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Friday, May 30, 2008

The 5 Worst Actors Turned Musicians

"Musicians" is  a generous term when describing the following 5 actors who got bored with their day jobs.  If I grab a guitar and sing random crap, does that make me a musician, or does it make me a d-bag with a guitar and a voice?  I'll leave that deep question to the philosophers out there.  For all us normal folks, here's a list of 5 actors that need to get out from behind the microphone and act.  For the love of god, just act!!


#5:  Juliette Lewis (from Juliette and the Licks) - Juliette Lewis has never really impressed me as an actress.  She was okay in "Natural Born Killers" but I found her more convincing as a mentally handicapped girl.  In Juliette and the Licks, she takes over the ever-daunting job of fronting a rock band.  Fortunately for her, the band ain't all that bad.  Really the only thing that makes me despise Juliette Lewis as a musician is her "out there" stage presence and her abnormally annoying vocal styles.  It's like she spends most of her time trying to mimmick Gwen Stefani's old No Doubt style.  But when it comes to technicality, she can hit the notes and all the inflections fairly well.  For the time being, however, I'll keep on avoiding The Licks.  I just feel much better with myself that way.

#4:  Keanu Reeves (from Dogstar) - Oh, Dogstar!  There's a reason we all like to hate on this band, and it has a lot to do with Keanu Reeves.  We all knew the guy was a terrible actor (I mean, who saw "Bram Stoker's Dracula?"  That movie was hella ballsy.  In Dogstar, Reeves takes over the bass guitar and even adds in some vocals here and there.  The result is even more mediocre then his skills on the big screen.  Of course, it's not all his fault.  The rest of the band is a strange concoction of suck that few would dare face.  If you need proof, I highly suggest their cover of "Superstar."  It's almost as bad as the Sonic Youth one.

#3:  Jada Pinkett-Smith (from Wicked Wisdom) - Ok, so when you hear "Hey, Jada Pinkett-Smith fancies herself a musician," what genre pops into your head?  R&B?  Hip hop?  Bubble-gum pop?  As it turns out, all of those genres might be perfect fits for J. P-S, but we'll never know for sure because she sings in the heavy metal band, Wicked Wisdom.  I know, right?  What the hell?  Ok, ok, let's try to keep an open mind.  Don't form an opinion until you've heard what they sound like.  Fair enough.
Something Inside of Me - Wicked Wisdom
Now, if you haven't taken a power drill to your ear canal yet, I'll give you a few seconds to get the proper materials needed to achieve success in this endeavor.  Believe it or not, there are still two "artists" who I consider to be worse than this.  Take a deep breath.  Moving on...

#2:  Scarlett Johansson - Be honest, who wasn't entirely let down Scarlett's "Anywhere I Lay My Head?"  Oh sure, there were the few music critics out there who gave her positive remarks for her efforts, but I have serious doubts as to whether they ever made it past the cover art.  When I heard she was making a CD of Tom Waits covers, I thought it would be - at the very least - interesting.  But I was wrong.  It's not interesting.  Not even close.  It is boring, simple, downright horrendous music.  Scarlett's voice is absolutely gorgeous when she's talking, but when she sings, flowers whither and birds drop out of the sky.  Well, that may be a little harsh.  Perhaps I'll just say that Sarah Plain and Tall has nothing on Scarlett.  Get it?  Because her voice is plain!  *sigh*  Ok, well I tried.

#1:  Jena Malone (from The Shoe, and other terrible, terrible projects) - I am absolutely a huge Jena Malone fan.  Her work in "Saved!" and "Donnie Darko" is by no means Oscar-worthy, but they were roles that she totally nailed!  Her work as a musician is a bunch of preachy, idiotic, pretentious noise.  She can't sing at all.  She makes Paris Hilton sound like effing Celine Dion.  Her guitar playing makes Daniel Johnston sound like Eric Clapton.  Jena Malone is a downright awful musician!  The worse part is how indie bloggers and journalists are ranting and raving about her music.  One time I wrote, composed, and recorded an entire 18-track album in 24 hours.  It was 100% better than Jena Malone's music.  And that's not me being cocky...because it totally sucked it up.  But Jena...SUCKS. IT. UP!

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Robyn: "Robyn Is Here"


Lame title aside, this album is really... well... cheesy. Robyn had a few good hits off of this album back in 1997, but more than a decade later, Robyn Is Here is still lackluster. With its dated hip hop mixes and lyrics, the album has a very retro feel when listening to it now. Robyn has a good voice, but at times, she forces her voice to do things it doesn't sound comfortable doing, particularly with her melismas. I wouldn't venture so far to say Robyn Is Here is a bad album, but merely that it doesn't hold up today as being the album I thought it was several years ago.

What's good about this album? Well for starters, the previously mentioned hits helped to push the album. Debut single "Do You Know (What It Takes)" in its Mandy Moore-ish musicality is still pretty catchy and I can even find myself singing a long to it today. However, if released in present day, I doubt it would do nearly as well as it did then. "Show Me Love", equally as good a song is merely a slower version of the same Mandy Moore-ish reminiscent style. Both songs are upbeat little tracks about love which are still very cute, regardless of how they'd fare as radio hits today. I like them. The most unique song on Robyn Is Here is "I Wish", an a capella track about her desiring the love of another. With its memorable melodies, my only complaint about "I Wish" is the fact that it sounds a bit forced when she's singing. She sounds a little like a "white girl" who thinks she's black, trying to sing with more soul than she has. That critique aside, I still think it's one of her better tracks.

Most of the songs on Robyn Is Here sound as if they had potential, but died back in 1997. Among these are all of them not mentioned above, though some are by far worse than others. "Bumpy Ride", "The Last Time", and "Don't Want You Back" are all the best of the worst, but not really more than that. There are a few memorable hooks, but not any real depth or distinctive characteristics. These are the songs that are catchy enough to listen to once through, but anymore than that and you'll be asking yourself "why". Other songs like "Do You Really Want Me" and "You Got That Somethin'" are entirely obnoxious. "Do You Really Want Me" is based on the musical theme of the "nana nana boo boo" melody, which I find a little patronizing, not cute. On the less annoying, but equally stupid side, "You've Got That Something" has a kind of 70's vibe that makes you want to wear tall socks, roller skates, and short gym shorts. That would be cool if it was not like stepping into some weird alternate Kool-Aid universe, but it's just that. It's weird.

"In My Heart", "Just Another Girlfriend", "How", "Here We Go" and "Robyn Is Here" are all utterly forgettable. These are the songs that would set Simon Cowell off on a tangent. They are not at all good, but extremely boring, and you wonder who told her that it would be a good idea to go ahead with those tracks being on the album. They all strike me as very lazy songs with poor melodies, outdated beats and music, and stupid lyrics. Basing the album on these 5 songs, I'd give it a 2, along the lines of Ace of Base.

However, since there were not only tolerable songs, but also a few good ones, I've got to give it a bit higher of a rating... but only a bit. It's a decent album for when it came out, but more than 10 years later, Robyn Is Here would likely not be anyone's first choice of listening material. Yet, she did have another album titled Robyn that came out just a few weeks ago. Maybe that one will do better. The awaiting musical world can only hope... or not.

Key Tracks
1. Do You Know (What It Takes)
2. Show Me Love
3. I Wish

4 out of 10 stars

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Moods - Heartbroken

So you've just had your heart broken.  What do you do now?  Well, if you're like most people, you crawl up in the fetal position and listen to some music.  Or you get hammered.  Or you kill yourself.  For the purposes of this post, let's just say you do the first, okay?  Here's a playlist to help you in your troubles.  There's some songs in here that you can totally relate to in your vaginal state.  There's also a few that should bring a smile to your face.  When it's all over with, get up and get back out there.  Then come back to this playlist in a few months, or whenever it happens again.  


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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Video of the Week - Week 72

Hey. How'ya doin'?

Does everyone remember that gripping, totally enthralling piece of writing I did yesterday? Well, in it, I made sure to mention that the first single to the new Ladytron album, Velocifero, is titled "Ghosts" and is really quite awesome. In an attempt to share that awesomeness with you, I've decided to post the video to that song. Enjoy it. k?


Ladytron - "Ghosts" from the album, Velocifero.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ladytron: "Velocifero"

From their earliest moments, Ladytron was always a band that was so far left of the norm that any mainstream success seemed like a far-fetched fantasy.  With thick synths, harsh vocals, and nothing that sounded even remotely ordinary, they eventually gained some sort of widespread recognition with cult hits like "Seventeen" and "Destroy Everything You Touch."  Their most recent album, Witching Hour (2005), was a giant leap forward for both the band, and their unique style of electronic pop.  Velocifero continues this trend with songs that are much easier to swallow without completely disowning their signature sound.  Simply put, Velocifero is easily the most accomplished Ladytron album to date.


The album begins with could generally be considered the antithesis of my above statement.  "Black Car," a song whose vocals are spoken in Bulgarian, doesn't immediately sound like the most listener-friendly of songs.  But this bizarre opener is completely infecting with its compelling drum beat and layers of bell synths.  While the lyrics are really the only thing worth complaining about, one can't really fault the group's artistic vision, as the song is still quite enthralling.  On the other hand, "Ghosts," was seemingly hand-crafted to be Velocifero's first single.  Like "Destroy Everything You Touch" before it, the song has an abnormally catchy vocal melody and anthemic instrumentation.  Even in my first listen, I found myself humming along to the chorus of, "There's a ghost in me/ who wants to say "I'm Sorry."/ Doesn't mean I'm sorry."  By my second listen, I was singing along with them.
The upbeat and driving, "I'm Not Scared" is perhaps the most appropriate song on the album, considering that "Velocifero" translates to "bringer of speed."  It may also be the loudest song, though I don't really know what word translates to "bringer of bleeding ears."  Were I a betting man, I would have no issues with betting on "Runaway" being the album's second single.  The instrumentation here is a bit more thinned out than on the song it follows, and the song's topic is just begging it to be the next theme song for every rebellious teen on the planet.  That's not to discredit it, however, as "Runaway" is easily one of the band's strongest songs to date, despite the fact that "my little runaway" is repeated endlessly towards the song's end.  "Season of Illusions" and "Burning Up" don't really have much to offer and really drag the album's momentum down (which apparently is possible).  The latter really has a classic Ladytron sound to it, so the more loyal fan my find it enjoyable.  I, however, do not.

"Kletva" again brings back the Bulgarian language, though this time it is sung rather than spoken.  Like its contemporary, the song is really very intriguing.  For most of the song's first two minutes, the band uses a  very eclectic mix of synth sounds, and the result is unlike anything I've heard from them before.  It is very, very cool.  'They Gave You a Heart, They Gave You a Name" is another candidate for second single, with a very clear and pretty vocal melody.  Its got a noticeable groove to it, and Helen's vocals are really in top form as she sings "They gave you a heart/ they gave you a name/ released to the wild/ with no one to tame."  "Predict the Day" takes an alternate approach, using much harsher drums and synth sounds, but doing so in an enjoyable manner.  Unfortunately, the vocals on the song are kind of weak, and I've found myself just longing for an instrumental version of the song.  The instrumentation on this one is undoubtedly Velocifero's best.

"The Lovers" clocks in as Velocifero's shortest track, but still manages to be a favorite of mine.  The song sounds like a Death Cab for Cutie song with all instrumentation replaced by crazy electronic instruments.  The anthemic declaration of "We are the lovers," just sounds like it was ripped from a Ben Gibbard songbook.  "Deep Blue," meanwhile, sounds more like a throwback to classic New Wave sounds, albeit with a Ladytron twist.  Here, Mira sings, "Deep blue, I want to give it all to you/ Deep blue, I know that scares you," over some truly great instrumentation that even includes a violin (a real one!).  The band ends the album on a high note, with "Versus," an unbelievably cool sounding song.  The addition of an acoustic guitar, trumpet, and whistle give it a very distinctive spaghetti-western vibe.  It seems completely out of character for a band like Ladytron, and perhaps that's why I simply can't get enough of it.  

As with any Ladytron album, I am going to have some complaints.  The big one, of course, is the fact that the vocals never blend well with the music.  When you have so many layers of instrumentation going on, this is bound to happen - as it has on almost every Ladytron song so far.  It is no fault of their own,  just an unfortunate byproduct of the type of music that they so masterfully create.  Any fan of the band will expect this, however, so as long as you know what you're getting into, this shouldn't be a problem.  I also feel that the album could be about 2-3 songs too long, and could have used some trimming.  Of course, these are only small, insignificant asides to what is an otherwise highly enjoyable listening experience.  Velocifero is definitely my favorite album that Ladytron has crafted thus far, filled with so many unique styles and sounds that it can only be described as "stunning."  With each album that the band puts out, they slowly inch towards mainstream acceptance.  Velocifero may not be the one that does it completely, but it will certainly recruit more unsuspecting listeners to their unique, enchanting style.  Perhaps that is good enough.

Key Tracks:
1. "Ghosts"
2. "Runaway"
3. "Kletva"
4. "They Gave You a Heart, They Gave You a Name"
5. "Versus"

7 out of 10 Stars
Note:  Velocifero is available exclusively on iTunes through June 3, 2008.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

The 5 Most Awesomely Bad Rap Songs

I feel like a total tool using the term "awesomely bad," seeing as how VH1 pretty much coined it for their awesomely bad countdowns.  But seeing as how there's no better way to describe the following 5 rap songs, it will have to do.  Now these aren't Weird Al rap songs, or anything dumb.  These are legitimate songs that you can't help but like.  They are so bad, they're good.  You can't get enough of them...admit it.  I present to you, dearest reader, The 5 Most Awesomely Bad Rap Songs.  With video.



#5:  Master P - "Make 'Em Say Uhh" - There's no denying the badness of Master P's only somewhat decent song (and really only that good because of Mystikal).  The hook of the song is completely inane in the same way that "gettin' jiggy with it" is.  It doesn't make a lick of sense, it's spoken, and hearing 5 voices say "uhhhh" in 5 completely different keys is far too much for my poor fragile ears to handle.  But I'll be damned if that isn't one of the most infectious beats of all time.  And then there's Mystikal.  Dude needs to get out of prison ASAP and make at least one more hit on the same level of "Danger."  That would make me the happiest boy in the world.


#4: Akinyele - "Put It In My Mouth" - Possibly the most sexually explicit rap song ever written, including everything by 2 Live Crew and ICP (gawd!).  The thing about Akinyele is that this song is actually kind of tame compared to his other stuff.  It's just that this one is the only one that I can actually listen to.  Partially because it's hilarious (I mean, what kind of legitimate female vocalist sings the lyric "I was sprung once I feel your tongue in the crack of my ass?").  Meanwhile Akinyele is barking out some of the nastiest stuff you'll ever hear.  It's so bad I wouldn't even feel right posting a video here.  But here's a link.  Ummm....NSFW.

#3: Freak Nasty - "Da' Dip" - Ugh.  It's such a bad song and I can't help but love it.  Of course, I've got all those sentimental feelings for it (5th grade dances for the most part), but I think the main reason that song could be qualified as awesomely bad is due mainly to the video.  What the hell is up with that robot thing?  That's got to be the dancing baby's demon mother.  Oh, and let's not forget Princess Leia and her friend, the disco ball.  Who could forget that?


#2:  Skee-Lo - "I Wish" - Old school rap  beat?  Check.  Old school boombox?  Check.  Forest Gump reference?  Check.  This is, honest to god, one of my favorite rap songs of all time.  Why?  Mainly all of the reasons above, plus the fact that the lyrics of Skee-Lo's only song that anyone knows are straight up hilarious.  Rappers are always talking about what they have, be it bling (remember bling?), grills, rims....shiny things really.  And weed.  Skee-Lo was man enough to rap about what he didn't have, namely height.  So while he's busy rapping about his inadequacies and awkward time sitting with the ladies "who came to watch their man ball," I'm over here bobbing my head, throwing my hand up, and hoping to Jesus that no one walks in and sees me.  


#1:  Coolio - "1,2,3,4 (Sumpin' New)" - When we're really honest with ourselves, we can admit that that Coolio is a fairly terrible rapper.  Oh I know, "Gangsta's Paradise" really moved you back when you were growing up in the suburbs, but that doesn't change the fact that his lyrics are almost as bad Will Smith's.  In this song, "1,2,3,4," he even uses the term "lookie loos" which is tearing me apart on the inside.  I just can't decide whether it's laughably bad or incredibly badass (I'm leaning towards the latter).    

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Box Social: Get Going


This is a bit unusual for Audio Overflow, but I was given this album back in February or March, yet since it's just now being reviewed, we're classifying it as retro. So, we have The Box Social and their debut album, Get Going. First opinion, it's okay... It's pretty average. Their music, vocals and lyrics are decent, but they tend to cap off there, never really achieving greatness. For the most part, the album is alright, but there's a few songs which lower it's status to meager. On one hand, being college juniors makes the album pretty impressive until you realize that bands like Silverchair emerged in their mid teens and then it's no comparison. Get Going deserves both some props and some slaps on the wrist. Let's proceed...

The album begins fairly solid with their track, "Ginger Ale". The lyrics are clever and the music is decent with some fun guitar riffs. If I was going to pick one of their songs to be released as a single, it would be this one. It has the most radio friendly qualities including verses that are easy to sing along with and a memorable chorus melody. I think it's definitely one of their best songs on the album. All three of the first three tracks, "Ginger Ale", "Easy Does It", and "Big T" are fairly similar... While I generally like the first song, I would have liked to hear more diversity within the first three. For the most part, the rhythms are not unalike and they use a lot of the same techniques, almost to the point of making those techniques less appreciated. For instance, they use a lot of octave layering (the singing of the same melody in consecutive octaves, making the sound overall heftier), which after a while starts to feel a little overused. Something that can be said about "Big T" is that the chorus is extremely catchy with its melody and perfectly blended harmony.

"Coming Around" begins a little differently with its slower tempo, however, this one doesn't strike the same tone as the others. The first tracks were catchier and this one is awkward at times with its uneasy sounding dissonance during the chorus. I think that they were going for a deliberate clash, which works for Sufjan Stevens in "Super Sexy Woman", but not for The Box Social in "Coming Around". Overall, this song lacks luster in the lyrics and overall delivery. Better luck next time. "Why Oh Why" is a breath of fresh air after the previous listening experience. It's spunkier with catchier lyrics that at times are so easy, it's a matter of belting out, "Why, oh why, I don't think that I deserve to cry - Why, oh why, I don't think that I deserve to die". The fun, upbeat music is capable of keeping you listening without desiring to hit the skip button. Again, the use of layered octaves is evident here, during the chorus, but in this instance, they hit the bulls eye. Also, the lyrics in "Why Oh Why" are distinctively more mature than other tracks of theirs, namely, "KCMO".

In "KCMO", I feel like I'm listening to a bunch of preteens who have just discovered the word "F@#$" and are using it as a conjunction in every available space in the song. This track is super annoying for that reason, and as a listener who thinks the word is annoying to begin with, I'm put off by this song. It pretty much goes like this ..."F@#$ the blah blah, F@#$ blah blah. F@#$ the blah blah and F@#$ you blah blah blah." The whole song literally sounds like that in my opinion, except for I believe they use legitimate English words in place of the "blahs". Personally, I like my version better. It's annoying and you can listen, but in the end, I think your ears would be better off letting this one slip on through.

The only other decent tracks are "Hot Damn!" and "Happy Little Mistake". I use the word decent because they're good to listen to, but you soon forget them afterwards. During the songs you'll hear fast paced, trendy rock with somewhat average lyrics. You'll also hear the layering of octaves again, which during this point in the album has become VERY old and almost annoying. ...and these are the two songs that I said were decent. It's a good thing that "Pay Attention" and "A New Low" are in the back middle section, because had they been at the front of the album, I likely wouldn't have continued and had they been the last songs, I might've been severely disappointed instead of mildly underwhelmed. They're completely forgettable with absolutely nothing original about them. From their all too familiar melodies to their consistently boring lyrics, these two tracks make me want to use Get Going as a coaster.

All in all, Get Going has two fairly solid potential radio hits, but when it comes to everything else, it strikes all the wrong notes. I leave feeling like the majority of my approximately 34 minutes of listening has been wasted, as I can't remember most of what I've heard, even after several listens to the album. Are they talented guys? I think so. They're good musicians that put out a mediocre album with many poorly written songs, yet no song is written so badly that it warrants an awful rating...save maybe "KCMO"...and I prefer to forget about the annoying F@#$ fest.

Key Tracks
1. Ginger Ale
2. Why Oh Why


5 out of 10 stars

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Moods - Snobby

I joke about being a music snob.  Hell, it's in the subtitle to page you're on right now.  The truth of the matter is that I don't consider myself to be one because I don't esteem myself higher than others because of the music I listen to.  I do, however, reserve the right to esteem you lower because of the music YOU listen to (lookin' at you, Linkin Park fan).  But I know how it is.  Sometimes you just want to be a music snob, to have uber-valid opinions and a wide assortment of band names and album titles to pull out of your ass at a Starbucks or crazy indie rock show.  Well, if you're feeling particularly snobby, here's a music playlist that should help you along.  It's only 8 tracks, but one of them happens to be 22 minutes long.  If that doesn't make you a music snob, I'm not sure what will.


Snobby

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Video of the Week - Week 72

A recent theme of VOTW has been to show you videos of some of the summer's hottest upcoming albums. But this week I've decided to take us back to the cold, desolate days of 2007, when an album by the name of Places Like This made it into Audio Overflow's top albums of the year. This song is one of the best on that album, and the video itself is just as quirky as the music. So, you know...here you go.



"Like It Or Not" by Architecture in Helsinki, from the album, Places Like This.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Mates of State: "Re-Arrange Us"

It's a strange thing nowadays to see a husband and wife musical duo.  It's even stranger to see one that has consistently avoided the cliches and pitfalls that seem to shadow the small, but never-dying classification.  Mates of State have managed to dodge many of those cliches simply due to the uniqueness of their music.  A guy on drums, a girl on vintage keyboards, each trying to outpace, or out-shout the other definitely makes for an interesting listen.  But after a good decade of making music with a single satisfying formula, the group is finally trying to re-arrange things.  The end result is undoubtedly a solid album, but one that longtime fans may find a bit alienating. 


On their previous album, Bring It Back, Kori Gardner set aside her Casio and her Electone keyboard for a few songs, perhaps most notably on the brooding parenthood ballad, "Nature and the Wreck."  On Re-Arrange us, they rarely make an appearance.  For any other band, featuring a piano as the most prominent instrument is nothing special.  For Mates of State, it's shocking.  The fact that most of the songs on the album are all piano-based has sort of a domino effect on the rest of the instrumentation.  Naturally, a piano is not going to pack as much punch, or bite as a tinny synth would.  This causes Jason Hammel to tone things down on the drums, vocals aren't yelped as often as they normally are, harmonies are lusher, and string instruments are added in to flesh things out.  Again, if this were Coldplay, we'd expect nothing less.  But hearing a Mates of State album that's lacking in the band's trademark energy is nothing short of strange.

There are, of course, moments where the band seems to be at least attempting to recreate their classic sounds.  "Now" features Hammel singing, "Now, now, now, now, now, now, now. Ho! Ho! Ho! Ho!" during the chorus, but even such playful lyrics seem restricted.  It's as if the band it trying to burst out of their shell, only to voluntarily pull back.  "The Re-Arranger" could possibly be the band's best song to date, however, with lyrics that beg to be sung along to and harmonies that will melt your heart.  The uptempo song flies through its verses, only to come to a half-time drum beat during the chorus.  It's here where the song truly shines, with the couple singing, "You should try to shake it off/ And if you really want to shake it off/ you gotta re-arrange, re-arrange us!"  The bridge explodes with the band declaring "Re-arrange us!!!" at the top of their lungs, over surprisingly deep instrumentation.  This is the high point of the album, however, and everything else just seems to pale in comparison to it.

Take, for example, the tragically cliche "Jigsaw," a modern-day "I Got You Babe" if there ever was one.  The couple trade lyrics back and forth, about each other of course, resulting in something fairly disappointing.  "Blue and Gold Print" is a solid ballad that features Gardner singing, "And I know when the kids are all grown we will still have this blue and gold print."  This is all a far cry from "Ha Ha" or "Whiner's Bio," unfortunately, though one can't necessarily blame Mates of State for growing up, having kids, and becoming well-rounded adults.  It's just that the music isn't always as interesting as it has been in the past.  "Get Better," for example, is a really beautiful song, and one of the album's best, but its emotion seems a little two-dimensional.  Do we really need to add a string reprise to accentuate the serious nature of the song?  Were the lyrics not enough?  

I suppose it can all be attributed to growing pains.  Mates of State are a talented group, capable of much more than their past successes would leave many to believe.  Unfortunately, Re-Arrange Us seems like an album that is caught in transition; stuck awkwardly between the flamboyant extremes of Team Boo and the subdued beauty of "Nature and the Wreck."  The band seems eager to break free from their childish past, but at the same time reluctant to just leave it behind and move forward.  As such, many of the songs on Re-Arrange Us lack any sort of drive or energy to push them forward, and the album can get pretty sluggish towards the end.  

It's a huge disappointment for me, being a huge fan of Team Boo and the more outlandish moments of Bring It Back ("Punchines," for instance).  But even I can admit that not all of the songs on Re-Arrange Us are bad.  In fact, with only a few exceptions, the album is pretty strong.  It may not be what many were expecting, and some may even throw up their hands in frustration, but that doesn't keep Re-Arrange Us from being somewhat satisfying.  At the very least, even the most hardened Mates of State fans should be able to get a few weeks worth of listens out of it.  Whether or not that's going to be enough, is entirely up to you.

Key Tracks:
1. "Get Better"
2. "Now"
3. "The Re-Arranger"
4. "Blue and Gold Print"
5. "Lullaby Haze"

6 out of 10 Stars

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Lisa Cerbone: "We Were All Together"

After nearly a century of being exposed to Disney-esque stories of princes and princesses, we Americans know the drill.  Boy meets girl, boy cannot be with girl due to some insurmountable obstacle, boy tries anyway and miraculously succeeds, and they live happily ever after.  Even in modern music, most of the lyrical content is about the chase, the insufficiencies - basically everything leading up to that happily ever after.  So it's quite a surprise to hear about life after the "ever after," which is what Lisa Cerbone spends the majority of her time doing on We Were All Together, her fourth formal album.  It vividly depicts the simple moments of married life in such a blissful way, that it almost makes the fairy tale seem less worthy of our time.


Open the packaging to We Were All Together, and you'll find cards with lyrics on one side, and a photo on the other.  There's a woman standing on a hilltop, a bicycle, an angelic yard ornament, or a view of a cloudy day.  They all seem fairly insignificant, but the beauty of these images are inescapable.  The same can be said for the songs Cerbone sings on the album.  Each song literally feels like an insignificant moment, a snapshot, of everyday life.  The amazing thing is Lisa' ability to pull beauty out of these moments.  Her lyrics are, quite literally, poetry.  On "Close to the Battlefield" she sings, "You can't let yourself draw on clean canvas.  Just your sketches on scraps of paper.  Faces revealed through the darkness.  You believe they tell the truth about you."  Again, the "beauty from nothing" theme of the album is really reflected perfectly here.

Of course, I've never been a fan of poetry transcribed onto music, and unfortunately, it seems as if a lot of these songs were written first as poems, and then put to music.  The result is that the songs don't always flow as well as they should, with lyrics not rhyming or too many syllables crammed into a single line.  They don't feel as natural as you would like them too, which is unfortunate considering the earthiness of the album.  That earthiness bears an uncanny resemblance to one of Lisa's contemporaries, Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon.  Considering that the two have worked together in the past, this really comes as no surprise.  What is surprising is just how similar their their music is to one another.  In more ways than one, We Were All Together sounds much like a Sun Kil Moon album.



The most outstanding feature of the album, however, is Lisa Cerbone's voice, and it is here will listeners will either be drawn in or turned off.  To make a direct comparison would be impossible, as it is truly unique.  The best I can do is to say that it sounds a lot like Joey Lauren Adams' voice (of Chasing Amy).  There is definitely an innocence, and angelic quality to it.  When singing a strongly-written melody, such as that of "Tiny Patch of Earth," it's hard to imagine any other voice singing it.  However, there are times when she seems less sure of herself (perhaps to convey frailty), or when a single note is repeated several times ("Mia Noelle"), and it is in these times when her voice can seem less angelic and more difficult.  These moments are few and far between, however, and I've found myself captivated by her vocal stylings on more than one occasion.

In the end, We Were All Together has much to offer to the unsuspecting listener.  Cerbone's vocals and lyrics are almost always noteworthy, and her experience as a songwriter has definitely helped her in that regard.  Unfortunately, a lot of these songs sound so similar to one another that I've often found myself drifting off without realizing that 3 or 4 tracks have come and gone.  The situation is not helped by the fact that We Were All Together's strongest tracks come at the very beginning.  As such, the album can start to drag, even if Cerbone is really doing nothing wrong in the context of the song.  In fact, when taken in small, song by song doses, the album really does have more of an effect on you.  These tiny pictures of domestic life, parenthood, and simple moments really are beautiful in and of themselves.  The overall experience may not be as strong as I would have liked, but there is enough decent material on We Were All Together for me to recommend it to fans of Mark Kozelek and similar artists.  Lisa Cerbone hasn't made the most solid album I've ever heard, but it is beautiful.  Sometimes that's all you need.

Key Tracks:
1. "Humming"
2. "Tiny Patch of Earth"
3. "Close to the Battlefield"
4. "Change the Ending"
5. "Journey"

6 out of 10 Stars

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

5/17/2008: Radiohead - The Woodlands, TX

It had been a night I'd been eagerly anticipating for months, and yet the events leading up to it were not filled with anticipation, but frustration and stress.  After logging on to Ticketmaster the exact moment tickets went on sale and winding up empty-handed, I was able to work some connections and score 4 fairly decent seats to the show.  I sold two to a gentleman with an incorrect address, was given 4 more for free (two for myself, and two to give away), had to run a last-minute contest, choose which friends were to receive tickets from me, and hand deliver those tickets marked "Return to Sender" to a hotel on the day of the show.  That's a lot of unnecessary rubbish when all you want to do is go see Radiohead.

But, of course, there was one more hurdle in the way by the time the doors opened, and that was Liars.  Now, as an indie music kind of guy, you would think that I'd be familiar with this band.  Totally not, outside of seeing reviews of them and hearing generally positive things.  But if their performance last night was any sort of indication, I don't think I'll be rushing out to pick up on of their albums any time soon.

Hey, it's Jim Halpert!

The most gracious comment I can bestow upon the group is that they're "Alright at best," and I'm not entirely sure that would even be 100% truthful.  The percussion was the only thing the band really had going for them, and they played one song with the drum kit being run through a phaser to give a truly cool sound.  Unfortunately, the vocalist was just flat out poor and either under the influence of something, or just naturally flimsy.  I was glad when their 45 minute set was over.  Let's just leave it at that.

This is the part where you stop skimming and start reading.  This is the part about Radiohead.  Now usually when I review a show, I always take some sort of notes or comments as the show is going on.  But for this one, I set that aside.  I wanted to take in every ounce of this show, every visual, every sound, every draft of pot smoke that blew in from behind me.



The setlist was huge, but not without its share of disappointments.  In Rainbows was all over the place, with nearly every song given the proper amount of time.  The biggest shock to me was the notable lack of OK Computer's better moments.  There was no "Karma Police," "Electioneering," "Let Down," "No Surprises," and much to the chagrin of me, no "Paranoid Android."  Kinda strange that the band would skip over most of their most popular album, right?  That didn't keep the show from being totally enjoyable, however.



The stage itself was gorgeous - with dozens of, I don't know, plasma bulbs(??) hanging down and changing colors continuously.  A screen at the back of the stage kept an image on each member of the band at all times, and it was quite engaging, to say the absolute least.  On "You and Whose Army?," a personal favorite, the camera was mounted on Thom's piano, and while singing, he would peer creepily into the lens, as if staring straight out into the audience.  It was really, really cool...and very disturbing.  Check out this picture:

My favorite part of the night was the band playing "Everything In It's Right Place," from Kid A.  It's my second favorite song by the band, and having seen a video of them perform it at Glastonbury a few years back, I was pumped as soon as I saw the guitarist kneel down and grab a Kaoss Pad (always a sure sign that the song is coming up).  In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at the number of songs they did from Kid A, my personal favorite Radiohead album.  "The National Anthem," "Idioteque," "Morning Bell," "Optimistic," and the aforementioned "Everything In It's Right Place" all got equal representation.  Really cool stuff.


Overall, the evening was undeniably awesome.  Radiohead is one of the few bands that play their songs perfectly live, perhaps even better than they are on the albums for some.  Thom Yorke kept his ADD-fits to a minimum (but he totally made up for lost time in "Idioteque"), and the crowd was pretty into everything that was going on.  And they were nice to the band, which is always good to see.  Quote of the night goes to Thom, when introducing "Optimistic."  He said, "This was on a record called Kid A that was number one in the US.  Back in England they thought we had completely lost it.  We thought that was the point."  Needless to say, if Radiohead ever strolls through your town (or state, really) you need to A.) have connections, and B.) go at all costs.  This was one of the best shows I've ever seen.


I've made a montage video below.  Nothing too special, just a bunch of clips from the show set to music.  If you went to the show last night, leave a comment below.  What was your favorite part?  Were there any disappointments?  I need to know these things!



Full-size photos (and more of them) available at my myspace page, if you're interested.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

The Top 5 Albums Under the Influence of Death Cab for Cutie Members

Confusing title, no? Let me explain.

You see, one of my favorite things about the indie music scene is that everybody seems to know and interact with everybody else. The guys from Death Cab for Cutie are no exception, appearing on other albums and collaborations that have absolutely nothing to do with their duties for their "main" band. Ben Gibbard is almost everywhere nowadays, and the only person who's threatening to take his "I'm Everywhere!" throne is bandmate, Chris Walla. Knowing this, I've decided to list the top 5 albums that these guys had something to do with.


#5: The Decemberists: Picarasque (Chris Walla: Producer, Mixer, Electric Guitar) - Picaresque is probably the worst album that The Decemberists have ever made. It's not that it was bad, but it pales in comparison to their other efforts. Chris Walla's influence is really felt when listening to the album. The songs have a lot of polish, more energy, and more focus than their previous two records. "16 Military Wives" is the song that immediately pops out at me as something that probably could've only happened under Walla's wing. Not in the songwriting, of course, but in the quality of the song, the depth of the instrumentation, and the overall zing, Chris Walla left his mark.

#4: Tegan and Sara: The Con (Chris Walla: Producer, Guitars, Keyboards, Organ, Shakers, Cymbals, Tiny Guitars, Bass - Jason McGerr: Drums) - For what it's worth, I've pretty much liked Tegan and Sara since the first time I heard them at a Virgin Megastore in Dallas (R.I.P.). So Jealous was an amazing album that featured enough great songs to get it regular plays for years. But as strong as that album was, it was swept aside as soon as Chris Walla took over the production reigns on The Con. The immediate result is obvious; it's a more solid album without a single dud. But as is usually the case with a Walla-produced record, it has this inhuman quality about it - like everything about it is perfect and without fault. That puts it far ahead of its sometimes-flawed predecessor, and most of the other music that released in 2007.

#3: Dntel: Life Is Full of Possibilities (Ben Gibbard: Vocals on "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan") - Jimmy Tamborello's first notable solo-release as Dntel still is one of my favorite electronic albums of all time. Perfecting glitch, downtemp electro, the record was the first time that I ever heard electronic music that was able to affect my mood without an abundance of vocals. Undoubtedly, the most notable track on this album would be Tamborello's collaboration with Death Cab for Cutie vocalist, Ben Gibbard. Their work on "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan" was the catalyst that led to the creation of one of my favorite albums of all time: The Postal Service's Give Up.

#2: The Decemberists: The Crane Wife (Chris Walla: Keyboards, Background Vocals, Producer, Mixer) - What Chris Walla started on Picaresque, he undoubtedly perfected by the time he re-joined with the band to create what is easily their best record to date. The Crane Wife was the band's major-label debut, and Walla was able to smooth out some of the band's less-accessible quirks without sacrificing their signature sound or style. Track for track, The Crane Wife is an amazing album, and Chris Walla should definitely share some of the credit for that.

#1: The Postal Service: Give Up (Ben Gibbard: Vocals - Chris Walla: Co-Producer) - I suppose that if you've been reading this blog for any significant amount of time that this decision is no big surprise. Plus, I totally gave it away on #3! The simple truth is that Give Up is one of the finest albums I will probably ever hear in my life, and probably the single, most influential album in my lifetime so far. Why is that? Well, it single-handedly introduced me to this thing called "indie music. Until I heard The Postal Service, I literally thought that the only music that was out there was the stuff I saw on MTV and heard on the radio. Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello's epic collaboration really opened my eyes (or ears, I suppose) to a whole other world of music. For that, I can't help but place this album as number one. Can you really blame me?

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End of Radiohead Contest

Thanks to all of you who entered the contest.  We had a number of entries submitted to us, some funny, some terribly sad, and some that were just kind of uninteresting.  We will be combing through the entries this morning and coming up with a winner.  


Thanks again for entering.  I hope that somehow you all find a way to get to the show.  

--Cale  

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Death Cab for Cutie: Plans


So like many other great bands, Death Cab for Cutie was unbeknownst to me until an episode of "Grey's Anatomy" when I heard the song "Soul Meets Body" during a very climactic scene. I didn't know the song, yet I knew that whatever melody I'd just heard had completely taken me. I remember asking my brother, "Who sings that song?" Luckily, he not only knew, but had a copy of the album Plans which includes the aforementioned track. It's a truly fascinating and abundantly lyrical album with several great songs. It is my pleasure to share it with you.

So right down to it, "Soul Meets Body" and "I Will Follow You Into The Dark" are two completely captivating songs. "Soul Meets Body" has so many hypnotic melodies and rhythms that come together to make a totally memorable song. There are technically great mixes in this song as well, particularly the depth given to the vocals by the layered octaves. It gives the song a much heftier, deeper sound that is very warm at the same time. However the part of the song I like the best is the memorable melody that accompanies phrases like, "And I do believe it's true that there are roads left in both of our shoes". It's the part of this song that leaves me humming all day. On the other hand, "I Will Follow You into the Dark" could not be a more different song, similar only in the fact that I love it equally. It's an acoustic track that is literally about dying and undying love. The slow guitar melody gives you a feeling of sincerity in the music while the vocals wrap you in their warmth and devotion. The lyrics in this song are some of my favorites ever, hands down. "If there's no one beside you when your soul embarks, then I'll follow you into the dark" is enough to make me want to pull over on the side of the road, turn off the engine, and have a good cry. Now, I'm not really going to do that, but you can see the emotion that is conjured by this melodically simplistic track. It's simply beautiful...

"Marching Bands of Manhattan" kind of reminds me of the band Semi-sonic. That's not a bad thing as I like the sound of Semi-Sonic, but it's merely an observation given to help you better picture the sound. It's a slower track, but does not lack in energy. Especially during what I would consider to be the undefined chorus, when the momentum begins to pick up with the repeating of lyrics and the building of the instruments. It's a great song to begin their album. "Different Names for the Same Thing" is not a lyrically heavy song as there are only two verses, but it has tremendous depth to it nonetheless. The music is a little unconventional in places with chord choices that may sound strange for a second and then pull you in with their originality and perfect placement in the song. It's incredibly slow until midway through when it finally adds percussion, but this only adds to the uniqueness of the track. The end of the track definitely sounds like it could also be featured in a "Grey's Anatomy" episode with its sudden intensity build.

"Someday You Will Be Loved" is a song which is not likely to be forgotten. The first thing to know about this song is that this chorus will get stuck in your head. Not only is the melody listener-friendly, the lyrics are simple and down to earth. They don't try to attain the status of "super intellectual dialect" which is a characteristic I find truly endearing. While the story is somewhat sad, with it's tale of break-up and the typical "you'll eventually find the right person" spiel, it's also sincerely hopeful. With the pace of this track, you have the ability to take in every word, as not to quickly forget it. This song will likely stay with you... "Crooked Teeth" is very likable with its playful melody and catchy chorus of "'Cause you can't find nothin' at all if there was nothin' there all along". I also really like the way that they phrase that line to fit with the rhythm of the song. They achieve an interesting sound with this technique. The big factors of "Crooked Teeth" are the playful lyrics and enjoyable musicality that you get when listening. It's definitely a fun song to sing along with.

"Brothers on a Hotel Bed" begins in a very ethereal manner with its light, soft piano melodies and soon turns very poetic. This is a song that I like to listen to more than sing along with. The title is a bit strange, but one of the last lines of the song is "'Cause now we say goodnight from our own separate sides like brothers on a hotel bed". The lyrics leading up to that ending are extremely poetic and well written. The soft percussion is reminiscent of that in a soft rock song, but unlike Michael Bolton's best, you'll want to listen to this one several more times. Other tracks on Plans include "Summer Skin", "Your Heart is an Empty Room", "What Sarah Said" and "Stable Song". These songs are lumped into similar categories for me. While I like them all and think that they are individually noteworthy songs, I feel that they can all be mentioned together due to their similarities. They are each relatively slow, but percussive songs. Each one is lyrically great, however musically, I get lost among these. In my opinion, they have the same level of memorability.

There are no bad songs on Plans; not one. In fact, most of them are flat out great! Some will leaving you singing, most will leave you pondering and in fact, one might leave you crying. They are all fascinating and definitely worth checking out. I recommend Plans for anyone looking for a great album or just a fan of "Grey's Anatomy"! Happy listening!

Key Tracks
1. Soul Meets Body
2. Different Names for the Same Thing
3. I Will Follow You into the Dark
4. Someday You Will Be Loved
5. Crooked Teeth

8 out of 10 stars

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Moods - Poetic

So Death Cab for Cutie Week marches on here at Audio Overflow. Today's Moods playlist is less a mood and more of an adjective, though I suppose they're both the same thing. As many of you are well aware of, Ben Gibbard is one of my favorite lyricists of all time. His words can be clever, touching, depressing, and vivid; and they almost never disappoint. So in honor of this man's pen, I've decided to make today's playlist a collection of what I feel are some of Death Cab for Cutie's most poetic lyrics. They're not always the best songs, but these words are beautiful. Hopefully that will be enough for you.


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Audio Overflow's Radiohead Ticket Giveaway!

It's no joke, people.  As of right now, Audio Overflow is hosting a contest, the winner of which will receive 2 FREE TICKETS to Radiohead's Houston, TX show taking place THIS SATURDAY, May 17, 2008!  This contest is being sponsored by Antics - Fueled by Toyota Matrix.

What do you have to do to enter?  It's simple: just send an E-Mail to audiooverflow@gmail.com detailing why you think you deserve these tickets!  That's it!  The sole winner of this contest will be chosen by the Audio Overflow staff based on no particular criteria, just whoever we think gave us the best explanation as to why they deserve to see Radiohead live.

Don't take your time getting those e-mails in, either.  This contest is officially closed at 11:59PM (CST) on the evening of Thursday, May 15, 2008 (tomorrow).

The full rules for entry and privacy policy are listed below.  Be sure to read them in their entirety, so that we can grant you the honor of seeing this amazing band live.  If you have any questions, leave a comment below and I will try my best to respond as promptly as I can.  Thanks for reading, and be sure to visit www.uptheantics.com in appreciation of their awesome contribution!

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Audio Overflow Radiohead Ticket Giveaway!

Brought to you by Antics - Fueled by Toyota Matrix.

www.uptheantics.com


What's Up for Grabs?

2 Free Radiohead Tickets for the Houston, TX show on May 17, 2008.  The tickets are for general admission lawn seating, which are running for around $150 apiece on Ebay.


Official Rules:

  1. To enter the Radiohead Giveaway Contest, send an email to audiooverflow@gmail.com with the following information:
    • Your First and Last Name
    • Primary E-Mail Address
    • Phone Number where you can be reached in case of emergency.
  2. In your email, also be sure to include why you deserve to win these tickets. 
    • Your explanation can be as long or as short as you'd like.  We are not hosting a literary contest, here.
    • Your story does not necessarily have to be true, as we have no way to verify this information, just good enough to where we think you deserve the tickets.  Naturally, something that at least sounds true is going to stand a better chance of winning.
  3. There will only be one winner decided upon by the Audio Overflow staff.  Together we will decide which explanation we like the best, and award the tickets to that person.
  4. Upon winning the contest, you will be contacted by a member of the Audio Overflow staff via E-Mail, or by phone if necessary.  Should we be unable to contact you after a reasonable amount of time, we will move on to the next person on our list.
  5. The contest will end at 11:59p (Central Standard Time) on Thursday, May 15, 2008.  You will be initially contacted on Friday morning (please provide an E-Mail address to which you can be reached at this time).
  6. You will be able to pick up your tickets at the day of the show from the venue (Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion).  Further details will be given to you upon winning the contest, as we are currently working things out with the venue.
  7. Be sure to bring a photo ID with you, to verify that it is actually you picking up the tickets.  Tickets will not be released without a photo ID.
  8. Due to ethical concerns, tickets will not be awarded to a person that knows the Audio Overflow staff personally.


Privacy Policy:


Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES will Audio Overflow provide your personal information to third parties.  In fact, we'll probably delete it it from our E-Mail after this is all over with.  Antics is simply providing the tickets to this show, and we have no obligation to share your information with them.  Trust us, your personal information is of the utmost importance to us.  It's not going anywhere.


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Thanks for participating in this contest.  We wish you the best of luck and we're rooting for you to win these tickets.  No one else.


Cale Reneau

Editor In-Chief

Audio Overflow


PS:  Oh, yeah.  Death Cab for Cutie!


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Video of the Week - Week 71

Time for a history lesson, folks, courtesy of Wikipedia. Now, as you know, all of this week's posts are to be Death Cab for Cutie-related. So while I could just get on here, post a Death Cab video and call it a day, I've decided to take it a step further. If you want a Death Cab video, click HERE. I posted one two weeks ago. Today's video is more about the band's name's origin. So to help explain, I'll quote Wikipedia:

"Death Cab for Cutie" is a song composed by Vivian Stanshall and Neil Innes and performed by Stanshall and the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. It was included on their 1967 album Gorilla.

Unlike most comedy/satirical performers, who write songs that parody other well-known songs, the Bonzo band wrote original material that parodied musical styles.

Stanshall intended "Death Cab For Cutie" as a send-up of Elvis Presley, and he performed it as such. Like many early rock songs, most notably "Teen Angel", it tells a story of youthful angst: "Cutie" who goes out on the town against her lover's wishes. "Last night Cutie caught a cab, uhuh-huh..." She is killed when the taxicab she is in runs a red light and crashes. Stanshall, as lead singer, details Cutie's doomed journey to the sound of a honky-tonk piano, while the Bonzo chorus warns: "Baby, don't do it..." Stanshall repeats the refrain in true Presley hip-wriggling style: "Someone's going to make you pay your fare."
The song was later featured in a one-hour TV film starring The Beatles, titles "Magical Mystery Tour," performed by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band themselves. It's a pretty amusing scene, one one that you should probably watch. So do it, I've provided it below. It's this week's Video of the Week.


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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Death Cab for Cutie: "Narrow Stairs"

When Death Cab for Cutie signed to Atlantic Records a few years back, many people expected the worse. In the indie music world, where signing to a major record label is often met with cries of “selling out” and steadfast declarations of “their old stuff was better,” Death Cab’s transition was proof that a major record deal doesn’t alway signal the end of a band’s better days. Plans wound up being a beautiful album; not near as exciting or breathtaking as its predecessor, but still drenched in Ben Gibbard’s unparalleled lyricism and Chris Walla’s flawless production. It was an album that found the band’s rough edges smoothed out - their more hopeful moments set aside to make way for those of self-doubt and longing.

Narrow Stairs takes the opposite approach. Walla is once again behind the production, but the album has a much more natural quality to it (a feature that not only contrasts Plans, but Walla’s own solo album and his work with The Decemberists and Tegan and Sara). As such, it feels more like the band’s earlier work: unrestrained and unrefined, free of nit-picking and studio perfectionism. The raw, guitar distortion of album-opener, “Bixby Canyon Bridge,” would never exist on an album like Plans, and it’s refreshing to hear the band breaking free from the self-imposed restrictions of their previous record.

Likewise, the album’s first single “I Will Possess Your Heart” is well over 8 minutes long, something that I can’t imagine Atlantic Records smiling on, especially being a single. The song seems hand-crafted to be the opening number to a live performance, with instrumentation slowly building over Nick Harmer’s infecting bass line until finally, after 4 1/2 minutes, it’s just Gibbard spouting his equally intoxicating, “You gotta spend some time love/ you gotta spend some time with me.” Like most, I wasn’t sold on the song on the first listen, but after spending some time with it (get it?) it grew on me. It still may not have been the wisest choice for a first single, but doing so seems to be more about making a statement than a marketing decision.

“No Sunlight” is, oddly enough, a very sunny pop/rock song with an indisputably rockin’ chorus. Like a good Of Montreal song, its easy-going composition masks its darker lyrics. During the chorus, Gibbard sings, “It disappeared at the same speed/ the idealistic things I believe/ the optimist died inside of me.” “Cath...” is equally as depressing, telling the story of a woman who always falls in love with the wrong man. Ben’s lyrics are as impressive as they always are, lamenting, “Cath/ it seems that you live in someone else’s dream/ in a hand-me-down wedding dress,” later noting that, “the whispers that it won’t last/ run up and down the pews.” The song’s forward guitars and bouncy instrumentation make it an easy favorite on the album, and one that I simply can’t find fault with.

“Talking Bird” is a strange ballad about a parrot, or other bird that can talk. Gibbard trudges through the song with his typically melancholic musings, but knowing the subject matter really makes the song lose any effect that it may have had otherwise. “You Can Do Better Than Be” bursts out of the gate with such fanfare, that it seems more appropriate for a parade than a Death Cab album. Ben begins the song by singing, “I’m starting to feel we stayed together out of fear,” over heavily-structured, syncopated snares and bass drums. It’s a very cool sounding song and one of the few times on Narrow Stairs in which the band feels like they’re trying to branch out.



By far, the album’s standout track is “Grapevine Fires,” in which Gibbard tells the story of a peaceful moment in the midst of a wildfire. The song is absolutely gorgeous from the start, with soft instrumentation, lush harmonies, and vivid imagery carrying it to its stunning conclusion (“The firemen worked in double shifts/ with prayers for rain on their lips”). “Your New Twin Sized Bed” is more standard Death Cab fare. As such, one could probably figure out the story of the song based on the title alone. It’s a pretty track, but nothing that requires any real discussion or dissection. “Long Division” winds up being a much more pleasing song. With an irresistible, upbeat, guitar-heavy arrangement, you’re almost guaranteed to sing along to the chorus (“To be the remain, remain, remain, remainder!”) and maybe even bust out with a little air drumming. I know I have.

“Pity and Fear” is a song that never really goes anywhere. It doesn’t build, change, or affect in any notable manner, and may be doomed to skip button of many CD players. Unfortunately, not even some admittedly cool guitaring in the track’s final minute can redeem it. “The Ice Is Getting Thinner” ends the album on a high, if not sorrowful, note. Gibbard describes two lovers drifting apart with such beauty, that it’s difficult to even think of a song that could do it better. He croons, “We buried our love/ in a wintery grave/ a lump in the snow/ was all that remained.” It is a typical, soft, reflective comedown track to be sure, but you simply can’t deny the brilliance of it.

In many ways, Narrow Stairs is a return to form for Death Cab for Cutie. That being said, it doesn’t necessarily show them retreading the same path again, either. What Narrow Stairs accomplishes is much more subtle and graceful. It portrays a band embracing their roots while moving towards the future. With their success and notoriety already achieved, the band challenged themselves to make an album that doesn’t rely on perfection in the studio, songwriting, or performances; but one that is honest, exciting and natural. It’s not exactly reinventing the wheel, but Narrow Stairs is far from a sell out or a disappointment. It is simply another solid album from a band who continues to prove themselves worthy of our admiration. And really, what more could anyone want?

Key Tracks:
1. “Bixby Canyon Bridge”
2. “ I WIll Possess Your Heart”
3. “Cath...”
4. “You Can Do Better Than Me”
5. “Grapevine Fires”

8 out of 10 Stars

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