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The Wandas: OurStage Artist Of The Week

The Wandas rarely deliver exactly what you expect. When this writer happened upon their afternoon set at South By Southwest a couple of years ago, they were about three-quarters of the way through and had nearly reached the crashing crescendo that would find them spilling off the small roofdeck stage and into the enthusiastic crowd, instruments held aloft, strummed, banged, and fedback, for what seemed like the entire last song.

The band and I happened to be leaving the venue at the same time and when I told them how I’d enjoyed the set, they handed me their self-titled 12 LP. Based on their show, I looked forward to a hooky, high-octane garage rock romp. Yes, a romp, dammit. What I heard was indeed energetic rock and roll, but it was deeper, more thoughtful and introspective. It was the first new album I’d heard in a while that contained honest-to-god guitar work, in the vein of Television and Neil Young. It was psych and pop and jamming, all rolled into a concise musical language. I knew what they meant.

Now, a new album for 2013. New Interface (A Design with Friends for the Future) was released June 25th. And once again, the band has confounded expectations with appreciable growth. Having fully realized on their first album the often-elusive cohesion of being in a gritty yet cerebral rock band, The Wandas have added a diverse songwriting palette, highlighted by increasingly elaborate and deliberate production.

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Lady Lamb the Beekeeper: Pro Artist Of The Week, New LP Review

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper is this week’s OurStage Pro Artist of the Week. You may remember her (a.k.a. Aly Spaltro) from such exclusive recording sessions as OurStage’s Songs of the Revolution or from such MTV Needle in the Haystack spotlights as this one.

OurStage Songs of the Revolution session:

The music of Lady Lamb the Beekeeper is, in quick summary, impactful, melodic, abstract, often stark, and drenched in alluring imagery. Usually armed only with her instrument (which can vary) and confident voice, Spaltro commands the attention of any audience.

In the three years since her first feature on OurStage, the initially impressive Maine to Brooklyn transplant has grown even further as a songwriter and performer, and has gained a growing swell of well-deserved national attention. This week, she releases her new LP for Ba Da Bing! Records, Ripely Pine.

In contrast with her prior releases, which were often home demos marked by sonic and stylistic experimentation, Ripely Pine is beautifully recorded “ perhaps as close to ˜slick’ as she, or we, would want the music to be. The spare nature of Lady Lamb’s music is essential to its force “ her voice is the driver and the focus. Yet somehow Spaltro and producer Nadim Issa manage to create a soft atmosphere around her plaintive vocals and un-adorned guitar that make it all feel quite lush. Between the ambient noise, layered vocals, and well-tamed reverb, songs like Little Brother are as potent and fulfilling as though they were fully orchestrated. Conversely, Mezzanine features significant string and woodwind parts, yet strikes as hard as any punk song.

New to the table are full-band songs like Bird Balloon, which swings in an Elliott Smith/Heatmiser kind of way, with a very Smiths-esque melodic turn in one section (since we’re doling out comparisons) and a very pretty break-down bridge. Yes, it veers pretty wildly, and that is one of the hallmarks of the record, and one of Spaltro’s unique talents “ she is quite an arranger. While some songs remain simple, they rarely have easily classifiable verse-chorus-bridge parts, and the more complicated songs are built with parts that are more like movements.

Ripely Pine is bizarre and beautiful, the fully realized sound of a musical thinker whose output could be described as joyous, despite its often melancholy imagery and its frankly pained and raw delivery. It is simply a thrill to listen to music so unpredictable and in love with music itself.

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Review: Local Natives – 'Hummingbird'

Writing a sophomore album is a tricky prospect, especially when a band has received a massive amount of buzz and critical praise in relation to their relatively short lifespan. Groups crumble all the time under the weight of these expectations “ whether from themselves or from the media “ and often are unable to recapture the magic of their first major release: the one that they had their entire lives to conjure, instead of just a few months between tours and promotion. The rapid pace of the blogosphere has magnified the effect of this pressure, churning out new acts by the day that are effective sonic replacements for any formerly beloved group that has failed to pass muster on a new release. Add in the democratic and anonymous nature of the Internet, which emboldens the opinionated to release the type of caustic criticism that most would hide in person, and it is understandable why many bands today would have some trepidation regarding the release of new material.

Local Natives seem like they may be aware of, if not certainly reactive to, these perils. In part, because their second release Hummingbird does not stray far stylistically from Gorilla Manor, the debut album that put the Los Angeles group on the map in 2010. The band’s chiming guitar parts and multi-part harmonies remain, as do their intricate percussion lines that often form the focal points of their studio compositions and their energetic live shows. For some bands, the re-creation of a uniform sonic profile reminiscent of a past release could be interpreted as an insurance against loss, a way to satisfy those listeners who are expecting more of the same from a band they already enjoy. For other groups, the preservation of the same style could simply signify their love of that particular sound, and their desire to wring it dry for all of its latent value.

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Album Review: Dropkick Murphys – 'Signed And Sealed In Blood'

Being from Boston, it’s hard to go a day without hearing about the new album from Dropkick Murphys. Though they have seven studio albums out already, the promise of new irish punk jams from the group that has served as this city’s personal soundtrack since 1996 is enough to get people talking, and this time there is plenty to discuss.

Signed And Sealed In Blood is the first new material to surface from Dropkick Murphys since 2011’s Going Out In Style. As a whole, the album showcases the Murphys at their absolute finest, with more than enough chants, heartfelt lyricism, and foot-stomping anthems to ensure their status as America’s go-to irish punk outfit lasts for years to come. There is a certain undeniable hook to the opening lines of “The Boys Are Back” that reels in even the most distracted listener with the promise of good times to come. This continues into “Prisoner’s Song,” which fans of “Shipping Up To Boston” will likely lose their minds over as driving drums and gang vocals paint an audible portrait of a crew banding together aboard the seven seas. (more…)

Review: Blink-182's 'Dogs Eating Dogs' EP

Three weeks after its release, many of you long-time Blink-182 fans have probably given a listen to their new 5-track EP, Dogs Eating Dogs. I must admit, I was a bit apprehensive putting my headphones on, as I was not too thrilled with the results of their 2011 reunion album, Neighborhoods. Recent press and interviews with the band, however, indicated a possible shift in the right direction. Drummer Travis Barker was quoted saying, To me, this EP is a hundred times better than Neighborhoods. The band realizing that there was something not quite right with the prior LP bode well for the EP. Neighborhoods was apparently recorded via file sharing, where each member individually worked their parts out and sent them back and forth, rather than working collectively. Having recently parted with their long-time label, Interscope Records, Blink hit the studio on their own for the first time since Flyswatter (throwback much?) and did so in traditional fashion – together, as a band.

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Review: Black Veil Brides – 'Wretched And Divine: The Story Of The Wild Ones'

The rise of Black Veil Brides has been one earned from lengthy tours and stopping at nothing to connect with disenfranchised youth worldwide. You’ve likely heard of them, or at the very least seen a photo of their Mac cosmetic loving selves (usually shirtless) striking a defiant pose. Comparisons to bands to other image heavy bands like Kiss are inescapable, but they are also not far from the truth. Much like the rock gods who delivered Destroyer, Black Veil Brides have built a devoted following that relentlessly follow the band (and their brand)’s every move, and in 2013 they look to recruit even more followers with their Sophomore effort, Wretched And Divine: The Story Of The Wild Ones. (more…)

Review: Bruno Mars – 'Unorthodox Jukebox'

In the two years that have past since Bruno Mars exploded onto the pop scene with Doo-Wops & Hooligans, a lot has changed. That should probably go without saying, but in the case of pop music that may never never been more true than it is right now. In the days since “Grenade” topped the charts EDM has arrived and essentially claimed rule over the top 40 landscape, making the art of songwriting more absent than ever on the Billboard charts. That same artform is what gave Mars’ the fuel he needed to ascend the charts back in 2010, but his latest effort does not fare quite as well. (more…)

Album Review: How To Destroy Angels – "An Omen" EP

It’s nice to see that Trent Reznor has found a soul mate who is just as weird as he is. His new project, How To Destroy Angels, is comprised of him, his wife Mariqueen Maandig, and Nine Inch Nails contributors Atticus Ross and Rob Sheridan. The result on their second EP, An Omen (styalized on their website as An omen_ EP by How to destroy angels_) sounds more or less like a collection of creepy, experimental, minimalist, girl-fronted versions of  NIN album interludes. That being said, it’s a fairly interesting and enjoyable listen.

The first track, “Keep it together,” is the most NIN-esque song on the album, with sparse electronic robot percussion and a two-note reverbed guitar line that repeats while dissonant synths wash over the whole track. The only difference is where you would expect to hear Reznor’s voice, you hear Maandig singing in a quiet cryptic way. But of course, before long, Reznor comes in with backup vocals and the two of them create harmonizing polyrhythmic layers repeating “I can’t keep it together” in a way that is reminiscent of “All The Love In The World” or “Every Day Is Exactly The Same” from NIN’s With Teeth. The structure and mood of this song set the tone for the rest of the album. Each track is a slow burn with very subtle dynamic variation, if any. (more…)

ALBUM REVIEW: Ke$ha – Warrior

When sitting down to review Ke$ha’s latest album, Warrior, I found it impossible to resist digging into her catalog for research. Only three years have past since “Tik Tok” impacted radio waves around the world, but one look at the sales and popularity of this still young pop starlet and one might believe she’s at least hit the half decade point. The truth is, Kesha has only just begun to make her mark in pop music, and her latest effort proves there is much (MUCH) more glitter and innuendo awaiting us in years to come.

If you have never experienced Kesha outside of the radio singles, you need to be prepared for a slightly different experience when reaching for one of her albums. While the glitter-loving songstress is known for packing many potential singles on her releases, usually including some of her awkward attempts at rapping, each album is also stuffed with progressive material that makes it clear Kesha could do so much more with her career if desired. Warrior makes this more evident than ever, with only a handful of cuts coming across like disposable radio tracks, and I don’t want to get hopes too high here, but there is a cohesion to the glam pop queen’s efforts this time around that leads one to believe there is a much grander vision at play than we’ve been told.

Kicking things off by blending her newer sound with songwriting elements fans will find familiar, “Warrior,” kicks off Kesha’s new album with all the glory and pizazz a pop record deserves. The hook is huge, the rhymes about club life are intact, and the attitude is second-to-none. This is what I like to call “typical Kesha,” and it’s never executed more slickly than on Warrior. As you dig through the hit “Die Young,” as well as the early leak “C’Mon,” it becomes clearer and clearer that there is an evolution taking place within Kesha’s sound. She’s still very rooted in dance floor singles, and that will likely never change, but the focus on well-written lyrics and wordplay has never been stronger. Tracks like “Dirty Love,” “All That Matters,” and “Love Into The Light” offer more substance than Kesha’s entire debut album, and that’s on the extreme end of the spectrum. There is actual replay value to the whole, and I don’t just mean on the radio.

Warrior is real pop music, albeit complimented with a disposable facade, and it will sell to a ridiculous amount of music listeners with little effort. Some longtime fans will hate her new sound, and others will continue to not “get it,” but anyone listening to this album with an open mind is destined to discover a pop record that could go on to rival Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream in terms of lasting ability and pop cultural impact. 2013 will be the year of Ke$ha, and with a record like this there is no reason she shouldn’t find herself atop the Billboard charts for weeks, if not months to come.

 

If you enjoy Ke$ha, be sure to check out OS artist Casey Desmond!

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Review written by: James Shotwell

Album Review: Deftones – "Koi No Yokan"

After more than 20 years, Deftones are still going strong. In fact, they may be stronger than ever these days. Their newest, highly-anticipated album, Koi No Yokan, is clearly the work of a well-seasoned group that is truly in touch with their sound and who they are as a band. However, something about the album still leaves more to be desired.

First off, if you are a fan of Deftones, then you can rest assured, this is definitely still the band you know and love. They haven’t changed very drastically (not for the worst at least), and when you listen to this album, all of the components that drew you to the band in first place are still there. It is a well-produced, well-written, and meaningful record that has been graciously welcomed by fans and critics into the band’s discography. Still, something about the work as a whole just does not have as lasting an impact as it’s 2010 predecessor Diamond Eyes. It could be considered a close second though.

Right off the bat, Koi No Yokan”a Japanese phrase for the sense that a person feels upon first meeting someone that the two will fall in love”hits the listener hard with the deep Meshuggah-like tones of Stephen Carpenter’s 7-8 string guitar in opener “Swerve City.” This sound sets the stage for most of the album, especially in the tracks “Poltergeist,” “Tempest,” and “Rosemary,” which repeats a dark and brooding riff in the breakdown with surprisingly similar tones of The Acacia Strain. While Carpenter’s guitar is the first distinguished trait in the song, it’s Chi Cheng’s smoothly ascending and descending bass lines that carry the verse of “Swerve City.” Vocalist Chino Moreno leads the track and the album as fluidly as ever, with his signature “soaring-over-the-mountains” reverb and elongated melodic phrases.

The second track, “Romantic Dreams,” follows up this feeling with a pulsing 3/4 groove that alternates to optimistic riff-laden sections in 4/4. “Leathers” ups the intensity with dissonant sections of chugging and screaming, while still interlaced with emotively grandiose and flowing choruses. As mentioned before, “Poltergeist” utilizes the lower and grittier qualities of the guitars, which accompany an intense 7/8 polyrhythmic intro held down by drummer Abe Cunningham”with handclaps that are sure to make this song an interactive crowd favorite.

“Entombed” is a nice change of pace for the album. The feeling of this track can largely be accredited to Frank Delgado’s synth work, which provides a harmonically rich and ambient foundation for an overall uplifting song. When combined with droning delayed guitars and Moreno’s expansive vocals (“Shapes and colors are all I see/Shades of colors are all I feel“), this spacious and electronically grounded track sounds like it could easily be on a Team Sleep album (Moreno’s side project).

The variations between the first half of the album are more or less reflected throughout the second half as well, making for an overall pleasant yet somewhat unmoving experience. The song “Rosemary” contains an interesting dynamic balance between dark intensity and soaring ambience, but the closing track, “What Happened To You?” is the only song on the album that seems to stand out slightly more than the others due to upbeat rhythms by Cunningham and a sort of “bouncy” bassline by Cheng. If Deftones want an honest answer to the question posed by the title of this final track, I would have to say,”nothing.” Nothing happened to me. I enjoyed the album for what it was, but no part of it stuck with me afterward.

Despite some dynamic variations, the whole experience of Koi No Yokan felt very one dimensional. One could argue that, since their formation, Deftones have only gotten better with each album, but this one leads me to believe that they may have finally plateaued. That being said, Koi No Yokan isn’t a bad place to level out. There is nothing overtly groundbreaking about it, but it is still better than a lot of other music coming out these days. I just feel like whatever edge that Diamond Eyes may have had seems to be missing from Koi No Yokan.

If you like Deftones, check out OurStage artist Moving Atlas.

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