Thursday, November 5, 2009

Review Round-up - Creed, Do Make Say Think, Lightening Bolt, YSP!WSD!, Hellothisisalex, Daniel Johnston, The Idlers, The Flaming Lips, Chris Kirby

It's that time again. Here is a round up of all the CD reviews I've done for the Scope over the last couple of months. Enjoy.

Full Circle
Has it really been 8 years? Wow. It's seems like just yesterday when Creed were the biggest, shittiest, 5th generation grudge band dominating the radio with their tasteless, overblown, chest-thumping power ballads. But it's been 8 years since Creed put out their last album "Weathered" and left the modern rock world with nothing but Nickelback to fill their void. Now *Finally* they have reunited and delivered "Full Circle" which is "probably" their best album (I wasn't curious enough to actually re-listen to any of the previous ones) with Creed giving a more concentrated effort to appear to be "Edgy" and "Metal" (for the first couple of songs at least) and not at all like ageing, washed up bags of sadness. Scott Stapp has the lyrical subtlety of a sledgehammer and a sac of kittens. Regardless if it's Godsmack or R Kelly they're trying to emulate, Creed are the auditory equivalent of a glass of piss warm Red Bull and a bag of Styrofoam peanuts.

Do Make Say Think
The Other Truths
Is it a sign of the times / the failing music industry when more and more modern recording artists seem intent on making movies or at least music that sounds cinematic nowadays? This could always be said of Toronto's premiere post-rock (what an awful genre term! let's never use it again) instrumentalists Do Make Say Think whose long form instrumentals always seem to evoke a strong visual synesthetic sense. The Other Truths is a detour from the direction of their previous album "You, You're a History in Rust" which had them stripped back and recording in a barn to capture a more "authentic" band sound. But this time around they are very much in a studio artist mode densely packing arrangements with orchestras and thickly woven guitars. The four 10+ minute tracks (each titled cheekily "Do" "Make" "Say" and "Think") ebb and flow epically but with much more vigour and exciting dynamics then usual. The final product is a finely crafted and rich audio layer cake from experts in their prime.

Lightning Bolt
Earthly Delights
For the last few years there seems to been a weird trend in hipster music to purposefully make music sound like shit. I'm not necessarily saying purposefully making shitty "music" but to make the music of highly regarded and popular acts, who should have access to decent recording gear, sound like it was recorded with the built in microphone from a 1989 Magnasonic boombox and mastered by a living compression pedal. No band more clearly defines this aesthetic then Rhode Island's Lightning Bolt. On their latest album the drum and bass duo turn up the psychedelics, dumb down the riffs and turn the oppressive wall of relentless static way the hell up. The duo's modus operandi has always been total sensory overload and although the album occasionally slows down the onslaught of blast beats and nonsense riffage to fine druggy sludge, on the whole it is near a Merzbow level of audio carnage clearly not meant for those of a milder disposition.

You Say Party! We Say Die!
Most people seem to focus on the "Party" part of Vancouver indie/disco/punk band You Say Party! We Say Die! and not the "Die" part. Through all the upbeat energetic club beats and sing/shouting histrionics there is a pronounced dark and gloomy streak. Always catergorized as a band best appreciated live rather then on record, YSP!WSD!'s new album XXXX does a much better job of conveying them as more then just a pile of drunken scenesters. The songs have a deeper maturity then you would expect and work best when mining the lonely nightclub atmospheres. I will say this though: Hipsters nowadays have got to get off the cocaine and stop trying to sound like Berlin or the Psychedelic Furs, the tacky vintage casio tones were a fun novelty four years ago but you can't live in a Degrassi Junior High episode your entire life, even though many people would clearly love that..

The Accidentals
Hellothisisalex is an electronic duo formerly of Corner Brook fame who now live in dirty old Ontario. The duo's new album "The Accidentals" is a light fizzy concoction of 8bit analogue beeps and bloops with playful jaunty melodies. Many of the song titles reference Newfoundland locales such as "On the shore of Walden Pond" or "Blackpoll Party at Lobster cove Head" but the tunes are more prone to elicit images of Konami games rather then lobster pots or heritage sites, although the fog horn sample on "The Paper House" does set a bit of a nautical scene. The retro Gameboy tones are kept pretty dry throughout and the bass deficient buzz of the keys can grate the ears after awhile, especially to those of us who are sick of the ubiquitous 80's Nintendo nostalgia music circuit ala Dan Deacon, but there is enough enthusiasm and invention present on this short offering to make it worth the while.

Daniel Johnston
Is and Always Was
Some people will try to make you feel bad for enjoying Daniel Johnston. While it is true that a large part (if not most) of his fame comes from stories related to his mental illness, this attitude that by listening to him and buying his albums we are taking advantage of his disorder and belittling him or making fun of him somehow is misguided to say the least. Yes, part of Daniel's appeal through the years is in his unusual delivery and his bent ways of writing pop songs that do show evidence that he is damaged in ways that most of us aren't, but that's only part of the equation. The new album is a lushly produced and arranged collection of pop gems that truly emphasizes Daniel's gifts for satisfying melodies and raw heartwarming sincerity while providing the needed variety that has escaped most of his early home recordings. "Is and Always was" is the most accessible and lovely album of Daniel's career.

Keep Out!
I've always found the phenomenon of dance bands with overtly political messages in their songs a little bizarre. You'll never find an audience less concerned with the lyrics then an audience at a disco, and you'll never find a singer with a harder job of being heard then the singer for an 11 piece dance band. Is it the fact that people are less likely to be paying attention that gives the frontman more gumption to throw in controversial political statements? Is the idea to subliminally influence the dancers while they're distracted? The idlers new album "Keep Out!" seems to be circumventing these questions by being surprisingly laid back and stripped down and putting Mark Wilson's voice front and center in the mix. Compared to their high energy live shows which are all bombast and over-stimulation Keep Out! is a refreshingly mellower change of pace and the songs seem more like songs rather then musical backing for Wilson's politics. A groovy little album that wants to give a message but not at the cost of a good tune.

The Flaming Lips
The strongest release from the Lips since 1999's The Soft Bulletin, Embryonic finds the Flaming Lips moving away from the overblown grandiosity and fursuit and fake blood shtick that's been their bread and butter for the past 10 years and finds them returning to their experimental roots with some inspired results. There is scarcely a single radio friendly moment anywhere on the sprawling two disc set and the buzzed out confrontational production aesthetic seems to be designed solely for the purpose of dissuading casual listeners. The songs take the form of elaborate jam sessions with an unmistakable love of 70's era German prog with less of the Beach Boy's on space acid pop the Lips have become known for. Wayne Coyne pulls back the melodrama in his voice and the band lock into fuzzy hypnotic grooves with more aggression and menace then they've shown in decades. Not all the 18 tracks are classics but the band hasn't sounded so much like "a band" in ages and the album just gets richer and richer with repeated listens.

Chris Kirby
Vampire Weekend
Chris Kirby is a musician who wears his influences on his sleeve. Drawing a straight line to classic blue eyed Philly soul Kirby's new album Vampire Weekend, with the able help of producer Gordie Johnston of Big Sugar achieves a lush vintage sound with big punchy arrangements, sweet horn sections and a tight well tuned (and this time more keyboard driven) backing band. The songs have a lot of bounce and playfulness to them but if your looking for any kind of lyrical depth or original sentiments look elsewhere. Most of the tracks on Vampire Weekend are of the classic "you-no-good-two-timing-heart-breaker" variety but Kirby's voice and demeanour is way too musical theatre precious and affable to sell any kind of emotional turmoil, not that you'd want much turmoil on a mostly agreeable, breezy pop cabaret album like this. The album has a rich well developed sound but the material is ultimately too light for it's own good.