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Monday, June 30, 2008

Perfect Summer Soundtrack - Week 4

Well, I'm back from vacation and things are getting back to normal around here. That means that it's time for another post for our Perfect Summer Soundtrack series. This week's post is monsterous!

The 4th of July Party Playlist
America celebrates its independence this Friday, and there will be plenty of festivities to celebrate this occasion. Personally, I'll probably be laying low. But for those of you out there who are throwing - or attending - a bitchin' house party, I've assembled my largest playlist to date!

88 songs. That's how long this one is. How that translates into minutes, I have no idea. Though considering how imeem is prone to shorten some songs down to 30-second clips, I'd have to imagine that it would be a bit shorter than some would like. Like any good party mix, it's filled with upbeat songs (though nothing too overwhelming), conversation-starters (oh, who is this?), and even a few quiet songs that stay out of the way to let you actually have that conversation.

If you happen to be throwing a party this Friday with a bunch of hipsters, plug this one into the stereo system and let me know how it goes. I'm interested in finding out just how amazing this playlist is. Oh, and set it to "shuffle."
Week 1 - Rooney's Self-Titled Debut (Beach Trip, Road Trip, Skateboarding)
Week 2 - The Picnic Playlist
Week 3 - Of Montreal: The Sunlandic Twins (Road Trip Sing-a-longs, House Parties, Frisbee Tossing)

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Out On Vacation...

This is an automated post that I wrote some time Wednesday.  I am leaving town for the weekend and I'm not sure if there will be Wi-Fi when I get to my destination.  If there is, then this message will have never been posted and you won't be reading it.  If you ARE reading it, that means that will be no posts on Audio Overflow until next Monday.  I'm sorry for your loss...


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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Video of the Week - Week 76

Vampire Weekend - "Oxford Comma" from the self-titled debut.

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Tilly and the Wall: "O"

What's more ridiculous than a band whose percussion section is fronted by a tap dancer?  When that same band tries to act like a bunch of edgy punks.  Like it or not, that's the approach that Tilly in the Wall is taking on their third full-length LP, formally untitled, now known only as "O."  What ensues in its 32 minutes is an unlikely blend of punk rock, dance, and indie pop that never really achieves the heights that the band would undoubtedly wish for it.

I've been a fan of Tilly and the Wall since I first heard their music over three years ago.  I was captivated by their unique style of indie pop, and more specifically, the unrelenting joy and whimsy that seemed to drip from nearly every second of their music.  Even when the band took a more serious route with their songs, their passion and excitement remained the same.  It is for this reason that I am particularly disappointed with O.  Despite a few toe-tappers and fist-pounders, it is an album completely void of the joy and passion that filled their first two albums.  

Standout track, "Pot Kettle Black," is a sad, desperate attempt to be edgy.  In it, Kianna takes on gossiping girls with the laughable chorus of , "Pot kettle, pot kettle black/ Talk that, talk that smack!/ Pot kettle, pot kettle black/ Watch yo', watch yo' back!"  Just when I thought I would never hear anybody refer to it as "talking smack" ever again, this song brings back the terminology like a gift we didn't know we deserved and didn't really want to begin with.  The song's distorted, easy guitar riffs make it sound more like a White Stripes song than Tilly and the Wall, but the lyrics leave a lot to be desired.  This faux hardcore attitude is reflected in the catchy "Blood Flower" ("You better watch what you're doing/ don't go f**kin' around in the garden") or the laughable but energetic closer, "Too Excited."  The latter song begins with a 30-second tap dance solo before we have to put up with Kianna shouting silly things like "Well I say boohoo/ And I say f**k you!" or "I'm gonna burn this motherf**kin' party down!"  I'm shivering...
Despite my lack of respect for these songs, I've found them to be some of the most enjoyable on the album for the simple fact that they seem to be the few that have discernible passion behind them.  "I Found You" is an utter bore, "Poor Man's Ice Cream" is a band's desperate attempt to recreate their breakout song ("Bad Education"), and "Cacophony" is an interesting song with rich instrumentation, but lacks any sort of memorable melody.  This is supposed to be pop music, right?  A lot of these songs just sound like fan-service; obligatory tracks to quiet the fans and get them to feel like they got their money's worth.

There are some track with which I have no complaints, like the upbeat classic, "Alligator Skin" which hearkens back to the band's old sound.  But at only 2:20, it doesn't last near as long as I'd like it to.  "Dust Me Off" is another fantastic track that implements a lot of synths and electronics to make a truly memorable dance song.  It sounds unlike anything the band has done before, but it's fun and catchy despite its serious lyrical content; kind of like a good Of Montreal song.  "Tall Tall Grass" is another solid song.  It may be the obligatory ballad, but Tilly and the Wall has always been particularly good at making soft acoustic songs.  This one is no different.  Kianna's voice is as good as it ever gets on the album, and the band harmonizes beautifully with her on the choruses.  

But overall, O is the very definition of a mixed bag.  For every solid, decent song on the album, there is another that is either not up to snuff or just plain dumb.  Longtime fans of Tilly and the Wall are likely to be surprised by what they hear, and if they're like me, the first couple of listens will be accompanied by a frown or grimace.  After about 3 listens, a few of the songs started to grow on me while others, particularly "Pot Kettle Black," just wore out their welcome entirely.  This is definitely Tilly and the Wall's riskiest album to date, but unfortunately, it also winds up being their worst.  The carefree, happy band that once ran through a gymnasium with streamers in their music video is now a bunch of badasses who "don't give a s**t if [they're] cool enough."  Strange for a band that spends the majority of the time on this album trying to convince us that they are, in fact, the cool kids on the block.  And if you don't believe it, they'll kick your ass!

Key Tracks:
1. "Tall Tall Grass"
2. "Alligator Skin"
3. "Dust Me Off"
4. "Falling Without Knowing"
5. "Blood Flower"

5 out of 10 Stars

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Nintendo DS: Guitar Hero On Tour Review

The Guitar Hero series has been selling in mass quantities for years now, captivating gamers and non-gamers alike. It's intuitive and addictive gameplay has always been its stongest feature. Who hasn't spent at least some part of their lives wishing they were a rock star? Guitar Hero gives everyone the opportunity to live out their rock 'n' roll fantasies in the comfort of their own living rooms. With Guitar Hero On Tour, Activision is branching out into the handheld market with a unique experience that still maintains the look and feel of the console versions of the series. The result is something that has a few quirks and inconveniences, but still manages to please even the most die hard Guitar Hero fan.

Of course, the most intriguing part of Guitar Hero On Tour is the newly-designed guitar grip, a clever peripheral that recreates the feel of the Guitar Hero fret buttons in a relatively compact package. The peripheral plugs into the GBA slot of your Nintendo DS and has a strap that allows you to strap in while playing. The fret buttons themselves are about half the size of your standard Guitar Hero controller, and Red Octane and Vicarious Visions have smartly chosen to shrink the number of buttons down from 5 to 4. Because of the relatively small size of the bottons, it can be tough to get your fingers to hit the buttons that you want them to sometimes. My fingers are in no way fat, yet I still find that I could hit two buttons with one finger easily. A lot of missed notes ensue if I don't stay on my game.

In addition to this complaint, I've also had a tough time getting used to the grip. My hands are slighly larger than normal and try as I might, I just can't find a "normal" way to hold the grip that doesn't result in a painful hand cramp. Personally, I've started playing with a 1-inch rubber ball in my palm to complement the natural curviture of my hand. I've also learned that if I don't have the bottom of the DS pressed up against my abdomen, that my accuracy drops due to furious shaking of the DS that can occur when tackling a particularly rockin' part of a song. It's definitely not the most convenient way to play a video game, but I've learned to make it work. On a positive note, Guitar Hero On Tour also comes with a special pick-shaped stylus that works perfectly. I literally could not imagine playing this game with a regular DS stylus.

The song list on the game is not my favorite collection of tunes, but for the casual crowd that the Ninendo DS seems to attract, I can see how it would be a smart move for the developers. The better tracks on the game include "Anna Molly" by Incubus, "Helicopter" by Bloc Party, and Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Pride and Joy." The balance things out (or cater to the casual folks), there's also Smash Mouth's "Rock Star" and Blink 182's "All the Small Things." It's not a terrible collection of songs by any means, but not nearly as challenging as its console brethren. Of course, this is also probably related to the guitar grip, which limits your ability to "rock out" as fluidly as you would normally. In addition, the songs have been compressed to fit them all on the DS cartridge. That results in less than stellar sound quality obviously, and headphones don't really fix the problem at all. Still, with 25 songs (most of them master tracks, most of them unique to this version of Guitar Hero), there's not a whole lot to complain about with the songs.

Looking at Vicarious Visions' past games, I was a little skeptical of how the development team could do with the Guitar Hero franchise on a handheld. But they have far surpassed my expectations with this game! Over a year of development, testing, and tweaking have resulted in a handheld game that truly does feel like Guitar Hero! All the staple features of the game are there: career mode, the shop, quickplay, and co-op multiplayer via local wireless. This version also introduces the guitar duel feature which is similar to battle mode on Guitar Hero 3. Players can play in this mode against the CPU or against other players using local wireless connection. Unfortunately, there is no option for online play, but that's not entirely surprising considering the lag problems with Nintendo's Wif-Fi Connect service.

The strumming motion that players are required to make over the DS touch screen feels entirely natural, and really adds a new level of excitement to the franchise. To whammy, players simply hold out the note with the fret keys and move the pick back and forth over the screen. I've run into the problem a few times where the note will end in mid-whammy, which then turns my fast whammy into a frantic strum and a whole lot of missed notes. A small oversight, but players should be able to adapt and correct themselves in no time! I was also a bit disappointed that the game doesn't come with its own standard-sized DS box, only a small case about the size of the cartridge itself. Considering how often I lose things, and how small the cartridge is, this can't bode well.

But for the most part, Guitar Hero On Tour is still a fun handheld version of an incredibly addictive game. The console versions of Guitar Hero focus on recreating the feel of playing a guitar. This version focuses more on recreating the feel of playing Guitar Hero, rather than the guitar. There is a bit of a learning curve, even for seasoned Gutar Heroes. Personally, I hopped right into Expert and was able to get 4 or 5 star scores by the the 5th song or so. There are a few hurdles to jump over, and a few quirks to deal with, but Guitar Hero On Tour is a great way to get your Guitar Hero fix no matter where you are! For me, it was totally worth the purchase!

7 out of 10 Stars

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Perfect Summer Soundtrack - Week 3

Week 3 of our summer-long feature finds us revisiting an old friend.  Just another album that was meant to be listened to in the summer.

Of Montreal: The Sunlandic Twins

Recommended Activities:  Road Trip Sing-a-longs, House Parties, Frisbee Tossing

So Of Montreal is probably my favorite band.  I say probably only because I really don't keep track of those sorts of things (odd considering my unwavering affinity for lists), but when browsing through my collection of "Best of" playlists on my Zune, I notice that my Of Montreal list dwarfs the rest of them.  

The Sunlandic Twins is undoubtedly the band's breakout record, launching them from relative no ones to a roundabout household name (who hasn't heard the Outback Steakhouse jingle?).  It's filled with happy, bouncy, and  - as the name would suggest - sunny pop tunes that get stuck in your head and never let go.  "Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games" is the undeniable favorite of every quasi-fan out there, but there's so much more to hear on this great album!

If summer is all about having fun, then The Sunlandic Twins is a match made in heaven!  Pop it in and prepare for 41 minutes of greatness.  Have that repeat button ready.  You'll want to listen to this one over and over again.

Key Tracks:
1. "Requiem for O.M.M.2"
2. "Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games"
3. "So Begins Our Alabee"
4. "The Party's Crashing Us"
5. "Death of a Shade of Hue"

Week 1 - Rooney's Self-Titled Debut (Beach Trip, Road Trip, Skateboarding)
Week 2 - The Picnic Playlist 

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Spygirl: "Pieces of Evidence"

My tastes in music are kind of all over the place.  In general, I need a good melody, good instrumentation, nothing too noisy, nothing too cheesy.  Play with passion, play with drive, and make me believe that you enjoy what you do.  For the most part, that's all it takes.  However, I've noticed as of late that my favorite groups, the ones that stand out in my mind, are the ones that contain certain eccentricities or unique aspects that set them apart.  Vancouver-based pop band, Spygirl, doesn't really have any eccentricities, and as far as pop music goes, Pieces of Evidence is about as straightforward and listener-friendly as it gets.  

Despite this, Spygirl excels in the one area that all pop musicians should:  by making music that infects you, stays in your head, and doesn't leave easily.  For me, the song that sticks out the most on Pieces of Evidence has to be the near-perfect "Today," in which lead-singer Koralee Tonack pleads, "I want you by my side/ right by my side/ please wait," over beautifully-played guitars, keys, and drums.  The first night after I heard the song, I laid my head down to go to sleep, but was plagued by the song's catchy chorus.  Singing it in my head over and over again, it took me an especially long time to fall asleep that night.

Other songs of note on the album include the dreamy guitar pop of "Asleep Awake" where a simple "ba da ba ba" has never been better utilized, and "Where Did Those Stars Come From," a solemn, piano ballad that eventually builds into a triumphant exclamation, complete with energetic trumpets and a cool, though somewhat out of place breakdown.  The band really flirts with late-nineties pop/rock sounds through the length of the album.  Never is that more apparent than on "Beautiful," where the band's guitars really come to the forefront as Koralee questions, "Do I bend the mind/ the eye in the middle?/ Do I bring your heart alive?"  It is a powerful song, and one that sets aside many of the band's pop tendencies for a more rock feel.  As such, its greatness is revealed a bit more slowly, and it may not stand out until the third or fourth listen.  And if the band's genre-crossing nature didn't make itself know to you there, the quasi-rock/gospel track, "Feeling Fine" should do the trick!

Even with the band's talented lineup, Koralee really does make this band what it is.  Her vocals are the driving force of most songs on the album, and if there's one thing that you'll remember about Spygirl, it's her voice.  To put it simply, it is quite gorgeous.  She sings with conviction, with passion, and almost sounds like a talented Alanis Morissette.  Unfortunately, I can't help but feel as if her voice is brought out to the front of the mix too often, overpowering the other members of the band.  This may just be me, of course, but I've thought this since the first time I first popped in Pieces of Evidence, and even now after several listens, my feelings remain unchanged.  A small gripe, and one that doesn't change the enjoyability of the songs, but one that deserves attention nonetheless. 

In the end, Pieces of Evidence winds up being a rather enjoyable listen.  In the band's 12-year existence, this is only their second LP.  The amount of time and work spent on making this album really shows, and the level of polish on Pieces of Evidence is impressive, even for pop music!  It probably won't wind up on any "Best Albums" list, but that shouldn't detract from the band's talent, nor their achievement of making a pop album without a single dud track.  Listen to a few tracks and decide for yourself, or if you're like me, let your sleepless nights decide for you.

Key Tracks:
1. "Asleep Awake"
2. "Today"
3. "Where Did Those Stars Come From"
4. "Feeling Fine"
5. "Be Lost"

7 out of 10 Stars

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Where has all the good girl pop gone?

Is there really such a thing as "good" girl pop? Likely no, but at least there has been decent girl pop. Lumped into the category of suckie girl pop are what I like to refer to as the trifecta -- actors turned musicians, jealous family members turned musicians, and spoiled rich brats turned musicians. Trust me... there is a wealth of options to create a play list tonight.

To expound a little more on what I mean by "suckie" pop, I'll give a few examples. First off, we have Lindsay Lohan. Cute child actor, mediocre adult actor and absolutely terrible musician. In her case, it's not all about the music necessarily, but about what's behind all the sound, particularly lyrics. I can remember the first time my ears heard, "Rumors". I felt very peeved at the content of the "wah wah boo hoo" song about people talking crap about her. She's a stank chick who can't lay off the sauce and is plastered all over TV while literally being plastered. I can't think of any reason why that wouldn't cause people to discuss Ms. Lohan. Or what about Hillary Duff? Super cute as Lizzie McGuire... I loved that show well into my early 20's. She was adorable and the show was wholesome, yet amusing. Then she had to go and make a record... Did it sell like hotcakes? I don't have the figures, but if memory serves me correct, it did; doesn't say much for those so called music lovers out there. Again, music not too terrible for pop, but lyrics very cheesy and Disney-like which would've been okay purely marketed on Radio Disney, but if you're going to show her on MTV or play her on a local pop station, please give me more than pure fluff. I could go on all day about Jennifer Love Hewitt and how much her music blew, but alas, I must not rant so much that people leave.

On to jealous family members... Ashlee Simpson comes to mind. Is she better than her big sis Jessica? Um, worlds better, but again, that's not saying much considering that Jessica's fan base was nowhere near what it was before she began the taping of MTV's "The Newlyweds". So while Ashlee's music was never ear poison, it doesn't rank on the top female pop singers... at all. In fact, I think Kidd Craddock (a morning show radio host) said it best when he asked Kelly Clarkson if "bad sound problems" could explain this... to which he played a clip of Ashlee Simpson's performance at a bowl game where she sang "La La" and completely boofed it up (that's right - the performance where she got booed). Pure torture to listen to some of her music, though not altogether the worst female pop singer.

That leaves us with the spoiled brat syndrome category in which we get artists like Paris Hilton. Can she sing? Absolutely not, but it didn't stop her from turning out a few $$$ to make the album. It's likely that while laying out by the pool in one of her million dollar mansions, she got bored and thought, "I think I'll make an album... which features me... that'll be hot". Not too hard to imagine is it? I don't think so. I do believe though that it was an album that Cale gave a well deserved low rating to. It's artists, nay, humans like her that make people want to ban the genre forever.

Don't get me wrong now... there are plenty of terrible female pop singers and songs that didn't make it into these categories, but bear in mind, the crap is out there. The following play list is only a sample, a mere morsel of the complete jokes that are out there in the way of girl pop. Please listen to the following "sounds" as a means to spur some critical thinking and not for enjoyment... if you enjoy any of the following "sounds", please be sure to leave a comment and let me know. I'll be interested to see.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Video of the Week - Week 75

Hey, last week's video...weird story about that one. Apparently Tilly and the Wall like to make songs and music videos that won't be on albums. Crazy, I know, but I thought it best to point out that "Beat Control" is nowhere on their new album, which I picked up yesterday and will review soon. Just sayin. Now on to this week's video.

It is a bit odd that the world's most recognizable video happens to be from a one-hit wonder, but that's how things go I suppose. Hey. I hope you like this one.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My Brightest Diamond: "A Thousand Shark's Teeth"

Re-listening to My Brightest Diamond's debut, Bring Me the Workhorse, in anticipation of this album would be like setting myself up for disappointment. It is for that reason that I made sure to steer clear of the album that effortlessly made it into my Top 5 Albums of 2006, and could be considered nothing less than one of the best female solo albums of the past decade. Of course, Asthmatic Kitty and Shara Worden herself often shy away from calling My Brightest Diamond a solo project. There are, after all, other musicians on the album, and Shara never does tour alone. But when your front woman is also your only songwriter, vocalist, arranger, and even shares production credit on the entire album, the whole "band" facade starts to seem a bit silly.

That's part of what makes A Thousand Shark's Teeth so surprisingly wonderful. At its heart, this is an album conceived by, written, and made through one woman. The fact that it is so diverse, so dense and intriguing is nothing short of miraculous! Forget imminent disappointment, this album completely shatters any bleak expectations I may have had about it. From the very start, with the familiar sounds of a brooding composition and sliding electric guitars, I knew I was in for something special. "Inside a Boy" is very much like the album-opener before it, "Something of an End." And why not? There is no better way to ease fans into a completely new experience than by giving them something familiar to hook them. And what a beautiful song to begin this journey! Shara sings in her trademark operatic style, "In his arms I'm unwinding/ Under his kiss I am falling into love," the last word emphasized by an out of the blue deep minor chord that will put the fear of God into many an unsuspecting listener!

"Ice & the Storm" follows in much the same vein as its predecessor, with a darkly catchy chorus ("I want a storm to blow it out/ I want to shake myself and turn my heart inside out") and familiar instrumentation. It is not until "If I Were Queen" that fans are given something remotely "new" to listen to. This short, minimalist song features little more than Shara singing acapella with the occasional string orchestration to remind you that there's something worth listening to here. When Shara swoons "...ah close by" over the orchestration, I can't help but picture some sort of Alice In Wonderland-esque scene, albeit one performed by a medieval chorus.

The album continues careening into controlled chaos, with the undeniably weird "Apples," whose muted marimba is one of the coolest-sounding instruments that can be found on the album. Shara's vocals are just as strange. Singing about doing laundry, she explores the highs and lows of her range with a peculiar melody that will be enchanting to some, off-putting to others. "From the Top of the World" slows the pace down, and finds Shara nurturing her admitted love for Radiohead. The chord progressions and pace of this song just remind me of something that Thom Yorke & Co. could have written, but she makes sure to add in enough string instrumentation to keep it fresh and exciting. "Black and Coustaud" is Worden at her most frightening, with dark, looming string instrumentation completely overpowering her compressed vocals, which are just as often yelled or spoken in French as they are sung. The bassoon is particularly frightening, as is Shara's shyly-spoken line of "Punch your nose," told like a secret too good to keep to herself. The French lyrics ("aver ma voix je marm'lad toi") translate to "With my voice I turn you into marmalade," which for any other artist would seem a bit half-baked. For My Brightest Diamond, it's oddly appropriate.

By far though, the most impressive track on A Thousand Shark's Teeth has to be "To Pluto's Moon" a nearly 7-minute long song that uses every second to great effect. Starting with solemn swells of strings and Shara's moving vocals, it eventually transforms into a mildly grooving, albeit sullen pop song. She sings in the chorus, "Why did you go like this?/ I slam against the wall/ It's crushing my skull/ Why did you go like this?." The lyrics are absolutely beautiful, about chasing someone or something to the end of the solar system, and who can't relate to the feeling of being left behind? It is this album's version of "Gone Away," but it surpasses that song in almost every way imaginable.
All of this is a step forward for Worden who spent most of her time on Bring Me the Workhorse singing about childhood memories and dead or dying animals. A Thousand Shark's Teeth is, for the most part, about relationships. Yet one has to wonder whether these tales are pure fiction or somehow based on Worden's personal experiences. Surely they are too separated from reality to be taken as literal stories, but if meant to be symbolic or poetically introspective, they are easily some of the most impressive lyrics in recent memory. They're just as unique as Workhorse's, though much more relatable. The biggest change on this album is Worden exposing her more theatrical side, be it in the grandiose arrangements, the small inflections in her voice, or simply the collection of pictures for which she poses in the CD booklet. The end result is an album that - as surprising as it may be - surpasses Bring Me the Workhorse on so many different levels that I can't help but love every second of it! Believe it or not, Shara Worden has somehow managed to starve off disappointment with A Thousand Shark's Teeth. Maybe next time...

Key Tracks:
1. "Inside a Boy"
2. "Ice & the Storm"
3. "Black & Coustaud"
4. "To Pluto's Moon"
5. "Bass Player"

9 out of 10 Stars

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Perfect Summer Soundtrack - Week 2

In our continued mission to give you, the reader, something good to listen to in almost any situation or mood, we have been kind enough to begin our Perfect Summer Soundtrack feature.  Every week, we'll give you music to get you through all of your summer activities, be they tame, exciting, or somewhere in between.  We always have you covered!  You should know that by now.

The Picnic Playlist
Quite the conundrum we have here, ladies and gentlemen.  For as great as picnics are, there's almost so way to take your computer to the park with you to jam on this playlist; unless, of course, you live in one of the handful of cities with municipal wi-fi.  In which case, lucky you.  But assuming you don't, you'll have to either resort to downloading (be it illegal or iTunes...I won't judge) or spending a ridiculous wad of cash getting all these songs together.  Personally, I'd opt for the downloading route.

So without any further ado, I give you the picnic playlist; a collection of 20 songs that will make even the most mundane, bologna sandwich taste like a bitching Quizno's Black Angus sub!*  And if you're lucky, and happen to be going on a picnic with a member of the opposite sex, you might as well go ahead and pack some rubs.  This playlist will totally get you laid.**  Enjoy!

*Results not typical.
**Results extremely typical.

Week 1 - Rooney's Self-Titled Debut (Beach Trip, Road Trip, Skateboarding)

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sometimes Change Is A Good Thing...

Hello, me again. Long time, no see right? Actually, it's only been a week. I took a week long break so that I could attend to matters outside the scope of Audio Overflow. However, I'm back and this time, we're going to try something different. That's right, a change. This change however is not necessarily permanent or even temporary. I may in fact get horrible responses from this post, but as the saying goes, "You never know until you try". So, while putting a retro review aside for a week, but still maintaining partial alliteration, I give the first and what may turn out to be the last...Random Rant.

So, what is a random rant exactly? Well, it's pretty much my time to weigh in on a topic of music; any topic is game. However, it's important that we get lots of feedback on this post. Good, bad, agree with the rant, disagree, "no more rants, only retro reviews"... it's a topic discussion, only I get 95% of the floor to say my piece, so if you aren't down with my piece, please let us know.

The topic for today (and I'm sure Cale will hate this) is Christian Music. Religious themed lyrics aside, what is it in particular that makes this genre so particularly bad? Is it the cheesy Jesus lyrics? Maybe... The mostly terrible musicianship? Extremely likely... The lack of pure "un-God-given" talent? I've never figured out what makes the horrible quality of Christian music stand out when flipping through radio stations. It is not like rap, where there are beats, country, where there are drawls, or classic rock with awesome guitar solos. Those genres can be stumbled upon on any radio station and instantly, you know what you are listening to because of the distinct sounds. Yet, Christian music can be made up of all of the previously mentioned sounds and is still a genre defined purely on the basis that every song deals with the same subject, "Christianity". So the question is, if those sounds can be good on a secular radio station, what is it about them in Christian music that makes us laugh, cringe, or avoid the genre altogether?

Growing up listening to Christian music, as that is how I was raised, meant that I have heard it all. Nothing I ever hear in the genre surprises me. When I hear music that is completely devoid of all talent, in other words, what Britney Spears is to pop, I have to cringe. After all, who would really let someone make a song, let alone an album that bad? Did their manager/producer feel obligated to let them continue to make music because it was about a subject which is considered "wholesome" by most American standards? Or was it simply because they felt like they were good musicians? It's unknown, but based on the fact those songs are out there, I can only assume both. Examples of these "so-called musicians" can be found on the play list below. They will include, but are in no way limited to "Carmen", "Twila Paris", "Point Of Grace", "Avalon" and "Nate Sallie". These artists span several generations, but each are bad in there own way, especially Nate Sallie who debuted with a Gavin DeGraw meets Maroon 5 hit, which I firmly believe to sound like complete balls.

On the other hand, there is a glimmer of hope at the end of the Christian music warp zone. It appears in the form of innovative Christian music which may or may not contain the words "God" or "Jesus". Music that is first and foremost good music, served with a side of ministry. I believe that the artists in the Christian genre who have the ability of any secular musicians have the potential to bring back fans the genre may have previously lost. These musicians play just as well or better than others in different genres, the vocals are more distinctive, but not to the bad extent, and the lyrics are deeper than just "thank you Jesus". As the religion of Christianity moves towards a more post modern approach, so do the lyrics. They approach new levels of intimacy, beauty, and depth than both Christians and non, can appreciate. Noteworthy artists that appear in the play list such as, "Robbie Seay Band", "Matt Brouwer", "David Crowder Band", "Evangeline", and "Brandon Heath" have all achieved genre respect from me and deserve to not be lumped into the categories of the previously mentioned.

So how do we answer, "why is Christian music typically so distinctive and so bad?" Well while Christian music has been around for hundreds of years, it has been radio played a lot less than most. I believe that it has growing pains like any other genre, only we've been alive through most of these pains. I believe the genre has both atrocity and outstanding ability, depending on what side of the fence you're on about the subject. There's no denying though that the 2nd half of the playlist is worlds better than the 1st. As you listen to the playlist, no matter what your religious preference, I want you to ponder over the ever growing genre (that's right, despite some of your desires, it won't go anywhere). Determine for yourselves why some Christian artists get airplay when they likely couldn't get it elsewhere and the others who deserve the airplay haven't gotten the attention and respect they deserve within the music industry. Just food for thought...

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

My Top 5 Indie Music Crushes

Women in the music industry have it kind of rough. When it comes to great songwriters and musicians, there are just as many female as there are male. And yet, for some reason or another, women are still judged primarily by their looks by the particularly male-centric music journalism scene. That’s why an artist like M.I.A. always has to whine and complain about how all the credit for her music is given to her producers and collaborators (also because she wouldn’t quite be M.I.A. without something to throw a fit about). And for what it’s worth, I really do respect the following five women on this list for their musical abilities. Hell, in the midst of all the ogling and staring, we often forget that the reason that these women were brought to our attention in the first place was because of their talent as musicians. So without any further introduction, I’d like to present to you my list of my Top 5 Indie Music Crushes. My apologies to the women of the music industry for reducing your contributions to mere eye candy.
#5 Emily Haines from Metric - Emily Haines has never been one to shy away from her sex appeal. Much of Metric’s early music was drenched in sexuality, and Emily seemed like she was more embracing the forced role of female musicians than shying away from it. And for what it’s worth, I found Emily Haines attractive before I even laid eyes on her. Of course, when I finally put a face to that lovely voice flowing from my speakers I was sold. That “Doctor Blind” video is, by the way, kind of awesome.

#4: Erin Fein from Headlights - In case you were wondering, yes, last night totally sealed the deal. As much as I love Tristan Wraight’s vocals for the the band Headlights, the songs on which Erin Fein lead the vocals have always been my favorite. “T.V.,” “Songy Darko,” Hi Ya,” and “Cherry Tulips” are all fantastic songs, due in large part to Erin’s (pardon the cliche) sugary-sweet vocals. In person, she is just as beautiful as her voice, and clearly someone who enjoys every moment of her job. Plus, she pours coffee for her bandmates! That alone nets her huge brownie points. Just sayin’.

#3: Gwenno from The Pipettes - The funny thing about Gwenno is that that is her birthname, not just some quirky stage name like “Riot Becky.” Take that as your fun fact of the day. Is their any denying to gorgeousness that is Gwenno? I have a gay friend to whom I was trying to explain her beauty. I showed him a picture, to which he responded to the strong, lovely features of Gwenno with “I don’t know. I can’t decide if she’s really old, or just looks like she’s really old.” But you know what? He’s gay, so what else can I expect? I would rant and rave about how talented she is as a vocalist, but I can’t pick her voice out of the other Pipettes, so that would be tough. But hey, I like The Pipettes, so I must like her voice, right? Of course!

#2: Annie Clark of St. Vincent - Don’t let the album cover to her 2007 album confuse you. Annie Clark is actually a very beautiful young woman. Like Gwenno, she has very defined features - like her cheek bones for example. But unlike Gwenno, Annie’s talent as a musician is completely inescapable. Marry Me was my #3 album of 2007, and it wasn’t even because its title was a reference to Arrested Development (which it was). But still, when you have someone who is this talented, this pretty, and who also likes the funniest show of the last 20 kind of can’t help but crush all over that.

#1: Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond - What can I say? There’s just something about a 5’0” tall woman with the voice of a 300 lb. opera singer and the musical talent of pretty much any notable musician of the last 50 years. That, and the fact that Shara Worden happens to be very, very weird. And I like weird. Her weirdness transcends her music, which few could deny is not only weird but technically, and sonically impressive. When I saw her live, almost two years ago, I was enjoying her just acting like a fool on “Freak Out” even more than most of the other songs that she played. Odd considering that “Freak Out” is not the best song of hers, but not so odd when you consider that she just happens to be “cute as a button” as they say. Personally, I’ve never seen a button that compares

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Friday, June 13, 2008

(6/12/08) Mates of State w/ Headlights - Houston, TX

So Mates of State strolled through town last night, their first trip through in a few years, and I was pretty pumped as I had never seen them before.  However, I was just as excited to see Headlights, a band whose first album was my #9 album of 2006, and whose second I reviewed pretty fairly as well.  But disappointment was in the air.  Though I do enjoy Some Racing, Some Stopping very much, I was dumbstruck by the fact that Headlights didn't play a single song (not one) from Kill Them With Kindness, an album I consider to be better, song for song.

Despite that, the band put on a great show.  Tristan took over most of the vocal work, and really the only song that Erin sang lead on was their big hit from the new album, "Cherry Tulips."  Seeing the band dance around with such energy and vigor was really fun, and really helped get a crowd who wasn't all that familiar with their music into the show.  Of course, this dancing came with a downside.  Erin accidentally knocked over her beer, and began to unknowingly dance in the puddle that formed.  The front row got splashed (I got a drop or two), but she was kind enough to apologize afterwards.  Their best song?  Probably "Market Girl," which is still one of my favorite songs of 2008 thus far.  BTDubs, my camera isn't the getting a good picture was tough with them moving around so much.

Real quick, I gotta get through this second band, Black Joe Lewis.  A really energetic 7-piece band complete with baritone sax, alto sax, trumpet, you know...all the good stuff.  And the band had a really good sound; kind of like a classic rock mixed with James Brown.  But to me, all of their songs sounded the same.  It was as if they had one song, with different riffs.  The crowd ate it up though, so good for them.

So...Mates of State.  What is there to say?  The band played perfectly, and managed to play a wide range of their music without focusing too much on their newer stuff.  You don't really get a feel for it when you're listening to their albums, but the band is incredibly talented.  Seeing Kori tear up two keyboards simultaneously while singing, and Jason do the exact same thing on drums...well, it was impressive.

The band brought along a couple of multi-instrumentalists with them.  They guys played strings on all of their new songs off of Re-Arrange Us, but they also played guitar, trombone, percussion, and whatever else the song called for.  My favorite song that the band did was either "Fluke" or "The Re-Arranger."  Both were performed with such energy and passion that singing along and resisting the urge to stand perfectly still came incredibly easy.  I've been waiting for the band to come through Houston for a while, and I was in no way disappointed.  After 18 songs, which being Mates of State songs, were all pretty short, the band waved goodbye and left the stage.  Then I went home.  I was exhausted.

If you went to the show last night, let me know what you thought.  Leave a comment below!

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Moods- Unfocused

Sometimes you just don't have the patience or focus for a 18-minute long play epic rock track.  So I've made a playlist with 20 songs, none of which are longer than 1:59.  It'll go by quick, just like you like it to.  Just like this introduction.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Video of the Week - Week 74

So I've pretty much been in Love with Tilly and the Wall since I first heard them way back in 2005.  They have this new album coming out next week, and I've posted the video to their first single below.  I'm not sure how I feel...about the song, that is.  I know how I feel about the video.  It's kind of lame.  But that is to be expected with poor indie pop bands.  What do you think?

Tilly and the Wall - "Beat Control" from the album, O.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Breaking: New Of Montreal Album Completed - Due In October!

Kevin Barnes has posted on his myspace blog, saying that Of Montreal's newest album, Skeletal Lamping, has finally been completed. According to the post, it will release in October of this year. Here's the post:
i’ve finished the new album. i’ve been working on it for over a year. it’s mastered and ready to go.

it won’t come out till october though. i am very happy with it. i worry that some people are going to misunderstand it. there’s nothing i can do about that though, now, it is done. anyways,i didn’t create it to give people something to like. i created it because i was compelled to.

it is possible to view this album as one long composition, with lots of different movements, or just as a collection of pop songs. i wanted to make an album that was unpredictable and, at times,startling, yet always hummable and catchy. some of the transitions are intentionally awkward. i did this to keep the listener off guard and to dismantle people’s perception of how an album is supposed to be constructed. i am so bored with art that makes sense and “works”. i wanted to do somethings that didn’t “work”. very few things pique our interest while they are working as we expect them to, things are far more interesting when they are not working. shocking people though, just for the sake of it, is so mundane. nothing on Skeletal Lamping was intended to shock. i just feel that,in most contemporary songs, you can basically finish the artist’s sentences,musically and lyrically. i wanted to make an album where that was not possible.

i wanted to make a record that could truly surprise a listener. to create something that was, in turns, enraging, joyous, discomforting, playful, lovely, unpleasant, freaky, mesmeric…something that came close to capturing the labyrinthine complexity of this human consciousness.

i spend most of my time in a state of mild confusion and pensiveness. i imagine most people do too. this record is my attempt to bring all of my puzzling, contradicting, disturbing, humorous…fantasies, ruminations and observations to the surface, so that i can better dissect and understand their reason for being in my head. hence the title, Skeletal Lamping. Lamping is the name of a rather dreadful hunting technique where, hunters go into the forest at night, flood an area in light, then shoot,or capture,the animals as they panic and run from their hiding places.

this album is my attempt at doing this to my proverbial skeletons. i haven’t yet decided if i should shoot or just capture them though.

Sounds kind of interesting if you ask me. Bringing the skeletons out of the closet isn't anything new for K.B. That is, after all, what most of their last album was. So who's hoping this one leaks as quickly as Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer did? What a birthday surprise!

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My Morning Jacket: "Evil Urges"

A few weeks ago I happened across an internet rant by some guy proclaiming Nickelback to be the saviors of rock music.  Clearly this guy's knowledge of rock music doesn't really extend past the early nineties, otherwise he would know that Nickelback's testosterone-fueled "music" has nearly nothing in common with the rock music of the 60s and 70s.  In my mind, My Morning Jacket have always stayed true to their influences and in doing so, have been carrying the torch of rock music for the better part of a decade.  Evil Urges continues this trend, but adds to the group's already wide array of sounds, vibes, and styles.

The album's title track starts things off on the right foot, with lead vocalist Jim James singing the song in an adequate falsetto.  He croons, "Evil urges baby/ they're just part of the human way," during the chorus, and I'm not too big to say that I was singing right along (in falsetto, no less) by the time it came back around.  The guitars on this song are impressive to say the least, especially in the song's breakdown where the guys just seem to be begging for a spot on the next Guitar Hero game.  "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream (Part 1)" is a different style entirely, with a whole mess of electronic strings and synths coating the song's goofy lyrics and catchy drumming.  James' desire to be touched makes for a really interesting and fun listen, believe it or not, and it's an early standout on the album.

On "Highly Suspicious," James seems to be channeling Prince more than Three Dog Night, again sticking with the falsetto while the other band members add in deep, growling guard dog vocals in the chorus.  Calling this song the strangest MMJ song to date is no big feat.  That'd be like calling the Sears Tower tall.  But for as strange as it is to hear someone sing about a "peanut butter pudding surprise" (which simply has to be a sexual innuendo), I can't help but completely dig this song.  It is followed by, "I'm Amazed" which finally has the band sounding like a more familiar version of themselves.  The southern rock sound that they have doubtlessly mastered is in full effect here.  James sounds like himself, once again, and the song is easily one of the album's best.

"Thank You Too" is very reminiscent of Eagles, and is a pretty touching song.  In the chorus James sings, "I want to take you for all that you are/ I know our worlds seem far apart/ I want to see you for all that you do/ I want to thanks you," and lush harmonies swell in over his vocals and really make the song a memorable, enjoyable experience.  "Sec Walkin'" is more southern rock, with a lap steel featured prominently.  There's nothing particularly notable about the song, but it's not a complete dud either.  "Two Halves" leaves a more lasting impression, with a very 50s doo-wop rock feel - sort of like an upbeat "Last Kiss."  At about 2 1/2 minutes, I've found myself listening to it repeatedly just so I don't feel cheated.

"Librarian" is about a "simple little bookworm" that Jim James seems to have a fondness for.  He seems to think she's more of a temptress than she lets on and weaves a love story between the two of them in his head.  The song is simple, and never really builds or evolves beyond the first 30 seconds.  Still, I've found myself amused by the lyrical content, so it's hard to hate it entirely.  "Look at You" is more classic MMJ, with a soft southern rock feel to it.  It's not until "Aluminum Park" that things start to mix back up.  With a driving, tinny guitar lead and James' powerful vocal performance, it stands out as one of the better tracks on the album.  It reminds me of the chaotic nature of "What a Wonderful Man," which was a favorite of mine on Z.  "Remnants" is more Guitar Hero material, but it almost seems out of place on this album because it is so loud and crazy.  Do I enjoy it?  Absolutely.  It just sticks out like a sore thumb when you listen to it in the context of the album.  If that doesn't bother you, prepare to be amazed.

The album closes out with what I feel are its two weakest tracks.  "Smokin' From Shootin'" drags through its 5 minutes.  I spend most of my time waiting for something to happen, and by the time something finally does, I've lost any interest that I may have had.  This is one of those songs that probably should have been saved for a B-sides collection.  "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream (Part 2)" is a driving 8-minute disco behemoth.  The first five minutes of the song are all pretty much the same, and it's not until after that that things start building and becoming interesting.  It is not a terrible song, but like its predecessor, I just don't see the necessity of its inclusion on the album; especially since there's already a Part 1 that did the job just fine.

Overall, Evil Urges is a fairly impressive album.  My Morning Jacket has never been a band afraid of taking risks and trying new things, and songs like "Highly Suspicious" or "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream (Part 1)" really show how great this band can be when they are pushing themselves to evolve.  On Evil Urges, they successfully create new, exciting sounds, but at the same time they mix them with songs that are more reminiscent of their past successes.  The result is an album that feels much more disjointed than their previous work. It lacks the focus and continuity of Z, though it maintains its charm and technical prowess.  Evil Urges is far from My Morning Jacket's best album, but with this many solid songs that you can listen to over and over again, it's hard to not love it even a teeny bit.  

Key Tracks:
1. "Evil Urges"
2. "Highly Suspicious" 
3. "I'm Amazed"
4. "Thank You Too"
5. "Remnants"

7 out of 10 Stars

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Perfect Summer Soundtrack - Week 1

Well, like it or not, it's pretty much summer.  Oh sure, the so-called "meteorologists" out there will have you believe that summer doesn't officially begin until June 21st.  But around here I make the rules.  Plus, if you live in Houston like I do, Summer began a few weeks back.  To commemorate this most warm of seasons, Audio Overflow will be suspending the myspace music monday feature for the next few months.  In its place, we will be highlighting music that we feel is the perfect companion to all your summer activities.  Whether you're camping, going to the beach, or just staying inside where its cool, we hope to have you covered.  

This feature will be pretty flexible.  So one week we may just feature an album, another we'll make a playlist for you, or for a certain event.  We just hope that you'll take our suggestions and make sure you make music a vital part of your summer!

Rooney: Rooney

Recommended Activities:  Beach Trip, Road Trip, Skateboarding

Rooney's 2003 debut album is easily one of my favorite mainstream rock albums of the last decade.  It's hard to believe that it has been 5 years since I walked out of my local Best Buy with this CD in tow.  Since then, it's never gotten old; I've never grown tired of it.

I was pretty much sold the first time I saw the video to "Blueside," the first single, on MTV.  It had such a cool, California rock vibe to it.  There's no denying the Beach Boys influence on their music, but it also had a really solid pop punk sound to it as well.  When I finally got around to listening to the whole album, I was caught off guard by just how impressive it was.  Every song begs to be sung along to, harmonized with.  Highlights include the guitar-driven "Stay Away," the self-assured "Daisy Duke," and the devilishly sinister "Popstars."
Take my word for it.  Throw the surf boards on the roof, pile some friends in the car, and head to the coast with a big retro-80s boom box.  Throw out some towels and pop this baby in.  You can't possibly go wrong!

Key Tracks:
1. "Blueside"
2. "Stay Away"
3. "Popstars"
4. "Daisy Duke"
5. "Sorry Sorry"

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Friday, June 06, 2008

The Top 5 Songs of 2005

I was blogging about music as far back as 2003.  But they were on different blogs, sites, and pages that are now either completely forgotten about, or just plain dead.  On January 24, 2006, a few months before I started Audio Overflow, I posted The Top 20 Songs of 2005 to my myspace blog.  But I just listed the songs, without explanations.  I'm surprised how well this list held up too.  I pretty much agree with the Top 5 still, so that's why I've decided to post it here.  Of course, this time, there are explanations.  Not like it matters.  You won't read them.

#5:  Death Cab for Cutie - "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" - The shining star on Death Cab's 2005 album and major label debut, Plans, was undoubtedly this song.  About love that transcends the boundaries of this life, "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" is arguably the most beautiful Death Cab song of all time.  Simple, poetic, and gorgeous, you can't help but love every bit of this song.  Its place on this list is well-deserved. 

#4:  Sufjan Stevens - "The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us" - A song with such a silly name should never be this serious, but leave it to Sufjan Stevens to do the exact opposite of what we'd expect.  This timeless story of childhood friendships, loss, and regret is incredibly poignant, and one of the best songs on the Illinois album.  To many, it went unnoticed as "John Wayne Gacy Jr." and "Chicago" stole the show.  But for me, it remains one of his greatest achievements as a songwriter, and easily one of the best songs of 2005.

#3: Bright Eyes - "Land Locked Blues" - Conor Oberst released two albums in 2005, and this was the best song on either one of them.  I'd be willing to say that it's probably his best song, which for a guy with such an extensive catalog is saying quite a lot.  With stunning lyrics, somber guitars, and convincing vocal performances, there's nothing to not love about this one!  Take this line, for example:  "Greed is a bottomless pit/ and our freedom's a joke, we're just takin' a piss/ and the whole world much watch the sad comic display/ if you're still free start runnin' away/ cause we're coming for you!"  It's followed by a triumphant trumpet solo, which only heightens the impact of it all.  This is truly a perfect song.

#2: Stars - "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" - This story of two one-time lovers meeting again through chance and reliving old memories in a single night is quite the tale to tackle.  But Stars has never been one to let a difficult subject stop them from making beautiful music.  The lead-off track to Set Yourself on Fire, this is easily their strongest song to date.  Torquil and Amy harmonize beautifully as they sing, "Live through this and you won't look back," oh...and the rest of the song too.  If you've never heard it, shame on you.  I've provided a streaming version below to get you up to speed.

#1:  Sufjan Stevens - "John Wayne Gacy Jr." - In 2007, I made sure that each artist only had one song on the year-end list.  However, prior to all of that, it was never an issue.  That's why Sufjan has two songs on this list.  And can you blame me.  With an album as perfect as Illinois, you can't help but fill the list up with his songs.  Sufjan's song about serial killer, John Wayne Gacy, is a chilling tale, accentuated by the fact that Sufjan draws comparisons between himself and the killer ("In my best behavior/ I am really just like him/ look beneath the floorboards/ for the secrets I have hid").  His vocal performance is unfathomably strong.  They grab you and take you for a ride.  Will you be sympathizing with the killer by the song's end?  Will you be thinking Sufjan is a weirdo?  Either way, you simply can't deny the beauty of this song.  It is easily the best song of 2005, and by far the strongest on Illinois.
Top 5 Songs of 2005

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Moods - Frenetic

I'm doing this week's Moods all Jill style.  That includes a definition.  That's what makes it awesome!

Frenetic - adj. - fast and energetic in a rather wild and uncontrolled way.

So if you just so happen to be in a frenetic mood today, here's a playlist to make sure you stay that way.  Each song has its wild and uncontrolled moments, and each is sure to please.  So enjoy this playlist, person.  I worked hard on it.  Kinda.

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Video of the Week - Week 73

Scariest video ever.  For realsies.

"Black Hole Sun" by Soundgarden, from the album, Superunknown.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Notwist: "The Devil, You + Me"

Evolution can be defined as "the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form." When taking into account The Notwist's expansive career, it becomes pretty simple to understand how this word applies to the band and their constantly diversifying sound. And to many, myself included, the pinnacle of this evolutionary process happened in 2002 with the release of the modern classic, Neon Golden. A flawless, masterful work of art, the album stands among an elite few that I would consider to be truly perfect. This kind of admiration is undoubtedly deserved, but can also lead to lofty, out of reach expectations. However, The Notwist are not a band that disappoints. They are a band that evolves. So while The Devil, You + Me, may initially seem like a disappointment to some, the end result is something that stands on its own. It is an album that doesn't necessarily exceed expectations, but does an amazing job of defying them.

This time out, The Notwist have created an album with a much lusher soundscape. The Devil, You + Me, features the guitar much more prominently than any of their albums released in the last decade. Where on Neon Golden, the band was content to hide it behind layers of electronics or mask it with countless effects, they now seem to welcome the sound, and often bring it to the front of their songs. The result is phenomenal, giving the album a much more natural, organic feel. This change also suits the lyrical content and mood of the album, as it is much darker than their past work has been. The band acknowledges this in recent interviews, saying that the darkness of the songs stems directly out of their personal struggles.

On "Gloomy Planets," one of the album's best songs, Markus seems to be questioning the reason why things happen, while simultaneously acknowledging that he'll probably never know ("Why is everything so locked up?" he ponders). The acoustic guitar is thick here, but it's blended perfectly with the band's signature electronic sound. The darkness arises once again on the album's title track, which also happens to be its best. Here Markus sings,"We know we're not the smartest/ in this place we don't have to be/ lights are out but anyhow/ this is what they see/ it's the devil/ its you and me." The sheer minimalism of the song is shocking at first, with only an acoustic guitar and vocals, but the band eventually adds in some stunning bells and simple, appropriate drums. Still, it never evolves (there's that word again), as one might expect, into a bombastic electronic track. And it's all the better because of it.

But The Devil, You + Me is far from all doom and gloom. Fans of Neon Golden will instantly fall in love with "Alphabet," a song that literally sounds like it could've been ripped right off of that album and placed here. Markus' simple lyrics and the breakbeat-esque drums are back in full force, and it all sounds quite fantastic. Album opener, "Good Lies" also has an upbeat, positive feel to it. A guitar-driven pop song, it has its ups and downs but ultimately satisfies with bouncy instrumentation and sing-along lyrics ("I remember good lies when/ we carried them home with us/ to our bedside tables and our coffee sets"). The band seems to be making a conscious effort to not do all the same things over again and to mix it up as much as possible. I can't really fault them for that, as The Notwist is all about introducing us to different experiences.

But as amazing as the experience is, there are still a few hiccups along the way. The album's first single, "Where In This World," for example, is quite a bore to listen to. Its sparse string instrumentation is more distracting than anything else, and Markus' vocal melody is about as uninteresting as it ever gets. Still worse, is the fact that the song lacks direction, and doesn't really seem to go anywhere. In much the same way, "Gravity," just sounds like an amalgam of poorly executed ideas. Whether it's the somewhat cheesy lyrics ("I see the planets spinning faster/ or is my body too slow?/ I don't know, I don't know") or the fact that the song gives of a "bad Radiohead" vibe, it just doesn't really work as well as you'd like it to. Markus' soft, raspy vocals seem entirely out of place with the dense, upbeat instrumentation, and I've found myself skipping this one far earlier than I thought I would.

In the end, however, The Devil, You + Me, is an incredibly moving and inspiring album. For as technically impressive as Neon Golden was, it's hard to deny the emptiness of many of its lyrics. The Devil, You + Me, focuses more on slowing the songs down and fleshing out the lyrical content, and as a result, the likelihood of a listener actually being affected by songs like "Sleep" or "Gone Gone Gone" is through the roof! Is it better than its predecessor? Of course not. But during its better moments, the album excels where Neon Golden could not - by combining deep, emotionally-driven songwriting with unparalleled musical technicality. It may not be their crowning achievement, but The Notwist has created an album that is able to stand on its own and continue the band's unfailing evolution. That works for me.

Key Tracks:
1. "Gloomy Planets"
2. "The Devil, You + Me"
3. "Sleep"
4. "On Planet Off"
5. "Gone Gone Gone"

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