Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Week 28

Turn Blue by The Black Keys

I've only recently been a Black Keys fan, but in only a few months they've moved right up my most played list into the top 20. For being a duo, The Keys have always impressed with their garage-rockified blues. Turn Blue does not disappoint. Or maybe it does.

The opener "Weight of Love" is to me, what The Keys do best: rock. Six-plus minutes of crunchy, wailing, thunderous blues rock. This one sounds like it would end a live set, but instead they come out swinging on the first track!

Next up is "In Time." This one begins in a pretty cool way, but for me that's where the fun stops. Haunting falsettos combining with some tasty groovin' give way to more pseudo-Timberlake ranging that doesn't do much for me. It may be because this one follows such an awesome rock tune, but regardless, not a fan.

The album's title track falls in at the third spot here. Killer tune. Check it.

Following "Turn Blue," we get "Fever" which certainly offers some Danger Mouse production influence. The Keys get away from their straight ahead blues rock sound of yesteryear for a Killers-esque thing with some funky effects from the synth, but overall I think I can dig it. 

Track five is "Year in Review." Just like "Fever," this one has a different sound and while I don't like it personally, it's refreshing. I'm reminded of RHCP's Stadium Arcadium in the way it gets away from their 'normal' sound. You can decide for yourself.

Ah yes, "Bullet in the Brain." Moses Mayfield meets Foster the People who are secretly holding hands with U2. Don't let the chill acoustic guitar intro fool you - the fun hits just after the 1:00 mark, and then again at 2:00. Lots of angst and driving electric guitar to remind you of what band you're listening to. Don't even get me started on the content.

"It's Up to You Now," is next and honestly, I toe the line on this one. I like the indifferent attitude portrayed here, but the way in which it's delivered: meh. The Mofro sound of the verses is so-so. I do dig on the half-time guitar solo, but it's gonna take more than that to sell me. 

Next up is "Waitin' on Words." Nope. And that's comin' from a guy who is a sucker for some B3.

Been waiting a few tracks now for some retro Black Keys and "10 Lovers" finally delivers. Bumpin' bass, healthy 2s and 4s and some well layered guitar/synth set a groovy stage for this track. Gimme the throwbacks! Even if the synth leads are a little more prevalent than I'd like. 

Next to last is "In Our Prime." This tune has grown on me. At first it had a very indie/blues/alt sound that sounded like the dime-a-dozen groups who are all over the radio. But between the tempo changes, different distortion pedals, and funky guitar solos, I think I can dig.

The record's closer is another throwback that brings this up-and-down album to a safe ending. The sound they went for would be just as appropriate on a Steve Miller Band record as it would here. It's got the same upbeat, new-school-meets-old sound that guys like Gary Clark Jr. and The Dirty Guv'nahs are pursuing. You can't help but drum on the steering wheel when this one comes on. 

All in all, this record is hit or miss to me. The Keys have established a very specific sound that you don't get much of on this record. That's not to say it's bad, but it could be a disappointment for those expecting more of the same a la Brothers or Magic Potion.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Week 27

In the Lonely Hour by Sam Smith

This one is big. One of my favorites I've heard this year big. As a matter of fact I'm calling it. This album will be right up there with 21. Just you wait.

Sam Smith is a British singer/songwriter who you've already heard. He did the vocals on the song "Latch" by Disclosure. He's got a refined, almost-classically-trained thing going on - very similar to Adele, actually. And just like his female counterpart, this album is a long story centered around a single heartbreak, which also happened at age 21. 

Anyway, here we go.

The opener "Money on My Mind" is one that's been getting plenty of radio play recently so you may be familiar. To me this one's hit or miss. The song seems kind of out of place on the album. It also has much more of a club feel than anything else. That's all I have to say about that. 

Next up is "Good Thing." This is a pretty somber tune that gets into what the album's really about. With the line "For a moment I believed you loved me too,
But life is never like this, and you're never strong," we certainly get that we're talking about unrequited love here. While the instrumentation is sparse (like most of this album's songs), it's still surprisingly genuine.

Following "Good Thing" is another one you've probably heard on the radio. "Stay With Me." Confession: I really like this song. I can't tell you why. It could be the use of gospel choir, it could be subtle Timberlake falsetto, it could be something else, but I've been burning up this track in the Mazda's CD player all week. The pleading subject material contrasts well with the hopeful chord progression. Throw in some steadily growing strings, a smattering of gospel backup vocals and you've got yourself a tasty single. 

Next is "Leave Your Lover." While this one and "Life Support" (track 8) both have a simple genuine sound, I don't really like 'em. I know the emotion is genuine, but I still think that both songs have an immaturity that makes it harder to buy into. Loving someone only to not be loved in return sucks, but I still can't get over the almost whiney sound of "Leave Your Lover" and "Life Support" is just too mushy. There. I said it. 

The album's fifth tune, "I'm Not the Only One" sounds like it'd be right at home on 21. Old school organ, Aretha-inspired vocals, and plenty of understated sass. Need I say more?

"I've Told You Now" is next and I'm still enthralled with the simplicity. While some of the songwriting has some maturing to do, I'm still so impressed that Sam retains this ultra-simple sound that doesn't require a ton of electronics, disco beats, or sexy guitar. Three and a half minutes of admitting you love you someone never sounded so good.

Next up is "Like I Can." This one sounds and feels a lot like "Rolling in the Deep." Slow build, aggressive lyrics, and tons of energy have the same affect that Adele gets on hers. Give it a listen.

"Not In That Way" follows and this song is the closest to a normal ballad you're gonna get. Think Adele's "Take It All" with a little less belting. Sam certainly delivers lots of raw, haunting, emotion on this one, which is an interesting flavor since he's got a very musical theatre style. Not exactly at home in a dive bar like you could imagine Adele. 

The 10th track is "Lay Me Down" which honestly sounds like it'd be just fine in a musical. Great song, I like it, but... every time I hear it, I imagine a single spotlight on center stage at a Broadway show...

"Restart" follows and it gives us a little more of the post-production we've been missing. It has an almost George Michael/Rick Astley thing going on. Lots of falsetto, lots of old-school synth. 

Almost there. Next are two songs you've probably heard before. First is a stripped down version of "Latch." Actually pretty cool, especially if you're sick of the original. After is "La La La" by Naughty Boy feat. Sam. This one's been all over the radio blah blah blah...

And finally, the closer is "Make It to Me." Is it cliche? Yes. An entire album about heartbreak ends on a hopeful note. Shocking. But still, it's a good song. Thoughtfully written, and once again, the simplicity draws you in.

All in all, I love this album. Even if it's not your cup of tea, for those of us who are just plain music fans in general, there's something captivating about hearing a singer sound genuine. Not too common this day and age. Sam does it well and hopefully that will never change. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Week 26

The Bill Murray EP by Sweatshop Union

Just stumbled onto Sweatshop thanks to Spotify last week. If you can get past the fact that they're Canadian (I know it's hard), Sweatshop will hook you up with some old-meets-new production, a socially conscious flow, and Mac Miller looks.

After a little intro to remind us of the record's namesake, the first real track on the 8-song EP drops in. "Makeshift Kingdom" is an aggressive track with lots of commentary on our purpose in this life. While it has a certain Tech N9ne vibe, it's not dark and scary, just real. 

After a sub-2:00 half-cooked track called "Sunburn," Bill Murray's third track is entitled "Bring Back the Music," and it is definitely my favorite from this release. The ethereal not-West-Coast-but-not-East-Coast-either beat makes for a very chill vibe, which like all good hip hop tracks set the stage for some irony. This is a pretty angry track about the state of the entertainment industry. Not an original idea, but a solid take on how superficial our appreciation of art is.

At the halfway mark, we get "Nuclear Family." This one is a close second to "Bring Back" for me. You could probably guess that it's about being a responsible pro-creator, but the lyricism is just killer. 

Next up is the title track "Bill Murray." Dubstep infused beats with some fresh record scratching reminds me of late '90s Busta Rhymes. The music video is great, not to mention it requires no effort on your part to find, so check it out:

Next to last is "John Lennon." This one doesn't do a lot for me, but that doesn't mean it's bad. It's hard to make a hip hop track with a positive message that doesn't start to sound hokey. 

Bill Murray wraps up with haunting "Staring at the Walls (Too Late)." This is a warning to those of us who don't live with much forethought or proactivity. Stand up people!

While it's probably not going to be inducted into the Western Canon of hip hop, this is a solid EP release from an almost-underground group that has a lot to offer without being wacky or cheesy. Chickity-check it out. 

Week 25

Fragments by Submotion Orchestra

Dude. Let's get fragmentized.

Submotion Orchestra is one of the coolest groups I've heard in a long time. They're a seven piece group that can go toe to toe with any record-scratcher. Except better. Honestly, if I had you listen to this with your eyes closed, would it even cross your mind that these are acoustic instruments?

That's what I thought.

They've got the atmospheric, experimental, chill-hop thing down not to mention Ruby Wood's 'Norah Jones meets Bassnectar' voice.

Although I dig the whole album, standout tracks include the romantic "Thinking," "Snow," and the haunting "Coming Up for Air."

If any of the following words appeal to you, I highly recommend giving this group a spin: Nu jazz, electro-pop, ambiance, groovestep, awesome sauce.