Thursday, September 8, 2011

Unknown Mortal Orchestra should be known

One of my favorite pop songs to come out this summer is by a vintage lofi psych-rock trio from Portland. The song is called Ffunny Ffriends and the band is Unknown Mortal Orchestra.

While their recent debut album is generously peppered with catchy psychedelic hooks that harken back to the 60s, the melodies in Ffunny Ffriends are the grand daddys of them all.  Add this to a nodding hip hop beat and a fat round bass line and you have an infectious earworm that grabs a hold and stays with you as you go on about your day.  And not in an annoying way.  More in a way that will most definitely draw you back for more.

I recently picked up tickets to go see these guys perform with Toro Y Moi in Toronto in a couple weeks. I can't say I'm not looking forward to it.

Definitely check out the whole album when you get a chance.  In the mean time, here's Ffunny Ffriends.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

James Blake performs at Mercury Awards show

While I'm more of a fan of James Blake's earlier work (CMYK,  I Only Know (What I know), Klavierwerke), I actually didn't mind his recent critically acclaimed vocal-centric self-titled LP.   Fans who are familiar with his older stuff know that Blake made a stylistic shift with this album, reaching out to new audiences and in some cases alienating old ones.

One of my favorite tracks off self-titled is the sparse and soulful The Wilhelm Scream. While the song may be one of Blake's more accessible tracks, it still hangs a bit out in left field with its repetitive pensive lyrics and noisy claustrophobic build up.  Unsuprisingly, Blake chose this one to perform at the Mercury Awards show last night and at first take I wasn't too thrilled by the performance.   But upon watching it again, I realized that it is more a case of bad mixing.  The arpeggiated guitar is way too much out in front and the keys/synths are too soft.   Some of the effects triggered by the drummer seem to overwhelm the song at parts.

Check it out for yourself below:

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Dell blatantly rips off Broken Bells

A friend of mine recently asked for my advice on a laptop he is considering buying.  It's the new super-sleek and ultra-modern Dell XPS 15z laptop that apparently has "less mass and more appeal".  So I went to the Dell website and looked at the specs.   I checked out some pictures and then decided to watch one of the promo videos.  As I watched, I realized that the song in the video was strikingly similar to something I've heard before.  I couldn't quite put my indie finger on it at first and I had to rewatch and stomach the video a couple times. But it finally came to me. It was the The Ghost Inside by Broken Bells.

Check out the video below and listen carefully:

For those not familiar with the original or need a refresher, listen to the The Ghost Inside by Broken Bells.

Yes, it's a blatant and cheapened rip off!  Sure they use a different tempo and key. But everything else is carbon copy - the 1/8 note keys, the bass line, the synth lead, the double claps, back-up harmony vocals and even falsetto voice at the end.

Now I've seen this done before. Not too long ago, Microsoft launched an advertisement with a song that sounded a lot like Arcade Fire's Wake Up but was different enough to not be deemed copyright infringement.  Don't these big high-tech multi-million dollar companies have the coin to license the real thing? Or perhaps they know people like me will write a blog post about it, giving their product free (yet limited in my case) publicity?

While I'm not going to lose sleep over this, I just think credit should be given where credit is due and artists should be fairly compensated for use of their intellectual property.   But the more I think about it, if anyone should be upset it should really be Damon Albarn of Gorillaz :) .  Or maybe he should be simply flattered.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Is the sax making a come back?

Is it just me or is the smooth, sexy and sassy sax making a comeback in popular indie music?   One thing I've recently observed is that a handful of indie bands/artists are now employing one of my least favorite reed instruments.

It's not that I hate the saxophone.  I think it has a well deserved place in music, e.g.,jazz and big band music.  But when bred with other styles of music - especially rock - it has a tendency to, well.... cheese things up.  And I'm not talking about the cheese you snack on with crackers.  I'm talking about the kind you glaringly wince at in disgust.  I think we have the soft porn industry, the 80s and possibly Kenny G to blame for that.  

The fact that these artists appear to be striving for this corny aesthetic is interesting.  Are they trying to rebrand the sax and make it hip again?  Or perhaps it is simply an honest and genuine celebratory nod to 80s nostalgia.  I will admit that while I found the sax usage to be off-putting at first, it does seem to work in some instances. Others not so much.

Here are a few songs from 2011 buzz bands that are incorporating the almighty sax into their music.  Check them out, and let me know what you think.

If I missed any artists, please let me know in the comments section.

Destroyer - Kaputt
The sax lead in Destroyer's Kaputt is reverb processed and panning. It is soft and delicate, asserting an airy chilled-out atmosphere.  This soft-rock 80s throw back has actually grown on me since the album was released.

Bibio - Feminine Eye
Bibio deploys the sax at the end of this track, mirroring the main vocal melody.   Smooth and understated, nonchalant and out-of-nowhere,  the sax here takes the song right into grocery store soundtrack territory.

Bon Iver - Beth/Rest
Anyone who has spent time with Bon Iver's latest album Bon Iver, Bon Iver, should be able to hear the distinct FM radio and 80s soft rock qualities that differentiates the album from it's folky predecessor.  No track is more showing of these traits than album closer and standout track Beth/Rest.  I say standout, but I don't necessarily mean that in a good way.  Justin Vernon unabashedly pays tribute to the 80s by pairing cheesy guitar leads with equally cheesy sax leads.   Growing up in the 80s, this song certainly conjures feelings of nostalgia and makes me long for the time when things were simple and care-free.  But nostalgia aside, I am wincing hard.

M83 - Midnight City
France's M83 specializes in blissed-out, shoe-gazey dream pop electronica (how is that for adjective stuffing?). Their latest single Midnight City is yet another nod to the 80s and like Bon Iver's Beth/Rest it leans heavily on warm feelings of nostalgia.  It's hard to not like this song.  The synths are dense, heavy and right in your face. The production is top notch.  It's simply uplifting and empowering.  Oh yeah and the song closes with a rockin' sax solo.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Radiohead fans love Radiohead

Today I had some time to waste and decided to watch some songs from Radiohead's recent In The Basement sessions, which features songs from their latest LP and personal non-favorite King of Limbs.   I hadn't listened to KOL in maybe a couple of months.  And it was really only a handful of times.  Nothing on it really grabbed me like past albums have.  Honestly, I feel it is a mediocre Radiohead album -  below Hail to the Thief and above Pablo Honey, in my ranked order of Radiohead albums (every Radiohead fan has one).

I didn't watch the videos in chronological order.  I picked randomly.  But by the time I got to the 7th song, I realized that a) although I am not a huge fan of KOL, I had watched most of the videos from the session and b) most of the videos from the session had roughly the same number of views.  There wasn't a big disparity at all between video views.  To me this represents the dedication and loyalty of radiohead fans and is a true testament to just how good this band is - or was, depending on what side you're on.

It was interesting to see and hear Radiohead play these songs live as a band.  The studio versions sound  so "produced" to me as if they were written and recorded in the studio, track by track.  It sounds more like an electronica album than say a "band" album - and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

By the end of it, I walked away with a slightly different perspective on the KOL material.  I actually think some of these tunes are better in this live format (Bloom, Magpie and even Feral) than on the record. Some of Thom's melodies are still borderline grating, though.  And for the most part, I feel like a lot of it has been done before, so I wouldn't say that this is a step ahead for Radiohead.  But despite all of this, I watched every video, and it looks like other Radiohead fans did as well and I think this says a lot.

Ranked Order of Radiohead Albums (Best to Worst)

OK Computer
Kid A
In Rainbows
The Bends
Hail to the Thief
King of Limbs
Pablo Honey

Das Racist Announce New 'Relax' LP

Das Racist is one of my favorite rap groups to come out in the past couple years. Although I must say, it took awhile before I jumped on the band wagon.  On the surface, Das Racist seemed as though they shouldn't be taken seriously, mainly due to their goofy lyrical content and half-baked music videos.  However, once you delve into their first two mix tapes (Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man), you realize that these guys are truly skilled rappers with solid flow, clever rhythms and infectious beats.  So yeah, they should be taken seriously.

I'm really looking forward to their forthcoming LP, Relax, set to be released on September 13th. It features production from Diplo, El-P, Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij and Yeasayer's Anand Wilder and includes guest verses from El-P, Despot and Danny Brown.

Here is Rainbow in the Dark, from Shut Up, Dude:

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The new Death Cab For Cutie is actually pretty alright

When I was younger and stupid I often referred to Death Cab For Cutie's music as music for fat girls.  I know this bad, and I apologize if you're offended.   But I was never really a big fan (not pun intended).  I am older and wiser now.  I did come to appreciate Ben Gibbard as a voclalist on Give Up, the first and last album under his side project The Postal Service.  This one turned out to be a bit of a the guilty pleasure for me, and brought me closer to being a DCFC fan.  While I haven't yet fully listened to their latest album Codes and Keys, I am enjoying the first single (and video).  I think it might have to do with the infectious guitar lead....

Check it out below: