Category Archives: Music

Japandroids – Celebration Rock

Artist: Japandroids
Album: Celebration Rock
Label: Polyvinyl
Rating: 9 out of 10

After the release of their 2009 debut album, Post Nothing, Japandroids duo Brian King and David Prowse almost called it quits on several occasions. With the reality of touring and the grueling cycle of promoting sinking in, the band realized that their dream of being in a band was a lot different than they imagined. “The battle between it being a dream and how hard it is to sustain the dream continuously and indefinitely,” Brian described in a recent interview with Pitchfork, “…it’s hard on the body.” Deciding to forge ahead rather than end it all, though, the band recorded their new album, Celebration Rock, at the end of 2011. It’s a fast, energetic album that is the best thing the band has ever done, and may even go on to being one of the best records released this year.

Japandroids’ songs have always been an energetic embrace of living in the moment mixed with the threat of experiencing a total existential crisis. While the latter half of that equation never threatens to derail the power and overall fun that each track has, it keeps them grounded. The album is only eight songs long and lasts little over half an hour, but there’s not a second wasted on it. Just like the feelings of youth the band emulates, the music is gone before you realize it’s over. Highlights include “Younger Us,” an insanely catchy tune that doubles as the most gloriously emo they’ve ever been, and “The House That Heaven Built,” which is by far the most epic thing they’ve ever done. All in all, though, the highlights aren’t distinguishable in their quality from the rest of the album because the rest of the album is just that good.

Most of the songwriting on Celebration Rock is pretty straightforward with each song sticking to only a few chords. Like a lot of two man duos in rock, simplicity is their strength. While there are a lot of artists out there now whose processes are appealing because they’re a mystery, Japandroids’ processes for writing music are appealing because they’re not. Japandroids are two averagely skilled friends who grinded away until they were great enough to make something happen only to talk about how fleeting moments where something happens are.

“There’s a difference between people who are born with that special thing and people who love the people who are born with that special thing so much that they want to try their best to get as close as they can to it,” Brian told Pitchfork, describing himself as the second type. This is why Celebration Rock is an incredibly human record, and one of the best releases this year. It’s from a group of averagely skilled guys that faced the grind over and over until they made something amazing only to realize they may never make something amazing again. And it’s that kind of uncertainty in the future with a glorious celebration of the present that defines the only things we can have in life.

The Flaming Lips – Heady Fwends

Artist: The Flaming Lips
Album: Heady Fwends
Label: Warner Brothers
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

2011 was a cornerstone year for The Flaming Lips for a lot of reasons. Without a label to dictate or control their releases (the band’s contract with Warner Brothers ended at the end of 2010, but the band didn’t renew for another year), The Lips had a sudden control and freedom over their music that they hadn’t had since their days as a punk band in the 80’s. Their audience was much, much smaller in the 80’s, though, and the band with their massive fanbase of now seemed prepped to carve into a new territory of old school DIY ethics like major acts Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails had done memorably in the decade before. This led to the band self-releasing a string of bizarre gimmicks like a 9 pound gummy skull with a USB of music embedded in the skull and a song that lasts a straight 24 hours. Regardless, their more traditional releases were a series of collaborative EP’s with the likes of Neon Indian, Prefuse 73, Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band, and Lightning Bolt. Although only a handful of tracks from those initial EP’s appears on this release, Heady Fwends is still a culmination of everything the Lips have accomplished in the past year.

Probably the most surprising thing about this record is how cohesive it sounds. While collaborations between artists (especially when it involves two or more) typically dilute into multiple egos drifting past each other only making very surface level music, the Lips have managed to keep things relatively tight. Whether this is because the band chose their collaborators wisely or it’s because the collaborators were given nothing more than a (mostly) fleshed out track to add their own personal dressing to, Heady Fwends never sounds like it’s moving illogically from track to track. This doesn’t mean that the tracks don’t sound as polished or as well constructed as they should be, though, and it’s hard to think how many collaborators literally phoned in their part (the final track with Ghostland Observatory is just a rant about punching cops in the penis that Lips frontman Wayne Coyne recorded on his iphone). In fact, some tracks from the band themselves like the aforementioned Ghostland Observatory track and their track with New Fumes feel phoned in and rushed, as well. The band was only given a short amount of time to complete a lot of these tracks, and unfortunately it shows.

This record still has its fair share of psychedelic freak outs, though, and tracks like “Is David Bowie Dying???” with Neon Indian and “I’m Working on Nasa on Acid” with Lightning Bolt are highlights. The track featuring Ke$ha is probably way better than a lot of people apprehensive towards her thought it would be, but tracks with rock-history legend Yoko Ono seem almost throwaway (especially in comparison to the other great songs that came out on their four song EP with the Plastic Ono Band). Regardless, their track with Bon Iver, “Ashes in the Air,” and their collab with Edward Sharpe, “Helping the Retarded to Know God,” are classic Lips tracks. Heady Fwends is a lot better than it was expected to be, but as a worthy follow-up to their LP release, it is not. This is no worry, though, as the band is prepped to put out a new record in the fall. And as always, The Flaming Lips have been way more interesting and enjoyable than any other band out there when they’re experimenting and braving into territories few do, even if they don’t succeed.

Note: the final track on the CD release, “Tasered and Mased,” was replaced by the track “I Don’t Want You To Die” with Chris Martin originally on the vinyl release due to licensing issues. This track is way better than the Ghostland Observatory one, and you should definitely check it out here, if you haven’t heard it already.

Dead Man’s Bones – self titled

Artist: Dead Man’s Bones
Album: self-titled
Label: Anti-
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Ryan Gosling, the actor known for his lead in last year’s “Drive” and the popular movie “The Notebook” (that was responsible for establishing 99.9% of his largely female fanbase of fourteen year olds and middle aged ladies), has hit the music scene with Dead Man’s Bones, formed with friend Zach Shields. Meeting each other through Gosling’s girlfriend at the time, Rachael McAdams, Gosling and Shields eventually discovered they had a shared fear of ghosts and paranormal activity. Rather than shirking away from their supernatural fears, though, the duo decided to use their fixation on the dead to start a band and craft a modern monster musical (aliteration!).

Like Russel Crowe, the vanity projects of Scarlett Johansson, and whatever crappy band Billy Bob Thornton is in – the music releases of notable Hollywood Actors are generally marked with an air of delusion, ingenuity, pretension, and a noticeable lack in quality. This doesn’t seem to be the case here, though, as the band (maintaining a largely low profile) has decided to forfeit slick production sounds in favor of a lo-fi quality that gives the record a homely, intimate feel. Releasing a record focused on zombies and ghosts right before Halloween is a clearly calculated move, but the holiday never bleeds into the music beyond general thematic ideas of what Halloween is about on a surface level (spooky stuff).  And so, what could have been a gimmick of Monster Mash style music never comes close as a reality. In fact, darker tracks like “Buried and Water” and “Lose Your Soul” would probably scare the crap out of Count Chocula.

The children’s choir, really used in full, works to great benefit for the group. Having a bunch of kids sing “my body’s a zombie for you” and other dark, suggestive lyrics might seem a little weird at first, but in a post-MacKenzie Phillips world-it’s not really that shocking. The only weak track, “Pa Pa Power,” is a fine song but it doesn’t really fit in lyrically or musically with the rest of the album. In all, Dead Man’s Bones is a great album that demonstrates a real knack for song writing and performance that is sure to rock out the vans of middle aged ladies (fully decked out with the “coexist” sticker) and the iPods of their trendy fourteen year old daughters long after Halloween has passed.

DJ Jazzy Jeff – Summertime Mixtape Series


Summer, summer, suuuuummer.

Summer music is some of my favorite kind of music. It’s fun, relaxed, warm, and reflective.  DJ Jazzy Jeff and Mick Boogie put out the first of their Summertime Mixtape series a few years ago full of old school hip hop and summertime classics, and they’ve been putting out a new one each year since. While I can’t vouch for Volume 2 & 3 (I haven’t listened to them that much), Volume 1 is a mix that still gets played in my household regularly. You can stream/download them all for free below. DO IT.

Volume 1  • Volume 2Volume 3

Fuxa – Electric Sound of Summer

Fuxa - Electric Sound of Summer

 

 

Fuxa (pronounced “fuchsia”) is a space-rock group mainly helmed by Randall Niemann.  First formed in 1994, Fuxa trickled out a steady stream of releases until the early 2000’s when the group dropped off the radar completely. Back now after a lengthy hiatus with an album that features contributions from members of Spiritualized and Spacemen 3, Electric Sound of Summer is a psychedelic mindtrip. You can order the album from their label’s website or hey, you can stream the album on Spotify here. Check out their trippy cover of the classic Go-Go’s track “Our Lips Are Sealed” below.

 

 

Oh! Also, the cover art to their album was done by one of my favorite artists, Anthony Ausgang, who I really love (he did the cover art for MGMT’s Congratulations) because he just paints these pictures of cartoon cats on acid over and over and…oh, you stopped reading. Not cool, man.

 

Preteen Zenith

Preteen Zenith

Preteen Zenith, the new band by Tim Delaughter (leader of The Polyphonic Spree), just put out a record on Good Records, Rubble Guts & BB Eye, and it’s a psychedelic epic. Check out the video they made for the song “Relief,” recorded right before they premiered at last year’s Gorilla vs. Bear fest, or listen to the track they recorded with Erykah Badu, “Damage Control,” below.

Tim Delaughter just wrapped up a tour with The Polyphonic Spree who have been touring all around the country this past year. Here’s hoping he makes a few dates with this outfit soon.

Video: Last Known Surroundings

While it came out over a year ago, Explosion in the Sky’s video for their track “Last Known Surroundings” off their 2011 album Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, is one of the few music videos that can match up to the sonic grandiosity of the track its promoting. Made by the folks at the Austin-based design company, Ptarmak, it’s definitely worth checking out if you missed it before.