Alright, so to not contradict Andy, I decided my (neglected) personal blog would be the best place to put my top ten, since I disagreed with him on many fronts. My goal is to identify, through my favorite albums of the decade, those movements in rock n’ roll that really define what this decade was.
In no particular order…
The Killers – Hot Fuss
Back when The Killers put out Hot Fuss, there was no precedent for describing this band (that has lately changed, unfortunately). The Vegas-based band was ironically signed by a British label and swept America with a sexy, glittery, lights-and-sound rock that had just the right balance of indie rock swagger and dance beats to make it both a mainstream and underground classic. Hell, even 2007’s Sawdust, which was basically a compilation of B-Sides from Hot Fuss and, to a lesser extent, Sam’s Town, was as good, if not better than most albums that have hit the market. What these four gentlemen spawned was the idea that rock n’ roll could have the dance and shine that Vegas normally reserved for pop music, and, quite frankly, rock takes the Vegas sleaze to a delicious new level in these guys’ hands. Er, it did, anyway.
Titus Andronicus – The Airing of Grievances
A more recent album, Titus Andronicus’ 2008 The Airing of Grievances gave rise to the best compromise between indie rock and Jersey punk the world has seen in a long time. With the titular “Titus Andronicus” making use of some catchy-as-hell riffs, amazing arrangement, and the most punk lyrics this side of 1977, this album took off, and really made a statement for garage punk in the late 2000’s.
Firewater – Psychopharmacology
Firewater basically made a concept album in the early 2000’s that really took songwriting to an interesting level. Maintaining a Nine Inch Nails-esque/Industrial vocal and arrangement style, coupled with rock injected with pseudo-folk, we had an album that was captivating on the surface listening, but once you listen to the meaning of each track and the intricate layers of each one, you can really begin to appreciate the songwriting. For an album that’s basically about someone battling depression and the drugs he’s on both prescriptionally (and not), the songs do a fantastic job of really exposing the mind of the basket case, down to the slight cracks in his voice when he says “I could be a comedian/If I wasn’t such a joke.”
Minus the Bear – Highly Refined Pirates
Highly Refined Pirates was the first album to really take the incentive to make a true indie-electronic album. While the dancier parts didn’t show up till 2005’s Menos El Oso, Minus the Bear’s debut set the stage for doing really neat things with guitars using modern technology. This album really worked out the concept, Menos El Oso worked it out with the dance vibes, and 2007’s Planet of Ice blew both of them away on both fronts. Highly Refined Pirates makes this list, though, because of its instigational role in the electro-rock scene, coupled with some awesome track titles (“Monkey!!!Knife!!!Fight!!!” is still one of my favorite songs).
Bear Vs. Shark – Right Now, You’re in the Best of Hands
What happens when you take Husker Du and make them really, really punk? You get the best-named band ever, Bear Vs. Shark. The 2004 Right Now, You’re in the Best of Hands was rough, it was tough, and it had breakdowns everywhere. The skill was there, the jam was there, and it would blow someone over if you played it on a big enough sound system. It has been near impossible to emulate (the only thing I’ve seen that really matches it is the German band Mikrokosmos), and as such it stays near and dear to my heart. It didn’t get too big exposure, though, just due to the sheer size of the riffage; without a certain skin thickness, this album will just confuse the hell out of you, but if you can take it, it’s one of the best albums you’ll hear.
Metric – Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?
If Minus the Bear started electro-rock (arguable), then Metric started dance rock (arguable). Metric’s 2003 Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? made a large step toward the unison of pop and indie rock, using the traditional rock band formula to make dance-y, female-fronted rock music. The effort was somewhat overlooked by the greater population in 2003, but 2009 has exploded with Metric look-alikes trying to use the formula to ride the coattails of big acts (including Metric’s most recent release, Fantasies, to be honest; the albums are all good, but they’re definitely becoming too common and formulaic).
The Hives – Veni Vidi Vicious
The Hives revived garage rock in the early 2000’s with Veni Vidi Vicious. Coming off the late ’90’s Radiohead- and Third Eye Blind-powered Alt Rock scene (both bands I love, but you have to admit, their work spawned so much terrible music), the music scene was half ambient, chamber rock, and half the failures that ended up in the Nickelback crowd. Then, enter The Hives: hard-rocking, relentless garage punk. These guys sound like they’re beating the shit out of their instruments and having a damn good time doing it. This album is all about fun, and it really is just a blast to listen to, because these guys are a tight band, and it shows in every song.
Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
This is the disc that gave us “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor.” If that’s not enough said, watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7dt1li5SyY . This album was the most fun I’ve had; another tight group of musicians that takes the solid rhythm and rock guitars and spits out a catchy-ass album. Every track is classic rock n’ roll for the modern day, fusing The Kinks’ zest for driving rock with a ’90’s alt-rock/garage sense for flair and performance. Also, it’s the only band where the English accent showing up in the song is actually okay.
The Depreciation Guild – In Her Gentle Jaws
This disc took the electro-rock to a new level; composed primarily with Gameboys, every song was an anthem, overlaid with chunky, raw guitars that really tie the experience up into something truly beautiful. It has both amazing horizontal and vertical songwriting, and it all becomes an auditory experience.
Passion Pit – Manners
If I need to tell you why this album is so good, you clearly haven’t heard it. Go buy it. NOW.
These days, it’s impossible to label something with just a genre. You can’t be hardcore, you’re “screamo post-metalcore.” You can’t just be pop, you’re “psychadelic girlpop with a psychobilly tinge.” Part of it is musical evolution, and that’s a good thing. Black Gold’s debut is fairly good at this mixing of genres, but it makes the album a little hard to get behind, just because they haven’t finished their trek to finished band.
The disc starts with “Detroit,” a pop song with airy vocals and heavy beats. The piano adds a nice touch. Effectively, it’s like they’re taking the beats and legitimacy of Passion Pit and mixing it with the sexy pop of the Friendly Fires. The second track, “Plans & Reveries,” tries to be a pop anthem, but it just makes it generic but trying the big catchy choruses on for size. It’s hard to sing along to, which is a no-no for pop music.
Track three, “Breakdown,” has me mixed. Now the track is a sexy dance song, but it tends to fall flat in the chorus. Now, this was the moment that I remembered that I had seen this band live, opening for (lol) Jaguar Love. I remembered this track because it was hot as hell. It was a dance INFERNO in the Middle East Upstairs. The track on the album does not reflect this very well. This gives me hope that they just don’t translate to tape well.
Then we get to track 5, “Silver,” which is a Jet-a-la-Shine-On pseudo-folk ditty that just doesn’t do much for me at all, especially in the world we’re in that inundates everything with “folk.” Track 6, “Shine,” doesn’t improve much, though it does have a vaguely Sondre Lerche feel to it that I can appreciate.
Basically, the end of the line is that the first four tracks are some hot electro-pop, the next four are folk-y parlor tunes, and the album ends on some underwhelming Third Eye Blind/Semisonic type tunes. Grab “Detroit” and “Breakdown” and call it a day; seeing these guys live is totally worth it, but Rush leaves me mostly unimpressed.
Check out the audio from tonight’s set below!
There are the occasions when something just makes you happy. There’s always that one context where nothing you do can make you unhappy, no matter how mundane the task is (see: reading 150+ pages of “Advanced Organic Chemistry”).
For me, those occasions seem to be accompanied by female-fronted pop-punk. The French garage rock outfit Plastiscines makes use of chunky guitars and poppy basslines to balance out a feminine flair that is just fun to listen to. To say the least, I think I’m in love with About Love.
This band is all about flair; from the album art down to the subtle background vocals that cement the sexiness of this band, there were no expenses spared in making this album a girl-punk icon. That said, in true girl-punk fashion, the feminine bit is backed up by a band that is as tough (or tougher, in a lot of cases) as the boys.
Let me go ahead and say that the guitar riffs that power this album are pure Joan Jett, and the basslines are thick, dance-y, and booming, almost reminiscent of those from the Polysics (BUT DON’T YOU DARE DRAW ANY OTHER CONCLUSIONS FROM THAT COMPARISON). Drummer Anais Vandevyvere pounds beats harder than anything I’ve heard in a long time. The overall formula of the instrumentals is as epic as The Hives (see Veni Vidi Vicious) without going into the realm of Jersey punk (you won’t find 10,000 Marbles on this disc).
So what makes this special? The vocals, most of all. As much as I love the instrumentals, I’ve placed all of them. We’ve heard punky garage rock before, and the OMG-it’s-a-girl-band craze is over, so what makes this so catchy? The answer lies in vocalist Katty Besnard. Besnard has that same sexy edge that makes Allison Mosshart (The Kills, Dead Weather) so special, but she uses it to pop ends instead of shoegaze. The difference is refreshing; we get tracks with incredible rock power without sacrificing the lithe, smooth vocal style that Mosshart made famous.
The language barrier itself is interesting. On tracks like “Camera” and “Coney Island,” the songs are entirely in French, which, as a French speaker, is pretty cool. I can imagine that to a non-speaker, a lot of the content of the song is lost, but it still sounds amazing; French is a beautiful language to sing in, though my years of conjugating verbs and identifying tenses tells me it must be a bitch to write in, which brings me to the most interesting lyric. In the song “Bitch,” Besnard claims to be a “Bitch I-T-C-H,” which, while a clever play on words (spelling? something?), also looks like a really crappy euphemism for an STD.
For this CD, start with “I Could Rob You,” then move on to “Camera.” If you aren’t hooked, just go bash your head into a wall. If you are, welcome to the club: press stop and start the disc from the beginning. It’s totally worth it.
Way back in my freshman year, I discovered Sea Wolf when my buddy Craig stole their first CD, Leaves in the River, from the cabinet I now patrol at WRBB. Back then, when I was still convinced Sum 41 and Fuel were good, relevant bands, I mostly overlooked them. Looking back, Leaves was a fantastic example of what indie folk should be: calm, but creative. Indie folk should be distinct from regular folk in that it should have a slightly rock edge to it; Leaves did this by arranging their folk music in a very shoegaze-y, Of Montreal-y sort of way. This time around, the LA folk guru dips into more classic rock for it’s distinction from folk on White Water, White Bloom, and it’s completely okay by me.
This album is best described as Sea Wolf mixing Tom Petty, The Talking Heads, and country progression. In this way, they fall in line with other up-and-comers Wild Sweet Orange, etc. The disc starts with the piano-led “Wicked Blood,” which sets a good mood for the album before moving into the violins and other assorted instruments throughout the album. On tracks like “Orion & Dog” and “O Maria!” you get a good dose of Sea Wolf’s musical eccentricities and a set of lyrics that each tell a story.
That seems to be the goal of this album: to be a poetic story. While I’m not sure it all interlocks, it’s clear that each song is at least part of some greater story, and the aforementioned tracks really get the moods perfect for their tales; “Orion & Dog” may be my favorite track on the album because it mixes a sound of complacent melancholy as it tells the story of an aging hunter living happily with his dog as he contemplates letting a lover into his life. “Orion said I’m just a humble hunter/the dog the only comp’ny I keep/forgive me if I fear that you would change me/but I’ve seen my fortune written in the leaves” starts the epic, and it ends as he claims “I can’t be just another heart you broke/’cause I’m getting much too old.” It’s this storytelling that makes this album so much fun to listen to actively.
This album’s use of acoustic instruments accented with electronics lends the perfect mood to a truly beautiful album. It’s calming, touching, and utterly perfect. Each song can be taken on its own, or listened to as a larger piece. If you’re iPod’ing this album, start with “Wicked Blood” and “O Maria!,” then move on to “Orion & Dog.” From there, you can’t go wrong; those first two are the two I would use to typify Sea Wolf’s sound, and “Orion & Dog” is just a beautiful track that I really think sets this album apart from other “indie folk” acts.
RIYL: Wild Sweet Orange, Wolf Parade, Of Montreal, Tom Petty, Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s
So at the station we legit got four copies of this one album by this band called The Golden Bloom. I figured, hey, if they wasted the trees, time, and plastic to send us four of the damn things, I may as well listen to one of them.
This is catchy as all hell, and the best part it is that it isn’t catchy in the oh-god-I-just-fell-for-the-“three-chords-and-simple-vocals”-trick. Yes, Rivers Cuomo I’m looking at you. Ahem.
The album starts off with “E.H.M” (what it stands for, I do not know), which is just phenomenal. Rolling keyboards start the song in an 80’s-ish techno-ey sort of way with the organs before the guitar kicks in and brings some modern Rock ‘n Roll to the same riff. The vocals are folk-y, and the pacing of the song makes it both danceable and jam-worthy. There is so much that is right about that song.
The second track, “Doomsday Devices,” isn’t as thrilling, but it maintains a nice vibe that is honest and refreshing. The album makes a My Morning Jacket-esque turn, and it keeps the semi-acoustic calm vibe going for a while, before bringing a Barenaked Ladies/Beatles song into the mix (“Untitled”). Though short, “Untitled” is a lot of fun to listen to. Overall, the upbeat pace keeps any of the tracks from getting boring, and they manage to keep enough spunk and noise going that it is still very much an active listening experience.
The album is cool and fun, and above all, consistent. That being said, after tearing everything up in exactly the right way on “E.H.M.,” having the album be all quiet rock was a bit of a letdown. The album is good throughout, but needed another rock song about halfway through; don’t tease us with track 1 unless there’s another one somewhere on there!
I recommend starting with the first couple of tracks and working your way down; “E.H.M.” is fantastic, and then “Doomsday Devices” and “Fan the Flames” will give you a good enough of an idea of what the album will sound like to make a judgment of the rest of the disc. I can safely say that this is one of the most fun discs to come out of Boston in a long time, making 2009 a great year for Boston music (IOU one review of Manners by Passion Pit).
RIYL: My Morning Jacket, The Grownup Noise, Margot & The Nuclear So-Sos
Golden Bloom played at the Middle East Upstairs in support of this album tonight, and so I went and saw the show and got an interview with Shawn, the one-man-band who runs the show. It was a lot of fun, and the band was even better live. Plus, he gave me a shout-out on stage, a first for me! See the audio at the link below:
Every now and then there’s that one band that you can tell you shouldn’t like, but still dig. They have those little quips that you’d normally knock, but they have some stuff going for them that just makes them so much fun that you have to listen.
The most recent example of this, for me, was Billy Boy on Poison. The album art is pretty standard, not appealing, not unappealing, but I almost tossed it because of the band’s dumb name. I’m sorry, but Billy Boy on Poison? Seriously. Let’s all pitch in and give these guys a new name. Whatever made me actually listen to it, I’m okay with.
The first track, “On My Way,” is a cool track with some nice heavy drums, and a thick guitar that chugs along steadily. Suddenly the chorus chugs in and the second guitar comes in with some bluesy overtones, which becomes a consistent theme: there’s a fundamental rocky, punky foundation with bluesy, classic rock-ish overdubs and solos.
The rhythm section is decent, but the bass tends to disappear into the mix a lot. When you seek it out, it’s pretty cool, but most of the time it’s easier to listen to that killer guitar.
What irks me about this band is really the vocals. They’re fun and poppy, but there are a lot of times where they’re just too flimsy to really add anything to the song. Like in “Saturday’s Child,” there’s that kick ass guitar throughout the song, but the vocals are just unremarkable and distract a bit. That being said, on tracks like “On My Way,” “Angry Young Man,” and “You’re Too High” the vocals are awesome. There’s that nice blend between old, classic skill and modern, alt-rock pacing that makes it worthwhile. All in all, this band is definitely about the instrumentals.
I’d skip songs like “Leaf Clover” and “Another Lonely Start.” These stray away from the rest of the album by trying to slow it down for the ladies. I’m always down for a slower song, but it’s clear these guys are forcing it, because they really are just more boring than they are charming.
So, the final verdict? I like them. If you ignore the vocals, they have a Hives-ey classic rock feel that I’m totally okay with. They seem like they have a lot of fun playing the tunes, and I’d love to see them play live.
Wow, I realize exactly how non-present I’ve been lately… Big things in my life, won’t talk about them here, but hopefully i can start writing again soon!
When I picked up the new Rancid album, Let the Dominoes Fall, I didn’t know what to expect. I mean, hell, I’ve been jaded recently by bands that I was familiar with as a child, with a faux-folk album by the Meat Puppets, and a terrible album by Green Day. It was with a mix of trepidation and anticipation that I listened to this disc.
The disc is immediately reminiscient of old school Social Distortion. “East Bay Nights” has that same pseudo-brit punk that made West Coast punk distinct. “This Place” is a power-punk piece that layers on distortion before going into “Up to No Good,” which borders on ska. The vibe continues through to “Civilian Ways,” which is a clumsy blues song with some cool mandolin; don’t take “clumsy” as an insult, though, ’cause that’s what’s cool when you’re a punk band. I think I’d be more upset if they did a full-out blues song, because it would just sound weird.
As for tracks I’d recommend, take “The Bravest Kids” and “Skull City,” see how you’re doing, and then try “Up to No Good.” Overall, my comment on this album is that these guys manage to keep classic California punk alive to the note. There isn’t a track that isn’t good ol’ Rancid, and for that reason I’m mixed about this album. It’s a good album, but there really isn’t anything new about it. Diehard Rancid fans will be all over this, but I just look at this album and feel like I could easily pick up a copy of Social Distortion. There just aren’t that many stand-out tracks on this disc; I mean there are a few that I can pick out that are interesting, but, all told, it’s because they are those novelty semi-ska or almost-blues tracks. Again, they’re good tracks, but there’s a fine line between staying true to your genre and spoonfeeding us the same things.
Basically, it’s a good album, I enjoy it, and if you were asking me whether you should get it or not, I would say go for it. That said, if you asked me which album to buy in general, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest this one, just because there are classics that do the same thing, but, hey, they’re the classics.
Which is why I haven’t updated in a while. My job, unfortunately, is my first priority, so I will be updating this weekend. If I’m ambitious enough, maybe I’ll do a few reviews.