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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pop Levi: "Never Never Love" Album Review

Last year saw Pop Levi release his solo debut album, The Return to Form Black Magick Party; a mediocre album with a few bright spots.  In my review of that release, I concluded, "It's high points are good enough to get even the most skeptical listener excited for what this artist has yet to do."  At the time, I was mostly just putting on my optimistic face and hoping that that statement would in fact prove true.  With the release of Levi's second record, Never Never Love, the artist has not just met expectations, but exceeded them wildly!  Never Never Love is a trip through pop rock and 80s synth pop that will excite and energize even the most skeptical listener.

Levi begins the album in a manner similar to his last, with the guitar-driven rock jam, "Wannamama."  With a similar style to last year's "Sugar Assault Me Now," fans of the artist should be able to ease into what he has in store for them.  The perplexing title track blends electronic afro-drums and brief guitar skitterings with Levi's trademark vocals; a high-pitched, feminine wail that is both endearing and off-putting.  The album doesn't hit its full stride until the third track, the synth-driven joy ride, "Dita Dimoné."  In it, Levi channels his girl problems into one of 2008's most infectious, danceable hits!  He sings, "Even though we're fighting every day/ so hard to take the girl away" over a chorus of funk guitars, bass synths, and hand claps; practically forcing the listener to move along to the beat.
"Semi Babe"  is a relatable piece of acoustic guitar pop about pining for a girl who may just be a little out of reach ("Not wholly mine/not over time").  The album's lightest track, it's a nice summer tune that somehow feels much more genuine than its other tracks.  "Fire on Your Feet" is another throwback to Levi's previous album, owing more to classic rock than 80s pop, and it just barely manages to escape from the repetition that caused that album to be such a forgettable effort.  "Mai's Space" is catchy as hell despite the fact that your gut reaction to Levi's pitch corrected vocals is to laugh or skip ahead.  Once you get over that urge (and the urge to say, "To the left, to the left..."), you'll find it to be one of Never Never Love's most memorable tracks.
In reality, most of Never Never Love is just as infectious.  Whether it's the soft rock of "You Don't Gotta Run," the brilliant use of telephone dialing on "Call the Operator," or the tear-jerking comedown track, "Fountain of Lies," this is an album that deserves to be poured over for weeks - months even!  Never Never Love is a masterpiece of pop rock in nearly every aspect; vocals, production, and songwriting included.  It is able to overcome its few, minor missteps (most of which are contained within "Everything & Finally") and succeed as one of 2008's most masterful works.  After his first album, Pop Levi left me skeptical, but hopeful.  This time around, he's more than proven himself.  Fans of all things pop will be thrilled to have a new juggernaut in the genre, and even those dedicated to Pop Levi should find this to be an exciting addition to his short, but thorough musical catalog.  For myself, Never Never Love easily ranks as one of the best pop albums of the last few years and one of the most satisfying albums of the 2008! 

Key Tracks:
1. "Dita Dimoné"
2. "Mai's Space"
3. "Oh God"
4. "Calling Me Down"
5. "Fountain of Lies"

8 out of 10 Stars

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Of Montreal - Houston, TX (11/12/2008)

This was my third time seeing Of Montreal in Houston, and fortunately the band opted to leave Numbers Night Club behind them and move on to far superior (in every way) venue, Warehouse Live.  The move seems to be one of necessity rather than preference, however, as there is no way a venue like Numbers could have handled a show of this magnitude.  

To describe the set, you need to know that the stage setup is massive.  Two giant platforms topped with drum-kits (yes, two drummers included), one platform with a smaller platform attached for Dottie to do her thing on, and a stage and screen in the center of the stage that rotates and moves at will.  The set practically swallowed the opening act, Icy Demons, whole as they played away in the shadow of this massive structure.

The band, themselves, were hit or miss - often blending pretty straightforward indie rock with what could only be described as an evil organ grinder's best musical moments.  The drummer was absolutely insane, and the backing trio that switched off on a variety of instruments and vocal duties were also entertaining to watch.  The lead singer had a rather unimpressive voice, but he used it well enough to where it didn't distract.  

Of course, the reason every single person was at the show was for Of Montreal.  Honestly, seeing pictures of this tour doesn't do the thing justice at all.  I, myself, had seen them and I had no clue what an incredible production the band was able to pull off.  Much of the credit goes to the absolutely wonderful troupe of talented actors that play multiple roles during the show's 1 1/2 hour runtime.  Buddha-like people, ninjas, old western saloon-dwellers, eagles, tigers, pigs (sexy bikini pig and naked fat-cat pig, mind you), assassins in camouflage, and probably a dozen other roles are assumed by this handful of people who add to the charm of the band without distracting from the music.

The band was awesome as usual, and seeing them in a larger venue really allowed them to perform to their heart's content without any restrictions.  Kevin Barnes was his normal diva-self, engaging in countless costume changes, one which included a suit made entirely of shaving cream, another which was mostly just him in "hoochie shorts" and covered in red paint.  The show had him engaging in all sorts of activities, including being dressed in women's clothes by a member of the acting troupe, trying to commit suicide in a variety of ways (ultimately achieving success by way of noose), and arising from a coffin in the aforementioned shaving cream suit.

For me, there was only one complaint for the night, and that was on the band's insistence on using a variety of vocal effects that often made Barnes' voice sound digitalized.  It simply detracts from the greatness of the songs in their original forms.  I can't remember if I had the same complaint the last time I saw them, but for some reason I think that I might have.  Song of the night is a toss-up between the live juggernaut "She's a Rejector" or the surprisingly awesome "Women's Studies Victims."  I would have to give it to the latter, I guess as it completely changed my view of the song.  "Gallery Piece" which I stated in my review of Skeletal Lamping, would probably fare better in a live setting, didn't.  I still don't enjoy it very much.

Friends and readers, I have been known from time to time to spout off about the sheer awesomeness of a Flaming Lips show, and I cannot begin to explain to you how much this new Of Montreal show compares in the size of production.  Certainly the Lips have much more capital at their disposal, and are able to accomplish things that Of Montreal simply can't.  But for ambition, complexity, bizarreness, and entertainment value, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better show in 2008 or the coming year.  If you like the band or not, you owe it to yourself to see what a creative group of individuals like Of Montreal and their friends can accomplish.  This is a rock show like none other! 

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