Archive | May, 2010

The National – High Violet (2010)

27 May


[ALBUM REVIEW]
[Album: High Violet]
[Label: 4AD / 2010]
[Rating: 5.7]

The streets are starting to die down, the office rush has calmed. Everyone is inside, hiding from the rain, trying to convince themselves that work didn’t take that much out of them – and that tonight they can go out. The puddles on the street act as mirrors reflecting the orange and white glow of the theater lights above. The breaks in the cobblestone road act as miniature canals for the water to flow through. The rain has stopped, for now, but the air holds the smell of dampness – signaling the possibility it could start up again at a moments notice. If the skies don’t open, the streets will begin to buzz once again, holding the hand of those with enough left in their tired soles to tread to their destination, guiding them to wherever they need to go. For many, that destination is the theater, the same theater with the orange glow, the same theater that opens a new play tonight. This means it is time to throw on some proper clothes, some proper shoes, some proper fragrance – trying to embody the redolent scent of high society and the image that that society presents. Even if you don’t belong. The play is focused on real human emotion, real everyday life – real tragedy and loss, real love and hate. High Violet offers the soundtrack, a damp and weary outlook, a tiny glimpse of hope, and a lot of wearisome banter on the hopelessness of life (cheer up boys).

In the past The National have created songs that would often creep up on you. They didn’t have to throw up big signs to let you know the structure was changing, or that there were horns now triumphantly blasting in the background. Their composition allowed them to do this, their beautifully layered instrumentals were able to present something really special without being really flashy.

On High Violet their songs seem to just drift along, however, no creeping, no alarms, no surprises. They become songs with no flash and no merit. To be blunt – they’re boring. There are a few exceptions on the album – Afraid of Everyone and Bloodbuzz Ohio are both extremely well built songs with some great lyrics accompanying; which highlights everything that makes The National such a remarkable band. But in general the album never really wants to go anywhere, the changes in songs are often so subtle they are easy to overlook – and in the end, easy to forget.

Terrible Love is the albums opener, offering a glimpse of hope throughout. It embraces the bands ability to layer together so well. However, the song never really opens up, and it eventually only offers an eccentric drum riff and a guitar that’s too loud. The next two songs Sorrow and Anyone’s Ghost seem to follow suit, producing monotonous songs that provide no hooks, melodies, or anything to look forward to.

Little Faith supplies the first beacon of hope on the album, producing a beautiful atmospheric chantey with some equally beautiful lyrics focused on wasted purpose – the problem is it takes about 3 uneventful minutes to get to somewhere exciting.

Afraid of Everyone seems to kick the album into a more noteworthy gear. Easily being the most memorable song on the album, it slowly builds from a swooning confession of survival into a fervent revelation. It is The National proving their magnificence – creating a meaningful ballad from the ground up with slowly building drums, choral chanting, and timidly placed guitar riffs. Bloodbuzz Ohio follows, a song that is also a solid addition to the bands repertoire of significant songs.

But then the magic is lost, and Lemonworld directs the album back into down tempo repetitive humdrum rock. It’s not a bad song; but it’s just not good. Runaway seems to be assembling itself into a beautiful anthem, but its charm is lost after hearing five minutes of the same thing. The whole back end of the album seems to follow in this way, disappointing time after time with songs that go nowhere, and do nothing. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes a slow simple song can work wonders (Bowie’s Life On Mars, Keane’s Hamburg Song), but The National fall short and just manage to be unexciting and colorless.

The play is over, the rain is pouring, and your wondering what to take out of the experience. High Violet goes nowhere, stretches nothing, and snails along. Which is really disappointing because some of the songs, like Bloodbuzz, prove that The National are capable of creating great music while not having the drastically alter their sound. In the end, however, most fall attempts short and leave you frustrated over the lack of any progression.

-Dave, May 27, 2010

The National – Bloodbuzz Ohio:

The National – Afraid of Everyone:

Advertisements

Foals – Total Life Forever (2010)

21 May

[ALBUM REVIEW]
[Album: Total Life Forever]
[Label: Transgressive / 2010]
[Rating: 6.5]

Can horses dance? Who cares, really.

I like to paint pictures of how an album should be listened to, in order to give an idea of what should be expected. I judge an album by its cover, and judge it by the image the cover articulates (if it is good enough to make any impression on me at all.)

SO…

Picture yourself on the deck of an old rustic sailboat. A magnificent and stunning sailboat that is so large, the vast ocean surrounding it appears to be no more than a puddle in its wake. The vessel is something of myth – something untouchable, something intangible. The night drapes itself around you as stars paint holes in the canvas that is the sky. You don’t know whether this peacefulness is chilling in its tranquility; or whether this peacefulness is affirmation that a storm is soon to follow. The atmosphere encompasses everything – your mindset, your emotion, your view on what is taking place around you. But being on this ship is unsettling; the water – the ocean – can have that affect, and I think it is no coincidence that the album cover of Total Life Forever reflects this. The album follows a direction that, for the sake of making my painted picture seem relevant, follows the structure of beginning, chaos, and resolution. That being said, you don’t really know what to expect at any part in any song, which sometimes pays off huge, and sometimes disappoints big time.

The album starts off with Blue Blood which is honestly one of the stronger songs Foals has to offer. It is a slow building ballad filled with jangly guitars and heavy reverb, and apparently lead singer Yannis’ singing is a huge step forward for the band (who knew!). It breaks in and sounds awesome, using some really great drum patterns over a danceable bass line. It may not be the most rewarding break-in on the album but it’s still pretty solid.

The song itself can be seen as a foreshadowing of the albums direction, driving itself from a quiet piece of music into a symphonic ball of chaos. It gets a little bit messy at time but stays catchy throughout (I think there are horns? If so very cool).

The album is really top-heavy, however, which is where it runs into trouble. The first five songs were all pretty special, with Black Gold and Spanish Sahara fulfilling all my deepest musical needs. But This Orient, the second single, sounds like a crappy Bloc Party rip-off that is easily forgettable.

It seems to send the back end of the album into a downward spiral, After Glow starts off with some really cool guitars, but proceeds to break in obnoxiously making ears feel like porta-potties. Maybe you’re into that, but its not my cup of tea. The next few songs build themselves extremely well and show a lot of promise, but seem to be afraid to fully break-in, which is particularly frustrating (Oh and 2 Trees sounds like an advert for a blood donor clinic).

The album definitely surprised me, as I was expecting a repeat of their 2008 debut. Black Gold and Spanish Sahara will find their way onto some future “best of” lists for sure. However, Total Life Forever didn’t blow me away by any stretch, and I really thought it had the potential to do so. The album seems like a step in the right direction for the boys; standing on the edge of the great sailboat, it seems as though Foals are thinking of jumping in but for now they’re only ready to dip a toe or two.

-Dave, May 21, 2010

Foals – Spanish Sahara:

Foals – Black Gold:

05 / 12 / 2010

12 May

I have not been writing lately because I have been so tied up with finals and work, and for that I apologize.

My posts will begin to appear more often now that I am finding some more free time. Even with free time, however, I still need to find music that I think is worthy enough to draw attention to. Lately I haven’t found much of anything. Band of Horses new album comes out soon so maybe that will be a treat worth sharing.

I’ve had to rely on some old bands collecting some virtual dust on my iPhone to get me through the commute to work. So here are some favorites I’ve re-stumbled across, and are loving as of late.

Metric – Help, I’m Alive:

Metric – Collect Call:

The XX – Islands:

Radiohead – Weird Fishes/Arpeggi:

Radiohead – You And Whose Army?:

Phoenix – Sometimes In the Fall:

Passion Pit – Seaweed Song:

Anya Marina – Whatever You Like (T.I. Cover):

Empire of the Sun – Half Mast:

Empire of the Sun – We Are the People

That’s it really, stay tuned for some new music.

-Dave

(Photo’s courtesy of http://www.stuckincustoms.com/, amazing stuff)

%d bloggers like this: