Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Album Review: Sleigh Bells - Reign of Terror (2012)

Derek Edward Miller and Alexis Krauss start this record like it's a Van Halen concert. They're tricking you into thinking that maybe after the Skins commercials that had everyone humming "Kids," after the Williamsburg and Pitchfork royalty fame, and after all the music festivals they attended last year, they were going to take things in a different direction - maybe a little more heavy metal. Before Reign of Terror came out, the band even described the album as "heavy, immense, and huge." Sounds pretty metal, to me. But instead, they hit you again with a distorted, loud, synthesized ballad with Krauss' eerie, soft almost Marilyn Monroe-esque tone - "Born to Loose" and that's when you start to feel the relief of something familiar.

A sophomore album needs to be tactfully done these days if you want to even make a third album. A lot of fans are complaining because the record is too "safe". I too, would have liked to see this record be a little more experimental than it is, but I think Miller and Krauss are smart and they're going to do everything they can so they don't suffer from the dreaded sophomore slump. They're going to do what they do best and they do it well on Reign of Terror.

Speaking of them doing what they do best, that brings me to the next track, "Crush" which is an thrash infused version of Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" with an attitude. "Leader of the Pack," "Comeback Kid" and "Demons" come next which are all fast, loud and actually, lyrically inspiring without being cheesy (for Sleigh Bells, at least. If you've heard their debut album, Treats, you'll know their lyrics aren't exactly what I'd call deep. Not necessarily a bad thing though). I've heard that "Comeback Kid" is actually about something that happened that was tragic and hard to deal with this past year in Miller's life. You would think that this would warrant a more serious feel to the song, but it's actually one of the more upbeat, party sounding songs. The lyrics, however, will give you a little hint - "I know you tried so hard, but you can’t even win / you gotta try a little harder, you’re the comeback kid."

Remember that song on Treats, "Rill Rill" formerly known as "Ring Ring" when they originally wrote it? There are a lot more "Rill Rill" influenced songs on this album than their last and they're also some highlights of the album. "End of the Line," "Road to Hell" and "D.O.A." are three of the best songs on this album. They're a lot more intricate with their sound, using different instruments and arrangements to create it. Krauss' voice is used as an instrument, even. It almost has a shogaze sound where the instruments blend together with her voice. I predict that their third album will actually have more of this sound - I think this was their way of experimenting with this record.

One thing that will always ring true about Sleigh Bells is their rough attitude and their eagerness to party. I guess they're like Van Halen in some ways, after all.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Episode 15 - Stef Preston Talks Music

Listen to the podcast HERE!

AND please do yourself a favor and become a regular listener to my friend Dennis' podcast and avid reader of his blog, D Money Mania. Thank you.

Top 10 of 2011 (Almost Three months late)

You thought I just forgot, didn't you?
Oh no, I just wanted to be sure that I was picking the most accurate and superior top 10 for 2011!

For me, 2011 was the year of pure, unapologetic, distorted, I'm-going-to-record-this-in-my-basement-so-fuck-off Rock. There was a slight drought in music during the beginning of 2011 but the Summer really picked things up for me when Death Cab for Cutie and Bon Iver's albums came out. It was also the year of unknowns and new artists for me. Laura Marling, The Joy Formidable, The Civil Wars - all really amazing bands who debuted their talents to the world in 2011 and who I know will have long-lasting careers (if they're smart, of course. You never know!)

Anyway, here they are... (Finally. I know. Sorry.)

10. The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow
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It's a shocker that Joy Williams and John Paul White aren't romantically involved. Or at least dated in the past. The chemistry this dynamic duo has are dead on for alt-country perfection. My only complaint is that they "OOOOHHHH" WAY more than anyone ever should. Ever.
Exhibit A: the self titled track, "Barton Hollow":

Calm it down for the sophomore album, will ya?

By the way - another amazing song to look out for? "My Father's Father"

9. Bright Eyes - The Peoples Key
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The eighth studio album from Conor and his Bright Eyes crew, Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott, was a nice surprise during the beginning of the year slump. The album was released on February 15, which also happens to be Oberst's birthday, to mixed reviews. In fact, a reviewer from No Ripchord is quoted as saying, "There's not a lot fundamentally wrong with The People's Key; it's just that we know Bright Eyes can do better." But isn't giving this a listen way better than any processed Pitbull song? I think yes. Therefore, it is on my list. Well, there are other reasons too, obviously - "Shell Games" and "Ladder Song."

8. Ryan Adams - Ashes & Fire
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If Ryan Adams comes out with an album during the year, it's pretty much a given that I'm going to include him on my list. I really appreciate the fact that Adams is producing solid material consistently since he's been clean and since his marriage to singer/actress/whatever else Mandy Moore. It was a strange combination and I was weirded out at first, but she seems to be a really good influence on him and they do a killer duet on this album called "Come Home."
Another cool tidbit - Adams was apparently very inspired by another artist on my list, Laura Marling. If you know anything about Marling, you'll know she's also a huge Ryan Adams fan so it's nice to see two artists appreciating each other equally. He got his hands on a copy of her sophomore album, I Speak Because I Can, and started re-writing almost all of the material he originally wrote for Ashes & Fire. On discovering Marling, he's quoted as saying, "I thought: 'For fuck's sake.' I literally threw out 80% of what I had. And it felt good, to ask: 'What am I really capable of?' I felt competitive again to write great songs."

7. Foster the People - Torches
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I really like Foster the People, okay?! And I'm not going to tip-toe around that anymore! They were the band people loved to hate in 2011. With "Pumped Up Kicks" being on the radio every other five minutes, I could see why. And unfortunately, "Pumped Up Kicks" in the background of everyone's daily morning commute didn't exactly entice people to give them a further listen. Torches is actually a really interesting album. It also sounds A LOT different from "Pumped Up Kicks." "Pumped Up Kicks" is like a fish out of water on this album...totally doesn't fit. Sometimes when I'm listening to them, I forget that I'm not listening to MGMT - Mark Foster sounds a lot like Andrew VanWyngarden. Speaking of Mark FOSTER, that's probably my biggest pet peeve about this band. For some reason, the fact that they named the band after their lead singer just rubs me the wrong way. Key tracks include "Helena Beat," "Houdini," and "Don't Stop (Color on the Walls)".

6. The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar
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The Joy Formidable are officially a powerhouse that cannot be torn down, in my eyes. The Big Roar was just that, a big roar in the music industry that couldn't be unheard or avoided in 2011. When I wrote that previous sentence, this album was at #8 but now that I'm realizing how much I love it, I've changed it to #6!
"Whirring" owned the Rock radio waves throughout the year, with it's peak position on the Billboard US Alternative Songs chart being higher than any of their other songs at #7. Not to mention, "Whirring" stayed in the Top 10 for pretty much, the entire year. Their latest single, "A Heavy Abacus," has gotten positive reception within alternative rock radio as well. If this hasn't swayed you to listen to The Big Roar, how about a lead singer with the name, Ritzy Bryan? How about that? You can't help but wonder what someone named that would produce, I bet.

5. Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys
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This record was experimental...for Death Cab for Cutie. I need to specify, for Death Cab for Cutie. I think part of it has to do with the influence lead guitarist Chris Walla had on producing the record and being more of a collaborator to the Rivers Cuomo of the band, guitarist and vocalist Ben Gibbard. I personally liked Narrow Stairs way better than this album but they're definitely in the right direction and it's confirmation that this band isn't going anywhere fast. For more on my feelings about this record, check out my Scene Point Blank review that I did last year.

4. Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know
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I feel in love with this girl in 2011. Love, I tell you. (I fell in love once and almost completely! I had to!) For someone being so young (22 years old,) and accomplishing so much already, (A Creature I Don't Know is her third album,) it's evident that her career will bring nothing but good things. Pitchfork reviewer Joshua Love is quoted as saying, "Often with Marling it's not entirely clear whether these songs are springing forth from a 21-year-old Englishwoman or some deathless, wandering spirit." (See my views about this review HERE). I gather that he thought this was a bad thing - I think it's awesome. The fact that you can't tell an artists age solely from her music, says to me, that this is a universally relatable musician who can touch people of different age groups in different ways that suit them. That's a pretty interesting and almost impossible feat to accomplish and for a musician, it's something that they should find pride in knowing that they have the ability to reach that many people, which Marling continuously does with her music and A Creature I Don't Know is an example of that.

3. Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Self Titled - Whatever the hell it is...)
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Justin Vernon has had a good year. Let's hope the curse that's linked to the Grammy award for Best New Artist doesn't effect him. His self titled album, also sometimes called Bon Iver, Bon Iver, is reminiscent to his breakout record, For Emma, Forever Ago but there's some musical growth there in Vernon that can't denied when listening to it. Vernon experiments a lot with other instruments on this album - electric guitars, trumpets, organs. It's not exactly the #1 record for 2011, like everyone else seems to think it is, but it's up there.
Also, I know this may be closed-minded, but I find it ridiculously offensive that people didn't even know who he was until he won Best New Artist at the Grammy's. Like, really? He worked with Kanye West and is on a number of different songs on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Didn't hear about him then? His music has been in movies upon movies and tv shows. You really haven't heard of him ONCE? I don't know. Maybe that's unfair of me but I think it's really weird people are getting all up in arms about how he won and they don't even know who he is. I guess people are way more into their little genre boxes of music than I thought!
If you want to know more about my feelings on this record, check out my Scene Point Blank review.

2. Foo Fighters - Wasting Light
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This damn album. I've been listening to it a lot again lately and it's just as good as the first time I heard it. In my eyes, it's the Foo Fighters' masterpiece - all recorded in Dave Grohl's basement. It's funny, because when you hear that, you get the sense that they're playing in some dingy, cold, unfinished basement but when it's Grohl's basement, it probably looks something like this, with all those amazing songs he's written in the past and all. The first half of Wasting Light is probably the best song writing Grohl has ever done. It's unapologetic, honest, torn down and unmerciful. They deserve all the recognition they received at the Grammy's and I hope they continue to make music like this and I think there's a good probability that they will - it seems like Grohl and his gang are at a point in their careers where they feel like: A) they can do whatever the hell they want and experiment and b) they're exactly where they've always wanted to be musically and lyrically. I'll elaborate more on B - I feel like this is the album they've been trying to make throughout their entire career but haven't been able to make because of something that only they know and I don't - it could have been various personal issues, lack of musicianship or whatever. But with Wasting Light, they were ready. And they did it. And they did it well.

1. The Black Keys - El Camino
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Oh, El Camino. I'm pretty sure you all already knew that this was going to be my #1. I was contemplating this album and Wasting Light for a while actually, which is why this list was delayed for so long. But I chose El Camino because at the end of the day, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are kings amongst men and they are changing rock music as we know it. Actually, Steven Hyden from the A.V. club eloquently wrote something in an opinion piece about the recent Black Keys-Nickelback controversy and it kind of mirrors what I'm trying to say:
"While I appreciate much of what’s happening in indie rock at the moment, El Camino reminds me how much I miss straightforward rock records that are made for a mainstream radio audience and are actually really good. That’s the kind of album that got me into music in the first place. More than anything, rock desperately needs gateway bands right now, groups with roots in the music’s history that can get on the radio and compete in the pop marketplace while building on rock’s continuum. The Black Keys want to be that band, and I’d like to see them pull it off."

YES. THANK YOU, Steven Hyden. This is why The Black Keys are so important. They're doing just what Hyden described. And with what they're doing with their music, they're also changing the way we view current rock music and trying to push the boundaries popularity from bands like Nickelback has given current rock music. They're going to perform at Madison Square Garden - and they're going to do it their way. They're not going to placate to corporations (even though a nice car commercial check is nice once in a while for them, I know,) or to anyone else - as long as they're true to themselves and are making music they love, they're happy. Not only are they making the music they love, but it's also GOOD music and really well done. It's the best of both worlds.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Nicki, Nicki, Nicki...

What is up with this hoe? All of those multiple personalities inside of her are giving her poor judgement!

Dennis has a Podcast

Look out for Episode 15 on my friend, Dennis' website, Dennis has a Podcast! I'm the guest host and we're talking about music!