Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cory Bishop - Cory Bishop EP

It's past my bedtime, so I'll keep this short. But do you ever have an experience where you immediately write off music based on your first listen, when you link that music with something generic and disposable? And then, when you listen another time, and then another, you realize that there's something really special there?

That's exactly how I feel about Cory Bishop. I don't know who sent me this album (thanks person), but it was probably hidden in the small pocket of my car where I keep a stack of CDs that I eventually get around to, but in no rush. And then I popped it in today, and it sounded like a generic alt-country album that is like the definition of most boring music to me.

I have to admit, leading off with "You Can't Take Me" might not have been the wisest choice if you want to attract Danielle Sills' in the future. But I'm trying not to be so shallow to overlook an entire EP based on the over-compressed alt-country nugget that is this song. And, well, even this nugget grew on me.

But the more I listen to the five songs on this release, the more I find hints of things I like. Little melodies here and there, lyrics that are clever and concise, and then, the ultimate compliment, a song that reminds me of Josh Ritter, a man who I think has some of the best songcraft of modern times (not to mention the best lyrics).

I like the sad ones best. "Crown of Thorns" has great imagery -- they're sitting in the back of a beat up truck with the radio playing unmemorable songs and commercials about diamond rings... then this lyric happens: "when we wake I'm gonna take back everything I say/but you'll never get back what you're letting me steal away." It's the sad regret of a man who knows he shouldn't be doing what he's doing.

But it's not until the final track, "Honey I Ain't," that I really decided I supremely enjoy this little mini-album. It creeps forward, cascading easily like a good Josh Ritter song, building and backing off and building again each chorus. It gallops forward with a nice beat, and how could you not love picturing this lyric? "The city streets are filled with empty/except the fog that's slowly lifting," he croons, "the buildings try to scrape the sky/by this point i've memorized the shade of green encompassed by your eyes." Bishop does this nice thing with rhyming without you realizing that he's doing it, so it sounds paced, but not obvious. I really like that. I really like this song.

If you're a fan of Ritter or The Head and the Heart, check him out. He's in Nashville, and he's touring, and hopefully getting big soon.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Doe Eye - Television

It looks ordinary from the cover, but this Television is anything but. Doe Eye is Maryam Qudus, an Afghan American whose parents never really approved of her playing music. She began a pre-med program only to drop out and go instead to Berklee College of Music.

Her debut full-length starts off menacingly with a harsh, crunchy grit, a sound that immediately sounds familiar to fans of John Vanderslice. (The album was recorded at his Tiny Telephone studios... which is a place chock full of cool analog instruments -- enough reason to get excited about this album before you even listen.) I'm a big fan of the second track, "Diamond." "Momma always said I'm a diamond/cuz I'm rough," she croons understatedly, with a great melody and a really morbid vibe.

Where it starts to turn a corner for me is on the third song, "I Was Born on a Monday." It starts with the same intro melody as Robbie Williams' "Millenium" (remember that huge hit around the harrowing times of Y2K?), without all the woos and the good feelings. It has something of a St. Vincent feel. The longing sound of Qudus' voice, the miscellaneous piano twinkling, the strange, bass-like synthesizer. And that's where she loses me. On songs like these, Qudus gets a little too weird.

Weird like the kind of music I could no longer put on a mix CD for a friend who isn't into strange music. It goes past the line of normal song structure, and into some noise. Not noise like all out noise, but it's busy. It starts to make me feel chaotic, which may be the point, but I don't like that point.

The other gem on the album is "Untitled," an edgy number with a straight-up guitar line, punctured drums, which speed up in spurts, and a nice, looming piano laced throughout.  It's simple, feels cool, and shows a focus that some of this album can't seem to hold.

One last note for musicians. Can you please stop putting hidden tracks like 15 minutes into the last song? If I'm listening in a car or somewhere where I can't easily fast-forward, I really don't like waiting for that long to listen to more music. So, just have an 11th song. It's not that big of a deal, nor does it make you special. Actually, with the last Alt-J album, it prevented me from putting my favorite song on the album on all my mixes. You're ruining good mixtapes/CD's people!

Ok rant over. Bottom line here is: check this woman out. She's got something really good going, and I only see it getting better with time.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Generationals - Alix

 If there was an overriding theme of Alix, it would be falsetto. Not Bee Gees falsetto. Because this isn't exactly disco. Sure, it's peppy and you could argue it's danceable, but this synthesizer-driven collection is more pop than dance music.  And on the songs with falsetto, you just wish this male duo would get an awesome female to hit the same notes without such an airy, weak delivery.

But not everything is coated in gooey crooning. “Charlemagne” brings out the best in the Louisiana band, from glitchy beats to easygoing harmonies. They know how to make cute little catchy numbers, but they’re just not ear-catching enough to stay in your head for very long after they end. Stronger vocals might just do the trick.

Michaela Anne - Ease My Mind

It's been a while since I've done this, so let's see if I can remember.

I'm not much of a country fan in general. I find most of the new country repulsive, although I've found a little soft spot lately for Kasey Musgraves (although the spot isn't that soft because I still had to google her name to remember it). But this release feels more folksy with a country twang.

The songs each have really pretty melodies, and some of the ache you hear in Jessica Lea Mayfield's music. After repeated listens, this is one you're probably going to want to sing along to.

I'm not giving it a ringing endorsement, but a "maybe check it out" for us borderline folk/alternative country fans.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Mac Demarco live at Beachland Ballroom - 3/31/14

The crowd kneeling for Mac DeMarco.

 Never have I seen such a set of such staid curmudgeons take the stage. At age 23, Mac DeMarco and his band of well-kempt young gentlemen have much to improve on, starting with their stage presence. Never did they address the audience or engage the crowd in the odd antics you’d expect from them.

Wait. Happy April Fools’ Day! Let’s start again.

Stepping into the Beachland Ballroom was like entering a new world where no one took themselves seriously. Before Mac DeMarco even took the stage, weirdos in flat-brimmed hats were clearly ready to dance. I expected was a set of super-chill songs with gooey guitar and a good deal of funk. What I got was much different.

Mac DeMarco and his three bandmates took the stage. After several minutes of sound problems, bassist Pierce McGarry pointed at the crowd, exclaiming, “These cretins kept unplugging me.” It was the beginning of a strange series of interactions with the audience.

The band quickly launched into “Salad Days,” the opening title track on the band’s new album (which just came out today, by the way) before playing several other new songs including “Blue Boy” and “Brother,” and a fast rendition of “The Stars Keep On Calling My Name” that sounded like it belonged in a tiki hut, with jangly, island sounds.

While everything Mac DeMarco played was recognizable (he’s no Andrew Bird – it’s not like he’s changing the songs completely), nothing sounded as simple or pure as the album versions. Most were faster, weirder, and full of random screams or brief funky breakdowns that never erupted into the kind of self-indulgent jam sessions that could have turned the show into a snoozer.

It’s clear the band of Canadians doesn’t take much seriously. At one point, McGarry pulled a random dude onto the stage, telling him to speak to the crowd. The guy screamed out, “Mac DeMarco, guuyyyyys!” and the crowd, which approached a very drunken state very early in the night, hollered and cheered. McGarry insisted, “No man, tell us something personal.” All the stranger could do was rant about the band, so McGarry decided to push him into a crowd surf to return him back to his place in the crowd.

The crowd clapped along to “Let Her Go,” a grooving, baby-making song, and jumped up and down to “Ode to Viceroy,” a slow jam love song about cheap cigarettes where DeMarco croons, “Oh, don’t let me see you crying/Cuz oh honey, I’ll smoke you til I’m dying.”

People went nuts when the band launched into “Freaking Out The Neighborhood,” a fun pop nugget that DeMarco supposedly wrote as an apology to his mom after she saw a video of some of his more bizarre antics on YouTube.

The band rounded out their set with “Still Together,” a song that’s a nice, sweet ballad on the album, but turned into a full-on rocker onstage, with DeMarco yodeling like he’s ready to join The Cranberries. Halfway through, between swigs of whiskey straight from the bottle, he jumped into a crowd surf, returning to the stage to finish with a strong falsetto.

The encore was a drunken karaoke party of sorts. DeMarco claimed “his brother” Pierce wrote the first song, before launching into a sloppy version of Chris Isaak’s timeless “Wicked Game,” full of out of tune singing by the band while DeMarco played drums. At one point during the quickly-getting-weirder encore, the band ordered the crowd to kneel on the ground, and everyone dropped like obedient puppies.

If we were the animals, and this was Mac DeMarco’s three-ring circus, it was every bit as fun to be part of the bizarre spectacle, the first stop in the band’s U.S. tour. This is a show for people who aren’t too strict about taking themselves seriously. And with an audience full of “cretins,” Mac DeMarco put on a beautiful display, an escape from the dull monotony of Cleveland’s endless winter, and a window to talent that’s not so self-serious.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Arcade Fire - Live at Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland - March 16th

Ten years after Arcade Fire put out their first album, Funeral, the Montreal-based band is touring arenas, shooting millions of pieces of confetti into crowds of riotous fans, and commanding the stage like the biggest rock stars of our generation. Bruno Mars may be performing in the Super Bowl halftime show, and Beyonce may command the charts, but Arcade Fire may be the one true group of musicians writing powerful, throttling songs drenched in emotion. Songs that mean something more. Songs that make you want to throw your body into a giant pit of sweaty people to move, dance and thrash until time escapes you.

The dozen-member band took the stage to a song from Funeral, but abruptly stopped before launching into the jagged “Normal Person,” setting the tone for a show full of songs from last year’s Reflektor. “Flashbulb Eyes,” up next, was dark and sinister, establishing the nighttime vibe of the show.

Frontman Win Butler flirted with the crowd, walking onto a platform in the middle of the floor, filled with fans reaching up to him. His charisma is incredible, a force that can’t be described. His passion is evident, but it’s also notable that his voice is even more beautiful in person than in recordings.

Before launching into “The Suburbs,” he sarcastically remarked to the crowed that “this is a song about growing up a little far from the cool part of town.” But his sense of humor quickly dissolved when the song began, and each note hit deeper than the last. By the end of the song, a hush came over the band. Butler crooned quietly, playing the piano, and taking our breath away.

Through songs old and new, the pulse of energy the band emitted never waned for a second. Vocalist Regine Chassagne flitted across the stage flawlessly, switching from accordion to keyboard and even fitting in a ribbon dancing solo. Her facial expressions varied from haunting to ecstatic, and when she appeared on the video screens on each side of the stage, she seemed to immediately set a mood.

But even more impressive was what happened during “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).” Someone in the audience collapsed about 30 seconds into the song, and as soon as the band members noticed, they immediately stopped playing. Faces covered in concern, they waited for medical crews to carry the person to safety. After asking the crowd if everyone was OK, they re-started the song from the beginning.

Dancing was a huge part of the show. Arcade Fire chose two DJs as openers: Kid Koala and Dan Deacon. Kid Koala got things warmed up, but when Dan Deacon arrived, the dance party really started. He had everyone on the floor make a huge dance circle, and designated two costumed concertgoers as the first to get funky to his music while the entire arena watched. His antics continued with a never-ending human bridge, a waterfall of high fives and two dance lines that followed group leaders. It set the mood for audience participation early, before Arcade Fire even took the stage.

While they didn’t continue the dance games that Deacon started, a curious thing happened during “We Exist.” A few dozen people near the stage began doing a choreographed dance. At the time I was puzzled, but I later found this gem, which suggests that Arcade Fire has a choreographer that teaches the first people in the venue the dance.

While the band didn’t need to rely on stunts to keep the audience’s attention, they did throw in a few surprises. A human disco ball (a person covered in tiny mirrors) slowly turned around and around on the second stage (where both opening acts performed) during “Afterlife,” a physical representation of the new album.

Right after that, Chassagne appeared on that second stage for “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus),” singing Butler’s echo across the venue from him, literally reflecting the song from one end of the arena to the other. It’s a truly original set up, and it made for a fascinating visual for a song that’s full of beautiful, haunting echoes.

The encore began with a second stage performance of the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” but the “fake” Arcade Fire, a band of people wearing masks that look like oversized versions of the band members’ heads. The “real” Arcade Fire took over on the main stage, playing the glorious seven-minute-long “Reflektor,” followed by a cover of Devo’s “Uncontrollable Urge.” Streamers and confetti littered the Q during “Here Comes the Night Time,” a beautiful sight no matter where you were sitting or standing.

Arcade Fire closed the encore with “Wake Up,” a song so rapturous, so full of energy that it’s hard to imagine that it came out of their first body of work a decade ago. Incredibly, as far as this band has come in that time, one of their first songs is a pure, exhilarating five minutes of rock mastery. So how did they go up from there? It’s a mystery I can’t solve, and one I don’t think I’ll ever understand. But with music, it’s not about understanding. It’s about feeling. And in this case, a little bit of dancing, too.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Tokyo Police Club - Forcefield


Take a time machine back ten years. Tokyo Police Club’s Forcefield would have fit right in. Pop music fiends would stick the lead single, “Hot Tonight,” on their mix CDs, right between the Plain White T’s’ “Hey There Delilah” and The Strokes’ “12:51.” It’s like we’ve traveled to 2004, we’re still using mp3 CD players and some of the cool kids even have iPods.

So, at first listen, this album sounds pretty unoriginal. You’ll want to cast it off as an average set of songs with a few clever lyrics and a handful of horrible ones (“Drinking in the park/staring at the stars like a satellite dish/I had a good time/and I’m ready to die” is particularly cringeworthy.)

But then, something miraculous happens. A spell comes over the brain, and all of the sudden, these songs are the catchiest, most joyful few minutes of jagged guitar-driven pop mastery you’ve heard all year. A couple more listens in, you’ve memorized all the lyrics and your brain is trained to sing along, loudly.

There’s variety, too. “Tunnel Vision” begins with dark, gurgling riffs that sound like something crooked Trent Reznor might have maneuvered. But as soon as David Monks’ vocals kick in, it turns into a spree of melodic goodness that just happens to weave in a slightly eerie undertone. “Argentina, Parts I, II, III” is nearly nine minutes of fun, the closest this Ontario foursome has ever come to a magnum opus.

The band closes Forcefield with “Feel the Effect,” a mellow, beautiful piece of simplicity. Regret and reflection ripple throughout, a reminder that as straightforward and easy as these songs seem, they’re full of heart. They’re also timeless, irresistible, and a testament to simplicity.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Lyla Foy - Mirrors the Sky

When I first listened to Mirrors the Sky, I worried this would be another sleeper album that would just bore more to death. "Honeymoon" begins the album with hushed tones, a fairly pretty melody, and a slow chug. But Lyla Foy, who used to go by WALL, ditched the morose tones quickly. The next song, actually, has a sorta funky electronic beat to it, and the best is yet to come toward the middle of the album. "Easy" reminds me of a less dramatic Lana Del Rey, with a high-pitched, lilting chorus. "Only Human" is another charming, subtle song that hits you gently and reminds you that not every pop song needs to be overcompressed and shouted right in your face. This album is sweet. I'd put it on at a dinner party if I knew how to cook real meals and host nice people. But I might try now that I have the right music for it, anyway.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Mixtape - Valentine's Day

I made this mixtape for Valentine's Day, and while not necessarily CD-length, it's a mix of old and new songs that seemed fitting this year. Some of them are not lovey songs, but they have the right mood, so ignore the lyrics. And enjoy. Do something fun. Like me. I'm making a cake right now while listening. At 7:45 AM. Because I'm an adult and I can do whatever I want.

Download it here.

Here is the suggested order of songs because Dropbox will mix them up.