Strange ramblings and inquisitive whimsy

Month: May, 2011

Album Review: The Double Cross – Sloan

More than anything, The Double Cross, the most recent release from 20-year veteran rockers, Sloan, is a frustrating disappointment.  This is their 10th full-length release, and as you’d expect, it’s full of power-pop tracks straight out of the 60s, 70s and 80s, however the album as a whole – as an artistic venture – is a tragic letdown.  I’ll be the first to tell you I’m thrilled that bands like Sloan still exist if for no other reason than to put out great, classic rock in this relative wasteland of musical filth. Time after time, Sloan have managed to uphold the lost art of releasing albums that work together as a whole to the endless benefit of each individual song, but this record is a sorry excuse for a cohesive result…

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Album Review: Feel It Break – Austra

Generally speaking, I’ve not been a huge fan of modern psychedelic electronic music. I find it on the whole a generic genre with little to offer anyone hoping to get something deeper out of the experience. That’s why when I popped in Feel It Break, the debut record from Canadian band, Austra, I was pleasantly shocked. The Band is fronted by singer/songwriter/composer, Katie Stelmanis, a classically trained Opera fanatic who draws undeniable likeness to Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane…

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The Leash Concept: An Alternate Perspective

So, I was driving down Belmont Blvd today and saw a dog literally pull on the girl who was walking her so hard that she fell over (the girl, not the dog) and I had a strange realization: Maybe dogs have a totally different perspective about the leash concept…  Maybe they just view it as something that’s conveniently attached to their neck so that they can pull along the people who insist on walking with them?  They think to themselves, “geez, I wish this person would walk faster!  How convenient is it for me that they constantly hold on to this rope that’s right here by my face!  Stupid people, don’t they know that this is just making it easier to control them!?”

It was one of those changes-your-life moments that I won’t soon forget.

Album Review: Loverboy – Brett Dennen

When I first started listening to Brett Dennen’s most recent release, Loverboy, I immediately began trying to figure it out.  This is his fourth record and his first since his 2008 full-length title, Hope For The Hopeless and being his first release in 3 years, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  A few minutes in, it quickly became apparent to me that I was taking the wrong approach.  On his past three records, the most recent especially, Brett’s stayed true to his own brand of singer/songwriter roots; his lyrics potent, his songs serious yet still danceable, and his vocals serving to deliver a message rather than act as an instrument.  This time around, Dennen has taken a completely different approach and I for one am loving the results.

From the moment I popped in the CD I realized that this would be a completely different experience than before. To me, this sounds like a first record rather than a fourth.  In contrast to his 2008 title, the songwriting on Loverboy is more relaxed.  It still touches on deeper subjects, but it doesn’t dwell on them the way that tracks such as “Heaven” and “I Asked When” did.  Usually an artist will take a few albums to develop a relationship with their fans and then begin moving in to the more treacherous waters but it seems as though Dennen has done just the opposite, starting with the tough stuff and moving towards the carefree dance tunes.  Songs like “Song For Leaving” do bring the feel back to heartfelt subject matter reminiscent of his older releases, but overall, the vibe of this record is closer to that of an up-beat outdoor concert instead of an intimate living room performance.

One way this record doesn’t feel like a first release, however is in it’s musical maturity.  Listening as a long-time fan, it’s easy to pick out Brett’s unique style in every single track, but that personality that we all love – the voice, the songwriting and the emotion -has been expanded ten-fold by an exciting new array of cultural genres and a creative amalgamation of strangely diverse themes.  In August of 1986, Paul Simon released Graceland and re-invented his sound, introducing cultural themes from around the world, most notably Africa.  From the reggae influence on “Can’t Stop Thinking” to the joyful refrain on “Sydney” reminiscent of South African tribal music, it’s clear that Loverboy is Brett’s version of that same transformation.

Another strong influence on this record is the doo-wop and soul records of the 60s and 70s from R&B greats such as The Temptations and Marvin Gaye.  Tracks like “Queen of the Westside” and “Must Be Losing My Mind” are a time machine straight back to the funk grooves of Stevie Wonder while “Frozen In Slow Motion” could have been sung by Marvin himself.  “Only Rain” also draws favorable likeness to The Temptations’ “I Wish It Would Rain”.

Dennen made this album with the intention of “[…] making people feel good.” and to me, he did an exquisite job.  If you’re looking for something that’s a lateral move from his past releases, fitting the mold but failing to venture outside of it, this is not a record for you.  This is a record jam-packed with innovation and enthusiasm, bold steps in new directions and respectful homage to to legendary influences.  Don’t be fooled, it’s still the same Brett Dennen we’ve all grown to know and love, but this album proves to everyone that he’s not afraid move into uncharted territories where the grass gets greener and greener everyday.

For more on Brett, including news, music and tour dates, check out:

Album Review: This Is What Heartache Sounds Like – Rob Bolin

"This Is What Heartache Sounds Like"Releasing an EP is something that has been gaining significant popularity in the last few years.  This trend may be attributed to smaller recording budgets or listeners’ diminishing attention spans.  Generally speaking, I don’t mind the shorter releases, however I do miss the days of buying a new album and listening through it from start to finish.  Anymore it seems the art of taking the listener on a journey throughout the record – weaving a story and playing off common themes and motifs; using music and lyrics to build and release tension – is all but a lost craft.  How can you expect to pull someone in close and pour your heart out to them in the span of 5 songs?  That was my frame of mind until I heard This Is What Heartache Sounds Like by the very talented Rob Bolin.

This EP is shorter than most, even by today’s standards, boasting a track list of only four songs and a total play-length of just over 13 minutes, but what the release lacks in length, Rob makes up for in soul, musical diversity and depth.  Sonically the record sounds great. It manages to provide the listener with all the warmth and comfort of the great folk records of the sixties while still maintaining the clarity and fullness of modern albums.  What’s more, the production on the record (Seth Goodman) provides just as much diversity as the songs themselves and seems to perfectly compliment the songwriting without distracting the listener.  And that’s a very good thing indeed.

Distracting from Rob’s songwriting or storytelling would be a tragic mistake that could, without a doubt, ruin this short but sweet EP.  The record opens with it’s own title track, “This Is What Heartache Sounds Like”, a startlingly honest and surprisingly optimistic tale of sadness and heartbreak.  The music and lyrics together paint a picture of surrender and acceptance, but not of despair:  The cello and steel guitar sing a soft duet of the journey a heart takes after being broken and Rob’s grainy and soothing voice sings the thoughts that have crossed the minds of anyone who’s ever loved and lost.  This track -possibly the most introspective on the record – is a bold way to open, but it is nothing short of the perfect voice with which to invite the listener on this deep and renewing journey.

As the final notes of the song are fading out, the Rhodes and B3 that open the second cut seem to open the blinds and let the light in on the dim room where the last song was sung.  It’s an immediate and obvious shift in tone and intention but, as with everything else on this record, it doesn’t feel at all out of place.  It’s amazing how after only two and a half minutes of listening I found myself completely immersed in Rob’s world.  By 30 seconds in, it was clear to me that this second song, “Emily” was by far my favorite.  An up-beat southern-rocker, “Emily” seems to pay homage to the summer afternoon vibe of old Rolling Stones tracks such as “Tumbling Dice”.  A quick departure from the reflection of “This Is What Heartache Sounds Like”, this track perfectly encapsulates what it’s like to fall in love.  It’s hopeful and happy but just as honest the first song and again, you find yourself right there with Rob, living every word he sings.

The third track, “Take These Chains” is a throwback to the classic western swing of Bob Wills and Merle Haggard, and yet it maintains the same straightforward, humble songwriting style that is Rob’s alone.  This tune finds the listener in a state of calm, idly reminiscing about simpler times most of us know only from books and movies.  Something that amazes me about this entire record, and about Rob as an artist is his ability to make so many genres and so many sounds accessible to his audience.  He carries a rough and heartfelt voice that sounds as though it’s sung it’s way through long days and lonely nights, and yet he sings about life in a way that celebrates sorrow for the strength it gives rather than the spirit it breaks.  He weaves tales of heartbreak and sings of dreams that smell of whiskey and cigarettes but never once is there a sense of hopelessness.

The journey closes with an old Dylan tune by the name of “Moonshiner”.  This track, bares the warmth and simplicity of Bolin in his most raw and vulnerable form singing to you face to face; just guitar and vocals.  Nothing could more effectively bring this saga to a close than this song, sung this way, by this man.  Its tender and yet confident; honest, yet full of longing; bare and exposed, yet filled with more heart than one of Shakespeare’s sonnets.  By the time the last chord is strummed so softly it can barely be heard at all, it’s as though Rob is staring in to your eyes, speaking a thousand words with a single expression as a friend with whom you’re about to part ways.  Although you’ve only been together for a very short four songs, it feels like the relationship is decades old and deeper than most friendships ever reach.