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Saturday, October 18, 2008

100 Words or Less

My life is much too hectic to devote large amounts of time to all of the albums that are simply begging to be reviewed.  Therefore, it does me good to clean out the closet every now and then with 100-word reviews.  Plus it's a good exercise in being to the point, which I tend to have a problem with as evidenced by this introductory paragraph and, more specifically, this run-on sentence which may or may not have been constructed simply to prove my point.  Let's just get on with it, shall we?


The Western States Motel: Painted Birds Flying in the Orange Mirror Sun

Carl Jordan, the sole member of The Western States Motel, has put together a small collection of charming songs for this EP. His songs are acoustic guitar-driven pieces of indie pop in the vein of Rogue Wave’s Out of the Shadow - only happier. “Trans Am” has all the makings of an instant classic with Jordan thinking out loud, “I think we were in love but I don’t think we ever figured it out.” The bouncy “Bring Me Down Tomorrow” and beautiful “A Moment in the Sun” are j
ust begging to be added to any hipster’s collection. Check it out.

Key Tracks:
1. "Oh World" 
2. "Trans Am"
3. "A Moment in the Sun"

8 out of 10 Stars

The Streets:  Everything is Borrowed

The general consensus among music critics is that Mike Skinner’s best work existed on his first two albums. However, I’ve found his last album and this, his newest, to be equally as impressive if not more so. There are funny moments, truthful songs about nothing in particular, and songs like “The Escapist” which could easily be considered among The Street’s best. “On the Edge of a Cliff” is a nice little anti-suicide song that puts things into perspective, while “The Strongest Person I know” is just a flat-out bedtime story. It’s not bad at all. I recommend it.

Key Tracks:
1. "Heaven for the Weather"
2. "The Way of the Dodo"
3. "On the Flip of a Coin"
4. "On the Edge of a Cliff"
5. "The Escapist"

8 out of 10 Stars

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The Dears: "Missiles" Album Review

Since The Dears first released No Cities Left in 2003, I've consistently had the band filed under "Favorite Bands" in my mind.  Murray Lightburn and the musicians that surround him have been a reliable source of quality music for as long as I can remember.  Whether it was "22: Death of All the Romance" or "Ballad of Humankindness" (my #1 song of 2006),  The Dears have always managed to strike a chord with me (no pun intended), tugging on my emotions and forcing me to ask myself difficult questions about life, society, and the nature of people.  

Missiles - an album marked by tensions within the group that ultimately found all but two of their members departing - continues to examine these deep themes rarely poked at in today's music.  However, while the music continues to traverse this path, it rarely packs the punch of the band's earlier work.  The band's previous two album have been marked by slow-building movements that eventually erupt with emotion.  On Missiles, songs die with a whimper, often ending unemphatically or even worse, fading out entirely.

Missiles is also plagued with songs that go on for entirely too long.  Album-opener, "Disclaimer," takes nearly 7 minutes off of the clock before finally deciding to call it quits.  During that time, the listener is forced to listen to a completely uninteresting and possibly juvenile vocal melody and harmonies that sound just a little bit off.  By the time it's all over, most will find themselves asking what the point of it all was.  The album doesn't end any better either, with the 11-minute "Saviour" being more of a lesson in tedium rather than an actual attempt at making emotionally gratifying art.  It seems to me that Lightburn is too focused on tearing apart the structure and style of The Dears' previous work that he forgot about what made it such a joy to listen to.  The lyrics were always the band's crowning achievement, but if that's all that's required, I would have taken up poetry-reading a long time ago.  Great music couples brilliant lyricism with musical compositions that elicit excitement and emotion.  That, for the most part, goes entirely forgotten on Missiles.

Still, there are a few tracks that manage to satisfy, if only on a minimal level.  On any other album, "Dream Job" wouldn't have even been noteworthy.  On Missiles, it's the album's best track.  Lightburn's declaration of "You got dreams of taking someone else's dreams away," is sort of brilliant.  And the song, while never really reaching the heights that it could, manages to get be somewhat catchy especially when they add in a synthesizer towards the end.  Unfortunately, the song fades out far too early and you're left wanting more than you actually receive.  In reality, the only song that could possibly be considered a contender when put up against any older Dears song is "Crisis 1 & 2" which finds Natalia Yanchak taking over the majority of the vocal work and doing an absolutely fantastic job at it as well.  It's always good to hear her and Murray harmonizing together, and this song is no different.  Murray eventually adds in his own vocals to great effect.  It's the kind of song that makes me remember why I love this band.  However, rather than finding some sort of satisfying conclusion, the song simply fades out - leaving the listener hanging.

Missiles may not be the album that I was expecting or wanting when I first heard that The Dears were recording a follow-up to one of 2006's best records, but even at its worst it is far from bottom-rung.  Though it fails to satisfy on an emotional level, many of Lightburn's arrangements contain the same grace and consistency that we've come to expect from the band.  What the album lacks is the emotional tension, discipline, and enthusiasm of their past records.  Missiles is a record that can be quite enchanting at times, but more often just downright disappointing.  Most bands have at least one sub-solid, however, and if there was ever a band who could overcome such a downfall it would be The Dears.  Even if it's not the same band it was 2 years ago.

Key Tracks:
1. "Dream Job"
2. "Crisis 1 & 2"
3. "Demons"
4. "Missiles"

6 out of 10 Stars

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OMFGG: "Original Music Featured on Gossip Girl" Album Review

Before you ask, no, I've never seen an episode of Gossip Girl.  I hear that it's a halfway decent show, but the title itself just sort of throws me off and makes me think of a post-millennium Beverly Hills 90210.  Oh wait.  Nevermind.  The bottom line is that I'm currently inundated with far too many quality shows to watch, be it LOST, Heroes, How I Met Your Mother, or Pushing Daisies.  But with a soundtrack this varied, this enthusiastically different, Gossip Girl may be the next show that I add to my DVR.

In 49 minutes, OMFGG takes the listener on a musical roller coaster that features such varied genres as indie pop, rock, dance, and straight-up techno.  The Kills' "Sour Cherry" starts things off on a high note, with a percussion-driven dance rock groove that gets you makes you feel like you should be busting out of the doors of your high school in slow-motion with your trendy clothes and aviators on.  Phantom Planet's "Do the Panic" is equally as awesome, with a chorus that will have even the most hardened hip-hop fan singing emphatically by the last time it comes around.

Other highlights include "Got Your Number" by Nadia Oh, which starts off slightly annoying and ends up slightly endearing, or Crystal Castles' entrancing "Crimewave."  There are appearances from this year's almost-"it" band, The Ting Tings and The Strokes' Albert Hammond Jr. as well.  In all honesty, there's something for everyone - as cliche as that may seem.  It won't exactly elicit the same reaction as a party as, say The Jackson 5 would, but you could certainly do much worse.  Aside from a few tracks that most will feel compelled to skip (The Teenagers and The Virgins, specifically) OMFGG is a fairly solid soundtrack in a world where most soundtracks aren't worth anyone's time.  As far as watching the show goes, I'll probably continue to avoid it.  For now, I can get my hipster music from Chuck, which is more my style anyway.

Key Tracks:
1. "Sour Cherry" - The Kills
2. "Do You Wanna" - The Kooks
3. "Do the Panic" - Phantom Planet
4. "Crimewave" - Crystal Castles
5. "We Started Nothing" - The Ting Tings

7 out of 10 Stars

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