“Crash Love” can mean many different things.
If you’re Davey Havok, AFI’s lead singer, you’ll swear that Crash Love is your band’s strongest release yet, a gripping lamentation on celebrity iconography and fleeting experiences. In fact, Havok has even gone on record saying, “The record is really more about how the great attraction to inappropriately shared intimacies, carefully constructed personas, and the loss of a sense of self can affect an entire world…” He also assures listeners that it’s also a step forward in the band’s evolution, stripping back the dense electronics of 2006’s Decemberundergound in favor of more immediate rock sounds.
Sweeping social commentary from the guy that echoed Winona Rider in saying his whole life was one, big, dark room just 3 albums ago.
Yet if you’re part of the legions of AFI faithfuls that will seek out the record, you’ll find that Havok (Along with guitarist Jade Puget, bassist Hunter Burgan, and drummer Adam Carson) have provided fans with something different. Instead, you’ll find that AFI have crashed a gold covered plane filled with their childhood musical influences into the towers of everything AFI once stood for in terms of originality.
Crash Love is an exhausting record. This is not because the sounds and themes are difficult to dissect, but because AFI sound so complacent throughout the disc’s 12 tracks. It’s downright frustrating listening to a band, that’s evolved so purposefully over their last two albums, make something so slick, by-the-numbers and conservative here. Where the band used to surprise listeners with explosive choruses, anthematic sing-a-longs, and tense musical moments, Crash Love offers up slickly produced stadium rock that would rather channel The Smiths and Bowie instead of Nine Inch Nails and Danzig.
“Torch Song” does a good job of misleading listeners off the bat. Amidst thunderous drums, warm bass, and twisting lead work, AFI treat listeners to an expansive opener that recalls the call-and-response of their younger years. Against Puget’s staccato riffs, Havok croons, “I’d tear out my soul/For/You my dear…” While light on the gloom and heavy on gang vocals, “Torch Song” acts as the album’s brightest moment.
Sadly, the album’s biggest problem comes down to the fact that AFI sound too much like their influences. “Veronica Sawyer Smokes” comes across as a Morrissey throw away, and “It Was Mine” is all power-pop-meets-Queen with disastrous results. What used to make AFI unique was their ability to synthesize their influences and splatter them across a hardcore punk frame.
Now, the band seems bored with trying to be innovative and is stuck simply imitating.
Gone is the sweeping dark grandeur of Sing The Sorrow and the cold/electronic ambiance of Decemberunderground. Instead, Crash Love revels in guitars that chime rather than crunch, and arrangements that never take off in addition to feeling out of character. “Too Shy To Scream,” is a chunky glam number with a swing shuffle, a song who’s uptempo hooks feel out of place against the supposed “edgy” lyrics of “I'd die/If you only met my eyes/Before you pass by/Will you pause to break my heart?” While the band has explored song arrangements foreign to punk in the past, it has never come across as forced and has haphazard as it does on Crash Love.
But perhaps the most disconcerting part about the record is how lazy Havok’s writing has become. As AFI has evolved, he became an expert exploring the darkest recesses of the human soul. While he always wrote highly melodic hooks and choruses, Havok was careful not to let cheese creep into his troubled prose.
On Crash Love, however, Havok embraces every clichéd writing trick in the book. “Darling, I Want To Destroy You” features trite lines such as, “I must confess/I am over dressed/Not impressed/Are you not impressed? /Darling I want to…” On “I Am Trying Very Hard To Be Here,” Havok leads his band in calling out, “FLASH FLASH CAR CRASH/We’re not fixtures/QUICK NOW QUICK/Take our pictures!” It’s heartbreaking, and over digitally muted guitars and sterile drumming, AFI come across less as artists and more as gimmicks.
Yet despite the sour taste long time fans might feel with Crash Love, the album does have some shining moments. “End Transmission” creates a chilling atmosphere with Puget’s syrupy guitar lines and Burgan’s moody bass. The album’s single, “Medicate,” injects some life into the album’s second half with a blistering solo while “Cold Hands” features some aggressive grooves. While none of the tracks maintain the listener's attention for their whole running time, AFI do flash occasional moments of brilliance within the album's running time.
However, it’s all too little too late. AFI always prided themselves in their ruthless experimentation because it was earnest and authentic, but Crash Love comes across as neither. Instead, AFI have created an album that does not play to their strengths, but an album that captures a once fearless band as a shadow of their former selves.
Celebrity has taken a toll on this band, and ironically, in whining about movie stars and car crashes it seems that AFI has become the very thing they attempted to dissect. It’s with this that perhaps another meaning can be gleaned from “Crash Love:” The moment where one’s desires converge into a large mess that no longer resembles what you once felt attached to.
From that perspective, at least the album is appropriately titled.
Key Cuts: Torch Song, End Transmission, Medicate
Sounds Like: Wish (The Cure), The Golden Age Of Grotesque (Marilyn Manson), Strangeways Here We Come (The Smiths)
Click on the artwork to sample some of Crash Love for yourself!
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
“Crash Love” can mean many different things.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Try as I might, I couldn’t keep up with ALL the releases that have come out this month. I did, however, have things to say about the ones that fell through the cracks, so I thought I’d share quick thoughts on some of these large name albums.
Imogen Heap- Ellipse (**)
Key Cuts: First Train Home, Swoon, Between Sheets
Jay-Z- The Blueprint 3 (****)
Jay-Z has struggled since coming back from retirement. Kingdom Come was abysmal, and American Gangster was too high in concept and not in execution. The Blueprint 3, on the other hand, displays Hova doing what he does best, surrounding himself with a talented production team and hungry guest stars as he talks about life on top. Lyrically, he seems to be very aware of the legacy he’s crafting for himself and that comes up quite a few times in tracks like “Empire Of The Sun” and “Forever Young.” However, the record really shines because of how Kanye West and No I.D.’s blend of synthpop and soul dominates the album’s production. The music seamlessly bridges old and new flavors, playing out like a greatest hits parade to compliment Jay-Z’s hip-hop reign. While it’s sad to see “Jockin’ Jay-Z” absent from the final cut, no one will be jockin’ the Jigga Man after a record like this.
Key Cuts: Run This Town, Empire Of The Sun, Forever Young
Pearl Jam- Backspacer (**)
Key Cuts: The Fixer, Just Breathe, Supersonic
Muse- The Resistance (***)
Key Cuts: Uprising, Undisclosed Desires, United States Of Eurasia (+Collateral Damage)
Friday, September 18, 2009
Let’s get something clear: Brand New is dead.
Daisy is evidence of that.
This album isn’t a charmingly witty take on pop-punk. It’s also not a hyper verbose and dreamy homage to the Smiths and Built To Spill. There is no God here for the Devil to fight, and at times fans might not even know if Brand New (as they know them) are here.
This is Daisy, and it will eat your babies.
After another long extended absence, the Long Island 5 piece returns with a record that is all fire and brimstone, full of noisy riffs, gut wrenching screams, and dense atmospheres. While vocalist/guitarist Jesse Lacey has taken a backseat to guitarist Vinnie Accardi’s writing for this record, it’s clear that the band worked as a solid unit with a very focused mindset to craft this 40-minute monster.
Beginning with an old timey phonograph and 30s inspired jazz singer, “Vices” quickly gives way to manic chaos and dissonant riffs. Instruments slam into each other with caustic fury and Garrett Tierney’s bass holding the song steady. Lacey’s raspy screams and Brian Lane’s spacious drumming beat on the eardrums. Brand New have always enjoyed a level of energy in their work, but on “Vices” and on the rest of Daisy, they’re never felt so visceral.
This can be attributed to two very specific things: A) Brand New’s sudden fascination with the blues and B) Their urge to play far more groove oriented music. From Accardi’s searing lead work on “Bought A Bride” to the seductive verses in “Sink” Brand New have flavored their riffs with a blues overtone that adds to Daisy’s old feel. Listeners will find that despite being produced in 2009, the old sermon snippets and vinyl pops make the record feel like something you’d find in an attic. This sudden southern flair has added an interesting dimension to their sound, one that compliments Daisy’s raw feel while adding something new to Brand New’s sonic palate.
And when it comes to groove, Brand New have some seriously hypnotic ones. The album’s title track stomps and grinds along aside mournful gang vocals and spidery guitar lines. Elsewhere, the album’s closer “Noro” wheezes and lurches its way down into the bowels of hell with Tierney’s over fuzzed bass and Accardi’s twangy lead work. The band carries over the same of foreboding that they had on The Devil & God Are Raging Inside Me, but the songs on Daisy are looser, more claustrophobic, and a lot messier.
Yet it’s the lyrics that really grip listeners, both for their unflinching honesty and tragic frustration.
While many die-hard fans will complain about their directness, Daisy seems to be fixated around the afterlife, the evil that permeates the human condition, and the dangers of religious evangelism. On the smoldering “Gasoline” Lacey screams, “So there's a sickness and it's goin' round/But no one's got a vaccine/And they can drown in holy water/But I think it's time we all come clean…”
Suffice to say, Brand New aren’t a band to mince words, and the binge and purge writing is big part of Daisy’s allure.
While it’s unclear who wrote which songs (All lyrics credited to Accardi/Lacey) what IS clear is how these men in there 30s still feel lost, forlorn, and uncomfortable about where they are in the lives. “Bought A Bride” tackles the unnerving truths of settling down for the sake of direction, “Should've been a soldier/I could've fought and died/There's no revolution/So I bought a bride…” while “Daisy” paints a larger more existential quandary as Lacey chants, “Well if you take all these things and bury the past/And pray that they turn to seeds and roots and then grass/It'll be alright/It's alright/It'd be easier that way…” Brand New’s imagery tends to revolve a great deal around nature this time around; a push towards something more basic or even human, and the results hold a more somber sense of melancholy than past albums.
In any event, both men are preoccupied with how social institutions are fleeting, and that there is a moral/spiritual decay we should be conscious of. On the album’s crowning achievement “You Stole,” Lacey gently whispers over delicate and dreamy guitar lines, “So if I'm a liar/And you're a thief/At least we both know where the other one sleeps/So let's end this tonight…” While the rest of the track rumbles forward with crashing riffs, Lacey’s voice adds a sense of majesty to the white noise confusion and gentle atmospheres.
And what it ultimately comes down to is how well Brand New’s songwriting is maturing with their age. The short answer? Like fine wine.
Daisy isn’t always messy and dissonant, the off-timed jazzy twinkling of “Bed” offering atmosphere and haunting visuals, but make no mistake that it is a record that requires multiple listens because of how raw it is.
Yet at the same time it’s subversive, a record will get under people’s skin while they unpack it and spend time with it. Daisy is a rare record because while most bands can easily do a stylistic overhaul, not many maintain the same sense of voice and honesty as Brand New has. In their interviews and on record, Brand New are a band that refuses to cater to what’s expected of them, and as a result, they are able to carry forward sonically while maturing with that special world perspective that makes them so unique.
So perhaps it’s best that the Brand New, as world knows them, is dead. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have been able to forge forward and make a record like Daisy.
Key Cuts: Bed, You Stole, Bought A Bride
Sounds Like: Thickfreakness (The Black Keys), Loveless (My Bloody Valentine), In Utero (Nirvana)
Click on the artwork to sample some of Daisy for yourself!
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Billy Corgan seems to be trying to lead The Smashing Pumpkins' legacy into stranger and weirder places these days. Whether it's turning a blind eye with the abdication of Jimmy Chamberlain, hiring a new 19 year old drummer, or telling his fans they suck, Corgan has been adamant that The Smashing Pumpkins are HIS band now, and he'll do whatever he damn well pleases. As such, yesterday's announcement about the release of a new Smashing Pumpkins album is just as strange.
Teargarden By Kaleidyscope will be a 44 song concept album about Corgan's tarot fascinations, released online and through limited edition E.P.s. Additionally, once all 44 songs are released, Corgan has promised fans a box set that culls together everything in one concise package.
Oh, and did I mention that the online downloads are free?
Let me repeat: Billy Corgan is NOT charging money for theses songs.
It's a dicey move, one that's grand enough for the Great Pumpkin and his humble little band, but can a project of this magnitude really sustain itself? It's hard enough to maintain a good double album full of quality material and rarely is a trilogy even attempted. 44 songs is a TON of music, and Corgan's promise of "the original psychedelic roots of The Smashing Pumpkins: atmospheric, melodic, heavy, and pretty" might not be enough to win over those who soured on Zeitgeist.
Here are some things to consider:
-As an avid fan of Siamese Dream, Corgan's promise of the original Pumpkins sound does intrigue me. I'm not short-sided enough to believe this album is going to sound like a time capsule from 1993, but a bit more shoegaze and a little less metal could add some life to Corgan's recent output.
-Corgan has effectively diminished the effect music piracy can have on an album and is reaching out to Generation iTunes. His release of songs one at a time, for free, in a digital capacity, makes the release more difficult to really disperse for pirates. In fact, it asserts his artistic autonomy while presenting his distribution method as the best way to get the material. The added bonus of E.P.s and box sets are ideal for collectors and faithful fans. Is it the beginning of the musical revolution we so desperately need?
-Unlike some bands (I'm looking at you Bloc Party) that offer an incomplete album online, the Teargarden By Kaleidyscope project is the whole enchilada. Bravo, Billy.
-Will this seriously impact how we listen to records? Corgan is releasing these songs one at a time over the coming months, so unless fans hold out until all the material is out, they won't be experiencing the material as one complete work. This troubles me, especially because I'm a firm believer in "the album" as an art form.
-How will he maintain interest? While everyone is buzzing about it now, receiving updates via Facebook or Twitter will become monotonous for every song release. This is going to be a big challenge for him.
-What fidelity can fans expect with these initial releases? Will we have to wait a year before we experience these songs at 320 kbps? For audiophiles, this is really frustrating.
Ultimately, we'll have to wait to see the full success/failure of Corgan's newest ego trip. Yet if the songs are good, none of this might matter one single (pun intended) bit.
Monday, September 14, 2009
So one can imagine how it feels to feel that again, and I need to thank blink 182 for that.
While nostalgia has been running high on blink 182’s summer reunion tour, the band puts on a show that can almost justify the $40 t-shirts they sell. Supported by Chester French, Taking Back Sunday, and Weezer, blink 182 has assembled a ticket that’s interested in tapping into something deeper than just past reputations.
They want you to feel them like a force of nature (Or call girl), and that’s exactly what they accomplish.
The wet, rainy evening began with the rather bland Chester French, offering up half-hearted dance punk for the crowded masses. It left audiences hungry for the real large guns as Andrew "D.A." Wallach and Maxwell Drummey’s material simply failed to leave an impact. They dabble in big sing-a-long choruses and funky synthesizers, but lose the audience when they start singing about “laying pipe.”
Yet it made sense having them on the tour: They are a band desperately attempting to achieve great things through modest means. It’s a label that blink 182 heard all throughout their early days. In a fun way, it seemed like blink’s decision to include them was a nod to their younger years, perhaps hoping to grant Chester French with the same hope that their musical heroes gave them.
Still, there is no substitution for good music and the night’s performances only got better.
Taking Back Sunday ripped through a concise set that ignored a great deal of their old material, but proved they still have a great knack for working a crowd. Adam Lazzara still slithers like Gen Y’s Mick Jagger, and new guitarist Matt Fazzi seemed incredibly comfortable singing dual vocals on classics like “Cute Without The ‘E’ (Cut From The Team).” While the stutter stop energy and rusty riffs of “Sink Into Me” kept audiences on their toes, it was cuts from 2006’s Louder Now that truly made the set. “Liar (It Takes One To Know One)” hit the audience hard, Mark O’Conell’s deft cymbal work and Eddie Reye’s punchy guitar paving the way for Lazzara’s all-too-snide vocals. The band ending up closing with “MakeDamnSure,” the stadium echoing Lazzara’s romantic throes syllable for syllable.
While it’s clear that Taking Back Sunday has lost a great performer with the departure of Fred Mascherino, they provided a show that was tight, precise, and no-nonsense. Which was great, because Weezer brought the first wave of nonsense.
Led by vocalist/guitarist Rivers Cuomo (the 12-year-old trapped in a 39-year-old body), Weezer put forth a show that was high in shenanigans and power-pop. While the band’s matching jumpsuits and ukulele smashing antics kept fans laughing, it was the music that kept them entertained. Playing close to half the songs on 1994’s Weezer (The Blue Album) the band reminded fans that they still have a knack for being the coolest uncool guys ever. “Undone (The Sweater Song)” still crunches with all the fuzz and dorky self-loathing that made it huge more than a decade ago, while “Pork & Beans” chugs along with its thick melodies and awkward wit. Elsewhere, “Say It Ain’t So’s” flashy guitar solo let Weezer pretend they were stadium gods, while their new single “If You’re Wondering If I Want You To (I Want You To)” reminds fans that they can still write charming love songs.
Still it’s Weezer’s imperfections and their consistent pursuit of rock grandeur that continue to charm. While they’re sonic palate has expanded a bit (Brian Bell playing keyboards on “Perfect Situation,” Pat Wilson occasionally picking up a guitar and shredding on “Hash Pipe”), it’s Weezer’s ability to shoot for the power-pop moon and fall slightly short that pushes people to see their live set. They’ve never been a sophisticated band, but their talent stems from hitting hard with hooks, sweet melodies and clumsy situations. It’s endearing, in a “kids-playing-superheroes-with-a-towel-for-a-cape” type of fashion.
In short, Weezer understand why people love them and they love to give the people what they want. Love is not based in perfection it’s based in balance, a balance of fun and meaning.
blink 182 understood that too.
Sure, DeLonge’s voice can’t always hit the notes he could a decade ago, and the band would occasionally fall out of step with one another, but the passion they had for their songs was front and center. Cuts such as the snotty “Anthem Pt. 2” and wildly dissonant “Stockholm Syndrome” were punctuated with added fervor from their studio counterparts. Additionally, the band treated fans to extended instrumental sections on ballads like the Tim Burton-esque “I Miss You” and “Down.” Rain kept the audience cold and shivering, but there was hardly a mouth that wasn’t screaming alongside Hoppus or DeLonge’s lyrics.
It was all love, pure and simple.
However, the real fascinating part about the show was how well blink’s discography seemed to gel. A thick and chunky rendition of “What’s My Age Again?” seemed right at home next to the abrasive thump of “Violence.” “Carousel” wasn’t its thinly recorded self, it was a furious 3 chord assault that felt comfortable next to the swirling bass work and dreamy guitar playing of “Always.” Supplementing their goofy charisma with passionate playing, blink 182 were able to present audiences with a consistent summation of their past and present without feeling like a tribute to themselves. In fact, it was clear that it came from a place of love, right down to DeLonge’s t-shirt.
Standing there as the house lights came up, it was evident that the evening had been all about love (Even if the merch booth was about cash). Seeing Hoppus and DeLonge crack sex jokes and embrace on stage within a matter of minutes could have only happened if they really believed in what they were doing as a band. 2009’s blink 182 wants to play these songs as an extension of who they are, and seeing them live reminds listeners why they bought their albums in the first place.
It’s love, and blink 182 gets it.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
The word strikes fear into the hearts of music purists everywhere. For in a simple turn of phrase, it connotes that their beloved bands lived in caves, primitive by today’s sleek technological advancements. It connotes that the band’s output was simply not up to par with today’s standards, that somehow the sounds they created and the stories they told were inferior, simply because recording technology wasn’t as sophisticated as today’s hyper-slick studios. It implies that the band, in 2009, needs something to help improve what they created, because the state it’s in is not good enough.
It’s okay if you bristle at the sound of it, most do.
The practice of remastering classic albums always makes fans worry. There is the overwhelming tendency for engineers to go a tad too compression happy and erase the vibrancy of the original recording. It can lead to a poor product, go against the band’s studio intentions, and cause an awful fan backlash. So naturally when EMI announced a complete remastering of The Beatles’ discography, even I (Who generally favors remasters) bristled.
Yet after a few run-throughs I can say, bristle free, these are incredble.
Rather than do a run down of each album, this review show how the remastering team of Guy Massey, Steve Rooke, Sam Okell, Paul Hicks and Sean Magee attempted to grant the iPod generation the ability to hear what the Fab Four heard as they arranged these songs. While toeing careful lines, this mastering team made choices based on what would afford the tracks the most clarity, instead of brick walling the sound into a compressed mess and killing the song’s natural dynamics.
Simply put, the tracks are not just louder. The Beatles’ material has finally been granted a depth it never quite achieved in mono or in their 1987 CD presses.
Instead of the shrill grating gang vocals, fans young and old are treated to full-bodied harmonies on the pre-Revolver material, and crisp cymbal work that never truly stood out before. For the first time since we saw them on the Ed Sullivain show, The Beatles sound like they have a robust energy to them. It’s a treat to hear John Lennon’s scratchy vocals on “Twist & Shout” feel wild and unhinged, Paul McCartney’s desperate singing inundated with sharp strings on “Eleanor Rigby,” or George Harrison’s melancholy surf-guitar on “Nowhere Man.”
The remastering never attempts to make the instruments feel contemporary, and that’s its major strength. Instead Harrison and Lennon’s guitars still feel as twangy as they would have in 1964. Elsewhere, McCartney’s bass bumps along with spunk, while Ringo Starr’s drumming (While pedestrian) feels deep and brisk. Yet through careful restoration, all of it comes across with a softer touch and warmer resonance than their previous CD counterparts.
However, the real treat in listening to these remasters is in the small details one’s ears now pick up on. The propulsive drive of “Back In The U.S.S.R.” isn’t just in the searing lead work anymore, but the fluttering piano and driving bass that feel more in grained in the mix. McCartney’s acoustic guitar on “Blackbird” sparkles with new shine, while the eclectic strings and samples on “A Day In The Life” no longer feel like an avant-garde experiment, but a breathtaking experience.
Suddenly, you’re falling in love with The Beatles all over again.
These remasters really did a great job in allowing listeners to experience the low end of the tracks without disrupting the musical tension. Suddenly, Starr’s drums on “Something” feel weighty, McCartney’s bass work nimbly creeps through, and the syrupy strings add a dreamy quality to Harrison’s wistful croon. “In My Life” revels in delicately plucked guitar as Lennon’s nostalgic voice is backed with soaring harmonies that feel just as passionate as they did on your parents’ records.
Yet what separates these remasters from the sea of botched ones, is their humility.
These songs weren’t improved, for the master tapes and mixes all existed to the public in some form or another. Rather, these remasters were done to grant an experience, an experience The Beatles wanted us to have from the start. While die-hards will avoid them and stick to their scratched vinyl’s, The Beatles Stereo Box Set offers a clarity and sense of space that only the men making it could have heard, something that technology wouldn’t let them give to us. To grant this to fans is not only gracious, but should rewrite the book on what it means to remaster something (And the intentions behind such projects).
Maybe in the future, we’ll be saying, “Hey, this got remastered just like The Beatles stuff.”
Suddenly, we’re not bristling anymore.
Spin These First: Please Please Me, The Beatles (The White Album), Abbey Road
Sounds Like: 4 guys from Liverpool.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Something that receives no credit should always be met with trepidation. It’s very elitist to assume that everything that comes out of a critic’s mouth is gospel, and this blog is certainly NOT gospel. Let’s be honest, the masses reading this shouldn’t just accept a 0 rating because that’s lazy. Rather, that is when it’s most necessary to dissect a critic’s arguments, because 99.9% of the time the rating is too harsh or misguided.
So be scrutinizing readers, but let me propose that this album might be in that other .1%.
The Used’s Artwork is either the year’s best comedy album, a satire on contemporary post-hardcore, or it’s an over-compressed record that the band had the audacity to pass off as, “artwork.”
It’s safe to say this blog feels it falls under the latter designation.
For starters, Artwork is inauthentic. As vocalist Bert McCracken described the album in an interview with Alternative Press, Artwork is about, “Coming to grips with how much you really hate yourself…” Please ignore the fact that this comes from a 27 year old MySpace version of Andrew W.K. who probably has more cars than you have pairs of shoes.
While McCracken might very well feel that way, never has he expressed it in such a juvenile manner as he has on Artwork. This is, hands down, the most horrendously written record of the year from a band that seemed far cleverer not so long ago. Lines such as, “I haven't lost anything except my mind/Expect a thousand confessions that you will not find…” or, “Don't let me go, don't say good bye/Cuz you know that I'm not alive…” fail to resonate because of how trite, ham-fisted, and lazy they come across.
“You'll never make it alone/It's easier to go…” sings McCracken on “Men Are All The Same.”
It’s one thing to explore these dark themes with frustration and rage, but McCracken sings them as if he’s reading off his shopping list, making them seem hollow and disingenuous in the process. There are no revelations to be found in Artwork’s constructed anger and this regression is sad to listen to. Whatever maturity The Used gained from their last studio outings has simply vanished as McCracken’s prose sinks into adolescent mire, one that listeners should be too embarrassed to take seriously.
With lyrics this ho-hum, the band’s sense of danger, or even relevance, has been stripped clean, transforming Artwork into something compact and marketable for Hot Topic stores everywhere. Simply put, mad 14 year olds are going to eat this stuff up.
It doesn’t stop there. McCracken has never been a poet, but the band typically saves him with somewhat interesting melodies, even if they’ve move on from the chaotic stop-on-a-dime madness that marked their early records. 2007’s Lies For The Liars, while over-produced and slick, provided fans with crunchy riffs, frantic energy, and big crescendoing choruses that promised fans more interesting arrangements in the future. Additionally, The Used firing John Feldmann and hiring Matt Squire as their producer was an attempt to get back to a more messy sound, a sound that McCracken even prided himself in.
“Our songs are 10 times messier and noisier than they've ever been,” McCracken told Alternative Press.
This is a lie.
Barring the sharp melodies from guitarist Quinn Allman on “Blood On My Hands,” there isn’t anything remotely heavy about Artwork. Guitars hum when they should hammer down (“Sold My Soul”) and McCracken’s whiney voice has been smothered in Pro Tools and pasted onto ballads (“Watered Down”). Elsewhere, new drummer Dan Whitesides simply keeps time, stuck in the familiar soft-verse/loud-chorus that the band literally beats to death with Squire’s hyper slick production style.
So much for rawness and spontaneity.
Where McCracken promised fans noisier songs, the band delivered saccharine sweet ballads and mid-tempo monotony. Allman’s rich and layered solo on “Kissing You Goodbye” would almost be a highlight of McCracken hadn’t made it feel like a hair metal ballad, complete with overwrought piano as he sings, “On my own, I'm nothing/Just bleeding, I'm not kissing you goodbye…” Additionally, when it comes to the anti-religious zeal of “On The Cross,” The Used never find the head-banging groove they strive for, and the track is undermined by the spoken word samples of a particularly bigoted evangelist.
We get it guys, you don’t like the church. That’s about as subtle as Tila Tequlia.
Keep in mind; however, this isn’t an issue of a band experimenting with a new sound. Instead, Artwork is a band failing to live up to it’s potential, offering something that’s safe, bland, and rarely engaging. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to give Artwork any merit, whatsoever. When the passion has been stripped from the craft, the work’s value is questionable at best, and this is the case with this album.
So take care to make up your OWN minds about Artwork. Question this blog, and do your own detective work readers. At the very least, listen to the album, because it's rare to see an album so forced and contrived as this one.
Sounds Like: A very TIRED band.
If you’re curious, click the artwork to sample Artwork for yourself.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Happy Birthday to...well, me I guess. It's a been a weird ride so far and I'm told it gets weirder. So to make sure that ride is filled with good tunes, I've made a list of 22 of my favorite artists and the underrated songs I love by them. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
People aren’t comfortable with things that land in the middle of the spectrum. Why you ask? Because they can’t assign a name to them, they can’t classify them. People are far more comfortable when something IS, or it ISN’T and if it’s PERHAPS, well then all best are off.
As such, New York’s As Tall As Lions are in the same boat. Too hooky for Pitchfork’s snarky elitism and too dense for mainstream radio, these Long Islanders attempt to take their arena ready indie pop to the masses on their own terms. What they present is You Can’t Take it With You, an album that focuses on creating atmosphere rather than bite sized sing-a-longs, an album that’s rich in texture.
To help achieve that goal, it’s clear that a great deal of time went into the crystal clear production of the record. On the opening “Circles,” listeners are treated to snappy drums, Dan Nigro’s syrupy tenor, and Saen Fitzgerald’s angelic guitar work. “Circles” is positively pristine, introducing listener to the dream-like quality of the rest of the album with a fairly concise track.
This is perhaps the band’s greatest strength: The ability to make a 3 minute song seem like a 12 minute musical journey.
It doesn’t stop there though. The r&b flavored title track is awash with thick harmonies and jazzy bass work while the shuffling “Duermete” is a spacious piano laden number that makes careful use of Fitzgerald’s shimmering leadwork. Nigro sounds fragile on the track, his disciplined voice rising and falling as the song drifts by, and the band really focuses on using the space between the melodies to make it haunting. There is a dreamy quality to much of You Can’t Take It With You, and As Tall As Lions really seem to mine that for all it’s worth.
But make no mistake; this isn’t just a record that sounds good. Nigro’s lyrics can be fairly confrontational when he’s not too busy professing his love to his lady. The jaunt 70s inspired piano of “Is This Tommorrow?” sports lines such as, “As children grab their guns and line up to die, doll/And our hollow headlines, oh they just prove to warn/Yeah, calling in the time's read today/If you're not confused then you're not really...” Against a stutter-stop backbeat and dizzying bass line, Nigro rages against apathy with deft wordplay rather than frantic screams. His voice is emotive but never reckless, and finding a pop band with that much insight is a rare feat.
Elsewhere, the melancholy intimacy of “Sleepyhead” is another on of the album’s highlights with lines such as, “Where I am's nowhere it seems/When thoughts of you get a hold of me/I squint my eyes and try to see/Just where's the line between a coma and a dream…” Against a sparse background of soft keyboards and delicate drumming, As Tall As Lions have an incredible talent for making poignant situations seem innocuously safe.
It’s a fascinating writing style; one that warrants their albums repeated listens.
Yet for how brilliantly the band seems to synthesize these elements into great songs, the album has some glaring flaws, namely, that As Tall As Lions did not go far enough. While You Can’t Take It With You has a noticeably more soulful vibe than it’s self-titled predecessor (The old time jazz/Charles Mingus-flavored “We’s Been Waitin’” comes to mind) the band’s lost some spontaneity in their exploration of sonic texture.
As Tall As Lions deftly explore looser rhythms, unconventional drumming patterns, and off kilter melodies, but the musical climaxes are far too familiar. Where their self-titled reveled in lush instrumentation and hooks that truly stood out, this record’s more relaxed pace bogs down some melodies that should really explode. “Go Easy (See The Love)” should be positively expansive but its predictable rise and fall make it simply okay. And in addition to losing steam on the latter half of the album, You Can’t Take It With You simply doesn’t contain songs that pop out at listeners.
While As Tall As Lions expertly balance a myriad of influences and parts, this is the first time those parts tend to outshine the whole.
All in all, You Can’t Take It With You is a fairly strong release, if an uneven one. The disc neatly hides nuggets of brilliance that are fun to unpack, but the experience is nowhere near the overwhelming satisfaction gleaned from their self-titled. Yet perhaps this album, like As Tall As Lions’ sound, isn’t meant to firmly reside on one side of the fence. Perhaps, the band intended to craft an album to explore, rather than to simply turn up.
If that’s the case, fans will have to be comfortable with appreciating You Can’t Take It With You for what it is.
Key Cuts: Duermete, We’s Been Waitin’, Is It Tomorrow?
Sounds Like: Illuminate (Lydia), The Needle, The Space (Straylight Run), The Alchemy Index Vol. III: Air (Thrice)
Click on the artwork to sample some of You Can’t Take It With You for yourself!