album review

Japandroids – Near To The Wild Heart of Life (Album Review)


We’re only two months into 2017 and no album release (in my opinion) has been bigger than Japandroids third album, Near To The Wild Heart of Life. There had to be serious pressure on the Vancouver, Canada duo to follow up not only the best rock album of 2012, but arguably the best pure rock album of the decade. If Celebration Rock was their magnum opus then Near To The Wild Heart of Life is their Tunnel Of Love.

The album starts with “Near To The Wild Heart of Life”, the perfect rock anthem to kick off the album. I wrote about how great this song is a few weeks ago. You can read it HERE.

The rest of the album takes a more subdued tone than it’s predecessor.  Celebration was 35 minutes of pure adrenaline; it rocked so hard you barely had time to catch your breath. In contrast Near To The Wild Heart of Life mellows out just a little bit. It still rocks, but not as hard and that’s not a bad thing.

However, there is one exception, “Arc of Bar”. This song (simply stated) rocks. There is a lightning-like synth glitching through the background, and at nearly seven and half minutes I wish it would go seven and a half more.

This is an album every lover of rock and roll needs in their life. Is this as good as Celebration Rock, no. But it’s the follow up we deserve.  I wish I could sing “No Known Drug” to my wife every night before we go to sleep. Every song is that good, actually. Listen to it now. 

-Zach

 

 

 

Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book (A.K.A. Chance 3)

As far as hip releases in 2016 go they don’t get much better than Chance the Rapper’s third album, Coloring Book (4th, if you count Surf). I’ve heard lots of critics call it a hip hop gospel album and I’ll echo that critique. I’ve never felt so spiritually up lifted listening to a rap album. There’s gospel choirs throughout but it’s much more than a gospel album; it’s an album about friendship, love, family, and staying true to yourself. Chance is only 23 but his words are wise beyond his age. He’s preaching and I’m affirming his words from the congregation with a strong, AMEN!

The album starts with “All We Got” (my personal favorite song on the album) a bombastic ode to family and most importantly music. The chorus (sung by Kanye) chants the refrain, “Music is all we got, so we might as well give it all we got”. For music lovers (I’m not talking about your casual music appreciator; I mean people who live and breathe music) this mantra will send chills through your entire body.

Each song is a carefully crafted ride through the south side of Chicago. “Summer Friends” in an ode to summer relationships that come and go, hard work, and family ties. “Same Drugs” which seems to also be a parallel of the movie Hook  is about growing up and changing. On “Angels” Chance raps about cleaning up the streets and how hopeful he is about violence ending in his city.

Chance The Rapper, along with rappers like Kendrick Lamar, is the voice of a generation who wants peace and change for their race and for their communities. This is an album about hope for a better future and it’s damn fun to listen to as well.

Car Seat Headrest – Just What I Needed

 

I first heard Car Seat Headrest on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. Will Toledo (lead singer and band leader) caught my attention because he looked like a young Conor Oberst and he was surrounded by what seemed like a bunch of homeless teenagers and one out of place high school football player who was playing the tiniest drum set in the world. As they started playing and Toledo’s voice cracked in and out of falsetto I was captivated. The three songs were all acoustic so I was pleasantly surprised when I searched for their their album Teens of Style and it was a fuzzy lo-fi rock n roll album that sounded like something I might have listened to in High School. It’s a collection of songs re-recorded from Toledo’s vast collection of self recorded Bandcamp albums. But it was just a glimpse into his potential as a songwriter and musician.

In June they released their second album Teens of Denial. It’s more polished than Teens of Style, but that doesn’t mean the band has lost it’s edge or that the songs of lost their angst. Lyrically Toledo is at his best. Besides Courtney Barnett he’s the best wordsmith in rock n roll right now. Listen to “Drugs With Friends” and you’ll know exactly what I mean. He combines humor and despair as he documents his struggle with depression, drinking, and drug use. It’s a little self loathing but that’s what makes it so great. It’s honest.

It’s not hard to hear Toledo’s rock influences in these songs. The opening guitar riff of “Destroyed by Hippie Powers” sounds like it could have opened on In Utero. Throughout the album you can hear echos of Pavement and Pinkerton’s best songs. Sadly The Cars sample had to to be taken out of “Not What I Needed” (originally titled Just What I Needed/Not What I needed), but it’s just an internet search away and necessary to listen to.

This is the best album of the year so far not put out by Chance The Rapper or Radiohead. It rocks, it’s smart, it’s funny, and it’s just the beginning and of what is hopefully a great career for Car Seat Headrest.

 

Beirut – No No No

It’s safe to say Zach Condon, who operates under the moniker Beirut, has never put out a bad album. Whether it’s an album of all mariachi songs or crooning with his deep baritone, he makes music that rarely misses. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert of Eastern European music, but that’s what his music reminds me of; that mixed with a little Sufjan. All of his albums are highly instrumental (lots of horns, and instruments that aren’t in your average rock band).

After a long gap between releases Condon is back with No No No, his most unique album in an extensive catalog. Unlike previous releases this album is simpler and at times poppy. Simple and poppy aren’t two words that usually come to mind when you listen to a Beirut record. The songs are shorter. There’s hardly a song over three minutes, yet through all this Condon retains the integrity and even familiarity of his past albums. It’s just packaged a little different.

For example, the album titled song “No No No” sounds like a Beirut song musically, but the lyrics sound like they were written for Miley Cyrus. That’s an extreme comparison, but it works. Everything about this album works. I went in thinking it would be a disappointment and I’m pleasantly surprised with every listen.  Sometimes simple is better.

Ryan Adams – 1989

I’m sitting here listening to Ryan Adams’ version of 1989. It’s late (10:01 to be exact, which is late for me late for me now). I’m the only one awake. My son and wife are out cold. I’m in my pjs with my feet propped on the coffee table absolutely loving what I’m hearing from my cheap little bluetooth speaker. This is probably the 70th time I’ve listened to it from start to finish in the two weeks of it’s release. I’m eleven songs in and every time I get to this part in the album I completely forget this is a Taylor Swift cover album. By this point all that are playing are the deep cuts; the songs that never made it on the radio or at least I’d never heard them before and they all sound like Ryan Adams’ originals.

Like everyone else who follows Ryan Adams on Instagram and Twitter I was intrigued by the snippets of songs he would release from the 1989 recording sessions, but intrigue was all it was. Then the internet started buzzing with excitement, but I never believed the recordings would ever be released into a full album. Then one day to my amazement it happened. Ryan Adams’ announced the release of a full cover version of TS’s 1989.

. . . And I’ve been listening to it nonstop ever since. Readers of this post, it’s a good album. I feel like it’s not even a cover album. I feel like Ryan Adams wrote these songs himself. His interpretation of the album is spot on. I’m not saying it’s better than the original. I don’t even think you can compare the two. As hard it is for some people, this album needs to be seen as a Ryan Adams’ album. Just sit back and close your eyes and pretend that you’ve never heard “Welcome To New York” and you’ll think you’re listening to a track from Ryan Adam’s album Rock n Roll. A friend of mine commented, “I thought, if I were completely unaware of Taylor Swift, would I have been able to distinguish this from Adams’ other work? And I honestly wasn’t sure.” That pretty much sums it up.

The Desired Effect

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Brandon Flowers is a polarizing rock star. The Killers are one of the best alternative rock bands of this decade, but because Flowers can say some pretty douchey things and because of the band’s mainstream popularity, he and the Killers tend to get overlooked. Love em or hate em, they’re good and that’s probably where most of the hate comes from. This might be an unfair comparison but B. Flowers reminds me a lot of Kanye. They both say a lot of arrogant things; both are massively popular and talented; both are hated and scrutinized by the media.

Like with Kanye, I just look past the arrogance and enjoy the art. Brandon Flowers, I can’t quit you. That leads me to Flowers’ new(ish) album The Desired Effect (thanks for listening to my rant ⬆, I had to gather my thoughts first). To say I love this album would be an understatement. I more than love this album. Is there a word for more than loving something? It’s his best album with or without The Killers since Sam’s Town. In many ways it’s the best combination of old and new Killers packaged as a solo album. There’s 80s synth and Springsteenian vocals (and even lyrics). When Flowers is doing his best Boss impression, I feel he’s at his best.

The album is bookended with “Dreams Come True” & “The Way It’s Always Been”. “Dreams Come True’s” horns and catchy guitar make it sound like a Born To Run throwback and “The Way It’s Always Been” sounds straight from The River (Sorry for another Springsteen comparison).

Lyrics on The Desired Effect get personal. He deals with everything from religion to trying to be a good husband and a father. Each song is a well told story, which according to my dad are the best songs.

This album is a must buy, stream or steal (Do people even steal albums anymore?). It’s the farthest Flowers’ has ever pushes himself lyrically and musically and the result is his best album in years.

Coming Home by Leon Bridges (album review)

In Paste‘s review of Leon Bridges’ debut album Coming Home, they said:

There’s a reason why this music is coming back today. It makes you think. It makes you escape—from the workingman and woman blues, but also from the racist, extremist madness brewing in Charleston and around you when you can’t, by the grace of God, figure out how to stop it.

That is a sentiment I can get behind, and I think it is a good part of why I love this album so much. As much as I love listening to sad music and wallowing in self-pity, it is just as nice and gratifying to listen to something that makes you forget (without sacrificing your musical dignity, of course). It has a sing-a-long quality that lends to its appeal as an instant classic, but it isn’t pure saccharine pop. Much of Coming Home deals with heartbreak and its various causes: romantic relationships, being the odd one out, and a desire to please, an idea that comes across in both a gospel song like, “River” and a love song like “Brown Skin Girl.”

I will admit that I am not the most well-rounded music lover. I like many genres of music, but, for the most part, they could all fall under the umbrella genre of rock or alternative. However, I have been really enjoying the soul/R&B revival that has taken place in the last year or two. This is the kind of music that everybody likes.

Coming Home is full of the pleading, bouncing vocals, doo-wop style background vocals, and rhythmic guitar indicative of its predecessors, but it doesn’t feel like a rip-off. In fact, Leon Bridges is one of the most refreshing musicians I have heard in a while.

The album begins with the title track, a devoted love song that offers an “us against the world” vibe. With its relaxed harmonizing and accompanying guitar, it is a great way to ease into the album. However, any of the songs would work as the opening track; the album never loses steam. Bridges uses background singers the way they were meant to be used– as enhancements rather than embellishments, and with vocals as impressive as any of the best singers around.

It’s difficult to think about anything aside from how hot it is (102 degrees F), but Coming Home helps me cope.

This is one of the few albums I could recommend to everyone, and I would be sad if anyone missed out on this. Enjoy.

Matt Pond PA’s State of Gold (First Listen) & Emotions, Emotions

I know I tend to wax poetic over music in all its forms, and I devote much of this space to tales of crying while listening to it. I’m just an emotional person, I suppose. However, thanks to NPR, I feel less guilty about romanticizing my emotions.

Did you know that music has been scientifically proven to reduce physical (and emotional pain)? It’s true! NPR shared the story this morning, and you can read it here. According to pain specialist Dr. Lynn Webster, “[Music] can generate not only a focus and reduction in anxiety, but it can induce a feeling of euphoria,” he says. According to the author of the article, that euphoria is responsible for the reduction in pain. In fact, listening to music after a painful procedure can be equivalent to taking Advil or Tylenol. I can’t wait to bring in my Slayer CD when I have this baby.

In related news, Matt Pond PA’s newest album, State of Gold, is streaming over at NPR’s First Listen. I’ve only listened to it through a few times, but I love what I have heard so far. Pond’s voice is one of those that automatically evokes an emotional response for me, and it isn’t hampered in any way by the somewhat more electronically-leaning sounds of this album. I’ve been a huge fan of Matt Pond PA since meeting Zach, and I have yet to be disappointed. His lyrics are always the right amount of gut-wrenching, and he somehow manages to utilize the music in a way that enhances the emotions (Matt Pond, not Zach). Also, this album cover is incredible. I would recommend giving this a listen, and purchasing it when it comes out next week!

“I don’t know where to begin” (Christina’s Sufjan Stevens album review)

How do you talk about things that you love? I found Sufjan Stevens in his heyday (among my friend group, at least) and I know how beloved he is, but it’s still always difficult. Something I especially love about Sufjan Stevens’ catalog is how different it is while remaining tied to the core of who he is (or who I perceive him to be). He did Age of Adz, a fully electronic album, and managed to make it so personal that it gutted us. I’ve always loved his more stripped down stuff, but not because I hated the more musically full songs. It’s like having water and oxygen– you need both to live, right? I don’t know.

Carrie & Lowell tells the story of Sufjan’s often fraught relationship with his mother, a woman who suffered from mental illness, and his stepfather, the man who raised him. Apparently his mother passed away recently, so this album is an exploration of the feelings surrounding that. It’s a pretty heavy and intimate album lyrically and musically, in spite of how stripped down it is. It still has a few electronic moments, especially on songs like “Should Have Known Better,” but it manages to feel more raw than anything he has done. Several moments on the album remind me of “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.,” a song that is so dark it is sometimes hard to listen to. However, since they are personal to him, it feels more like a window into who he is.

I can’t get over how this album makes me feel, and I am not sure how I know how to fully explain it. I hope you listen to it and enjoy it as much as I do. You can find it on Spotify, but I would recommend buying it.