Grace and I took the drive up to Tulsa on Friday night to see The xx at Tulsa’s historic Cain’s Ballroom this last Friday evening. Since we both had to work on Friday, we already knew it was going to be a big rush to get there and then we ran into horrendous traffic on the way resulting from a crash between a car and a bus carrying prisoners. We were over an hour late and a little stressed out, but we really shouldn’t have been worried. The modern concert style of being at least an hour late for starting the show served us well.
The opening act was a group called Austra about which I had heard great things, but in person didn’t do much for me. Thankfully, the convenient layout of Cain’s with the bar next door gave us a place to sit and a chance to run into our friend Aaron and catch up.
The xx in Rainbow Light
The xx put on a great show. Moody, atmospheric almost electronica music might not always work live, but with them it did. And even if it hadn’t, the amazing light show they put together would have made it worth while. They maintained a great emotional mood and sounded amazingly tight as a live group. While I haven’t enjoyed their second album, Coexist, much at their amazing self-titled début, but I really enjoyed both live.
My only complaint may just be an old-fogey moment, but I was astounded by the number of people who maintained ongoing, loud conversations throughout the show. Now, I must admit that this may not be a new thing, because in my youth I primarily listened to such loud bands that conversations wouldn’t have been audible under any circumstances. However, no matter how long this has been going on, it was more than a little irritating to hear an amazing din of conversation over the top of a live band.
Title: 12 Shades of Brown Artist: Junior Brown Rating: 3 out of 5 Purchase from:Amazon, iTunes
There is very little modern country that doesn’t cause my ears to bleed. I think it mostly comes from a notion that in order to be good, country music must be something more than top-40 pop tunes sung through the nose. An artist that gets this, in a wonderful way, is consummate honky-tonk master Junior Brown. With his signature “guit-steel” (a double neck guitar that combines an electric guitar and lap steel guitar) he combines a classic country sound with both a love of Hawaiian and Surf Rock sounds to make music that is both entirely unique and entirely country
12 Shades of Brown, like many début albums, is a nice introduction to a great artist, but is far from a perfect album. However, this album has some great country gems such as “My Baby Don’t Dance to Nothing but Ernest Tubb” and “Too Many Nights in a Roadhouse”. It also features his first explorations of the island sounds with “Hillbilly Hula Gal” and “Coconut Island”. Unfortunately, this album displays some songs that dive way too far into sappy sentimentality such as “They Don’t Choose to Live that Way” though I can stand to listen to “Don’t Sell the Farm” occasionally. However, Hank Williams tributes such as “What’s Left Won’t Go Right” and just perfect country songs like “Broke Down South of Dallas” more than make up for these slight stumbles.
12 Shades of Brown is an extremely listenable and enjoyable album and a wonderful precursor to Brown’s later, more polished works.
Title: 12 Desperate Straight Lines Artist: Telekinesis Rating: 2 out of 5 Purchase from:Amazon, iTunes
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then 12 Desperate Straight Lines is surely a huge monument of devotion to other bands. I feel mixed on how to critique this album in so far that it’s actually a pretty darn catchy pop rock album with nice hooks and a light airy melodies that make you want to tap your feet.
However, if this album is any indication, then Telekinesis is severely lacking in their “own sound”. For almost every track, if I had heard it on a random play list without looking, I would have bet my eternal soul that I was listening to a new Phoenix song. And for the songs that didn’t sound like new Phoenix tracks, they sounded like covers of other big acts including The Cure on “Please Ask For Help” and Weezer on “50 Ways”.
That said, they are a tight band with good production values and well composed songs so I’m not sure what exactly to complain about. I guess to put it simply, if I wanted to hear some Phoenix songs, I think I would just go ahead and put in one of their many albums instead of picking a good style cover band.
Title: 11:11 Artist: Regina Spektor Rating: 3 out of 5 Purchase from:Amazon, iTunes
Regina Spektor is a recent pop obsession of mine. I first discovered her from some radio play from her 2004 Soviet Kitsch album. Since then I have amassed all of her albums and remain a dedicated fan. 11:11 is not Regina Spektor’s strongest album, but rarely are first albums the best albums. However, it already demonstrates a strong, quirky songwriting talent and shows off her incredible vocal range.
This is certainly her jazziest album with “Rejazz”, “Marry Ann” and “Wasteland” as good example of her jazzy roots. However, the album also features early examples of her bouncy song poems that she will become famous for. Stand out tracks in this style include “Buildings” and “Sunshine”.
Her most adventurous track is the 7:43 long, sprawling “Pavlov’s Daughter” which is, at different points, a spoken work beat poem, a driving, angry piano piece and a sad, soft mournful ballad.
I still consider Soviet Kitsch as her best album (with What We Saw From The Cheap Seats climbing in my esteem), however, 11:11 is a good album for those who need some fun anti-folk to make their day a bit brighter.
Title: 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours Artist: Green Day Rating: 2 out of 5 Purchase from:Amazon, iTunes
From a recent favorite album to an album of my ever-increasingly distant youth. I purchased this album in a small record shop in Boston while visiting Harvard for a disastrous debate tournament my senior year of high school. I’m pretty sure that Dookie had probably already hit the airwaves by the time of the trip or I doubt I would have heard of Green Day considering that my musical diet at the time was a strict combination of grunge and rockabilly.
The surprising thing about this album is how little different it is from just about everything Green Day has ever produced. You can definitely tell that they would definitely get better producers and mixers later on and thankfully they don’t stretch themselves into any melodramatic ballads like “Time of Your Life”. However, you also can’t find any track on this album that contains anything to distinguish it from every other song. Heck, the time signature and tempos are almost identical across the entire album. The closest thing to a musical stretch here is the droning tones on “Rest” and the slightly bouncy dance beat on “Knowledge”. Beyond that it is an astoundingly repetitive and boring album.
The only reason this album gets two stars is that it has somehow survived in my album collection for the last 19 years which is a minor achievement worthy of some sort of recognition.
Title: +/- Artist: Buke and Gass Rating: 4 out of 5 Purchase from:Bandcamp
So I do that long rant about reviewing albums that I haven’t heard before and then I start with one of my favorite albums of recent years for the first review. The alphabet can be a real pain sometimes. In any case, Buke and Gass (now Buke and Gase) was a band I discovered through the fabulous NPR show Radiolab. Buke and Gase consists of Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez who play their homemade instruments including a Buke which is a baritone ukulele and a Gass which is a guitar-bass concoction. With these monsters of the junkyard, comes a captivating, driving cacophony of fantastic noise.
From the moment I first heard the explosive first track, “Run for You”, on +/-, I was hooked. Many of these tracks appear in a more polished form on their first LP, Riposte, but these first takes possess a raw energy that makes them well worth a listen. Other highlights on this album include “Bundletuck”, “Medicina” and “Outt!”
I keep searching for a genre description for this amazing duo. Folk Metal? Junkyard Indie? Post-apocalyptic bluegrass? It’s this very ability to escape classification that will make sure I keep listening to Buke and Gass for a long time to come.
So, with the demise of my Project 365 experiment, I’ve been looking for some creative outlets for which I can use this blog. I’ve always been an avid collector of music but over the last decade or so, it’s gotten a little out of control. I’ve somehow ended up with a music collection of some 18,000 tracks across a few thousand artists and albums. However, the sad fact is that there is a huge swath of this music I have never actually heard. A lot of it has been picked up as daily deal albums or because it was highly reviewed on emusic and stuck in the music library where it sits awaiting the day where it shows up on the random playlist. Well, when your library gets this big, the chances of stuff showing up on the random playlist start getting pretty small.
Therefore, I’m going to start methodically going through the library and really sitting down and listening to whole albums. Like many people, I have been sucked into allure of the random playlist. This ever mutating set of artists, moods and styles feels like you’ve tapped into the best radio station on earth. However, I think something is lost when you only consume an artist’s work as discrete songs. There is something wonderful about the concept of an album; a collection of pieces that while separate in many ways also make up a piece of art together, whether intentionally or accidentally. I want to rediscover that part of music appreciation that I’ve been missing for a long time.
So, I’m going to start posting regular album reviews of both new stuff I acquire as well as my alphabetical run through my album collection. I will also be posting movie reviews as well since I have a similar problem there, but not nearly as bad. Hope you enjoy and let me know what you think.