By: Samuel Boyhtari
Arcade Fire’s fourth full length LP offers two CDs-worth of ambient, dance-centric music, falling short of epic proportions despite the anticipated mystique that it has generated since the release of the title track a few months back.
Perhaps mystique is not quite the proper term—some have compared the band’s drastic shift in sound and image to The Talking Heads, who endured a similar change in tone with the releases of Fear of Music in 1979 and Remain in Light in 1980. Nevertheless, I cannot help but view Reflektor as possessing a certain level of mystique, despite the fact that its extensive length (nearly an hour and twenty minutes, spanning two sides) is not quite justifiable by the content within. Regardless of the record’s rather unremarkable exploitation of existing musical formulas, Reflektor manages to stay interesting for most of its running time due to its ambient, eerie personality (which the band has come to master), as well as its representation of a fresh and different Arcade Fire.
The record’s single and title track, “Reflektor”, is by far my favorite of the 13, exemplifying the band’s new, dark, disco-esque flavor more effectively than any of the songs that follow—which is a bit of a shame, but this is not to say that the rest of the album fails to establish something inspiring or intriguing. “We Exist” follows suit with an extremely danceable beat that carries on some of the initial charm of the first song. One of the album’s longer tracks, “Here Comes The Night Time,” is decidedly sparser than some might prefer, but it offers melodic elements that are disturbingly cute amidst the album’s moody atmosphere, with a hyperactive beginning and midsection that mimic the frantic sounds of a massive nighttime carnival.
The tracks “Normal Person” and “You Already Know” introduce an interesting element of self-reflexivity that is sadly absent from the rest of the album; the voice of Win Butler thanking a non-existent crowd and speaking about disliking rock and roll is both humorous and thematic. Considering the album’s title and overtly conceptual nature, it’s a shame that Arcade Fire didn’t explore this element any further. In the same way the absence of this self-awareness from the rest of the album inhibits Reflektor’s conceptual potential, the separation between disk 1 and 2 is jarring and unwelcome, removing the listener from a potentially smooth experience. The nature of Reflektor’s lengthy songs of course requires the existence of two separate CDs, but it is the length of said songs on the second half of this LP—specifically the album’s eleven-minute concluding track—that ultimately harm the ambience and charm of the first half that I am quite fond of. “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” and “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)” are somewhat interesting additions to the album’s progression, but they are both too long for what they are; the final track “Supersymmetry” is completely anticlimactic and entirely too long, its last five minutes consisting entirely of droning, off-kilter noise-elements that would be interesting, had they made an appearance at any point throughout the rest of the album. These songs are not unenjoyably by any means, but they don’t make much impact amidst an album that could have been far more epic in scope.
Reflektor doesn’t succeed completely, but it certainly doesn’t fail. It is ultimately the alienation of the second half of this LP—which at times becomes too monotonous to be grandiose—that inhibits the album from true greatness. This aside, Reflektor is still great, attempting to do what not many modern albums do: to represent something larger than a simple grouping of songs. Though Arcade Fire doesn’t totally fulfill this goal, their latest endeavor is worth the time simply because it ventures past simple song writing, exploring dark thematic content and corners steeped in ghostly disco-tech.
4 out of 5 Slightly Blemished Disco Balls
By: Anthony Spak
Austin, Texas groovers White Denim are at it again on their fifth full-length album, Corsicana Lemonade, out October 29th.
After touring with Wilco last year, the group enlisted Wilco’s frontman Jeff Tweedy to help produce the album. The result is a tight, ten song batch that stands out as the most mature of White Denim’s catalogue.
Coming of the success of 2011’s slightly more cosmic D in which they added guitarist Austin Jenkins and crafted a more sophisticated sound than their previous three albums, White Denim have taken a step further into maturation. All four of the band members are now into their 30’s, and getting over that hump has molded their sound into one that sounds older. One can hear the influences of Seventies rock bands in their sound: The triumphant fuzz guitar runs in “At Night In Dreams” bring to mind the equally triumphant guitar work on Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ In The Years.” The duel guitar lead in the middle of “Come Back” recalls the dueling guitar lead of Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town.”
What keeps this album sounding fresh and not like a cut out of their classic rock influences are the complexities laid down by rhythm duo of virtuoso drummer Josh Block and bass player Steve Terebecki. Block’s playing is as textured and varied as always; from dense, funky backbeats (“Cheer Up/ Blues Ending”) to country stompers (“Let It Feel Good”) to all out rockers (“At Night In Dreams”), Block’s range of diverse percussion moods is impressive, but not overbearing, as he still supplies these songs with the feels they deserve. His ensemble drumming style swings these songs up, down, and around. Block rolls into solid downbeats just enough to keep the listener tapping their feet, then takes off into a totally different but appropriate feel. Best of luck to air drummers everywhere.
However, White Denim still embrace their trademark music complexities that make their instrumentation so interesting to listen to; The drop-of-a-hat tempo change from a duple to a triple feel in “New Blue Feeling” is satisfyingly reminiscent of the same change present in D’s “River to Consider.” The sudden slip from a half-time feel to a double-time feel in the verses of the album’s single, “Pretty Green”, is classic White Denim, providing listeners with a similar density that made D such a beloved record.
New tricks are also added to the repertoire. At times, White Denim have been known to cram as many notes into a song as possible, at times becoming unlistenable. However, the last two tracks feature mellow, lingering sounds that highlight a newfound patience in their playing. “Cheer Up/ Blues Ending” rides along a sparse, swaying feel that allows singer/guitarist James Petralli a powerful vocal opportunity, which he nails. “Ever look at a sign you’ve maybe never seen?” Petralli sings, fittingly. “Put a dime in your pocket/ Relax,” Petralli continues, crooning a realization that he and his band mates might just have made a career making the music they love.
“A Place to Start” wraps things up with a cosmic soul feel that feels like Al Green fronting the Grateful Dead, circa 1973. Terebecki’s bass line slithers around just enough to keep the listener wiggling, providing a low-key funk foundation that ends the album nicely.
The Guardian is currently streaming Corsicana Lemonade, use the link provided below to stream:
Kings of Leon
By: Sam Boyhtari
With their sixth studio album, Mechanical Bull, Kings of Leon take a step back toward their raw, southern-rock roots, presenting a listening experience that is enjoyable, albeit uninspiring as a whole.
In contrast, the opening track, “Supersoaker,” is quite the opposite of uninspiring. Doubling as Mechanical Bull’s first single, “Supersoaker” starts things off with a bang, ushering listeners into the rest of the package with an energy reminiscent of the band’s second album, Aha Shake Heartbreak. Caleb’s blazing guitar riff opens up the track, droning on as Matthew strikes the first notes of an immensely powerful lead line—there is a kind of magic in this opening sequence that is unfortunately absent from the rest of the album, and this is Mechanical Bull’s primary downfall.
This is not to say that there is an absence of any other particularely good songs here. “Temple,” the fifth track on the album, is a welcome extension to the kind of energy introduced in the initial track; Caleb’s voice glides above the driving instrumentation as he sings: “I take one in the temple/I take one for you.” Of equal note are “Beautiful War” and “Tonight,” these representing two of the album’s stronger ballads, both encompasing rather epic moments amidst the album’s 11 songs, and bearing considerable resemblance to something U2 would have their hands in. As powerful as these ballads are, the final couplet of songs on the album create a dissapointing anticlimax that massocres any anticipation generated throughout the work. The last song, “On the Chin,” is sadly devoide of anything original or exciting, representing little more than a cliché statement that seems both cheap and uninspiring. I can’t understand why this song was chosen to end the album, as opposed to a more grandious song like “Tonight,” which contains a reletively emotional climax that seems far more fitting for the end of an album like this. We can perhaps assume that the intention was to create a sentimental and endearing conclusion to the work, rather than one of epic proportions—sadly, this conclusion is unremarkable and uninspiring, in the wake of an album that is claimed to represent a return to the band’s earlier, energetic work.
Anticlimax aside, the sound of Mechanical Bull is an enjoyable one, taking itself far less seriously than its predescessor, Come Around Sundown, but in a good way. The introductory track is powerful and energetic, and the second song, “Rock City” (despite it’s name), delivers an amusing three-minute southern-rock jam with a reasonably infectious guitar solo at its forefront. It’s a shame that the third track, “Don’t Matter,” is a complete throwaway, offering only a cardboard rock riff and minimal lyrical depth; this song comes off as a shallow attempt to bring some of the energy of the first song to the rest of the album. In the same way that this song falls short of all expectations, “Family Tree” just might be the most unoriginal song that Kings of Leon have ever written, to the extent that it’s placement within this album is almost nonsensical.
Mechanical Bull is a solid rock album endeavor, but it’s initial charm is sadly marred by the presence of several less-than-spectacular songs, two of which serve as the album’s conclusion. With only 11 songs to boast, it does not speak well when several of them are less than memorable.
3 out of 5 Animatronic Fighting Animals
“Monsters In The Closet”
By: Ashley Butala, Volunteer Promoter
In 2007, the Pop/Punk/Rock band from Tallahassee, Florida known as Mayday Parade released their debut album “A Lesson in Romance” which debuted on the Billboard Heatseeker’s Chart at #8 holding a chart position for seventy weeks. It paved the way for the bands success. With their second album following in 2009, “Anywhere but Here,” and EP “Tales Told By Dead Friends” in 2011, the overall success of this band has sky rocketed. Album sales have exceeded 600,000, while track sales have surpassed 3,000,000 to date. The band has made a huge explosion with “The Punk Goes” series, and their third album “Self-Titled” reached #12 on the Billboard Top 200 in 2011. So what’s next for these guys?
Mayday Parades fourth album “Monsters in The Closet” released October, 8, 2013, features 12 brand new tracks. Since their debut album not much has changed in terms of consistency with the band’s sound. I’ve always been a huge fan of this band since the very first song I ever heard from them which was “Take This to Heart” off of their debut album. With the success of the bands tours from previous albums there’s no doubt in my mind that success of this album won’t be if not already the biggest success we’ve seen from these guys.
The fourth album features the band’s first single off “Monsters in The Closet” which is the song “12 Through 15.” Other tracks include: ”Hold Onto Me,” “Angels,” and “Ghosts” just to name a few. I’ve listened to the entire album a few times now, and I like it a lot better than Mayday’s other three albums. I can relate to it a little better than the rest. Though I do find all of their other albums to be depressing this one seems to be more edgy and uplifting to me. It’s not as sad, and dark.
By: Anthony Spak
The most soul-crushing moments in rock music have occurred when a fan takes their first listen to a new album featuring their favorite guitar player, and is heartbroken to find out that their beloved ax man has gone to the dark side and decided to play a synthesizer (supposedly, true Van Halen fans hate “Jump”). This same feeling of simultaneous panic and curiosity occurs upon first listen to the new Smith Westerns single, “Varsity.”
The Chicago foursome’s new album “Soft Will”, released on the very trendy Mom + Pop, serves as ten-track-trip through the past, present, and future of a young band on the rise. Songs on the latter half of the album showcase the Smith Westerns of 2011 who recorded the very hooky and very guitar heavy “Dye It Blonde”. “Best Friend” is the best example of the Smith Western’s of old, with guitarist Max Kakacek’s laying down a monster intro and subsequent hot licks, much like the ones that drew everyone’s attention on “Dye It Blonde.”
The album opener, titled “3 A.M. Spiritual”, showcases the present state of the band. Musically, the band has begun to incorporate synth into their sound as more than just a layering device as it was used, very sparsely at that, on “Dye It Blonde.” The glossy synth textures used on the track are tasteful yet a tad unsatisfying upon first listen as they lack those transcendental guitar licks that made everyone fall in love with the band three years ago. Lyrically, “3 A.M…” deals with the present pressures of both young love and young fame: “You don’t look like you used to be/ You don’t look like you did on TV,” singer/guitarist Cullen Omori croons overtop a bed of silky chords.
The future of Smith Westerns rests, literally, on the shoulders of the album’s closer and single, “Varsity.” This synth-pop powerhouse features very little guitar, a bumpin’ bass line, and a sleek synth melody so infectious that even in the wake of your all-time favorite pet’s untimely demise, you can’t help but tap your foot to it a little upon listening. The fact that “Varsity” was chosen as the single for the album and is the most synth-dependant song on the album highlights a new direction for the band. Smith Westerns have grown away from but not completely ditched the teachings of glam-rock guitar greats like Mark Bolan and Mick Ronson that turned everyone’s head around on “Dye It Blonde.” This album achieves a good but not great combination of these two differing styles; the glammy guitar-bendings of the past and the new synth structures of the future. The curiosity and effort needed to make the integration of the new synth sounds in with old guitar staples is easy to hear. However, more maturation is needed in order for Smith Westerns to completely develop their new sound into one that sounds more fully formed.
By: Samuel Boyhtari
In 2010, the Florida-based indie group Surfer Blood released their debut record Astro Coast on Kanine Records, delivering a solid set of songs that managed to achieve a fresh and enjoyable angle on a widely exploited “surf rock” scene.
Surfer Blood’s second effort, Pythons, comes to us nearly three years after Astro Coast, claiming for itself ten new tracks that represent a drastic departure from the debut album’s style, and not necessarily in an admirable way.
To justify this claim, I must say that the reasoning behind it assumes that one is familiar with Surfer Blood’s first album and also enjoyed that album thoroughly. If neither of these assumptions rings true for you, chances are that you will greet Pythons with much more initial warmth and acceptance than I did. Based upon the delivery of Astro Coast, I assumed that Surfer Blood would venture further into realms of sonic weirdness and peculiarity that would bring new and interesting sounds to indie-surf music while retaining the catchiness of the original LP. When I discovered that the band was to engineer the album alongside producer Gil Norton (arguably known best for his work with The Pixies), my musings were reinforced considerably. Herein lies the reason for my initial disappointment with Pythons.
Surfer Blood’s sophomore LP is not a “surf” album by any means. Rather, it is an indie-pop album with considerably less distinctiveness than it’s predecessor. Every sonic inch of these recordings are clean cut—you wont find a single hair out of place here, nothing edgy or harsh sounding. But that’s not necessarily a deal breaker, even if the instrumentation is rendered into little more than a single wall of sound, rather than several interesting and distinctive parts working in tandem. What is so disappointing about this record is its utter abandonment of the first album’s interesting, and at times dark, take on the surf music genre in favor of watered down pop tunes with a few calculated scream/growls from front man J.P. Pitts. Said screams are about as close as this album comes to fulfilling any of my dreams about the direction of the band’s sound, but they are distastefully exploited so that they aren’t interesting anyway—the choice to include them just seems like a gimmick amidst a handful of otherwise completely uninteresting song ideas, especially considering that the first album sports no such vocal elements from Pitts.
But here’s the thing: despite my criticism of Pythons, I still enjoy listening to it. The opening track “Demon Dance” is an extremely catchy pop song and an excellent intro to the rest of the package. “Say Yes To Me” employs some of the hookiest lyrics Pitts has ever written, and “Weird Shapes” offers a somewhat grungy sample of the same brand of catchy, streamlined pop, and that’s really why the album is still enjoyable for me: because it is a concentrated, streamlined experience from start to finish. Pythons is easy to listen to because nothing on it is unbearable or broken. On the contrary, Surfer Blood maintains their reputation for constructing catchy melodies and lyrics, despite their second album’s regretful absence of truly interesting components.
Pythons is an amusing and smooth ride that is shamelessly possessive of the sound of summer, and though it neither lives up to the charm of the original LP nor introduces anything unique or particularly interesting to modern music, it does present a fun and enjoyable addition to the summer soundtrack.