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!

Your Stoicism Entryway (The Shins, Heartworms review)

 

Start each day knowing that the world is full of indifference, ill-will, selfishness, and a ton of other vices. Next, accept that each of us is affected by our environment, and not effected by it.

How we perceive the thing is much more powerful then the thing itself. The world will always be this way, which is why a certain kind of music could be popular ten years ago, and yet feel less interesting now.

 

 

 

The Shins – Heartworms
released March 10, 2017
******* 7/10

 

The Shins are an American indie rock band that have been playing together for just over 20 years. I own the bands first two records Oh, Inverted World (2001) and Chutes Too Narrow (2003) which I promptly picked up after listening to New Slang during it’s brief moment of spotlight in the film Garden State.

A few years later the dudes put together their third album Wincing the Night Away, which was a huge commercial success, and even earned them a Grammy nod.

I missed them when their fourth album came out, but I didn’t think to call or write, so I don’t have any strong feelings about it either way, but I can say most assuredly that The Shins fifth offering, Heartworms, is just as good as I was hoping it would be. And maybe a bit too comfortable for convention.

Does anyone remember when indie rock was the next big thing?

Death Cab For Cutie, Stars, Feist, Arcade Fire, The Strokes, Modest Mouse, Vampire Weekend, The Killers, et. al.

These were our champions in the 2000s, and The Shins were right at the centre of it all. Belle and Sebastian, The Black Keys, and Weezer too. Actually, I could probably list another twenty bands pretty quickly, but my point is this, when we look back in another ten years, people will be emulating the looks of these bands, and karaoking hard to their sweet tunes.

Sure indie rock has been around since the 1980s, (read: The Smiths), but The Shins are a picture perfect example of the sound captured at the height of it’s popularity. And Heartworms is no exception.

Which is probably why James Mercer dumped all of his bandmates in favour of something new on the last album. And then owned it fully for this outing. Name for You starts things off right with a higher note then we’re used to, but he doesn’t discard that tempo and brings it back a short one song later in Painting a Hole. We get excited listening to the lyrics while the instrumentation keeps things on track.

Cherry Hearts feels like it could be a late addition to the Sixteen Candles soundtrack or inside a more current addition in the movie Sing Street.

Fantasy Island is just good fun. And frankly I could make little anecdotes about each song along the way, which is how I feel that Mercer tackled this album from the outset. And that’s where it’s not quite punchy enough, it feels like each song was both captured in a moment and painstakingly crafted to sound that way. But thematically it can be a challenge to accept this as another other than a solo project finally realized in full. The Shins are James Mercer, and James Mercer is The Shins, good or bad.

 

 

 

Indie rock changed the game. Not in the sense that it forced anything political or social to happen, but that we collectively agreed that it was good music for a time, and now we are experiencing a shift away from thoughtful and whispy lyrics, saturated by striped down instrumentation, and heading back towards the glitz and glamour of the pop music. And that’s okay.

While that doesn’t mean that The Shins are less interesting, only that the larger public feel differently, I do agree that Mercer has run the course on some of his ideas, exploring things more fully is good, but where is the broader message at the centre of it all? Where is the stoicism?

That’s the theory I want to hear.

Tim!

Family Matters (The Flaming Lips, Oczy Mlody review)

Families are weird. And almost everyone thinks they have the weirdest of all, but let me assure you, they’re dead wrong.

These guys are the weirdest.

 

 

 

The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody
released February 13, 2017
********* 9/10

The Flaming Lips are an American rock band that loves their alternative, experimental, post-punk, psychedelic style, and I don’t expect them to give it up anytime soon.

Also, I’m just going to throw this out there, because I’m quite confident that it’s true. When I hear the songs on this album I can’t help but hear that distinctive Gorillaz sound intermingled in there, which makes me ponder upon the past for a minute or two… The Flaming Lips have been around for the better part of 3 decades, first forming in 1983, right? And Gorillaz only came to be in 1998, a definitive fifteen years later. So they have to have been influenced by The Flaming Lips right?

Which tells you something about me. This is my first Flaming Lips album.

I mean, I know about them. I’ve been fortunate enough to know they’ve made fourteen studio length albums in their career, but I never picked them up, mostly because I wasn’t too sure whether I’d like their sound.

It’s always the surprise albums that take your breath away.

What starts as a rather slow foray into the the fantasy world of castles, unicorns, wizards, frogs, et al. slowly becomes a backdrop for a message about the resurgence of hope. This is because Oczy Mlody, roughly translates to “eyes of the young,” from a Polish phrase these guys found. It makes sense given present company.

Over recent years Miley Cyrus has become something of an unofficial muse for The Flaming Lips. They even helped produce a twenty-three track album called Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz with her back in 2015. So it’s fitting that the old solidify the reputation of the young, and the young provide energy and relevance for the old. Best exemplified in closer track, We A Family, it is here that we get to witness some serious leg stretching on the part of The Flaming Lips.

As a track, it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the album, but is also the best part of it. It serves as an anthem of love, but it also ties all of us together into one big happy metaphor family.

Some of my other favourite tracks are The Castle, a perfect semblance of all that is sow and somber on this album, which is most of it. For instance, James Earl Jones delivers a monologue on unicorns in There Should Be Unicorns. It’s one of the saddest and loneliest space operas I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to.

I don’t care that Metacritic scored it as a 6.9, most of those reviewers missed the mark here. This is a slowburn which only gets warmer and brighter upon subsequent listens, this I can be sure of.

 

The Flaming Lips have been experimenting for years, and I wish I had seen them for the loving weirdos they are so much earlier in my art career. Because I would have fit right in with them. And now they’ve managed to make me appreciate Miley Cyrus as the weird sister I never thought I wanted. Through the eyes of the young we are reborn. A beautiful melody indeed. But that’s just a theory right?

Tim!