May 1, 2008
UPDATE: Songs removed upon request. Sorry.
Georgetown Radio requires all DJ’s to write several album reviews per semester. Although it can be difficult to get your hands on the album you want to review, I was fortunate enough to get first pick in reviewing an album by a band that has held an important place in my heart since I was a wee-little freshman in high school. Here goes…
Is Anti-Flag going soft on us? Depending on how you approach this question, the answer could be yes. The Pittsburgh punk outfit’s political messages are as strong as ever, but this time around the band has openly embraced taking a more experimental approach to their music for their sophomore major-label release, The Bright Lights of America. This does not mean the band is trying to go all Mars Volta on us; instead, the band hopes to keep their music alive and vibrant in an ever-changing music industry by complementing their melodic-punk sound with interesting musical additions, such as orchestral percussion. Simply put, Anti-Flag is trying to do what other punk bands have not done before.
For the most part, this new experimental approach to the band’s music works. On the track “Spit in the Face,” the group is able to flawlessly transition from a dark piano-led introduction to a balls-to-the-wall punk-rock song. The aptly titled “Go West” also brings some new flavor into the band’s repertoire by including a harmonica-riff that would be more common of folk or country music. However, there are other songs where this new approach just does not turn out well. “If You Wanna Steal (You Better Learn How to Life),” is probably Bright Lights’ greatest low-point; the atypical drumbeat just does not feel like Anti-Flag I have come to love and know and does not go well with the band’s general attitude.
Although this album can be singled out for its experimental overtones, The Bright Lights of America is still chock-full of angry lyrics and fast-paced punk rock songs. Tracks such as “The Modern Rome is Burning” remind me that the Anti-Flag the world has come to know is still alive and well. Unfortunately, songs like these are the highlights of Bright Lights. Although I am glad that the band tried to keep its music fresh for this album, I think that Anti-Flag should stick to their guns next time they are in the studio. Nevertheless, they can take a lesson or two from Bright Lights and build off of the successful experimental elements of the album for their next full-length effort.
MP3: Anti-Flag – The Modern Rome Is Burning
MP3: Anti-Flag – Go West
April 29, 2008
You may have read the title to this post and thought to yourself (or out loud), “but Zack, The Roots are from Philadelphia. Philly hates D.C. and D.C. hates Philly. How are The Roots giving D.C. love?”. Well, allow me to answer that question. Listeners attuned to the sounds of the Washington, DC Go-Go music scene, or anyone who loves percussion-heavy instrumentation, will definitely find Rising Down a pleasant surprise. This is because ?uestlove, Black Thought, and the gang have obviously been listening to go-go pioneers Rare Essence, UCB, and the godfather Chuck Brown. Take the highlight track “Rising Up”, for example. The beat is obviously crafted out of traditional go-go rhythms, and even features one of the hottest verses of 2008 contributed by none other than D.C. up-and-comer/genius/prodigy/demi-god Wale. Nobody in hip-hop right now uses metaphors and pop culture references with as much comfort and style as Wale does, and it shows on “Rising Up”.
So enjoy The Roots’ newest album, whether you be from Philly, D.C., or anywhere else. Rising Down features more guest appearances than any of their other LPs, which makes sense as this album seems to be inclusive, eclectic, and heavily influenced by multiple cultures, genres, and musicians.
MP3: The Roots – “Rising Up (ft. Wale & Chrissette Michelle)”
MP3: The Roots – “75 Bars (Black’s Reconstruction)”
The album dropped today, so go get yourself a copy.
April 28, 2008
What? When did this happen? How could I miss the release from a band that I told everyone not to miss out on way back when? Seriously, Mermaids (their third LP) dropped April 1st? That’s like, 27 days ago. Oh well.
Mermaids definitely harkens back to the sound I fell in love with on their debut, No Disassemble. Soft, sweet, and harmless tracks are littered across the new album, with painful love ballads tossed in for good measure. “Vocals” is the magic word for Mermaids, which is great for listeners since singer/songwriter Michael Flynn has perfected the strained voice, turning songs with simple percussion and a slow guitar line into complex, intricate love songs. Highlights include “The Stakes Were Raised”, which features the best instrumentation on the album, and “Trying to Put Your Heart Back Together”, which holds its own against the likes of Neko Case in the growing alt-country genre.
Note the zshare, since our server is down for a hot second.
MP3: Slow Runner – “Trying to Put Your Heart Back Together”
MP3: Slow Runner – “The Stakes Were Raised”
Now listen to one of my favorite tracks from 2005’s No Disassemble and tell me you wish you hadn’t slept on these guys.
MP3: Slow Runner – “Everything is Exactly What it Seems”
April 8, 2008
For those of you that completely missed the memo, The Notwist are a German indie rock band that formed almost 20 years ago, yet only have released six albums in that span, with their breakthrough coming in the form of 2002’s gem, Neon Golden. The sound has drifted into darker and more ambient music, but their ability to set the mood is something that has stayed constant.
Their newest album, The Devil, You + Me, represents the quartet’s effort to gain a more broad audience, and they do so quite nicely without losing their uniquely full sound. With songs like “Gone Gone Gone” and “Good Lies” (the first single), the band demonstrates their versatility, with “Gone Gone Gone” embodying their soft, acoustic sound, and “Good Lies” showing off the band’s knack for building emotion through layered instrumentation and vocals that are equal parts nostalgic and hopeful. The Devil, You + Me is a top-notch album that has captivated me since the first listen.
MP3: The Notwist – “Good Lies”
MP3: The Notwist – “Gone Gone Gone”
Pick up a copy of The Devil, You + Me in late may, and be sure to check their website for updates.
March 25, 2008
I realized after writing last year’s review of the Matches’ sophomore effort, Decomposer, that I had done so a bit prematurely. In that review, I essentially wrote that the band sacrificed catchiness in order to take a more experimental, artsy approach to their music. After listening to Decomposer several more times, I realized that the album was a hell of a lot more catchy than I had said it was. So this time around, I wanted to make sure I carefully listened to the band’s latest album, A Band In Hope, and not make any mistakes when it came to writing a review for it.
After listening to A Band In Hope, it’s obvious that the band has continued to take an experimental approach to their music. Each track is followed by one with a completely different style than its predecessor, making for quite a unique listen. This is both good and bad – the majority of the tracks are fantastic on their own, but if you’re looking for an album to listen to when you’re in a certain mood, then you’re out of luck. For example, the third track, “Wake the Sun,” is probably the catchiest song I’ve listened to all year – there’s something refreshing and uplifting about the light-hearted guitar and lyrics that really makes it feel like the sun is rising right in front of you when you listen to this song. But then this is followed by “Darkness Rising,” a track that begins with a soft piano intro but then bursts into what could be music from a scene in a musical or opera. Although the song is fine in itself, it crushes whatever mood you were in after listening to the previous track. So some people may find this to be a problem, while others will put is aside and appreciate the band for its continued creativity.
Another thing to notice is that there really isn’t any hint of pop-punk on this album – A Band In Hope is more of a straight-up rock album. And although it goes in different musical directions, it’s amazing to see how the band’s sound has developed merely two albums after releasing their pop-punk debut, E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals. Despite the band’s change in sound, I’m sure A Band In Hope will please all fans and perhaps get some more people hooked onto their truly unique style. Unfortunately, I don’t think this album will be enough to launch them into the mainstream. Nevertheless, I’d say this is their strongest effort yet and it’s definitely a sign of good things to come.
MP3: The Matches – “Wake the Sun”
Check some other new songs, including “We Are One” at their myspace, and check them out as they go on a search for the best BBQ in Austin during SXSW in a segment for the Food Network here.
March 10, 2008
French Kicks, born and raised in my wonderful hometown of Washington, DC, will be releasing their second album on Vagrant Records, Swimming, on May 20th (though it will be available on iTunes on April 1st). Their newest effort is refreshing and familiar at the same time, and is particularly noteworthy because the band produced and mixed it all by themselves. Lead singer Josh Wise said that, on Swimming, the Kicks “hoped to capture the joy of friends playing together in a relaxed way. We used a lot of first and second takes and tried to preserve a sense of immediacy and discovery that comes from putting things down before you really have a chance to think too hard. It’s bolder, and at the same time more intimate, than anything we’ve done.” If the whole album is anything like “Abandon”, the first single, you’re listening to a contender for the top ten albums of 2008.
Check out “Abandon” and, if you can, check out these guys in concert in the next couple months. Dates after the jump.
MP3: French Kicks – “Abandon”
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February 11, 2008
The Helio Sequence have just released their fourth full length album (two on Cavity Search, and the last two on Sub Pop), and first in over three years. Keep Your Eyes Ahead is a beautifully complex album, with a quirky mood and layered melodies that are hard to match up with contemporaries. I just can’t stop listening to “You Can Come to Me” and I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the Rilo Kiley/Postal Service-like intro. Maybe it’s the full, contemplative voice of Brandon Summers (due to the fact that he damaged his vocal chords and had to learn to sing all over again between 2004’s Love and Distance and Keep Your Eyes Ahead). Or maybe it’s a bit of both; a perfect harmony of instruments, synths and voice. Whatever it is, I love it, and I want you to love it. Also check “Hallelujah”, an equally fantastic song with one of the most interesting and enthralling drum patterns I’ve heard in a while.
MP3: The Helio Sequence – “You Can Come to Me” [zshare]
MP3: The Helio Sequence – “Hallelujah” [zshare]