Are you ready for some Doo-Wop-Core? “Boxing the Moonlight” by Mister Heavenly

TL;DR Haiku Review:

“Upbeat doo-wop-core, is no ceiling, is no floor, you’ll want a beat down.”

Today we have “Boxing the Moonlight” by Mister Heavenly.  You can find everything you need to know about the band here.  To make a long intro short, M.H. includes Honus Honus of Man Man, a member of the Islands (and the Unicorns), and a member of Modest Mouse (and the Shins).  (For the unitiated, be sure you catch Man Man live if and when they hit your town.  I had the lucky fortune of seeing them in New Orleans and they will wear you out and simultaneously leave you wanting more.)

All together Mister Heavenly hits you with 11 tracks of really compelling music with “Boxing the Moonlight.”  Right off the bat, you get “Beat Down,” which I like a lot.  However, that song is not really representative of the M.H. sound on this album.  Don’t get me wrong, the neo-mid-20th-century vibe is cool, but doo-wop-core (or whatever) is just the starting point with this band.

What makes M.H. special is the amount of experimentation within what may seem like straight forward indie-rock music.  For every easy listening groove like “Crazy Love, Vol. III,” you will also get stand out tracks like “Hammer Drop,” “George’s Garden,” and the seemingly out of nowhere noise of “Dead Duck.”   Personally, I really like the sorta-

For every easy listening groove like: “Makin’ Excuses” or “Crazy Love, Vol. III,” you will also get stand out tracks like “Hammer Drop,” “George’s Garden,” and the seemingly-out- of-nowhere noise and distortion in “Dead Duck.”   Personally, if I had to choose a favorite, I really like the album’s closer, the sorta-psychadelic “Out of Time.”  There is a melancholy beauty to it, listen for yourself to see if you agree.

If it wasn’t clear from the first three paragraphs, you should get out and buy this album in ALL the formats.  Also, they are on tour now, don’t miss out if you can help it.  I am going to try and catch them at the Casbah in San Diego next Friday myself.

 

 

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R&R:: Indie Review:: “Astoria” by the Hellfreaks

TL; DR Haiku Review:

“loud and fast punkrock, with anthemic choruses, Nitro fans rejoice”

For this week’s dip into indie bands we have “Astoria” by the Hellfreaks.  This album was released in 2016, but I recently stumbled upon them on Spotify.

The Hellfreaks come from Hungary but they are spiritually rooted in Southern California’s punk rock sound of the 90’s and 00’s.  Fronted by Shakey Sue, the band describes themselves as a combination of “punk rock, psychobilly and metal.”  However, at the risk of genre pigeon-holing them, I think you can call them a punk rock band that can play their instruments.

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Not-so-careful listeners will hear a lot of early Davey Havok and AFI in Shakey Sue’s voice, intensity, and delivery.  (That is a compliment, not a diss).  Listen to “I’m Away” and try not to imagine Davey singing that chorus fifteen to twenty years ago.  Not only that, but musically, the Hellfreaks would be at home on Nitro or FAT Records with plenty of catchy fast-paced riffs.

What makes this band a good, and quite frankly tolerable, listen (for those of us who have aged-out of pop-punk music for the most part) is the intensity of the vocals and the way they are integrated into the music.  This band isn’t just some chords and a moody singer with a haircut.  Also, despite their catchiness of their songs, the Hellfreaks have enough “edge” to stay away from sounding too much like the bands who ruined the genre years ago.  In my opinion, “Burn the Horizon,” “I”m Away,” “Sid and Clyde,” and  “Why do you talk” really stick out for their punk rock intensity and make me want to get back into a circle pit again.

The bottom line: you should definitely stream and/or download this album if you are a punk rock fan, and especially if you grew up with AFI and other California punk rock bands.

The Hellfreaks won’t be in the U.S. anytime soon, but check ’em out if you are in Germany or Hungary anytime soon.

 

 

 

R&R:// Outrage! is Now by Death From Above 1979

TL;DR: Haiku Review:

“when i hear that sound, some high energy thrashing, I’m all out of rage.”

The Band:

For the uninitiated, DFA 1979 is just another great band hailing from Toronto, Canada.  (Canadian musicians are killing it right now.  Forget all of the Canadian jokes you’ve heard, they are our betters.  Get over it.)

Review:

Its not everyday that I get to dive into new music from one of my favorite bands doing it right now.  If you can catch these guys live, you really should.  With that obvious bias out-of-the-way, let’s get to Outrage! is Now.

Aside from the title itself, this album is not overtly political or preachy.  There are discernible themes, but importantly they are addressed subtly in the title track, and”Holy Books” to name a few.  There are hints of a particular (and let’s face it the right point of view) in “All I C Is U & Me” with references to undercover racists in the streets and other terrible things.  This is 2017 after all.

The first single “Freeze Me” has made the rounds on mainstream radio and you have probably heard it already.  It is catchy, but don’t let that one song define the album for you.  Most of the rest of the tracks are standouts in their own right.

DFA 1979 starts out with some hi-hat and a rhythmic bass riff on “Nomad.”  If a lot of post-punk bands use angular or staccato riffs to get crowds moving, DFA 1979 gives you pounding drums and da-da-da-dadada style looping bass lines.  It sounds simple, but the noise created is compelling and powerful.  “Caught Up” starts out slowly but eventually reaches a crescendo that is full of noise and fury, and it is another highlight

The title track’s chorus hits you hard and might be my favorite song on this album.  “Statutes” comes at you with distorted vocals and the familiar looping bass riffs with a much more experimental sound quality.  I also like the last track “Holy Books” because at times you can re-imagine it as a punk-rock anthem and then all of a sudden it drops into a short piano-aided bridge that sounds like it came straight out of Ok Computer.

I come around, when I hear that sound:

Yes, you should definitely stream/buy/borrow this album if you are into DFA 1979 or just good music in general.

 

 

Indie Review: “Mechanics of Life” by Plastic Barricades

TL;DR Haiku Review:

“90’s influenced, but really in a good way, go out and get it”

The Band:

Today we have a review of the new album “Mechanics of Life” from the Plastic Barricades hailing from Europe (London via Estonia).  On their website, PB describes themselves as:

Romantic and honest, gloomy and curious, melodic and melancholic … Plastic Barricades chronicle life in the troubled yet fascinating XXI century with painstaking sincerity, asking questions and trying to find the answers.

 

Plastic Barricades
Pictured being romantic, honest, gloomy, curious, and melancholic (probably)

 

Well, I don’t know the band like all that, so I will just stick with what I know from listening through their new album that was released this week.

The Review:

At first blush, PB sounds familiar, but not consistently familiar.  What I mean is: you can hear  influences of different bands in different songs but it does not come off as trite or tired.  There will always be room in this world for more indie-rock and/or power-pop and PB mixes things up across the 11-track LP to keep the listener engaged.

The band specifically points to: “Radiohead, Oasis, Coldplay, Muse, Razorlight, Nirvana…” amongst other bands, as their list of influences.  To me, I don’t really hear much Nirvana, but I do hear hints of Phoenix and other danceable indie bands in tracks like “How Goldfish Grow.”

In other tracks, PB sounds like they would be at home in the late 90’s/early 2000’s indie-rock or emo scenes (see “Singularity 2045,” “Be the Change,” or “Needles in Haystacks”).  Still other times, I hear  mid-career Red Hot Chili Peppers (when they de-emphasized the funk), Blur, Bends-era Radiohead and maybe Oasis.

One of the standout tracks for me was “Our Favourite Delusions” because in my opinion it best captures the Plastic Barricade’s sound and gives subtle shout outs to their neo-90’s style.  (Also: honestly, I’m glad they don’t really sound like Coldplay because too many bands have tried to do that and it usually sounds inoffensive and bland.)

Outside of the obvious British comparisons because the vocalist sings with a U.K. accent, PB sounds more like a North American band like Fountains of Wayne (but not corny).   The tracks on “Mechanics of Life” themselves are well constructed and don’t sound overly produced.  “This album works for me because, the band ties their varied influences together to create a sound of their own.

Also, despite the band’s self-description on their website, PB doesn’t try to be too earnest or sincere.  The lyrics are also hazy enough to let the listener decide (which is what good art is supposed to do right?).  Overall, Plastic Barricades is a good listen if you are into power-pop or indie-rock or whatever other label you want to stick on them.

Would I Recommend this album?

I would definitely recommend downloading, streaming, or buying “Mechanics of Life.”  You can stream the new album: here.

Music video here.

P.S.

I only saw U.K. tour dates on their website, but I would be down to see these guys when they come stateside.

 

JAY-Z Goes Kanye

TL;DR Haiku Review:

“Hova airs issues, introspective at Kanye, that’d be so Kanye”

It isn’t worth going deep on what everybody has already said about Jay-Z’s new album: it’s personal, it’s arresting, and a revelation.  It’s not that I would disagree with those assessments.  Jay-Z, like many hip-hop artists of a certain vintage, have struggled with being honest and genuinely introspective.

Yes, Jay-Z already released introspective tracks with personal lyrics.  (See: the Blueprint I for a few examples).  Those tracks, while they cannot be discounted, were often undercut by the very next song.  That has been a consistent crticisim of mainstream hip-hop artists.

However, 4:44 is (ironically) more about Yeezy than Jay-Z.  If we are being honest, Jay’s later-career albums have been more about protecting a legacy, how great it is to be him specifically, being rich, and would these lesser rappers stop taking shots at the King.  This approach worked for radio play and for generating singles about how great Jay-Z is.

It took a true iconoclast like Kanye West to pull mainstream hip-hop out of the well-worn tropes that have characterized (and plagued) the genre (again focusing on the mainstream only) since the late 1990’s.  You know the tropes: (1) I’m rich, (2) I’m real (haven’t forgotten where I’ve come from), (3) I’m great (WAY better than the rappers that I passively aggressively reference), (4) “M.O.B.” etc.  And who else, besides Jay-Z, is a bigger symbol of mainstream hip-hop post 1997?

4:44 is leaner and  devoid of hooks or gimics.  I believe Jay’s relationship with Kanye has slowly changed his music for the better because it pushed him creatively.  (You can hear the beginnings of this with “Watch the Throne.” Jay-Z was outshined by Kanye, hands down, even if he did creep outside of his MC comfort zone more.) This slow evolution brings us to 2017 where Jay-Z is comfortable enough to move beyond his need to assure everyone that Jay-Z was beyond reproach.

Jay-Z may or may not admit it, but “4:44” probably wouldn’t be but for his relationship with Kanye.  Sure, they obviously have experienced a personal fall out.  Sure, a lot of that fall out can probably be attributed to Yeezy’s tortured genius.  Nevertheless, could anyone see “Kill Jay-Z” coming without Kanye?  Forget about the creative dissing of other rappers and Eric Benet, its Jay-Z’s metaphorical self-immolation on 4:44 that stands out.  Now, magazines and the internet are praising Jay for being real, for being honest, for being raw, for being self-aware.  If those writers were being honest, they are praising Jay for putting out a Kanye record.

What would I recommend?  I would defintely buy and/or stream this album.  Unlike some of Jay-Z’s more recent solo work, this album will stick to your ribs.

 

The West Coast Revival Continues with DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar

TL; DR Haiku Review:

The West Coast is back, the LA-T-L-ien, the best rapper alive?

It isn’t every day that a hip-hop artist can follow up a near universally praised album like “To Pimp a Butterfly” with an album as good as DAMN.  I don’t buy the sophomore slump idea, but it is almost impossible to satisfy the hype and expectations that come with following an instant classic.  (I’m not counting the Untitled/Unmastered EP because it wasn’t a full-blown follow-up album)

Sit Down:

DAMN. finds Kendrick rapping furiously over understated beats and with choruses lacking hooks.  Like Nas, Kendrick doesn’t need a catchy chorus to get on the charts.  The more I think about it, the more I think people can classify Kendrick’s music as “thinking man’s hip hop” because it is introspective, honest, raw, and doesn’t feel produced or ghost written.  This is a major label release that sounds like something your favorite underground rapper put out.

Beyond that, I really appreciate all of the influences that make up DAMN.  The tracks bound with creativity and I hear Andre 3000 and mid-career Outkast, amongst other influences (for example see: Feel, Lust, XXX, Fear).  To be clear, I’m not saying that Kendrick is ripping anyone else off, I just love hearing the mix of influences that have been made into something fresh and new.

No doubt this is a must buy, download, or stream.

About that other thing:

In my opinion, forget about the comparisons or competition with Drake.  Forget about feuds, battles, cameos, singles, downloads, and sales figures.  I could care less about which artist said what about whom, but there really is no comparison between the two artists.  Drake might be more commercially marketable and palatable, but his music just isn’t as good.  Note: I don’t hate Drake, I just find most of his music to be catchy-yet-forgettable.

Drake had a moment when he released an introspective mixtape in his very early 20’s.  Since that time, he has achieved quite a bit commercially, but that doesn’t mean anything about his music itself.  Drake has a schtick, and he’s good at it.  Kendrick is more like Lil’ Wayne in that he is riding a wave of creativity that also leads to commercial success.  And just like Weezy could do no wrong in the mid-to-late 2000’s,  Kendrick can wear the ever-shifting “best rapper alive” title…for now.  Who knows?  Maybe Jay Electronica will finally drop his long awaited album and shake things up?

The A.C. Newman All-Stars: The New Pornographers “Whiteout Conditions”

TL;DR Haiku Review:

“Why did Bejar go, something big is missing here, still better than most”

There is a lot of chatter about the darker, and more overtly political, themes that are explored in “Whiteout Conditions.”  To me, the lyrical content of any given New Pornographers song has always been secondary to the high-level power-pop they have produced since their debut, and arguably still their best album, “Mass Romantic” released way back around the turn of the century.

For the un-initiated, the NP is a collective of talented individual musicians that works because the band allows A.C. Newman, Dan Bejar, and Neko Case to shine individually through each album.  Anyone who listens to an NP album will know which artist is being featured, but to the band’s credit, it usually feels connected enough to work as a singular band, and not a traveling talent show.

I saw them twice in the last two years, once on the “Brill Bruisers” tour at the great Fox Theater in Oakland, and once here in Sacramento at the Ace of Spades in early 2017.  NOTE: The NP are playing the Fox again tomorrow April 13, 2017.

In 2014, I was lucky enough to catch the full line-up (minus Ms. Case), and the show was incredible.  Not so much in 2017 without all of the regulars (and Dan Bejar).  The music still sounded good enough, but there is just something missing when the NP becomes the A.C. Newman All-Stars.

This is not me slamming A.C. by any means.  I enjoy his solo work and I think his original band Zumpano was a hugely underrated outfit when they released music in the mid to late 90’s.  It is just a part of the deal with a group of people that work so well with and off of each other.  Of course, it won’t be the same when vital parts are missing which is how I feel about this new album.

No song on “Whiteout Conditions” will hit you like “War on the East Coast” from Brill Bruisers, “Go Places” from Challengers, “Stacked Crooked” from Twin Cinema or the title track from “Mass Romantic,” which is admittedly a pretty unfair standard to hold them to.  Taken as a whole, this album is worth streaming and/or downloading because even at 2/3 strength, the New Pornographers are probably better than most of the indie/power/pop bands out there.