The Mess Hall

The Mess Hall
Notes From a Ceiling
Shock Music Oz, 2006

Back in 2004, I spent a little time in Australia and New Zealand. I learned a lot about the people of both countries, both good and bad. For example, I discovered that absolutely no one in Australia drinks Foster's beer. It's nowhere to be found. Australians are also quick to tell you that New Zealand really isn't that great. That's bulls**t. New Zealand is beautiful and the people are wonderful. Oh, and yes, Koala bears are as adorable in person as they are in Asian cartoons. They also smell like mulch and are notorious for maiming human adults. Yes. Maiming human adults. Google it.
Another thing I learned, and this is actually relevant, is that Aussies seem to have an obsession with American Blues music. Sort of like the Japanese and cowboys, it's a strange thing. They absolutely eat up any "bluesy" music or music that's "blues-inspired". It's obviously very romanticized there, and can I judge them for picking certain things from our culture to latch onto? Absolutely not. How many millions of dollars did Crocodile Dundee make here in The States? And I myself have had the displeasure of dining at Outback Steakhouse.
The Mess Hall are a "blues-inspired" rock band from Sydney. When I say "blues-inspired", I mean they're about as bluesy (is that even a word?) as The Black Keys or The Dead Weather. It's in description only. And I would rather listen to this band than either of those two any day. They really defy any simple categorization. The best I can do is Rock. Sorry.
They consist of guitarist Jed Kurzel and drummer Cec Condon, and they make a lot of noise for just two blokes. It's just good time music, bro! This is a band that plays hard, tours hard, and.. plays hard. They released an album in 2009 that's supposedly available on iTunes, but I can't vouch for it because I refuse to buy music from iTunes. This album, however, gets my personal American stamp of approval.
This is a great album from a group that deserves more attention here in the good ole U.S. of A. Seriously, if Jet was able to make it..



Ritual Of The...

Molemen, 2001

Hip Hop in 2001. Back then, I remember thinking that hip hop had really fallen off. Many of the luminaries like Big L, Pac and Biggie were gone and it seemed like maybe true hip hop really was dead. Wow. You really don't know what you got till it's gone. You would think, by observing the obvious cycle here, that ten years from now I'll be waxing poetic about how great things were in 2010. But I can assure you that if I ever look back with fondness on Drake or the autotune, I will happily find someone to knee me in the groin repeatedly.
Because of this CD, when I think of Chicago hip hop, I don't think of Kanye or Lupe or even Common. I think of dark streets and shadowy clubs where midwest hip hop thrived back in the 90's and early 2000's. If Kanye is the glittering lights of the Chicago skyline, then Molemen are the grimy gutters of the South Side where the air is thick with anticipation because s**t can go down at any minute. It's truly sinister and some of the tracks here are more anxiety-inducing than a cocaine-fueled Tyra Banks.

Molemen are producers Panik, Memo and PNS and when Ritual was released, they dominated the Chicago hip hop scene. They are still influential, but to me, this was their apex.
This is a classic "underground" hip hop album because it features many MC's who were either about to blow up or who had just found modest success. Among them were Slug, Aesop Rock, Percee P, MF Doom, Rhymefest and Vakill. The production is dark and atmospheric and it perfectly matches the battle-inspired lyrics on every track.
When it comes to the MC's, it's nothing but ego. The punch lines here hit like Mayweather and everyone is in top form. Just a few of the highlights are the tracks from Matlock, Juice, Vakill, Prime and Qwel. Some of Chi-Town's finest are here and, in my humble opinion, it's the hometown MC's that really shine.
This is the sound of producers and MC's at the top of their game, and it's a textbook example of what hip hop should sound like.


The Weakerthans

The Weakerthans
Live at the Burton Cummings Theatre

Epitaph, 2010

This album reaffirms two things that I already knew about The Weakerthans. But it also surprised me too:

1. They are one of the best bands around right now.

2. John K. Samson is the best lyricist alive.

3. They're an inhumanly good live band.

This is probably the best live recording I've ever heard, which is good. There are few things that I hate more than bad live recordings (like drinking straws, for instance). These guys have their set down. This show was recorded in April of 2009 in their hometown of Winnipeg, which is always extra incentive not to f**k up. But besides that, they are just incredibly tight. There are a few songs that I wish had been included, but overall they play everything a fan would want to hear. If you're not familiar with the band, this would actually be a great introduction. If you buy the CD, it also comes with a DVD of the show which is a pleasant bonus (except that it costs more. So, maybe not so much of a bonus then).

The one thing that has always bothered me a little is that Samson's singing voice is identical to the voice that every single black comedian makes when impersonating white people. You know what I'm talking about. But hey, he's Canadian and I'm never satisfied. We both have our faults.

This is an amazing band. I mean, any band that name-drops Michel Foucault in a song title is ace as far as I'm concerned. Live at the Barton Cummings Theatre is an incredible live album and I'll be listening to it for a long time to come. Highly recommended.

Statik Selektah

Statik Selektah
100 Proof: The Hangover
Showoff, 2010

Patrick Baril, aka Statik Selektah, is a talented DJ and Producer. He's well respected in the hip hop game and pretty much all of the tracks here are quality. Making things even better are the names all over this thing including Havoc, Kool G Rap, Saigon, Royce Da 5'9, Skyzoo, Termanology, Styles P and many more.
Having said that, it's probably not a record I'll listen to a lot. The tracks are definitely well produced, but the beats are pretty standard. What makes this album good are the MC's and if that's the case, I'm just going to go buy a Skyzoo record instead. But on the other hand, that's the great thing about albums from producers. You get a variety.
Don't get me wrong, this is a solid record. It's just nothing new.



Until We Surrender

Epitaph, 2010

Yes, I still listen to pop punk every once in a while. It's one of my few vices these days. After a long day at work, I may partake in a little Screeching Weasel. Who are you to judge me?

But this is not a good album even by pop punk standards, and those standards are about as low as BP's stock prices right now. The guy and girl that share guitar and vocal duties in this band were apparently in a "melodic death metal band" before they realized their true calling of playing in Heartsounds. Hmmm.

The first three songs on this record might make it as filler on my "Music to Clean the Garage To" mix CD just because they have a decent melody. And if this kind of music doesn't have melody, then its got nothing. You certainly can't turn to the lyrical content. It's the standard fare for this genre. Half of the songs on here are about these guys/girls getting dumped. The other half are about trying to patch things up with the person that dumped him/her, and failing. Maybe if you weren't in a band called Heartsounds, failed relationships wouldn't be such a prominent part of your life. But I can only speculate. Maybe they smell.


Hot Snakes

Hot Snakes
Audit in Progress
Swami, 2004

Man, this CD never gets old.
Hot Snakes was more or less formed from the remnants of the early 90's guitar juggernaut Drive Like Jehu. That's not an easy act to follow. DLJ was known for their punishing and technical six to ten minute tracks that, no matter how much I love them, pushed the limit of my attention span. When DLJ disbanded, John Reis took their complex and chaotic sound and refined it into a f***ing laser beam of frenetic energy that was compressed into three minute songs.
Audit in Progress is one of those albums that makes you feel out of control. In a good way, of course. Like if you're listening to this in headphones walking down the street, you feel like you're going 40 mph. This is the music of high speed pursuits and runaway locomotives.
Besides being a great band, John Reis and Rick Froberg are just two of the coolest people ever. Period. Every band they've ever been involved with has been phenomenal. John Reis is rock n' roll incarnate (he and Froberg are the self-proclaimed "Downstroke Warlords") and Froberg is a twisted, creative genius whose visual art has always been inseparable from his musical projects.
This is a great album from an immensely talented group of guys. I miss this band like I miss indoor smoking. A lot.


Nada Surf

Nada Surf
If I Had a Hi-Fi

You're joking. A covers album? From Nada Surf? But they're still putting out decent records. Why would they do this? And the covers they chose.. Spoon, Kate Bush, Arthur Russell, The Go-Betweens, Depeche Mode.. It's too ambitious. This is going to be a trainwreck.
But wait.. As the first track, Bill Fox's "Electrocution", gently floats from my speakers my thin mask of cynicism begins to crack. This is.. fantastic... and each track is equally good... It's like one of those machines you find at tourist traps, that you feed a penny into and it stamps a shiny new picture on it. Like a picture of the Grand Canyon or something... Each song that is fed into this Nada Surf machine emerges through their pop filter as an irresistable bubblegum gem .. I even like the Moody Blues cover...Oh my God.. Their take on Soft Pack's "Bright Side" is a distorted slice of guitar heaven worthy of, dare I say, Superchunk?
It's just too much.. This record is so catchy it's contagious. More contagious than a cold sore... And it's not like the songs are better than they were before.. they're just... Nada Surf. They make good songs, uh.. gooder...


The Horrors

The Horrors
Primary Colours
XL, 2009

I slept on these guys at first. I remember hearing a song or two from their 2007 album Strange House and not being very impressed. Then I gave them another chance last year when Primary Colours was released. They sounded like a completely different band. I had to admit, this s**t is brilliant.
They're a punk band that's not afraid to utilize all technology at their disposal. The freakish sounds that Tom Cowan and Joshua Hayward get out of their synths and guitar are at the same time terrifying and beautiful. They worked with three separate producers on this album, including Geoff Barrow of Portishead and Chris Cunningham (yes, THAT Chris Cunningham). That should give you a basic idea of the sort of wonderfully menacing tunes that await you. This album sounds like it was recorded in some godforsaken and long forgotten portion of the London Tube or something. Creepy.
This was my favorite album from last year and I still listen to it constantly. Primary Colours is an ablum that will totally intimidate you and have you tapping your foot at the same time. Excellent.

Sleigh Bells

Sleigh Bells

I want nothing more than to tell you how bad this album is. I want to tell you that this is a perfect example of what is wrong with new music, and how it's blown up by people who are more concerned with image than substance. I want to do that.
And I can. This is not good. Sleigh Bells are probably one of the most over-hyped indie acts around at the moment. Basically, what they do is take programmed beats and crank them to an ungodly volume, add bowel-emptying bass and 80's metal riffs, and lay female sing-song vocals over it. It's a novelty. Kind of like the first time I heard Apathy rap over "Seven Nation Army", it's slightly clever at first. But it wears off faster than waterproof suntan lotion. The problem is that this is just a gimmick, and once you get past that gimmick, there's not much left to appreciate. Or like.
Don't waste your time. This band, and this music, has the longevity of a John Calipari basketball recruit. One and done.

E says: The audio equivalent of Silly Bandz.

L says: A couple of the songs are catchy. I can't listen to the whole album.


Shuggie Otis

Shuggie Otis
Inspiration Information
Luaka Bop, 2001
Original Release, 1974

I first heard this album when I was living in Los Angeles. I was driving around Santa Monica with a buddy of mine when he put this album on. It was one of those times when the music you're listening to and your surroundings kind of meld into one. The world suddenly became a sunny, groovy place, man. Then we ended up in East LA which quickly backhanded me out of my music-induced stupor.
This is a perfect summertime album and it's a soul/funk masterpiece of the highest order. Otis truly is a musician's musician and the sound he was experimenting with in 1974 wouldn't sound out of place on a hip hop record from today.This album didn't make much noise back in '74, but Otis is still highly regarded by artists of all genres. You may recognize "Strawberry Letter 23" from this album, as it was covered by the Brothers Johnson who made it a hit. I'll take Shuggie's version any day though.
David Byrne, in his infinite wisdom, re-released Inspiration Information on his Luaka Bop label in 2001, which is just another indication that Byrne is quite possibly God. If you get this version (which is widely available), you will also be blessed with the four bonus tracks that Byrne included from Shuggie's previous album, Freedom Flight.
This really is a classic album from a man who was way ahead of his time and if you pick it up you will not be disappointed. Believe that.

Cass McCombs

Cass McCombs
Not the Way
Monitor, 2002

I like a lot of different types of music. Some of the music that I like, I don't really take that seriously. By that I mean that I respect the music, I enjoy the way it sounds and makes me feel, but that's about it. I don't expect a lot of depth or even intelligence. Hey, I don't discriminate. These bands are playing and having fun and there's nothing wrong with that whatsoever. Everyone wins.
But once in a great while, Venus aligns with Jupiter, which aligns with my CD player, which aligns with my ears, and I am introduced to an artist like Cass McCombs who brings music that's just.. mature.
When I first heard his 2002 debut EP Not the Way, it sounded very familiar and at the same time totally foreign. I've heard tons of music like this but never music like this that's been done so well. It's dark, but not in a doom and gloom, brooding adolescent way or anything. And not dark in a pass-me-the-Lexapro-this-guy-is-a-bummer way either. It's just.. real. McCombs just writes about the world we live in, which, from what I hear, can be pretty dark.
McCombs payed his dues playing open mics in NYC and Baltimore before releasing his debut on Monitor. I mean, this guy showed up just oozing with talent and I think that's why I like this EP so much. It's just a hint of what was to come.
The music is hard to label and I'm not even going to try. Let's just say it's mostly acoustic guitar, bass and drums. Not the Way is very bare bones in terms of production and song arrangement as compared to his later records. Some say his voice, especially on this EP, is an aquired taste. I don't know, I took to it like an Ice Cream Snickers. It's slightly off-key but not in an annoying way or anything. On this record it sounds as if it could just shatter and fall apart at any given second. On later records, like Catacombs, his vocals are far more polished.
Just about everything he has released is stellar, but I would recommend starting here. If he wins you over on this one, you will definitely enjoy his full lengths. I highly recommend A (2003) and Catacombs (2009). If you like it, great. If you don't, well, there's always music that you don't have to think about.


Male Bonding

Male Bonding
Nothing Hurts
Sub Pop, 2010


Those limey bastards.. With an underhanded strategy worthy of the British Empire of old, The Crown has sought to distract us from the recent environmental "unpleasantness" by exporting the best new music this year.
This is undeniably good. When the first song played, I knew I would like it because it's fast. Fast usually equals good in my book. It's got sort of a punk sound, but it's not punk. The vocals sound kind of like Kevin Shields, which is interesting because bassist/singer Kevin Hendrick cites Ride and My Bloody Valentine as some of his favorite bands. But the music sounds alternately like Les Savy Fav, Pink Flag era Wire and sometimes The Horrors (these are just points of reference). Other times it sounds nothing like any of those bands.
What it does sound like is something I will listen to a lot. It's loud, fast, noisy and smart. I would have to say that of all the music I have heard so far this year, Nothing Hurts is by far my favorite. Leave it to the Brits to show us how music should be done, again. Now if they could just clean up The Gulf...

E says: Cheers.

L says: I don't remember.

The Tallest Man on Earth

The Tallest Man on Earth
The Wild Hunt
Dead Oceans, 2010

I'll start by saying that it's really difficult for me to give an objective opinion here. First of all, this guy is Swedish. Being of proud Swedish stock myself, it pains me to speak negatively of a fellow countryman, as I expect nothing but greatness from my beautiful, icy homeland. Another reason is because he's one of those guitar troubadour types. You know what I'm talking about. Those people. The type that turn their nose up and scoff at other instruments and go it alone with their acoustic guitar and ego in tow. Yuck. When I listen to said types, I'm always thinking in the back of my mind, "This would sound so much better with a band." For this reason, I'll never be able to fully appreciate this genre or give a balanced review. It's just the way I am. But worry not about me, I'll press on somehow.
Kristian Matsson, aka The Tallest Man on Earth, is definitely a talented guy. He's obviously a very skilled guitarist and songwriter. But do I want to listen to this? Not really. The first few songs are good and I enjoy them. But an entire album is just too much for me. His voice kind of reminds me of Jeff Mangum doused with John Prine. I don't mind it, but it may grate on some people. Overall, it's not bad. It's just not my thing. But if acoustic folk with quirky lyrics is your thing, be my guest.

E says: One or two songs and that's a wrap.

L says: Not feeling it. Stop taking yourself so seriously.


J Dilla

J Dilla
The Shining
Bbe / Beat Gen, 2006

What can I say about J Dilla that hasn't already been said? He was a genius. He brought soul back to hip hop. He remains an influence on a whole generation of producers and artists, but he never got the respect he deserved. He was left off of the songwriting credits for tracks that he was largely responsible for while others took the credit and the grammy. And sometimes he just had really bad luck.
But there's no denying the otherworldly talent that he possessed. Whether it was his work with Slum Village, Pharcyde, Madlib or his solo work, everything J Dee touched was magic.
The Shining is no different. All of his solo records are on point and I don't think The Shining is any better or worse than Donuts or Welcome to Detroit, for instance. It just happens to be my personal favorite.
I can listen to this record over and over and over. That's how I know an album is truly great, because I have an extremely short attention span. There was one point where this CD did not leave the changer in my car for two weeks. Compare that to Jawbox, one of my other favorite bands, who was the reigning champ at three days. That's serious.
An obvious highlight for me is "So Far to Go", featuring Common and D'Angelo. It's one of the smoothest, utterly irresistible jams I have ever heard. It's one of those songs that just works on all levels. And that's just one track. The instrumental tracks are just as good as the tracks that feature such heavyweights as Pharoahe Monch, Guilty Simpson, Busta Rhymes and Black Thought.
I really can't overstate how highly I think of J Dilla and how much I love this record. It's a hip hop record, yeah. But you don't have to like hip hop to enjoy it. He had the gift to make music that transcended genres and appealed to everyone. And that was his true genius.


Matador, 2010

I like these guys. I liked them right off the bat. That's saying a lot, because there aren't many things (or people) from Texas that I like. But they're originally from Arizona, so they don't count.
They play catchy, poppy songs that may actually leave you with a sugar headache. I would liken them to The Monkees, if The Monkees had been up for two weeks spun out on meth and peyote. If I ever have a nightmare about being in one of those 60's B-movies with homicidal teenagers or pot smoking motorcycle gangs, this will surely be the soundtrack. It's pretty awesome. Just about every track on this album is capable of sticking in your head like Gorilla Glue. The songwriting is that good. I don't know if I could listen to them all the time or anything, but I like 'em. Yup. That about sums it up.

E says: Well done boys.

L says: Cute and fun.
Catch Harlem at the Hopsctoch Festival in Raleigh on 9/8


Jason Anderson

Jason Anderson
Eca Records, 2007

So, every once in a while I'm going to put up an older record. Maybe one that you've carelessly forgotten about or one that just didn't get as much attention as it should have.
If you've never heard of Jason Anderson, let me drop some science on you right quick. This guy does the kinds of things that I wish I had the balls to do. First, he was in Wolf Colonel and put out records on K. Then, he quit his jobs and decided to go on tour. By himself. When I say "tour", I mean riding his bicycle around New England. He books almost all of his shows himself and stays on the road constantly. He has collaborated with Phil Elverum (Microphones and Mount Eerie).
This guy will play anywhere. I s**t you not, he will stand in the middle of a room full of people with just his acoustic guitar and rock your face off.
The great thing about Jason Anderson is that he comes off as being extremely sincere about his music and why he does it. There's no pretense.
Imagine if you and 20 of your friends all crowded into a basement to play music for all the right reasons. That's what Tonight sounds like. This album features more electric guitar than some of his other records. His vocals are unpolished and heartfelt. If you want a good example of what to expect, listen to "July 4, 2004" (the version from this record). The first thing you will notice is that it totally rips off Madonna's "Holiday". But you know what? I don't care. In fact, I think that makes it even more awesome. "Holiday" was an excellent song. The second thing you will notice is that this song is great. He sings with an intensity that I imagine Bruce Springsteen once had at some point. He will make himself hit those high notes; if he doesn't, all is forgiven because of the obvious amount of effort and heart he puts into each song.
There's no posturing here. It's just rock and roll. And I like it.



Eyelid Movies
Barsuk, 2010

As the first track began to play from my iMac while I was getting ready for work, I thought, "Ughh. Indie-Electro." After a few more seconds, I thought, "Ughh. Indie-Electro with female vocals." I swear to god, I physically felt my testosterone level drop.
As my wife walked into the room while the second track played, I suddenly felt embarrassed and slightly ashamed. It was like she had caught me in the middle of some deviant, disgusting act or walked in on me crying or something. I tried to recover as quickly and naturally as possible. "Uh, you need to listen to this too because it's what we're reviewing." She listened for a second and said "sounds boring." I hoped my temporary, unexplained insecurity and drop in self-confidence had not been detected. Women pick up on that like f***ing bloodhounds. I felt like I needed to do a bunch of push-ups or something. It was a horrible feeling and I hope to never experience it again.
Here's the thing. This music is not bad. It's actually kind of pretty. Imagine the Postal Service with infinitely better sequencing, some guitars, more talent and replace Ben Gibbard's awkward
man-boy persona with the hipster girl of your choice. There are some genuine hooks here and some nice programming. The girl's vocals are good, but sound like countless other female vocals. The guy sounds like.. I don't know, a guy? Let's just say that neither one is offensive to the ears or anything.
I admittedly have a very low tolerance for this kind of music. And when I say this kind of music I mean indie-electro-pop stuff. Like MGMT. Especially if it's.. pretty.
I totally have to be in the right kind of mood for music like this, and I don't even know what that mood is. But I guess that every once in a while I need to take a break from music that makes me feel good about myself.

E says: Not bad. But I'll listen to Fever Ray instead.

L says: I wonder where all this shame is hiding while he is openly singing along to Michelle Branch.
(Note: Michelle Branch f***ing rocks!)


Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam
Universal, 2009

I'll preface this by saying that I've always loved Pearl Jam. If you don't like Pearl Jam, there's nothing on this record that will make you change your mind. And if you do like Pearl Jam, well, there's nothing on this record that will make you change your mind.
I've been a Pearl Jam fan ever since I spent my weekly allowance to buy Ten on cassette. I remember being absolutely fascinated and horrified by the "Jeremy" video. For a ten-year-old growing up in the rural suburbs of North Carolina, that was some heavy s**t.

I'll be the first to admit I listen to them to this day largely for sentimental reasons and for a certain sense of nostalgia. They, along with Soundgarden and Melvins, remind me of being a kid and discovering music. Listening to them evokes very pleasant memories of a wonderful time I would never, ever want to live through again. But I also listen to them because I enjoy their music and I think they're one of the most prolific American bands of all time.
I will always remember the 90's as the best decade for music because that's when I grew up. It's like how baby boomers glorify the 60's. I myself would promptly close the garage door and crank up the Chevy if my musical options were either reckless, hedonistic jam bands or self-important, hedonistic jam bands. But it's all relative.
Backspacer gives the impression that these guys are happy with where they're at. It's reflected in the abnormally positive lyrics and the overall tempo of the album. There is no attempt to push the boundaries or explore new sounds. They've done that, sometimes with success and other times with total failure. Now they just want to play rock songs and they're very good at doing so. As with most of their records there are the anthems that will become classics, the acoustic songs, the "yeah, I guess" songs and the throw-aways.

Like I said above, this is not groundbreaking stuff. It's a record for people that liked them to begin with. They aren't reinventing the wheel or anything, and Pearl Jam is perfectly comfortable with that.

E says: I can't not like these guys. It's my pleasure and my burden...

L says: Oh, you have to respect Pearl Jam. I don't wish to get more involved than that.



Breaks in the Sun
Badman Recording Co., 2009

I first came across Weinland back in 2008 when I bought their album Demersville on CD Baby. I became borderline obsessed with it and picked up their second album, La Lamentor, about twenty minutes later. Both of those albums are amazing and I would absolutely recommend them to anyone who enjoys the occasional sleepy, melodic folk song. You know, something to put on the iPod when you're driving through the New Mexico desert at night, as so often happens. "What do they sound like, this Weinland", you ask? How about Okkervil River's Sleep and Wake-Up Songs, but with a healthy dose of Neil Young. They're the perfect example of folk music done well which is something few bands these days can accomplish.
With Breaks in the Sun, Weinland have decided to pick up the pace a bit. There's even a..uhh..dance beat? Besides the sudden Rapture influence, the songs on this album all kind of blend together and I kept waiting for one to really catch my attention. No dice.
I'll be honest, I'm not crazy about this record. However, I think that's because I have such a high regard for this band and I just expect a lot. I know, it's selfish.
Weinland set the bar extremely high with their lyrical, musical and overall songwriting skills and I feel like this record just doesn't hold up to their previous ones.
Of course other people will love this record and I can understand why. They're a really good band. But I would urge them to pick up Demersville and La Lamentor as well. Seriously.

E says: Do yourself a favor and buy/steal their first two CD's before you jump on this.

L says: I like "Young and Smart". (Which is not on this CD)

Amanda Blank

Amanda Blank
I Love You
Downtown, 2009

This is hard for me. When I first heard Amanda Blank on Spank Rock's single "Bump" back in 2006, I had no idea who she was. But I did know that she owned it and that my ears liked it. She was definitely the highlight of that track and pretty much every other track she appeared on. So with her solo debut, I waited with anticipation to discover what kind of lyrical gymnastics and debauchery she would drop next.
What I heard as I listened to the first track of I Love You was the song featured in a recent McDonald's commercial. Ouch. After that, it was something like being subjected to the tracks that Santigold passed on. That's right. Not good enough for Santigold.
That should tell you something. The beats are predictable and dated (thanks Diplo) and there's hardly any actual rapping. Most of it is back-tracking over ground already ravaged by M.I.A. and Peaches six or more years ago. The obvious low point here is a whole song about make-up, with shout outs to eyeliner nonetheless (isn't this a Vanity 6 song?).
For anyone who didn't know already, this is a pop record and that's apparently what she was aiming for. All the qualities that made her so refreshing in the past are noticeably absent. If you're familiar with her at all, you know she can be pretty raunchy. Raunchy in a good way. Sexuality is a big part of her image so naturally that's what I expected to hear. Not quite. The dirtiest it gets is the occasional "get up in it", blah blah blah, "let's sleep together", yadda yadda yadda. It wouldn't make even the most insecure middle-schooler blush.
Amanda Blank is a MC. A talented MC. To be fair, there are a couple (literally) of good songs here. The problem is that she admittedly went in a different direction. People do it all the time. But sometimes that "different" direction is a bad one. A very bad one. Like when Jordan tried baseball. Leave radio pop-rock to Katy Perry and stick with what you know. Especially if you're good at it.

E says: Download "Something Bigger, Something Better" and call it a day.

L says: Disappointing and I don't like songs about make-up or love. I still play it in the car though.



Home Acres
Polyvinyl, 2010

The first track I heard from Aloha, "Moonless March", blew me away. Okay, that's an exaggeration. It was more like, 'this reminds me of the music I miss'. It reminded me of the post-punk guitar rock I long for, like Jawbox and Burning Airlines, but with more melody. And keyboards. So I bought the CD (yeah, I pay for my music because I don't understand torrents and I'm a better person for it). And honestly, I was a little disappointed. It's not the journey back to late 90's DC awesomeness that I had dreamed of. It's more like taking local transportation to the city 20 minutes away that you know all too well. There is so much potential here but most of the tracks come off as lazy. This record is slightly reminiscent of Q and not U, and that's being extremely generous. I don't want to say it's Prog-Rock because that makes me think of Rush and THAT makes me want to punch myself in the face.
Yes, there are some good songs here but it's just too inconsistent. I like perfection. I hear they put on a hell of a show though.

E says: Nothing new.

L says: It's nice and a little boring.

Gringo Star

Gringo Star
All Yall
Gringo Star, 2009


Wow, what a horrible name. Seriously. It's wretched. It sounds like a pun your dad would come up with or something. But if you're able to swallow that spoonful of awfulness down and get to the music, it's probably worth it. I know some people compare them to The Animals and garage bands of the past, and I think that's valid. They definitely have a quirky retro sound. However, they're way too musical and versatile to be thrown in with other more straightforward garage acts like fellow Atlanta band Black Lips. First of all, they're better than Black Lips. Not that it's a huge achievement to be better than a band that's mediocre on their best day or anything. Gringo Star sound more like The Brian Jonestown Massacre minus the heroin and if Anton Newcombe had been listening to Sweetheart of the Rodeo and The Shins. I promise I mean that in a good way.
It's definitely catchy, poppy stuff but there's enough songwriting talent here to make these guys legit. I don't know many people who don't like this band (except L) and it's easy to see why. There's not a whole lot of depth there. It's just good energetic stuff. But the name..

E says: Good in small doses.

L says: Mmm, not really.

Strong Arm Steady

Strong Arm Steady
In Search of Stoney Jackson
Stones Throw, 2010

I admit, I have a love/ehh relationship with Stones Throw. No one can deny the amount of talent they represent and I will take them over most hip-hop labels any day. I have a lot of respect for Peanut Butter Wolf and the label in general. But I honestly can't make myself appreciate Georgia Anne Muldrow and Dudley Perkins. I just can't get into it. Signing them is just one of those "what the f**k" decisions where either I'm the only one smart enough to question it, or not artsy enough to get. On the other hand, they brought us J Dilla's later work, Madlib and Guilty Simpson just to name a few. Emphasis on J Dilla. Ahh..redemption. .

This record is produced by Madlib and there's no mistaking his trademark sound. Sometimes Madlib is a little too.. choppy for me and he goes a little too far out there with his samples, but MC's Phil Da Agony, Krondon and Mitchy Slick bring that laid back California flow that goes so well with Lib's production. I would never say that any of these guys ever stun me with their lyrical ability or anything, but hey, in a world where Lil Wayne is actually popular, I'll take it. If you're into Madlib, you will automatically like this because you probably like anything the guy does. There are guest appearances by Mr. Simpson himself, Talib Kweli and Planet Asia. Phonte of Little Brother is also here, but I don't like Little Brother so that's not really a selling point for me. There is one song that seems like it's just about food and it embarasses me, but other than that this is a pretty solid record.

E says: I feel it.

L says: Yes, this is good.


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