Category Archives: Reviews

BØRNS | Bleachers | Charli XCX – Fillmore, Detroit (August 11, 2015)

Triple Header in Detroit

Triple Header in Detroit

What a stacked bill.  The “Charli and Jack Do America” tour was not on my radar.  At all.  I like Charli alright and BØRNS‘ EP Candy is pretty awesome.  I can’t stand fun., so I assumed I wouldn’t like Bleachers.  Oh, ho ho, was I wrong.  Thank God for flagging sales…

LiveNation had a “deal” for their stop in Detroit: partnered with local rock station 89.1, they’d sell the balcony nosebleeds for $8.90 (plus $3 service fee) and try to fill the place up.  I couldn’t resist.  Adding on a voucher that I’d been saving from LiveNation (bestowed upon me because I go to way too many concerts), our final cost was $4.40 per ticket.  That’s like $1.45 per act.  Jackpot.

Although Detroit is still struggling to recover from ’08, the city still has its charms and history.  The Fillmore (formerly the State Theater) has been on my venue bucket list for a long time and I was floored.  This place is GORGEOUS.  I’m from Boston, so let me use local comparisons: imagine the intimacy of Paradise with a vibe like House of Blues or the Palladium, tacked on top of the class of the Orpheum or Boston Opera House.  What a place.

When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to see that the nosebleed balcony GA section was closed and they had opened up the floor to all ticket holders.  Nobody wanted these tickets, it seemed.  Even though we arrived when BØRNS was wrapping up his first song (“Seeing Stars”), there was enough space to get a sweet spot just 1/4 away from the stage.

Hometown Boy, BØRNS

Hometown Boy, BØRNS

The floor was packed for the hometown boy.  Even though he only has a 4-song EP, he peppered in some new songs and a cover of Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets.”  His falsetto is spot-on live and the band is so tight you’d think they were a few albums/tours in.  They were so good that I saw them a few days later (for FREE) in downtown Ann Arbor for a summer radio “lunch” event.  Get on BØRNS now before they blow up.  Full-length LP drops in October.  This kid is gonna be huge.

BØRNS in downtown Ann Arbor (8/13/15)

BØRNS in downtown Ann Arbor (8/13/15)

After a short break, the first headliner of this double-headlining tour came on.  Bleachers is the band of Jack Antonoff, guitarist for fun. and Lena Dunham’s arm candy.  Fun. is alright, but I can’t stand Nate Ruess.  So sorry, Jack, I should have given you the benefit of the doubt.  They put on an amazing show.  With the energy of pop-punk bands in their prime, c. 2001-2003 (think Blink, Jimmy Eat World, Fall Out Boy, etc) and a little bit of ’80s hair metal flair, they blasted the audience with jam after jam, playing those instruments as adeptly as a much older band.  Jack absolutely owns the crowd and everyone ate it up.  “Tuesday night in Detroit!”  It was absolute joyful bliss to see a band and audience connect like that.  I would pay to see these guys again.  In a year where I’ve seen Clutch, Mastodon, Kaiser Chiefs, U2, Interpol, Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Swift, I can say hands down that Bleachers put on a better show than more than a few of those aforementioned marquee names.

More fun than fun. - Bleachers

More fun than fun. – Bleachers

And then we have Charli XCX.  Now, I keep up with all types of music (except country… sorry, I just can’t) and, in my mind, Charli XCX is huge.  She’s a radio star (see: “Boom Clap”) and writes bangers for other equally cool (see: Icona Pop) and not-so-cool-anymore (see: Iggy Azalea) ladies.  Her old stuff is dark synth-pop beauty, reminiscent of Bat for Lashes, if Natasha Khan were a brat like Lily Allen.  Her newest LP Sucker is a slight departure, maintaining her bratty, sneering “fuck you, sucker” attitude, while polishing it off with amazingly clean pop production.  I’d have figured she’d be a worthy final headliner.  Then I saw the floor clearing.  People were actually leaving in tiny droves.  Did I miss something?  I know tickets were cheap, but you still paid for the whole show…  Even when her giant pink-witch middle finger banner dropped and she came on with her awesome all-girl band, people were filing out.  Even as the die-hards on the floor were jumping with their hands in the air, folks were bailing.  Even before she played “Boom Clap,” almost a quarter of the audience was gone.  The section directly in front of me was literally devoid of people.  Just a vast empty space that could have held about 30 concertgoers, minimum.  It was embarrassing.  But the weirdest thing is that Charli put on a pretty good show.  Her songs could be annoying (see: lyrics) but the music is fun, loud, and energizing.  I don’t get it.  By the time she ended the show with her big hit, we had no problem just traipsing out the front door, no crowd to fight through, no slow crawl toward fresh air.  It was the weirdest thing.

Where'd everyone go? Charli XCX and her big inflatable guitar

Where’d everyone go? Charli XCX and her big inflatable guitar

Maybe Bleachers should have headlined.

 

BØRNS setlist:

1. Seeing Stars
2. 10,000 Emerald Pools
3. Past Lives
4. Broke
5. Bennie and the Jets (Elton John cover)
6. American Money
7. Electric Love

Bleachers setlist:

1. Shadow
2. Wild Heart
3. Wake Me
4. Reckless Love
5. Dreams  (The Cranberries cover)
6. Rollercoaster
7. Shadow of the City
8. You’re Still a Mystery
Encore:
9. Only One  (Kanye West cover)
10. I Wanna Get Better

Charli XCX setlist:

1. Sucker
2. Breaking Up
3. I Love It (Icona Pop cover)
4. Famous
5. SuperLove
6. Doing It
7. Need Ur Luv
8. Allergic to Love
9. Mow That Lawn
10. Body of My Own
11. London Queen
12. Break the Rules
13. Gold Coins
14. Fancy  (Iggy Azalea cover)
15. Boom Clap

 

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Review: Dr. Dre – Compton

If only this really was the LA skyline...

If only this really was the LA skyline…

16 years we’ve waited and all the blogs and publications are asking: “Was it worth it?”

Debatable.

The Chronic changed my music-life, as it changed many other lives.  When N.W.A. first came out, it was still a little out of my range; I was still hanging out with MC Hammer and about to devote a couple years to Bell Biv Devoe and the post-New Edition crew.  Public Enemy were the most extreme I got, but they weren’t as crass, dangerous or debaucherous as N.W.A.  What does an 8-year old half-white kid know about fucking the police?  It wasn’t until Dre released The Chronic — and then Snoop’s Doggystyle — that the combination of pre-pubescence and the need for danger really collided.  Unwittingly, it also served as the bridge between my hitherto love of hip-hop and the impending conversion to alternative rock and industrial metal.

Compton is not The Chronic.  It’s not even 2001.  There are glimpses of each predecessor, but don’t expect Compton to be The Chronic 3/III/2015 of your dreams.  The Chronic was damn-near perfect.  The singles alone warrant classic status.  Deeper cuts like “The Day The Niggaz Took Over” and “Rat-tat-tat-tat” cement that designation.  2001 gave us a couple more classic singles, but was not as funky, visceral or exhilarating as Dre’s debut.  Almost a decade had passed, Dre was loaded, Snoop was R&B, and Eminem was in his prime.  There was no need to change the game.

Jump forward almost two decades (!!!): Snoop is Bob Marley, Eminem is super into running, and Dre is even richer.  Compton serves primarily as a vehicle for two things: promoting the upcoming N.W.A. biopic and “debuting” a new batch of proteges.  Dre doesn’t even sound like Dre anymore.  I’m listening to The Chronic right now and his voice is so deep, so commanding.  Now I’ve switched over to Compton and his flow is off, his voice sounds a wee bit higher.  I can’t complain, but it honestly took me a few double-takes to realize that it was Dre on the track and not one of the 3-4 other “guests.”

One thing that remains — thank God — is Dre’s masterful production.  The soundscapes and atmosphere remind me of Dre’s one-time collaborator and my all-time favorite: Trent Reznor.  Like Trent, Dre can craft an amazing beat, weave a lusciously flowing earworm, and connect tracks in a way that remind older folks like me the value of a cohesive album, even if their current lyrical output is pretty laughable and they are happy/rich shadows of their former selves…  Compton is a press-play, sit-back, listen-through experience.  The guests pop in and out, the melodies shine through moments of grit and ugliness, and Dre remains the mad puppeteer.  I need way more listens to fully appreciate this, but at the moment, I’m convinced it’ll only truly unfold after repeat (all-the-way-through) listens.  The latter half of the album is stacked.  This is not a perfect singles collection like The Chronic.  It’s a journey, a soundtrack not only for a *hopefully* glorious movie, but for an experience with a scarily-talented crew and its masterful doctor.  For that, I think this trip is totally worth it.

Rating: 4/5 marijuana leaves

YAASSSS:

  1. Hearing Ice Cube rap “it was a good day.”
  2. Having Xzibit, Snoop and Eminem on the same album… is it 2000 again?!
  3. Anderson .Paak, half-Korean blasian, repping on 6 of 16 tracks on Compton.  TIYL: Frank Ocean.
  4. Jon Connor: next big thing.

OH DEAR…

  1. That questionable skit at the end of “Loose Cannons” where they inexplicably kill a woman… No thanks!
  2. Eminem’s soon-to-be infamous line about rape on “Medicine Man”… Necessary at this point in your career, Em?
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Review: Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor

Hey pal, you've got some cake on your face...

Hey pal, you’ve got some cake on your face…

Take a trip down memory lane with me.  The year is 1995.  I’m watching MTV with my buddy and a video starts.  Some clown covered in bird shit with makeup all over his face is screaming at the camera.

Friend: “Oh shit, this guy is awesome!  You know them?”
Me: “Nope.”
Friend: “This song rules.”
Me, singing along: “...who am I to disagree?
Friend: “I thought you said you didn’t know them?  How do you know this song?”
Me: *rolls eyes*

And so began my absolute love affair with Marilyn Manson.  A year later, I was hunched over a brand new CD acquisition, CD liner booklet filled with depraved, filthy images of decay, perversion, and a guy on his knees, a gas mask on his face, connected to a hose attached to another guy’s crotch.  This was serious fucked-up shit.  I still remember the fresh smell of that booklet, the newly-opened CD fragrance that gives me Ratatouille moments up until this very day.

A few years later, I’m standing outside my local CD purveyor in the dead of winter, freezing my ass off.  My mom was with me, buying everyone around us coffee.  At the front of the line, Marilyn Manson sat at a long table, face plastered in colorful makeup.  Hours later, I finally get to meet my hero and all I could muster was “OhmyfuckinggodIloveyousomuch!”   He signed my copy of his autobiography with a smile and nodded at me.  My mom came up next with another copy to sign for my friend.  “How are you today?” she asked him.  He smiled at her and replied, “Very well, thank you.”  And then they start chatting!  Meanwhile I’m standing off to the side, aghast that Manson is getting more out of my mom and they are becoming fast friends.

Over the next few years, I don my makeup.  I do my nails.  I try the torn pantyhose look.  I squeeze into my pleather pants.  I see him in concert about 6 or 7 times.  You’ve never seen me in such a frenzied state.  Nothing beats it.  The last time I feel such absolute fanboy love/lust, it’s 2001 (the post-Columbine Holy Wood era, i.e. his last truly great spectacle tour).  And then nothing but a steady decline.

The Golden Age of Grotesque was Manson’s turning point.  The last album that incorporated that insane feral energy and deviously intelligent wit.  Then the drugs and relationships got the better of him and he released a trio of absolute eye-rollers, starting with the passable Eat Me, Drink Me, then the godawful High End of Low, and finally an album that I don’t even have on my “just in case” external hard drive, Born Villain.  As a good fan, I never completely gave up hope, but I didn’t get those hopes up either.

And then The Pale Emperor happened.

What an album.  Clocking in at a sparse 10 tracks, it’s a concise, masterful gut-punch, full of swagger, thump and enough old-school creep-atmosphere to please his die hard shock rock faithful.  I never thought I’d see this day.

Depending on how much you’ve listened to him in the past, I can break the album down into a couple categories.
“Old” Manson (i.e. sounds like it was produced by Trent or something, aka “File Under Antichrist Superstar and Holy Wood):  “Deep Six,” “Slave Only Dreams To Be King”
SwagTASTIC (i.e those Manson songs that you can kinda dance to, aka might fit nicely onto Mechanical Animals): “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge,” “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles,” “Devil Beneath My Feet,” “Cupid Carries A Gun”
Creeptastic (i.e. perfect for a horror movie, a mix between “Man That You Fear” and the creepier tracks on Holy Wood, and all the amazing ballads on Mechanical Animals): “Killing Strangers,” “Birds of Hell Awaiting,” “Odds of Even”
There’s also a trio of acoustic bonus tracks on the deluxe edition: “Day 3” (acoustic of “Odds of Even”), “Fated, Faithful, Fatal” (acoustic of “Slave Only Dreams to Be King”) and “Fall of the House of Death” (acoustic of “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge”).  Well worth your time, if you can snag them.  Manson claims that every song on the album was recorded in one take, so God bless producer Tyler Bates.
If I had to choose a least favorite song on the album (i.e. that dreaded skippable track), it’d have to be “Warship My Wreck.”  The good thing is that it’s not bad.  It’s just not as catchy as everything else.  It’s still got great atmosphere, but once you’ve heard everything else, you’re going to want to skip ahead.
In the Manson power rankings, I’m going to go ahead and put it behind Holy Wood.  It’s likely tied, overall, with Portrait of an American Family.  But for me, at this age, it barely nudges Portrait down a peg.  As follows:
1. Antichrist Superstar
2. Mechanical Animals
3. Holy Wood
4. Pale Emperor
5. Portrait
6. Eat Me, Drink Me
7. Smells Like Children
8. High End of Low
9. Born Villain
Take that to the bank.  Manson has aged and he still has a lot to offer a world that has come to accept him as not really that shocking at all.  Surprisingly, he remains a hero/icon to a new generation of ignored, lost and misunderstood youth (who weren’t even old enough to remember the religious furor kicked up during the Antichrist era).  He remains one of the most intelligent performers alive and, even though his wit and ferocity were strangely silenced during the Bush years, music still needs a cartoon villain and underdog.  The fact that Holy Wood remains relevant almost 14 years later is both a sad truth about American society (and it’s love of God, guns and government) and a reminder that Manson was one of most vital and important music and pop culture figures of our lifetime.  The Pale Emperor is his way of saying “Don’t count me out just yet.”
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Review: nine inch nails – Hesitation Marks

 

The last time I was in the US for a new NIN release, it was 1999.  Before midnight, my then-gf and I waited outside our local Newbury Comics for the doors to swing open.  There were a couple other nuts there and some sturdy lesbians waiting for the new Tori (also on our list).  For a dedicated music fan, this is what you did.  It was a time before leaks (Napster was just getting started), it was a time before we took music ownership for granted.  It was also a time before musicians communicated so openly with fans.  We hadn’t heard from Trent since “The Perfect Drug” (which I spent days tracking down with my confused father chauffeuring me all over town) and the Lost Highway soundtrack.  It felt like ages.  We wanted to get our hands on The Fragile before anyone else.  We spent the rest of the night and early morning listening to that massive double album, barely making it to class.  Even though I always say The Downward Spiral is my favorite record and NIN’s best, I secretly (and honestly) prefer The Fragile.  Downward Spiral may be the best — it is violent, scary, desperate — but The Fragile meant more to me and still registers.  I’m not that angry, confused and sad kid anymore.  And neither is Trent.

Fans might be upset (“It’s not The Downward Spiral/The Bends/Parachutes/Definitely, Maybe/…Baby One More Time!  Waaaahhhhhhhh!”), but if there’s anything I’ve learned over the years being a NIN devotee, the old school folks will come around and end up loving it.  It always happens.  We all grow up.  Why should we expect Trent to stay mired in suicidal rage?  He’s married, sober and has two kids (I know, when the fuck did that happen!?).  He has an Oscar.  If anyone would have told me this in 1995, I would have scoffed.  He’s happier now and has control over his life, but those same demons still linger.  They linger in me, they linger in us all.  He’s channeled them here in a pristine package and it is the finest NIN experience since The Fragile.

If you haven’t picked up your copy yet, head over to iTunes and stream it before the release date.  Let’s get this ride started!

1. The Eater of Dreams kicks off with see-sawing blips and bloops — then a creaking of a rusty wheel — and then everything becomes awash in dread.  Trent always does a good job starting albums with a mood-setter.  This is a marriage between the decaying gears and cogs of his earlier work with the digital soundscapes that he’s so fond of creating these days.  A fitting thesis statement for an album that he’s using as a bridge to his past.

2. Copy of A is a driving dance party.  It sounds like we’re floating in an isolation chamber, his voice echoing off the walls and getting lost in a thick electronic sludge.  The intensity builds up with some classic trills and tinkles that are heard best with headphones (seriously, this is orgasmic) — one of my favorite things about Downward Spiral and Fragile were the new sounds, buried in the background, that you could hear on repeated listens — and the rave finally explodes with such clarity that I almost started to pogo dance in my kitchen.  The bottom drops out suddenly and the low-end bass comes up to catch you on a nice meaty cloud.  This song gets better and better with time.

3. Came Back Haunted was a perfect comeback single.  If you’re a fan, you’ve heard it.  Multiple times.  If you’re not a fan, go listen.  We’ll wait for you here.  It’s classic first-single material for New Trent — fast, intense, a real collar-grabber — much like “Discipline,” “Survivalism” and “Hand That Feeds.”  The lyrics say it all: “Everyone now reminding me/I am not who I used to be.”  This is a full declaration of Trent 2.0.  There is no going back.  (Bonus geek-points for the very very brief Downward Spiral piano motif)

4. Find My Way begins with some breakbeat, drum-and-bass type shit, before the upper octave piano chimes in.  My favorite NIN songs include this kind of delicate piano work, the rare glimpse of soft beauty under all the ugly.  This could fit nicely on The Fragile, and for this I am grateful.  His voice soars as he oohs and ahhs, the volume never getting too loud.  There’s some harmonizing in there too.  It’s a pretty non-ballad that is going to sound incredible in a packed arena.

5. All Time Low is a fucking FUNK FEST.  In the same vein of his funk-doobiest shit (see: “Closer,” “Only,” “Kinda I Want To,” “Even Deeper,” “Into the Void,” “The Big Comedown,” “Discipline,” most of the shit on Year Zero), this is a stank bassline orgy (courtesy of Pino Palladino, D’Angelo’s bass man) complete with “hoo-hoo-hoooh“s and sexual breath intake.  It ends in the stars with some pretty humming.  There’s tastes of The Fragile AND Year Zero on this, which still confuses me (see: my favorite and my least favorite NIN albums, respectively).  But so far this is an early front runner for favorite deep cut on the album.

6. Disappointed is a Radiohead song.  Seriously, go listen!  Trent must have also enjoyed Kid A and Amnesiac as much as I did, because he’s clearly channeling that blip-dee-bloop vibe on this.  There’s even some nice “Lotus Flower” handclapping.  But then the minor chord twangs and Wall of Dread guitars come flooding in and we’re finally in NIN territory.  The ending is an overwhelming assault of beauty.  It really is Radiohead circa Kid A, but with a lot more soul and humanity.  And dread.  Lots of dread.

7. Everything…  well here we go.  If there were ever a song to divide the NIN community, it’s this blast of cheery pop-rock (yikes!) goop.  There are blasts of guitar and aggressive yelling, but at the heart of it, it’s a beefed-up Cure song.  The guitar and bass are so peppy it is unnerving.  Fear not: it is not so pop that it could be played on the radio, but once that drum-machine loop comes popping in, you’ll have a hard time believing this is the same guy singing about fucking you like an animal.  Now let’s all pogo-bounce and listen to Smashmouth.

8. Satellite is the 2nd of two new songs written for the now-delayed Greatest Hits package (“Everything” being the other).  This is another leftfield inclusion.  It’s a song about paranoia (they’re watching!) and stuff like that, making it very Year Zero-ish.  But it’s so much better.  If Year Zero had more songs like this, I might actually enjoy it.  It is so funky it hurts.  It sounds like it was produced by RedOne or one of Beyonce’s or Gaga’s guys.  Dat beat is so dirty I’m grinding my ass into my chair with such delight and relish.  The doom guitars do kick in eventually, but that beat… man, that beat.  Sorry Miley, but the real BANGERZ are on this record.  This is going to be on my iPod for a very, very long time.  Twerk it!

9. Various Methods of Escape starts off sounding like some of the non-NIN stuff that Trent’s been meddling with lately (see: movie scores, How to destroy angels_).  But the trademark guitars bust in and then Trent starts singing in falsetto.  It’s very pretty.  Again, the beat and soundscape sound very Year Zero-ish, but those small details (jarring minor chords, the warbling, the whispering) give it just enough grit and humanity, veering it away from that polished sci-fi.  The denouement is another ode to The Fragile.  It glides along a pretty wave before crashing down with driving drums and guitars.  Early contender for Fan Favorite on this album.

10. Running would make a great workout song, just in case that title didn’t register.  It’s another funky exercise that gets seriously twisted and unnerving, with dueling whispers battling like the angel and devil on your cartoon shoulders.  Minor key Fragile guitars jut in.  Disembodied mantras.  All over that slick as shit jungle beat that would sound at home on an early Bjork remix record.

11. I Would For You is pummeling.  At first I thought it was a Watch the Throne b-side (kidding!) but it really is a heavy hip-hop beat.  The lyrics hint at the new Trent: “If I could be someone else, I would for you.”  Awww, that is just the sweetest.  For the moment, though, that sweetness is buried underneath the glorious noise.  This is the start of a near-perfect blend of mixing that lasts until the final song.  Think of it as Part 1 in a suite.  (and there’s more Fragile guitar, huzzah!)

12. In Two builds the atmospheric tension until you can barely take it anymore, and then just pops and completely drowns you in digital honey.  The beat is HARD.  The vocal delivery is sharp.  This is aggression and angst.  Like everything else before it, it remains funky.  But this is much more jagged.  To bring in a much-maligned rip-off band from yester-decade: this song sounds like what Orgy spent so long trying (and failing) to achieve.  I know that doesn’t help the case, but if you listened to Orgy, you might understand.  There’s a very deliberate sheen to the song, once you strip away the jagged guitars, the ambient noise.  Again, the noise drops away for a classic Trent-whisper-over-white-noise intermission, before punching you right back in the face to remind you just whose house you are in.

13. While I’m Still Here is the song with Lindsay Buckingham, oh patriarch God of Fleetwood Mac.  There’s also saxophone on it.  So how’s that for a nice head-fuck.  It starts off sounding like a How to destroy angels_ castoff (imagine Mariqueen singing this…) but then that familiar dread trickles back in.  “Hurt” this is not.  It’s not even on par with the hollow beauty of “Zero Sum” or “Right Where It Belongs.”  It’s too human, too rich with humanity.  Buckingham’s jamming is so unlike anything Trent has done before.  It isn’t programmed, it isn’t precise.  All that work on Sound City must have taken its toll on the old guy.  Once the sax toots its way onto the track, you know the game is changed.  There is a bubbling storm of dread underneath everything, but damn it if that guitar twanging and sax work isn’t the most human noise ever set to the NIN sound.  One of the most interesting songs in his catalog, which is saying something.

14. Black Noise is an appropriate title for the closing song — which is just an extended finish to “While I’m Still Here.”  We started this adventure with noise, and we end with noise.  “Ripe (With Decay)” ended The Fragile on a half-measure, leaving the listener with an incomplete and uncomfortable sense of emptiness.  This ends with bellowing dissonance, building up to uncomfortable levels before abruptly cutting to silence.

Trent said that he wanted to link Hesitation Marks to The Downward Spiral (which can be seen most clearly with the choice of artwork and throwback font), but I feel like it’s more akin to The Fragile.  This experience isn’t as outright violent and sociopathic as Spiral.  There’s highs and lows, points of beauty and discomfort.  There’s organic flourishes (Fragile was full of them, planned and controlled as they were), there’s experimentation.  It is a wonder that Trent is still trying to do things differently at this stage in his career, when he could just as well be perfectly fine doing Greatest Hits tour after Greatest Hits tour.  I am so happy with this record.

Fanboy reaction: this is so fucking awesome.  It’s been so long since I’ve been excited and enamored by a new NIN record.  The past few have been good, but could have been shaved down to something better.  This is an experience.  It’s glorious and I love it.  I only hope Trent decides to play more new stuff on the tour (I can’t believe I just said that).  A+

Unbiased critical reaction (lol yeah right): this is a very good album.  Maybe 4 out of 5 stars.  It is up there with the better NIN albums.  Granted, we will never get another Downward Spiral, but this is a very nice successor to The Fragile.  It’s fresh, exciting and, above all, worthy to stand with the greatest in the NIN catalog.

Hesitation Marks is out on 9/3 via Columbia Records, in a bajillion different editions (deluxe, digital deluxe, audiophile).  Buy them all.

the different album covers, courtesy of newrock1019.com

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Review: Kanye West – Yeezus

Gat-DAYUM.

The sheer audacity to release a CD with no label or design.

The sheer audacity to release a CD with no label or design.

It took me a week to muster the energy and mental fortitude to tackle this album.  I saw SNL.  That shit was intense.  I heard the snippets.  This didn’t sound very cheery.  It’s summer: I want fun, sunshine and good vibes.  Not an angry, aggressive assault.  It felt like way too much to handle in one sitting.  And my suspicions weren’t that far off.  Luckily it’s the opposite of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy — tight and concise, it’s a 40-minute punch to the face.  Get ready for the year-end Best Of list death-match between this and Random Access Memories.  It’s going to be ugly (concise artistic statement vs. overblown indulgent masterpiece?  WHICH IS WHICH?!?!), but no matter what, Daft Punk wins.

Yeezus is heavy.  In every way.  The beats are the hardest, most industrial assaults since NIN’s The Downward Spiral.  The lyrics are vicious, spat out through the speakers like the best hateful Marilyn Manson tracks from the old days.  The content is absolutely draining.  A couple songs in and I’m already exhausted: I’m hyped up, my head is bobbing furiously and the lyrics are making me extremely uncomfortable.  This might be one of the best rock records of the year.  Therein lies the genius of Kanye.

My favorite Kanye albums are his more surprising ones (unsurprisingly).  The quirkiness of 808s and the genre-hopping of Graduation.  The grandiose insanity of …Dark Twisted Fantasy.  I enjoy his first two for gracing the world with some of the best rap singles in history, but as full statements, it’s all about 808s and Yeezus.  He’s getting shit for aping Death Grips, for these misogynistic lyrics and for yet another curveball.  Who the fuck cares.  This is art from one of the few geniuses we have today.

So let’s go for a ride.  I’m strapped in with my giant headphones, crouched over my computer, the bass from these beats resonating down into my gut.  See you on the other side!

1. “On Sight” – This opener lobs a bomb right to your head, courtesy of Daft Punk.  It sounds like Nine Inch Nails…and then Kanye starts rapping and it gets gross and offensive and snarling.  At one point in the din, he asks: “How much do I not give a fuck?”  Then drops a pretty soul sample.  As soon as you’re wooed into comfort, the beat kicks back in and you die.

2. “Black Skinhead” – Far and away my favorite track on this album.  It employs one of my favorite beat-motifs of all time (see: “The Beautiful People”, “Uprising”).  The drum smashes are just pummeling, good LORD.  Bouncy, jerky and unrelenting.  Can you mosh at a Kanye gig?  Because this tour is going to be crazy.  At the end he just starts rasping, “GAWD!  GAWD!”  I feel the same way.

3. “I Am A God” – This track’s liner notes actually say “Featuring: God.”  LOLZ.  Only fuckin’ Kanye.  This has more atmospheric depth and a sprawling Tron-scape kind of feel.  The steady digital drone is claustrophobic.  The swelling melody is goosebump-worthy…  This song is also home to some of my favorite lines on the album, all insanely egotistical and ridiculous, from this: “I just talked to Jesus/ He said what up, Yeezus?”… to, my favorite, this:  “In a French-ass restaurant/ Hurry up with my damn croissants!”  CROISSANTS.  The ending gives me chills, with Kanye screaming — like, terrified, I-cannot-breathe, someone-save-me shrieks — as the melody dips and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) drops in to end it on an angelic note.

4. “New Slaves” – One of Kanye’s “Songs With A Message” and I love it.  He’s getting a lot of shit for copying Death Grips, but the thing is, he is Kanye.  Whoever he’s aping doesn’t matter: Death Grips are indie-favorites, a blip on the History of Music radar, a precise band with a precise style.  This is Kanye, oh He of backpack rap, auto-tune masterpieces, John Mayer, Chris Martin, Daft Punk, Bon Iver genre-smashing duets, and a cultural icon.  So when Kanye does something like this — which might sound like a punk duo going nowhere — it matters.  And he also does stuff that lesser groups don’t: he just keeps the twists coming.  This song is bleak, dark and ugly… then BOOM: at 2:51 — drumroll please — the song explodes from its prison with a glorious auto-tuned declaration of joy and FRANK. OCEAN.  The song endings on this album are stunners.

5. “Hold My Liquor” – This one starts out kinda dumb, but still has its shining moments.  At this point, these lyrics, man…. He is so angry.  I wonder what the fuck Kim is doing to him (or vice versa).  Is he even happy with the mother of his child?!  Anyway, this song has some really pretty instrumentation, despite all the nigga-this, nigga-that, which gets tiring.  But then, ooooooh, that guitar-solo ending drone is pure bliss.  Chief Keef and Bon Iver are both on this one, which is really even more whatdafuck piled onto the existing whatthehelllll.

6. “I’m In It” – Eesh, this track is disgusting (get a poncho!).  If you’re not a fan of rap-porn (which this pretty much is…), skip this track.  I couldn’t even listen to it with my sister in the same room; it was too embarrassing.  Cunnilingus, salad tossing, fisting, some racial insensitivity (relating to “eating” Asian with sweet and sour sauce) and all the things Kanye will do to you with his “reptile.”  It’s 50 Shades fetish shit with a gorgeous falsetto sample.  To bring it right back to my world (NIN, Manson, Tori), there’s even a lyrical “starfucker” interlude toward the end.  As repulsed as I was, the song was electrifying, hypnotic and strangely arousing.  I don’t even know anymore…

7. “Blood On The Leaves” – This is the one with the Nina Simone “Strange Fruit” sample… so, yeah: divisive.  This could have been on 808s: it’s dark, he’s auto-tuned.  It’s a huge banger with ominous marching band horns, though I’m with the rest of the critical public in questioning his use of this sample — with all the heaviness associated with it — on a song about gold-diggers and baby mammas.  Is he saying that all that bullshit is the black man’s modern day lynching?  Ick. I have no idea.  But it’s Kanye; he must have a reason.

8. “Guilt Trip” – Another unrelenting drone set atop the motif of da numba one “Chief Rocka,” one of my favorites.  Favorite line: “Star Wars fur/ yeah I’m rockin’ Chewbacca/ The one chief rocka/ Number one chief rocka.”  *Mic drop*  Another of my favorite lines is quite similar to one of my favorite Coldplay songs (“Violet Hill”): “If you love me so much, then why’d you let me go?”  Interestingly enough, DJ Premier’s real name is also Chris Martin.  Did Kanye do that on purpose?!?!  I don’t know what to believe anymore!  We end on a heavy Bjork Homogenic-era (see: the 90s) beat drop, right before the sound of an alarm…

9. “Send It Up” – This one is abrasive.  The lyrics are ugly.  The beat is irritating.  The mood is dark.  That goddamn alarm keeps sounding.  And it still sucks me right in.  I love noise, I love the din, I love when my ears tell me that this sound is not supposed to feel good.  And I love to dive headlong into it.  This is another NIN-track (but actually it’s the 4th Daft Punk production credit… they are really gunning for Trent on this album!) and you’ve also got a Beenie Man sample.  Again, whattheholyfuckinghell.

10. “Bound 2” – Yay, rejoice, old school Kanye fans!  It sounds like Late Registration!  College Dropout!  Graduation!  Hooray!  After nine songs of hell, this is a welcome finish.  It’s so throwback, it’s so leftfield.  I’m sitting here grinning like an idiot because Kanye really knows how to do it.  There’s still some flourishes of digital noise in here — lest we forget about Yeezus — and some line about “spunk on mink” (good luck getting that out!) which is hilarious.

And then we’re done.  It’s been 40 minutes.  Where’d the time go??!  That was exhausting.  Physically, mentally and — yes — even emotionally.  There’s a lot of ugly in here.  If I didn’t understand English, I’d have thought it was a great alt-metal album.  But he’s really got a lot of awkwardly hateful doozies in there that you just can’t shake.   This is his darkest stuff ever.  And it’s thrilling.

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Review: Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

Excitement and delayed satisfaction are tricky things.  We all know that a project can collapse under ridiculous expectations, falling short of delivering something biblical for the hungry masses (see: The 20/20 Experience, for me at least).  Or a project can meet expectations in ways that are completely unexpected, delivering something so ahead of its time (and yet, not) that your brain needs time to catch up, like my first viewing of The Matrix (see: Random Access Memories).

Queens of the Stone Age haven’t put out an album that I love since releasing the classic Songs for the Deaf, one of my favorite albums OF. ALL. TIME.  The two follow-ups didn’t have that same oomph, that same liveliness, hunger or creativity.  They weren’t terrible; they just didn’t meet expectations.

My affair with their latest, …Like Clockwork, has been a rough ride.  Bootlegged clips of live performances left me cold.  First single “My God Is The Sun” didn’t impress.  Even my first couple viewings of their animated teasers failed to ignite my inner Queen.  And then they released a 15-minute short film of those animated snippets.

I think I’ve listened to this 15-minute song loop at least 20 times in the past couple weeks.  That’s, what, 5 hours?  Yeah, more or less.  And I’m listening to it right now.  Not only is the animation bloody, brutal, and twisted, it’s also a hypnotic visual glimpse into the “psyche” of this album.  It’s a creepshow, a violent, churning nightmare from the dark corners of our hearts and minds.  I credit the cartoon with plunging me headlong into a rewarding love affair with this new album.  You should really watch it.

Now that the album is up and ready to stream, of course I had to give it a go-round.  Here are my initial first-listen thoughts.

1. “Keep Your Eyes Peeled”
Chugging and lurching, this song sets the tone for the rest of the album: shit’s going to get twisted.  You’ll feel some despair, some anxiety, some sluggish sonic mud.  But there’s ghoulish harmony (with Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters?!?!??!), there’s aching falsetto, there’s some beautiful riffage — lest you forget which band you’re listening to.  I’m so excited for the rest of this album.  And what?  Sad violin at the end?  Yes.

2. “I Sat By The Ocean”
Man, this song is just a doozy of feel-goodery and groovy fucking riffage.  I think this and “If I Had A Tail” are my early favorites, only because they are so catchy.  One of the issues I had with their previous two albums was the lack of pop-centric focus — it was too many “ideas for songs” and not enough follow through.  This track just makes my shoulders shimmy and my head nod.

3. “The Vampyre of Time and Memory”
LOL this starts off sounding like a NIN Fragile-era track… then it becomes a sad piano ballad.  Break out them tissues!  There’s some old sci-fi lasers squiggling their way through the keys, but this is mostly sad, introspective suicide fodder.

4. “If I Had A Tail”
YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS, this is really my favorite track on the album.  It’s cool, full of swagger, like a Stones song.  This is the track with Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys, whose penchant for groove seems to have rubbed off on Josh Homme.  This is glorious rock and roll, especially the epic ending.  Gitchie gitchie, ooh la la!

5. “My God Is The Sun”
This song is a blast, a fist to the face, a riff-explosion to the bowels.  Something to put hair on your chest.  The bass churns, the drums smash and Homme sounds like he’s raising the dead with the power of these chords.  Grohl is on this song (and a few others), smashing the shit out of his drum kit.  Truly badass.

6. “Kalopsia”
Trent.  Reznor.  That’s pretty much all I need to say about this track.  OK fine, some words.  It starts slow, creepy.  Then the boys jump in with a lot of shout-singing, then harmonizing, then I’m just smiling like an idiot because I love when my musical heroes play together in the sandbox.  The overall tone of the track reflects its title: it does sound vaguely like a calliope, a twisted comedown from a dark Hell carnival.

7. “Fairweather Friends”
There was some promise at the start: I heard some bouncy jangles, some playful notes.  Playful?  Who am I kidding… it’s relatively straightforward…. and then there’s some guitar wailing that might save this track from the garbage pile.  But truthfully: if this is my “least” favorite on the album so far, that’s not bad at all.  And that ending is very LOL-worthy.  Oddest thing about this griping and whingeing?  It features Elton John (yes, really), Trent, and my girl (and Homme’s wife) Brody Dalle from Distillers/Spinerette.  It should be more awesome…

8. “Smooth Sailing”
FUNKAAAAAAY!  Damn bitch, this makes me want to STRUT… whilst not giving a fuuuuuhk.  “Bruises and hickeys/Stitches and Scars/Got my own theme music/Plays wherever I are.”  Fuck yeah: if that isn’t my new life motto, I don’t know what could take its place.  #1 Cool Song on this album.

9. “I Appear Missing”
This is a gorgeous, gorgeous song.  Full of power, full of purpose, driving and grand, perfect for a stadium.  The guitars soar, the harmonies blast into space.  I envision a lot of air guitar noodling in front of my bathroom mirror this summer.

10. “…Like Clockwork”
We end on a beautiful piano ballad that morphs into an old California-flavored track from the ’70s.  Or at least that’s what it sounds like to me.  This whole record, it sounds like we’ve been trapped in a filthy post-apocalyptic city full of dark alleys and festering sewers.  Now we’re finally back in old Queens territory: a wide open desert.  It’s an all-in jam session here, going all over the place, but returning to that pretty piano.  A fitting end to a tight record.

This album isn’t an epic Year-Changer like Random Access Memories, just a really great rock and roll album, which we are sorely, sorely in need of these days.  I’ll rank it in the top 3 QOTSA albums, up there with Rated R and Songs for the Deaf.

…Like Clockwork is out on June 4th on Matador.

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Review: Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

o-RANDOM-ACCESS-MEMORIES-570

It’s finally here.

I debated whether or not to listen to the leak, but I’ve been waiting for this thing for so long that I threw morals out the window.  You ready?  Here we go.

1. “Give Life Back To Music”
Simple, groovy intro of what to expect from the album.  It doesn’t go anywhere, really.  But it’s so smooth and comforting, I’m chomping at the bit.

2. “The Game of Love”
Light them candles, run a bath, get those scented oils ready: it’s time to get DOWN.  I started caressing my keyboard and slowly grinding my big swivel chair — totally naturally — about midway through this song.  A gazillion babies will be made to this track, guaranteed.  Mmm, mmm, mmm… I’m gettin’ all sweaty.

3. “Giorgio by Moroder”
Giorgio Moroder talks over the slick, funky bass of this cool cat track.  It’s like that weird Baz Luhrmann graduation song that was big all those years ago.  Except awesome and badass because it’s Giorgio fucking Moroder talking over Daft fucking Punk.  The breakdown at the end is just buzz-out freaky great.  Oh and it’s 9-minutes long.

4. “Within”
Setting: cyborg piano bar.  Song: this.  Vocoder vox over a lush chillaxed melody.  I’m drifting off into space.

5. “Instant Crush”
Indeed, the robots say with a wink.  The groove throws me back to some Police/Alan Parson’s shit, steady and thrumming.  Is that Cyborg Julian Casablancas on vocals?  Oh yes, it is.  SURPRISE.  I’m still on a high as the synths come in to get the body moving.  Then the electric guiltar solo comes whizzing by.  Is this still Daft Punk?!?  It’s still fucking AWESOME.

6. “Lose Yourself To Dance”
Let me just take a pause here, as the guitars squawk and jive: this is their most human album to date.  It’s so vibrant, so organic, so — oh hey guys, Pharrell’s here early! — groovy.  Pharrell’s falsetto (phallsetto?) pops up a couple songs before “Get Lucky” arrives.  Hand claps, bass squiggles.  Hawt dayum!  This is no club banger, but it’ll keep me slinking and snapping until the end of time.  I feel like it’s a good time to pop on a suit and go strut through my neighborhood.  (but if I’m being honest, it does drag a little if you’re not drunk or high off pheromones… don’t ever say I’m a complete Daft Punk fanboy apologist ;P)

7. “Touch”
We Are Drifting Into Spaaaaaaaaace.  “TOUCH…”  Who is that old guy singing?  It’s Paul Williams (no relation to Pharrell).  Who?  This guy.  I was iffy at first, but then BAM, it explodes into some Mos Eisley cantina type shit.  But classier.  And there’s some angelic choir at the end.  This AOR, borderline elevator-music is not my type of thing, but it’s a pleasant enough journey to take before….

8. “Get Lucky”
…fuck yeah: there’s an additional 2 minutes tacked onto the album version.

9. “Beyond”
OOOOOOH MYYYYYY GAAAWWWWWWD.  Triumph!  Cinematic epicness!  This is some “I Keep Forgetting” Michael McDonald shiiieeeeeet.  Ga-roo-vaaaaay.  The lost in space riff at the end is absolutely delicious.

10. “Motherboard”
I think I hear a flute in there.  Yeah, that’s a flute.  Where was the Collaborator video for that?  This sounds like a come-down song, something to break the monotony of spacing out/making out/gittin’ down/gittin’ it UP.  (There’s some strings in there too.)  but oh wait goddamn THE ENDING.  Are we back in the midst of the ’90s UK rave scene?  LOVE.

11. “Fragments of Time”
This will throw your parents back to their childhood (or grandparents?  how old are you?)…  It’s SO good.  Todd Edwards handles vocals on this track.  You may remember him from Discovery gem “Face to Face.”  Another happy surprise on an album already chock-full of impressive and respectable guest spots.  (there’s even a Discovery alluding keytar freak-out at the end)

12. “Doin It Right”
This sounds like classic Daft Punk — in case all of the relatively mellow stuff on this album is really angering you young “EDM” kidz — but it’s still no club banger.  I guess there are no 4-on-the-floor showstoppers here?  Anyway, this is the one with Panda Bear, oh he of Animal Collective.  This indie hipster inclusion rubbed me the wrong way at first (Daft Punk’s talent is a bit weakened because this sounds like any other Pitchfork/Stereogum-baiting throwaway), but the track is harmless.

13. “Contact”
Is this M83?  JK! JK!  It’s an astronaut in space and yeah yeah we get it, you’re robots.  The doom-and-gloom organ brings back that cinematic feel from “Beyond” and ohmygod this will be a great closer.  Sounds like the closing song to a really badass movie, right before it abruptly stops and the credits roll.  I love the drum and metal breakdown.  Just a not-so-subtle reminder that no matter what you thought of the album, Daft Punk will still kick your ass.

 

Verdict: of course this is fucking awesome hahaha… DUH.

Personal faves: “Fragments of Time”, “Giorgio by Moroder”, “Instant Crush”, “Get Lucky” (duh), “Beyond”, “Motherboard”, “Contact”

Next single: “Fragments of Time”, hands down.

Let’s face it: this album could never, ever, eva eva evah live up to the expectations piled upon it (see: The 20/20 Experience).  No way in hell.  So stop bitching.  But goddamn, is it a smooth, smile-inducing groovefest.  You want bangers?  Head to Homework.  You want more outrageous synths?  Do Discovery.  You want to get bored to death and wish you were really a robot so you could turn yourself off?  Human After All.  Solo dance party in your undies until you collapse from exhaustion?  Alive 2007.  A good warm feeling of joy, life and chest-bursting affirmation?

Random Access Memories.

Out *officially* on 5/21 via Columbia.

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Review: The Strokes – Comedown Machine

Oh March… what a month.

New Trent, new JT and now new Strokes.  Tis a good month.

The Strokes - Comedown Machine

 

Let me get this out of the way: I love the Strokes.  Their last two albums have been clunkers (Angles was shit and First Impressions had a couple amazing tracks… mired in shit).  Is This It is on my Desert Island Discs (do we change this to Desert Island MP3s now?) list, one of my Top 10 of ALL TIME (take that!), and Room On Fire will always occupy a soft spot in my heart.

How does this album stack up?  It’s pretty fucking good.  It’s no Is This It.  It’s no Room On Fire.  And it’s not just good because it’s not First Impressions or Angles.  It’s a solid little thing, a nice meld of the first two albums and Julian’s solo effort, Phrazes for the Young, which I also loved.

And now follows my quick jumping-of-the-gun review.  We shall see how this ends up on the year-end ranking…

1. Tap-Out: “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”?  Sunny pop blast to open the album.  Me like.

2. All The Time: sounds most like Is This It.  Jangly and jumpy, Julian raspy as ever, it’s a hard-charger.  Me like.

3. One Way Trigger: if this song becomes one of the “Age Old” divisive arguments among Strokes fans, put me squarely and forever on the side of “THIS SONG IS AWESOME.”  It took forever to grow on me, but that falsetto and “find a girl, find a job, find a dream, shut it down” shit really connect with me.  Me love.

4. Welcome To Japan: this is early front-runner for favorite track on the album. This is groovin’ shit, like No Doubt “Hella Good”-type nasty funk-pop.  Me love.

5. 80s Comedown Machine: zzzzzzzzzz… Melody and instrumentation are fine, but Julian’s putting me to sleep on this one.  Me sleepy.

6. 50 50: YEAAARRRRRGH!  With more balls and heavier riffs, this would make a badASS QOTSA song.  Sure wakes you up from the “80s Comedown Machine” funk.  Julian’s screaming like a man on this.  Me love.

7. Slow Animals: get into the groove again.  Julian sounds like he’s floating in space, but damn if the other guys are working their fingers off.  The “chorus” comes out of nowhere and it’s guaranteed to get stuck in your head, even if I have no clue what Julian is sputtering.  Me like.

8. Partners In Crime: wooooo, guitars go home, you’re drunk!  Before the wacky chorus kicks in, I got some tastes of Phil Collins’ “Another Day In Paradise” (haha, no joke).  This is fun and upbeat, but the most praise I can give it is for creativity and to say it wasn’t on Angles (burn).  Me like.

9. Chances: WHO IS THIS?!?!???  It sounds like someone but I can’t put my finger on it.  Someone NOT Julian Casablancas.  Mid-tempo, relaxing little number.  But what the fuck is that insane girl-singing in the beginning?  This sounds 80s soft rock.  Me sleepy again.

10. Happy Ending: tee hee.  It’s not quite happy, nor is it the end of the album.  Meh?  Me kinda like.

11. Call It Karma Call It Fate: the drugs have finally taken full control of the brain.  I thought this was an old Motown song at first (“Heard It Through the Grapevine”?) that morphs into some dreamy Beach Boys pop tune.  Definitely the most surprising track of the album, and quite possibly their swan song.  Me like.

So there we have it, folks.  3 killers, 5 great ones that’ll likely grow on me and a few snoozers.  Hey, I can’t complain; nothing is as bad as this cover art (or Angles).  If this is really their last album, as it’s feared/rumored, I’d say it’s a good way to go out.  They’ll remain one of my all-time favorite bands, even despite Angles.  Good job, boys.  (B+/A-)

The Strokes, Comedown Machine, out 3/26 on RCA.  Stream it on Pitchfork before the album drops.

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Review: How to destroy angels_, “Welcome Oblivion”

On March 5, 2013, Trent Reznor released new music with his new band, How to destroy angels_ (yes that underscore is supposed to be there don’t ask me why I don’t know either).  Therefore one can conclude that no matter how middling or meh this output happens to be, it is still Trent and Trent still rules the roost in Neiltown.  That being said, htda’s debut LP — Welcome Oblivion — is not awful.

 

 

On one hand, you’ve got the good stuff, the shit that sounds like a conventional song, which, Trent being Trent, sometimes is not so easily attained.  Lead single “How long?” is the closest you’re going to come to convention.  There’s a chorus (I think?), some lyrics, it’s catchy.  This might be played on a really cool radio station that nobody listens to.  On these so-called “good” songs, it just sounds like a NIN song where Trent is replaced by his wife, Mariqueen (seriously, even her delivery sounds exactly like Trent).  I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

On the other hand, you get a whole shitload of stuff that sounds like Ghosts or Year Zero, my two least-favorite NIN projects.  While I appreciate the thought put into both albums, man cannot live on concept alone.  Ghosts tries my patience, even if there are some gorgeous tidbits floating around those 4 volumes of tedium.  Year Zero has its moments as well, but God help me, half the songs sound the same.  SNORE.

That’s how I listened to this album.  The songs either fall on the “songs” side, or on the “Oh GAWD Trent, no more Ghosts/Year Zero/David Fincher movie score castaways!” (or somewhere in between).  Here they are, presented alongside convenient “File This Under” acronyms (i.e. “YZ” = Year Zero, “G” = Ghosts, etc.):

 

“Songs” (a.k.a. download/listen to these if your attention span is as small as mine)

1.  “Ice Age” – cute folksy little track that strums on and on and on.  It’s catchy enough and sticks in your head. (Ghosts/Fragile)
2. “On the wing” – more sleepy harmonies from Trent and Mariqueen, yet this sounds a lot like a Goldfrapp song that snuck onto Year Zero.  Which is awesome.  Hence the placement in “Songs” rather than below in the “Not So Bad.”  (YZ/The Slip)
3.  “How long?” – THE standout track of this album and a good enough reason for the creation of this entire LP.  It is a grower, but oh boy, what an earworm.  I played the shit out of this track and I’m not even sick of it.  It finally sounds like Mariqueen’s gig, not a cheap cover version of a NIN song.  I love, love, love this song. (sounds like htda.)
4.  “Strings and attractors” – more masturbatory Ghosts shit.  I’m so done with these blips and bloops and bleeps.  Mariqueen sounds nice and angelic on this track, but as with “Too late, all gone,” it tries my patience.  Not sure why, but I just want to press the “next” button… and then, THEN it becomes something else.  Something Fragile-y.  And I’m back onboard. (G/F)

 

“Not So Bad” (a.k.a. I’ll take what I can get…)

1.  “The Wake-up” – a good intro.  Short and sweet. (YZ/G)
2.  “Keep It Together” – droning and monotonous, but hey, there are vocals!  VOCALS! (YZ)
3.  “And the sky began to scream” – the blips and bleeps get a bit more aggressive and Mariqueen drops the vox (barely) again… this is like begging for crumbs.  (YZ)
4.  “Welcome oblivion” – vox TOTALLY sound like Trent… starts off Year Zero-y, ends with some surprisingly awesome Fragile-sounding twangs and drums. (YZ/F)
5.  “The loop closes” – this is a strange one.  You’ve got the Year Zero production, but also some flourishes of Fragile and even Downward Spiral (!!!!!!) instrumentation.  It’s another mainly-instrumental wank-fest, but it’s surprisingly gratifying.  This track also has the most Trent vocal presence, if you care.  (DS/F/YZ)
6.  “Hallowed ground” – the delicate closer of the album is a mixed bag.  You’ve got your icy piano tinkling, which reminds me of Still, and your ominous Year Zero electro-beats.  It’s peaceful and relaxing and if you’ve made it this far, just enjoy it and be glad the album is finished.  (S/YZ)

 

“Jesus Christ, Trent Reznor… enough of this shit!”

1. “Too late, all gone” – this sounds EXACTLY like a Year Zero castaway that replaced Trent’s vocals with Mariqueen.  I don’t know why it bugs me so much…  maybe because it feels lazy?  I don’t want to hear any more Year Zero shit, let alone a track that’s supposed to be for another group.  And it’s not even a bad song (technically, for whoever you are reading this, it’s worth a download.  Honestly.), I just have lost patience at this point.
2. “We fade away” – Ghosts with vocals.  Again.  Sigh.  It’s not terrible by any means, but an album full of b-side worthy songs is not an album.  (G)
3. “Recursive self-improvement” – oh, these fucking song titles.  We’re on track 11 and you can tell I’m clearly getting frustrated.  Even Radiohead are not this self-indulgent (fightin’ words!).  Should I have bought Amok instead?  I’m not even sure.  Let me go get another beer while this song blips its way to the end… This sounds like the soundtrack to a video they play in the computer exhibits at science museums.  (Social Network castoff?)

The problem with NewTrent (i.e. post-drugs, clean-living buff TR) is the quality of the output.  It used to be that we had to wait fucking YEARS between NIN projects.  As a kid, this felt like an eternity.  OldTrent would drop off the face of the earth and, being the time before Facebook and Twitter, we had to rely on news websites and rock mags for any news of his whereabouts.  Then he’d magically reappear, drop a new single, and heads would explode.  This is why I’d wait in line for a midnight release of a new NIN album.

Then, starting in 2005, NIN came roaring back with With Teeth (in my opinion, their last good album) and it’s been a steady outpouring of project after project of whatever NewTR feels like tossing to his fans.  Year Zero.  Niggy Tardust.  Ghosts.  The Slip.  Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Social Network.  This.  It’s too much.  I’d rather he release something mindblowing twice a decade instead of the same old bloopy-blippy shit, stretched out over ten volumes with various scores and soundtracks in the mix.  May God help me, but I’m sick of wading through this muck and mire just to find one or two songs that connect.

Their self-titled debut EP is still their best output, by far.  Because SONGS.  Four of six tracks from the Omen EP appear on Welcome Oblivion, making that EP a waste of time.  Yet I still buy them all.  And I’m still going to the concert in April.  I trust Trent’s vision and will at least appreciate this as an artistic statement.  But this is yet another project where I’d be just as satisfied downloading a couple songs and getting on with my life.  I’m happy Trent is keeping the creative juices flowing, but I really need the new NIN album to be a banger.

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REVIEW: The Killers – Battle Born

Autumn is usually a time when I’m O.D.-ing on apple and pumpkin flavored food and drink.  The leaves change color, the temperatures drop and all the long sleeves and long pants come trundling out of the closet.  This year it’s also a time of absolute new music bliss.  In the coming months, my ears — and your eyes — will be inundated with enough new material to expand my Top 10 of 2012 into a bloated Top 20 list that nobody will read.  The first huge release of the season that has my panties in knots is from The Killers.

Battle Born, their 4th proper LP, sees the two personalities of The Killers combine in the most perfect vision yet.  On one hand, we have the glammy, synth-heavy and melodically flashy — your Hot Fuss and Day & Age.  On the other hand, we have the Springsteen fever dream of Sam’s Town.  For the megafan (err, mega “victim”), you can toss in B.Flo’s solo album, Flamingo, which reveals a lot more about who really wears the pants in the band.  Day & Age stumbled a bit, even though it’s one of my favorite Killers records.  It was a little too schmaltzy cheese.  Too much “Wayne Newton and Sigfried and Roy” Vegas, not enough of the desert paranoia and cowboy badassery.  But anything is better than Sam’s Town, which I will go on record as saying it is their Pinkerton: a shitty subpar album that purist fans say they like just because it makes them seem that much better than the casual fan who only knows “Mr. Brightside.”  If you want to know where I stand — if you’re still even reading this — my ranking of Brandon Flowers and His Killers output is as follows:

1. Hot Fuss – undisputed best.  An earnest, passionate, paranoid whirlwind that plays like a greatest hits record.

2. Flamingo – anthems, heart, ballads and some really creative arrangements.

3. Day & Age – a few gems, a couple skips.  Too cornball to be classic.

4. Sam’s Town – a couple of giant anthems, a whole lot of eye-rolling and groaning from yours truly.

5. Sawdust – haha.  right.

So where does Battle Born stand?  Let me jump the gun (Editor’s note: I’m contemplating calling my reviews “Jumping The Gun” instead…) and say Battle Born just entered the charts at #2 (sorry, Sam’s Town and Sawdust… alliteration!).  There’s not a bad song on here.  By bad, I mean skippable.  Surely there are a few minor groans and grumbles, but honestly, I like every track on this disc.  Let’s go through them, shall we?

1. Flesh and Boneblip-bloop-bleep — you’ve now been downloaded into a cowboy version of TRON.  This is the theme for the record, as told to me by Brandon Flowers in a dream I had of him last night (Seriously, we’re like brothers… he’s only a week older than me!  What have I done with my life…. D:)  Fan fantasies aside, this song is huge.  A suitable intro to the coming journey through the 80s synthesizer desert where the Killers live when they aren’t touring.

2. Runaways – sadly this song was not as huge as it should have been.  There’s just no place for it on radio these days, as most rock stations have been sold or shut down.  Light and uplifting, it is a gorgeous piece of storytelling with an absolute rocket-ship of an ending that nearly sent me through my flatscreen tv when I was rocking out the other day.  Side note:  B.Flo hits his Springsteen apex on this line: “Like a stum-bull-ing ghost I HAWWWWNT these HAWWWLLS!”  The Boss would be proud of the copy-cattery.

3. The Way It Was – a lovely mid-tempo rocker with great syncopated lyric delivery and soaring harmonies.  Nothing to cream over, but still good.

4. Here With Me –  whaaaaaaaaaaaaat???????  A BALLAD?!?!?  Indeed!  And my favorite track on this album.  Comrade Tim thinks it sounds like Anne Murray.  Bah!  I reject that statement.  Schmaltzy, yes.  Uncomfortably similar to an 80s power ballad?  Yeah.  But oh what a chorus.  What emotion.  What genuine heart.  I can’t think of a prior Killers song that could be defined as a ballad, so this is big stuff.  On first listen, I might have shed a tear or two.  It just hit me.  I fucking love this song.  Love lost, hearts broken, lighters thrust into the air.

5. A Matter of Time – for you Sam’s Town goons out there, this is by far the most Sam’s Town-y song of the batch.  Lots of manly “whoa-oh-oh”s and hefty drumming.  But what makes it better than that Sam’s Town mess is the songwriting and the melody, two things that they forgot about on that sophomore effort.  Urgent, driving, manly.  Grrrrr.

6. Deadlines and Commitments – bless their 80s fixation.  This throbs like some cold synth-pop shit.  Falsettos happen.  Basslines twang.  I quietly dance at the side of the room in my Depeche Mode shirt.

7. Miss Atomic Bomb – this has grown on me the most.  At first, I dismissed it as U2-light.  Something about the Edge-esque guitar work, the pomposity and — holy Irish Christ — B.Flo’s vocals at the end (paging Bono!).  But this chorus has driven itself into my heart.  Huge.  Coldplay-arena-size HUGE.  Wait for the emotional explosion at the concert.

8. The Rising Tide – starts off like a J-Pop synth-blitz, but then in come the guitars and we’re back in the American West.  Verrrry twangy.  The incessantly repetitive synth-line that continues throughout the entire song transports me back to cowboy Tron land.  Combine the drive of “A Matter of Time” with the tech-melody of “Deadlines…” and you have this track.

9. Heart of a Girl – wow, slow it down.  Let the cigarette hang off your lip.  Milk that tumbler of rye whiskey.  Gaze at the stars.  This slow burn gem builds and builds until a glorious gospel explosion at the end, when all the pieces come together and the light shines forth.

1o. From Here On Out – paging Springsteen.  My toddler self is Courtney Cox-ing like CRAZY to this long lost Born in the USA b-side that never was.

11. Be Still – another slow 80s inspired ballad (you’ll know it as soon as that beat kicks in).  Delicate and pretty like “Goodnight, Travel Well” and “Everything Will Be Alright.”  One of my favorites on the album.  (Could also double as a great Cultural Revolution-era Communist anthem with lyrics like “Rise up like the sun/ Labor til the work is done”)

12. Battle Born – instead of closing with a quiet whimper on “Be Still” (like Hot Fuss and Day & Age did, mind you), we get another singalong anthem.  Proud and unapologetic.  We’ve got some 80s hair metal riffage here, some grand man harmonies and enough guitar solo-ing to make Bon Jovi and Def Leppard proud.  A great end to a solid album.

Bonus tracks: depending on what version you got, you likely now own a couple remixes (I’m never a fan) and a few future b-sides.  “Carry Me Home” is another Cowboy Tron track and “Prize Fighter” reminds of a lame Sam’s Town throwaway, a little too Springsteen.  Gripes aside, The Killers never disappoint with bonus tracks, so these remain welcome extras.

 

Verdict:  A little Achtung Baby.  A little Songs of Faith and Devotion.  A little Sweet Dreams.  A shit-ton of Springsteen. (if I ran the College Board, this question would be on the SAT verbal — “MUSE:QUEEN :: THE KILLERS: ?”  yeah, Bruce Springsteen.  Congrats you’re going to college.)   I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed a Killers record through and through since 2004 (2004?!????!!!!!).  Well worth it.

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