Ghostface Killah - The Big Doe Rehab (Def Jam Records, 2007)

It’s been a huge year for Ghostface Killah (a.k.a. Tony Starks a.k.a. Ironman a.k.a. Dennis Coles). At the beginning of 2007, Ghost was still riding high on the huge critical success of last year’s epic cocaine drama, Fishscale and its companion piece More Fish, and then proceeded to release the singles compilation, Hidden Darts on his own Starks Enterprises imprint. As the year went on, he appeared on a few high profile tours, worked on a new Wu-Tang Clan record, presumably did some recording for his upcoming collaboration album with MF Doom, and managed to release his third solo full-length in just 18 months.

Unfortunately, as with all overworked artists, Ghost falters a little with The Big Doe Rehab. It’s not a particular surprise that Big Doe falls short of Fishscale’s glory, or even that it fails to reach the heights of 2004’s massively underrated Pretty Toney Album, but that’s not to say that the album isn’t without its brilliant moments. Not content to sit on a single production team for two records in a row, Ghost enlisted L.V. and Sean C. (better known as the Hitmen), who manage to redeem themselves from their erroneous production work on Jay-Z’s comeback record. While the overall style of the record is vastly different from the claustrophobic grime of Fishscale, the more relaxed, slicker production of Big Doe is a great example of how unwilling Ghost is to make the same record twice. He even throws the listener for a loop in his sequel to Fishscale’s standout track, “Shakey Dog,” and throws away the heavy brass in favor of a slower, lazier cut and guesting Raekwon for a verse on the track.

Ghost continues the street crime epics, however, on tracks like “Walk Around,” where a normal trip to the grocery store turns into a bloodbath. It is on tracks like this where it’s easy to see the difference between an MC like 50 Cent’s glorified shooting tales and Ghost’s gritty and frantic tales. A strength of his that has only become more intense since he began his career; Ghost completely immerses you in the ugliness of the life a young street hustler or drug kingpin, and his descriptive ability still leaves jaws on the floor.

The record ain’t all stainless steel .45s and heavy bags of coke, though. “We Celebrate” is a party anthem featuring the legendary Kid Capri, where we find Ghost sipping on Goose and “holla’in at them birds like Dr. Doolittle.” On the ill-concieved “White Linen Affair (Toney Awards,” he and Theodore Unit member Shawn Wigs attempt to elevate a not-quite-there Frequency beat with a slew of shout-outs, which turns out to be, while not a “good” track, at least good for a couple of laughs. The record manages to pick up again after “White Linen” with Ghost gliding easily over an excellent sample of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Superman Lover” on “Supa GFK,” and he teams up with U-God and Raekwon for an excellently minimal and breezy Baby Grand beat on “Rec Room Therapy.”

Unfortunately, while Ghost obviously made a conscious effort to cut down on playing time, eschewing most of the skits and interludes, but what of them remains is either monstrously out of place, or simply completely forgettable. While the showcase for R&B singer Ox, “The Prayer” is a magnificent a capella exhibition, it interrupts the flow between “Rec Room” and the heartrending “I’ll Die For You.” A big disappointment on the record is Ghost’s decision to keep the Rhythm Roots All-Stars’ appearances to mere assistants on the intro and outro tracks, which sound like nothing more than frenetic and incoherent horns and percussion; a true waste of a great backing band who could have offered more than simple background noise.

In the grand scheme of things, The Big Doe Rehab is a lesser disappointment in a year full of inexplicable disappointments (Against Me!, Common, Wilco, Pelican, Queens of the Stone Age, Mos Def, The White Stripes, Bloc Party, Smashing Pumpkins, and Explosions in the Sky, just to name a few). Ghost still has more talent and juice at the end of an 18-month hot streak than most artists do after two years of inactivity, and it shows in the records he makes. While not an across-the-board smash like Fishscale was, The Big Doe Rehab is still a hip-hop album that sounds like an album instead of a mere collection of background tracks for music videos. In a year where ringtone rap had a stranglehold on real hip-hop, The Big Doe Rehab stands as a mature and knowledgeable voice in a genre that is becoming increasingly more and more painfully ignorant and vapid.

Key Tracks: "Shakey Dog Starring Lolita" "Walk Around" "We Celebrate" "Supa GFK"

Score: 7.8/10


The Hives- The Black and White Album

“I know that has been a long time coming,” sings the Hives’ vocalist “Howlin’” Pelle Almqvist on the song “T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.,” and it certainly has for many fans of Swedish garage rock band the Hives, who haven’t released an album since 2004’s garage rockin’ Tyrannosaurus Hives. As I ripped off the packaging to The Black and White Album, their highly anticipated new release, and opened the CD case, a small black insert fell out. “Get your favorite track from The Black and White Album as a ringtone by texting the information below.” A list of tracks and numbers to text follow. Gasp! Are the Hives… selling out?

Ha. Of course not. Though this album, released Nov. 13, is certainly a far cry musically from the dirtier, punk rock sound of the band’s debut record Barely Legal (1997), it doesn’t mean that it rocks any less. The Hives have been creating quite the buzz about The Black and White Album since the first single, “Tick Tick Boom,” was released in August. They had also assured themselves of some attention when they collaborated with hip-hop producer Timbaland for “Throw It on Me,” which was made available on Timbaland’s album Timbaland Presents Shock Value, released in April. It would be interesting to see if the Hives, who proclaimed themselves “Your New Favorite Band” with the compilation release of the same name in 2001, would be able to stay solid with their new record.

The ensuing hype, from the collaboration with Timbaland and the tracks released on iTunes before the actual album came out, was definitely not unfounded. From start to finish, The Black and White Album packs a hard punch. It’s the typical garage rock sound listeners have come to expect from the band that produced songs like “Hate to Say I Told You So” and “Walk Idiot Walk,” but it isn’t a carbon copy of albums like Veni Vidi Vicious or Tyrannosaurus Hives. It’s not perfect—“Giddy Up” is a little odd, and many listeners may choose to skip over it, and the other atypical Hives songs on the album (the instrumental “A Stroll through Hive Manor Corridors” and the more dance-sounding “T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.”) are different, but not bad. For listeners used to the previous albums, where mostly every track is fast, loud, and guitar-driven (an exception would be “Find Another Girl” from Veni Vidi Vicious), these tracks and the piano-heavy “Puppet on a String” may be a surprise, but they shouldn’t turn fans away.

Vocalist Almqvist lives up to his moniker on this album, with plenty of yeahs, heys, screams, shrieks and the like audible in almost every track. “Tick Tick Boom” is a good choice for an album opener; a little bit of soft cymbal-tapping is followed shortly by a loud, foot-tapping rhythm, and the song finishes as powerfully as it began. Like pretty much all of the Hives’ material, it’s catchy- you know everyone who gets this record is going to be screaming “YEAH!” right along with Almqvist every time he does it- and an excellent choice for the first single.

You would think that with such a powerful first track that the second one might be a bit of a letdown, but “Try It Again” is almost better. It has handclaps (a good time for all, of course), and Almqvist is even joined by a group of shouting girls (rumored to be cheerleaders from Ole Miss, according a photo caption on the Hives’ website) on the chorus.

Several other tracks on the album stand out, as well. “Hey Little World” will have listeners clapping along to drummer Chris Dangerous’ rhythms and dancing in their computer chairs; “Won’t Be Long” has something that sounds suspiciously like a xylophone that pops up near the end of the track, though the overall sound of the song is very danceable; and “Bigger Hole to Fill,” while it starts out a little slowly, really kicks in near the half, though I think we can perhaps see a language issue with the line “Got no time to spill” in the chorus (shouldn’t it be “got no time to kill,” guys?).

One of the best songs on the album is in the back half. “Square One Here I Come” is pretty fast-moving, and the lyrics are funny to follow, too (“Didn’t go to school ‘cause nobody told me/Nobody told me ‘cause nobody knew shit/Nobody knew shit ‘cause nobody knows nothing/Nobody knows nothing and that’s just it”). “Square One,” like most of the songs on The Black and White Album, is one hell of a garage-rockin’ good time, and naturally, it’s pretty catchy, too.

While it may not be possible for the Hives to have another song reach the popularity of “Hate to Say I Told You So” (where’s Dr. Matt Destruction’s awesome bass solo in this album?), The Black and White Album is probably some of the band’s best work. Do you like having fun? If you do, this record won’t come amiss in your collection. If you’re too lazy to make the purchase, you can find the video for “Tick Tick Boom” on YouTube, and it’s definitely worth the watch. As they say, “We rule the world, this is our world… T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.,” and for 2007, the world of rock & roll belongs to the Hives.



The Allstar Project - Your Reward...A Bullet

To be honest, I hate everything about this band.

I hate their name. The title for their album is the epitome of cliché, and they just look like a bunch of wankers.

But, god damn, can they make a record.

Your Reward…A Bullet is the Portuguese band's first full length. Their previous EP had gained small amounts of positive reviews by places such as The Silent Ballet. Their end result is a combination of some absoltely beautiful arrangements, and some well placed samples. There are voice samples from Waking Life and a speech about lasers cutting through monkeys. And I know what you’re thinking, it sounds lame and it all sounds like they are trying too hard, and normally I would agree with you

….if the album wasn’t so solid.

From the twinkling guitar intros to a wall of sound swirling climax, this band does it all. They sound a lot more like Caspian than Explosions in the Sky, and a little like GYBE (without all that weird long stuff). But this album is one of the best post rock releases I have heard all year. The heavy crunching distorted guitars are here alongside frantic drumming and soaring crescendos. But it’s not all high energy rock. They nail the slow parts; their buildups are effective. There's some seriously heavy breakdowns and a few electronic beate used. All of the parts come together really well. As I was listening to this, I could not wait to see what they had next. And my patience was rewarded in full.

The album’s powerful closer, For a Friend, is the first standout track on the album, it really had me saying "wow, this is good". It employs everything this band does right. From soft to loud to soft but never boring, it’s an emotional track and a fitting end to the album as a whole.

Overall the album is a great post-rock record. With only two tracks breaking the 7 minute mark, it’s easy to get into and great for both veteran fans and newcomers to the genre.



Streetlight Manifesto - Somewhere in the Between (Victory Records, 2007)

Streetlight Manifesto hasn’t had any easy breaks. Ever since frontman Tomas Kalnoky ditched New Jersey ska legends, Catch 22, after single-handedly writing their most well-known record (1998’s Keasbey Nights), he’s a had his work cut out for him. Kalnoky released Streetlight’s first record in 2003 and it became a huge indie success. The years that followed though, were filled with a string of robberies, some big lineup changes, and continued feuding with Kalnoky’s old band, and all the while dealing with a wave of fans asking “Where’s the new album?!” After last year’s ill-advised re-recording of Kalnoky’s landmark Catch 22 record, Streetlight Manifesto has finally emerged with their first set of new material in four years, and it’s been worth it for the ten songs that grace this album.

The record opens with the soaring intro to “We Will Fall Together,” which acts as a reintroduction to the band altogether, and throughout the rest of the song, Streetlight leaves us with all of the hallmarks of the band’s first album: classically influenced horns, furious upstrokes, stop-on-a-dime tempo changes, interweaving gang vocals, and of course, a totally awesome breakdown. There’s no shortage of these things on the rest of the record either, the two tracks to appear on a virtual sampler earlier this month, “Down, Down, Down to Mephisto’s Café” and “Watch it Crash” both rise and fall with Kalnoky’s suburban crime narratives just like the best songs from 2003’s Everything Goes Numb.

What’s really great about Somewhere in the Between though, is what’s different, even though at first listen, nothing really seems like it’s changed. “One Foot on the Gas, One Foot in the Grave” shows off a strong Caribbean influence, and the Spanish tinges to “Would You Be Impressed?” add a new dimension to what would be a standard ska tune. Another improvement the band has made is a newfound ability to cut out the fat. Somewhere in the Between runs a full 2 songs and 10 minutes shorter than its predecessor, and somehow grows into an altogether “bigger” album. Ambitious oversights like Everything Goes Numb’s “A Moment of Silence”/”A Moment of Violence” (which worked in theory, but not really in execution) are exempt from Somewhere in the Between.

Not every track is a standout though, as songs like “Forty Days” and “The Blonde Leading the Blind” blur together somewhat, being a little less than memorable. Occasionally, Kalnoky nods a little too much towards his earlier work, which seems less referential and more contrived than anything else. And like any ska record, it has a feeling of, “If you like one song, you’ll like them all.” If ska isn’t your bag, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to sit through 45 minutes of what is essentially super-hyperactive reggae.

With the record acting as the final chapter of Kalnoky’s Keasbey Diaries, it contains the same lyrical themes of suicide, robbery, and kids living outside of society’s values, which are part of what makes his records so compelling. Lines like “and I knew you when you were you, before they twisted all your views, before you came unglued,” are poignant, and just fun as hell to sing along with, and that’s what this record is, more than anything: fun. Streetlight Manifesto has grown exponentially in the last 4 years, and if we have to wait jut as long for another full-length that shows as much growth as this one, it’ll be well worth it.

Rating: 8/10


Lcd Soundsystem- All My Friends 7"

"All My Friends" is the second single off of Lcd Soundsystem's sophomore album Sound Of Silver. Beginning with a simple piano melody that continues throughout the track. Drums kick in to back up the melody around 50 seconds with guitar shortly after that. After 1:20 of musical build up vocalist James Murphy steps into the song. From there the song builds with a musical melody that, while repetitive (like many dancefloor tracks), continues to feel fresh throughout the entire song. all of the building up finally comes to its peak around 6:30 in the song when James really steps up with his vocals and makes himself heard over the music on the track and continues through till the end of the track.

The flip side to the 7" is a cover by John Cale of Velvet Underground fame. Unlike the original John uses more traditional instruments, most notable is the missing of the piano line replaced this time by bass guitar (notably played by James Murphy himself). The song, while the same at heart, feels completely different. From the different instruments used to John's vocal delivery of the track. One big setback to the song is the fact that the vocals tend to be lacking the emotion or punch that make the song special, while they work for the sound of the song it doesn't quite feel the same compared to the original.

Score: 4/5

There is also a different variation of this particular 7" that includes the radio edit of the track and Franz Ferdinand covering the song. The Franz version uses guitars to play the melody of the piano, during the verses the song is more mellow then kicks in during the chorus before slowing back down. After the second chorus the band keeps the pace up for the remainder of the song. The one problem with this cover of the song is that it doesn't stay as fresh as the original, feeling a little repetitive towards the middle of the track. It might be because vocalist Alex Kapranos doesn't have too much distinction in his voice on the track thus it begins to sound a bit monotone. Musically the track is pretty solid but its nothing too much to set itself out from the pack.
Score: 3/5


Tunng; Brown Bird: 10/25

Wow. Tunng was incredible. I had never been to the Middle East Upstairs before tonight, but it is much different than downstairs. It is very small, has barely any lighting, and great acoustics. The overall feel is very warm and intimate.

The opening band I had never heard before: Brown Bird. The trio played the most devastatingly sorrowful music I have ever heard. The frontman played guitar, as well as a floor tom converted to a kick drum with one foot and a tamborine/cowbell attached to a kick pedal with the other. The second member switched on and off between a ukelele, accordion, and glockenspiel (all authentic; no keyboards here), often in the same song. Finally, a girl on cello picked and strummed away beautiful basslines and lead melodies alike. Suffice to say, I highly suggest Brown Bird to everyone; at least check out their MySpace.

I can't remember the name of the man who followed them. He was an acoustic singer/songwriter, but I enjoyed him a lot more than I thought I would, especially considering I generally don't care for that style of music. He played some covers of old songs which I didn't recognize, but I really liked this song that started out something like, "I eat breakfast, and then dinner in Tennessee," some old blues/rock song.

Finally, Tunng was up. Words don't do them justice. Three guitarists played melodies and counter-melodies, weaving in and out of each other and yet maintaining a togetherness not found in many bands. A woman played some instrument I'd never seen before, like a mini-piano you blow into like a harmonica. She also held up a toy birdcage that sang during one song. They had another guy on laptop/keyboards in the back, providing all the glitch effects and the occasional drumbeats. What really impressed me, though, was their percussionist, whose setup consisted of bones and shells and beads and bark hung from a string. He played these with his feet and hands, as well as a tamborine and xylophone. "Soup" in particular was especially awesome, with its dancefloor-worthy beat and shredding electronic guitar lead. All in all, it was such a surreal experience. The experimental-neo-folktronica-pop they have created is truly original, and if any of you ever have a chance to see them, don't pass it up.

To top it off, I met this awesome kid named Dan Cho. He's a pharmacy major at Northeastern; he goes to a lot of shows at the Middle East Upstairs. We started off talking about Mono--who was playing on the system before the show started--and that led us into a great discussion about post-rock.

Boston is fucking awesome; and now for four hours of sleep. Totally worth it.


Jimmy Eat World - Chase This Light

“I’ll accept with poise, with grace, when they draw my name from the lottery”

Those are the telling lines in the chorus of “Big Casino”, first single and album opener of Jimmy Eat World’s newest effort Chase This Light. They fit because Jimmy Eat World did seem to win the lottery; in 2002 they had a gigantic hit with “The Middle” off of Bleed American (later changed to Jimmy Eat World). After years of touring the band had finally found mainstream success. They were the new poster boys for the “emo” movement, even though the music press in ‘02 had little-to-no idea what the term meant (and still don’t). This label is rather problematic; the band hasn’t played anything resembling emo since the 1990s. Instead for the past several years, they have played simple pop-rock, occasionally experimenting with electronics and strings. Chase This Light continues in this vein, leaning more heavily on the radio friendly material most similar to “The Middle”.

Pop and optimism (poptimism, if you will) are the name of the game this time around; the lyrics and tempos are upbeat, a sharp contrast from their 2004 full length Futures and the 2005 EP Stay on My Side Tonight. From the album title alone, it is obvious Jimmy Eat World are content, and looking at the lyrics only confirms this. Chase This Light is the band severing its tie to emo once and for all. Does this new approach work though? That all depends on what you like to hear from the band. Fans of Bleed American will certainly enjoy this, but those more inclined to the introspective style of Clarity or Futures will be reluctant to give this repeat listens. This reviewer certainly falls into the latter category, however it is still impossible to dismiss this record and ignore the few gems on it.

How are the songs themselves? “Big Casino” is certainly a winner, and a fine choice for a single. It is an impossibly infectious anthem, certain to get caught in any listener’s head. “Let It Happen” is much the same, but perhaps slightly less bold, as is “Always Be”. This is indicative of the album’s biggest problem: Most of the songs sound exactly the same.

A couple of songs do stand out, but this isn’t always a good thing. “Here It Goes” is the big dud, a dancey number that is horribly out of place in the band’s catalogue. On the opposite end of that spectrum is “Gotta Be Somebody’s Blues”, a slow string-heavy piece that fits nicely in the middle of the up-tempo pop onslaught, providing a pleasant breather. “Electable (Give It Up)” is the token political number, however the lyrics are so vague that it could really be about anything, and it too fits the pop formula.

Lyrically there is nothing to complain about aside from “Electable”. Frontman Jim Adkins can almost always be counted on to provide solid, heartfelt lyrics and then back them up with passionate vocal delivery. The title track is especially notable in that aspect, as he implores someone (the listener? A girl? Jesus?) to “chase this light with me”. The closer “Dizzy” is a little longer (nearly five minutes), something Jimmy Eat World is known for, and these types of songs are underrepresented here. It is excellent, probably musically and lyrically the most powerful piece on the album. It comes close to overshadowing everything else in the 35 minutes preceding it.

Overall, Chase This Light is certainly not Jimmy Eat World’s finest album. It opens strong, but after a few songs they all begin to blend together. The overall pop fixation of the record really detracts from the record, though “Gotta Be Somebody’s Blues” and “Dizzy” provide brief but memorable respites. Fans of their more pop-oriented work may enjoy this, but in the end it seems like there is something missing from the album. Despite there only being one truly bad song here, Chase This Light just does not stand out. Longtime listeners will feel frustration and disappointment that the band has produced such a lukewarm effort. Although most of the songs sound close to identical, they are not bad when taken individually. One just wishes that there just was more variety to be heard.

Key songs: Dizzy, Gotta Be Somebody's Blues, Big Casino


Damiera - M(u)sic

If one hears a couple of songs off this album, one could think of Damiera as another Braid or At The Drive-In aping band, but this perception dissapears after listening to the whole thing. This young band was surely influenced by these indie and punk heroes, but the sound found in this release comes from other places too: the technical guitars and bass works of Gatsbys American Dream or Brazil, bouncy lines reminscent of Minus the Bear and airy as well energetic singing close to, yes, Braid.
But these boys go way further than just aping these recognized artists. Originality is a word used way too often, but it can be applied to these young men who recently signed to Equal Vision (always a good sign). Dave Raymond, singer and guitarist, is certainly the standout of this record, leading his bandmates with some perfect singing and great guitar-playing into making a record where no two songs are the same but that still holds an incredible flow. This appears right off the bat with "Immure", where these guys' talent appears in grandiose form, with impressive jazz-influence riffing and slight post-hardcore noodling by Raymond and Whittington, along with some great bouncy-bass lines courtesy of Henry and some technical but not-overly present drumming by McRae.
Tracks like "I am Pulse" and "Flora:Yield" show a post-punk influenced style of indie-rock, making you want to dance while catching you off guard with technical guitar noodling (especially in "Flora:Yield") and some great lyrics ("I'm ecstatic in my celebration/welling up from a lasting decay that's failing now"). And to add some more flavour, touches of prog-rock come in places (à la Gatsbys American Dream or even Ryan's Hope). "Via Invested" starts with some catchy lines and develops into a great track with some beautiful and prominent bass-lines and along with some great double-guitar parts. "Ember Eason" calms things down a bit, without stopping the flow, with again some great bass-lines (the best I've hear in some time) and some smart power-chords (!). "Broken Hands" slows things down a tiny bit with some impressive lyrics ("we build with broken hands/keeps us impressed with our lies/almost courageous enough to face our selfishness/inactive while we stand/we save legs for fist fights") just before the last track, "Obsessions", hits us to finish off the album in grand fashion.
After their debut EP "Damiera EP" (which contained the brilliant songs "Heartbeat" and "Slow by Still"), Damiera have offered us an incredible effort with "M(u)sic". I can't stress enough how superb this release is and I just can't wait for their next one. Hope it'll another album of the year, because this one is.

RIYL: Braid, Gatsbys American Dream, Minus the Bear, Mock Orange, .Moneen., Texas is the Reason


Four Year Strong - Rise Or Die Trying

While the idea of finding a band that appeals to pissed off hardcore fans just as much as it does to screaming teenage girls sounds highly unlikely, it certainly isn't impossible. Worcester, MA's Four Year Strong capture this dynamic with skill, incorporating layered guitar harmonies, ridiculously catchy choruses (and verses alike, for that matter), rowdy, gang-chant filled breakdowns, cheesy synth hooks, impressively precise double bass, and even guest vocals from Mat Bruso, formerly of Bury Your Dead. Although all of these facets together seem like they would make an awkward combination, the band pulls it off surprisingly well. What sounds on paper like a band that is trying way too hard to please everyone is actually one that puts forth one of the more promising debuts to come out recently.

The album opens with a brief introductory track called "The Take Over", a title that seems appropriate for a band that, with the right exposure, could absolutely dominate the radio waves. This accessibility is a bit of a two-edged sword, however. To their credit, nearly every song on this record is undeniably catchy and immediately likeable - the group has a talent for penning infectious melodies that surpasses even that of the radio "pop-punk" hitmakers we see so often today. But despite the album's remarkably catchy nature, much of it comes off as sort of derivative (as in, "Hey, this sounds just like _____ mixed with _____!"). The dueling vocalists will remind you of Set Your Goals, the riffs will remind you of Fall Out Boy, the synthesizer will remind you of (early) Motion City Soundtrack, the breakdowns will remind you of about ten different hardcore acts at once, and so on. In fact, one of the few refreshing, unique moments appears about halfway through the song "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Hell", during which a dramatic pause is followed by a swung, chugging breakdown that brings an unexpected, southern rock-esque feel that lasts for eight bars before immediately transitioning back into the straightforward, hardcore-laced pop that the band is known for. Another deviation from the standard midtempo jams is the closing track, "Maniac (R.O.D.)". This fast paced, d-beat laced song brings things to a very satisfying close, ending with a fading chant of "Rise! Or! Die! Here at the top of the world!" Such an exciting track is a perfect way to conclude the album.

All in all, this is a very fun record that is good for singing along with friends to, if nothing else. If you're searching for something innovative and out there, this is not the album to look to. However, Four Year Strong have managed to capture a sound that embodies a number of styles and blends them together almost seamlessly. I have nothing but high hopes for this band, and I see endless potential in their debut and predict much recognition to come.

Overall Score: 8/10

Standout Tracks: Abandon Ship or Abandon All Hope; Heroes Get Remembered, Legends Never Die; Beatdown in the Key of Happy; Maniac (R.O.D.)

RIYL: Set Your Goals, Fall Out Boy, Life In Your Way, New Found Glory

Taxi Driver: A Slightly Intoxicated Review That Never Did Get Finished

Taxi Driver is arguably SCorcese’s finest film. Robert Deniro excels as Travis Bickle, a man who cannot seem to connect with any person around him. His desperate attempts at romance fail miserably as he takes his date to an x-rated film on their first date. His taxi driving is theonly thing that occupies him, the only thing tyhjat truly makes him, not happy, but at least satisfied. He does not connect to the world around him, not the people, not the city, not anything. SCorceses work on this film is truly amazing. His depiction is not a film, but a character study. Travis Bickler is a real person, however disturbed. His movements and life are some thing the viewer really connects to. His frustration with his surroundings are something the viewer feels, a thing that is almost tangible. So when the movie was re-released on DVD this summer, scorcese fans rejoiced. Many would argue that Robert DeNiro would never top his performance as Travis Bickle, and that Scorcesse would never agians reach the depth of Taxi Driver. This film is the reason WHY people were angry that Scorcese’s first Oscar was for The De[parted(I which is still an excellent film). Everything about it is perfect. The filming somehow vconveysw Travis’ loneliness, with shots of empty hallways, and empty streets. Loneliness is definitely the main theme of the film. Travis does not understand why no one caN UNDERstand him. It’s a paradox that is clearly protrsyed by the director, how Travis is unable to explain himself to anyone else, and how no person can explain themselves to Travis in a way that makes snerse to him. So as Travise slowly unravels before the viewers eyes, it makes sense. It’s not a sudden change, an unexplicablew change that leaves the viewer scratching their head. It makes sense. It’[sw a slow descent, something that leaves him NEEDING to make a change. And that is why he acts out violently, he needs to make a change in his envori ment. He cannot stand to look at New York City the way it is, he feels the need to “clean it up:” as he says to a presidential candidate. SCorxese casts Travis as an everyman, as someone who everyviewer can realate to. His feelings of isolatiomn are somethinb everyone can relate to.

Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog

Since the release of "The Creek drank the Cradle " in 2002, Samuel Beam, who uses the stage name Iron & Wine, has released a string of fine albums and EPs. Since the release of "In the Reins", a collaboration with indie-rock band Calexico, it seems that Iron & Wine's way of working has slighty changed.
This change is very noticable in 2007's "the Shepherd's Dog", Iron & Wine's most diverse, most approchable and best record to date. Changing from the habitual lo-fi, guy with a guitar in a room sound so charming but a bit repetitive in the end sound, Beam surrounds himself with a large arrangement of instruments, including accordions, violins, a hammond and steel guitars. These instuments never interfere with the artist's trademark sound of hushed vocals, eery and melancholic landscapes mixed with an ever-present southern presence, but only enhance them and make them even more personal and warm. You still feel as if you're right next to Beam, him singing the songs right into your ear, except that this time he's brought a couple of friends along.
The change is noticable right off the beggining with the folky and southern-tinged "Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car", where Beam charms us with some warm and lively singing and shows again why he's as much a poet as a he's a singer with lines like :"I was still a beggar shaking out my stolen coat / among the angry cemetery leaves / when they caught the king beneath the borrowed car / righteous, drunk, and fumbling for the royal keys". "House by the Sea" has a dancey (!) undertone, with its Afro-pop influences and funky bass, helped along with Beam's lively singing. Catchy piano-parts come up in "Innocent Bones", making it a warm sunny folk song, close to the artist's earlier work. Echoes of earlier work can also be heard in "Resurrection Fern", who's beautiful and haunting sound is augmented by Beam's excellent lyrics ("It'll keep everything:The babies' breath, our bravery wasted, and our shame".) As if to surprise us even more, "The Devil Never Sleeps" is there to catch us after the melancholy of the previous songs and remind us again why diversity is such a good thing: mixing jazz, bluegrass and some early rock'n'roll with a prominent piano makes this a great, fun song.
All in all, I listend to this record straight and then put it back on a couple of times. I've done this quite often in the '07 (it is a great year for new records, after all), but this record just keeps pulling me back and keeps on surprising me. And that hasn't occured very often this year.

RIYL: The Mountain Goats, Dustin Kensrue, Lullaby for the Working Class, The Snake The Cross The Crown.


Muscles - Guns Babes Lemonade

In an age where anyone with a keyboard and a computer can become the next Girl Talk, electronic music has become the next indie-rock, flooding the market like there's no tomorrow. Some audiophiles shack up and prepare for the worst; others wait on the beach with open arms; but when the tsunami finally hits, everyone's getting wet. Most will give up hope and search for the familiar dry land of guitars and trite pop numbers, but those willing to swim just might find something new.

Emerging from somewhere between indie-rock and electro, Muscles has produced a truly original record. Fat squares and soaring arpeggios provide a perfect stage for the processed vocals, while heavy kicks and the occasional trance hook keep the floor moving. However, what really distinguishes this record from other electro releases are the lyrical and vocal dynamics.

On first listen Muscles may sound like a full band; however, this is not the case: it is indeed a solo project. But you'd never know it, thanks to the cleverly layered vocals. I don't believe there is a moment on this record where at least three vocal tracks aren't streaming simultaneously. For many acts this might prove distracting, or even chaotic, but Muscles executes it perfectly. Stanzas tend to use three tracks: one pitched lower, one standard, and one pitched higher (or sampled faster). Chorus sections often add one or two shouted tracks, turning the already catchy choruses into irrestible dancefloor shout-a-longs.

The lyrics are also refreshing. Thematically, Muscles has no more trouble singing about carpe diem than he does strained relationships. Furthermore, a strange inner wisdom pervades the music, despite its penchant for abstraction and metaphor. Even when addressing something as trite as love, the lyrics retain a quirky originality ("My hand slipped into your hand / and it was awesome / and it was special"). Besides, anyone who can pull off a line like "Last night I met a girl / who says she has connections / in the moment independent music community" has already got my vote.

All in all, Guns Babes Lemonade is an electronic release everyone should be able to enjoy. It's like a hug for the ears, a tug onto the dancefloor, and a snapshot of silliness, all-in-one.

Long live peace, love, ecstasy, unity, and respect.

RIYL: Simian Mobile Disco, TV On The Radio, Justice