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Archive for July, 2010

12 Stones – The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday [EP]
July 20, 2010

12 Stones is an alternative rock band that’s been flirting with a real breakthrough every since their self-titled debut album. They had a couple songs on soundtracks that gave them good exposure and their straight-forward rock approach was honest and strong.

Their debut album had a number of impressive rock songs on them (Broken, The Way I Feel, Soulfire, Running out of Pain) that made you believe this band was gonna strike it big, reaching out to fanbases of 3 Doors Down, Creed, Papa Roach, Three Days Grace & Staind. And on their debut they could absolutely measure up to those bands, and in my opinion they even topped some of those acts in originality and quality. With their follow-up album, however, they kind of hit a sophomore slump; musically at least. The songs weren’t too bad, but a little too predictable. It had a few standout songs (Photograph, Stay, Leaf Loser) but the album was compressed way too much and the lyrics and music didn’t have the same lasting impression the songs on the band’s debut did.

But 12 Stones proved to be resilient as they came back with an excellent third album. “Anthem For The Underdog” showed more maturity and the songwriting was definitely stronger than it was on “Potter’s Field”. The album may have been a little too polished at times, but the songs did speak for themselves. Along with single Lie To Me there were strong tracks like Broken Road, This Dark Day and Adrenaline.

So it felt like this band was on the way back to become one of the more interesting alternative rock bands of today. And with their new EP “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday” the band lets the more polished, mainstream side go a little more and eases back into a more raw and energetic approach, which is what they do best anyway. The opener Welcome To The End is gritty, gutsy and has enough flow to stay interesting. It’s not just bashing on a guitar or shouting out angry lyrics, it’s a combination of melodic rock, roars, clever hooks and aggressive guitar parts. As an opener it sets the tone.

Lead single We Are One was around for awhile and 12 Stones manages to find a nice niche that lies somewhere in the middle of Green Day and 3 Doors Down, but with a serious edge. The song is also a nod, a tribute as you will, to the military men and women protecting the country, but at the same time the lyrics can take on a personal meaning for the listener. For a rock single, this is one of the better ones as of late. Disappear may be the most predictable song on the album. It’s a good song but if it had been on a Three Days Grace or Staind album, or even a Lostprophets album I wouldn’t have been surprised. It’s a solid song, but it’s the song that stands out least on this EP. On Tomorrow Comes Today the band paces down in tempo and intensity in the beginning of the song and the main focus in the song is on the build up as it slowly builds up in intensity. It’s a good song and it would probably make a pretty successful follow-up radio single, but its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. The song sticks with you, which is usually a good thing, but if you hear it too often it has a risk of becoming slightly repetitive. With the changes in intensity and relatability of the song the band does a solid job at trying to prevent that, but it could go either way.

The EP ends with perhaps its strongest song. Enemy is an alternative rock song with creative songwriting, powerful vocals and impeccable timing. The accents in the songs are perfect, the intensity is just right and it has great energy which makes the song very suited for live perfomances as well. This song reminds me of their debut album in a lot of ways, but as the lyrics of this song already say: “so much better!”

“The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday” is a good EP and it continues the strong steps forward this band has been making over the past few years. Some critics will argue the band sounds like others in the genre and I won’t argue that there are obvious similarities, but I think 12 Stones does have an edge on many of the bands in the same genre. They are believable and honest, and you can hear it in their music. Even in their ‘lesser’ songs they manage to come up with a little surprise here and there. To me, that’s a sign of maturity, of a band that has quality and longevity. And regardless of that, it’s a good EP, it features a couple very good rock songs that rock fans will most definitely be able to appreciate. Shouldn’t that be a good thing? I sure think it is.

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Pegi Young – Foul Deeds
June 21, 2010

Pegi Young may not be as well-known as her husband Neil Young, but just like him, she has a talent for writing and performing good music. “Foul Deeds” offers a mix of original songs and well-chosen cover songs.

The album opens with a Will Jennings cover, Pleasing To Me. Young’s vocals have a somewhat gravely, lived-through characteristic that fit this song very well. And in a matter of speaking, that might just be one of Young’s best qualities. She knows exactly what to do vocally to bring out the best parts of the songs.

Other covers on the album are Lucinda Williams’ Side of the Road (which I would definitely mark as a highlight, in the way Young brings these lyrics to life), a brilliant rendition of Devendra Banhart’s Body Breaks as well as Blue Sunday, which was penned by Bill Boatman.

And while Pegi Young has a remarkable way of making these songs sound like they are her own, putting her own heart and soul into them, the originals don’t get snowed under. Especially title track Foul Deeds, a swaying country/folk song, is intriguing and convincing. Starting Over is a little more of a folk & roll song which sounds pleasant but doesn’t highlight Young’s strongest points. Who Knew is a little more raw and gritty, which gives Young the opportunity to lay more character in her song and with that she instantly makes this song one of the better tracks on the album. But personally I think Travelling may be the most impressive song on the album. It is not the most accessible song as it’s  quite somber and maybe even reticent. But precisely because of that, the song is presented in just the right way.

“Foul Deeds” is an album that shows a confident singer and a solid songwriter. While Young’s renditions of the cover songs were very, very strong, I think it would be good to showcase more of her own work on a future release. Young knows very well what she can and cannot do and therefore knows how to play to her strengths. If she continues that trend the progression in her music and songwriting will only continue to grow.

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Ike Reilly – Hard Luck Stories
February 16, 2010

Ike Reilly’s been around releasing records since the early 90s, but surprisingly he’s still a relatively unknown artist. His contemporary rock & roll is creative, relevant and performed with honesty and passion.

With lyrics that touch current, relevant subjects like international relations, war and peace, economy, and much, much more, and essentially a pretty classic approach in delivering that message, Reilly is heading a new generation of rock & roll artists that could eventually be the Dylans, Fogertys, MacGowens, Cash’s of today.

On “Hard Luck Stories” he connects with the man on the street, the man in the pub, the normal, working man. And what Reilly does extremely well is to match the agression and intensity on the one side, and the comfort and compassion on the other side in words and music alike.

“Hard Luck Stories” starts off with a jangly, 60s-influenced rock & roll song called Morning Glory. The somewhat bluesy undertone in the song is classic, just classic.  The more uptempo Girls In The Backroom is like a modern version of The Pogues and brilliant songs like The War On Terror & The Drugs and Sheet Metal Moon are filled with subtleties, both musically and lyrically.

The album is well balanced between more uptempo rockers and mid-tempo bluesrockers, as well as the occasional slowed down anthem or ballad. Best example of the slower songs is Flowers On Down on which this maestro is channeling a little Dylan. And you know what, Ike Reilly does it at least just as well.

Musically and lyrically “Hard Luck Stories” ranks very high in the list of albums released in 2010. While it has obvious influences from the 60s and 70s it still sounds current and even refreshing and creative. Reilly knows how to bring out the best of himself musically and therefore “Hard Luck Stories” has become a very strong and complete album that shows an experienced songwriter and musician playing with guts, sincerity and passion.

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Warped Tour 2010 – Boston, MA

The Rocket Summer

The Rocket Summer gets the crowd going.

The Warped Tour rolled into Boston on a hot summer day last week, and with it came over 80 bands ranging from hard rock to punk to southern. The bigger names this year included The All American Rejects, Motion City Soundtrack, Sum 41, and Andrew WK.

Smaller bands such as Fake Problems played on the AP/Advent stage, which was side by side with the Glamour Kills stage. While one band was playing, the other was right there setting up to start their set as soon as the others’ ended.

Up and comers like A Rocket to the Moon could be found playing acoustic sets in one of the many tents set up. Other well-known bands played on the other five stages including The Dillinger Escape Plan and The Bouncing Souls.

Far From Finished

Far From Finished

Local band Far From Finished put on an engaging set. Frontman Steve Neary came down into the crowd for a song, starting a fun dance pit.

AM Taxi, whose latest album we recently reviewed, drew a good sized crowd for their set.

The most unique band of the day would probably be Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band. Once they walk on the stage, it’s apparent why they have this name – the three-piece are not skinny, shall we say. They played some unique southern rock that got a lot of the young teenage crowd doing the ho-down. Washboard Breezy Peyton was in true rock ‘n’ roll form when she smashed her washboard at the end of their set. Definitely an entertaining band to watch.

The Rocket Summer

The Rocket Summer

The Rocket Summer, aka Bryce Avery, played a full-band set filled with catchy emo-rock songs. There was even some confetti at the climax of one song.

If you wanted a break from the music that was continuously playing, there were plenty of other things to do. Tents were set up everywhere selling sunglasses, hats, and all sorts of other accessories. Each band had their own tent selling merchandise, and if you were lucky, you could catch your favorite band doing a signing. There was also skateboarding, karaoke, games, and more.

Check out more photos from the day.

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Ian Britt – BOX
Spring/Summer 2010

Ian Britt, a singer/songwriter from the UK with soothing vocals and a good ear for melody. A friend of mine recently mentioned he is about to release a new album and I kept scratching the back of my mind to remember where I heard his name before. A month later I realized I’d actually seen this guy open for Milow awhile back. So that was one mystery solved.

I went back and looked at my recap of that show, and while I didn’t write too much about his support, it seemed like I categorized it as pleasant and promising but not quite there yet. In the past few weeks I went back to Britt’s previous work. His debut full-length “One Day I” has a few interesting songs on it, and songs like Conquer The World and Life Ain’t Made showed real promise, but as a whole, the album was fine, not superbly memorable. The EPs Britt released in the following years (“Big Light” & “What Ilk?”) were definitely more solid as a whole, and songs like The Shape of Us…, Instincts… and Lost & Won were actually quite convincing. So I was very curious for “BOX”, hoping the progression and consistency are still continuing.

And right from the start, “BOX”  has a convincing, complete sound that balances between a more traditional singer/songwriter approach and a more upbeat radio pop/rock feel. On his previous albums Britt already showed he puts effort in his songwriting. A well written song is the basis of his work, and that hasn’t changed. He’s just become a lot more consistent and with a couple years of experience under his belt he’s become a stronger musician.

Lead off track Back Home is infectious, acoustic rock that lends itself excellently for foot tapping and humming along. And the album features a few more of these songs (Walk Alone, Boom Boom) but while these songs are quite good and a lot of fun, Britt’s real strength lies in the passionately performed singer/songwriter songs like Me & My Friend Cupid, Run Lola Run, Crazy Jane and the beautiful Pretty Little Flowers. The beautiful arrangements and personal delivery of these songs create a more direct connection between artist and listener, which is exactly why Ian Britt nailed it on this new release of his. More than before he is playing to his strengths and his beautiful, honest, direct lyrics and melodies are coming across perfectly because of it.

I am not entirely certain who Britt would list as his main influences musically but listening to BOX I would say there is some Paul Simon, Nick Drake, Steve Miller and a touch of James Taylor in there. Maybe it’s just me making these connections, but I think it gives you somewhat of an idea in what spectrum of the genre one could place Ian Britt. There is a new generation of singer/songwriters (Ben Howard, Joey Ryan, Alli Rogers, Milow, Josh Ritter, etc.) that writes pop songs with the same sincerety and connectivity as those artists did. And I would most definitely list Britt in that same category.

“BOX” is a strong effort, and where Britt was making progress on his previous EPs, he did not just take another step forward on this album, no, I would say he actually leapt forward, because “BOX” is a an album filled with beautiful songs that fit together well and yet have enough variety to keep your attention throughout the whole album. It doesn’t become too much of the same and there are new things to discover after several listens. I said it before, but 2010 is a good year for the singer/songwriters, and Ian Britt’s “BOX” is another confirmation of that.

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Goldfrapp – Head First
March 19, 2010

Goldfrapp made a little side step into a more folky, breezy arena with “The Seventh Tree” but with their new album “Head First” they are reinventing themselves. They did synthpop before, but this new album is nothing like their older work. It starts of with the dancefloor single Rocket which will be in my head for another couple of weeks.

The whole first half album is filled with clever beats, driving synths and underlying melodies that may just have their roots in 80s pop music. Apart from the excellent opening track, the ABBA-influenced Alive would instantly win them the Eurovision Songfestival. And also on the title track Goldfrapp seems to channel a little ABBA. But enough with the ABBA mentions. Goldfrapp defines themselves musically. And you can really hear that on excellent tracks like Hunt (sounds more mysterious, and in a strange way seductive) and the surprisingly persistent I Wanna Life.

I’m not known for my love for synthpop, even though I really do enjoy it from time to time, as long as it’s done right. And you can’t do it much more right than Goldfrapp on “Head First”. It’s consistent, it’s strong and the album really is a tribute to pop music. Not in the least to the music on the album itself.

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Hanson – Shout It Out
June 8, 2010

I used to be one of those people who just laughed when you were talking about Hanson, thinking you were a little naive. By now I know that I was the one who was naive, because even though the band can sound way overpolished and like a playful, middle-of-the-road pop band on CD, your opinion of this band completely changes when you hear them live, where their mix of rootsy songs, rock & roll and alternative pop gets a raw edge and combined with their endless enthusiasm and heart for the music makes it an experience worth having.

Over the years, Hanson released a number of albums, that, if you look past the production and mixing, have some excellent songs. “Underneath” may not feel much like an album, but it has some excellent pop songs. “This Time Around” is still the crown on their work if you ask me and “The Walk” (their previous full-length) and “Middle of Nowhere” are also pretty strong albums. On those albums they have a good balance between upbeat, enthusiastic pop songs and sweet (sometimes a little bit too, though) ballads. So overall it’s a band that has plenty of musical talent and may not always be recognized for it. But the criticism isn’t completely unfounded. The band does tend to get a little repetitive at times and you could say that they weren’t really growing up musically. But to me, it felt that the band had more of a mature sound on “The Walk”, which was refreshing and it helped the album to feel like an album instead of a collection of songs. So this made me very curious to check out their 2010 release, “Shout It Out”.

First of all, the title of the album was chosen perfectly. Because this album is ambitious and more extravert than the band’s previous albums. Or at least, it seems that was the intention. It’s a commendable approach and the songs are all very solid and many of them have a kind of danceable groove or swing to it. In a way the band hasn’t really done before. But while the songwriting is pretty good musically, the lyrics don’t always stand out (though I recognize the band has always been stronger in writing songs with a sound that’s catchy and has a strong sense of pop sensibility than the actual lyrics that seem to be more focused on a younger audience). But what I’m missing most is the passion and enthusiasm that was often very obvious in the band’s previous work. I have a feeling it’s still there, but on most of the songs it doesn’t really show. Whether it’s the use of synths, the production/mixing, or something else, I’m not quite sure, but I think it’s a bit of a missed chance. On a few of the songs it comes out better (Carry You There, Give A Little, Musical Ride) and those are instantly some of the better songs. Also the (almost) funky radio hopeful Make It Out Alive is a very good song, probably tied with Musical Ride for the best song on the album.

I realize I’ve been kind of critical in reviewing “Shout It Out” but by no means do I think this is a bad album. It’s actually a remarkably solid album. And with songs like Waiting For This, Make It Out Alive, These Walls and Musical Ride there are a couple of really good songs on there even. But there are also a good number of songs on this album that aren’t bad at all, but not memorable either. Lead single Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’ is fun for the first two times, but it doesn’t really stick with you too long. Carry You There is a little cliché, but it comes off honest, so I’d rank that a little higher, but songs like Use Me Up and Me Myself And I (the excellent vocal harmonies lift this one up though!) are a little bland even.

So overall I’d probably give this album 3 out of 5 stars. It’s a good, solid album, but it’s not as memorable as it could have been. I bet the songs come across much, much better live and I would encourage you to catch a show if Hanson ends up playing near you, but if you want to listen to Hanson in top form, I’d recommend “This Time Around” or “The Walk” instead of “Shout It Out”. Hanson tried to subtly change directions a little, and I can respect, even admire, that. Next time, maybe they can capture more of their live vibe on the album as it would have made this album much stronger as a whole.

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Grace Potter & The Nocturnals – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
June 8, 2010

This is already the third album of this band that mixes pop, rock, soul, blues, jazz and some other stuff into a very catchy, approachable, enjoyable blend that just breathes music. “Grace Potter And The Nocturnals” is the follow-up to their breakthrough album “This Is Somewhere” from three years ago.

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals debut “Nothing But The Water” was raw and excellent and showed a lot of promise. And while the band garnered more attention with their sophomore release, the album in itself wasn’t as deeply impressive as the first. But with this self-titled effort, we can say that this band is right back at the front.

The album starts off with a radio single contender. Paris (Ooh La La) is catchy, seductive and energetic. It has a good groove and mixes in several different influences, but to be honest, it’s just a lot of fun to listen to this song. Another interesting song is Medicine, which is sort of a bluesy rocker. The infectious beat and lush vocals give this song a great feel. And if One Short Night doesn’t become a huge radio hit, I don’t know what that medium’s even worth anymore.

Potter and her gang also do really well with the power ballads. Low Road is a power ballad that reminds me of the way Fleetwood Mac used to do it, and I don’t think it gets much better than that. And on That Phone the band slowly speeds up the pace, just a tiny bit, adds a little more groove and gives it a little edge. And the chorus of the song is pure gold. The record ends with a country-pop ballad very much in the same fashion as Ilse deLange and Lady Antebellum, and Potter & band easily reach the same level.

Is “Grace Potter & The Nocturnals” the record of the year? Probably not. Is it worth your time? Most definitely. The songs are strong, passionately and convincingly performed with a lot of soul. It doesn’t measure up with what this band can do during a live set, but the songs stand strong in any way. Potter is a strong multi-instrumentalist and a very good singer and her band members accompany her smoothly. There’s plenty of rock & roll, blues, roots, soul and even a touch of reggae on this record. It gives you flashbacks to the late 60s/early 70s yet it still sounds amazingly current. It’s fun, it’s sexy, and it’s damn good.

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Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks
March 1, 2010

This band from Scotland is back after a 3 year album drought. “The Winter of Mixed Drinks” is a little lighter, and one might even say more civil, than the band’s previous release. The increased accessibility and pop sensibility may open a window for Frightened Rabbit to reach out to a wider and more mainstream audience.

I am certain some fans will criticize this move, but I think it’s done quite well. Yes, the record is a little more polished and it’s not as rough around the edges, it doesn’t paint the same stark picture that we got used to while listening to “The Midnight Organ Fight”, but it still sounds most certainly like Frightened Rabbit.

And that some of the songs are a little more upbeat or anthemic, I think, sounds like a very natural progression or musical evolution of the band. They are maturing and coming into their own as a band. You can hear this progression in the single Swim Until You Can’t See Land, which would light up my radio like a Christmas tree, because it sounds enough like other bands from the UK to be picked up by that medium but at the same time it is way more original than the bulk of these alternative pop bands cranking out radio singles that start to sound like one another. Thankfully Frightened Rabbit hasn’t fell into that same traphole yet.

And the album continues with more nifty pieces of music like Skip The Youth, which is great in its contrast and intense build-up (the song’s finale is pretty epic), the brazen indie/folk on Not Miserable and splendid lyrical content on the upbeat rock & roll track Living In Colour.

“The Winter of Mixed Drinks” is a versatile album that shows a band in top form. Where Frightened Rabbit was a rough gem on their last album, they are now a fully polished diamond. I would certainly not be surprised if this album ends up in several year-end-lists. There is still some room for improvement as on a few songs you feel the band could just let go a little more, but overall this is a highly impressive record that, in a just world, would mean a definitive breakthrough for this quality band.

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Derek Clegg – KJC
February 8, 2010

A couple months ago Derek Clegg approached me through Last.fm, asking me if I would check out his new album. Not one to turn away from possibly discovering an interesting new artist, I started listening to his album “KJC”, which is his 4th release. I found myself interested in the layered songwriting, and in his eclectic approach he manages to keep the songs very accessible and at times even catchy. This is no small feat and in many aspects Clegg isn’t a typical singer/songwriter.

First of all, he does everything by himself, the whole process of writing, recording, preproduction, production, post-production, distribution, etc. etc. Of course he gets a little help here and there, but he’s the songwriter, the vocalist and multi-instrumentalist who plays pretty much everything on the album (on 3 tracks he gets a little help on bass & drums). I like that. It shows he puts a lot of energy in it, that literally he put himself out there.

And it’s not just an admirable effort, it’s also an album filled with good songs, and occasionally even great songs. The lush sounding Home is a splendid americana/pop song with a nice folky undertone. It does a good job of sticking in your head. Also Quirky Little Love Song is quite good. At first it just sounds, well, quirky, but after you heard it a few times you can appreciate the thought behind it even better. The acoustic-based Adore has a beautiful arrangement and lyrics that feel like they speak to you on a personal level. But the best song on the album is the indie/folk  of Found. It sounds so simple, but it’s actually not that easy to play and Clegg is able to create a very organic song that’s filled with emotion. It feels rich and intimate at the same time. And this is exactly what makes me call Derek Clegg a strong songwriter. And that he can perform the song accordingly only deepens my respect for him.

“KJC” is a pretty good release, containing some stellar songs, making Clegg a very interesting artist to listen to and a joy to discover, even if it took me 4 albums to even hear of him. Not all the songs stand out as much, but there aren’t really any bad songs on the album. But it’s the stand out songs (which I mentioned above) that make this album very worthy of your time and effort. Give it a spin, you can listen to it for free on Last.fm.

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