Tom Gabel ends his latest album in defiance of some inevitably disappointed Against Me! fans: “Don’t let them tell you who you are.” An appropriate statement as he closes the poppy punk rock album, White Crosses, that deems pre-New Wave Against Me! dead to the punk world. Indeed, Against Me! has sold out to the mainstream rock producers in flaccid hooks and sing-along choruses, but in doing so the Green Day/Smiths-inspired anti-jingoistic rockers have matured into a widely enjoyable talent.
Take “Ache With Me.” Oh yeah: blues progression, 50s feel, acoustic guitar, mosh-pit ending slow-dance song. But in slowing the album down to explore the contemplative and perhaps prettier side of Against Me!, they showcase their ability to redefine their punk-rock ballads for a wider audience. Without falling flat like more current Green Day, “Ache With Me” succeeds.
In keeping with their political inspirations, “White Crosses” and “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” address abortion and rebellion in a similar fashion to pre-New Wave Against Me!: chirped imagery-laden storytelling. Folky—yes—but enjoyable.
Is the whole album fantastic then? The middle section slows a bit much and admittedly White Crosses brings little novelty to the band’s discography, but with “Rapid Decompression” to liven the album up in 1:45, and the hands-down best song on White Crosses to close (“Bamboo Bones”), this is a solid fifth album from newly reformed staple of punk-rock, Against Me!
Recommended Tracks: Bamboo Bones, White Crosses
Loyal music blog readers, I apologize for being inactive for so long. As many of you know, I am currently studying abroad in Beijing. Though this has distracted me from my BurgerBlog duties, it has also offered me new opportunities: an “in” to contemporary Chinese popular music.
After many hand gestures and broken sentences in Chinese and English, the clerk working the music stand showed me her favorite band, Fairyland in Reality (hereon out, F.I.R.). Though the band is Taiwanese (arguably Chinese, but we won’t get into that), it gives a good insight into what a popular indie band in China sounds like.
I will be the first to admit: this album is dated. “FIR’s Album” was FIR’s debut, which was released in 2004; their most recent and fourth album, Let’s Smile, was released this past Christmas. It is important to acknowledge that being a half-decade old, this acts as a representation of interests six years ago, and perhaps not now.
Unlike traditional Western rock songs, FIR is highly orchestral; the piano and violins guide the band as opposed to a plugged-in guitar, bass, and heavy drums. An Evanescenceish operatic woman’s voice crows over the variety of genres that FIR presents.
The poppier songs, like “Flame” and “Your Smile” are appealing as they encroach the familiar. The clear Western influences, like post-grunge guitar licks and flashy synths, take away from the flair of the album, but for those interested in popular Western alternative, these are the songs for. Disclaimer: “Flame” will get stuck in your head, regardless of if you understand the lyrics or not.
The ballads are a bit painful and formulaic; they start with quiet piano and then burst into harmonies, strings, and synths. Think Disney.
Check out “Revolution” for something pretty different. “Revolution” sounds like it could have been featured in a modern version of Phantom of the Opera, whereas many of the other songs are just fillers.
Though I don’t feel well qualified enough to rate this album yet, after the release of FIR’s Album, FIR was named “Best New Mandarin Artist” by the Golden Melody Awards.
If Hot Topic could create their perfect band, it would probably be Paramore–maybe that’s why they’re so easy to hate. The cookie-cutter pop-punk quartet, headed by lead singer Hayley Williams, is a modern Avril Lavigne: strong female vocals, a teenage angst focus, and rockin’ attitude. Featured on modern teen idols like the Twilight movie, Paramore’s new album, brand new eyes, doesn’t reveal anything new about the genre.
That’s not to say the album isn’t fantastic if cookie-cutter pop-punk is your music of choice. The best song on the album and second track, “Ignorance,” is a complex, lyrical rock anthem for the dumped. “The same tricks that, that once fooled me/They won’t get you anywhere/I’m not the same kid from your memory/Well, now I can fend for myself.” Coupled with slamming drums and catchy riffs, this track is already all over the radio and there to stay; be prepared to be sick of it by Thanksgiving.
“Brick by Boring Brick,” “Where the Lines Overlap,” “Playing God,” and “Decode” continue to showcase Williams’s strong vocals and lyrics, along with catchy guitar riffs and drummed out accents. These songs showcase the band’s self-assessment of maturing beyond Riot!.
However, maturity certainly isn’t something Paramore has mastered. “Looking Up,” “The Only Exception,” and “Misguided Ghosts” are dull attempts to seem “well-rounded.” It might fool the fourteen and fifteen year olds who masturbate to MTV’s qualifications for ‘good’ music, but it doesn’t fool those who know that even balance of ballads and rock songs does not make a good record. The juvenile lyrics on these songs only further detract from brand new eyes as a whole.
Luckily, as stated earlier, Paramore provides a variety of fist pumping teen anthems. brand new eyes does not provide for anything new, thought provoking, or inspiring, but it does rock hard enough for those older than fifteen to appreciate. Paramore has potential; as the band ages, they will likely produce better and better music. Until then, we can only hope that they stay together long enough to see that to fruition.
Recommended Tracks: Ignorance, Brick by Boring Brick
Toss These Tracks: The Only Exception, Misguided Ghosts
It’s been a hard knock life for rapper K’naan. Unlike the often-referenced Bronx or ‘ghetto’ childhood found in many current rap and hip/hop songs, K’naan references his childhood in Somalia, as described in the Blockbuster Black Hawk Down. Despite his violent background, K’naan has taken his experiences and African heritage and cultivated it into artistic expression. In his second album, Troubadour, K’naan raps, sings, and rocks to his heritage, and he brings the beat to his listeners.
Before I pick K’naan apart, let me make this very clear: K’naan is an A-grade rapper. He best flexes his musical talents in “I Come Prepared’ and “ABC’s,” where he grooves to heavy bass beats and mimics Will.I.Am and M.I.A. in his rap style. He sputters, “And Africans love them some B.I.G./But Tupac is official H.N.I.C./And my job is to write just what I see/So a visual stenographer is what I be.” Well done, K’naan.
Well, K’naan knows that it’s well done, which unfortunately detracts from his album. He claims that he’s going to get as “big as a Beatle,” which is not going to happen. His ego also inspired “If Rap Gets Jealous,” which is a seriously misguided throwback to rock/rap (he even incorporated Metallica’s guitarist Kirk Hammett). No go. The transitions are awkward, and K’naan’s ego gets in the way of good music. In a radio interview with NPR, he called American rap ‘cute,’ discounting the lives of current rappers. 50 Cent will cut a bitch.
Despite K’naan’s hubris restraining him from quality music, K’naan does produce a variety of quality tracks, my favorite being “Wavin’ Flag.” In a laid-back reggae, K’naan preaches love for war stricken areas (once again harking back to his childhood in Somalia). It’s peaceful and melodic, and justifies why he’s on tour with Lenny Kravitz.
“Wavin’ Flag” is the transition to the second half of the album, where K’naan backs off the aggressive rap and hip/hop, and infuses Caribbean reggae and African drums to convey music about love and harmony. Though this would probably appeal more to mainstream music, it’s not where K’naan’s talents lie; he is a rapper. If he wanted to make a separate album for more chill music, I invite him to, but as of now it doesn’t belong on Troubadour. Perhaps if it divided the rap-heavy songs earlier in the album, it would make for more engaging placement; the Black Eyed Peas have done this well in some previous albums.
K’naan should have ended his album on a solid note: “Take a Minute.” Instead he closes on an R. Kelley drama. Okay, “People Like Me” isn’t 12 minutes long, but it’s preachy, prolonged, and painful.
Troubadour isn’t a bad album, but it’s definitely a sophomore effort.
Recommended Tracks: Take a Minute, Wavin’ Flag, ABC’s
Toss These Tracks: People Like Me, If Rap Gets Jealous
If Madonna and Peaches had a child (as-if they would ever procreate?), it would be the posh homosexual internet icon Jeffree Star, famous for his MySpace page and the single, “I Must be Emo.” Jeffree, after several EPs and releases on the web, has finally brought forth her first full-length album, Beauty Killer. Hype surrounding yesterday’s release have sky rocketed Jeffree’s MySpace hits, her references on Twitter, and the album’s placement on most-purchased alternative album on iTunes: it is number 12. Despite the LP’s instant commercial success, I am not impressed.
At least, that was my final impression. The first two tracks on Beauty Killer are fantastic. In a wall of electro-synth pop sound, the listener can instantly feel the stirring club mix moving their heart and toes to the beat. “Prisoner,” the second song and first single on the album, is the standout song on Beauty Killer. It’s fun, sexy, and sure to reach the ears of horny teenagers ready to rock out to something new.
Despite the success of the first two songs, Jeffree uses his clear vocals to portray immature images of violence and sex. “Pretend I love you for another year/Starve myself so I’ll fucking disappear/Your red-dipped fingers look like strawberries/But these gashes look like self-injuries.” What the fuck? Ms. Star, after the brilliance of the first two songs, why would you kill a good thing? The backbeat is a lot of fun, but the tactless violence in this piece ruins the song.
“Beauty Killer,” “Electric Sugar Pop” and “Fame & Riches, Rehab Bitches,” blend together in their painful sugarcoated sex anthems. For tweens, these will be the best songs on the album, but for those of us who have a more sophisticated taste, we might want to cry about what else Jeffree could have offered.
“Love Rhymes With Fuck You” and “Fresh Meat” sound like Britney Spears was put into a weed whacker, spit out, and then asked to make music. It’s god-awful. The misguided screamo adds nothing to “Love Rhymes With Fuck You” except repulsion.
Fortunately, Jeffree has a few redeeming tracks. “Bitch, Please!” isn’t classy, but the well-thought out lyrics and groovy electro beats are. The references are obscure and “huh” inducing. Observe:
Slide my panties off in your Lamborghini/TMZ just saw my coochie like I was Britney/Be Flo Rida an spin me right round round/But don’t try to bite me like Chris Brown/Make my bottle pop like a Pussycat Doll/Smoked out Michael Phelps and won a gold medal
The song is full of similar zingers. Well done, Jeffree.
The other tracks are eh. Nothing spectacular, kind of like the entire album.
Recommended Tracks: Get Away With Murder, Bitch, Please!, Prisoner
Toss These Tracks: Love Rhymes with Fuck You, Fresh Meat
Wailing guitars, silky piano riffs, Queen-like choruses: Muse is back in town. Swaggering in their imaginary world of romance and apocalypse, Muse’s 5th album, The Resistance, is a showcase of the threesome’s musical talents and adept lyric writing skills. Not unlike Black Holes and Revelations, Matthew Bellamy’s vocals regularly soar over an instrumental opera like Tapio Wilska in Nightwish; he is what gives Muse the punch that attracts musicphiles to the record store like locusts. Sadly, though Bellamy’s abilities as a lead singer are fantastic, he cannot hide what The Resistance lacks: track diversity.
Don’t get me wrong: The Resistance has no lack of creativity or individuality. It can easily be compared to A Night At the Opera. There are epics of musical genius, and then filler pieces to detract from the album. Take “Uprising,” the “Get On Your Boots” opener to the album, and “United States of Eurasia / Collateral Damage (Excerpt from Nocturne in E-Flat, Op. 9 No. 2)” (yes that is the entire name of the track). The former track grooves similarly to “Exo Politics” on Black Holes and Revelations. Bellamy incites riot, and synths compliment the marching progressive rock: it’s a Muse song. The latter is an experiment: Bellamy tried to become Freddy Mercury. Muse does “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Well, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the Aladdin Soundtrack, and Chopin. An adventuresome escapade to say the least, certainly not made for radio at 5:48, and, dareIsay?, well done.
The fillers include “MK Ultra,” an unimpressive heavy synth saved only by an awesome concluding guitar solo, and “Guiding Light,” an unimpressive heavy synth saved only by an awesome concluding guitar solo. Even the 6:55 epic between the two fillers is unmemorable; Bellamy, for all his masterwork in vocals, becomes forgettable.
But of course what this album review should be about is the three-track conclusion to The Resistance: “Exogenesis: Symphony, Part 1 (Overture),” “Exogenesis: Symphony, Part 2 (Cross-pollination),” and “Exogenesis: Symphony, Part 3 (Redemption).” A result of several years of Bellamy sweat, the 12:51 combined track is gorgeous: this is how the younger generation can get old people to listen to Muse. Styx and Liszt, Chopin and U2, Muse combines the greats to create a groundbreaking incomparable epic that is the first of its kind this millennia. “Exogenesis” motivates you, fills you with hope, and then cushions you to bed. It is a masterpiece.
Sadly, the lack of novelty previous to the “Exogenesis” tracks detracts from Muse’s brilliance. The new sound that Muse found at the end of The Resistance should be celebrated and awarded, followed up with an entire album of similar force. The rest of The Resistance, sadly, cannot stand next to it.
Buy These Tracks: All of Exogenesis, United States of Eurasia / Collateral Damage (Excerpt from Nocturne in E-Flat, Op. 9 No. 2)
Toss These Tracks: MK Ultra, Guiding Light, Unnatural Selection
Many popular bands go through a sophomore slump; their second album doesn’t hold a candle to their first. Think Sam’s Town or Where We Stand. And then they learn, and produce an album that comes back to their roots, what originally made them listenable.
Unfortunately, Franz Ferdinand is still producing crap. His third album, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, is wholly unlistenable; it sounds like an unpolished high school band with a few catchy hooks and a professional bass player. Franz, the bass doesn’t save the band, and it’s time to produce something worth listening to.
There is one redeemable song: “Ulysses.” It’s the opening track. Know “Take Me Out?” It has new clicks, new lyrics, but the same structure. The only made-for-radio track is unlikely to stand up against alternative-indie charts, and it has the most bizarre ending. After a rock song, it switches to techno instrumentals to “fade” (whizz) out.
Techno, on a whole, seems to be where Franz is going. Take “Lucid Dreams.” The eight-minute epic has the same riding chug that is prevalent in the rest of Franz’s music (he seems to have cornered the market) and lyrics that leave the listener in just plain mystery about what Franz was injecting into his bloodstream as he wrote this.
There is no nation of you
There is no nation of me
Our only nation lives in Lucid Dreams
I’m living in lucid dreams
Franz hollers and yelps “lucid dreams” enough times to make the listener want to take out the trash with the CD along with it, but it gets better. The post-grunge solo that takes up 70% of the song. It’s noise. Not structured noise. Just noise, with a repetitive backbeat and random synths. Actually, “Lucid Dreams” turns into a club mix by the time its over. This could have been masterfully done, but it wasn’t. Predictable, boring, and unpleasant, this track, and the others like it, belong in the garbage heap.
The opening to “Twilight Omens” sounds like the intro to a 90′s Nintendo game, and Franz continues using this riff throughout the song. “Turn It On” was a Beatles reject song. “Can’t Stop Feeling” is so painfully slow, it drags out the three minute song into what feels like eternity. There is no one track that holds its own water.
Franz, we loved “Take Me Out” and “This Ffire.” Let’s go back to your roots. No techno. No awkward solos. Bring on listenable music.
It is not frequent that I go to a show and I enjoy an opening act more than the band that I intended to see, but this happened just this past Saturday. Golden, a local Atlanta band, is touring with Sister Hazel to promote Hazel’s latest CD, Release. After the show, I picked up Golden’s latest album, Night Reminds the Day. The album unfortunately does not translate Golden’s enthusiasm nor their fiery solos on the stage, but it does offer some new sound that could, with time, be comparable to Dave Matthews.
The biggest mistake that Golden makes is the same of the Silversun Pickups: they do not know when to end a song. Tranceish tunes like “Gravity” and poppy jingles like “When It’s Over” both come close to six minutes due to their long solos and drawn out conclusions. Both tracks, when performed live, should take their time to flaunt Knight and Golden’s guitar abilities, but such lengths on an LP are inappropriate in this situation.
And that is the summary of my complaints for this band. In an Andy Davis opener, Joshua Golden establishes his bluesy vocals as Jerry Loch plucks out gospel chords on the keyboard. “Seasons” is a great synopsis of the band; it’s fast-paced, fun, and groooooovy!
The following track, “Listen,” is more mainstream than “Seasons.” The made-for-radio track is both bluegrass and rock, cutting in and out of sweet solos and clickish drums. Swelling chords and harmonies build up to a climax of piano celebration. It’s a road trip song, celebrating the open road and the sweet enjoyment of being alive. “Listen” is worth listening to.
“Lauren,” which comes a little later in the CD, is a mellow acoustic Matt Nathansonish ballad. The corny lyrics somewhat ruin the effect of Golden’s love confession as the guitar chugs on.
Lauren likes to leave me wanting more/She turns her back to me and then I see she’s walking to the door/She fixes her sleeve/And she slips into her coat/And she picks up her keys/She moves so slow/Baby hold on.
I suppose every band needs a ballad on their rock CD, but Golden needs to work on theirs.
“Carnival” is my favorite track on Night Reminds the Day, probably because Dave Barnes could have written it. The Chattanooga swing and celebrating blues guitar allows for plenty of solo space for their saxophone, (though, Golden’s jazzy voice dominates the end of the track). This is the epitome of good southern rock.
After “Carnival,” Night Reminds the Day begins to lull. “Shine” is sole track worth mentioning after, but solely because it’s so cool. Golden once again shows off his bluesy vocals as he belts, “Let your love shine through!” and “Won’t you let me shine?” The excitement of the lyrics is found in the tight hits and snappy full band chorusing behind Golden’s voice. It’s beautiful.
Frankly, Night Reminds the Day should only be a seven or eight track set, or Golden needs to learn to edit their music before releasing it for mass consumption. These guys are great live, and I can only expect greater things from this indie southern rock band as the group grows musically and professionally.
Recommended Songs: Carnival, Listen
Toss These Tracks: Depends on if you like long listens. If you don’t, half the CD.
Before YouTube I was just a skinny white kid/That thought he was funnier, & cooler/Than he actually was/Now, not much has changed/But I have a shitload of money
Bo Burnham, the internet sensation, has recently signed his soul to Comedy Central Records. The 19-year-old Massachusetts resident came out with Bo Burnham, celebrating his comedic music humor that started with “I’m Bo Yo,” the YouTube video with almost ten million hits. The poppy piano and guitar lead to easy listening, but the lyrics, granted intelligent and humorous, grows old after the second listen.
Nowhere near the musical and comical genius of Tom Lehrer, Burnham repeats the same chords over and over (see “Rehab Center for Fictional Characters”) while rapping/singing over them. Nonetheless, Burnham uses clever modern pop culture references and puns (“I treat my objects like women”) to litter his music. The first time around, Bo seems very witty, but after a while his jokes seem tasteless.
From “The Perfect Woman,” an ode to Helen Keller as the perfect woman, to “Dictatortot,” the story of Hitler as a baby, Burnham only fails to offend one group of people: rich white straight northern males, just like him (though heterosexual is a might bit questionable, considering how hard he insists that he’s straight). Now for those of us who can take the 19-year-old’s subject matter, his lyrics are fantastic. The young white yank raps in “Bo Fo’ Sho,’” “Like a tampon thief, I had to pull some strings,” and “I’m circumcised ’cause I don’t come from the hood.” Funny? Yes. Funny the third time? Eh.
What comes with Bo Burnham is what makes the CD worthwhile. It comes with a DVD of Burnham live and some of his YouTube clips. Burnham is far more personable when you can see his puppydog face with priceless expressions. I say, save the music for visual and audio stimulus. Bo Burnham is definitely best the first time around, so don’t spoil the surprise for yourself if you’re planning on seeing him live. He’s certainly entertaining, but not as good as Demitri Martin and Dane Cook.
Recommended Songs: I’m Bo Yo, High School Party
Toss These Songs: Klan Kookout, Rehab Center for Fictional Characters