Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang (both Kent Rocks & JJ Ramone thoughts)

Here is what Kent Rocks had to say:

After two records of figuring themselves out I think the Jersey boys of The Gaslight Anthem have really come into their own. Where the first two records are very aimed at educating on their influences (primarily Springsteen), this is the first Gaslight Anthem record in many ways.

The Gaslight Anthem deserve commercial stardom and I am amazed this band hasn’t reached that level. They should be everyone’s new favorite band. This record is a healthy blend of old school tradition done in their own way mixed with pop sensibilities of the 21st century. Brian Fallon and band seem to be done being the flag runners for the bands that have inspired them and have come to the conclusion that many bands have, which is “Fuck it! We are gonna do this our way.”

The musicianship of this record is a lot tighter than the first. There is something going on ALL the time. Killer riffs and more intricate guitar parts than that last record are peppered throughout the record that work perfectly. Open chords and campfire songs seem to be leaving the band. Sure there are Against Me comparisons, however, I will say this: The Gaslight Anthem writes way better songs than Against Me! This record is more rock and less sing-along which is the Gaslight Anthem’s strong suit. I am sure I will get crucified for this but “Sink or Swim was in my eyes a better, raw, “knock your dick in the dirt” kind of record, where as “The ‘59 Sound” was all like “come sing with us”. Now that being said I feel their two best songs are on “The ‘59 Sound” but “Sink or Swim” was a better record. This is because it was their first record. Most bands do this. Throw it all against the wall and see what sticks. The thing about “American Slang” is that they took all the best attributes of the first two records and expanded and made it more beautiful.

These four young cats approached this record aggressively and made a gorgeous record. The Gaslight Anthem seem focused on great records. They are paying dues and doing it the meat and potatoes way. I am scared to think how phenomenal the fourth record could be. Brian Fallon can write a fricken song. Can Justin Beiber?

Highlights? For me it’s definitely the most pop friendly song on the record “Stay Lucky” and “Boxer” which the cadence of Brian’s voice mixed with the fact that it’s a superbly well written song really hit home runs with me. All around stunning record. HMV is selling it at a price of $9.99 so be sure to pick it up.

Cheers Rockers!!

... and now for JJ Ramone's thoughts

After showing potential on their debut, The Gaslight Anthem struck gold with 2008's The '59 Sound. Hailing from New Jersey, Brian Fallon and company wore their influences (namely Jersey's golden boy Bruce Springsteen) proudly on their sleeve. Not shying away from his idol, Fallon even referenced several Springsteen lyrics on their last album ("Bobby Jean," "No Surrender" etc). However, if you are going to emulate your heroes you can do far worse than Mr. Springsteen!

With American Slang, the Springsteen influence is still readily apparent. Fallon still writes arena friendly songs with lyrics that hearken back to nostalgic 1950's cinema and Jack Kerouac... classic cars, girls and rebels without causes. The danger with writing songs with these grand, sweeping themes is that the lyrics can often wind up sounding trite, cliched and hokey (see Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams and most mainstream country music.) When done well, the results can be exhilarating (see Tom Petty, The Killers circa Sam's Town and The Arcade Fire.) Luckily, Fallon hits the mark most of the time.

This time around, the band also brings another influence to the forefront, The Clash. This is particularly evident in the reggae tinged "The Queen of Lower Chelsea." As well, Fallon specifically references The Clash's "Tommy Gun" later in the album. (In a related note, Fallon appears in Springsteen's new concert DVD... entitled London Calling, where Springsteen indeed covers The Clash.)

The Gaslight Anthem are definitely not the most original band out there, but they do what they do extremely well. American Slang is an energetic album of punked up Springsteen anthems with a couple slower tunes thrown in to showcase Fallon's soulful rasp. Album closer (without counting the iTunes bonus track "She Loves You") "We Did It When We Were Young" is the perfect way to end the album. The song gradually gains momentum with stripped down, echoing guitars and Fallon's double-tracked vocals that sound like they were sung underwater.

If you didn't like The '59 Sound, this album probably won't convert you. However, if you did like their last album, this definitely won't disappoint. It's definitely worth $10. Highlights include "American Slang," "Boxer," "Stay Lucky" and "Bring It On."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The New Pornographers - Together

For their fifth album, indie supergroup The New Pornographers find a happy medium between the pure power pop of their first three albums and the lush, restrained sounds of their last album Challengers. Carl (A.C.) Newman and his troupe of indie rock darlings have yet again put together a stellar batch of well executed pop tunes that will linger in your head long after the album is over.

Once again, the incomparable Neko Case is their self-described "secret weapon." Her powerful, sultry vocals are perfect for Newman-penned tunes like the insanely catchy "Crash Years" and the crunching "Your Hands (Together)." "Crash Years" also features a wacky hook consisting of whistles... human whistles. I was really impressed when they actually pulled this feat off live on David Letterman a few weeks ago.

One of the many highlights of this album is "Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk," which features Kathyrn Calder (of Immaculate Machine) on lead vocals for the first time on record. Initially, Calder was brought into the band to fill in for Neko Case while on tour but is now a full-time member. Her voice is a little more thin than Case's, and not as distinct (but whose voice is?), but it is pleasant nonetheless. She definitely holds her own on this tune, which sounds like it could be an outtake from The Beatles' Revolver or Rubber Soul.

As always, Dan Bejar (of Destroyer) contributes some songs. I haven't been the biggest fan of his songs on earlier New Pornographers albums but he really steps up to the plate for this go around. In particular, "Silver Jenny Dollar" really fits in with the feel of the rest of the album. Normally, his tunes sound like quirky diversions from Newman's pop masterpieces.

The New Pornographers can really do no wrong. They are one of the most consistent bands out there right now. You can check out their video for "Crash Years" (whistles included) below.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Butch Walker - I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart

Butch Walker is a pop genius that has once again truly outdone himself with "I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart". The follow-up to 2008’s heartache born nostalgic autobiographical "Sycamore Meadows" is loaded with crafty pop hooks and his smashing songwriting ability is as always very apparent.

The record starts strong with “Trash Day” which is much like the stylings of legend Tom Petty and ends just as well with his classic smile and wink wit in “Days/Month/Years”. That being said the going gets great at about the middle of the record.

It’s hard to believe that this artist that is doing very much something similar to the California country thing of the 70’s that was made famous by the Eagles and Jackson Browne was once in a hair band from Georgia “South Gang”. “I was in one, so it's a little too close to home." Walker explains in “She Likes Hair Bands”. This track is a witty gem about a smutty girl. It has probably my favourite lyrics from the record such as the following:

“She likes Mary Jane

But she says she doesn't like the smell

And She's got a baby

And by the way she walks I can't tell

She's got a birthmark

On the inside of her thigh

Ask me how I know (Ha)

About the inside of her thigh

She knows the Japanese alphabet

But She don't know me-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e


Going the piano-ballad route is that classic Walker Ballad in “Canadian Ten” that doesn’t disappoint. Also a nice bonus if the record was purchased in store is a download card comes included for a superb cover or Taylor Swift‘s “You Belong With Me”. You can't help but smile at the thought of this.

This record has everything that makes a record great. Great la-la-la-la-la’s, great hand claps and great influences such as the glorious pop track that reeks of Phil Spector “Pretty Melody”. It’s the song that’s going to make me a Beatles fan…

In a time where contemporary music is loaded with bands making folk/indie records that fall short, Butch is making great records from start to finish. Most artists can’t make a record this fresh, modern and relevant and still make every song count...but then again most artists aren't Butch Walker.

"I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart" is power pop soaked and folk/indie infused. I don’t think this is going to be the record that defines his career or catapults him to stardom but it’s going to keep his extremely loyal fan base extremely happy… at least till the next record.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The National - High Violet

I had huge expectations for The National's latest album since their last full-length, Boxer, remains one of my favourite albums of the last few years. As well, I was fortunate enough to see them live when they opened up for R.E.M. and Modest Mouse a couple years ago. When I picked up this album almost a month ago I was initially disappointed. However, over the last couple weeks it has REALLY grown on me. I think part of the reason is that The National released the album when the weather here in Regina was prematurely Summer-like. Since this band's music combines elements of Nick Cave, The Velvet Underground, Joy Division and Leonard Cohen, it's not ideally suited for bright sunny days. Jimmy Buffett this ain't.

So maybe it's the turn in weather that has made me appreciate this album that much more. Since it's been raining almost non-stop I've had a chance to really absorb this album. High Violet demands your attention. With each successive listen, this album's charms trickle out until it finally becomes mesmerizing and stunning. It's pretty much a flawless album. Each of the 11 songs (plus iTunes bonus track "Walk Off") blends seamlessly into the next, creating a moody atmosphere which is perfect for late nights or early mornings. Singer Matt Berninger, with his rich, deep baritone, and his band create the perfect soundtrack for people in their late 20's and early 30's. Their songs aren't sad or gloomy... they're just realistic. For instance, every adult can relate to lines like "I still owe money to the money I owe." This is guaranteed to be on my shortlist for album for the year.

You can check out the video for their excellent first single "Bloodbuzz Ohio" below.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Stone Temple Pilots - Stone Temple Piiots

Stone Temple Pilots are a band that has taken me a long time to respect. They have always had great, catchy songs which were, and still are, great for rock radio. However, like a lot of detractors back in the day, I thought they were pretty derivative. I still remember David Spade on Saturday Night Live talking about STP: "I liked them better the first time... when they were called Pearl Jam." That pretty much summed up my opinion of the band for their first couple of albums. Even though I thought their songs were decent, I never really gave them a chance. For me, they would always be a "plush" version of Pearl Jam.

Gradually, I started to actually gain some respect for the band. I think what did it for me was the "Big Bang Baby" video, which was more influenced by 70's glam than Eddie Vedder. From this point on they actually released music that sounded a bit different from their alt-rock contemporaries. As well, I really started to notice Scott Weiland coming into his own as a frontman. He's not the best singer or lyricist, but he has become one of the most charismatic frontmen of the last couple decades. As well, Dean DeLeo is just a monster on guitar. Sometimes if a band slugs it out long enough, you have no choice but to respect them on some level. (However, this theory definitely has not worked for Nickelback.)

Now, after breaking up, Weiland's stint in Velvet Revolver, and a successful reunion tour (including a stop here in Regina), STP are back with a solid self-titled album. This album won't set the world on fire, but it's a fine comeback nonetheless. First track and single "Between The Lines" is a catchy, energetic tune that sets the tone perfectly. And judging by their appearances on David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel, this song rips live. This won't be a contender for album of the year, but it'll sound pretty great cranked up on a nice summer day. It's definitely worth checking out.

You can see their video for "Between The Lines" below.