Monday, May 24, 2010

Album Review: The Hold Steady-Heaven is Whenever


(Note: I meant to do this almost two weeks ago. Sorry it's so late)
When I listen to a Hold Stead record, I expect three things. First, I expect to hear lead singer Craig Finn's deep gravely voice singing life into party-goers and drug dealers in a way that makes them sound like stand up characters even though they're screwing each other and screwing each other over in every song. Heaven is Whenever continues to deliver here. Familiar characters make returns (I'm pretty sure "The Weekenders" is about the girl from "Chips Ahoy" but that may be a mis-read on my part) and new ones pop in like the band that gets started in album opener "The Sweet Part of the City".

The Second thing I expect on a Hold Steady record is some sweet keyboard/accordion parts being plated by Franz Nicolay. This record is sorely lacking in this department as Franz Nicolay has departed to do his own thing. The good news is that the band doesn't fall over without him. There are still keyboard/piano parts aplenty on this record and they add to the sound, but they don't make songs like the used to, especially tracks like "One for the Cutters" on 2008's "Stay Positive". The band has embraced a few new sounds on this album though, possibly to make up for Nicolay's absence, possible for no reason at all, and the most prominent example of this is the albums opening slide guitar riff from "Sweet Part of the City". It's nice to hear a bit of a change in the sound of a band that's been running things fairly consistently for the last couple of albums.

The Third thing I expect is some extremely heavy and creative guitar riffs from lead guitarist Tadd Kubler and here is where this album really kicks my expectations in the pants. Without Franz Nicolay to steal the spotlight, Tad's guitar playing rips right through this record's sound. From heavy tracks like "The Smidge" to my personal favourite track on the album "The Weekenders", the guitar becomes much more of the focus of the sound of the band, and I feel it's a welcome change.

There's another thing I always expect from a Hold Steady album that I don't like to mention though. That is a slow number somewhere in the middle that doesn't quite flow right. 2006's "Boys and Girls in America" had "First Night", "Stay Positive" had "Lord I'm Discouraged" (which is probably their best shot at it), and this album has "We Can Get Together", a song which has a lot of great moments but unfortunately doesn't fit together quite right. It's not something against the sound of the album but it is a speed bump on the road to what might have been an incredible album otherwise.

I also feel like I'm bashing on endings with most of these reviews I've been writing but the ending of this album is very drawn out and I don't really like it. It may just be my personal preference but when "A Slight Discomfort" ends with the same chords, wash of sound, and one repeated drum fill for two and a half minutes, I can't help but wonder if the band could have done something a little more creative or concise.

I like this album a lot, but in the scheme of all The Hold Steady albums I've heard, this one drops in just below "Boys and Girls in America" and well below "Stay Positive". It's good but I hope the band can find some smoother flow for their next album.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Insomnia

Sometimes I drink too much pepsi/coke and end up sitting in front of my computer until 3AM. It gives me time to think about stuff but it also sucks because it means that I'll be very tired tomorrow which is unfortunate.

When I was in grade school I used to sit up in front of the computer until very late at night, usually due to the fact that I was playing Counter-Strike and didn't want to quit. I was never very good at it but the social aspect had me hooked. I also remember I used to blog a lot late at night on Xanga.

Man, Xanga takes me right back to grade 10. I used to blog all the time because it was therapeutic and because it was high school and you have to do something to get through it because everything's going on all at once and it's hard to keep track of it all. I learned a lot about blogging from that blog.

1) Don't tell your family or friends about your blog until you've gotten into a groove
2) Don't divulge any specific personal details about yourself. Keep everything nameless and generic
3) Just posting an online diary instead of coming up with meaningful posts is a bad idea.

I also wrote so much that I ended up getting much much better at organizing my thoughts fairly quickly. I used to re-write a post five or six times but now it's pretty much a one shot deal. I think that comes from blogging every single day for close to three years. I'm still not great at this whole thing as this page seems to be a little scattered, but I'm better than I was when I first started.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

This Kid From Stratford

I don't get it.

In late 2009, a mall appearance by Stratford native Justin Bieber had to be cancelled after 3000 rowdy pre-teen girls showed up at the mall hoping to see the musician. Extra police had to be called in to disperse the crowd and charges were laid on Bieber's manager after it was found that he refused to inform the crowd via twitter that the appearance had been cancelled.

In 2010, a second appearance, this time in Australia, led to a number of fans being trampled or crushed while waiting outside at 3 AM for Bieber to perform 3 songs at 8 AM. The event had to be cancelled meaning that those injuries were incurred while waiting for a concert that never happened.

Then, after Bieber posted a twitter message, jokingly referring to Kim Kardashian as his girlfriend. Bieber later had to clarify that she was only his friend after Kim started to get DEATH THREATS from female fans of Bieber's.

Seriously? A fan base that tramples, makes death threats, and requires police crowd control? I've talked with people about this subject before and we usually bring up The Beatles, and Backstreet Boys but if I recall correctly The Beatles are one of the most important acts in pop history, and The Backstreet Boys could sing before they were discovered, and I don't think either of them caused any tramplings or made any death threats to girlfriends, or at least not as publicly as Bieber's fans seem to.

And Bieber can't really sing very well. This is the thing that confuses me. These girls are screaming and trampling and raving for a guy whose voice doesn't sound very much like what they hear on the radio. In fact he could probably benefit from some vocal lessons.

So I don't get it. I don't get you Justin Bieber.

Update: Apparently I didn't check my facts very well (not surprising coming from me). Check the comments for a little more info.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Album Review: Broken Social Scene-Forgiveness Rock Record

The first CD I bought that I actually put some thought into was Broken Social Scene's "You Forgot It In People" in the winter of grade 10 (2004 for those of you counting). 6 years later, I still listen to that album on a semi-regular basis, so when I heard that Broken Social Scene was coming out with a new album, I got excited. After all, it's been 5 years since their last album (2005's "Broken Social Scene") and I wasn't exactly thrilled by their last outing. I felt like too often it degenerated into a drum beat and some random bass notes, or a chorus of very quiet lead guitar riffs. The production seemed to push the band in the direction of being a very quiet noise rock band, which didn't make sense and didn't make for easy listening.

I say this because in order to understand what I think about this newest Broken Social Scene album, you have to understand what I think about the last two. On this new record, Broken Social Scene have gone with a new producer (John McEntire who plays in a band called Tortoise) which seems to have pushed them in the direction of finally cleaning up their sounds, picking the parts of songs that work, and playing them loudly. BSS has always structured songs in fairly simple forms,probably because it's difficult to teach 15 people a song with lots of changes, but it works for them. You can hear every member's little contribution to the song, a little part here or some horns there, and there's enough of it that you never get bored listening to the songs.

I want to say which are my picks for best tracks on the album, but there's just so many. "Forced to Love" is so full of emotion that I find it hard to think about sometimes. The song builds to a point where you think it can't go any higher and then at 1:48 Kevin Drew (singer, lead guitar) screams on a part that just pushes the song over the edge. Andrew Whiteman (Lead Guitar, sometimes vocals) takes over with "Art House Director", a song that's a big departure from the traditional indie rock sound with it's blaring chorus of horns in the background, and Emily Haines (of Metric fame) finds time to pop in for "Sentimental X's" which builds from a quiet beat, to an all out frenzy at the end.

I think what makes me enjoy this album so much is that it's Broken Social Scene doing exactly what they did so well on "You Forgot It In People". They play a mix of songs that are cohesive enough to fit together on an album, but varied enough that you never get bored. It's almost like a one band mix tape, probably made easier by the fact that the band has enough members to start 5 other bands.

The only gripes I have with the album are track number two "Chase Scene" which doesn't quite fit with the album and seems to kill momentum from the album opener "World Sick". It's a decent track but I don't know if I would have put it where it is on the album. My other thought is the band seems to have been unable to come up with solid endings for a couple of the songs. "World Sick", "All to All", and "Ungrateful Little Father" all end with this wash of quiet, undirected noise and don't really seem to finish with the promise they began with.

These are just nitpicks though and shouldn't detract from what I consider to be a great album. I'm sure I'll enjoy this one for at least another 6 years just like their last one.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Album Review: Gorillaz-Plastic Beach


Note: I think I've spent enough time reading reviews on Pitchfork to finally say that I'm sick of reading reviews that seem to have little to do with the music, and more to do with making personal judgements about the artists. Normally I would just talk about how they're stupid, but this year because so many artists I enjoy are putting out albums, I have decided to sit down and write reviews on all the CD's I purchase this year just to see what happens.

Maybe this is an odd album to review as the first I've done on the site. I mean I'm not exactly Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn's target market. I listen to a lot of indie rock, and not much hip hop. But somehow Gorillaz have always managed to hit some kind of spot with me where I find myself going back to their stuff and enjoying it.

When I picked up this album two months ago, I did so because I had heard the first two singles ("Stylo" and "Superfast Jellyfish") and figured I had a pretty good read on the album. I was very wrong. The last Gorillaz album "Demon Days" delved fairly heavily into hip-hop conventions, but this one moves in a very different direction.

Instead of looking for good hooks and an array of rappers to back him up, Albarn looks to some very retro sounding production. About 1/2 of the album consists of songs which make heavy use of 8-bit synthesizers generating beautiful melodies, and Albarn's voice lies humbly on top of these melodies happy to either just float along with the song ("On Melancholy Hill") or to add to it's emotion ("Broken").

When the album does go into hip-hop conventions, it does it in a way that is very unique. The aforementioned singles are a good example. Neither "Stylo" or "Superfast Jellyfish" sound exactly like anything else you might hear on the radio but their close enough as to not feel weird. My favourite song on the album "Sweepstakes" also does the same by incorporating a drum beat, but a very unconventional one (a 3 over 4 polyrhythm for those of you who know what that means) and done with some very interesting timing. It's strange but once you start to catch the feel of the song you appreciate its uniqueness.

It took me a little while to find the right environment to listen to this record, but after a road trip to Halifax, I found that this album is most easily appreciated in quiet times on your own, whether it's while working on a project or on a long drive. You feel like you've brought someone along with some very interesting ideas on your trip.

If you have any intrest in Gorillaz, 8-bit music, and enjoy some hip-hop moments, then I would recommend picking this one up. If you're looking for something that's exactly like Demon Days though, you may want to take a listen before you make a decision.

Friday, May 7, 2010

What is real?

I was having coffee with a friend the other week and we were catching up on each other's lives. Somewhere in the course of the conversation, we started to talk about relationships and dating. You see, my friend is a single person who wants to be in a relationship, and I am a person in a relationship who has had some time to reflect on it. So our conversation eventually turned to my friend being in a period where I once was.

As we discussed this topic, we came to a point where I said "You should enjoy being single now while you have the time to enjoy it, and then when a relationship comes along you can go ahead and enjoy that." My friend could not do that though. She didn't feel like she could enjoy single life, even though she knew that I had been where she was and knew from experience. What I was saying to her wasn't real to her.

Maybe you've had this experience before, where someone tells you something and even though you can understand what they're saying and it makes sense, you don't feel like it's true. I've been seeing this a lot lately. I think that somewhere in between your head and your heart there's a link that needs to be made, and I have reason to believe that this link requires you to experience things for yourself in order to make the link properly.

What use is this though? If anything, it should be an encouragement to do things. If the only way I can truly understand things is by experiencing them, then I should be out there experiencing things. I should be taking chances and trying to take in things to learn as much as I can, because otherwise I'm just going to be stuck believing the same things for the rest of my life but not ever really understanding them.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Employment Situation

So I did manage to get moved. You can read about it here. The only thing I might have to add to what Cait said is that cleaning out my apartment took much longer than anticipated, but my landlord commended me on my cleaning job so that felt rewarding. Also, I am going to be in wicked shape because getting up to our apartment involves running up twice the amount of stairs when compared with my old apartment.

I tried to get a job, but that failed miserably so now I'm doing freelance work for various people. This week I'm spreading mulch for my girlfriend's parents. Next week I'll be assisting my sister in a number of tasks. After that I'll be working weekends at camp in the kitchen and attempting to find whatever else I can. It's been good to see that work has come up, even when I have to official employer. I almost feel like this is the best thing that could have happened to me.

I will keep you folks updated on how the summer goes.