Thursday, December 26, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: Chvrches "The Bones Of What You Believe"

Preaching to the Choir
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Striking yet another retro pose for all things 80's synth, we have Chvrches and "The Bones Of What You Believe." Lead singer Lauren Mayberry and crew may be apeing the mopey sounds for all they can, but they do a really good job of it. They couch it all in shiny happy laptop rock, but they also have a taste for the distorted ("You Caught The Light," oddly a song that Mayberry doesn't sing) and it is easy to see why Depeche Mode chose them as tour openers overseas.

The Scottish threesome understand that a good downer goes down even better when it has this kind of sheen. On the anthem-ish "The Mother We Share," especially in the chorus:

"I'm in misery where you can seem as old as your omens
And the mother we share will never keep your proud head from falling
The way is long but you can make it easy on me
And the mother we share will never keep our cold hearts from calling."

Yup, nothing like a depressive episode that has a good beat so you can dance to it. "I'll be a thorn in your side," Mayberry sweetly sings on "Lungs." Her voice (which at times reminded me of Kate Bush) is so silky that you'll sometimes miss the bite of Chvrches lyrics. It's that combination of the frosty with the sugary that makes "The Bones of What You Believe" one of the better debuts of 2013.

Only gripe? Much like Imagine Dragons' debut, the frequent push into loudness war territory mars some of the better songs. I'm really beginning to think decently producing albums has become a lost art.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: Arctic Monkeys "AM"

They Want The Airwaves
4 Out Of 5 Stars

After the tentative "Suck It And See," Arctic Monkeys ditch any subtlety and go right for the big boom stomp on their "AM" release of steam. It's obvious they've been paying attention to the outside world, as the first time I heard the CD's opener "Do I Wanna Know," I thought it was a new Black Keys songs. All slam drums and guitar distort, "Do I Wanna Know" finds lead singer Alex Turner growling "Have you no idea you're in deep" with appropriate menace, while the ballad "Number 1 Party Anthem" tears down a bar to its after hours essence of "Lights in the floor and sweat on the walls, call off the search for your soul"

There are still a couple of the jagged barbs of guitar that recall the teenage racket of their first couple of CD's, but for the most part, this is a grown up album. Allegedly inspired by Alex Turner's breakup with model and TV host Alexa Chung, the songs here are both snippy ("Why'd You Only Call Me When You're Drunk" to the wistfully resigned "Mad Sounds." Queens Of The Stonage honcho Josh Homme (who had produced the band in the past) contributes spooky "be my baby" falsetto to "Knee Socks," a song that almost matches Franz Ferdinand's choppy disco rock.

There's plenty of satisfaction on "AM," which has one ear to current trends and one ear tuned to the radio, Given the two way interpretation of the title as both the band's initials and the old fashioned delivery system of popular hits, Arctic Monkeys have comeback with arguably their best album since their debut.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: Fitz and The Tantrums "More Than Just a Dream"

Pitching for the Tantrums
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Possessed with a duo of knock out lead vocalists, Fitz and The Tantrums are the latest band to wear there 80's retro heart on their collective sleeves. But where amny of these retor bands are obsessed with laptops and old Roland synths, Fitz and Company push in a more soul-oriented direction. It moves them a notch above their contemporaries, thanks to bandleader Michael "Fitz" Fitzpatrick and soul belter Noelle Scaggs, When the two of them start mixing it up as they do on "Break The Walls" and the neo-soul of "6AM," "More Then Just a Dream" sounds like few other bands out there.

There's also, as earlier described, a few 80's ringers, and they both happen to be the singles. "Out Of My League" and "Spark" mark their wannabe new waver turf with a big pile of hooks, but they're pedestrian to when the band gets to cooking. They have another secret weapon in multi-instrumentalist James King, who wields a wicked sax on a few of the songs ("6AM," and "The Walker" and is, in my opinion, underutilized here.

From what I understand, Fitz and The Tantrums also have a killer live show, and if they'd up more of the soulful content in their song performances on record, they'd have a killer CD. Still, the songcraft here is first rate, and even the name of the band is a throwback. "More Than Just A Dream" snaps and crackles and comes in on the short end of derivative...lose the too common production and they will be dynamite.


Monday, December 23, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: The Beatles "On Air - Live at the BBC Vol 2"

Hungry and Young Beatles Mount Their Plan for World Domination 2 1/2 Minutes at a Time
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The second edition of The Beatles "On Air - Live at the BBC" is a collection of songs to remind you just how young and hungry The Beatles were in their early days. With a couple of exceptions, you've heard the studio versions of these a million times over, and the most rabid of fans likely have the bootlegs. But it's fascinating to hear how they sink their teeth into "I Saw Her Standing There" (complete with a 1-2-3-Fooour! count-off) or the already precise interlocking harmonies on the likes of "Chains" and "And I Love Her."

The intros and interview profiles also show how the Beatles were already establishing their individual personalities in the band format. George can be heard clowning around in the "Absolutely Fab" segment and Paul has fun with his old school house on "5E." The between songs banter is often as interesting as the songs themselves, but still, this was the height of Beatlemania, and each little 2 minute firecracker was a shout heard everywhere. "On Air - Live At The BBC Vol 2" still has a raw sound to it, and shows that George Martin was a main component to The Beatles' sound, but there's no escaping the amount of energy on display here.

What this disc also does is make me wonder why "Live At The Hollywood Bowl" has yet to see a reissue, or for that matter the compilations "Love Songs" and "Rock and Roll." There's obviously still an audience for all of these, so why are they still in the tape vaults? In the meantime, enjoy this, and Volume One, of The Beatles as they take over the world, one sonic boom after another.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: Eurythmics "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)"

Some of them want to be abused
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Coming out of a somewhat obscure new wave band called The Tourists, Dave Stewart took to his band of synthesizers and stole away Annie Lennox to sing atop his chilly architectural constructs. Annie, possessed with the natural soul presence of a diva, breathed life into these compositions like few other synth bands, and when you added a knock out video for the title track, "Sweet Dreams" became a huge hit and made Eurythmics a sensation. Their 1983 sophomore album is a rarity of the period, a synth-pop disc that has held up surprisingly well.

Only Alison Moyet and Yaz came close to matching the ice and fire dynamics of Dave and Annie. Stewart had enough skills as both an instrumentalist and producer that he could make Annie exude the warmth that his songs didn't naturally evoke. So when Annie invokes a sarcastic kiss-off on "I Could Give You a Mirror," she manages to be a cool customer and at the same time she burns off her ex (it's also interesting to note that she and Stewart were ex lovers). Then there's the classic single, pulsing with energy and Annie's soulful voice, followed soon after by "Love Is a Stranger." As chilly as the new wave arrangements may have been, Stewart knew his way around a good hook. Annie could also be very soulful, to the point where the remake of Isaac Hayes' "Wrap It Up" comes off less ironic than you would expect.

"Sweet Dreams" lags a little bit in its final couple of songs, but what comes before more than makes up for it. Annie would become an even more expressive a singer as the band began running up hits, but "Sweet Dreams" is as good a calling card as they came in the MTV era.

As for the bonus cuts, the remixes are OK. The B-Sides are experimental but not worth a second listen, and the best of the bunch is a solid take on Lou Reed's "Satellite Of Love."


My Amazon Reviews: Adele "19"

Portrait of The Artist as a Young Woman
4 Out Of 5 Stars

A natural born vocal talent, Adele debuted with a fully realized album that, despite being titled "19," is a much wiser and mature sounding album. From the first gently picked guitar that drizzles under the opening "Daydreamer" to the torchy closer "Hometwon Glory," Adele captivates you with a voice that carries a tradition of classic belters, including the likes of Dusty Springfield, to the modern Brit-Soul of Amy Winehouse.

But that is where comparisons end. There are few folks who can take songs and just outright own them, the way Adele handles Bob Dylan's "To Make You Feel My Love," or sell the songs she's written herself, like the tinkling of "First Love." Her voice is a soaring instrument unto itself, which means that the songs that work the best are the ones with the barebones arrangements. Yet given a full production number, she carries herself just fine, as she does on the international hit "Chasing Pavements." In fact, the only time things get wonky on "19" is when a more modern pop style is employed on "Tired." She's got enough charisma and chops to be able to dispense with the too busy sound of it.

Given that Adele matured into a serious force of nature when "21" appeared two years later, "19" was just the sampler. Still, as a debut album, "19" captures and folds you up in its warmth and sheer skill as a singer and songwriter. Classic pop doesn't come much finer than this.


Syd's Headstome Unveiling

A couple of weeks ago, we went to Boston and did the unveiling of Joel's father Syd's headstone. The day was cold but about 20 people appeared to take part in the unveiling and dedication. It's been more than a year since his passing and I miss him greatly, as does Joel.

The folks at the headstone company did a beautiful job.

Friday, December 20, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: kd lang "Sing It Loud"

False Advertising
3 Out Of 5 Stars

I guess I finally have to own up to it; KD Lang has been making the same album for a few releases. You're getting everything you'll love about her, that gorgeous voice, the extremely tasteful arrangements and musicianship, the immaculate production. Touches of country (love that dobro) and Lang's chanteuse's ease with a lyrical lick. But you'll also miss what you really loved. "Sing It Loud" is dominated by songs that range from mid-tempo ("Sorrow Nevermore") to downright languid ("A Sleep With No Dreaming"). The more you listen, the more it becomes obvious that Lang has given up on music that has any kind of pep in its step. When you call your band Siss Boom Bang, you'd expect a little bang, maybe? Not this time.

Lang has still got the chops to take a song and just claim the thing as her own. While it mirrors the version done by Simply Red a couple decades ago, Lang's take on the Talking Heads' "Heaven" is masterful. She also nails the title track, but the point is that you're calling the album "Sing It Loud." Is it too much to ask for a little volume, a little bit of kick? The same misrepresentation happens when you call a song "Sugar Buzz." I'm not one to bemoan that she's no longer cutting "Absolute Torch and Twang," but even "Invincible Summer" threw in a few pop thrills for a listener to grab hold of and for Lang to sink her teeth into. "Sing It Loud" is a joyless, tepid affair that you've heard too many times before.