Double Review: The Comeback Kids/Comedown Machine

This week, I listened to two artists that have returned to this place we call the music industry after at least a five year absence: David Bowie and Justin Timberlake. I thought it’d be fun to offer my thoughts on these wildly different artists whose only similarity is the proximity in which they released long overdue new material. Also, The Strokes! Here We Go!

The Next Day

David Bowie has been around the block a few times. Throughout the years, he’s been an actor even when there weren’t any cameras in front of him (there usually were); his various personas always reflected the musical styles he flawlessly captured in his records. In The Next Day, it feels like all these personas were blended into one Bowie to Rule Them All (please humor me). Elements of glam guitar and stadium rock and roll permeate the album, but he still retains some of  the sentimentality and piano-driven songwriting found in records like Heroes.

Bowie takes full advantage of the recording effects of the digital age that were previously unavailable to him  to more effectively implicate his smaller idiosyncrasies in arranging and orchestration, and the record sounds beautiful production-wise. His vocal stylings and memorable lyrics are as present as ever, and the records overall theme of feeling left behind as the world continues to turn is especially heard in tracks like “Where Are We Now?”. A gorgeous and mounting ballad, the instrumental tracks sound as reflective and hauntingly beautiful as the lyrics and delicate vocals. On the other side of the coin is a quirky, fast-paced, almost progressive rock sound on tracks like “If You Can See Me”, which at first made me check to make sure a Yes track hadn’t snuck its way into my playlist. Tracks like these, I realized, were necessary to prevent the monotony that would have ensued, considering the mid-tempo nature of the majority of the record.

Overall, David Bowie’s unbeatable song-crafting abilities have benefited from the new technology available to him; his various music styles and lyrical strengths, unlike many of his contemporaries, have proved resilient to the test of time .   Here’s my favorite track (also the first single) “Where are We Now?”


The 20/20 Experience

After a five year sabbatical from the world of music –despite some SNL shorts– Justin Timberlake is back to doing pop music the right way. Much of the crisp, flowing, and utterly refined sound of both this release and Futuresex/Lovesounds is thanks to the brilliance of producer Timbaland, but to give him all the credit would be a diservice to J-Tim’s catchy and often clever lyrics, along with a wonderful set of pipes and all the right sensibilities.

The record starts off with an orchestrated hurricane of strings that descends into a delightfully infectious groove in “Pusher Love Girl”. The otherworldly production and catchiness continues in first single “Suit & Tie” before descending into some deeper cuts. Similar to his last release, Justin seems to craft each song with a formula of intro,verse, interlude, then back to the verse, all seamlessly compacted into 7-8 minute packages. Each section is unique (feeling more like movements of a classical piece than parts of a pop song) but still holds pieces of the greater whole; this lengthy formula is unheard of coming from any other pop artist.

20/20 surpasses the already stellar Futuresex/Lovesounds in the pure variety of the record. While “Suit & Tie” and and “Don’t Hold The Wall” incorporate danceable beats and spacey instrumentation, tracks like “Pusher Love Girl” and “That Girl” bring bright guitar riffs and soaring vocal harmonies to a slightly more halting tempo. Beyond that, tracks like like “Spaceship Coupe” and the introspective “Blue Ocean Floor” offer something more in terms of brooding reverb and swelling synths. The two constants through all this variety is the exceptional vocals and production that sets Timberlake’s records apart.

All in all, Justin Timberlakes 20/20 experience is one of the most refreshing records I’ve heard this year and has, in my opinion, surpassed his previous works. If you want to hear a modern R&B/pop masterpiece, give this record a spin; you won’t regret it.

Here’s my favorite track (this was painful to choose), “That Girl”.

The Comedown Machine

They’re back. Before I continue, I just want to let you know, valued reader, that I love all of their material. Yes, that includes the less well-received First Impressions of Earth and their most recent album before this Angles. I am a huge fan with a huge bias, so take this review with a grain of salt.

The most prominent thought I had throughout my listen-through of the album was this;”these guys have come a long way.” Each track, like Bowie’s record, seems to embody different periods in the groups career. 50/50 felt like Angles vocals collided with some of the slower tracks from First Impressions like “Ask Me Anything”, and “80’s Comedown Machine” feels almost like a Room on Fire B-side. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like these tracks live up to the entities they emulate, but the important thing is that every track is easily branded with a Strokes insignia.

That being said, unlike the majority of previous releases, the record grooves. A lot. Some of the funky electronic qualities that first manifested in Angles are even more effectively incorporated in tracks like “50/50″, “Slow Animal”, and “Partners in Crime”. Some may see this as a departure from what makes The Strokes great, but I see these advancements and occasional delving into something closer to Julian’s solo material as a welcome freshness.

This record is similar to Angles in that I feel like there is a track on here for everyone. Whatever you may feel for the Strokes, Comedown Machine has at least one track that will appeal to you. Even a poor misguided soul who was looking for a breezy jazz ballad in a Strokes record will find one in the final track “Call it Fate Call It Karma” (No, I’m not kidding). I enjoyed all of it thoroughly, and maintain that Julian, Albert and the boys still have something to offer to the world of music. Here’s my pick (and an excellent first track), “Tap Out”.

Best Albums of 2012

Remember me? After a long semester and indefinite hiatus, I’m back right on the cusp of the new year to make sure you don’t miss the best of the best from the last 12 months. I’ve reviewed some of my favorites already, but there are a few in here that I missed the first time around, or that were released while I was (supposedly) advancing in my education. I’ll give you a top ten with a variation of genres, and wrap it up with a list of honorable mentions. Happy Listening!

P.S. These are in no particular order.

10. Sweet Heart Sweet Light- Spiritualized

Spiritualized is one of those bands that puts something out every couple of years, and constantly tops themselves. Led by the ingenious Jason Pierce, this most recent installment had me close to tears. Beautiful choral and string arrangements, lyrically poignant and indescribably flowing, the record is a must-listen all the way through. He also sounds uncannily like Lou Reed. Here’s one of the singles, if you’re still not convinced to listen to the whole thing.

9. Channel Orange- Frank Ocean

The best song wasn’t the single, but you weren’t either.

To be completely honest, if I had to pick one album from this list as the definitive Best Album of 2012, it would be this. Fortunately, I like to appeal to those with varying tastes, so I will not favor this album over any other. Even though it is my baby.

Mindless praise aside, Odd Future house singer Frank Ocean blends electronic and acoustic tastes of R&B in a whole new way on his debut LP. The entire album grooves, and we see excellent guest work from the likes of Earl Sweatshirt, Andre 3000, and John Mayer. Each song is perfectly tailored with pop sensibilities,  and his lyrics varie from comical quips and clever rhymes to deeper introspection and social commentary. The production and performance is spot on as well, and the way Frank meshes with anyone he shares the sound waves with is nothing short of amazing. I strongly encourage even those who tend to avoid R&B to give it a chance. You won’t be able to turn it off.

Here’s the Stevie Wonder-esque Sweet Life.

8. Blunderbuss- Jack White

I believe I’ve already blabbed enough about why Mr. White’s solo album is wonderful, and worthy of a spot. Check out my Blunderbuss review here.

Here’s the last track on the record performed live, which really defines all the tones Jack explored.

7. Until the Quiet Comes- Flying Lotus

FlyLo has had on hell of a year. His dark ambient beats and mellow electronica that have been permeating Adult Swim announcements and underground clubs for years have gained some popularity , he started his rap career as a mysterious Captain Murphy alongside Earl Sweatshirt, and he’s released my (as well as many other critics) favorite electronic record this year. The album has a constant, beautiful flow to it, and female vocal samples from the likes of Erykah Badu improve on Lotus’s mostly instrumental past. Earlier works such as Los Angeles and Cosmogramma are almost designed for a constant listen through, but Until The Quiet Comes is much more flexible. Each song is a complete thought, but it also improves upon the track following it. The record still feels like Flying Lotus, but new tones and song structures make this one of his most refreshing releases. Check out See Thru To U below, and let it take you away.

6.  Lonerism- Tame Impala

Tame Impala. If you’re looking for modern psychedelic rock, it doesn’t get much better than this. Couple flangy, reverby guitars with a bombastic drummer and a singer that sounds like Paul McCartney, and you have all the essentials in summery vibes and head bobbing grooves. Their previous release Innerspeaker had become my favorite record of the psychedelic variety, and I didn’t expect this to top it. I was very wrong.

Everything that made Innerspeaker great is utilized exponentially. A very prominent and driving bass line, use of both acoustic and electric keys with a variety of “trippy” effects, and soaring vocals permeate every track, and the album builds upon the successful elements of it’s predecessor in the most effective ways. The group really capitalizes on walls of sound to get their message across, and this is without a doubt one of the best records with a psychedelic tinge to be released in the past 10 years. If you like, rock, flange, the Beatles, and good music, give Lonerism a spin. Heres’ my favorite track, Music To Walk Home By.

5. Good Kid, m.a.a.d City- Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar has always been lyrically brilliant. His October release Good Kid, M.A.A.D City tells a story of an adolescent struggling in the inner city, caught between gang violence, drugs, sex, and his obligation to his faith and family. Each track has an excellent beat, articulate lyrics, and most importantly, a place in the overarching story. Smooth, grooving bass and synth work really pulls this album together without taking away from the true star: Kendrick and his biting, witty, and reflective lyrics. Check out his track with Drake, Poetic Justice.

4. Boys and Girls- Alabama Shakes

Alabama Shakes unique rock, motown, and bluesy blend more than earns it’s place on this list. Check out the full review here.

3. Celebration Rock- Japandroids

Japandroids is the group that has given me the most energy this past year; they just make me want to move. Blocky fuzzy guitars, bombastic and driving kit work, and straight forward lyrics of love and vulnerability makes the duo one of the most powerful forces in garage rock history. If you haven’t checked out the first record Post Nothing, I highly recommend it, but this little number from Celebration Rock hooked me.

2. Love this Giant- David Byrne and St. Vincent

This has to be one of David Byrne’s greatest works, and though I do like St.Vincent as a solo artist, she flourishes with Byrne. Check out the full review here.

1. An Awesome Wave- Alt-J

I don’t know how to describe Alt-J to you, reader. Tribal indie rock? Electronic folk? I think you better decide for yourself. All I have to say is this is one of the most refreshing records from a new band I’ve heard this year. Enjoy Fitzpleasure below.

Welp, that’s all folks! Here’s a list of honorable mentions that I also enjoyed this year!

Church of Rock and Roll- Foxy Shazam- Check out my concert experience here.

Mr. M- Lambchop- old fashioned Americana/folk/Alt-country with a little bit of a bite.

Port of Morrow- The Shins- Not as good as previous endeavors, but still a very good release.

Valtari- Sigur Ros- Sigur Ros’ most recent release is very much reserved compared to the last record, and it is beautiful.

Oceania- Smashing Pumpkins- Billy is back to his roots, and Oceania is a welcomed departure from Tarantula. Check out my review here.

Periphery 2- Periphery – If hardcore/djent/metal is your cup of tea, this should be your AOTS.

Gossamer- Passion Pit-  Michael Angelakos brings a solid sophomore effort out of production hell and mental instability. Check out the review here.

Swing Lo Magellan- Dirty Projectors- An excellent follow up to Bitte Orca. Check out the double review with Passion Pit above!

Shields- Grizzly Bear- Shields brings in a more electric and heavy side to a usually softs-spoken Grizzly Bear.

Cruel Summer- G.O.O.D Music- Kanye’s label puts out some solid tracks on this group LP.

The Money Store- Death Grips- An angry, politically charged mc, a drummer, and a keyboard player get together  for some grungy lo fi experimental hip hop.

No Love Deep Webb- Death Grips- their second surprise release this year after, apparently done without the label’s permission. Much more produced, but probably                                                                           my favorite release  from them thus far.

Visions- Grimes- An electronic outing with Claire Boucher is not one you’ll likely forget.

Habits and Inhibitions- Schoolboy Q- Some of the most chill beats to be released this year, each caressing Schoolboy’s insightful and hard hitting rhymes.

Concert Review: Foxy Shazam

Foxy Shazam is one of those bands that gets it right. They remind you of some of the greatest musical moments of the past and add a little kick of novelty. So when I heard from a variety of sources that they put on one of the greatest live experiences in the music world today, I had to drop the 20 dollars and hour and a half drive to see for myself.

If you’re unfamiliar with this wonderful new rock act reminiscent of Queen, check out these two videos before reading further.

The entire show was spectacular. Unfortunately, the opening band who sounded mysteriously like The Fall of Troy took an extra hour, which consequently shortened Eric Nally’s presence. But when he did enter the building, the energy didn’t leave until he did.

Let me just say, Foxy Shazam has one of the most powerful combination of stage personalities in the business. The bass player balances his bass on one finger, the keyboard player stomps on his instrument and plays it while crowd surfing (I helped  hold it up), the drummer alludes to coitis with the trumpet player with theirs, and Eric eats lit cigarettes and hits notes most girls can’t afterwards. There was not a moment of their 40 minute set that I wasn’t entertained, and I would gladly pay twice the price to do it all again.

Overall, my only complaint was that there was no encore. If you ever get the opportunity to see this big ball of energy in your own town, don’t hesitate. In the words of lead Singer Eric Nally,” Wham, Bam, Thank You Foxy Shazam.”

Smashing Pumpkins- Oceania

Billy Corgans’ latest entry into the world of modern rock music is one of excellent pacing and songwriting, as well as more experimenting with what gives the Smashing Pumpkins their signature sound.

After the last album, which became a critical punching bag (with good reason, in my opinion), Corgan seems to have worked hard to expand his sound and take more risks. At times during my listen-through, I was reminded of more recent groups that have entered the scene later than the 80’s-born Pumpkins, especially alternative rockers Circa Survive. A lot of reverb and delay can be heard in the guitar work, and an occasional synth layer on a few of the tracks is refreshing to hear compared to the Pumpkins past work. What really makes this album shine though is the pacing. Corgan organized this title with flawless flow, from the slower acoustic songs to the more experimental tracks to the slick and distorted rock and roll that brought his band to prominence. Lyrically, Corgan retains his fluxuating dark and bright tone, and the more electronic aspects really click with his voice.

Overall, this record has earned itself a solid 8/10 with me. Although it isn’t as ambitious as Mellon Collie, or as experimental as Adore, it still has what I want to hear in a pumpkins album (good lyrics, crooning vocals, and both articulate and heavy instrumentals) while also adding something new. Corgan strove to start a movement back to album oriented rock with this record, and I think for the most part, he achieved his goal.

Check out The Chimera below!

Concert Review: Radiohead

So, I spent almost a Benjamin to head up to Newark with a few of my friends to watch this weird British character named Thom Yorke “dance” around the stage to some obscure music.

It was the best show I’ve ever been to.

Every single song they played was magnificent, and the entire band was very together, played well, and expressed clearly that they were having the time of their lives; that expression carried around the entire stadium in every fans face, intoxicated or sober. Even the newer songs released after their most recent album The King of Limbs entranced the audience, but the true magic happened when the group touched on their past endeavors. An entire stadium singing Karma Police, Everything In It’s Right Place, The National Anthem, and Weird Fishes was nothing short of breathtaking to witness and take part in.The light show was absolutely phenomenal , and the engineers behind it obviously knew the music and how to communicate the intensity and varying moods to the audience visually.

All in all, Radiohead is one group who has not only excelled in the art of performance; they have perfected it. They can entertain an entire stadium full of people for without a break for two hours, and perform two encores. I would pay to have that experience again and again.

And who knows, maybe I’ll get something better than nosebleed seats next time.

Jack White- Blunderbuss

Jack White has always been a personal inspiration of mine, so this post may seem a little biased. Regardless, it has become a consensus that his ability to adapt the blues into a modern rock setting and make it sound refreshing is unparralelled. This being his first solo endeavor without the backing of Meg White, the Dead Weather, or the Raconteurs, I was curious as to how well he could recreate a genre he had so often breathed life into. I was not disappointed.

Right off the bat, the album opens with a bluesy organ groove in “Missing Pieces”, delivering something that feels like Jack White, and yet seems to delve further into the blues that inspired him. This is not the bass-empty, unstrained jams of the White Stripes, nor the mean, dirty, dark, whiskey-drenched blues The Dead Weather wreaks of. No, this is a cleaner, more refined blues (is that an oxymoron?), while still delivering that rock sound that can be found in anything Mr. White writes; this indicative rock sound is evident in “Missing Saltines”. While still ‘kicking out the jams’, Jack seems to take a softer tone towards the middle of the album by bringing in an masterful acoustic duet in “Love Interruption” and a string soaked ballad in the title track. He also seems to have take more of a fancy to the piano; It can be be heard in prominence in several tracks, especially “Weeping Themselves to Sleep”.

Despite all the inovations and creativity Jack White breathes into the blues, he never quite strays from everything that makes the genre. Very basic chord structures, a certain attitude, and raunchy lyrics permeate the album, and remind us that Jack is still still exactly what he was inspired by, and what he has always aspired to be: a blues musician.

All and all, Blunderbuss is a truly unique experience to anything else Jack White has every created, and you should go listen to it. Right. Now.

Spine Hits – Sleepy Sun

Sleepy Sun is an apt name or this lazy California rock outfit, a fact that can be recognized from the first few seconds of their new release, Spine Hits. The guitar jams, the singers harmonize, and the drummer hammers along, each member adding to the overall calm, dreamy, summery feel that envelopes the album. Lead singer Bret Constantino channels both the Shins and Manchester Orchestra vibes, but the song structures varie from similarities to U2 to Soundgarden to a ‘Lucy in the Sky’ era Beatles. It’s an interesting mix, and not one to be passed off as another yawn-worthy indie band. For such a lazy band, they just can’t seem to stand still. In this case, that’s a very good thing.

Check out my pick Creatures. Note: All picks will now be linked to Spotify, a great free music streaming program available here.