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Monday, May 22, 2006

(Music Blip) Grandaddy: "Just Like the Fambly Cat"

Grandaddy has been around long enough to be your granddaddy. Well, not really, but I needed to get that out. However, they have been around for a while and apparently have a really big following. When reading my latest issue of Under The Radar magazine, I saw a long article about Grandaddy and how "Just Like the Fambly Cat" is their last album ever! Being a fan of preconceived swan-songs, I had to check out the album.

"Just Like the Fambly Cat" is a very somber album, as expected. What was unexpected is the production of this album. It litterally is flawless. When a lead guitar part comes in on "Rear View Mirror," you barely notice it. Everything on this album seems to blend and flow together flawlessly. The vocals, guitar, electronics, drums, whatever. They all sound perfect. However, I couldn't help but feel as if Grandaddy just disappoints. Despite the great production, the songs are lacking a lot of impact, both lyrically and musically. There's rarely a climax in any of the songs on the album and after a while, boredom starts to set in.

This is not to say that "Just Like the Fambly Cat" is a poor album. If anything, it got me interested in their back catalog. The music, though somewhat unsatisfying here, does remind me a lot of Built to Spill and Secret Machines, and that is possibly the best compliment I can bestow upon Grandaddy at this point.

Recommended for fans of Built to Spill, Dntel, Secret Machines, and anyone interested to here a strong indie-rock album.

Key Tracks:
1. "Jeez Louise"
2. "Summer...It's Gone"
3. "Rear View Mirror"
4. "Elevate Myself"

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

(Music) Soft Light Masquerade: "The Last of Our Lost Earth"

Soft Light Masquerade's debut album, "The Last of Our Lost Earth," is a haunting collapse into hopelessness and a struggle to gather what remains and arise. As mysterious as it sounds, the album is surprisingly striaghtforward, musically, though thematically challenging. With low production quality and often repetitive compositions, the album fails to claim a permanent spot in a CD Player. Despite these drawbacks, however, "The Last of Our Lost Earth" manages to remain a strong album, largely due to its honesty and atmosphere.

The lead-off track, "Blessed Silence," sets the tone for the spiritual battle that will undoubtedly ensue later in the album. Josiah Snow painfully wallows, "We salt the ground with our tears pouring down and we say that You know what You're doing," painting an image of doubt and regret that is echoed throughout the journey of the album. The album then flows in a "stream-of-concsiousness" manner through trials, memories, loss, and doubt, eventually erupting with "Last Rites," a near 6-minute sermon that serves as the turning point of the album. Throughout the course of the sermon, the tone gets darker, more intense, but with the realization of a sacrifice comes the evaporation of these tones as they are replaced with hope and joy, depicted quite cheerfully in "Lift." The album then finishes on the same note with "The Dividing Line," acknowledging that life is a collection of choices and that our fate is ultimately decided by them. Snow ponders, "When we come to the middle of a great divide will we see our ending? Will we take our stand or fallin in line? Will we stop pretending?" Indeed, despite the overwhelming tone of the album, Snow chooses to overcome his demons and live a hopeful existence.

The themes are there. The story is there. However, "The Last of Our Lost Earth" is unlikely to have a lasting effect on the average listener. A large reason for this is the production quality. The vocals, though haunting and well performed, are recorded at horrible quality. Additionally, many of the songs rely soley on a 4-bar chord structure that loops throughout the song. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage to the artist. The 4-bar loop helps the songs to build and become more lush and atmospheric as they progress. However, the loop is also very repetitive to someone who is primarily composition-focused. It is hard to judge someone on musical talent, when it is clear that musical creativity is the real issue with this album.

Undoubtedly, "The Last of Our Lost Earth" is an album filled with ups and downs. Quite literally, it is an album just as moody (if not more) than its creator. Despite it's many shortcomings, the album is unquestionably honest and brilliantly written from start to finish. Because of that, it simply cannot be overlooked or disregarded as a silly album crafted by a blogger named Cale.

Recommended for fans of M83, Sufjan Stevens, and anyone looking to sign an up-and-coming musical sensation.

Key Tracks:
1. "Blessed Silence"
2. "Our Sweetest of Tragedies"
3. "The Gray"
4. "The Dividing Line"

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

(Music) Tilly and the Wall: "Bottoms of Barrels"

I am in love with Tilly and the Wall.

After hearing their first album "Wild Like Children" for the first time around a year ago, I was instantly hooked by the group's unique style and carefree sound. It's not too often that a band decides to forego the typical drumset for a drum machine, but when a band passes up both of those items for a tap dancer and trash can lids...well, it's time to have some fun! That being said, "Bottoms of Barrels" is a lot of the same, and so much more.

Mike Mogis steps in this timme around as producer, and it shows. The man famous for working with bands like Bright Eyes and The Concretes has made Tilly and the Wall sound much more well-rounded and polished. No longer does Tilly and the Wall sound like a one-trick high school gimmick band. They sound legitimate now, yet they maintain their signature sound.

The album begins with "Rainbows in the Dark," the standard Tilly and the Wall song that doesn't stray much from "Fell Down the Stairs, "the lead-off track to their previous album. What is noticably different, however, is the lyrical content. Whereas "Wild Like Children" was essentially an album about kissing, dancing, and other fun "Child-ish" things, "Bottoms of Barrels" contains more adult lyrics and even more of an adult sound. "Love Song," for example, is perhaps Tilly and the Wall's first attempt at a true acoustic guitar ballad. It is not only more mature than any Tilly and the Wall song before it, but it is also beautiful, well-written, and utterly unique. This matured Tilly and the Wall is all over the place on the album, notably on "Lost Girls" and "Coughing Colors." Despite this, the band has managed to maintain what made them so attractive in the past.

"Bottoms of Barrels" is a really fun album. The first single "Bad Education," for example, perfectly displays how the band has matured musically, yet remained true to their fans and their sound. Additionally, songs like "Sing Songs Along," "Black and Blue," and "The Freest Man" will be stuck in your head for days (and perhaps longer, but I've only had the CD for a week). Don't be mistaken. Tilly and the Wall is back, and they are louder, happier, and more fun-loving than ever before. This album completely wallops their previous efforts, and I am still obsessed with them.

By all means, "Bottoms of Barrels" is an amazing album. Tilly and the Wall is one of the most underappreciated and unnoticed bands in music today. Hopefully, this album will help get them the admiration and attention that they undoubtedly deserve. Indeed, with such attractive melodies and beautiful lyrics, there's nothing on this album that should go unloved. "Bottoms of Barrels" is one of the best albums of 2006 thus far, and from the sound of it, Tilly and the Wall has much much more in store for us!!

Recommended for fans of Tilly and the Wall, Mates of State, The Boy Least Likely To and anyone who needs music to accompany their carefree activities, like playing in the sprinkler.

Key Tracks:
1. "Rainbows in the Dark"
2. "Bad Education"
3. "Love Song:
4. "Sing Songs Along"
5. "Black and Blue"

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

(Music) Muse: "Supermassive Black Hole"

What a difference two years makes!

Muse's newly released first single "Supermassive Black Hole" from their forthcoming album Black Holes and Revelations is our first listen to what Muse has been working on since 2004's Absolution, arguabley the best rock album of that year. Having been a fan of Muse since that album, and now a fan of their previous works, I must say that I find "Supermassive Black Hole" particularly intriguing. Throw away what you believe the song will sound like. Throw out all the piano balladtry of Absolution and go ahead and get rid of all the fantastic guitar riffs of The Origin of Symmetry. If "Supermassive Black Hole" says anything about the direction that Muse is heading with their next album, then we are in for a unexpected, yet pleasant, surprise.

The track is a 3 1/2 minute dance track (yes, dance) complete with some good ol' fashioned electronic drum loops and Prince-ish, girly vocals. It honestly sounds nothing like the Muse we have grown to love, well almost. There are some pretty cool guitar riffs running throughout the song, but no complex solos or particularly difficult vocal arrangements. This is a pop song. As a pop song, it is very catchy and very intoxicating. Having only been introduced to it this morning, I have already found myself listening to is on repeat and dancing uncontrolably in my room (maybe). Sure, while it may be nothing like I expected it to sound like, I would be lying to say that I don't enjoy the hell out of this song. If Muse can make an album like Absolution, well they can do anything.

If the rest of the album is anything like this song, we are all in for a treat! The album drops July 3rd. Keep an eye out for it!

Recommended for fans of Muse, LCD Soundsystem, and Head Automatica.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

(Music) Tool: "10,000 Days"

I wasn't the only one to scratch their head in amazement that Tool decided to name their new album "10,000 Days." Concordantly, I'm probably not the only one to take back my initial shock and replace it with praise after listening to the title track. "10,000 Days" is one hell of an album in and of itself and is more than impressive.

Epic. "10,000 Days" is epic.

When you begin to listen to the album, you get one of the most straightforward songs on the album with 'Vicarious." It's a bit disheartening at first when you hear that the guitars sound almost exactly the same as the guitars on "Schism," but you'll have to overlook that. "Vicarious" is a song about Maynard's (real or fictional) reality TV fixation and his need to see death on the screen. But don't fret faithful Tool fan, the band is by no means stretched for material, the remainder of the album is filled with amazing and powerful lyrical content that could change your life. Honestly.

This brings me to the 17-minute epic of "Wings for Marie/10,000 Days." These two songs were written for Maynard's mother, whom apparently passed away a few years back. This is, without question, the most powerful Tool song on the album, and possibly to date. The lyrical content of "10,000 Days" is something that must be soaked in, not simply read. The song speaks of his mother's faith, her genuine nature, and her ascension to heaven ("Wings for Marie"). Unlike many Tool songs that start soft and steadily builds to its rock-out climax, "10,000 Days" toys with this idea but never sees it come to complete fruition. Though it climaxes, it never actually makes you want to rock out. It is my assumption that this is out of respect, but it also conveys the sincerity in Maynard's emotion and artistic creation quite vividly. He sings, "Please forgive this bold suggestion/Should you see your maker's face tonight/look em in the eye/look em in the eye, and tell them i never lived a lie/ never took a life but surely saved one, hallelujah!" The song is passionate, real and honest. It deserves to be treated as such.

In my opinion, the album climaxes on track 4 with "10,000 Days." However, it's hard to bring yourself back up after such a draining song. That is not to discount the rest of the album, however. Fans of Tool will recognize this as their more typical sound. "The Pot," for example, is 6+ minutues of rock goddotry that examines substance abuse and hypocracy. Maynard exclaims, "So who are you to wave your finger? Who are you to wave your fatty fingers at me?" and it just makes you want to say "HELL YEAH!" while throwing your fist (or a finger) in the air. From there, Tool has unfortunately decided to add a lot of filler tracks like "Lipan Conjuring," "Lost Keys," and "Viginiti Tres," leaving only 3 of the final 6 songs on the album for the listener to enjoy. Though these filler tracks are interesting on first listen, they don't seem to set a mood or add to the album. "Rosetta Stoned" and "Intension" are both songs that are good in their own right, but are ultimately inconsequential in the shadow of the first half of the album. In fact, "Right In Two" is really the only song on the second half of the album worth mentioning. It starts of slowly but builds into a strong rock track that features unforgiving drumming, amazing guitars, and (what?) the bongos, which surprisingly add a lot to the song.

Make no mistake about it, "10,000 Days" is an incredible album. With this album, Tool builds on their signature sound with lush backgrounds and intimate vocals and lyrics. However, the structuring of the album is ultimately its demise as the band seems too eager to fill a CD up to its limits. With 3 undeniable filler tracks, one has to wonder what this album would be like with only 8 tracks. Without question, it would be a shorter CD, but it might also be a better one. And trust me, making an album like "10,000 Days," better is quite an accomplishment.

Recommended for fans of Tool and all things rock.

Key Tracks:
1. "Vicarious"
2. "10,000 Days"
3. "The Pot"
4. "Right in Two"

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

(Music) April In Review

Now that May is upon us and the sun begins to torture us with its presence, it is time to review the month of April. April was, by all accounts, a great month in music. The month began with balls-out bang! The new Flaming Lips album was released on April 4th and is, in my opinion, an early frontrunner for album of the year when the 3rd annual Cale Awards come around. Since then, down seems like the only place to go. However, April never really let up too much. With the release of the long-awaited Built to Spill album "You In Reverse," the band proved that they haven't lost what it takes to wow the Calester! April also saw the release of The Streets' new album, "The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living" and the new Calexico, both of which deserve every star they got from me.

However, April was not without its disappointments. The month also saw the release of two 'sopomore slump' albums from The Dresden Dolls and Secret Machines. Though both albums had a few notable songs, they are ultimately forgettable.

So there you have it. The month of April. A month full of surprises, great music, and surprisingly great music.

April Rankings:
1. The Flaming Lips: "At War With the Mystics"
2. Calexico: "Garden Ruin"
3. Built to Spill: "You In Reverse"
4. The Streets: "The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living"
5. Secret Machines: "Ten Silver Drops"
6. The Dresden Dolls: "Yes, Virginia"

3.6 out of 5 Stars

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

(Music Blip) Calexico: "Garden Ruin"

Calexico has been around for some time apparently. I, however, am only familiar with them because of their recent collaboration with Iron and Wine (a beautiful album, I applaud). If their latest release, "Garden Ruin" is any indication of how the rest of their catalog sounds like, well, I have some catching up to do. This album is beautiful, catchy, brilliant, and a handful of other positive adjectives that could go without mentioning.

I suppose I really like Calexico because they remind me of Jars of Clay ala "Who We Are Instead," which, regardless of your religious affiliations, is just a beautifully crafted album. "Garden Ruin" is absolutely flooded with Nashville-esque southern gospel-like rock 'n' roll and it's a pretty refreshing sound to hear. Song for song, it's tough for anyone to be disappointed in this, I know I'm not. Without a doubt, this is one of the strongest albums so far this year!

Recommended for fans of Jars of Clay and Iron and Wine.

Key Tracks:
1. "Cruel"
2. "Roka"
3. "Brisbee Blue"
4. "Yours and Mine"
5. "Landing Field"

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Monday, May 01, 2006

(Music) Pearl Jam: "Pearl Jam"

Pearl Jam has been around for over 15 years. That statement makes me feel a bit old, so I can only imagine how old it makes the band feel. Back in the early nineties, Pearl Jam was on top of the emerging grunge scene and even surpassed Nirvana as one of the biggest bands in the world. Since 1994’s “Vitalogy,” however, Pearl Jam has had a hard time reclaiming the rock world that they ruled. Through a string of relatively well-received, yet financial disappointing, albums, Pearl Jam has pushed on, continuing to evolve in the process.

The release of Pearl Jam’s self-titled album marks the band’s seventh major studio-release in 15 years. Typically, a self-titled album is usually a statement about how the artist perceives themselves. With “Pearl Jam,” the band is clearly making a statement, saying, “This is who we are. Like it or leave it.” However, Pearl Jam dows much more than make this brazen statement. They back it up with a truly refreshing addition to both their catalog and the mainstream rock scene.

“Pearl Jam” begins with the song “Life Wasted,” the band’s triumphal re-entry into the CD players and iPod’s across the world as Eddie Vedder sings, “I’ve tasted a life wasted. I’m never going back again.” It is a good starting point for the album and one of the best Pearl Jam tracks to date. Transitioning from blazing guitar solos and Eddie Vedder’s (trademarked) almost-drunken shrieks to half-time soft-rock balladry is no easy feat to pull off, but the band does it amazingly and capture the true versatility in their music. The remainder of the album can best be described as “unpredictable,” featuring a wide assortment of songs and influences that only goes to further the notion that Pearl Jam is a band worth indulging in for hours and days on end.

What the band accomplishes with this album is more than creating a 13-song revival of sorts. On the contrary, Pearl Jam has proven that in the flimsy, here-today-gone-tomorrow world of nineties rock, at least one band has proven they are more than an early nineties genre-fit.

Pearl Jam has risen from the ashes of grunge-rock and put their heart and soul into one of the best albums to come out so far in 2006.

Though ecclectic at times, one cannot simply dismiss the raw talent and raw emotion that went into the making of this album. Granted, it may not be Pearl Jam’s best, but it’s definitely towards the top of the list. There are a handful of tracks on this album that could easily be argued as some of the band’s most impressive, and that is definitely an accomplishment. At more than 15 years into their career, Pearl Jam has proven that they still have a lot to say and a lot more songs in store for us…if we are lucky.

Key Tracks:
1. "Life Wasted"
2. "World Wide Suicide"
3. "Comatose"
4. "Severed Hand"
5. "Come Back"


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