Two Piece Band (Royal Blood, How Did We Get So Dark? review)

It’s important to make music that you care about dear readers. And it’s essential to listen to music that fires you up inside. And man does this music ever do that for me.

 

Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?

released Jun 16, 2017
******** 8/10

Royal Blood are an English rock and roll duo, comprised of vocalist and bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher. They have been making music since 2013 – they hit the ground running when they released their first single, Out of the Black later that year. But they first truly got my attention in 2014 when the fourth single Figure It Out debuted.

Holy Moses was that a good experience.

Most definitely my favourite song of that summer. It had the raw quality needed to start a personal process of healing for me. And that release was almost three years ago, so it says a lot about their rock and roll power, because a great deal has happened for these blokes in the time past. Royal Blood saw a huge spike in popularity in a short time, winning several awards including Best British Group for 2015.

When it comes to describing their sound, Kerr has stated that one of his biggest influencers is Steven Hamblin from Graces Collide, which is all well and good, but if you’re new to Royal Blood, then you’re probably wondering what these guys sound like comparatively and I’m happy to oblige. The White Stripes, Black Keys, Death From Above 1979, and Japandroids are probably the best ones I can think of straight away, so take the time and look ’em up.

This is one of those albums that faces the ever-popular challenge of the sophomore follow-up. Tread the course or swim out into deeper waters and hope you don’t drown. Luckily for us, Royal Blood are strong enough swimmers fully capable of doing both; sometimes we hear songs like Where Are You Now? and Look Like You Know which stick to the sounds that what we know, but then we get excellence in the form of album closer Sleep, allowing everything that happens in between songs one to ten to vibrate at level far more grand then on the first album.

Yes. There is a big block of cheese to go with the album’s third single and eighth track, Hook, Line & Sinker, but it’s definitely still a fun song, and considering the tempo of the rest of this record, that’s a far better excuse to be forgiven of then some of my previous album reviews. Also She’s Creeping is kinda bland, angular, and annoys me, but I read another review on Ultimate Guitar which specifically stated a resemblance to Nirvana on this song (who some might say I inexplicably hate), so I’ll just leave it alone.

For my final thoughts… The use of extra vocals and overdubs on the second and third tracks Lights Out and I Only Lie When I Love You make them incredibly catchy, with all of the rawness that made Royal Blood popular to begin with, but making better use of Kerr’s voice and layering in more instrumentation to boot.

Pros: If you’re willing to listen to this a few times over, you might be surprised to learn that one of the best tracks is the title one – How Did We Get So Dark mixes in the new and old sounds quite well. And it deserves to be a single. Also Lights Out and Sleep. It’s a short album with a lot of buzz and well paced.

Cons: Sometimes the production runs a little slick and I think that’s where we end up with songs like She’s Creeping and Hook, Line & Sinker, which unfortunately feel a little phoned in for me. Also, I wish that some the themes were either more epic or more intimate, less middling, please and thank you.

Runtime: 35 minutes

Points of Interest: Royal Blood share the same management as Arctic Monkeys. And months before they released their debut album back in 2013, Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders sported a Royal Blood t-shirt in support of them.

If you haven’t been convinced to check this album out just yet, then I’m a sad theorist, but I think you should check out these tracks (1) (2) (3) and make up your mind for yourself.

theories Summarized

Royal Blood may or may not be a great band of our generation, but either way they rock out with the best of them. I have high hopes for future years and sincerely someone figures out how to turn the lights on, if not, I’ll just jam along in the dark with them.

Tim!

Mister Sinister (alt-J, Relaxer review)

A short poem.

Lifeless he crept upon her,
Daytime was not his friend,

Melancholy was her only friend,
What if the taste lingered for a time,

It is eerie outside at this time,
Too many sounds, too many noises,
It’s all rather eccentric.

We all need to own our weirdness, and alt-J could go in a million different directions at any given time, and they’ve proven that on their previous two albums, but what do I think of their third release? Let’s find out!

 

alt-J – After Laughter

released Jun 2, 2017
****** 6/10

alt-J are an English indie rock group featuring the talents of vocalist and guitar player Joe Newman, Cameron Knight on lead guitar and bass, Gus Unger-Hamilton on keyboards and backing vocals, and Thom Sonny Green on drums. Formed a decade ago, back in 2007, alt-J have now released three studio-length albums, An Awesome Wave, This Is All Yours, and today’s special, Relaxer.

alt-J are the kind of music for Millenials like what pop punk and 90’s r&b were for Generation Y. The voice of a generation – oft confused by physical albums and the thought of saving for a rainy day, but still a voice. Wicked generalization timotheories. Dick.

The thing is, alt-J have been compared to Radiohead a lot, and that is such a tired comparison to make, especially given that while their albums don’t come out with as much regularity anymore, Radiohead are still relevant. This is interesting music, for sure, but it’s not as courageous as those first two albums that alt-J put out.

I could spend a lot of time dissecting this album and pointing out all the places to you where it sounds amazing (read: In Cold Blood, Dead Crush, and Last Year), like the band that created Breeze Blocks and Left Hand Free, but someway and somehow we’ve been treated to a snoozefest for the most part and so many people are singing it’s praising without any reservation. It doesn’t make much sense to me, with a spectacularly weird and awful track in Hit Me Like That Snare. What a flaming pile of garbage that song feels like every time I listen to it.

And as much as I hate that song. This is actually a good thing.

Because it means that alt-J aren’t settling into a pattern of record making. They are willing to explore, to try new things and take some risks when it comes to their sound. Building a unique identity is difficult after all, and all of the comparisons to greats like Arcade Fire, Bastille and Arctic Monkeys would start to get on my nerves too.

This isn’t your mom and dad’s album, and it’s not mine either. But damn it if it doesn’t have the makings of something wonderful for alt-J to grow into in their middle age. They are working on making the content more meaningful, where they already set the standard in pared down simplicity.

Pros: As far as audio engineering and labour goes, nobody has alt-J beat. These gentlemen are more than capable of making arrangements interesting, and using ambience to tell narratives.

Cons: When they add in nuanced lyrics or play with formats, they struggle. It doesn’t always sound good, and Hit Me Like That Snare feels completely out of place with the rest of this record. I wish the experimentation didn’t feature throughout the entire album.

Runtime: 39 minutes

Points of InterestIn case you didn’t already know this, the band’s symbol is the capital letter delta (∆), a triangle. This can be accessed on an Apple Mac computer with the shortcut of alt+J. The first single is 3WW, the second is In Cold Blood, which features lyrics that state 00110011 01110111 01110111, which in binary translates to 3WW.

Adding poetry to covers of songs like House of the Rising Sun is a little bit odd, and a bit too clever, but it’s that sinister sound behind that curtain that has us coming back for seconds. Or should I say 01110011 01100101 01100011 01101111 01101110 01100100 01110011?

theories Summarized

We need to give artists like alt-J the space and time to grow, because we got two really excellent debut and sophomore efforts from them. That doesn’t mean that this album automatically gets a pass, but it does have some high points, and some points you can relax to.

Tim!

For The Lolz (Paramore, After Laughter review)

A friend of mine once told me that the kinds of music you prefer to listen to can tell you a lot about your personality, maturity and proclivities.

Not to mention all of the hundreds of articles and quizzes out there which claim to predict your personality based on how you answer certain questions. For instance, someone who listens to classical music would be typified as smart, hip hop fans are extroverts, and punk rockers are intense, energetic, and low on empathy.

Here’s an example, for the lolz.

 

Paramore – After Laughter

released May 12, 2017
******** 8/10

Paramore are an American rock band. Led by vocalist Hayley Williams, guitarist Taylor York, and drummer Zac Farro, they have seen more than their fair share of lineup changes over a thirteen year career. Have released five studio albums to-date, After Laughter is their most 80’s influenced and pop rock styled recording. Consider their greatest single Ain’t It Fun – which was released with the fourth album, 2013’s Paramore.

That track was the single greatest predecessor for all of the fun Paramore are having on this latest album.

So what does it sound like you ask? Well, it’s a combination of pop, emo pop, pop rock, alternative rock, and indie rock. So according to that personality test, it means that Paramore are outgoing and nervous, creative and curious, but have low self-esteem.

Apparently this test is working out for me because I would have to agree with all of that. This is a very upbeat and creative album, exploring a ton of different topics includes the oft ignored arenas of mental health and suicide. It’s a more mature vibe and different then what we’ve seen from Paramore on previous outtings, with Hard Times exemplifying the high energy and shift into synth and the odd. Further demonstrated by Rose-Coloured Boy, the track has a pop music tonality, with Williams showcasing her chops to keep the tempo up, but if you listen to the lyrics she is coming from a place of depression and anxiety. It’s chilling really.

Told You So continues in the same fashion, with a sobering outlook on the future and no expectations for more from life. It’s almost as if the bard are using pop music as a vehicle to showcase the challenges in pretending to be happy all the time, when the internal battle is far more difficult and filled with disparaging thoughts.

Forgiveness, Fake Happy, and 26 all channel 1980s movie soundtracks like something that Blondie would have featured in or better yet, Madonna. Before she really went grunge in the 1990s. Forgiveness in particular is quite powerful as a ballad, and easily one of the albums best, especially when paired with Pool, which I think sandwiches that section of the record quite well.

This album really does mark a shift for the band and while the ska and reggae towards the end of the record seemingly come from no where in Caught In The Middle, it’s fucking brilliant. Reminding me of early No Doubt and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

 

Pros: Moving away from their grunge-rock ways was a ballsy move from Paramore, but if anybody has the vocal range to play in the 1980s, its Hayley Williams. And while Idle Worship tells us they might not like themselves anymore, I still think they’re pretty damn cool. *Hugs*

Cons: I don’t really know where No Friend fits in this album, it’s kind of an odd duck, black sheep and red mark on an otherwise perfectly tuned effort. Also kind of slow? And ominous?

Runtime: 43 minutes

Points of Interest: After Laughter marks the return of former drummer Zac Farro to the band, as he recorded drums for the album and officially returned in February 2017 as a full member. Hard Times is the first single and Told You So is the second single.

I’ll admit I didn’t really pay attention to Paramore much when I was younger, which is odd given that they cite certain bands which I personally like as influences – Fall Out Boy, Blink-182, Death Cab for Cutie, Jimmy Eat World, Thrice and New Found Glory. Plus Hayley Williams takes personal inspiration from the  likes of the Ramones, Blondie and The Cure. For realz. I think John from ARTV said it best by declaring this an album that doesn’t sound like Paramore, but which is a good album nonetheless.

theories Summarized

Paramore are pop punk for the 21st century. They do all of the things that punk music are supposed to do, rhythm, high energy and tackling social issues, while having the fun, heart, and catchiness of pop music. That they’ve been able to transition into other areas of pop music while keeping the messages alive demonstrate their character and willingness to make meaningful music. The kind that makes you laugh heartily.

Tim!

Jumping Jehoshaphat! (timotheories June 2017)

June always reminds me of my grandpa.

This is because when I was very little we would always get together as a big family and celebrate Father’s Day with all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins on my dads side of the tree. Speaking of trees, whenever I think of my grandpa I think of Disney and in particular the films of the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s.

I may have mentioned previously that I love movies? Like, a lot? Well what I may have neglected to mention was that not only did my dad and I bond over movies when I was growing up, but that my grandpa had a sizeable movie collection of his own, and he almost religiously recorded movies on the regular. It amazed and inspired me from a very young, and impressionable age.

This is back when VHS tapes were a thing. If you don’t know what VHS tapes are my many millennials, look them up, because the first time I watched Disney’s animated classic, The Sword in the Stone, it was on VHS.

That’s where I got the Jehoshaphat reference from. Also June bugs. But enough of that, let’s get to the June calendar.

*Disclaimer* As always, every week I purchase an album and movie one week ahead of the actual review release and while I have the best intentions, I don’t always get what I want… so if you follow me on instagram (@timotheories) you can actually see what’s coming.

timotheories summarized – June

Stimulating Sundays – (06/04) Colin MacIntrye preview interview, (06/11) Colin MacIntrye interview, (06/18) Cross Talk Ep. 27, (06/25) Cross Talk Ep. 28
Melodic Mondays – (06/05) Paramore, (06/12) alt-J, (06/19) Sufjan Stevens, (06/26) Royal Blood
Theatrical Tuesdays – (06/06) Wonder Woman (2009), (06/13) Beauty and the Beast, (06/20) John Wick: Chapter 2 (06/27) The LEGO Batman Movie
Wisdom Wednesdays – (06/07) Communication Basics, (06/14) Email Communication, (06/21) Verbal Communication, (06/28) Meeting Communication
Timely Thursday – (06/01) timotheories June, (06/08) Siblings, (06/15) Watch Culture Ep. 1, (06/22) First Day of Summer, (06/29) Weddings

This is going to be a month of firsts – it’s the first time I release an episode of Watch Culture, and the first time the world get’s to meet Colin MacIntrye’s Beeverine. Colin is an Edmonton based illustrator, and my featured interview for June.

Also, we have some fun Cross Talk episodes coming out – but I’m not going to share too much more about them, because I don’t even know what the topics will be, yet. But I do know that our first ever female guest will be featured on the show. Her stage name is Alice Creed, and she’s intensely interesting.

But you want to know more.

Okay, well I’m focusing a lot of attention on communication with the Wisdom Wednesday posts, and heck, I have some timely thoughts on siblings, summer, and weddings. You’ll see what I mean soon enough.

theories Summarized

June should be a great month to continue this years theme of campfire stories. Especially those upcoming posts on communication. And pay close attention to that first episode of Watch Culture, you aren’t gonna believe what I decided to start the series of with. Well, I have theory you won’t. In fact, I’ll bet a quarter mile at a time that you can’t guess what it is.

Tim!

Time Enough To Pass (Joan Shelley, Joan Shelley review)

An age-old problem of music, if it’s a shorter album, we’ll complain that it feels weak, and it comes in over sixty minutes we can’t believe what a slog it is.

Is forty minutes the sweet spot though?

 

Joan Shelley – Joan Shelley

released April 28, 2017
******** 8/10

Joan Shelley is a Kentucky based American singer-songwriter who has been making professional music since at least 2014, as that was when she released her first full-length album Electric Ursa.

Her fourth album is self-titled as Joan Shelley, and that’s usually a sign of intent on the behalf of a recording artist, a demonstrable shift in tone, content and genre(s). This album is no exception to that rule, at all. Joan Shelley is an intimate record, chalk full of dense material and featuring production efforts from Jeff Tweedy of Wilco fame.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a more complex album with tons of instrumentation and production value. No, it manages to tells it’s story with considerably less – vocals, guitars, ukulele, piano, organ, bass, and drums. The staples of folk music and this album most definitely has a folk feel to it. Just listen to Wild Indifference over a couple of listens and you’ll be at the heart of it.

Acoustic fingerpicking is a key element opening every track up and spreading the message out either simple and sweet or with a whiskey tinged bitter accommodation. Isn’t That Enough is a great example of that pull, especially since we experience both innocence and finality in it’s notes.

Where we best see the contributions of Jeff Tweedy come through are on I Got What I Wanted, Where I’ll Find You and If The Storms Never Came, but Shelley’s vocals almost come through, demonstrating the wisdom of Mr. Tweedy.

There is a great deal of beauty too to be found in these songs. And that all starts with track number one We’d Be Home, and quickly followed up by Even Though in the space following the second, third and fourth songs on the record. And man does the piano ever bring the attention on Pull Me Up One More Time, thanks be to James Elkington for that.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention my favourite song on the album – I Got What I Wanted. It must be the lingering outlaw country flourishes of Willie Nelson, but I cannot stop tapping my toe and feeling remorseful for Shelley.

Pros: The vocals of course. Joan Shelley has all the makings of a great country artist, and The Push and Pull demonstrates this well. And while this is a shorter album, the length suits the ideas perfectly.

Cons: At the great risk of being a contrived self-referential mess, Shelley manages to avoid this for the most part, but sometimes it feels blah. Go Wild I’m looking directly at you.

Runtime: 34 minutes

Points of Interest: This self-titled album began with a fiddle, of all instruments. Though Joan Shelley wasn’t able to articulate herself well with the fiddle, she took the direction of that instrument and applied it to the guitar. And it is indeed self-titled because it features her most assured and complete thoughts so far.

It’s difficult to add something new to folk music, but with some help (or should we say non-help help?) Joan Shelley has managed to craft a well-worn album from the bare minimum of instruments. And her ability to spread ideas across moments in time comes across quite well.

theories Summarized

All that considered, I think that Joan Shelley is a master of her chosen form, and we should be happy to have her work out there on display. It never manages to overstay it’s welcome and it sounds amazing both in your car and at home. At least, that’s my theory.

Tim!