CD Review: Black Keys – El Camino [2011]

Label: Nonesuch Records

1. “Lonely Boy” – A
2. “Dead and Gone” – B
3. “Gold On The Ceiling” – B-
4. “Little Black Submarines” – B
5. “Money Maker” – A-
6. “Run Right Back” –  B
7. “Sister” – C
8. “Hell Of A Season” – C+
9. “Stop Stop” – B-
10. “Nova Baby” – B
11. “Mind Eraser” – C+

Comments: Before legions of Black Keys fans begin tearing me to pieces let me preface my little review by saying that I’m neither a committed or knowledgeable fan of the band. I’ve liked me some “10 A.M Automatic” for a while now and I thought Brothers was a pretty good album. “Lonely Boy” is deceiving. It’s the best track on here. One of my favorite singles I’ve heard all year, in fact. It’s deceiving, because the rest of El Camino (except for the comparably heavy/catchy “Money Maker”) really doesn’t give “Lonely Boy” a run for its money. There are another slew of tunes (“Sister,” “Hell of a Season,”) that on the surface seem to rock pretty hard, but are just similar, blander versions of other better Black Keys songs. I can definitely see where a big fan of more recent BK albums may really end up enjoying those songs. They could be growers. The organ, which appears in a few of these songs, doesn’t bring much more to the mix. This is a good record. A better record for people with more Kings of Leon/pop-rock leanings than grittier, more psychedelic rock ‘n roll leanings.

Grade: B/B- (83)

Review: The Orwells – “Remember When” [2011]

Label: Self-Released

1. “Lays at Rest” – A
2. “Mallrats (La La La)” – A
3. “Halloween All Year” – A
4. “All The Cool Kids” – A
5. “Suspended” – A
6. “Painted Faces and Long Hair” – A
7. “Hallway Homicide” – A
8. “In My Bed” – A-
9. “Never Ever” – A
10. “Like No One Else” – A-
11. “Ancient Egypt” – A
12. “Under The Flowers” – A

Comments: The Orwells caught my attention earlier this year and they’ve damn secured that attention now. Remember When is the band’s debut full-length. It’s a loud listen, exploding with blasts of unrefined rock N roll slime. The pop slime that sticks to your brain like a piece of Wrigley’s chewing gum. Local reference indeed. I shit you not when I say these tracks stack up to the best of comparative material from recent years i.e. slightly to a lot better known bands like Cum Stain, Natural Child, Ty Segall, Diarrhea Planet, and Thee Oh Sees. The in-your-face production tactics are well-oiled, particularly on “Suspended,” which has some big echo on the vocals. It’s like if Julian Casablancas got the shit kicked out of him during the making of Is This It and wanted revenge via the recording process. That kind of thing. The shimmy shimmy might be what Reatard wanted to make when he was 15 and bashing on a pair of buckets and a shitty guitar, if only he had a few other older dudes around to make it ‘fuller’. Well, that eventually happened. The point I’m really trying to make it is that in an age of bands sprouting in an instant it’s always quite excellent to hear a youthful effort that particularly stands out. Orwells can just as fine do the slower/slacker (example, “Never Ever”) thing as the fast thing (example, “Mallrats”) as the Arctic Monkeys thing (example, “Ancient Egypt”) as the choice old tyme intro samples (“Under the Flowers” particularly is CHOICE). If this is their Animal Farm, will their next be Nineteen Eighty Four?

Grade: A (93)

Link To Listen To Remember When

CD Review: Atlas Sound – “Parallax” [2011]

Label: 4AD

1. “The Shakes”- A
2. “Amplifiers” – A
3. “Te Amo” – A 
4. “Parallax” – A
5. “Modern Aquatic Nights” – A
6. “Mona Lisa” – A++
7. “Praying Man” – A
8. “Doldrums” –A
9. “Angel Is Broken” – A+
10. “Terra Incognita” –
11. “Flagstaff” – A-
12. “Lightworks” – A++

Comments: Bradford Cox shall go down in the musical history books as not only a top shelf musician, but as a trusted source of inspiration, musically and not. When I listen to Bradford (as Atlas Sound, as Deerhunter, as Ghetto Cross), I often can’t quite get a grip on what he is conveying, but I know it’s surely meaningful to him. His music creates distinct settings that bring back childhood memories and perhaps other fictitious and dream-like settings. This is particularly true for Parallax, which to date might by the man’s most grandiose work. There’s simplicity in the guise of complexity. Wait, well let me explain. Every song is layered with instrumentation that you might not realize upon first or twentieth listen. This isn’t too important. What’s important is that Parallax is affectionate. It’s not as heavy or ambient as some of Bradford’s earlier work. It’s right there in the middle. The tracks that really stand out to me on Parallax slant towards heavy. These are some of the finest songs that I’ve heard in the past couple of years. “Walkabout” from Logos was my favorite song of 2009. Naturally, I’m interested in finding an Atlas Sound successor to that sort of brilliance. I’ve found multiple successors on Parallax. The first is “Mona Lisa,” which was previously recorded as part of the Bedroom Databank. The version on this record features Andrew Vanwyngarden of MGMT (piano/vocals). There’s such a cozy vibe to this song. Perfect for autumn. A glass of bourbon and walk through Boston Common/Central Park/equivalent to your area. Next is “Angel Is Broken,” which sounds a bit like The Best of Bradford, if there was such a thing. I am particularly fond of the transitions from the verses to the chorus, the “aahhhh-ahhhhh” and the line “you’ll be a lot like…me!” The final song that I’m going to discuss is the final song. This is “Nightworks”. I love the clangy guitar and the Left-Right percussion. The harmonica. The bass line. The build-up to the finale. The song is way affirming and exudes positiveness. “Everywhere I look there is a light and it will guide the way.” The other nine songs that I’ve neglected to mention each have outstanding attributes and will surely have you coming back for more. I’ve listened to this album several times in the past two days and I’m sure I’ll keep going at a similar pace. Parallax will be remembered as one of the most engaging albums of this year, decade, and whatever else.

Grade: A (95)

CD Review: Freedom Run [2011]

 The Rifles
Release: 9/2011
Label: ATC
Comments: There comes a time in a music reviewer’s life when it’s clear as day that a band has softened up. I like to call this trend ‘going softie’. Now, I heard a couple cuts off this record before it was officially released and held off posting them on here. I thought, well, The Rifles can’t be going softie! The rest of the new record won’t sound like this, right? Well, admittedly, The Rifles aren’t the brashest of rock and roll bands in the world. I don’t think they ever claimed to be. They are well-rooted in The Jam and maybe some of Weller’s other projects, including solo. So, yes, we aren’t talking classic punk rock here. Freedom Run is boring. The Rifles take some of their past tricks, which have been terrific, and dumb them down for a more mainstream audience. Shame! It’s hard to listen to them descend into some kind of Coldplay schtick. I won’t give them all the blame, though. As a fan of music, maybe it’s me after all. Maybe I’ve grown tired of the bright and twinkly stuff that I loved two years ago. Maybe this album is better than I’m making it out to be. Or maybe I just miss the heavy-hitting, rock N roll of “She’s Got Standards” and “Repeated Offender.”

Grade: C/C-

CD Review: Mikal Cronin – Mikal Cronin [2011]

 Mikal Cronin
Release: 9/2011
Label: Trouble In Mind

1. “Is It Alright?” – A-
2. “Apathy” – A
3. “Green and Blue” – A-
4. “Get Along” – A+
5. “Slow Down” – A-
6. “Gone” – A
7. “Situation” – A
8. “Again and Again” – A-
9. “Hold On Me” – B
10. “The Way Things Go” – A+

Comments: Mikal Cronin. Get used to that name. For those of you particularly in-the-know, you might not have to put that much effort into getting to know Mikal. In his own right, he is quite prolific. Perhaps not to the degree of friend Ty Segall, but still prolific at that. Now Ty and Mikal, I’m sure they both listen to the same kind of music. I don’t think picking a song to jam to on a crisp California night has been at all difficult. Hell, when you live in the same state as Oh Sees John Dwyer, it’s tough to imagine anything less than a spectacular event of music making. Of course, we have Dwyer’s flute on the first song and a — oh snap is it that a saxophone? — on “Apathy”. So yes, Cronin has been fed a healthy diet of mixed greens and fuzz rock by farmers near and wide. The bent, so to speak, that Cronin has is a bit more melodic than what we’ve historically seen from Ty. The core of the apple we call pop is ever present on Mikal Cronin. Even in such a heavy assault as “Green and Blue,” we get a drained out sort of Radiohead at their heaviest kind of thing going on. “Get Along” deserves a place right next to the “My Sunshine” and “Melted” of the world. It’s the heavy strumming, brah. Brah-Naymith. “Slow Down” is like “Get Along” slowed down seventy-five percent. Like that time Justin Beiber was slowed down to sound like Animal Collective. Gangsta slowcore shizz. Sounds like an organ/reed to me. A droning one at that. Notes are held. Chord progressions change like seasons. The Beach Boys revival ode “Situation” features Ty Segall on drums. “The Way Things” is particularly odd, but really great bait for the experimental at heart. If you like slow, heavy, weird, funny, etc, this is a particular nice one. There’s like six song ideas all combined into one closer. Good way to go out, I’d say.

Grade: A- (92)

CD Review: Glazin’ [2011]

 Jacuzzi Boys
Release: 9/2011
Label: Hardly Art

1. “Vizcaya” – B
2. “Automatic Jail” – B-
3. “Glazin” – B+
4. “Cool Vapors” – C+
5. “Libras and Zebras” – C
6. “Crush” – C+
7. “Silver Sphere (Death Dream)” – C
8. “Zeppelin” – C-
9. “Los Angeles” – B
10. “Koo Koo With You” – C-

Comments: Upfront disclosure: I did not expect a softie album from the Jacuzzi Boys. Now, softie to one may be hardcore punk to another. This is a lite album, though, a diet rock ‘n roll.  Traditional pop hooks are everywhere on Glazin’…make no mistake. It’s just that No Seasons, the band’s debut from 2009, possessed these hooks and then some. We live in times where bands with even the most marginal independent label support can spend longer time in a studio setting and complete a nicer sounding record. Sometimes, though, nicer sounding comes across as forced. The late great Jay Reatard didn’t find any remote worth in arranging a block of time for recording. He recorded whenever he felt like it. True, many bands don’t have 24/7 access to sophisticated home recording equipment, but Jay’s point holds. I feel like the experimentation that Jacuzzi Boys endeavor in is a result of them having that extra studio time available. In the end, they stick with internal familiarity. Mid-album songs like “Libras and Zebras” and “Crush” don’t sound like anything the Jacuzzi Boys have done, but by that point in the album it’s as if “oh yeah, I’ve heard something like that a few tracks ago, but it was better.” With “Silver Sphere,” we have an excessive song on our hands folks. It drags and stuff. I sense a bit of cheesiness with Glazin’. It’s fun to be fun and the Jacuzzi’s seemed to have carried that kind of spirit in the making of this record, but where’s the “Smells Dead” and “Island Avenue” circa 2011?

Grade:  C+ (77)

CD Review: Only in Dreams [2011]

 Dum Dum Girls
Release: 9/2011
Label: Sub Pop

1. “Always Looking” – A+
2. “Bedroom Eyes” – A
3. “Just A Creep” – A-
4. “In My Head” – A-
5. “Heartbeat” – B+
6. “Caught in One” – A-
7. “Coming Down” – A+
8. “Wasted Away” – A-
9. “Teardrops On My Pillow” – B+
10. “Hold Your Hand” – B

Comments: Quick thing that I’ve noticed right off: Dee Dee’s voice goes full-circle in the sexiness/appealing category. “Always Looking” is an Austin Powers 4 sound-track candidate with swampy guitar and even a happy-go-lucky clapping part. FELT! HEART! Haven’t heard that kind of stuff since The Go Team! In terms of stuffiness of hooks and all that stuff (pun intended), this album gets high marks. I’ve always thought Dum Dum Girls had some serious development potential when I saw them open twice for KK+BBQ. It was a relatively new band at the time so things live weren’t as “hitting” as on record. But this record is much fuller than I Will Be. We get better harmonies, better vocal focus. As various press releases indicate, Only in Dreams is about relationship emptiness and life emptiness. Despite this subject matter, it never really gets in the way of fun rock ‘n’ roll. It gives Dee Dee a much better platform as a song-writer. Make no mistaking Dum Dum Girls with their girl group contemporaries. The middle chunk of songs are fine pieces, but it’s not until “Coming Down” that things pick up. This song is powerful (as I’ve mentioned in a previous review) and will knock you on your ass if your susceptible to this kind of excellence. Upon showing it to someone, they quipped… is this a live recording? Not so much the case, though the distorted/washed guitars make one wonder. I am fan of this. Puts more focus on the beautiful songwriting. Bridge is perfect: “I THINK I’M COMING DOWN. HERE I GO…HERE I GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.” It does indeed have the same chord progression/vocal stylings as Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You,” but builds on it in a very modern fashion. As a rule, I Will Be packs more immediate punches, more in your face(ness) than Only in Dreams. Only in Dreams takes its time and this just goes to show to you how far this band has come. Going from Sub Pop rookies, to King Khan and BBQ Show openers, to Girls openers, they’ve spent quite a bit of time covering a lot of ground while getting their music out there. And great for them. They are headlining The Paradise in October. Check this out, check that out.

Grade: A- (91)