Creature with the Atom Brain - Transylvania Review

As the old adage goes, appearances can be deceiving. The cover of Creature with the Atom Brain’s sophomore LP seems to aim for spooky ambiance—a pale full moon overlaid by skeletal, clawing tree limbs writhing into the air. On the back, the unmistakable logo of The End Records (label of acts like Danzig, Made out of Babies, Kosmos and Lordi) is stamped into the corner. And the disc is titled Transylvania. Based on those three pieces of evidence, anything besides a goth metal record would be bigger flagrant false advertising than when The Simpsons’ Otto wandered into Stoner’s Pot Palace only to discover that the establishment specialized in selling kitchen pots. But while there is no doubt flecks of goth in this music, and the grim dirges of heavy metal play a significant role as well, Otto would find bleary bliss with the stoner rock haze seeping throughout. So while there is a film of blood collecting on this murk, anyone listening to it will be far too blazed to be terrified. Well, unless they’re the “paranoid” kind.

Jun
08
2010
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We Are Scientists - Barbara Review

It’s hard to get a straight answer out of We Are Scientists. Known as much for their abstract humor away from their music than their ‘80s tinged post-punk indie rock, the band is always finding ways to spread both of their gifts to the world. We may never actually know where the origin of the band’s name comes from, but look around the internet and you’ll see a multitude of explanations. The reason for this, more than likely, is that each time guitarist/vocalist Keith Murray or bassist/backup vocalist Chris Cain are asked that very question during an interview, a different off the wall answer is given. That’s just the personality of Cain and Murray, the driving force behind WAS. The duo’s witty, laugh out loud humor was apparent in early interviews, was highlighted in classic music videos and came to a crescendo when they were given their own television show on MTV last year called Steve Wants His Money. When it comes to the band’s music though, We Are Scientists plays a little bit closer to the chest. Rather than making their music as humorous as the videos for their songs seem to be, the band’s lyrics recall heartbreak and drunken nights out on the town set to groovy, hook-filled pop music. The band’s newest album, Barbara, is no different. It’s just what a We Are Scientists album should be – danceable (or, as the band puts it, “vaguely danceable”), generally relatable and infectious as hell.

Jun
08
2010
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Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record Review

When Broken Social Scene first climbs onto stage, you think, “There’s no way this is going to work.” Best is when you spot them on a late night talk show, some dozen or so musicians huddled in the cramped little stage area trying to play their latest crisp but crashing indie rock tune. Short of gospel choirs or big band orchestras, pop music should never be this cluttered with mammals. Then Broken Social Scene starts playing and all niggling complaints and restrictions float away (or get a vicious backhand if the song explodes out of the gate). Then you wonder why they can’t throw in another drumkit for more clatter or an extra flutist or saxophonist for a more divine melody. Give me another arresting guitar line or two. Have someone else sing off-brand harmony. This group needs more trumpets, more trumpets! Hell, I’d forgive three or four folks just shimmying carefree, on the sidelines or right through the musician maze. Well, now I’m just getting all worked up. This outfit kinda does that to me.

Jun
03
2010
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Stone Temple Pilots - Stone Temple Pilots Review

If I were to look at the first fifty records I owned, I’d be a little embarrassed by the selection. Not so much because I owned an inordinately large amount of junk (the majority still holds up well today), but rather because the lineup was so repetitive, even predictable in its sameness. Mostly grunge (and dour alternative rock lumped into the grunge label) from the early-to-mid nineties, loud and angry and grim—made all the more alarming because I was not at all like the stereotypical lost, apathetic youth that were noted to gobble up this stuff.

But while I recognize now that the Offspring had no place in the same conversation with Nirvana, I don’t feel an enormous amount of shame in saying that I still kinda like Smash. My fondness for the likes of Throwing Copper and Blood Sugar Sex Magik have also faded yet they remain reliable or better in my estimation. But Candlebox? Corrosion of Conformity? Hints, Allegations, and Things Left Unsaid? Yeesh. One group, however, that I still insist is criminally undervalued and wrongfully scorned by us “elitist snob music critics” is Stone Temple Pilots. Turns out I was mostly wrong and they mostly accurate about Core (a decent record, but one ill-representative of who they are, and one I’m sick to death of—I could go the rest of my life never hearing “Dead and Bloated” and “Creep” ever again and be content). But the four albums afterward, from the near-masterpiece Purple to the vastly underrated, overlooked (and lamely-named) Shangri-La Dee Da, all hold up almost miraculously well some ten to fifteen years later.

May
31
2010
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The New Pornographers - Together Review

Is it possible to be satisfied and disappointed at the same time? Maybe not simultaneously, but I wouldn’t hesitate to describe Together as a satisfying record and an unfortunate disappointment. The latter basis is tied to preconceptions—I’ve anticipated greatness from the New Pornographers ever since their debut Mass Romantic delivered as much. The former is linked to responses both visceral and resounding to what occurs while it unfolds. Is it momentous in its immediacy as the group’s finest hours have been? Absolutely not; critical, then, to my deflated feeling of disappointment. But it envelops the listener loosely, warmly, invoking quiet reactions you might not even notice after multiple spins, and while reexamination might not be an easy impulse, for its quiet and comfortable spell, it is satisfying.

May
26
2010
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Dr. Dog - Shame, Shame Review

Over the past couple of years, Dr. Dog has fast become one of my very favorite acts in today's scene. Their mixture of jovial '60s style pop music and powerful '70s soul combined with a touch of americana is about as appealing to me as a description of sounds can be. Helmed by the voices of two distinct vocalists, guitarist Scott McMicken with his higher hitched tenor delivery and bassist Toby Leaman with his soulful, demanding tone, Dr. Dog utilizes the effect of two radically different singers sharing lead on their albums to near perfection. On the band's first full length album with ANTI- Records, Dr. Dog strays away from the glossy production of their last few albums and instead attempts a more straight forward approach.

May
13
2010
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The Avett Brothers - I and Love and You Review

It's never been easy to properly describe the sound of the Avett Brothers. Americana, folk, bluegrass, rock - no matter what genre you choose to group the band in, there's no arguing that their sound is both pleasant and distinct. With the band's major label debut, I and Love and You, this once obscure North Carolina trio has reached fantastic levels of success. Produced by Rick Rubin and released on his American Recordings imprint, I and Love and You is no doubt the most polished and radio ready Avett Bros record to date. Sadly, that also means that some of the earthy charm of past Avett albums is lost along the way. That doesn’t mean that the group’s major label debut is anything close to regression though. Rather, I and Love and You is an album teeming with life and maturity.

May
01
2010
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MGMT - Congratulations Review

I feel like I’ve been here before. Quite recently, in fact. Last week, I ventured the not-so-original-or-provocative theory that the electronic dance outfit Hot Chip should stick to singles that clatter in the brain for days and leave album opuses to other groups, preferably those working outside their hit-friendly genre niche. This week, I parrot the same suggestion to the Brooklyn synth-pop outfit MGMT as I let Congratulations wind to a close once again. Hot Chip had the disadvantage of sticking to bubbly synths and chattering drum machines, wandering mostly in delicate, dilute Pet Shop Boys territory, while the sophomore major label LP from MGMT primarily ventures into acid pop and psych rock territory, areas which can elude criticisms by eliciting both full-steam full-lengths and instantly memorable singles to digest again and again. Unfortunately, MGMT, ahem, manages to botch both potentials, winding up with a mostly listless album of marginal appeal with hardly any songs asking to be placed on repeat.

Apr
23
2010
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Hot Chip - One Life Stand Review

Hot Chip is a singles band. What once would have been a gracious compliment in the 50s and 60s when LPs were being assembled recklessly while crisply produced 45s were pored over with zealous appreciation has now become a slighting blow suggesting that only the mp3 age has saved the target from the doom of obscurity. It’s not that singles bands can’t make good albums (Buzzcocks spring to mind), and in fact, Hot Chip has delivered three before now ranging from serviceable to very good. But Hot Chip’s strengths lie in electronic dance music, a genre known for its hits, not its long players. On their finest albums, they threw whatever they could at the listener—the losers hampered nothing sandwiched between dancefloor jams, disco rockers, synth bubblers and buoyant pop ditties. Narrative artifice or mood evocation wasn’t really beyond them, they just didn’t care (and neither did we).

Apr
15
2010
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Gorillaz - Plastic Beach Review

Damon Albarn is one of the more unusual pop stars of our times. It’s actually easy to forget that he’s a pop star at all despite being in the genre’s vanguard for the last twenty years and being a part of groups that sell tons of records (the last two Gorillaz LPs alone have seen some 15 million copies fly off the shelves). Making more headlines as BritPop provocateur than media-baiting hellion didn’t help (despite his Blur-era satirical fame-whore persona better known in the UK); neither did the fact that he spent most of the last decade under the guise of cartoon monkey men. Dictating talent over temper, as well as standing alone (and looking ahead) instead of copying/watering down, even makes him seem elusive as a trendsetter. But more than any of that, there’s the fact that modern pop has become to the masses synonymous with torpid R&B, wilted rock, and bubblegum while Albarn remains in that select group with the M.I.A.s and Thom Yorkes of the world that not only continue anticipating instead of regurgitating but see intricate subtlety as opportunity for something drastic.

Apr
13
2010
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