Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Review: River City Extension - The Unmistakable Man

Every once in a while you'll see a band at a local show and you'll ask yourself repeatedly, "Why aren't they well-known?" This reviewer had that occur this past December at the Holiday Show at Cool Beans. The performance they put on that night dropped my jaw, how could a band this talented not get huge?

Well I'm pleased to inform you that River City Extension's first full-length LP, "The Unmistakable Man" is one of the best things to come out of New Jersey in quite some time. They are a band that is so full of energy and passion that you can't help but invest yourself in the songs on a personal level. Lead Singer/Guitarist Joe Michelini's lyrics remind me of the everyman tales from Springsteen's "Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ," one of the best debuts of all time.

The album starts off rather awkwardly however, with a truly unnecessary intro. In my opinion they would have been better off just starting right off the bat with the solemn vocals/guitar of 'Friends and Family.' One minute into the song and you have a good idea of what you'll be hearing the rest of the way; inspired playing, excellent singing and fantastic lyrical content.
The highlight of this album has got to be 'Our New Intelligence' which mixes excellent singing by both Michelini and Samantha Tacon, who go back and forth with such fervor that you know the song is going to explode at any moment. A very interesting "Pirate" bridge leads to the song transforming into one of the best songs Arcade Fire never wrote.

From that point on the album takes many twists and turns, some for the better, some for the worse. I'm not the biggest fan of religious lyrics and a few of the songs do in fact deal with that subject matter. Not to say that they're bad songs, I'm just not a huge fan of that kind of material.

Another top track is 'Mexico' which features an extremely mariachi-esque horn part that you won't be able to get out of your head. I've loved this song since I first heard it in concert back in December. It's so insanely catchy with top-notch playing from the band. It's songs like this that make "The Unmistakable Man" a truly memorable record.
This is an excellent debut full-length, by an excellent band, but if you truly want to experience the energy of these songs in the proper fashion, I implore you to see their live show. In a live setting, this 8-piece is truly a sight to behold, their shows are less concerts than they are parties, and you're guaranteed to leave with a smile on your face and a song in your head.

I'd highly recommend this LP to anyone who enjoys the heartfelt DIY-ness of bands like Modest Mouse, Spoon and Arcade Fire. If you like even just one of those bands, I promise you'll like what you hear on "The Unmistakable Man." This is truly American WildMan Rock, with a little bit of folk and punk thrown in for good measure.

River City Extension recently signed to XOXO Records and "The Unmistakable Man" is available on Amazon.com, iTunes and at their shows. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up, you won't regret it and you just might find something great to add to your library.

Best Tracks:
Friends And Family
Our New Intelligence
Too Tired To Drink
Waiting in the Airport

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Review: Devo - Something For Everybody

"Something For Everybody" marks the first full album of new Devo material since "Smooth Noodle Maps" a full 20 years ago. It's very rare that a band takes a layoff of that length and is able to return with an LP of material that's this strong.

The band sounds absolutely energized on this album with songs that sound as if they could have easily been released on "Freedom Of Choice" or "New Traditionalists," and yet sound totally modern at the same time. Personally, this has been one of my most anticipated releases ever since I first heard 'Watch Us Work It' years ago, and it's quite reassuring that "Something For Everybody" lives up to the hype.

This album truly does have something for everybody; fast rockers, inspirational ballads, and lyrics that appear to be wake-up calls to the de-evolutionized masses. The album starts off strong with the current single 'Fresh.' This song gives you but a taste of what you're in for with the rest of the album; great lead guitar, solid drumming from Josh Freese, and the typically cryptic/insightful lyrics of Mark Mothersbaugh.

What follows on the album's remaining 11 tracks (15, if you get the deluxe edition) is a Devo for the 21st century at the peak of their abilities.
In the second track 'What We Do', Mothersbaugh seems to go off against the entirety of the human race, stating that no one is truly unique, and that what we all do is basically the same. The bridge of "Eatin' and breedin' and pumping gas, cheeseburger, cheeseburger, do it again," perfectly summarizes a lot of our daily lives, and as usual, Mothersbaugh is pretty much on point with the lyrical content.

Album highlight 'Later Is Now,' is an ode to procrastination with some excellent musical and vocal performances. The hook of "I'll deal with it later...Later is Now!" is another dig at society's "put if off" attitude. 'No Place Like Home' is one of the best ballads Devo has ever produced. It's an absolutely beautiful song that describes the insignificance of all our lives and how sometimes there's "No place like home, to return to."

'Don't Shoot (I'm a Man)' addresses the fear of dying that we all fear everyday, sometimes on our way to work. Mothersbaugh's transformation of the YouTube clip/Internet Meme "Don't Tase Me, Bro" into a hook is absolute genius. His lyrics are one of the high points of this album, he's able to make both the mundane and the political extremely catchy and not sound preachy.
That's not to say that the lyrics are the sole reason you'll want to hear this album if your a Spud (Devo Fan) or a newcomer to their music. The main draw is the return of the classic Devo sound that infected music fans back in 1980 with the release of the classic "Freedom of Choice." The band is super-tight on this record, without a dull note anywhere. It's all solid with some of the weird "Devo-Synth" that fans have come to expect and love.

Sadly, the album does stumble with the too bizarre for it's own good, 'Cameo.' I don't know what they were thinking putting this on the album. It's the only letdown on this album, and would've made more sense as a B-Side or bonus track.

In a world where a new buzz band seems to sprout up every other day on the web, it's comforting to know that Devo, a classic band of the late 70's and 80's have been able to make an album that sounds as vital and important as this one.

If only every comeback album could be as good as "Something For Everybody" the musical landscape would be a much more interesting place.

Best Tracks:
No Place Like Home
What We Do
Please Baby Please
Don't Shoot (I'm a Man)
Human Rocket
Watch Us Work It (iTunes exclusive)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Review: The Young Veins - Take A Vacation!

Every once in a while a band come along that mines The Beatles for inspiration and many of them fall flat. That's not the case with The Young Veins, a band that wears it's influences on it's sleeves, which in this case is a great thing.

Last June, Ryan Ross (Guitar/Vocals) and Jon Walker (Bass/Vocals) quit Panic at the Disco citing "creative differences." When Panic released the song 'New Perspective,' the differences were quite clear, the other members of Panic were happy to retread into their infant stage and keep releasing the same kind of garbage from their debut album. Ross and Walker on the other hand had much better ideas. They went on to form The Young Veins and in the process have created an album that recalls "Help!" with a little bit of early Kinks for good measure.

"Take A Vacation!" starts off strong and stays that way, both musically and lyrically throughout the album. While listening to the opening track, 'Change,' one could be convinced that George Harrison was playing lead guitar. The song's Phil Spector-ish production lures you in and will certainly keep you there.
The title track is a classic story of just wanting to run away with that special someone, something that almost anyone could understand. From there we get to the album's true highlight, 'Cape Town,' which features some truly inspired playing from both Ross and Walker, and one of the best, most heartfelt choruses to come along in a long time.

Another highlight is 'Everyone But You,' which recalls The Beatles 'Yesterday' in it's simplicity. This is another case where the song is carried by a very strong lyric and only enhanced by the playing of the musicians. A tale of heartbreak and remorse, it's one of the most beautiful songs on the record. The lyrics are truly haunting at times with the chorus of "She comes to me, when I dream, I'm tired of counting sheep to see her, I sleep because I need her," it's a relatable song in an album filled with them.
It's great to hear a young band these days that is able to pay tribute to a classic act without having the music sound forced. One can only hope that this band is here to stay and that "Take A Vacation!," is their "Please, Please Me," just the first in a stellar career of music.

So if you're a fan of pre-Rubber Soul Beatles and Beach Boys-esque harmonies then this is going to be the soundtrack to your summer. It's just simple, but great music from a group of young musicians that still has a lot more to offer.

Best Tracks:
Cape Town
Maybe I Will, Maybe I Won't
Everyone But You

Review: Sleigh Bells - Treats

What happens when hype goes terribly wrong? "Treats" is what happens. I like to think that I have a pretty good ear for whats "hip" and "cool," but if this is what can pass for "Best New Music," then I'd rather be deaf. Which is what I'll probably be if I listen to this album anymore.

Now, I get what this duo is trying to do with making dumb songs that you can party to, however, if these were playing at a party I would suggest the host change the music immediately. I just don't get it, are they being LOUD for the sake of being loud? Or is there some deeper meaning to the production? I'm going to guess it's the former.

I'm all for a dumb good time, but the music on this album just seems like Ke$ha on steroids most of the time, and that's certainly not a compliment. Alexis Krauss has the ability to be a fine front woman but her voice on these songs is barely hear-able. The music has the tendency to drown out the vocals to the point of unintelligibly, which is never a good thing.
With more restraint in the loudness department, Sleigh Bells could be a very good band, but like I said, it seems they're being loud for the sake of it. There's no way this shtick is going to be able to sustain an entire career, would you really want to hear an entire career's worth of incessant noise and distorted vocals?

The one track where they turn down the volume, to an extent, is 'Rill Rill.' It's the only track I noticed that isn't entirely overwhelming and actually lets the vocals shine. It's actually a very pretty song with some stellar acoustic playing on the part of Derek Miller with the killer hook of "Have a Heart, Have a Heart," that has some serious summer-mix potential.

To make a long story short, take my advice and don't buy into the hype. Unless of course you like the volume turned up to a crisp 11 at all (most) times.

Best Track:
Rill Rill