Friday, July 4, 2014

Radiohead, Hail to the Thief



Radiohead...where to even start with this one.  What other band can command the attention of hipsters, tweens,  festival goers, preps, students, adults, and kids alike?  And even more so what other band can make music that appeals to ALL of these groups?!  When I think of the ultimate band, a band that has done everything right by not losing their identity and sound when fame came along, (arguably) Radiohead is among those few that come to mind.

I was a late bloomer when it came to Radiohead and Thom Yorke's methodical madness.  I always heard people talk about Radiohead, but I never actively sought them out.  I was too caught up in classical music (I know...) to look beyond what I bought and illegally downloaded from Napster (Sorry guys, I've got an iTunes account now.)

It wasn't until my freshman year in college that my roommate loaned me KID-A, The Bends, and hung an OK Computer poster on the wall of our dorm room that I had my first taste of the band that had seemingly "loomed" over me since high school.  To be honest...I didn't connect with KID-A immediately.  It took a few listens to get into the mindset needed to fully appreciate the moody compositions that Radiohead is known for.  It wasn't until I went through some heavy emotions and downright awful experiences that come along with growing up that I began to appreciate the sadness and nostalgia in Radiohead's music:  "How to Disappear Completely" and "Fake Plastic Trees"are still to this day musical haunts of those old feelings of being lonely in my dorm room.   I think it takes some growing up to fully understand the underlying messages in this band's work.  It wasn't until a friend of mine loaned me In Rainbows when I was fresh out of college that my perception of Radiohead began to change.  "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" is still one of my most heavily played tracks on my iPod...until I discovered "Hail to the Thief" and more importantly "There, There".

I bought Hail to the Thief almost immediately after hearing it's second track "Sit Down/Stand Up".  What I enjoy about this album, and what is best displayed in "Sit Down" is that each song really builds and cocoons you until it sweeps into a huge crescendo of musical bombastics.  Others, also among my favorites on Thief "Where I End and You Begin"and of course, the musical triumph that is "There There".  To this day I am consistently blown away by the beautiful melody that soars above the initial heavy percussions.  It's hopeful and mournful at the same time...a dichotomy I've come to know well with this band.  A slower, but no less welcomed track is "A Punch Up at a Wedding".  Again, a wonderfully wrought melody, and Thom's impressive range being showcased, with slow and constant piano chords anchoring the song.

I first saw Radiohead live at Bonnaroo a few years back and it was one of the most glorious experiences of my life.  It was so refreshing after watching new and budding acts in the tents to go to the main stage area and see such an established band play together like a well oiled machine.  Also one of the most exquisite light shows I've ever seen.  Every song was saturated in bloody reds and dusty oranges until at one point it got quiet and dark and then Thom's voice rolled over the crowd "we've got an old one for you" right before the stage was bathed in blue and they began picking the opening notes for "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi".  That's all I needed.



Monday, March 3, 2014

Bjork | Biophilia




"Demand the light"  

One of my absolute favorite artists, Bjork is one of the most fascinating, innovative, and exciting artists out there.  My introduction to Bjork was a completely saturating experience.  A college friend of mine loaned me three of her CD's:  Debut, Homogenic, and Vespertine and I listened to them nonstop for a week.  I was very skeptical about her music because all I could think of was that crazy swan dress she wore to the Oscars.  I was a bit of a difficult listener to break but after a couple plays through, I couldn't shake Bjork's eerily charged vocals from my head.  

I've been saying this for years now but it still rings true now more than ever:  Bjork has perhaps one of the most dynamic and interesting vocal styles in the industry.  She easily transforms her voice from lofty hymns to strained guttural wails instantly, keeping the listener on edge as you never really quite know what to expect.  Her song compositions are also just as equally unpredictable.  Sometimes there's a chorus, sometimes a never really know.  Yet it's this unhinged freedom of hers that's truly made me a fan.  

And then there's Biophilia.  Bjork's eighth full studio album is more than just an album and more of an art installation.  Along with the music she's created, it's a complete multimedia experience with musical apps the user can download for more musical content, live shows, and other miscellanious media.  Bjork even created video games to each of her songs!  Some may refer to it as excessive, however as someone who expects the unexpected from her, I rather appreciate it.  To me it's Bjork giving her listeners a chance to delve deeper into her compositions and explore her sound in different mediums.  Regardless of how you feel about it, you cannot deny its ambition.

However, as different as it is to experience, musically I don't think Bjork has strayed too far from what she does best.  In fact, Biophilia is strangely reminiscent of Vespertine.   However there is a distinctly more electronic feel as evident with Thunderbolt and Mutual Core.  

Crystalline is probably my favorite track, and probably Bjork's most accessible for new listeners.  I was fortunate to see Bjork perform this live at Bonnaroo and it was easily the most memorable track from her set.  "Moon", Biophilia's lead single, is probably closest to Bjork's previous work.  Simple melodies, a haunting background chorus, and Bjork's astounding vocals soaring high above it all.  It's a dewy, almost subtle track from Bjork compared to the rest of the album and  serves as a bit of an eerie prelude to the bombastic electronics ahead.

Although heavily electronic, this album as a whole still conveys that wintry feel of Bjork's Icelandic homeland.  It's the soundtrack for the short cold days, overcast skies, and bitter wind of winter.  And although I rather hate the cold, it's this feeling that I enjoy most about her music.  

In all honesty, this has been a difficult article to write because, in Boromir's words, "one does not simply describe Bjork".  It's more of an experience for you to interpret on your own terms.  Many love her, some hate her, and even more don't really "get" her but most importantly when you mention Bjork you probably won't hear "who's that?"       


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Local Natives | Gorilla Manor




"oh to see it with my own eyes"

This will probably be the easiest post I will ever write.  Why?  Because I've played this album so much in my car that I'm amazed the album art is still visible.  I love this band, and I love this album even more.  It's an exquisite triumph of musical harmonies and bombastic percussion.  The most distinguishable, and delightful, style of Local Natives are their ability to blend their vocals into the actual background instrumentals.  Never have such spritely harmonies sounded so beautifully cohesive in music.

Much like my life, this album is all about embarking on an uncertain journey.  You're frightened to start, and you don't know where the road will take you, but you take it anyways.  "Wide Eyes" , the album's opener, is a jaw dropping stunner.  This is hands down bar none, the most stunning four minutes and 26 seconds on the album.  

"Airplanes" is a wonderful follow up for "Wide Eyes".  Where "Wide Eyes" is exciting and aggressive, "Airplanes" a heartfelt ode to a loved one who taken too soon.  "I love it all, so much I call:  I want you back".  Kelsey's dynamic falsetto is so emotional that it sometimes brings chills up my spine.  It's a lovely track, especially if like Kelsey, someone you loved was taken too soon.  You never got to know them, never had the chance to ask those important questions.  There's a sense of peace when I hear this song, because it acknowledges the fact that he'll see this person again:  "I bet when my body meets the sky, the wait will be worth it."  

"Sun Hands" is a fantastic track that really showcases the band's heavy percussion usage as well as a knack for drama.  This is frequently the band's closing song at shows and it certainly does not disappoint.  "World News"is what I like to call my 'road rager'.  It's all about being stuck in traffic with your mom blowing up your phone.  This is what my commute to Nashville is frequently like and I sometimes find myself laughing to it:
"the lane next door is always faster
and you wait so long until you're so bothered
but right after you complete your merge 
the lane you started in gets going"

It's just too perfect!  Now granted, this is probably about Los Angeles traffic since Local Natives are based in Silver Lake but Nashville traffic can be pretty horrific sometimes. 

Lastly,  "Who Knows Who Cares" is one of my favorite tracks on the album.  When asked about the lyrical content, lead singer Taylor Rice is quite honest in explaining that it was about the difficult decision to really pursue music versus a more traditional (and safe) career.  Although this is a song rooted in career choice, it really comes across more as a song about life decisions.  Daily decisions are easy, what to wear to work, what to eat for lunch, coffee or tea, cream or sugar.  It's the life decisions that are tough:  am I ready for a career change?  Am I living life to the fullest?  Am I ready to fall in love?  All complex and difficult decisions to contemplate.  "Easy as it's said, it's never quite as easily done" Local Natives answer.  It's true.

But, in the defense of fate.  These decisions aren't ones you ultimately make, they happen and, like the resilient creatures we are, we adapt.  You don't decide to live life to the fullest, nor do you just 'decide' to fall in love with someone.  They just happen.  It's frightening, but it's great.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Roman Candle | Oh Tall Tree in the Ear




"every place we end up seems to lead to one more road"
Time passes, people move, things change.  Change.  In a nutshell, that's what this album is about.    

Roman Candle hales from North Carolina but as of 2008 they now call Nashville home and after a few listens to Tall Tree it certainly sounds like Nashville crept in a bit.  After living here so long, I think I'm getting a handle on the complex sound Nashville has.  Rock peppered with bits of hearty folk.  if you listen close enough, you can hear it all over this album.  In addition, Roman Candle boasts some of Nashville's heavy hitters on the music scene including: Keegan Dewitt and The Rosebuds.  As noted earlier there is a lot of talk about changes in this album.  This perhaps this is derived from their move, which took place during the same year as this album, but I doubt something so simple could produce something so diverse.  

One More Road, my favorite track on the album, seems to be the biggest testament to the nomadic soul with lyrics like "there ain't no reason to stay around" and "every place we end up seems to lead to one more road".  It's an interesting track because it focuses on the fearlessness required to take a leap of faith, and venture out into the great world.  Yet you can sense that it's not just a love of travel that's driving this fictional couple, it's also a fear of standing still:  "in spite of all we've endured, the longer we hang around the longer it gets weird".   Sometimes staying in one place is more frightening to some...a fear that to me suggests a deeper yearning beneath the surface. 

Another track I really enjoyed was Why Modern Radio is A-OK.  It's such an endearing little anecdote about the power of music and the memories we tie to it.  Everyone has that one album that reminds them of an old flame or a bad time in their lives.  It's Deerhunter's Halcyon Digest for me!  But for the folks of Roman Candle it's songs from Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, Johnny Cash, and Radiohead.  There's some serious talent in that laundry list that will be ignored because they were songs the couple fell in love to.

One of the true gems of the album is Big Light.  Here, instead of wandering across the country, it localizes the journey to the seemingly endless roads of thought in your mind.  When you're not busy, your mind wanders, an affliction that can get you a little lost from time to time.  If you've ever been there then you know it's not the best place to be:  

Sometimes I get a little lost
And the good life is hard to see
sometimes all I can see is the cost
when the prize is standing in front of me

But the biggest all consuming thought of my generation is literally named in the song:  "spending my natural prime thinking: money and time".  Important and striking lyrics that especially hit home with the election looming.  It seems money is always on everyone's minds these days.  Or not feeling like you've accomplished enough in the short time we've been here.  It's a sad ode, but sadness can be beautiful in its own way.

Breaking up, growing up, moving, all changes that produce substantial results.  Lots of small changes have occurred recently in my life but I'm on the cusp of a big one.  Unlike One More Road change can be frightening to me but it's one that I've learned to accept because the results are always, always worth it.  In this case, this big change coming up isn't's exciting!


Sunday, September 9, 2012




"we keep breeding desperation in this era of thieves"  

Chicago's most talented whistler has returned with a lovely new release full of his whimsical characteristic strings and lyrics rooted strongly in nature.  Andrew Bird has a very special talent of layering music like decadent layers of mille feuille.  Yet this new release is surprisingly subdued compared to past works.  Furthermore, Andrew's violin sounds distinctly more country than classical which was quite unexpected.

Much of my time spent listening to Break it Yourself was during my lunch break at work when I would read about the upcoming election.  We just had two back to back conventions and my head is still spinning with all the showmanship & diplomacy that's been saturating my brain.  I've always shied away from politics, but this year I'm actively trying to take control of my vote and stay educated in the race.  It's a bit overwhelming- really who can you trust during these things?- but I'm in it for the country!

Anyways, perhaps it was all of my political exposure in the past two weeks, but I can't help but always think of America when I play this album.  It's like a homage to grassroots with the twangy strings and nature based references of bees and beekeepers, foxes and field mice, mountains and highlands,  plowing your patch of land, etc.  Although Andrew Bird clearly didn't write this album with that political innuendo, it is a rather uncanny coincidence that this album came into my life when it did.  

Nothing backs that point more than the lovely "Orpheo Looks Back" which is dripping with references to the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.   One of the most beautiful and heartbreaking stories in ancient myth it's the story of the musician Orpheus who, upon the death of his wife Eurydice, sang such beautiful songs of mourning that all the gods wept.  As a result, they allowed him to descend into the underworld to lead Eurydice back, but only if he did not look back while she followed him out.  As indicated by the song's title, you can probably guess what happened.  Andrew Bird's lyrics in this song also infer the delicate situation in which Orpheus is in:  

"They say you don't look
there's only one way 
on back from on back from here
they say you don't look 
they say you don't look or it'll disappear"

Such a lovely ode to one of the most beautiful and tragic love stories of the ancient world.  Yet oddly enough, my favorite track on the album is "Things Behind the Barn"  which has absolutely no lyrical content at all.  But there is a magic in this track, and one that leaves me curious as to just what is behind the barn?!  It's a beautiful flutter of strings and musicianship that has always left me starstruck by this  artist. 

There are lots of grandiose flourishes throughout the album, from the eerie cries that pepper "Desperation Breeds" to the long croons of "Hole in the Ocean Floor".  It's a glorious celebration of the heartland (for me at least) and a nice break from those long winded political speeches.  


Friday, August 31, 2012




"the city is my church"

It's been awhile since my last update, so I've come back with a bang.  M83's masterpiece, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming has been one of the most played, most sampled, and most talked about albums of 2011.  Seriously, who hasn't messed with the iPod at a party just to put on "Midnight City"?

Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is as otherworldly as M83's namesake galaxy:  Messier 83.  Interestingly, the Messier galaxy is just as equally whimsical:  it's a pinwheel of deep reds, purples, and pinks in space's deep abyss.  This is the brainchild of French DJ Anthony Gonzalez who has managed to merge modern shoe gaze music with 80's beats to create a whimsical blend of wild joy.  If there is one thing I can say about Gonzalez, it's that he knows how to create a tense build up of emotions that burst into life through his music.  There's joy in this album, lots of it, some nostalgia, but most of all there's energy.  This is the album I've got playing in my apartment when I'm getting ready to go out.  This is the essential "going out" soundtrack.  

Yet there's some naivety as well ridden in the tracks.  It's quite funny actually to hear  two girls talk about frogs in "Raconte-Moi Une Histoire".  "I heard about this frog," the child says, "it's a very tiny frog...but if you find it and if you touch it, your world can change forever".  The dreamer in me wants to believe it's a fun little story the girls are telling, but the realist and cynical side of me thinks it's about "bufo" toads.  You know, those toads the kids are licking these days to hallucinate?  Regardless, the song still cracks me up every time I hear it.  Not to mention the backing music is probably some of the best on the album.  

"Wait" is such a gem on this album.  It's subdued, but it really showcases Gozalez's remarkable voice.  There's longing here, that incredible emotion that transcends the lush backing melodics.  "Another Wave From You" is another favorite, and really put's Gonzalez's talents for building and layering sounds until they burst.

"New Map" is another testament to the emotionality of Anthony Gonzalez's interesting voice. Just the opening line:  "there's a hole in your heart" is more like a full on wail.  It's emotive and longing qualities, much like the song's overall lust for adventure, are an interesting foil to a rather jumpy song.

Last, and most certainly not least, is the album's explosive single "Midnight City".  A track full of goblin-esque shouts, catchy loops, and 80's bass that all build up to one of the most ridiculous saxophone solos I've ever heard.  Ridiculous in that it sounds so right.  It's the cherry on top of a sundae:  just enough to make it feel over the top without going too overboard.  

I lucked out in scoring a ticket to see M83 live when they visited Nashville awhile back.  Let me tell you, the moment that saxophone player came out to round out "Midnight City".  The crowd, myself included, went bat-shit crazy.  There's just something about saxophones these evident from it's heavy use with other mainstream artists like Bon Iver.

Overall Hurry Up is most definitely an album that will remain in heavy rotation for quite some time.  Interestingly, as much as I love the music, I love the album's title just as much.  It's telling you to hurry up and take it easy.  Hurry up and have a good time.  Hurry up and be happy.  Feel good.  Whatever it is, hurry up.  Get there.  


Saturday, July 21, 2012




"don't want to talk, all I hear is noise"
I'll be honest.  This is the album I wished MGMT had released instead of 2010's Congratulations.  Empire of the Sun's 2008(!) debut is catchy, quirky, and eerily similar to MGMT'S Oracular Spectacular.  Yet, despite the oddities, there's something strangely likable about these costumed showmen.  Evident from the band's Star War's themed cover, there is a fantasy that is being promoted here and it's one that's a worthwhile exploration.  It's almost a concept album:  a story about ships, tigers, dreams...and swordfish?

It was difficult to listen to this album and not think of it as a soundtrack to a the whole time I was listening to it.  My mind kept taking in the lyrics and picturing the "scene" in my head, which I think is the group's intention.  The album is an unpredictable oscillation of songs varying from safe and catchy (Walking on a Dream) to the downright bizarre (Breakdown, Delta Bay). 

However strange, at least the Aussie duo commit to their artform.  Empire of the Sun's Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore perform their shows in full garb, makeup, and bravado.  The showmanship can be a little much but beneath all the heavy makeup and glitter there still is serious musicianship at work.  Outside the group, Nick Littlemore is a well known producer/composer and has worked on numerous projects including serving as Cirque du Soleil's music director.  

There are elements of great musical talent peppered into the album:  the guitar riff in "Standing on the Shore" being the most apparent.  It's the album's prologue and sets the stage for the events that are to come:  "the future is in my hands," Steele croons,  "I hold it in my palms".  "Country" is another interesting track woven into the album, and the fact that it's instrumental only enhances the idea of a "soundtrack".  It's a charming little track that is well deserved after the jarring alley cat cries of "Delta Bay".

Besides "Country", the second half of the album is a bit of a disjointed mess.  "Swordfish Hotkiss Night" is a drugged out club track with some heavy beats while the album's closer "Breakdown" is a screeching halt to album.  It's a bit much, but at least it sends you off with some edge.  
It's recently been announced that Empire of the Sun will release a new album soon.  It's certainly something that I'll give a listen.  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't curious to hear what four years in the making sounds like.  But I'm really much more curious about how the presentation and concept of this group will change.  It's like the story is continuing.  I just hope this time around it's less about bravado, and more about the music.