Category Archives: Music

Jimmy Fallon – Blow Your Pants Off

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The last three years have seen Jimmy Fallon evolve his professional personality into quite possibly the most endearing in all of late night while pushing the format of the late night show by imbuing every facet of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon with sincerity and a passion for making the best show he and his crew can possibly create. The sincerity of Fallon mixed with the knowledge and respect he has of music and the backing of the best band in late night, The Roots, are a perfect combination for the unique approach to comedic music on display throughout Blow Your Pants Off, Fallon’s first album in a decade.

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June 13, 2012 · 9:00 am

Lissie at Coachella

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Lissie’s set at this year’s Coachella was recorded and is now on the internet for all to see. As should be expected, she, and her band, were exceptional. They moved briskly through a set of songs from the Why You Runnin’ EP, Catching a Tiger, two new songs and their cover of Kid CuDi’s “Pursuit of Happiness,” a setlist staple. During the set, Lissie shared that the band hopes to have a new album out in September. The two new songs, which I expect to be on the new album, were upbeat numbers that hewed closely to the vibe of songs like “In Sleep” (which had a fantastic live incarnation) and “When I’m Alone.” It is a promising taste of what is to come.

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Marc Maron – “This Has to Be Funny” Review

 

Marc Maron is in the midst of a wave of success. On the heels of the popularity of his WTF podcast he has earned a deal to broadcast several episodes of the podcast on NPR and has scripted a pilot for development. Those familiar with Maron’s comedy know that the majority of his subject matter hinges on his psychological unease and things that do not go well in his life, leaving listeners to wonder what a new album could comprise if positive things are happening for Maron. That question is addressed in the intro, with Maron assuring his crowd that he is not happy or well and that he cannot handle the things that are going well. With that statement, any worries subsided and the album impressed with the way that Maron continues to explore the emotions that inform his daily life and the places his experiences went.

 

Early on, Marc Maron explores the relationship he has with his notebooks and why he doesn’t use Moleskines, his conversations he has with himself and his cats and the way his mother explained why she raised him the way she did – all with the emotional exploration that permeate every story he tells. These lead to the beautiful three-part centerpiece of the album of “Texting While Driving,” “The Creation Museum” and “A Situation In My Head.” These three stories work well to define the way that Maron seeks to empathize with every one of his listeners and find the shared emotional experience that keeps him from truly feeling alone. From there, the jokes are more riotous and not always as grand in exploration, but they’re involving from an emotional standpoint that differentiates Marc Maron from so many other comics.

 

Maron sounds like he is doing better on “This Has to Be Funny.” He is not nearly as dark as he was on his previous album, “Final Engagement,” and it lends itself better to repeated listens. Just like on his WTF podcast, the best moments are shared moments of emotional catharsis that ask to be listened to again as a way to feel like a part of something more than the darker inclinations that the mind tends to explore. Marc Maron has been fighting his personal demons for many years and it is finally sounding like he is happy and doing well compared with where he could have been. It has allowed him to create my favorite comedy album of the year without it feeling as though the listener has gone through the emotional ringer with him as his work has done in the past. “This Has To Be Funny” is an album bursting with emotion and laughter at the same time, the components of the best times in life and as a listener it is great to share in a positive time with Marc Maron.

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The Dangerous Summer – “War Paint”

“‘Cause the sun I finally reached it

Give me reason to move on now

But there’s something I lost in this heart somehow”

Following the release of their first EP in 2007, The Dangerous Summer has had a drama-filled existence. If You Could Only Keep Me Alive was released by Hopeless Records on the strength of “The Permanent Rain.” The song was an ideal introduction to the band – pop-rock with a hint of ambience, unique vocal cadence and emotionally-pummeling lyrics. The rest of the EP was strong and set the pieces in motion for the band to grow. As their momentum seemed to be growing most, lead singer AJ Perdomo left the band and left their future in jeopardy. A couple of months later, Perdomo rejoined the band but there have been a couple of other members who have left and rejoined the band as well. As much as it seems there is intra-band drama, inter-band drama seems to follow as well. Stories of arguments and fights, vitriol spewing toward the craft of other bands, girl problems and basically any other minor quibble you can remember having in high school. Through it all, the band attributes it to their sense of humor. Whatever it is, it never seems to tarnish their musical output. Instead, they sound as though they get closer as a group and create more and more focused music. It was evident on their full-length debut, Reach for the Sun, and it is even more clear on the follow-up War Paint that was released on July 19th.

Reach for the Sun was one of those albums that was released at the perfect time and was a perfect storm of the band’s talent, a genre in need of a differentiator and a record of coherence and clarity. The subjects and themes were messy, but the lyrics and the musical backdrop showed every listener someone who was going through the same things and making sense of the world on a micro level rather than sticking to cliches and universal ideas. Reach for the Sun ended up being one of those records that will define a generation of listeners, making it an imposing idea to try and follow a record holding so much weight in listeners. The band played it smart by touring heavily for the next two years, writing and collaborating when they could and taking the necessary time to craft a record that could step out of the shadow of their debut.

War Paint carries darker tones than the debut. It sees a band maturing and growing into themselves and understanding what they do well and how they can expand upon those positive traits. Lead singer AJ Perdomo’s vocals are rougher, but the emotion bubbles through the strain. The rhythm section, paced by drummer Spencer Peterson (Tyler Minsberg was not a member of the band during the recording, though he has now returned to the band and his influence was clearly a part of the writing) has always stood out in the band’s music by controlling the flow of everything else that happens. The guitars are the most notable and alluring portion of the group’s sonic texture, led by Cody Payne and Bryan Czap, and they continue to provide the atmospheric tilt that separates the band from its peers. Every component contributes to create the exceptional War Paint.

The album opens with the title track and it is a mission statement for the band the battles they’ve fought to put this album together. It’s a furious open of guitars and drums that eventually give way Perdomo’s weathered vocals. “Work In Progress” follows and it is the most aggressive song the band has penned. It’s a dark, aggressive journey, but the vocal intonations allow every listener to get into the mind of Perdomo and find themselves having been on the same journey. Two of the next three songs deal with the pain of having and losing someone and needing them back as much as they need you, while “Good Things” ends up being one of the most positive songs the band has written, letting us see that there is some optimism somewhere in this group.

“Everyone Left” is the centerpiece to the album and it’s a gorgeous and telling look into the psyche of the band. The lyrics at the start of the post come from this song. It’s a reaction to the encouragement at the heart of Reach for the Sun. Though we can work our asses off to get to the point to which we aspire, we can sometimes leave the people we care about behind or leave them in the wake of all that we’re doing and working toward. We can reach maddening levels doubt being so focused, but we’ll come out better on the other side along with the people with us. The rest of the album works its way toward album-ender “Waves” in impressive fashion. It’s all about the battles that are fought and what can be taken from those experiences. It’s seeing the good part in the war where there are learning opportunities and pushing forward to get to the end.

That’s where “Waves” comes in. It’s a song that is looking back on everything that has come before, with the end of the war in sight, regardless of winning or losing it has to be taken into account what has been lost and what has been gained. There is no growth without pain. Learning from those experiences are what allow the wars to be won. Maintaining perspective is important and The Dangerous Summer have a clear grasp and perspective on where they’ve been and the fights they’ve fought. The album ends with the lyrics “This is the war to end all wars” and the band has come out at the end of the war with smeared paint, blood and dirt covering their bodies, but with stories to tell and the perspective and clear outlook to take control of where they go in their future. They’re better off for the war they’ve fought and as listeners we get to experience the war time and again and it’s series of beautiful battles.

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Fireworks / The Wonder Years

Fireworks and The Wonder Years are two bands who have seen their fan bases grow steadily over the last year. They responded by pushing their creativity and working their asses off to release two of the strongest releases to this point in 2011. In May, Fireworks released Gospel, an album swelling with memorable melodies and a group of songs that explore growth and the trials that come with being in the early years of adulthood. The Wonder Years came out with a purpose after the critical success and popularity they received following their sophomore release, The Upsides. The group created one of the most mature and seasoned records the pop punk genre has seen of late with the release of Suburbia I’ve Give You All and Now I’m Nothing.

 

Gospel

Fireworks’ debut album showed great promise, but suffered from songs bleeding together. The group’s energy overcame most of the shortcomings of the debut, though the weaker spots brought down the lasting value of the album as a whole. With Gospel, Fireworks took what was so strong and stood out in the first album (vocal melodies) and built each and every song on the foundation of tremendous melody. From the opening lines and refrains of “Arrows” the band’s confidence is on display through the guitar lines to the pace of the drumming and carries throughout the rest of the album. But, Gospel really shines in its mid-section.

Beginning with “Teeth,” Fireworks finds a groove that is unlike anything they’ve released. The song is much slower paced than typical for the band, but it gives way to the vocal growth of the band. Followed by “Oh, Why Can’t We Start Old and Get Younger” and it’s staccato rhythm, the group is exploring the difficulties in growing up and the trials that come with the expansion of knowledge. It’s a tremendous song that any young- to mid-20’s person can identify with and find hope within. Gospel is full of variation while remaining true to the promising parts of the debut. The album ends on a high note with “The Wild Bunch” which is a genre exercise full of bulky guitars, fast-paced drumming and lyrics that beg to be screamed in a car on a sunny day or in a small venue with a bunch of like-minded people. It’s a perfect ending to examine where the band has grown and honed what they did well on the first, while incorporating the impressive moments heard through the rest of Gospel.

 

Suburbia

The Wonder Years, on the other hand, released a critically well-received and extremely popular album with The Upsides. Their popularity surged and The Upsides turned into an album that was sensational for many people and became the soundtrack of a generation trying to see the other, better side of life. What the band did to follow the album was create a piece of work that explored the year following the release of that album. Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing wastes no time getting to the point with “Came Out Swinging.” Examining the modus operandi and what it is that motivates the band, “Came Out Swinging” is an extension of The Upsides, but with a confidence and a bravado that was previously absent from the band’s work. Things continue in impressive fashion with the next two songs, “Woke Up Older” and “Local Man Ruins Everything.” “Local Man. . .” is one of the more overt homages to The Upsides with references littered throughout, from the opening line to the chorus. Clearly, the band knows where they’ve been and what their previous album meant to people, but we also see how much that album meant to the band as well.

“Suburbia” is the first of three movements/interludes in the album that, once put together, read as the album’s title. Each of these movements have a different feel, but are clearly meant to form a whole. They also break the album into three pieces, with each considering different ideas with common themes. “My Life As a Pigeon” is the first song of the second “section.” It provides listeners with an explanation of why the pigeon is such a common part of their branding as a band and how it represents their growth up until this point in their careers. It’s an excellent song and is ideal as a jump-start to the second half. The three songs that follow are examinations of their hometown and what it means to them. No matter where you live, it is easy to find respite in knowing that everyone struggles with where they’re from while also finding things they love as well. The second movement leads into the final act of the album and takes a magnifying glass to the emotional core that comprises the band. Whether it be learning from experiences, appreciating the people held close or making it through life, the band has a knack for hitting emotionally resonant chords in listeners by leveling in a tremendous way. Album closer “And Now I’m Nothing” is nothing short of exceptional and closes the album on the highest of notes, immediately encouraging repeat listens to see if anything was missed during the previous listening.

Both of these bands fall within the same “pop-punk” categorization. Both created albums that have a distinct sound and also pushed each band to new heights creatively. It would be surprising if each band didn’t continue to grow their fan bases. The consistency of both albums is impressive and the lasting value has been evident over the last two months. Musically, they fit well as the soundtrack to summer days, but the lyrical value of both releases ensures that these albums are required listening, not just summer anthems.

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Mansions – Dig Up the Dead

During strong emotional moments in our lives, good or bad, we have difficulty putting our thoughts together in any clear way. Words get jumbled. There is feedback from the adrenaline rush to the brain. There is frustration that distorts reaction, causing the mind to jump from subject to subject, playing back all the moments that fed into that specific situation. It casts doubt, pushing our minds to wonder if just one thing had been done differently, would it change the outcome being experienced. In retrospect, events never seem as momentous as they do as happen, but our minds still recreate many of those same feelings. It’s the beauty of catharsis, the build up and release that frees us emotionally. On Dig Up the Dead, Christopher Browder explores the mind’s experience in an audible way.

Dig Up the Dead kicks off with the title track that has Browder’s distinct vocals being slightly further back in the mix and a slight echo to go with the words. There is room for everything to breathe, much like when we’re looking at a situation in retrospect and find our words echoing and playing over and over again. “Blackest Sky” and “Not My Blood” follow with the fuzzy guitars and distorted vocals that make up the backbone of the album. It’s a change for Mansions, but one that fits well. In place of vocals backed by acoustic guitar and solid drumming, we have a consistently strong rhythm section, fuzzy guitars and distorted vocals on many songs. There is an earnestness to the slight quiver in Browder’s vocals that endears listeners and makes the songs feel susceptible. It’s a beautiful contrast to the muscle the songs exhibit.

“City Don’t Care” is more subdued, but still has a pulsing drum beat that propels the song. It deals with the feeling of being lost in a big city, something universal, but specific in its exploration. The rest of the album continues strongly with two of the album’s highlights in the latter half.

There is a hint of reverb in place of distortion in “Seven Years” that sits well within the song’s context. There is a closeness and an immediacy to the song that draws the listener into the demons Browder is struggling to exorcise. With the repeated question of, “Will it be me and me alone?” we find ourselves asking the same questions Browder asks himself. It’s a song with a lot of big questions, but full of self-assuredness. The album closes with “Yer Voice.” It’s a superbly-executed exercise in meshing the sound of all the music Browder has created to this point in his career and a powerful finish to an excellent album. The song sees him relishing the work that he has had to put in to reach this point and realizes he is better off because of the tumultuous moments he has experienced, because he has reached his position because of honesty and sincerity. The song and album close with the lyrics “And the one thing that I need is the dreams back in my sleep, where they belong/I’m where I belong, you’ll see/This means everything to me.”

Having an artist confident in their craft and their position is a tremendous experience and leads to important art. Christopher Browder hasn’t had an easy trek in the music industry, but with his talent has persevered to create one of the most engaging albums of the last couple of years and has earned all the success he will achieve with Dig Up the Dead. It’s an album that is a quick listen, but is full of earworms and important topics. It’s easy to recommend to anyone, no matter their musical preference and I recommend you listen as soon as possible.

(Click the album cover to be taken to the Mansions site to order or download directly from the band.)

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The Weeknd – “House of Balloons”


 

The rise of minimalist music in indie rock and now in hip-hop and R&B has been in reaction to and in contrast to the polish populating every area of music in the last decade. The minimalism leaves a lot of burden for the artists behind the music to create something engaging in the places where the music is not. The style also allows a lot of open space to toy with structure and content within the songs. The Weeknd use the lack of stylistic flourishes to create something in sharp contrast to the direction of mainstream R&B music. The xx and How to Dress Well are obvious touchstones, but The Weeknd is something different than both of those acts.

 

House of Balloons is an album (I guess technically a mixtape) full of desperation, destruction, loneliness, regrets and despair. The music is still seen through the lens of girls, partying and sex, but that is the bokeh portion of the image, with the aforementioned attributes being the focal points. Opener “High for This” is an vivid introduction. Rather than penning a song about getting a girl alone and setting up candles and putting on some Luther Vandross, Toronto singer Abel Tesfaye shows his vocal chops with a tale of sex that his partner is gonna wanna be high to experience. It is far from caressing her skin and being gentle and, as a listener, I’m putting together the pieces of the dark lyrics that contrast the addictive chorus. Later on the album, we have “Coming Down,” a song about how Tesfaye desires a particular girl only when he is on the come down from a night of the untold.

 

Therein lies the beauty of what The Weeknd has put together. We’ve all had moments of self-mutilation, when we desire that person who either brings out the worst in us or we seek only when we feel we’re at our lowest. “Wicked Games” is my favorite song on the album and its bridge encapsulates what you can expect lyrically:

“Bring your love, baby I can bring my shame

Bring the drugs, baby I can bring my pain

I got my heart right here, I got my scars right here”

 

There is nothing that goes untouched throughout. In “The Party & The After Party” Tesfaye speaks of a girl that goes by Rudolph who will likely OD before he can take her home to meet his mother. “What You Need” features a sample of Aaliyah’s “Rock the Boat” which undoubtedly points toward the influence of How to Dress Well on the music. The major difference is that How to Dress Well approaches lo-fi R&B from a point of turning it into something that sounds like R&B without actually being R&B, whereas The Weeknd approaches the sound from a talented singer who turns the sound into something human, in all of its glowing inadequacies. The songs meander and evolve, but never lose their power or their grasp on the ears. I find myself constantly humming the refrains of these songs or feeling the fuzzy, euphoric riffs when my mind has nowhere to go.

 

(Click the cover art above to be directed to The Weeknd’s site to download the album for free.)

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