2013 December

F*%$ the Police by Paul Miro (very explicit!)

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I never thought this classic rap song from N.W.A. would work with this type of music – acoustic guitar, piano, bass, drum machine and stark vocals. It is interesting hearing these lyrics sung with this sparse arrangement. Miro does a great job putting a unique spin on the song. Paul Miro is a singer/songwriter from the UK, who recorded a few albums in a band called Apes, Pigs & Spacemen, and then later released three different solo albums. I can’t speak much about him, this is the only song I’ve heard by him.

Sympathy For The Devil by Rolling Stones

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The Rolling Stones need no introduction (I hope!). Celebrating their 50th anniversary last year, these dinosaurs are still touring (although this is supposed to be the end of that). Love ‘em or hate ‘em or be indifferent, but you cannot deny some of the great songs and riffs they’ve recorded over the years. One of my favorite Stones’ songs is “Sympathy For The Devil”. From the percussion at the very beginning, this song grabs you. Then the piano and singing starts up, and the funky bass line kicks in. It’s the gradual build that really works here. The bass picks up in speed and complexity, along with the piano. Then about halfway through the track, you get a nice guitar solo that pierces its way through the music. Mick also does a nice job on the vocals on this track. And don’t forget the “woo woos” and “who whos”. Great song.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBecM3CQVD8

State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.) by Jim James

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Jim James, the immensely talented singer/guitarist from My Morning Jacket released his first proper solo album last month – “Regions of Light and Sound of God”. It’s a much more mellow affair than the majority of the music you’ll hear by My Morning Jacket. James wrote, performed, sang all vocals and produced the entire album by himself. While James started working on the album in 2010, it really starting to form back in 2008 when he was badly injured after a stage fall. During his recuperation, a friend gave him a copy of the book “God’s Man”, a graphic novel from 1929 that tells the tale of a young artist who seeks redemption while struggling with personal demons. James was greatly moved by this book, and it sparked his spiritual curiosity. His solo album deals with spiritual concerns, but not religiously. I enjoy James’ vocals with My Morning Jacket, he provides a great mix of power, emotion and calmness (often heavy on the reverb which only adds to this). My favorite song on his solo album is probably the lead-off track – “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)”. I really enjoy the piano line that drives the song, along with James’ vocal performance. It’s a very soulful song. My favorite line in the song is “I used my state of the art, Technology, Now don’t you forget it, It ain’t using me”.
And if you haven’t listened to My Morning Jacket, I suggest you go explore their albums. Start with either their last album “Circuital” or “Z”. Or maybe even better, check out their live album “Okonokos”. They’ve been called the best current live band in America by more than one publication. Hmm, I think I have a topic for next week’s email…

Cloak of Feathers by The Sword

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This 4 piece from Austin, TX released their debut album in 2006. Their first two albums had more of a fantasy theme running throughout, but over their last two albums they’ve switched over to a science fiction theme. No matter the theme or subject matter of the songs, they all have a really great vibe and great guitars running throughout. Their fourth album “Apocryphon” came out last year in October and continued to showcase their slightly retro sound, massive riffs and fantastical lyrics. I love the band for their sound, particularly their effects-laden guitars and the groove they lock into throughout every song. I really don’t even listen to the content of the lyrics. “Cloak of Feathers” is the second track off of their latest album, and it showcases all of the bands strong points – awesome guitar riffs, big drums and epic lyrics. The track wastes no time getting started, a couple of cymbal hits and the guitars, bass and drums kick in and there’s no looking back. There’s nothing groundbreaking about what these guys do, but what they do they do very well.

Namesake by Brother Ali

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Ok, I’m swear I’m not making up Brother Ali’s bio. Rapper Brother Ali moved around various northern Midwest cities as a child, eventually landing in Minneapolis. When he was about 15, he met a famous rapper from the times (whose name escapes me right now), and that left a lasting impact that inspired him to focus on being a rapper. It also inspired him to become a Muslim. Oh, and Brother Ali is also an albino. Yes, an albino Muslim rapper from the Midwest. He’s about 4 albums into his career now, with the release of “Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color” in 2012. Brother Ali’s latest album is a statement about modern America, including many of its flaws but also hope for change and a better future for our children. Brother Ali has a very smooth and soulful style with his rapping, at times it’s almost like sing-rapping. He also doesn’t limit himself to any particular style with his songs, he can go hard hitting, softer and more introspective or even more commercial/pop sounding at times. The variety keeps his albums interesting. On the track “Namesake”, Brother Ali starts off strong and demonstrates how he can effectively deliver his words with both a fast flow and almost singing in parts. This track has a great soulful feel, with a prominent piano driving the beat along. The piano notes work very effectively in the gaps between his lines. The background female vocals add to the classic soul sound. This track is way too short at just over 2 minutes, but Brother Ali goes non-stop throughout. The second link below shows Brother Ali talking about the meaning of the song and his background.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7r1RmWAR64

Romantic Dreams by Deftones

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The Deftones formed almost 25 years ago in Sacramento, CA when they were still in high school. A four song demo eventually caught the attention of record labels and they signed with Madonna’s label, Maverick. They released their first album “Adrenaline” in 1995. The album didn’t sell a lot at first, but through relentless touring they slowly grew a fan-base and sold over 200K copies. They continued to grow in popularity after their second album, and by the time they released their third album “White Pony” in 2000, it debuted at #3 on the album charts. By 2006, they had released five albums. They had established themselves as a metal band that gradually evolved their sound, creating a mix of crushing, heavy grooves and more atmospheric and quiet components to their music. Vocalist Chino Moreno has the unique ability to sing with a great deal of emotion, and really helps set different moods with their songs. He can scream with fury and power, and he can also croon with a passionate, yet delicate yearning – and has no qualms mixing both styles within the same song. I think the band is exceptional at creating different moods and atmospheres not only from track to track, but within the same song. In 2007 the band suffered a major tragedy when bassist Chi Cheng was involved in a serious car accident and was left in a coma. The Deftones had been working on a new record when the accident occurred and went on a two year hiatus. In ’09 they got a new bass player and started recording a new album. “Diamond Eyes” was released in 2010, and was another exceptional album in their discography. This past year, Chi Cheng partially regained consciousness and has been able to return home to continue to recover. However, he is still not in condition to play with the band. “Koi No Yokan” was released near the end of 2012, and the band continues to shine on their latest release. I could choose any track on the album to highlight, so I’m choosing track 2, “Romantic Dreams” which I think is an amazing song. One thing I love about this band is how their music can literally envelop you in sound, texture and atmosphere. It’s almost like watching a movie with your ears. With “Romantic Dreams”, Chino is full-on engaged in total obsession with a woman, a theme that is not uncommon on their albums. It’s completely mesmerizing when he’s singing the chorus “Oh I’m hypnotized by your name, Oh I wish this night would never end”. Adding to the impact on the chorus is the incredible descending guitar riff that fills in the space between his vocals. But really the entire track shines, not just the chorus. The band sounds phenomenal, the guitar riffs, changes in tempo, thundering bass parts – 4:30 never went by so quickly. I’m not even going to go into detail about how the track progresses, the song is littered with highlights throughout. If you haven’t listened to the Deftones before, or haven’t heard them in the past five years, this is a good introduction to their sound.

Fire’s Highway by Japandroids

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Japandroids are a garage rock band from Vancouver and they’re just a duo – guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse. They share vocal duties. These guys released their second album in 2012 which was titled “Celebration Rock”. Their ’09 debut “Post-Nothing” was a highly regarded release. These guys came out of nowhere and quickly gained a lot of exposure, courtesy of a Pitchfork “Best New Music” recommendation. What I liked about their debut (I had one of their songs on my ’09 Best of compilation) was the youthful energy behind a flurry of drumming and noisy, ringing guitars. These guys just sound really happy when they’re performing and they have a ton of energy. Recording quality is bare bones, which helps drive a lot of the energy in their music. They didn’t change things up much on their second album, keeping a similar sound and even using very similar art for their album cover. Interesting story about the band, they were pretty much breaking up before their first album broke out and became a critical success. When they went on tour for the next two years, they realized this was the fun part of playing as a band vs. grinding away holed up in a studio. So they did stay together, and went into the studio for their second album intending to create huge sounding songs that would sound great played live. So this music is loud, simple and fun. Probably a little too raw for commercial success, but that’s the mainstream’s loss and our gain. Almost any song could have been selected from “Celebration Rock”, but I’m including “Fire’s Highway” because it is just a tad more nuanced than some of the other tracks, but is still a good example of what Japandroids sound like.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixOKfFFchw4

Deconstruction by Witchcraft

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This Swedish retro-heavy band first formed about a decade ago and released their first album in 2004. Their self-titled debut was highly regarded, and the album which was recorded exclusively with vintage equipment, was lauded for capturing a very authentic ‘70s sound. Their most obvious influences are Pentagram and Black Sabbath. They went on to record several more albums before taking a five year break. Witchcraft reformed in 2012 with a new drummer and two new guitarists, with only two original members in tow – founder Magnus Pelander and bassist Ola Henriksson. The current version of the group is more focused and brasher than the slower, hazy music they had previously recorded. I think their latest album “Legend” is a wonderfully crafted record. They paid a lot of attention to the details in the recording throughout the album. I could have picked any of the 9 songs on the album to include today. So I just went with the lead-off track, “Deconstruction”. There are many components that I enjoy the most about this song. For one, when the track first slows down around the 2:30 mark and the bass comes in really heavy which then leads into some great guitar work right after the 3:00 mark. At the 4:00 mark, there is some great guitar interplay once again. The guitars lock in for a nice riff and then with 30 seconds left when it sounds the song is done, the band kicks in faster for the last 30 seconds before the song ends. Then the beginning of the track is great, with the massive guitars and the bass rumbling along. This is followed by some distant echoing background vocals before the song speeds up at the 1:00 mark and the vocals start. Yes, the track is just over 5:00 long, but there’s a lot going on during this song! My other favorite part is right before the 2:00 mark when the singer exclaims “Satan is amused” right before the guitars kick in hard. Cool album cover art as well.

Blue Ice by Shout Out Louds

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This is by far probably the most popular band in the list of artist that Amazon showcased for free music. This group is from Sweden and have been making music together since 2001. The band has toured with numerous acts, including The Strokes, Kings of Leon and The Rosebuds to name a few. They have also had a slew of songs hit TV shows and a few movies. Needless to say, these guys are doing a pretty good job of staying employed and maintaining their indie style. Blue Ice is a great song, one of my favs out of all of their music that I’ve listened to in the past few days. The lead singer has a unique voice, and i really enjoy the piano that comes in and out of the song. The song kind of reminds me of something you’d hear in a 80’s movie while the lead character is driving around in a car. Don’t ask me why i picture that, its just what comes to mind every time i hear this song. 🙂
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-VOLmAovCk

Default by Django Django

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This quartet first met in Edinburgh, but didn’t formally join as a band until a few years later in London. I think these guys have elements of Devo, Beach Boys and Clinic in their music, along with several other lesser known British artists. There is a wide variety of influences in their music, and they do a nice job of mixing electronic sounds and guitars. There’s even some surf guitar and some middle eastern influences on their s/t debut album. It made a large enough mark in the UK to be nominated for the Mercury Prize last year (Alt-J won the award for “An Awesome Wave”). The single “Default” is a good example of their sound. You get to hear the guitar elements, some electronics, some of the vocal play they use, and it’s all packaged together into one pretty catchy song. My favorite parts are the guitar and the vocals, but it’s really all of the combined elements that drive the track along. If you like this song, then I recommend checking out the album.