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.

 

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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.

 

Thundercat Ho: Drunk

Drunk by Thundercat:

TL;DR Haiku Review:

Stream of consciousness; Michael McDonald, Kendrick? full of surprises

Make sure you have the right Jordans on:

First of all, we need to dispense with preconceived notions when an album features the great Kendrick Lamar along with Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald without a hint of irony.

Yes, that Michael McDonald croons like only he can on “Show you the Way” with Kenny Loggins like something you might remember from your mom’s minivan in the late 80’s or early 90’s.

This album is not really R&B, soul, funk, experimental or indie dance-pop, it is all of those things.  I think it is important not to limit ourselves with facile comparisons just because Thundercat has worked with hip-hop artists and features unique beats (like “Uh Uh” for example).   This album is not musically akin to artists like Kid Cudi or 88 Keys but more like if Andre 3000 recorded an indie album.  Actually, a lot of tracks of this album (see “Bus in These Streets” or “A Fan’s Mail”) would not sound out of place on a Phoenix or Of Montreal album for that matter.

Almost forgot:  “Walk on By” is a throwback styled slow jam that features Kendrick Lamar.  And like almost everything he touches these days, it is terrific.

Bittersweet Memories Cloud My Faded Mind:

For me, there is only one drawback to this album.  I like to imagine that a lot of these tracks started with Thundercat going stream-of-consciousness with a keyboard.  That approach really works for most of the songs on this album, but on others, I get the feeling that the lyrical content is not always as strong as the music and even the lyrical delivery.  I hate to knock creativity and I really do like this album, but with 23 tracks on one album, there are bound to be hits and misses.  (looking at you Wiz Khalifa)

Download it? Stream it?

I’d say download it, drunk or otherwise.  Sure you might hear a lot of it on Adult Swim (just a guess) but I think you can’t really go wrong with Thundercat.

 

 

Indie Review: R.I.P. by Threatpoint

TL;DR Haiku Review:

“Not a metal fan, but I got into this band, you should download it”

The first submission I have received is: RIP by Threatpoint.

Disclaimer: This is not a PR puff piece.  I agreed to review Threatpoint but I was not  compensated in any way for doing so.

First a Little Background Directly From the Band:

Threatpoint is a groove metal band based out of Scranton Pennsylvania. Formed in early 2012 from the demise of other bands that shared the stage many times over. Fast forward 2016, with two full length albums and hundreds of shows across the United States, founding members Chris James (vocals) CJ Krukowski (drums) and Alex Olivetti (guitar) have kept the fire burning alive and well.

Rounding out the bands current lineup is Matthew Van Fleet (bass). Together now stronger than ever, the five have recorded their third full length album and a bonus 8 song acoustic album as well.

Tastefully drawing from a diverse spectrum of influences, all five of the members have strong writing skills and creative input. You will hear remnants of Classic Rock, Power Metal, Thrash Metal and straight up driving Hard Rock. On an occasion you can find a sprinkle of Death Metal and European influence within their musical smorgasbord.

Still searching for a label to extend their helping hand Threatpoint drives on full speed ahead on their own strength and dollar flooding the underground music scene.”

Review:

No sense in sugar coating it, I have a serious blind spot when it comes to metal.  I have a hard time taking it seriously because a lot of bands sound like what a low budget horror movie looks like.  Not to say that there aren’t things to like about the many -metal genres, but I am usually turned off by the campiness of the whole thing.

That being said, I took time to review this album to get beyond whatever inate bias I might have against this “groove metal” band.  I am glad I listened through and took a few days off before trying again because Threatpoint really grew on me.

What I liked:

I assumed that the “groove” in groove-metal meant that this band has a lot of musical meat on its bones, and that assumption proved true.  What I like about this album is that you can hear elements of hard-core punk, metal, and other aggressive/loud/fast genres but that those things never become distracting.  The contrasts in “Bury the Wicked” are certainly a highlight on this album.  The music is well done and also, I have to say that I appreciate the band’s use of introspective lyrics.

What I didn’t like:

I don’t really have much to complain about with this album.  I don’t think I will ever be really into the metal growl vocals.  To Threatpoint’s credit, it is a subdued part of their sound and didn’t bother me.

Should you Download it?

After several listen throughs, I would defintely recommend adding Threatpoint to your music library.  RIP is a very solid independent release and, you don’t have to be really into metal to appreciate it.

Show Threatpoint some love.

 

Focus Grouping with AFI

TL;DR Summary Haiku:

“AFI album, it’s boring and uninspired, I would not buy it”

The first review up is AFI’s “Blood Album” which is great because I am nothing if not an AFI apologist.  And let me say, they have made it almost impossible to defend this album with my usual: “it’s just different” refrain.  I don’t like to be negative and I would rather be constructive…but, it is really hard with this album.  I don’t expect bands to stay the same forever and I don’t mind when they change their sound.  This is different.

This album feels like AFI’s record label put a cross-section of their fans in a room with a one-way mirror and asked them to describe what they would want in a new AFI album.  This album sounds like a band that is trying to check off every box to please the different “generations” of fans but accomplishes nothing because they put every piece of fruit they have into the blender and produced a tasteless mess.

You hear classic AFI in some tracks with the chanting, the choruses, and the background vocals.  The difference here is that it sounds like a cover band without the intensity, without the fire inside (see what I did there?).  You also hear some pop, synth-pop,  pop-punk and, whatever other genres you can throw at me.  And, whatever, I’m fine with that in theory.  They don’t have to remake Black Sails just to be great again.

Honestly, there is probably a good EP in here somewhere because the music is not as bad as the execution.  The problem for me is, the tracks aren’t universally bad, they are just boring.  Oh, and it is time to talk about the Davey Havok in the room.

It’s not the music, it’s the songs.  I don’t usually get caught up in what the lyrics mean but it is another thing to be constantly distracted by bad poetry.  How many times can you repeat “strange” or “stranger” in a song without annoying the listener?  How many times can you sing “white offerings” before it gets old?  How can a band mature in reverse with the content?  Davey annoys with aplomb on this album, and this is coming from an avid AFI fan.  (I still have my limited edition turn of the century AFI vans).

So would I buy this album? Stream it? Avoid it at all costs?  Check them out on tour first?

I would stream it a few times more.  Maybe it will grow on me (says the apologist).