Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gorillaz - The Fall review

It is amazing to consider how far technology can improve in just a few short years.  Damon Albarn, the mastermind behind cartoon superstars, Gorillaz, recently released the band's fourth full length album, free of charge, on Christmas Day.  The album, titled The Fall, was recorded and produced entirely on Albarn's iPad during Gorillaz North American stretch of their world tour in support of their stellar third album, Plastic Beach.

It seems as though Albarn's muse just might be the United States of America, as he has previously toyed with the surge of creativity that one can get as a result of touring back in 2003, culminating in the rather underwhelming collection of demos, DemocrazyDemocrazy was a collection of demos that Albarn had recorded during the US leg of Blur's Think Tank tour, and consist primarily of plinking Casiotone leads, clunky drum beats and a melodica.  The songs, if one can even call them that, are snippets and scraps of half baked ideas, stillborns that chronicle the songwriting process (at least one of these ideas "I Need A Gun", was returned to and given a proper treatment as "Dirty Harry" on Gorillaz Demon Days album).  The problem with Democrazy was that the songs were demos and ultimately made people wonder why they were even released, especially since Albarn is the type that seems to be constantly churning out new music.  I have to admit, when I first heard that Albarn and company were going to release another album of songs written in hotel rooms, I was skeptical to say the least.

The Fall, however, is the real deal.  Recorded over thirty-two days, the album is so slick, that if Albarn hadn't told us, there is no way anyone would know if that the album was recorded "non-traditionally".   The album weaves seamlessly from track to track, immersing the listener into an auditory journal of the United States with the help of snippets of local American radio shows and even announcements made over PA systems at train stations.  The album is deeply routed in electronic production, which seems only natural considering the absence of a studio.  This is not to say that the album sounds like someone playing with GarageBand.  There are a number of traditional instruments including the guitar and (you guessed it) synthesizers galore.

Out of the fifteen tracks that appear on the album, there are a number of stellar songs, most notably "Revolving Doors" and the absolutely beautiful "Amarillo".  There are a few throw away tracks sprinkled throughout The Fall, the most obvious being some of the instrumental songs that pepper the album.  They aren't necessarily bad, it's just that they are forgettable and almost eerily similar to the half baked ideas of Democrazy.  What is most interesting about this album is the absence of the studio and the numerous musical guest stars (although it should be noted that Bobby Womack and Mick Jones appear on The Fall).  In the studio, Albarn and his Gorillaz pull out all of the stops, but in the hotel room, on a tablet computer, you see a more intimate Gorillaz, stripped of the bells and whistles.  Overall The Fall is a complex, yet subdued album.  It is a compelling listen, and works as the perfect companion piece to the superb Plastic Beach.

Gorillaz The Fall

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas (courtesy of Gorillaz)

As promised, Gorillaz have released their new album, The Fall, as a free Christmas gift.  The Fall was recorded during the American stretch of their recent world tour, and has been described as an auditory journal of their experience touring America.  I'll have a review of the album up in a few days, but until then, go grab it at the Gorillaz website.  Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The BIG End of the Year List: The Best & Worst of 2010

So another year in music has come and gone, and along with every other music-related website, I am going to give you a list comprising of the albums that I thought were great in 2010, along with some of the more disappointing listens of the year.  Each album mentioned has a concise review to go along with it, along with an mp3 just in case you missed out on the record when it came out * Someone complained about the mp3s so I had to take them down...sorry*.  So sit back and take a look at the list after the jump and feel free to voice any concerns you have in the comments section below.


1. The National High Violet

The National followed up their breakthrough album Boxer, with High Violet, a collection of hauntingly beautiful and often times heartbreaking songs.  High Violet is a masterpiece of middle-class turmoil, a perfect assembly of songs focused on the plights of the everyday modern man.

2. The Tallest Man on Earth The Wild Hunt

With a voice that commands attention, whimsical arrangements and absolutely jaw dropping skills up and down the fretboard (not to mention occasionally tickling the ivories), the second album by Sweden's Tallest Man on Earth, The Wild Hunt, was an engaging and fun listen that had me coming back for more again and again.

3. Crystal Castles Crystal Castles (II) 

Crystal Castles came back in 2010 with an album that was more coherent and less gimmicky than their debut album.  Crystal Castles managed to bring back all of the elements that made them memorable on their debut and excise all of the frilly stuff that made them seem like a novelty act (almost).

4. Twin Shadow Forget 

Twin Shadow came out of nowhere (for me at least).  I picked up his debut album and was pleasantly surprised to find a unique blend of dreamy pop, 80s new wave and introspective lyrics.  Despite my initial apprehension to the album due to all of the blogger buzz, I found this album simply too good to ignore in 2010.

5. Gorillaz Plastic Beach

For some, Gorillaz constitutes a guilty pleasure.  Admitting you like a "fictional" band comprised of cartoon caricatures of self-indulgent celebrity is difficult to justify.  Fortunately, however, the music speaks for itself.  Gorillaz third album is easily their most cohesive and accessible work.

6. The Black Keys Brothers

The Black Keys are the perfect example of rock & roll revival.  An impressive and gritty album that conjures the spirit of any number of blues rock legends from Muddy Waters to Jimi Hendrix, easily one of their strongest offerings to date.

7. Spoon Transference

Transference saw Spoon focus on their instruments after the "indulge-every-studio-whim" of their last album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, which was a critical and commercial success.  Transference was a return to their roots, with simpler arrangements that saw an increased tension between instruments, which made for a compelling listen.

8. The Radio Dept. Clinging to a Scheme

A more refined album than their shoegaze origins proved to be the right move for the dream pop band from Sweden.  With a larger emphasis on synths over fuzzy buzzy effects pedals, Clinging to a Scheme was a fun, unabashed pop record and an incredibly welcome surprise in 2010.

9. Sleigh Bells Treats

Noisy and abrasive, Treats had an interesting mixture of aggressive and menacing songs paired up against mid-tempo songs that were grounded in 70s pop.  The album definitely delivered on the ability to weave in and out of genres, and was unlike anything else I heard this year.

10. Broken Social Scene Forgiveness Rock Record

BSS has an uncanny ability to craft beautiful pop songs that sound as if they were recorded by a bunch of friends having the times of their lives.  Maybe that's because that is what BSS is, a collective of musicians who get together and can easily write songs about romance, forgiveness, and masturbation.


1. MGMT Congratulations

10 songs.  All of them boring.

2. The Klaxons Surfing the Void

A couple of diamonds in the rough here, but overall a bombastic, auditory assault without much direction.  The album is messy and lacks focus.  Bonus points for space cat though.

3. We Are Scientists Barbara

I know, most of you probably had no idea that We Are Scientists even released an album this year, and honestly it's probably better if it stayed that way.  Supposedly a return to the sound of their breakthrough album With Love and Squalor, Barbara lacks the hooks to make it truly memorable.

4. Broken Bells Broken Bells

This album failed to impress me despite the strength of the singles.  Most of the tracks that appear are filler, causing me to lose patience in them and skipping forward to the songs I actually liked.  With all of the talent behind this album I was crestfallen to admit that it didn't live up to the hype. 

5. Arcade Fire The Suburbs

This was a tough call because I actually enjoyed this record, a lot.  I suppose I decided to include it on my "most disappointing" list was simply because it is their weakest album.  Arcade Fire had a brilliant debut, a slightly weaker sophomore album, and now, an album that is good, but hardly great.

The following are albums I liked this year that found themselves creeping into my playlists and mixes.  These albums aren't necessarily the best of what 2010 had to offer, but they were damn good, or at the very least, deserved a mention.

 Two Door Cinema Club Tourist History

One word: Infectious.  This album was so catchy I found myself listening to it quite often.  At roughly 30 minutes there simply isn't any room for filler songs.

The Drums The Drums

Much like Two Door Cinema Club, the catchy surf pop of reverb-ophiles The Drums made them instantly listenable.  It was hard to find someone who disliked this band in 2010.

Yeasayer Odd Blood

Aside from what is surely a contender for worst album art of the year, Yeasayer managed to meld synth-pop, world music and psychedelia into their own brand of indie music.  The album is a bit hit or miss at times, but is ultimately a rewarding listen.

Die Antwoord - $O$

This rap-rave group from Cape Town, South Africa may seem like a joke, but being signed by a major label isn't.  Say what you may about their music, and they may only be a passing phase, but one can't deny that Die Antwoord didn't do too bad for themselves in 2010.

 Band of Horses Infinite Arms

There are some really memorable tracks present, however there are a few which are mediocre at best.  This is the first record which was written and recorded by permanent members of the band, marking the first time the recording process hasn't been a "revolving door" of musicians, but somehow this seemed less cohesive than their previous albums, that being said, its still a great album.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Mix 2010

So here it is, the annual Insert Brand Name Here Christmas mix  available for download in a handy .zip file for your convenience.  Hours were spent compiling this mix, agonizing over track placement in order to make sure this mix could sound the best it possibly could.  Here in Australia, Christmas falls in the middle of summer, so for me it doesn't even really seem like Christmas.  Instead of shoveling snow and bundling up against the cold, I am getting ready for the beach.  It definitely doesn't feel like Christmas, but listening to this mix definitely reminds me that no matter where we are, it's still Christmas.  So break out the egg nog, gather 'round the Christmas tree and sit back with eighteen quality Christmas tracks!

  1. Julian Casablancas - I Wish It Was Christmas Today
  2. Sufjan Stevens - Hey Guys! It's Christmas Time
  3. Slow Club - Christmas (Please Come Home)
  4. Low - Just Like Christmas
  5. Band of Horses - The First Song
  6. Ryan Adams - Hey Parker, It's Christmas
  7. Snowden - White Christmas
  8. Tiger Baby - This Christmas
  9. The Raveonettes - Come On Santa
  10. Kevin Devine - Splitting Up Christmas
  11. Yo La Tengo - It's Christmas Time
  12. Coldplay - Christmas Lights
  13. The Pogues - Fairytale of New York
  14. Jimmy Eat World - Last Christmas
  15. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - All I Want for Christmas
  16. The Walkmen - Christmas Party
  17. Gil Mantera's Party Dream - Brave New Christmas
  18. The Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping
Download the IBNH Christmas 2010 Mixtape here (link removed)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gorillaz live @ Adelaide Entertainment Center 12/8/10

On Wednesday night I saw Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's long running collaboration project, Gorillaz, live and in the flesh.  For something that has existed for so long as a cartoon band, seeing everything that is heard on a Gorillaz album come together seamlessly in a live performance was something to marvel at.  This is the first time Gorillaz have embarked on a true worldwide tour as the last time they hit the road it was for a string of performances at the Manchester Opera House and the Harlem Apollo Theatre in support of their second album, Demon Days.  During those shows, the band played behind a screen, rendering them as silhouettes, however this time, Damon and company take center stage simultaneously with a massive video screen airing previously unseen Gorillaz artwork and film.  Damon and company had such a fervent energy in performing the songs that anyone in attendance was sure to recognize the performance as something exceptional.

The sheer number of musicians employed for the show was something that was absolutely jaw dropping as well.  There was a string section, a brass section from Chicago, the Syrian National Orchestra, back up singers and musicians, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon from The Clash, De La Soul, Bashy, Little Dragon, Bobby Womack, and of course, Damon Albarn.  As someone who is too young to have ever seen The Clash play live, who had no idea of Bobby Womack's 40 year career until he saw Jackie Brown, and who never got the chance to see Blur perform despite being a rabid fan, this Gorillaz show marked a truly special experience in my life.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Moshi Moshi Records - A Christmas Gift For You review

Moshi Moshi Records have bestowed an early Christmas present this year, featuring some of their most talented artists covering Christmas classics.  I happen to be a sucker for Christmas music (be on the lookout for this years Christmas mix), and I love the idea of being able to listen to something other than the aborted fetus that is David Bowie and Bing Crosby's rendition of "Little Drummer Boy" or the abomination that is Paul McCartney's "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time".

That being said, my main complaint (but certainly not my only complaint) has to do with the compilation's short running time.  At less than eighteen minutes, you're going to be looking for something else to spin on the stereo to keep the egg nog flowing before Christmas is over this year.  That being said, let's take a closer look at the tracks present on A Christmas Gift For You.

1. Slow Club  "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" - Easily the strongest track on this compilation, the jangly electric guitars and the backing vocals accentuating vocalist Rebecca Taylor's all mix together perfectly to create a fun interpretation of a classic Christmas song.

2. Summer Camp "Christmas Wrapping" - The original version by The Waitresses is an energetic, fun holiday romp, and is one of my personal favorites.  Summer Camp's version however, has stripped away the vivacity and spirit of the original, opting to replace the punchy guitars for a single little synth twinkle, turning the perfect Christmas party song into a boring, and slightly depressing, snooze fest.

3. James Yuill  "Winter Wonderland" - British folktronica artist James Yuill has churned out some great songs (e.g, No Surprise), but the downright weird and unneccesary vocal intonations he employs on this song ruin it.

4. Ingo Star Cruiser "Just Like Christmas" - Ingo Star Cruiser pretty much leave this song alone, however they do sprinkle a bit of optimism throughout the song in the form of a speedier tempo and some uplifting instrumentation.

5. Idiot Glee "White Christmas" - Clocking in at one minute, thirty seconds, I am expending more energy writing this sentence than Idiot Glee did in recording this song.

6. Hot Club de Paris "Will You Still Be In Love With Me Next Year?" - a painfully generic and boring song sung by a lead singer with an obnoxious, nasally voice.  Easily forgettable.

Overall, this compilation is way too short to warrant a purchase, however there are a few diamonds in the rough.  It's always fun finding original songs or reinterpretations of classics for the holidays, so check it out if you need to bolster up your Christmas playlist in iTunes this year.

The Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping

Homemade "Christmas Wrapping" video

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Iron & Wine - Walking Far From Home (single) review

Iron and Wine, the moniker for singer/songwriter Sam Beam, is set to release his fourth studio album, Kiss Each Other Clean, on January 25th, 2011.  It will be the first Iron and Wine album released by Warner Bros. after leaving Sub Pop.  The first single from the album is "Walking Far From Home", the CD single being released a few days ago on November 26th.

The strongest traits of Iron and Wine's music is the fact that it is introspective, delicate, and haunting.  It is music that pulls at the heartstrings, Beam's hushed voice accompanied by deft finger picking and a minimalist approach make for intimate and endearing records.  Sadly, this single and it's B-sides are none of those things.

Beam has said that Kiss Each Other Clean will mark a change in direction to his sound, and if this single is any indication, it is the wrong direction.  I know that most people will contest that if an artist fails to mature or to progress, the stagnation that results will ultimately lead to career suicide.  I firmly agree with that, however what Beam has done is take everything that has made Iron and Wine distinct and memorable and traded it for a sound that is mediocre, and that's being generous.  In the three songs that appear on this release, Beam's signature instrument, the guitar, is totally absent.  Instead it is replaced by virtually every instrument that doesn't have strings.  The end result are songs that are muddled and ultimately forgettable.

"Walking Far From Home" contains snapshots of images that are supposed to be poignant, but since they are simply recited, one after the other without any sort of context, any meaning they would have is completely lost.

"Summer in Savannah" is riddled with various percussive instruments, a faint jangly electric guitar riff and a piercing horn that sounds like someone's cover band attempting a song by some kind of Latin-African funk fusion band.

"Biting Your Tail" sounds like it could have been a B-side from The Postal Service.  Beam's sincerity is questionable as it seems as though he's been hanging out in the "magical" bedroom of the lead singer of Owl City.

Our first taste of Iron and Wine's new album, Kiss Each Other Clean, is a bitter one.  The best thing for us to do now is hope that it exceeds my already very low expectations.

Iron and Wine - Naked As We Came
Iron and Wine - Boy With a Coin
Iron and Wine - The Trapeze Swinger
mp3s courtesy of Sub-Pop Records...grab some more here.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Nine Inch Nails - Pretty Hate Machine (2010 remaster) review

Trent Reznor worked as a handyman and janitor at Right Track Studio, where he would use studio “down time” to write and record his own music. Playing all of the instruments himself and doing the sequencing on a Macintosh Plus (1 MB of RAM, expandable to 4 MB!), Reznor sent the demo to a number of labels until landing a deal with TVT Records.  In October, 1989, when Trent Reznor’s debut album under the moniker Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine, was released I was four years old, and like any four year old at the time, the album was unheard by my ears.
When I finally got my hands on my own copy of Pretty Hate Machine (on cassette tape) from a second hand record store I was in the fifth grade.  To this day, I can still remember the apprehension I had felt before inserting the tape into my Sony Walkman.  Nine Inch Nails was an enigma to me.  Some of the older kids in my neighborhood listened to Nine Inch Nails, but they wore black, smoked cigarettes and were referred disdainfully by my father as “creepy goth kids”.  I was aware of the rumors that the name Nine Inch Nails was in reference to the spikes that were used to crucify Jesus, and being Catholic I naturally assumed that anything sharp that was used to impale the son of God was bad.  I knew that NINs music videos were highly controversial and heavily edited for rotation on MTV.  I knew that the songs were about sex and depression and death.  To be completely honest, I was scared of Nine Inch Nails.

There was something about Nine Inch Nails that, as a kid, I craved.  The music dealt with adult themes, but it seemed as though adults didn’t understand it.  This was both exciting and terrifying to me, since all of the adults I knew thought that Trent Reznor was some sort of menace, the embodiment of everything that was wrong with society.  It all began, really, with NIN’s first single off of Pretty Hate Machine that started it all.  “Head Like A Hole” had the lyrics, “bow down before the one you serve”; immediately accusations of Satanism and Reznor’s hell-bent intent on corrupting the minds of the youth were running rampant.  Thus began the persecution of the music of Nine Inch Nails by conservative Americans.

Being ten, I didn’t have much disposable income and so my Nine Inch Nails collection began and ended with that tape of Pretty Hate Machine.  The themes of desolation and suicide were heavy and dark, and in 1995 I preferred Britpop acts like Blur and Oasis, who had singles even my parents enjoyed.  It wouldn’t be until 2005 that I finally got my hands on a reissued copy of Pretty Hate Machine (a lengthy legal battle between Reznor and his old label saw Pretty Hate Machine out of circulation between 1997 and 2005).  Little memory remained of the album, my cassette tape being lost years prior.  So when I got around it ripping the CD into my iTunes, it came as a surprise to me to discover that despite the gritty title, Pretty Hate Machine was a dance record.  It was a synth-driven piece of electronica, complete with simple beats composed on drum machines.  The vilification of NIN and Trent Reznor was completely unfounded.  Listening to “Head Like A Hole” for the first time in ten years reminded me how the song wasn’t about Satanism, but about worshipping money, and all of the sexual themes explored on the album were fairly tame when compared to Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream”.

Most of the songs on Pretty Hate Machine have stood up well since the albums original release over twenty years ago, and on the 2010 reissue, we are treated to an extra track, a cover of Queen’s “Get Down, Make Love”.  There are some missteps however, particularly the pseudo-rapping on “Down In It”, which seriously dates the album.  All in all, Pretty Hate Machine is a synth-pop record. Tracks like “Terrible Lie” and “Sin” easily could have been recorded by Depeche Mode during their Black Celebration/Music for the Masses/Violator period, if there were more explicit and overt references to sex and death.  So if that sounds like something you’d be into, definitely pick this album up.  If you’re looking for an introduction to Nine Inch Nails, I would suggest skipping this one and go for NINs masterpiece second album, The Downward Spiral.  Any way you slice it, one thing is certain, I guess the goth kids liked to dance after all.