Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Holiday Show at Cool Beans - Review

This past Wednesday, December 23rd, local band ‘River City Extension’ hosted a Holiday concert at Cool Beans. They packed the house and the restaurant was well over capacity and rightfully so, the bands that I got to see rocked the building to its foundations.

I got there at around 7:30ish and apparently missed Grand Alto’s set, but having seen them a few months prior I can assure you that they’re a blast in concert.

The first band I saw that night was ‘Foxes And Lions’, an extremely fun band that I had been hearing about since they formed earlier this year. A relatively young band, these fellows (and lady) know how to keep an audience involved. You could just feel like appreciation flowing through the crowd during their set. They played a fast-paced set of almost Mariachi-esque songs mixed with a certain punk vibe that’s hard to place. I’ve heard some bands that sound similar, but none with such convincing performances.

I had the chance to sit down and talk to lead singer/guitarist John Muccino (he’s the guy on the right) after the show and he’s the kind of guy where if you talk to him once, you feel like you’ve known him for years. During our quick little talk I was able to learn that he’s an 18 year old student who currently attends High School East right here in Toms River and that he’s been playing guitar since he was 11 years old. His list of influences could fill a few pages, but to give you an idea of where this band is coming from, he lists Dylan, Bruce, Frank Turner and Bach. The band is truly talented and it would be a real treat to see them in the future.

Next on the lineup was Brick & Mortar (Formerly known as The Black Rhythm). They’re a two-piece band consisting of Brandon Asraf (Bass/Samples) and John Tacon (Drums/Percussion) that formed in Toms River when we were all students at High School North. Even though I’ve been friends with these guys for years, I’ll be the first to admit that they make the kind of music that not everyone can get into. It’s dark and strange, but it most definitely has a beat that you can boogie to (or if you’re a white like me, flail wildly).

I haven’t seen these guys play a concert in at least four years and they have evolved so much that Darwin would be proud. Their new songs are a natural progression from where they once were, taking themes from various musical styles and melding them into a sound all their own. For the end of their set they took played a song that must be at least 6 years old and made it new again. The autobiographical song “Told You” was a definite highlight for me however.

When the night was done I got to sit down with both of these gentlemen and ask them a few questions. Tacon noted how much their music has “grown and matured” since the early days, and how they’re always looking for “different sounds and off the wall structure” when it comes to songs. I asked Brandon why he decided to start a band and he said he just wanted “to see if I could make music.” According to them their music can only be classified as “Honest,” and when it comes to new songs they “Make ‘em, Take ‘em and Fake ‘em.” Their new 6 song EP entitled “7 Years in the Mystic Room” set for release in February.

The headliners, “River City Extension” closed out the night in fine fashion. I had the pleasure of seeing this group at the same venue a few months ago and yet again they failed to disappoint. After a nice intro by newcomer Samantha Tacon (vocals) they ripped right into their set. RCE is one of the most energetic bands I’ve seen in quite some time, and they really get the crowd involved. Keyboardist Pat O’Brien (who joined in August 09) agreed with me when I described their sound as American WildMan Rock, and you ever see them live you’ll know what I mean. With the recent addition of Tacon on vocals they’ve added a great counter-balance to the vocals, at times she has an almost Sara Bareilles-esque quality (that’s a good thing, btw).

They played a new song on their upcoming album (Due in May), entitled ‘Mexico’ which starts off with an extremely funky bass & drum intro sets the song’s great vibe, then the trumpet begins and adds some nice Mexican flavor like a fine spice. The lyrics state that they “should’ve gone to Mexico,” but I’m quite pleased that River City has decided to stay here.

I was able to snag a few words with Joe Michelini (Guitar/Vocals) of River City and he said that he’s just “always wanted to make music.” I went on to ask him what he thought of the show as a whole he said he “loved it…I’m overwhelmed with emotion.” Michelini is a real stand up guy who’ll tell you exactly what’s on his mind, something that can only be expected from someone raised here in Toms River. When I asked him for his thoughts on this years Holiday Show at Cool Beans he had this to say;

“When I go into a venue, that somebody else organized, it’s a much different thing. Tonight I stood in the back before we went on and saw everyone milling, drinking, laughing, and I remembered playing to almost no one for years. The difference tonight was stand there and knowing ‘I built this’”.

All in all this was an amazing show that didn’t leave anyone disappointed.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this review…any feedback can be left in the comments section.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Album and Show Reviews Coming Soon...

I'm hoping to update this blog on a regular basis from now on, so be sure to check back in the coming weeks.

I'll be posting reviews of new/old albums that interest me (and that will interest you) as well as concerts that I attend, be they local or otherwise.

Good times are guaranteed by all.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Top 25 Albums of the Decade

This post took some planning and a whole lot of thought...but here's my tops/favorites for the entire decade in music. (I tried not to duplicate some artists, but it just couldn't be helped.)

25. Beck - Sea Change
In which we got a closer look at the weirdo hipster in the throes of heartbreak. This album is Beck at his most introspective and the most Dylan-esque outing of his career. At first it was strange to hear this quirky funk man sound so depressed but somehow, it worked.

24. Harvey Danger - King James Version
Recorded and then pretty much shelved by their record label, HD's second outing evolved their sound from distorted musing on the world to an all out blast of Indie badassery. Heartfelt songs like "Pike St./Park Slope" made you feel like you were actually at that intersection while "Loyalty Bldg." made you fear nuns all over again. An overlooked gem of an album that more people should have heard.

23. David Bowie - Heathen
The Thin White Duke's great comeback. Working with producer Tony Visconti for the first time in 22 years, Bowie made his strongest album in that span of time. From the haunting opener of "Sunday" to a great cover of the Pixies' "Cactus" this album had a little something for almost every kind of Bowie fan. He would only release one more album this decade, the only slightly less great "Reality," but if rumors are true, we should be hearing from him again very soon.

22. Dangermouse, Jay-Z & The Beatles - The Grey Album
Even though this jump-started that horrible "mash-up" fad of the mid-2000's, it's still the peak of it's genre. Not only is it better than the actual Black Album by Jay-Z, it introduced The Beatles to a new generation of listeners that probably never would've given them a second thought. Also, if this album doesn't prove that Ringo should guest-drum on a rap song from time to time, I don't know what does.

21. Radiohead - Amnesiac
Sure when this was first released it was laughed at by some as simply being "Kid B", seeing as how it's essentially leftovers from the Kid A sessions. Such jokes are not to be made however, this is one of this British band's stronger outings (it almost made you forget that Pablo Honey ever existed...almost). From the pulsating beat of "Packt Like Sardines..." to the creepy instrumental "Hunting Bears" this album was everything that Kid A was and more. Plus, any album that includes "Knives Out" is worthy of any Top Albums list.

20. Paul McCartney - Memory Almost Full
A fine return to his Beatles-Era form, this had everything that makes McCartney one of the best songwriters of all time. From interesting pop, "Dance Tonight" to strange character pieces like "Mr. Bellamy" to the closing medley this album more than any other in his catalog brought back fond memories of The Beatles.

19. Kelly Clarkson - My December
Was it a huge seller like her previous albums? No. Does that even matter? Of course not. This is the OG American Idol's strongest moment. She wrote/co-wrote all of this albums songs and it shows that if she's ever allowed to do that again, she'll have one of the strongest female catalogs in recent times. From F-U's to her ex's to songs written on a bar napkin, this is one of the most personal albums released by a major star in the 00's that I can recall.

18. Weezer - Weezer
The Revenge of the Nerds!!! But seriously folks, this is one of the catchiest albums of the last 10 years. It's no Blue Album or Pinkerton to be sure, but it's most definitly a great addition to Rivers' legacy as a great songwriter. Sadly, they would only release one more truly great album this decade. There's always the future...right?

17. The Hives - The Black and White Album
After being disappointed with Tyrannosaurus Hives, I had written this band off as just a bunch of crazy-ass Swedes...damn, was I wrong. Even though "Tick Tick Boom" got overplayed the rest of this album reveals new sounds on each consecutive listen. Pelle still sounds like a young Mick Jagger (in a good way) and the band, working with multiple producers get to cross genre-lines like never before. Their best album...and one they're going to have trouble improving upon.

16. The White Stripes - Redd Blood Cells
That's right, Redd Blood Cells not White Blood Cells. Redd Kross bassist Steven McDonald added bass-lines and backing vocals to this classic White Stripes album and made a classic in the process. This used to be readily available on his website but has since been relegated to torrents and blogs. It's a fantastic idea and it only added to this albums rawness.

15. Brian Wilson - SMiLEHe finally finished it...and it only took 37 years! One of the most beautiful pop-rock records of the 00's, Smile is Brian Wilson's crowning achievement...filled with pretty harmonies and off the wall instrumentation this album was a Beach Boys fan's dream come true. "Good Vibrations" has never sounded so full of life and "Cabin Essence" has never sounded so defining.

14. The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely
The Led Zeppelin reunion album that never was. From scorching guitar solos to a rhythm section that could melt your soul and the vocals to match, this album has everything a fan of true rock music looks for. From the punk-like "Salute Your Solution" to the heart-wrenching "Many Shades of Black," the Raconteurs second release is a feast for the ears and then some.

13. Modest Mouse - Good News for People Who Love Bad News
This is the album that proved that an Indie band could not just make it big...but make it huge. From the lasting and brilliant first single "Float On" to the lyrically hateful yet likeable "Satin in a Coffin," this, their follow up to the immaculate 'The Moon and Antarctica' left listeners wanting more. It's Issac Brock's peak of his own brand of oddly commercial songwriting and one can only hope he continues to make music as great as this.

12. Pearl Jam - Backspacer
When I first played this for some friends (who are Pearl Jam fans btw) a lot of them didn't believe it was them. As I've said before, this is their strongest outing since 1998's 'Yield' as well as their first album with Brenden O'Brien since then. This album opens with some of the best songs of their long careers. "The Fixer" is like MadLibs after a crazy brainstorming sessions. Apparently this is the first time they wrote songs before hitting the studio...perhaps they should stick to that formula in the future.

11. Kings Of Leon - Aha Shake Heartbreak
Oh Kings of Leon...where have you been my whole life? When they released their first album they were wrongly labled as the "Southern-Fried Strokes"...people could not have been more wrong about them. Even though they've hit the stratosphere with their most recent album 'Only By The Night,' they've never sounded more enthusiastic and vital then they do on this, their second studio album. From the roaring opener "Slow Night, So Long" and it's left-field coda to the incredibly danceable "Four Kicks," this is the essential album in their discography.

10. Black Francis - Bluefinger
I have a strong feeling that this was supposed to be the new Pixies album we've been waiting for since 1991. It's not hard to believe since this is some of Frank Black's strongest writing since the Pixies last outing, 'Trompe le Monde'. From the face melting "Threshold Apprehension" to his cover of "You Can't Break a Heart and Have It," this is such a brilliant album it's almost ridiculous.

9. U2 - No Line on the Horizon
I consider this a better album than both 'All That You Can't Leave Behind' and "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb' combined. Bono sounds revitalized here and The Edge comes up with some of his coolest guitar parts in a long, long time. Truly great songs like "Unknown Caller" and the half spoken "Cedars of Lebanon" share space with one of their most beautiful in the form of "Moment of Surrender." If this is a preview of what this band is going to be putting out in the future, I'm really eager to hear more.

8. Vampire Weekend - Self-Titled Debut
I almost didn't put this album so high on the list...but I would've been wrong not to do so. This album is an excellent example of everything that's so right about Indie music nowadays. From truly catchy hooks to a singer that sounds like he may or may not be going insane, this album is simply a perfect example of the genre. I'm guessing these guys listened to a lot of Paul Simon growing up (which is nothing to be ashamed of). The opener "Mansford Roof" preps you for whats going to come and they don't let up throughout this albums enthralling 35 minutes. I have no idea what "Blake's Got a New Face" is about, but I don't care...when a chorus is that great it rarely matters.

7. Beck - Guero
Beck and The Dust Brothers recapture their 'Odelay' greatness on this, one of Beck's catchiest albums. When this first came out it was the soundtrack to my summer and rightfully so. "Talkin' trash to the garbage around you" a lyric from the excellent "E-Pro" ranks with "Get Crazy with the Cheese Whiz" as one of Mr. Hansen's best quips in a career filled with awesome witticisms. Try to not get the urge to dance while listening to this album...you'll find it quite difficult.

6. The Strokes - Is This It
This is one of the albums that helped to save rock music from the downward spiral it was going through at the time. It's also one of the best and grimiest rock albums of the past 20 years, with nicely distorted guitars and fuzzy vocals you can't help but love. The opening drum beat of "Is This It" let you know what you were in for...a great album to put on at a party and just enjoy. They've yet to top it, which is saddening, but if they can ever come within a 100 feet of 'Is This It's' greatness once more, music will be all the better for it.

5. The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan
The David Lynch movie of The White Stripes career, the WTF moment where he went from urban bluesman to eccentric Tom Waitsian weirdo. This album was a complete 180 degree turn from their previous album, the hard hitting 'Elephant,' but in all the right ways. We got to hear Jack White explore new avenues and instruments for his songwriting, from the seventies disco rock of "Blue Orchid" to the almost vaudevillian "My Doorbell," this was The White Stripes at their most experimental. It was also the last great album to be put out by the Stripes in this decade.

4. Modest Mouse - The Moon & Antarctica
Issac Brock has never written a song more beautiful and haunting than "Gravity Rides Everything," the second track on this epic album. If you call yourself a fan of Modest Mouse and you can't get into this album, I'd suggest you see a mental health professional. This was the first Modest Mouse album I ever owned and it's still my favorite, from the songwriting to the production it's simply immaculate. It doesn't contain one bad song...it's just an hour long flow of true perfection.

3. Radiohead - Kid A
What a surprise...right? Honestly, I wasn't going to put this in the Top 3, but after giving it another listen I've decided that everyone is right...it deserves legendary status. This is the album that got me into electronic music and made me realize that a band could use more than guitars, bass and drums and be taken seriously. Thom Yorke sang, "Everything in it's Right Place," but at first listen nothing on this album was...at all. From bleeps and bloops to processed vocals, this CD has been copied to death in the years since it's release, but it just reminds you of how great it really is. Yet again, there isn't one bad song on this album...not a single one. This is a record we'll be telling our grandkids about, and rightfully so.

2. Harvey Danger - Little By Little...
"Farewell to the days...of having it both ways," so ends one of my favorite albums of time. This album flew under the radar of just about everyone on Earth...and shame on them. Sean Nelson provides some of his most beautiful lyrics and best singing to this band's final album. Initially released for free on their website (2 full years before Radiohead did that, thank you very much), this album quickly became a classic in my book. From the immaculate "War Buddies" to the haunting album closer "Diminishing Returns," this album has substance and wit to match Oscar Wilde.

1. The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
The best concept album of the last 30 years? IMO yes. This album was a commercial breakthrough for the Oklahoma based Lips, and it's not hard to see why. Propelled by a seriously bouncy rhythm section and soulful vocals by Wayne Coyne, this record starts on a high point and never lets up. The title track is the best song ever written about a girl who fights giant pink robots and "Do You Realize??" is quite simply one of the most beautiful songs ever composed. I doubt the Lips will ever top level of accessibility and weirdness they reached on this album, but we can always hope.

So there you have it...my list of the Top 25 albums of the decade. I'm sure some of the choices aren't popular...but whatever. Write your own lists/albums/etc in the comments section.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Decade in Songs...

The 2000's were a pretty good time for artists and songs that like to burrow into your skull and stay there.

Here's my Top 25 songs of the decade...not just hits mind you, but songs that I just couldn't get enough of;

25. The White Stripes - Icky Thump
It's a Jimmy Page knock off through and through...but it was epic and fun at the same time.

24. Joey Ramone - What A Wonderful World
A cover song but it's that rare cover that improves upon the original in it's awesomeness.

23. Guns N' Roses - Better
This Axl Rose solo outing was better than most mainstream rock released this decade...and that's saying something.

22. The Killers - Losing Touch
Every great album needs a great opener...and it doesn't hurt that it quickly became one of the my favorite Killers' songs.

21. Nine Inch Nails - Every Day Is Exactly The Same
Depressing and moody just like other NIN classics, but add drums by Dave Grohl and it gets even better than the rest.

20. Vampire Weekend - Oxford Comma
I certainly give a fuck about an Oxford Comma...Ezra Koenig certainly knows how to write a catchy hook, with the substance to match.

19. Jay-Z - 99 Problems
Sure it was overplayed to death...but it was still good. Possibly Rick Rubin's last great production outing.

18. Coldplay - Violet Hill
This made me like Coldplay again, I'd grown tired of them. Brian Eno...thank you.

17. Blink-182 - Feeling This
The lead single off their last album proved to be one of the most fun. Also, I love the Captain America sample at the start.

16. Beyonce - Halo
Even though I absolutely hate Ryan Tedder...he wrote produced a goodin' here. B's voice has never been stronger either. Great and catchy and moving...all very good things.

15. Kelly Clarkson - Never Again
Like most of her songs, it's a great fuck you to her ex. The My December album is her greatest achievement in a short career...and I hope she returns to that great rock sound.

14. Weezer - Dope Nose
Rivers wrote an undeniable classic with this one. Want your face to be melted with riffs? Then check out Maladroit, the album this single comes from.

13. Red Hot Chili Peppers - By The Way
It's rare that a band can recapture the magic that made you love them in the first place...on the title track to their 2002 album, they did just that.

12. Pixies - Bam Thwok
It's basically a Breeders song with Black Francis backing vocals, but it's also one of the most left field surprises of the 00's. Just try to not sing along to that chorus...I dare you!

11. U2 - Vertigo
This song taught us that Bono can't count...but it also taught us that guys in their early 40's can rock harder and be catchier than most bands half their age.

10. Harvey Danger - Moral Centrailia
A song about adultery (apparently), but oh so beautiful. Never have lyrics like "Searching for a decent cup of coffee" sounded so prophetic.

9. The Raconteurs - Consoler Of The Lonely
From the producer talk of "Let's double track that" to the amazing breakdown...this was (discounting the Stripes), Jack White defining moment on guitar this decade.

8. Britney Spears - Toxic
Her catchiest and best song by far, with a great video to match. When this came out you couldn't escape it...and why would you want to?

7. Death Cab For Cutie - I Will Possess Your Heart
A great epic track from an OK album...the 4 minute intro (with a cool bassline) preps you for 3 more minutes of yearning. Good times all around.

6. Bob Dylan - Thunder on the Mountain
Sounding like a grizzled bartender telling plans of world travel...and dropping Alicia Key's name in the process. Dylan proved one again that he can tell a pretty great story when he wants to.

5. The Strokes - Last Night
I don't even think the Strokes thought that people would still be humming this almost 9 years after it's release...and if they did, I commend their ability to see the future.

4. The Killers - Somebody Told Me
An ode to to an androgynous ex...I think. Who cares? It's awesome and you know it!

3. Smashing Pumpkins - Doomsday Clock
Yes, I know...it's not really the Pumpkins in the truest sense, but it has some of Corgan's coolest guitar work in years. Not to mention that Chamberlain, 42 at the time comes up with some of the best drumming of his career not only on this track, but on the album as a whole.

2. Matt & Kim - Daylight
It's been in commercials and they didn't get naked in the video...but it's such a feel good song that it doesn't matter. This duo from New York has been able to redefine what catchy really is.

1. The Flaming Lips - Do You Realize?
It's the official song of Oklahoma and one of the most beautiful songs of the last 20 years. IT has the ability to bring down and uplift all in the span of one verse. This might not be the best song of the decade...but it's certainly my favorite.

So there you have it, questions, comments, just want to yell at me and call me dumb? Go for it.

Top 10 Albums of 2009

So here's my Top 10 for 2009...

But first, a little preface; This was a very good year in music for the most part. Sure there was some truly shitty music on the radio and the charts never really reflected my tastes per se.

Anyways, here's the Top Ten albums from 2009 IMO...some you might have heard of, some you might not have, but they're all pretty awesome in their own ways.

Honorable Mention

Florence + The Machine - Lungs

I'd been avoiding the hype around this woman and her band for most of the year, and I finally gave in about 2 weeks ago. I don't regret giving in to this album...it sounds so much different than most other female fronted records I've heard. Strange instrumentation and off the wall vocals? Count me in.

10. So Many Dynamos - The Loud Wars

So I hadn't heard of these guys until late August when I saw them open for Harvey Danger in Chicago. It turns out they're really cool guys and they make even cooler music. It's a mix of pure Indie hooks and danceable beats...and it's also one of the freshest/new sounding records I've heard in quite some time.

9. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

I don't know what kind of music this is...and I don't care, it's fun and catchy and great in all the right ways. I can thank my friend Brandon for first telling me about this band earlier in the year, it's a recommendation I'll always be thankful for. This is one of the most interesting records I've ever heard...plus the cover art is a complete bug-out.

8. The Flaming Lips - Embryonic

So they finally got weird again, huh? I had doubts when I first heard about a double album from Oklahoma's finest...but I was proven wrong. This is one of the trippiest albums in my collection, and that's saying something. From the opening guitar twang of "Convinced of the Hex" to insane giggles of Karen O on "I Can Be A Frog" this album is a tour de force of what the Flaming Lips can do best when they really put their minds to it.

7. Jarvis Cocker - "Further Complications."

I bought this album after reading an interesting write-up on Mr. Cocker in Spin Magazine. I hadn't ever heard his solo work before...I hadn't even heard Pulp, I have since listened to a bunch of both. This is a great album of "live" music thanks to Steve Albini's excellent (as usual) production. Also Cocker's lyrics are top notch with clever and witty puns and come-ons galore.

6. U2 - No Line On The Horizon

The best album from this Irish Foursome since Achtung Baby? Yes. Their strangest and most experimental? Indeed. The first good song co-produced by Will.I.Am.? Again, yes. This is quite simply another all around great outing from one of Earth's top bands.

5. Pearl Jam - Backspacer

Who cares if Pearl Jam "Sold Out" and went with Target for an exclusive release? As long as the album that's exclusive is PJ's best since Yield I'm fine with it. Eddie Vedder defn had a lot of say in this one since a few tracks sound like his Into The Wild soundtrack. Even though that's true, it's their strongest in years...the band sounds reinvigorated and vital again.

4. Matt & Kim - Grand
Fun...Catchy...and Danceable. These two Brooklyn natives have managed to make one of the best pop records in recent years. From the endlessly singable 'Daylight' to the streak-worthy 'Lessons Learned', this album has been in my rotation on a regular basis. Just listen to 'Good Ol' Fashioned Nightmare' and try not to get out of your chair. This is one of the best Sophomore albums in recent history.

3. Them Crooked Vultures - Self-Titled Debut

What do you get when you take the best drummer of his generation Dave Grohl...the king of the desert guitar Josh Homme...and the Master Basser himself John Paul Jones, throw them into a studio and make them jam for a few weeks? You get one of the hardest rocking albums of not only 2009 but of the decade. With songs that sound like they could be made entirely of breakdowns and 18 different riffs at once...what's not to like?

2. Dangermouse And Sparklehorse - Dark Night Of The Soul
Shame on EMI for not releasing this...and shame on me for not picking up the photo book before it went out of print. I've always been a huge fan of David Lynch, so when you add his crazy mind to the production geniuses of Dangermouse and Sparklehorse and get a slew of guest stars, you get one of the coolest albums of the year. Even though you can't buy it in the store...they leaked it on the web themselves...I urge you to get it, you won't be disapointed.

1. Julian Casablancas - Phrazes For The Young
The long awaited 4th album from The Strokes didn't come out this year...but we got the next best thing. Mr. Casablancas writes some real cryptic lyrics and comes up with some cool sounds on this, his first solo album. From the opener "Out of the Blue" to the awesomely titled "4 Chords of the Apocalypse" to the immensely danceable single "11th Dimension" this was my favorite album of the year. It's short at only 8 songs but it shows so much promise for future releases that the length didn't bother me at all.

Whoa...It's been a while.

So yeah, I forgot my password and haven't been here in like 15 years. But I'm back and have decided this will be a blog about music I've discovered and such. Tonight I'll be posting my Top Things in music from both this year and the decade as a whole. Stay Tuned Kids!