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For an album that was put together throughout the course of a Canadian winter, there’s an unbelievable level warmth and comfort to be discovered in the 11 tracks that comprise Untogether. The freshman album from Montreal duo Blue Hawaii, succeeds their Blooming Summer EP, released in 2010. From that EP, their prominent track Blue Gowns illustrates Blue Hawaii’s powerful and vivid talent for producing genuine shoe gaze/ experimental post rock that is enveloped in simple pop textures.
The duo of Raphaelle Standell-Preston and Alexander Cowan have produced a strong and mature return. With the pop influences lessened, Untogether thrives on introspection to the point of mirroring a Dostoevsky novel. This was an album built for headphones. Spacious and bass-heavy, there are moments that are felt more than heard. The opening samples of Sweet Tooth dart from left to right, while fluttering beats that sound like scissor snips do as they please. The low-end on following track Sierra Lift is so heavy it shakes the speakers. However, the most important aspect of the Untogether lies in the production of the single track “try to be” which makes you want to simultaneously lose yourself while begging someone to please find you again. Flooded with a variety of crafty synth and guitar loops that are layered to deliver an echo like experience, the track certainly displays what Blue Hawaii are all about.
It might’ve been easy to compare Blue Hawaii to the vocal distortion of Grimes or the beat twisting of Doldrums. But Raphaelle and Alexander have produced something entirely their own, far more melancholic and sedate than their contemporaries. Untogether is an album to escape into. A world of its own struggle, complacency, and sentiment, it’s more coherent and terse than its distant sound suggests. Simplistic, fluid, and at times utterly beautiful, the songs that make Untogether will never lose their novelty living on your playlist.
Cleveland-based rapper Kid Cudi has recently released his third full-length LP, entitled Indicud. The 18-track, double-disc album stands as Kid Cudi’s first attempt at serving as both rapper and producer. As a result, the record has a broad scope in terms of musicality. It features many of the classic elements present in his prior work – rapping in a slightly raspy, almost smoky voice with his unusual delivery of phrases. However, in comparison to his previous releases, there is a noticeable difference in the instrumentals that Cudi is rapping and singing over in this album. The tracks seem to be much more simplistic in their structure, in that the actual makeup of many of the tracks seem to be painfully straightforward. For example, the track Mad Solar begins with a slow-moving synth line accompanied by a downtempo drumbeat, upon which Kid Cudi opens with a verse. This synth line is looped throughout the entirety of the 4-minute track, without any major alterations or transitions. The song itself seems to have an almost drone-like quality, lacking any real passion or emotion. Granted, this is Kid Cudi’s first attempt at producing a record and this merits a certain amount of flexibility for him to explore musically (hence, the 18-track album); however, when compared to his previous work, the quality of production sounds rushed and unpolished, leading one to believe that not much effort was put into the finishing touches before the album was released.
Now this is not to say that the album as a whole is a lackluster collection of songs not worth listening to; there are certainly some standout tunes on this LP. Songs such as “Solo Dolo pt. II, “Cold Blooded” and “New York City Rage Fest” are a few personal favorites. These tracks in particular have noticeably catchy elements that struck me as being equally captivating and bizarre. The song “Solo Dolo, pt. II” has a recurring horn line that sounds like it may have been sampled off of an old record. At first listen, the sample sounded out of place, but with a dedicated listen, the sound snippet blends with the rest of the song and makes for one of the more interesting parts of the track. Another track that sparked interest was “New York City Rage Fest”. This short two-minute song begins with a quarter note kick that’s filtered through a phaser. A dark, melodic synth line is brought into the mix, along with a rhythmic snare drum that taps along with the beat. The song ends abruptly and leaves the listener wanting more. Personally, I feel like Kid Cudi could’ve developed this song more fully, yet I still appreciate his experimentation with instrumental electronic music.
As far as lyrical content, Kid Cudi does not delve into the introspective and contemplative verses that appear in some of his earlier work. Rather, Kid Cudi alludes to some of the rap themes that are all too common as of late – haters, partying, and the like. One appreciable feature of the album was the fact that Kid Cudi seems to be singing with more enthusiasm on this album, and is experimenting with his upper-register more so than listeners have heard previously; this is particularly noticeable on the tracks “Immortal” and “Cold Blooded”, which are laden with pop-infused choruses.
All in all, I felt that Indicud is an album that could have used further editing and enhancement in terms of musical structure and general production techniques. The potential for a well-crafted album is present, but the unclean production on this album affects the output of the overall sound. Perhaps an entirely solo-production effort such have been preceded by an album that he co-produced. However, Indicud proves that Kid Cudi is making music for himself; surely, this was not an album intended to satisfy mainstream appeal. I am a firm believer that progression as an artist only comes from experimentation, and with that, I am anticipating Kid Cudi’s next album, Man on the Moon III, set to release in 2014.
To help fill the void between their next album, We Came As Romans have released a deluxe edition of their 2011 album, Understanding What We’ve Grown To Be. This deluxe edition includes their new single, “Hope”. Although being labeled as a metalcore band from Michigan, We Came As Romans infuse more lyrical moments in their songs rather than just screaming for 100% of the song. We Came As Romans consist of David Stephens (vocals), Joshua Moore (guitar), Lou Cotton (guitar), Andrew Glass (bass), Kyle Pavone (keys and vocals), and Eric Choi (drums). The band’s message for fans is to inspire positivity, relationship, being good people, and loving one another as a community between people. It sure is hard to imagine a metalcore band spreading these positive messages through their songs, but they do a surprisingly good job at executing their vision.
The main song, “Hope” is your premiere metal anthem song, that feels almost forced for the listener to sing along and for live concerts is sure to be very reliant on the audience chanting “We are the one true hope/ So give me an answer.” Not that this is a bad thing, We Came As Romans have definitely hit a home run with this song even including electronic elements to their screams. “The King of Silence” is very similar to “Hope” but contains more pure singing by Pavone. “Let These Words Last Forever” goes back to the roots of metalcore as it is the heaviest of the three additional tracks.
We Came As Romans have been very busy with touring and expect to finish their Take Action Tour around March 1st where they will then head back to the studio to record their next album. In the past year they have performed on the Gamechangers Tour with A Day to Remember and Bring Me The Horizon, Motel 6 Rock Yourself to Sleep Tour, and the Scream It Like You Mean It Tour with Silverstein. They even traveled overseas to perform with the likes of Megadeth, GWAR, and August Burns Red. Luckily for Tampa, We Came As Romans will be a part of the Vans Warped Tour on July 26th so expect to see them there to perform.
Retro hard rock fans should enjoy the third album by the band Corsair. Their self-titled album stays consistent to the minimal approach of the band’s sound. Rarely using effects like reverb and echo (except vocals), Corsair keeps the format simple with very dry guitar sounds and a warm bass sound that sounds very retro and unaltered by any processing. The instrumental aspect of the band is the focus as the guitars 'talk' to each other and feel more of the lead of the band’s progress through the album.
Band of Horses new album, Mirage Rock, jumped from number 66 to number nine on the Billboard charts in less than a month. When Band of Horses released their newest album back in late September, they placed number 45 on the College Music Journal (CMJ) rock and indie charts. Mumford & Son’s Babel and Sigh No More have been dominating the charts lately, until earlier this month. On October 8, CMJ named Mirage Rock as the must have album of the month, beating out many other artists for the highest amount of album downloads. The band’s frequent promotional posts on Facebook and Twitter has certainly paid off.
Band of Horses is Ben Bridwell (vocals, guitar) bassist Chris Early and drummer Tim Meinig. They were soon joined by former Carissa's Wierd band leader Mat Brooke (guitar, vocals). Mixing a folky sound similar to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, with lyrics in the style of The Black Keys, Band of Horses new album brings southern rock back with a Seattle twist.
Band of Horses music can often be described as southern rock revivalists however, with tracks like with “Dumpster World” echoing America, then breaking off into this intense chorus breakdown, then seamlessly going back to that roots rock style. The song defines both the album and band.
Mirage Rock is generally more of an upbeat compared to the bands’ older albums. Compared to their chart rivals Mumford & Sons deep, sometimes aggressive songs, why are people hesitating to pick up something that has cheerful and hope-inspiring lyrics? It could be because of the length of the album. With long, winding tracks, it’s easy to get lost in the album. The songs transition perfectly, building a story as moves. There is no resolution until song “Heartbreak on the 101,” the last track on the album. After dealing with the themes of break ups throughout the album, the last track sees the narrator finding consolation, a beautifully depressing that closes the album.
Mirage Rock is sprinkled with biblical references in true southern rock fashion, but in this case, they are making fun of the use of the bible in songs these days. “A Little Biblical” keeps a light hearted tone, using lines like “Look at the water, look at whatever. It’s a little biblical, a little bit tragic, maybe fantastic” stating how religious topics can fly over people’s heads. If anything, this album is all about that mocking of religious lyricism, with harmonies that are perfect for being stuck inside on a rainy day or to driving around on a sunny day blasting the album through your car’s speakers.
Smoke & Jackal is a two man super-group, consist of Jared Followill, the bassist of Kings of Leon and Nick Brown from indie rock band Mona. Mona are originally from Ohio, but have recently relocated to the Kings of Leon’s hometown, Nashville. Mona have recently gained national attention by winning MTV’s Brand New for 2011 award as well as climbing the charts on the BBC’s Sound of 2011 poll. Jared Followill got involved with this project while Kings of Leon are on hiatus.
On June 22, 2012 Nick Brown of Mona and Jared Followill of Kings of Leon snapped a pic of themselves and posted it on Instagram. The caption: Smoke & Jackal. On August 21, the duo released what would become the single, “No Tell,” on their SoundCloud. October 16 rolls around and EP1 finds its way to record stores shelves.
There isn’t much to say about this duo other than they are new and fresh. They mix their individual sounds so precisely in their songs, as if it were one mind doing all the thinking. In a press release about the album, Followill states,” Coming together just worked. I think it's because we took such an easy approach to it, we didn't bring any egos to it. We just talked about each other's ideas, neither one of us got our feelings hurt. It just worked.”
This album is pretty experimental. The duo brings a haunting, lullaby-like twist to their respective styles. The single, “No Tell” was an especially strong track. It represents both artists individually yet shows the overall collaboration between them. It also sums up what the EP is about and helps define Smoke & Jackal. While the EP, like most albums, explores some sort of love gone missing, there is something more to tell. With a gothic approach, the duo tells the story of a man taking advantage of a younger woman. The pointed lyrics make this song haunting, and makes the listener almost feel like the world is full of dirty secrets like the one in “No Tell.” That’s what makes “No Tell” so defining for the album. It’s all about secrets.
Smoke & Jackal’s early EP has a very refreshing, moody and heartfelt sound. It is more on the experimental side, and the lyrics are very blunt and honest, borderline raunchy, with explicit content.
I Bet on Sky is Dinosaur Jr.’s tenth album release. With more and more bands choosing the alternative rock sound for their avenue of music, it is tough to stand out from the crowd. Dinosaur Jr. has laid their foundation since 1985. The trio from Dinosaur Jr. keeps their unique vocals and classic sound intact in their new release. Dinosaur Jr.’s sound is primarily high gain and feedback/distortion guitar sounds and the steady vocals of Joseph Mascis.
Dinosaur Jr. doesn’t stray too far from the true musician’s album. With varying dynamics (quiet-loud changes) being popular in alternative rock, it seems almost a must in Dinosaur Jr.’s discography. Panning of Mascis’ vocals and guitars give tracks like “Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know” and “Almost Fare” an added dimension of depth that is missing in most popular music today. The simple droning vocals in “Stick A Toe In”, although natural and untouched by any reverberation, are very different and add to the appeal of Dinosaur Jr. The fifth track, “Rude” is a great example of Mascis’ vocals being put through a filter giving it a “telephone/radio” tone that reflects sound being heard back in the 70’s. Mascis’ singing style is very much like Neil Young’s but Mascis himself has said he is tired of the comparison. The song “I Know It Oh So Well” has a blend of catchy wah-wah guitars and a steady rhythm on the tom drum. While I Bet On Sky is new, it is not a new identity of Dinosaur Jr. The band stays true to their sound as their new album feels like a welcome addition to any alternative rock fan’s library.
Dinosaur Jr. is currently touring on their I Bet on Sky tour, but unfortunately does not come to Florida.
It seems almost recently that “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” was being cycled on the radio and shown endlessly on MTV. Ultimately that was nine years ago, back in 2003. The British classic and glam rock band, The Darkness, having had a seven year absence from the music scene since their second album, One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back, and featuring bassist Frankie Poullan once again from their first album, now release a new album called Hot Cakes. The Darkness stay to their roots of silly lyrics and “feel-good” rock jams with front man Justin Hawkins with his signature falsetto. Hot Cakes has some solid songs like the single “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us” which has an eerie resemblance to Queen’s sound, and “Keep Me Hangin’ On” with its catchy chorus. The radio friendly track, “Everybody Have A Good Time” has riffs similar to AC/DC and harmonies like KISS. “Forbidden Love” is the natural crooning ballad while “Concrete” makes a statement of ‘looking for love’, in a concrete jungle and concrete tundra.
The highlight on the album is the 10th track, “Street Spirit (Fade Out). “Street Spirit” is not The Darkness’ own creation since “Street Spirit” is Radiohead’s conception from 1996. The Darkness does Radiohead one better by doing a metal cover of the swooning song. It turned out to be a very bold move that paid off tremendously. Hawkins’ soaring vocals is reminiscent of Michael Vescera’s shrill screams on Yngwie Malmsteen’s “Seventh Sign.” Overall, Hot Cakes gets the job done of providing a good variety of The Darkness’ talents but in the end its effort doesn’t quite live up to the standard that the Darkness was known for back in 2003. Justin Hawkins’ sheer vocal ability is just not enough to carry the band’s ride to the top in a pop-infested music culture, especially having been relatively inactive as a group for over six years.
Georgia country stars Zac Brown Band are one of those occasional bands that benefit from a consistent sound: We know what to expect from every release, and, in such, they seldom disappoint. The band continues to support this notion with the release of their third major label studio album, “Uncaged.”
Released July 10, “Uncaged” has been the #1 album on Billboard’s Country Album chart since July 21, and held the top position on the Billboard 200 chart from July 21 to July 28, which is ranked by sales.
Admittedly, during a first listen of the album, “Uncaged” plays like standard, radio-friendly country fare, with the occasionally exceptional standout track (Such as the album’s exciting first single, “The Wind,” and the catchy build-up of “Natural Disaster”). It’s only upon further, more in-depth play-throughs that “Uncaged” becomes less of an album to be milked by producers for maximum radio-airplay, and more of a satisfying country experience.
“Uncaged” more resembles 2010’s “You Get What You Give” than their fast-paced major label debut, 2008’s “The Foundation,” in terms of instrumentals and songwriting. As the album plays, it becomes apparent the band is still discovering their place in the country music world, complemented by the artistic directions taken in “Uncaged.”
One welcome highlight of the album is the continuance of what can be considered a Zac Brown Band tradition: The inclusion of an overtly Buffett-esque “beach country” track, this time in the appropriately titled “Island Song.” The song, in much of the same vein as 2008’s “Toes” and 2010’s “Knee Deep” (featuring Jimmy Buffett on guest vocal duties), has less of a place in a honky-tonk bar, and more of an identity as a “beach-front, boat-drinks” single.
While “Uncaged” continues the general “slowing down” of the band’s musical style since their major label debut, that does not mean there isn’t a viable market for such songs within the country market; The band obviously knows the direction they’ve chosen with “Uncaged,” and they successfully reflect those decisions in their performances in the recording studio.
The only repercussion of those decisions is that they might alienate long-time fans, who can recall the fast-picking, hoe-down energy of earlier Zac Brown Band. It’s not that the band’s energy is abandoned in “Uncaged” (as seen in tracks “Jump Right In,” “The Wind” and title track “Uncaged”), but rather shows its rowdy face less often than fans might appreciate.
All in all, “Uncaged” is a solid, satisfying release from one of country music’s most notable rising stars. What sacrifices are made in the regards to the band’s true potential are done so to benefit stylistic continuity across the album as a whole. “Uncaged” is best served in the context of a full-package album, not a collection of singles.
Zac Brown Band will be co-headlining Pensacola’s DeLuna Fest September 21 through 23, along with Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters.
“Jump Right In”