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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Review: The Bird and the Bee: "Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates"

If, to you, the neo-jazz/pop stylings of The Bird and the Bee seem like an unlikely fit for the music of Hall and Oates, welcome to the club.  My first thought when I saw that one of my favorite new groups of the last few years would be covering an entire album of "the masters'" music was one of complete bewilderment.  But once I began listening to the end result, my fears were put to rest.  The first few notes of "Heard it on the Radio" say it all: this is a Bird and the Bee album!  Simply put, the duo has done a fantastic job of taking these classic and instantly-recognizable songs and filtering them through their own unique style.

The lead-off track is a gorgeous song that is just as catchy as one would expect.  It's bouncy digital production is reminiscent of some of Bird and the Bee's earlier stuff, but the 70s disco vibe sets it apart from the band's other tracks.  It eases any fears that a skeptical listener may have and proves that even though many may not understand why the group chose to make this album, they at least know what they are doing.  "Rich Girl" is just as exciting.  I could easily see a bunch of teen girls (or hipsters for that matter) singing along to this song and not realizing that it's a cover of a much older song.  That says a lot about how perfectly a lot of these songs are constructed and presented.

"The duo has done a fantastic job of taking these classic and instantly-recognizable songs and filtering them through their own unique style."

For the most part, Interpreting the Masters is a flawless cover album, if such a thing can even exist.  Still, some songs, though good, can't hold their own to the original recording.  Specifically, "She's Gone" lacks the earnestness and power of the original.  Instead, it comes off as plastic and unassured - the standard trappings of a cover song.  Truthfully, this could just be how Hall and Oates' ballads come off because the same can be said for "Sarah Smiles" and "One on One," which just come off as ineffective.   Are they solid covers?  Sure, but they still leave a lot to be desired.

The best tracks on the album are the upbeat songs that we've all heard before.  "Private Eyes" and "Kiss on My List" are just as awesome as they have always been and - depending on your generation - just as corny as well.  Listeners, whether new or unaccustomed to the music of Hall and Oates should find most of their enjoyment out of these and the other fun songs on the album.  As the title suggests though, Interpreting the Masters is very much a passion project for The Bird and the Bee, so it should be taken more as a casual diversion than an actual addition to the group's catalog of quality music.  With that in mind, it's hard to be disappointed with what we're presented with here.  The group has done Hall and Oates proud while simultaneously making something enjoyable for generations who have no idea who those two dudes are.  Not bad.

Key Tracks:
1. "Heard it on the Radio"
2. "Rich Girl"
3. "Maneater"
4. "Kiss on my List"
5. "Private Eyes"

7 out of 10 Stars

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Mini-Review: Dirt Mall: "Pacifuego"

My first run-in with Dirt Mall was back in July of 2008 when I reviewed their album, Got the Goat by the Horns.  Back then, I marveled at the talent of guitarist Jason Murray and called the album, short but a "truly entertaining listen."  Pacifuego is the band's second release - picking up right where their first album left off.  Dirt Mall isn't exactly experimenting with new sounds here.  Fans of the band's first album will find a lot to like here, if not more.  The guitar is still particularly impressive, whether its driving the song forward with dirty riffs or tearing through a rad solo (like in "Calling All Clowns"); Johnny Anguish continues to utilize his Mick Jones-style punk vocals to great effect; and the songs, while not necessarily groundbreaking remain a fun flashback to Clash-era punk rock.

That said, the problems on Got the Goat by the Horns are still prevalent here.  So if one found themselves distracted by the sub-par production or Anguish's grating voice, Pacifuego isn't going to really change their perception of the band.  But Pacifuego if anything, portrays a band tightening their skills and coming into their own as a functioning musical entity.  Dirt Mall doesn't do anything particularly groundbreaking - well - ever, but I can't help but think that's point.  They're playing music that they love and paying tribute to all the bands that influenced them along the way.  So if you're a fan of The Clash, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, or more recent garage rock bands like The Vines or The Hives, checking out Pacifuego isn't really a difficult decision.  One could certainly do worse.

Key Tracks:
1. "Calling All Clowns"
2. "Standing in the Road"
3. "Rats"

6 out of 10 Stars

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Show Review: Muse - Houston, TX (3/18/2010)

The first time I saw Muse live was just a few months ago when they opened for some really bad band with a douchy lead singer.  It wasn't the best way to see the band, as I later acknowledged.  What I really wanted - what I've wanted for years - was to see Muse headline their own show in a venue that suited them.  I believe that last night's show is probably as good as it's likely to get!

From all my experiences seeing Muse perform live (Hullaballoo Soundtrack, HAARP, and the U2 show), the thing that has always stood out to me was how the band is able to change up their sound in almost every song.  On the albums, Muse rocks!  In concert, they rock harder; largely because Matthew Bellamy seems to be ad-libbing guitar riffs constantly.  As a result, a 4 year old song like "Supermassive Black Hole" sounds fresh and exciting - not like something you've been hearing from Twilight fans' Honda Civics.

While my seats may not have been optimal (how presale tickets get you such crappy seats is beyond me), seeing Muse headline their own show was a great experience!  The set was fairly epic, despite my initial reservations.  Three regular ol' skyscrapers turned out to be giant moving platforms for each member of the band to perform on.  Despite the coolness of that, the best moments of the show was when the band was performing on the same stage together, not 10 years away from one another on separate platforms.

The best song of the night?  That's a toss up between "New Born" and "Stockholm Syndrome."  I'm continually disappointed by some of their newer songs live, specifically "Undisclosed Desires" which just continues to sound like an empty, unfinished Muse song.  "Unnatural Selection" was pretty lame as well, but I eventually warmed up to "Guiding Light" halfway through the song.  I was a little surprised to hear the band playing a bunch of interludes made up of other rock songs as well (including AC/DC and Jimi Hendrix), despite the fact that it was fairly awesome!

I'm still not entirely sold on seeing Muse live in an arena.  It makes me feel so disconnected from the band when I'm not down on the floor rocking out up against the stage.  But for what it's worth, I had a great time last night!  Of course, if any of you can get to Austin tonight to see them in a VERY intimate venue...uhh, you should already be in line for that.  Get going!!

Set List:
1. "Uprising"
2. "Resistance"
3. "New Born"
4. "Map of the Problematique"
5. "Supermassive Black Hole"
6. "Guiding Light"
7. "Falling Away With You (Interlude)"
8. "Hysteria"
9. "United States of Eurasia"
10. "Feeling Good"
11. "Bass/Drum Duet"
12. "Undisclosed Desires"
13. "Starlight"
14. "Unnatural Selection"
15. "Plug in Baby"
16. "Exogenesis: Symphony, Overture" (Encore)
17. "Stockholm Syndrome" (Encore)
18. "Knights of Cydonia" (Encore)

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

SXSW 2010: Muse & Metric

In what can be seen as an unholy alliance of the music gods, it turns out British statium rockers, Muse are planning a show at this year's SXSW.  What's more, those crazy Canadians, Metric will open for the band.

Crazy, right?

The show will take place on Friday, March 19 (tomorrow) at Stubb's BBQ - which, yes, seems odd for a show of this magnitude.  The show is of course open to everybody dumb enough to pay for a SXSW badge or wait in a line for 16 hours. 

Can't make the show?  Watch it on, beginning Sunday, March 21.

In other Muse-related news...well, that can wait for tomorrow ;)

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Monday, March 15, 2010

SXSW 2010: Wallpaper.

Audio Overflow favorite, Wallpaper. are playing a handful of shows at this year's SXSW in Austin, TX.  I'm still up in the air about whether or not I can make it out to catch one of the shows, but that's no excuse for you to miss out!

  • March 18th @ Beauty Bar - 5pm
  • March 18th @ Vice - 8pm
  • March 18th @ Feed the Beat - 12am
  • March 19th @ The Music Gym - 12am
  • March 20th @ Beauty Bar - 8pm
For more Wallpaper. tour dates, check out, and if you're going to Austin this week, you might as well check out Audio Overflow's Guide to SXSW.  It could do you some good!

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Show Review: The Flaming Lips - Austin, TX (3/12/2010)

I just woke up about 5 minutes ago, and there some things going on with my body that I think people should know about.  First, my right ear feels like it's filled with liquid; like if I were to stick a needle in there, some gross stuff would ensue.  The sound coming out of it is muffled compared to that of my left ear.  Then there's my right leg, which feels like I've been jumping hurdles for 24 hours straight.  My whole body feels absolutely drained, exhausted, worthless right now...all because I chose to go see The Flaming Lips last night!

Totally worth it.

The more dedicated readers of Audio Overflow will remember that I last saw the Lips perform in September of 2007 as they toured in support of their awesome 2006 record (and Best of the Decade Top 15-er), At War with the Mystics.  Now the lips have a new album, one with an entirely new sound, and yet the show remained just as powerful as ever!  It actually is quite surprising to see how many of the songs from Embryonic actually work in the confetti-filled party atmosphere of a Flaming Lips show.  The band has managed to change their signature sound and style without sacrificing the very nature of what makes a Flaming Lips concert such an awesome experience.

Wayne Coyne has an uncanny ability to connect with every member of the audience on both a musical and spiritual level.  It feels weird to type that, but I believe it is true.  There is an old saying about having to give love before you can get love in return, and I believe Wayne is a perfect example of this proverb in action.  He is easily one of the most loving music legends one is likely to ever see.  So when he gets on stage and warns everyone that he may just destroy his set and crush half of the audience, it's done so with a nice blend of humor and genuine concern.  He really does seem to care for every member of the crowd of people singing along to his songs, wanting nothing more that to give them an experience that they'll remember for the rest of their life.

As is the case with most Flaming Lips shows that I know of, there are a lot of energetic, fun moments, and then there are those that are more touching and heart-felt.  This show was particularly more emotional than others, due to the recent passing of Sparklehorse frontman, Mark Linkous.  Wayne first dedicated "Vein of Stars" to the singer, before speaking candidly about his feelings on the deceased.  It was a truly touching moment as Coyne recalled memories with the singer and spoke about his thoughts on suicide and the passing of friends.  The band followed it up with "Waitin' for a Superman" from The Soft Bulletin, in one of the night's greatest moments.

My favorite performance of the night would have to be "She Don't Use Jelly," which remains just an amazingly classic rock song.  "See the Leaves" comes in a close second though, as the song has such a visceral energy that both exciting and, honestly, a bit unnerving.  Overall, it was an expectedly wonderful show.  Was the music too loud? Yes (especially when you're standing in front of $50,000 worth of speakers as I was).  Were the vocals flawless? No (they never are).  But The Flaming Lips are one of the world's best life acts because they know how to overcome their flaws to create something that is completely unforgettable and surreal!  When Embryonic first released, both Pitchfork and a particularly douchey friend of mine were quoted as saying that the album meant The Flaming Lips could finally lose the confetti cannons and get serious about their music.  Readers, I'm proud to report that -  apparently - they can keep the cannons and still rock!  Aren't we lucky?

Set List:
  1. "Worm Mountain"
  2. "Silver Trembling Hands"
  3. "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song"
  4. "In the Morning of the Magicians"
  5. "Vein of Stars"
  6. "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1" (Acoustic)
  7. "Waitin' for a Superman"
  8. "See the Leaves"
  9. "Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung"
  10. "Taps" (Iraq/Afghanistan War Tribute)
  11. "The W.A.N.D."
  12. "She Don't Use Jelly"
  13. "Convinced of the Hex"
  14. "Do You Realize?"
Oh...and how awesome were the DJ Lance Rock costumes!  If anyone from the show has good pics of the Yo Gabba Gabba! crew...send them to audiooverflow [at] gmail [dot] com!  My 3 year old nephew would love to see all the DJ Lances on stage!

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Review: Ellie Goulding: "Lights"

It wasn't too long ago that I was happily entrenched in my little world of indie rock music, willfully fearful of more mainstream genres that would force me out of my comfort zone.  Whether the result of maturity or a complete musical regression on my part, I've found myself more and more in love with pop music as time has passed.  So what began as happy little obsessions with Of Montreal and Stars soon evolved into an unrepentant love for Ke$ha or Miley Cyrus (some songs, let's not get ahead of ourselves).  My latest musical love affair is with British dance-popper, Ellie Goulding, whose debut is drawing deservedly mixed reviews.  But however rough around the edges Lights may be, it is difficult to deny the greatness of some of these songs.

Lead-off  "Guns and Horses" is a perfect example of this.  A potent blend of guitar pop and dance music,  it serves as a perfect introduction to her music, and may be the finest track that the album has to offer.  Her voice, which could pass as Leigh Nash's from time to time, is highly impressive here as it presents a melody that constantly evolves and rarely lets up.  Her "I would/I would" melismas are vocal gymnastics at its best!  "This Love (Will Be Your Downfall)" is equally impressive despite ditching the guitar and going for a straight up dance sound.  Starsmith, who produces the majority of Lights does some of his best work here, but Ellie's lyrics are equally entrancing.  She sings of self-doubt in a relationship; questioning every good thing and wondering if they are deserved.  In the chorus she proclaims, "This love is be and end all/ This love will be your downfall," which paints a dark, but familiar picture for the large majority of us.

"Lights serves as an awesome introduction to a talented musician; one who deserves to be heard if only for the fact that she's infinitely more talented than the majority of her peers."

The album's first single, "Under the Sheets" is just as dark as its predecessor, only this time the subject matter turns to a purely physical relationship.  Starsmith's production is through the roof on this one, filling every second of the track with something interesting to listen to (such as Goulding's "like all the boys, boys, boys" parts).  I find it strange as a first single, simply because there are better songs on here, but it's solid nonetheless.  Where Lights goes downhill isn't in these high production, dance songs, but rather when Ellie turns to ballads or the expected filler track.  For example, "The Writer" is a wholly boring and uninteresting song, but not something entirely unexpected on a pop album such as this. Likewise, "Every Time You Go" and "Wish I Stayed" are standard pop songs, and may find love from other people, but there's nothing particularly great about them.

But the album does close out strong with three solid tracks that remind the listener why they made it this far into Lights in the first place.  "Salt Skin" in particular, is a phenomenal song; unrepentant in its style and with production values that are absolutely mesmerizing!  There's this moment that leads into the final chorus where the music drops out and Ellie is left to harmonize with herself, and it is one of the album's more magical moments because of the sheer energy and beauty that it presents!  It energizes you and and makes you want to start the whole experience all over again, which is something any great pop album should do.  While Lights may not be "great" so to speak, it is surprisingly solid for a debut in this genre.  The moments where Ellie shines are where her lyrics and music combine to form something that is entirely unique to herself.  What brings the album down are the more formulaic moments that everybody knew were coming, but nobody really wanted.  If anything though, Lights serves as an awesome introduction to a talented musician; one who deserves to be heard if only for the fact that she's infinitely more talented than the majority of her peers.  If you're like me and find yourself developing an affinity for girly pop music, Ellie Gouldling may be an artist to check out.  I recommend it!

Key Tracks:
1.  "Guns and Horses"
2.  "This Love (Will Be Your Downfall)"
3.  "Under the Sheets"
4.  "Your Biggest Mistake"
5.  "Salt Skin"

6 out of 10 Stars

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Indie Gold: Neutral Milk Hotel: "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea"

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, the second, final, and - some would say - best album from Neutral Milk Hotel, was released in February of 1998.  As I sit here trying to think of what music I was listening to during that time of my life, I am stunned to find that I can't really remember.  I was 13 years old, in the final months of my 8th grade year; and using this knowledge I can logically deduce that I was most likely listening to some sort of Christian music at the time.  Still, I can't be sure.  In fact, the only thing that I can say with absolute certainty is that whatever it is I was listening to, it could not have been as special as this album.

My first experience with Aeroplane was in 2004, shortly after I began discovering indie music.  A friend of mine had recently discovered the album and was gushing about it.  When he finally showed it to me, I could not understand what all the fuss was about.  I was still new to this whole other world of music, so to hear a record as unapologetically unpolished as this was quite shocking, and completely off-putting.  And that's where it ended.  The next time I listened to Neutral Milk Hotel was in January of 2010, only this time, my experience was much different.

In a word, I would say that In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is "perfect."  It exists in its own musical universe, with the ability to remain both touching and relevant a decade after its intital release.  Album-opener "The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1" features a catchy, post-grunge era guitar-riff that surprisingly doesn't distract from Jeff Mangum's bizarre, but touching lyrics on dysfunctional childhood.  By parts 2 and 3 of the song, you're fully immersed in this world that Mangum has created; a world of frustration, decrepitness, and, surprisingly, hope.

"It is powerful in ways that other albums have so often failed to be, and it clearly remains so 12 years after its initial release."

The title track, is a journey in itself.  There is nothing particularly impressive about it from a technical standpoint (I don't "play" guitar, but I could play this song), but the lyrics are gorgeous.  I've put more plays into this song than any other by the band, and it's still just as beautiful as it was the first time I listened to it.  I can remember being close to tears a few weeks ago when Mangum sings, "When we meet on a cloud/I'll be laughing out loud/ I'll be laughing with everyone I see/ Can't believe how strange it is to be anything at all."  It's powerful stuff.  Not complicated, but strong enough to tap into emotions that that are rarely explored in music.  I don't know how long the waiting period should be for me to proclaim this as my favorite song of all time, but the song is up there for sure!

By this point in the album, you're completely sucked into to what you are hearing.  Every song is so enchanting, so strong, that you never really "snap out" of the listening experience.  Even "Two-Headed Boy," which is by all accounts a recording of poor quality, feels appropriate because Mangum has already set the dirty, poor tone of the album with the preceding songs.  So any song that follows not only maintains this tone, but expounds upon it.  Whether it's the heavily distorted rock of "Holland, 1945," or the simple and entrancing, "Oh Comely," every song on the album fits, works, and strengthens the overall mood of the album.  Even less-notable songs like "Communist Daughter" and the two instrumental tracks feel like natural segments of the whole.

Usually I can review an album within 4 or 5 days of my first listen, and this was my intention with In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.  But reviewing an album you love listening oftentimes means that you have to have to set aside your fandom and approach the album from a more critical point of view.  I started listening to this album around two months ago, and it's taken me this long to write a review of it because I never wanted to stop listening to it as a music-lover and switch to critique mode.  Simply put, this is one of the best albums I've ever heard.  It is powerful in ways that other albums have so often failed to be, and it clearly remains so 12 years after its initial release.  If you have yet to hear this phenomenal album, you have absolutely nothing to lose.  Go buy a copy (I chose vinyl)!  Go fall in love with it!  You won't regret it.

Key Tracks:
1. "The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1"
2. "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea"
3. "Two-Headed Boy"
4. "Holland, 1945"
5. "Oh Comely"

10 out of 10 Stars

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Review: Rogue Wave: "Permalight"

Rogue Wave sure have been taking their fans on a ride!  The better part of a decade ago, Zach Rogue was recording a handful of songs that eventually became a debut album; one that was understated and similar (some would say) to early Elliott Smith.  It was good stuff!  The sophomore album featuring a full band?  Even better!  Then Rogue Wave started to change up their sound a bit.  Asleep at Heaven's Gate had a few solid tracks on it, but the music was a far cry from the grace and brilliance of what was being made by Rogue just a few years prior.  Well fans, it's time to embrace for change once again, because Permalight is unlike anything the band has ever made before.  Its unabashed mainstream pop-rock stylings may be off-putting to a lot of the die hard Rogue Wavers out there, but it sure is difficult to fault the band for sitting back and resting on their laurels.

Don't let Permalight's humble beginning fool you.  This album is simply bursting with an energy that we've rarely heard from Rogue Wave.  There are certainly moments in the past (think "Endless Shovel" or "10:1") where Rogue let loose and made a rock song, but it was never as prevalent as it is here.  So sure, lead-off "Solitary Gun" starts off quaint and sweet, but by the time the chorus rolls around you're listening to a joyful, acoustic guitar-led singalong that few bands would attempt to match.  Still, this song could pass for this album's "Lake Michigan," so there's nothing to really get worked up about.

Not until track 2, that is.  "Good Morning (The Future)" is an electronic drum-backed pop song with obvious throwbacks to the overtly romantic music of The Postal Service; albeit with a more distorted, harsher sound.  If there's a song on Permalight that draws the proverbial line in the sand for longtime fans, this is the one.  Personally, I love it!  Rogue's voice has always been suited to pop music, and "Good Morning" is a great pop song, with a brilliant and inescapable dance groove.  It just works.  Title track, "Permalight," is equally unashamed about it's sound; though it's a much nicer, accessible song to those with milder tastes.  It's a Franz Ferdinand song blended with some 80s pop flair that isn't completely obvious, but still noticeable.

Rogue Wave still tones things down though from time to time, and the result is as perfect as it has always been.  "Sleepwalker" is a gorgeous song, and Rogue's vocal melody is entrancing as his voice hits some pretty high notes (both in the verse and chorus).  It's one of Permalight's standout tracks, and if it weren't for the excellent production values, it could easily pass for something off of Out of the Shadow.  "I'll Never Leave You" is equally toned-down, and it's sweet, relatable lyrics make for a decent listen.

If I may speak honestly, I'd like to note that I really didn't like Asleep at Heaven's Gate.  It started off well enough, but after "Christians in Black," the album took a huge nosedive in quality.  So I understand what it's like to be disappointed by a Rogue Wave album.  Perhaps expectedly, I went into my first listen of Permalight expecting very little.  What I got was a fun album, that I think I'll be listening to for a while.  There are very few songs on the album that sound like the Rogue Wave I fell in love with 6 years ago, but there's still plenty to love about it.  I can see how people could be disappointed with what they hear, and true, the band can get a little too Vertical Horizon-y for me here and there; but Permalight is a step forward for Rogue Wave, if not a step in the right direction.  Hearing a band evolve can be either scary or exciting.  Fortunately, I think that Zach Rogue and Co. have made something to get excited about.  So get excited, and give it a fair shot.  There's a lot to love here!

Key Tracks:
1. "Solitary Gun"
2. "Good Morning (The Future)"
3. "Sleepwalker"
4. "Stars and Stripes"
5. "Right With You"

7 out of 10 Stars

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