May 21, 2013
Pop-punk’s pulse beat strong in the mid- to late ’90s, but somewhere around the turn of the century, it seemed to trickle out. That’s not to say it disappeared, but the sound in general grew stale, as new styles of rock (often borrowing from old styles) emerged in the forefront. With Allison Weiss‘ new album, Say What You Mean, that brand sounds fresh again. Weiss doesn’t necessarily bring much new to the table, but something about her interpretation of the genre brought it back to life in my ears. Her solid power chords, classic yet stimulating, and vocals that convey emotion as much as the lyrics themselves probably have a lot to do with it.
Music can be so powerful when its effect on you is not only visceral, but emotional. I think that’s where Weiss won me over with this release, because her heartbreak is so relatable — as heartbreak is wont to be, I suppose. She covers a decent range of scenarios that can come from a rough break-up, using varied levels of sass to drive her point throughout the album.
Say What You Mean opens with “Making It Up,” a relatively light, poppy tune, implementing a bit of synth atop the basic guitar/bass/drums set-up. The song pleads to an ex-lover who’s acting like whatever they had together never happened: “Am I making it up? Was it not what you said? Was I never the one? Was it all in my head?” This juxtaposition of cheerful melody to despondent lyrics is always a satisfying angle, because instead of burying the listener in sad feelings, it uplifts them.
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August 22, 2012
This album has been my jam for several months, but I wanted to wait until the end of summer (and attending their show in Chicago) to make sure. The duo are Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya and Swedish producer Johan Hugo, who met in a London thrift shop and soon became musical collaborators as The Very Best.
We’ve come a long way from Paul Simon’s Graceland, but I can imagine what it must have felt like the first time people heard Ladysmith Black Mambazo emerge from a sea of new wave and hair metal. Inherently danceable, with Hugo’s infectious, bouncy, edgy beats offset by Mwamwaya’s joyous multilingual vocals, MTMTMK embodies the spirit of modern globalism. This music would not be possible without internet technology and travel capabilities, and TVB’s growing mainstream notoriety is (hopefully) indicative of Africa’s broadening appeal beyond typical “world music” enthusiasts.
Recording for the duo’s second LP began unsuccessfully in New York, but their inspiration flowed once the duo ventured to Lilongwe, Mwamwaya’s hometown. You can practically taste the heat and the pent-up, flavorful energy of West Africa’s clubs in each track. With distinguished featured guests such as Baaba Maal, Xuman, and Mo Laudi, and a wide range of instruments from flutes to synths, it’s a zazzy, eclectic mix whose range from hip-hop to dancehall to dubstep and reggae-inspired (inspiring?) cuts.
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August 1, 2012
Maybe you’ve already heard the excellent new album by Archie Powell & the Exports, as it came out back at the beginning of May, and they’ve been getting astounding press and done some touring. However, if you haven’t, allow me to fill you in.
Great Ideas in Action is the sophomore full-length from Chicago’s coolest party animals. These boys caught my attention early on for issuing some of the smartest pop-rock concoctions I’d ever had the pleasure of hearing. Lead singer/guitarist Archie Powell was blessed with a voice perfect for crooning out snarky pop lyrics — his nasal tone delivers the words with an audible sneer and when he belts, he belts with reckless abandon. With his band of Exports — bassist Adam, keyboardist Ryan and drummer RJ — Archie taps into a magic formula that is not being matched much in today’s indie rock.
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July 4, 2012
If Brent Stecker’s 2012 Sasquatch! Festival experience is any indication, the keyboards comeback in indie pop is stronger than ever this year, with juicy synths infiltrating stages worldwide. Chicago band Save The Clocktower (quite possibly one of the best band names ever, right after my own collaborative fantasy band name, Fear Boner & the Disco Police™) has been rocking this business for a few years, but has really outdone itself with its latest release, Through the Glass.
The band’s enhanced its rhythm for a decent portion of this set of dreampop tunes. It’s definitely got its chillout moments, but first it’ll have you grooving to some seriously sultry jams before closing with the “turn on, tune in, drop out” treatment.
While Save The Clocktower’s earlier albums relied more on an atmospheric quality, Through the Glass brings a greater element of danceability to the table and explores some higher registers, such as on lead single “Like That.” Some of the Massive Attack and Air-like moods from the band’s self-titled debut and Carousel are detectable in these new songs, but the increased tempos and poppy vocals put many of them in the camp of the ’80s synthpop funtimes brought forth by the likes of Gary Numan and Depeche Mode.
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June 6, 2012
Back when I was 19 years old, at the peak of my naive pursuit into a career in poetry, I discovered the works of Rod McKuen. I would spend several hours each week in my college library, searching for verse that spoke to me in the same way I wanted my verse to speak to others. McKuen’s words were so relatable — after seeing my fiancé off to South Korea for a year, I found understanding in his poems. “If you go away on this summer day, then you might as well take the sun away.” During some of the darkest days of my life, it was in the worn pages of those library books where I found the light to keep me going. Discovering that McKuen had translated his poetry into music helped it glow even brighter, and I basked in it.
The sad news heard across the world recently is that Ween has come to an end. Honestly, no great loss to me because I didn’t really listen to them much. They did some interesting, admirable stuff, but it never really stuck with me. However, I do have friends who feel the loss and I am here to pat them on the back and say, “There there, there there.” Because YOU GUYS, Aaron “Gene Ween” Freeman has done something right now that I completely love and you might love, too!
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June 4, 2012
If you sit under a tree long enough, either somebody finds you, or you find yourself.
Here’s the thing, I’m not big on Jazz — and yes, before you ask, I have listened to “good jazz,” and I’m still. not. big. on it. But Melody Gardot? She does the kind of jazz that I AM big on. Mostly that’s due to her lovely, throaty vocals, and the fact that all her songs make me want to watch old movies and drink cocktails all day. Plus, she sings a lot in French, which is a sure way to steal my heart.
Maybe it makes me an old lady, but I love pouring myself a drink and lounging around to some Gardot, pretending I’m a bored ’50s housewife who lives on the French Riviera … or something. Anyway!
Both My One and Only Thrill and Worrisome Heart are full of pretty love songs and swaying, pleasing melodies — so I was pretty psyched when I saw the announcement for her new album, The Absence. As Ms. Gardot explains in the video above, she stopped touring to travel and immerse herself in writing for the new album.
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