tell his stories. The depression, heartache and loss he sings about are perfectly crafted into film score sounds. With his latest release – Etiquette - he expands his style to include actual instruments and female vocals. While this may not sound like much, for Owen it is roughly the equivalent of Paul Simon recording with the USC band.

When the female voice comes through your speakers, you can't help but do a double take. Instead of the sad, baritone voice Owen is known for, you hear a sweet, almost naïve voice detailing the night at a disco and losing grandmother's pearls.

Those fearing CFTPA have abandoned what makes the songs so great can rest easy. Owen's lyrics are so descriptive you almost picture each song as a scene in a movie. You can feel the heartache. You can feel the depression. Adding more layers and textures simply adds to the experience. The album should be a must grab for any fans of the Russian Futurists or the Cansecos – not sure if reppin' two Canadian bands in the same sentence outs herohill as being Canadian or not.

Owen's songwriting is shown off on the beautiful 'Cold White Christmas' and 'I Love Creedance'. Sometimes, in a Mike Skinner way, less is more. Owen delivers simple emotions and simple stories over simple structures, but the sum of the parts is much bigger. They aren't grandiose tales of love lost. These are songs of things that you could have (or probably have gone) through.

Check out the beautiful single Young Shields:










ian love - self-titled

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Album: IAN LOVE
Artist: IAN LOVE
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Sometimes when an artist who has been part of some influential bands goes solo, you expect a drop off, or some new tracks that sound like "b-sides" from past albums. When I got Ian Love's new solo album, I had no idea what I was going to hear. Over his career, Ian has played in successful hardcore, indie rock, and emo-ish projects (Burn, Rivals Schools, onelinedrawing). If you told me I'd be getting into a stripped down, sparse, acoustic record, I wouldn't have believed you.

But I would have been wrong. Ian's life has undergone some big changes over the past 8 years. He gave up drugs and booze, played huge venues for thousands of people, got married, had his first child and now he is starting over as a solo musician writing extremely personal material that touches on all of these things.

Ian's album starts of with the Paul Simon-esque track, The Only Night. The melody is driven along by subtle finger-picked guitar riff, a bongo like drum beat and Ian's harmonies and lyrics. Instantly any fan of Matt Costa will be won over.

The album is features a lot of beautiful tracks, but unlike a lot of singer/songwriter albums, the songs don't blend together and sound the same. Ian draws on a lot of his past bands to create a diverse mix of songs. Where as some songs are pushed forward by the upbeat (Butterfly) drums, others like Sky to Fall and Turn Off are highlighted by piano and sound effect layers (much like Jonah did so well on the first full length onelinedrawing album).

Perhaps, the lyrics are the most important aspect on the album. Unlike Jeff Buckley's Grace, these lyrics seem poignant because of what Ian has already been through, not what could happen. You can't help but feel his sincerity when he sings, "It's hard to live the life you've lived. Stop now, stop playing those games you know they'll drag you down, yes they will", or the simple, but powerful line, "music saves your life". Hearing a singer put everything about himself out to the public (even things that he admits some of his closest friends don't know about him) is refreshing.

The album is not perfect, but any solo recording is going to feature some songs that don't hit home with everyone. But I guess that is the point. This record is as much Ian as anything else. Not everyone can relate to every experience he's been through, but with this collection of songs, Ian gives everyone a chance to see who he really is. This is highly recommended.


the subways - young for eternity

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Album: Young for Eternity
Artist: The Subways
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What constitutes a band getting hyped these days? Is it getting mentioned in the blog-o-sphere? Or getting played on the OC? Or even getting tracks reviewed favorably on Pitchfork? Well, if any of these are the measuring stick, the Subways are getting noticed by all the right people. Well, that and already being toted by NME as the sexiest act in rock.

The Subways are the latest popular garage act coming out of the UK. The Subways are a punchy three-piece with a nice combination of male/female vocals, bluesy/garage rock that will have everyone reminiscing about the Vines. Remember when the Vines were a band full of promise, before they became a shitty Beatles rip off band? Well mirror that promise but instead of drugged out looking, rail thin guys, picture a cutie on base (Charlotte) and a front man (Billy – guitar/vox) that young OC watching fans will swoon over and you have a very marketable band that is making lots of noise. Despite the fact the band is so young, they actually created a surprisingly strong debut album – Young for Eternity.

The album starts with I want to hear what you have got to say. This is probably the catchiest song on the CD. The nice acoustic intro brings to mind some Decemberists action, before dropping into a bouncy garage riff that will get your head nodding. The arrangement reminds me a lot of what I love about the Shout Out Louds. Other standout tracks include the title track, and the infectious Oh Yeah. Billy and Charlotte really shine as they balance harmonies on the acoustic track, No Goodbyes.

There is some filler on the disc, but what can you expect from a debut album by young'ens. The lyrics in songs like Mary and The Lines of Light show the bands immaturity, but it is hard to fault the band for that. No one is a lyrical genius at that age (except Rakim since he was a fiend before he became a teen). I like that they are trying different sounds, but I think they may have thrown too many ballads into the mix. These guys are much better and pumping out upbeat, punky tracks. Songs like She Sun slow down the album a little bit.

Regardless, with more and more polished "garage bands" surfacing into the limelight, finding one early and with so much promise is never a bad thing. The CD is fun, and hopefully this band will only get better.

Check them out with a behind the scenes feature off their OC performance:
http://www.warnerreprise.com/asx/thesubways_webclips012_300-v.asx

Or there myspace site for a few freebies:
www.myspace.com/thesubways

Check them out live in Canada:
Mar. 11 – Mod Club :: Toronto, ON
Mar. 29 – Richard's on Richards :: Vancouver, BC


CODE RED - ALL ABOARD

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Album: All Aboard
Artist: Code Red
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Code Red hail from Louisville, Kentucky and consists of MC's El One Wise and Manfred, Dancehall guy Junior Dread and producer Watz Riot. They bill themselves as the best thing to come out of their state since Colonel Sanders and his drumsticks. While that is humorous, if you've had the colonel's chicken recently, it doesn't necessarily mean that they're setting the bar all that high. But after a few listens I'd have to say that Code Red probably have more to offer than some greasy chicken.

Code Red compare themselves to fellow Bluegrass state residents, Nappy Roots, and from the opener, All Aboard, I can see the resemblance. The bouncy rhymes over peppy drums and some basic guitar strumming make for a nappy-sounding track. The guitar is used more in Code Red's production than you'd expect, as it is also used in the second track, For My People. On a whole the production done by Watz Riot is pretty solid, the first 5 tracks are all pretty solid. Elbow Room, Drive By, and Looking Good are all party/club tracks with nice banging drums and different elements like flute samples, synth elements, or spaghetti western strings that keep things interesting. Summer Jam fuses bongos, steel drums, sax, and flutes into a breezy, infectious backdrop for a fun "summer" song (But Summer Jam? Fellas, come on. That is in the lead for least creative song title of 2006). Long Time Coming is an infectious track, with it's strings and sax over solid drums that kick along at a nice pace.

Brother Louis features Code Red making a commentary on hardships still faced by people in inter-racial relationships. Considering Code Red is an inter-racial group, it's not a stretch to assume some of the members of the group have faced some of these issues themselves, and they do a good job addressing the issue. Long Time Coming does a good job describing the dues Code Red paid to get on, plus they shout out Beat Street, "like Ramo made us matching jackets", so they get bonus props for that. They also do the obligatory Iraq war themed jam in Give Me A Reason. But this is a little more sincere than the cookie cutter anti-war songs of today, told from the point of view of a soldier looking for a legit reason for going to war. This may be due to the fact that El One and Dread served in the military. Or maybe not, who knows.

There are a few songs that I didn't enjoy. Atomic doesn't work for me. The hand-clap/drum combo is too generic and the pseudo planet rock synth noise doesn't really pick up enough steam. Pimp It Out is a song I could've certainly done without as well. Up until this song, Junior Dread's reggae toasting hadn't bothered me, as it was minimal and seemed to mesh well with the MC's. But he does the whole song here, and it does not play well. If you're gonna do a dancehall song where you just yell generic shit ("Ou A Pop Colla!" "Show Dem De Pimp Walk!"), you better have a bangin' beat beneath it - this does not. Let Yo Hair Down sounds like Code Red's attempt to sound like Black Eyed Peas, another comparison they make in their bio. Unfortunately it comes off a little cheesy plus, they're missing the female singer that everyone thinks is hot, but is probably weird looking in person. The Sky Is Falling has a chorus that says "There's too many chickens in the room, what are you gonna do? The sky is fallin'". Nuff said.

As I mentioned, Code Red site Nappy Roots and Black Eyed Peas as influences in their sound. Honestly, with some work, I could see Code Red getting some of the major radio play that those groups have received. I think they'd just need to tighten things up a little bit, get rid of some of the sub-par filler songs that are on this album. I thought the good songs were quite good, and with and album full of those, you might hear Code Red making some noise in the near future.


mark kozelek - live @ neumos

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Album: Live @ Neumos
Artist: Mark Kozelek
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I felt like I was being summoned to an underground meeting of the Hipster Army as I walked into Neumos. I guess that is acceptable since we were all attending an acoustic set by front man of Sun Kil Moon, Red House Painters and Cameron Crowe film star, Mark Kozelek. As I looked around I made a mental checklist of what was apparently required to attend the show:

• Scruffy, but not full beard – check
• Perfectly pressed, vintage, urban cowboy shirt with shiny buttons – check
• Thick, black glasses and/or sassy hat – check
• Pretension – check

Regardless, I was pretty excited to see Mark toil away on the acoustic and running through some of the best songs from his long career. It was his West coast tour, and I think choosing cities like San Fran, Portland and Seattle provided some safety, since trying to pull this concept off all across North America would never work. After seeing the show, I don't think it will work in the music friendly towns he chose either. This was probably the single most boring show I've ever attended. Not just boring, like an act that stands on stage, plays the songs like they are in the studio and has little crowd banter, but boring to the point people were leaving and one person fell asleep!

I think I was so disappointed because I am a big fan of Mark's work, but the set list was littered with tracks that made it seem like the audiences excitement wasn't a high priority. Standing on stage and playing all fourteen minutes of Duk Koo Kim isn't going to push a set along. Perhaps the only excitement, which also could be explained by the hipster crowd, was when Mark banged out some obligatory Modest Mouse covers (Tiny Cities Made of Ashes, Dramamine, Four Fingered Fisherman, etc).

The concept of a man playing acoustic songs for 90 minutes, especially when the vocals are hushed like Mark's, is a tough sell regardless. As people lost interest in the set, more people started talking and more people released this set wasn't going to be as attention grabbing as seeing him play with a full band. Do yourself a favor, and use the cash you'd spend on drinks and a ticket to buy some of Mark's releases. You'll be much happier.


meredith bragg & the terminals - the departure EP

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Album:THE DEPARTURE
Artist:MEREDITH BRAGG
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Where to start with the Meredith Bragg & The Terminals new EP? Constant comparisons to both Elliott Smith and Ben Gibbard (DCFC) is asking Bragg to fill some pretty big Indie shoes.

It also seems a little unfair. Sure, his song structure is sometimes reminiscent of Smith's work, and at times Bragg's voice sounds eerily similar to Ben Gibbard's (especially while singing "do, do, do" over the drum machine on the new track - Talk Me Down), but this stripped down EP jumps away from the perfectly produced style DCFC is now delivering and more into a darker style of pop, where emotion is paired with strings, piano, drums and an acoustic guitar.

Hearing this material, Meredith is sure to draw more comparisons to both Matt Pond and John Vanderslice. On Let's Start Over, Meredith combines layers of simplistic sounds to accompany his powerful vocals, which is sure to impress any fan of JVS. While people spend all this time trying to determine who he sounds like, they will overlook the fact Meredith Bragg is a fantastic artist, with his own strengths and style.

This really shows on the track, Postcards from Boston. Bragg hooks listeners with nothing more than a finger picked guitar riff and his vocals. By the time the strings, piano and drums fill out the sound, you are completely immersed in the song. The final track on this EP is a very respectable (and enjoyable) cover of Jason Molina's song, Two Blue Lights.

For some reason people seem to think it is some sort of crime to write a good pop song. If that is the case, Meredith Bragg is guilty on all charges.



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