Monthly Archives: June 2010

INFINITE ARMS by band of horses

by Gordon

Pitchfork: 5.3          Rolling Stone: 3.5/5          Metacritic: 69          Spin: 4/5

 

Released: May 2010
Tracklisting:
  1. Factory
  2. Compliments
  3. Laredo
  4. Blue Beard
  5. On My Way Back Home [LISTEN]

  6. Infinite Arms
  7. Dilly
  8. Evening Kitchen
  9. Older
  10. For Annabelle
  11. NW Apt.
  12. Neighbor

   Sometimes a piece of art needs to be judged, in part, by the artist behind the canvas. Just as we may give more credit to a handicapped runner over an able-bodied runner for finishing a marathon, so we must scoff at DaVinci if he were to draw a stick figure.  Band of Horses is a good band. They proved that with their first release Everything All the Time in 2006, its anthem, “The Funeral”, one of the best rock songs I’ve ever heard. 2007’s Cease to Begin, though arguably a small step back in terms of progress, made a solid mark on U.S. charts and put the band on the map for the masses.

   Despite faring far better than Cease to Begin in terms of performance (I do not know to what this phenomenon is owed), their most recent, Infinite Arms, comes in at just C+ material. All things considered, it could stand alone with at least a B grade if the band were debuting. But just as we’d chide The Beatles if they’d given us only a “good” album, we can’t feel satisfied with Band of Horses giving us a “decent” album. It’s too bad, too, because, as frontman Ben Bridwell sees it, the album marks the first time for the band in finally feeling as one cohesive unit, with previous members coming and going as if the line-up were an always-vacant motel stop.

   “Factory” opens the doors with a lull of a string intro (overdone in its more-than-enough repetition throughout), Bridwell, though still pitch perfect, giving us little in the way of excitement, unlike the first tracks to their previous albums, “The First Song” and “Is There A Ghost”, respectively. Though the Western theme stays alive and well in composition, the tired pace does little to get your blood moving. I confess my discovery, however, after coming back to the album a few weeks after first listens, that I had missed the sound to some extent.

   Single “Compliments”, though not at all epic, at least utilizes the echo-y guitar and harmonies that draw fans to the band in the first place, though not enough unfortunately. “Laredo” offers the simple happy-go-lucky though mild-mannered sound that makes for good road trip noise, Bridwell opening, “Gonna take a trip to Laredo/ Gonna take a dip in the lake.” Again, no shock or surprise here.

   “Blue Beard” opens in a Fleet Foxes-esque “Aaahhh”, drifting into a night-timey cadence of a song, a melody that, though drawing off of few chord changes, is one of the more charming melodies to be found on Infinite Arms. The band display a more acoustic side in “On My Way Back Home”, a light and pleasant tune that gives Bridwell a nice platform on which to show off his trademark sky-soaring vocals, at least intermittently. 

   The album’s title track, coming in halfway through, seems too dull to deserve the extra attention as such. Follow-up “Dilly” at least picks the pace up a bit, though not nearly enough for a Band of Horses-size spectrum, offering merely repetitive rhythm guitar atop a steady beat.

   To save time, and due to a lack of zest for the remaining material, there’s the quiet “Evening Kitchen”, the twangy “Older”, the sleepy “For Annabelle” (though it does possess a short and catchy guitar lick, as far as sleepy songs go), the rocker “NW Apt.”, and the unsurprising six-minute long farewell tune, “Neighbor”, aiming for “epic anthem”, and coming up short in terms of the aim. Though no songs insult on the newest from these guys, whom I still reserve considerable respect for, I must conclude that they could have done better, but, whether by fault of their own or not, the time wasn’t right. I just hope that next time it is.

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ODD BLOOD by yeasayer

by Gordon

Pitchfork: 6.1           Rolling Stone: 4/5           Metacritic: 78           Spin: N/A

 

Released: February 2010
Tracklisting:
  1. The Children
  2. Ambling Alp
  3. Madder Red [LISTEN]

  4. I Remember
  5. O.N.E.
  6. Love Me Girl
  7. Rome
  8. Strange Reunions
  9. Mondegreen
  10. Grizelda

   Yeasayer describes their sound as Middle Eastern-psych-snap-gospel. Their second full-length album, Odd Blood, carries with it a “pop” additive that blends, believe it or not, quite snugly with the previous descriptor. The Brooklyn-based band had every intention of this, the proof of which, though found amidst their own quotes surrounding the album’s buzz, can be plainly experienced over one sit-down listen of the ambiguously modern release.

   For me, the proof came in the form of multiple rough-shot listens that transpired over many a drunken hangout under my friends’ city dwelling (not at all a bad way to discover Yeasayer). Their genre-bending combination of emotion and sound at first baffled me, but the initial indifference I felt over their melodies, which at first seemed second-rate, was with time transformed into something of an obsession for the sound, which, though perhaps through bias, signified for me a feeling of upbeat togetherness that ranged from relaxed to downright dance-y. It was no surprise for me to learn that the album was inspired by an LSD-infused trip to New Zealand.

   Odd Blood starts with “The Children”, an oddball track of haphazard electronica and muffled vocoder. As far as first impressions go, they could have fared much better opening with something more along the lines of second track, “Ambling Alp”, which captures the fun and energy of the album far more successfully. Lead singer Chris Keating has a sound all his own, deep but often operatic, with melodies that seem to hark back to the cheesy heyday of the 80s, only it’s not the 80s anymore, and no longer cheesy. “Stick up for yourself, son, nevermind what anybody else done,” he beckons, as funky synthesizers and high-pitched secondary harmonies back him up.

   “Madder Red”, a personal favorite, lends itself as evidence that, though all for fun, the band isn’t just about happy pop, with minor and major swings bouncing back and forth. Impressive “oohing” in the form of background vocals support a more subdued Keating in this modern rock ballad. “I Remember” follows with something akin to the same sound that Passion Pit has begun to latch onto with audiences, featuring spacey synths and an equally spacey Keating who reminisces, “You’re stuck in my mind, alllll the time,” a nod to his chance meeting on a plane with his now wife. It makes for a nice break on the dance floor, good to close your eyes and swing your head back and forth to.

   “O.N.E.” kicks things back into pop powerhouse as perhaps the biggest standout on Odd Blood, and ironically sung by second-in-command, Anand Wilder. Initially cowbell-dominated, the percussion transforms into pure dance rhythm, a groundwork for the layers of synth-pop and echo-y guitar. It plays like a breakup anthem, with lines like, “No, you don’t move me anymore/ And I’m glad that you don’t/ ‘Cause I can’t have you anymore,” though the sentiments are actually a jab at addiction, specifically alcoholism. The video’s at least as funky and bizarre as the tune, and certainly as fun (see below).

   The second half of Odd Blood proves a little less mesmerizing. “Love Me Girl” is half serious, half quirky, Keating’s voice reaching erratically in all directions, not unlike that of Of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes. “Rome” is somewhat annoyingly bass-y throughout, the Middle Eastern genre emerging in the form of complicated “Indian-sounding” synth solos. “Strange Reunions” is a soulful, trance-y, not too memorable two-and-a-half minutes. With “Mondegreen”, Keating attempted to recreate the “late 1970s drug-fueled paranoia of David Bowie”, but all I got out of it was the paranoia bit, without much catch. “Grizelda”, though still no gem, is, as bassist Ira Wolf Tuton puts it, “a nice way to close an album. It lulls you into sitting back in your chair, puts you in a trance a bit, although the subject matter might be a bit dark.”

   Weather hit or miss (mostly hit seems to be the consensus), Odd Blood showcases a band that’s willing to try just about anything to make their mark, and they seem perfectly at ease in the process, giving in little to the pop expectations of the present.  Using pitch shifters, effects pedals, unconventional beats, samples and time signatures, and never committing to a defining sound or genre, there’s something to be lauded for their experimental musical journey.

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IT’S BLITZ! by yeah yeah yeahs

by Gordon

Pitchfork: 8.1           Rolling Stone: 4/5           Metacritic: 82           Spin: 4.5/5

 

Released: March 2009
Tracklisting:
  1. Zero [LISTEN]

  2. Heads Will Roll
  3. Soft Shock
  4. Skeletons
  5. Dull Life
  6. Shame And Fortune
  7. Runaway
  8. Dragon Queen
  9. Hysteric
  10. Little Shadow

   In truth, I haven’t been much good in keeping up with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs since they started showing up in my Spin magazines I was issued back in high school. I make the confession because there’s a vibe to the band, a seemingly underground NY-hipster persona, suggesting that any self-respecting indie music listener would follow and likely even adore this female-led trio (keyboardist Nick Zinner and drummer  Brian Chase may share equal input with singer Karen O, but it’s her vocals that leave the dominating impression).

   I decided to be a late bloomer with It’s Blitz!, a decision I’m glad I made, as this third album probably worked to draw me in more than their first two albums could have. While Fever to Tell boasts the epic ballad “Maps” (recently voted #386 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time), I found the rest of the songs too grungy and chaotic to find much in the way of melodic joy. And while I don’t know much about Show Your Bones (on my soon-to-do list), It’s Blitz! is so progressively better than Fever to Tell in my mind that anything in-between the two just couldn’t be as good.

   The album’s best two tracks kick things off into high-gear, which, while perhaps not the most effective ordering, remains badass. “Zero”, named the best track of the year by both NME and Spin, is a confident and catchy song that builds off of persistent guitar and synth riffs throughout. Though I don’t find Karen O particularly attractive, I can’t help but be aroused when she lets her voice soar to reach impossible highs, or similarly when she brings it down for her karate-kick “Ha!”s atop the synth solos. In a similar vein, “Heads Will Roll”, though darker, sticks a dance-y beat to half-creepy, half-poppy strings, a 50/50 combination also evident in the vocals, Karen O commanding, “Off with your head! Dance ‘til you’re dead!” The amazing video can be viewed below.

   “Soft Shock” slows things down, but is by no means a dragger of a song. It’s bass-y, a bit spacey, and a little more thoughtful in nature. “Skeletons” follows, and at five minutes, is the album’s epic daydream anthem. Karen O sings about love and skeletons and other precious reflections, the background noise taking two minutes to progress into something more powerful and substantial, aided by the perfect marching band percussion by Chase.  This continues for some time, and is worth dragging out.

   “Dull Life” and “Shame and Fortune” seem somewhat fillers, not bad upbeat tracks, but nothing too special. “Runaway”, however, the other 5+ minute track, comes close to rivaling “Skeletons” in epicness, growing from simple and airy piano ballad (though not without tension) into a deep-stringed, percussion-heavy wall of sound, Karen O “oohing” up and down. In sharp contrast, “Dragon Queen” follows as the most oddball, funkiest, and dare I say disco-sounding tune. At first I avoided it, but the annoying guitar riffs get less annoying with time.

   “Hysteric” is another gem, O sounding the most un-badass I’ve ever heard her as her voice sweeps through a soft and then less soft pop tune. Appropriate ender “Little Shadow” gives us the emotionally-subdued singer contemplations combined with organ and deep, battlefield drums that have come to typify many an album’s closing vibes, and so far the method still works. All in all, It’s Blitz! was just what I needed to turn me onto the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and really, finally, feel welcome in their indie scene.

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