Anti-Flag – The Bright Lights of America

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


The Roots Release New Album, Show D.C. Love

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.


Slow Runner Has a New Album??!?!

April 28, 2008

Slow Runner - Mermaids

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”


Two New Songs from The Notwist

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.


The Matches – A Band In Hope

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.

– Adrian

French Kicks New Album + Spring Tour

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”


Read the rest of this entry »

New Helio Sequence – Keep Your Eyes Ahead

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]


All Things Go Top 40 Albums – Albums 40-31

January 28, 2008


Wow. Took me long enough huh? Well here it finally is…sort of. Instead of stuffing all forty of my favorite albums in to one post, which doesn’t give enough time and love to each deserving album, I’ve decided to split it into 4 posts: albums 40-31, 30-21, 20-11, and then finally my top ten favorite albums of 2007. This way you not only get more in-depth analysis of each album but I also get to split one post into four, allowing me to have more consistent new material, and allowing me to be lazier. It’s a win-win situation.

If 2006 represented my first full year of immersion into the independent music scene, 2007 represented my rapid growth as a listener, from a wet-behind-the-ears blogger with no idea what to expect to a seasoned veteran with a more polished, refined taste. I’ve started to learn the ins-and-outs of this crazy industry though, to be fair, I’m still fairly new, and cannot claim to be some sort of musical expert. Some bloggers have done things differently, looking at the top songs or other things, but I believe that, even in the age of the internet with people stealing individual songs, the full album still stands as the most wholesome and telling example of an artist’s work, and I would like to give these bands the respect they deserve by recognizing their albums, rather than individual singles. This is all irrelevant really, because you guys probably just want to see the list. Fine, here we go then, with albums 40-31:

40) T.I. – T.I. Vs. T.I.P. [buy]
While T.I. is not my favorite rapper, his follow up to 2006’s King was my most anticipated hip-hop album of the year. When I first listened to T.I. Vs. T.I.P., I thought that “Tell ‘Em I Said That” and “Help is Coming” were going to be the first singles, so I listened to them over and over again, and fell in love with both, especially “Tell ‘Em”. Then I researched and realized that “Big Shit Poppin” and “You Know What it is” were the singles, and I was thoroughly disappointed, as I thought that “Big Shit Poppin” was quite possibly the weakest song on the entire LP. So, instead of getting upset, I just pretended that “Tell ‘Em I Said That” was the single, and promptly fell back in love with the album. This could top a “best party albums of 2007” list easily.

MP3: T.I. – “Tell ‘Em I Said That”


39) Holy Fuck – LP [buy]
This album came out of nowhere to rock my world, with songs like “Lovely Allen” (featured on the second Instrumental Mixtape) and “Super Inuit” leading the charge. The electronica adventurers from Toronto have crafted an almost entirely instrumental album packed with intense synths and choppy basslines. I feel like, along with Daft Punk, this is the music that robots party to, and since I wish I was a robot, I like partying to this.

MP3: Holy Fuck – “Lovely Allen”


38) Bear Colony – We Came Here to Die [buy]
I wrote about this album way back in February and I hadn’t listened to it much since then, but I rediscovered it as I went over my list. I’ve yet to see this album on any top albums list, which just goes to show how many good bands there are out there, and how many get overlooked. Lead vocalist and songwriter Vince Griffin was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2005, and ended up writing all of We Came Here to Die in a hospital bed, so naturally he tackles serious, difficult dilemmas through his melodies and lyrics. His songs are not grim, though, and he does a wonderful job of balancing the strain of his situation with images of hope and determination. All in all, a very well-crafted debut from the multi-talented Griffin.

MP3: Bear Colony – “Hospital Rooms Aren’t For Lovers”


37) Voxtrot – Voxtrot [buy]
The hotly anticipated debut from Voxtrot fell just slightly short of my expectations but, to be fair, songs like “Start of Something” and “Mothers, Sisters, Daughters, & Wives” (off of their impressive EPs) set the bar ridiculously high. That’s not to say, however, that their self-titled LP is not solid, especially on songs like “Firecracker”, which sounds like a blend of ATG favorites Ted Leo and the Shins. This album didn’t get enough recognition, and I’m expecting a strong follow-up from the quintet from Austin, as well as more new music from Voxtrot-ter Jared Van Fleet’s side project, Sparrow House.

MP3: Voxtrot – “Firecracker”


36) Wilco – Sky Blue Sky [buy]
Wilco’s sixth album doesn’t take quite as many chances as their past few albums, as Jeff Tweedy and the gang rely heavily on a country-inspired sound that never seems to fail them. In doing so, the album sounds more coherent than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or Summerteeth, and is consistently enjoyable, yet doesn’t deliver masterpieces like “Jesus, Etc.” or “Heavy Metal Drummer”. Highlights include “What Light” and “The Thanks I Get” (which is a bonus track).

MP3: Wilco – “What Light”


35) Modest Mouse – We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank [buy]
Nathaniel over at I Guess I’m Floating summed the album up pretty nicely in his editorial back when the album leaked, and he also very eloquently asked all of the naysayers to kindly shut up. Yes, the album doesn’t sound much like their older stuff. Yes, the album is a bit more commercial than their older stuff. But is it every bit as good as their older stuff? You bet. While I’d still give the edge to The Moon & Antarctica in a head-to-head matchup, songs like “Fire it Up”, and even the unbearably infectious “Dashboard” demonstrate Modest Mouse’s depth, and showcase the skills of their newest member, Johnny Marr. Oh, and check the Shins frontman James Mercer’s guest spot on “Florida”, my favorite on We Were Dead.

MP3: Modest Mouse – “Florida”


34) Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala [buy]
I fell in love with Jens Lekman upon hearing “Black Cab” (off of Oh You’re So Silent Jens), so Night Falls Over Kortedala only reaffirms said love. With vocals that sound more like little stories rather than songs, Lekman has created an album that takes listeners back to the pop music that dominated the charts four decades ago. However, his incorporation of lush instrumentals and catchy-as-shit melodies keep the music both fresh and enthralling. Lekman allows the listener to choose whether to sit back and enjoy the beautiful pop melodies or take a deeper listen and grapple with the complex melodramas that he delivers so eloquently.

MP3: Jens Lekman – “The Opposite of Hallelujah”


33) Common – Finding Forever [buy]
My relationship with Common’s music changes with every listen. At times, I get frustrated with his flow (see: his verse in Kanye’s “Get Em High”) and with his appearances in both Gap and Cadillac commercials (which hasn’t been received well in the music community) as well as his acting in Smokin’ Aces. Other times though, I can’t help but enjoy his creative, nostalgic samples of soul and gospel classics, from Nina Simone’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” (on “Misunderstood”) to Gil Scott Heron on “The People”. Kanye produces most of the tracks, which as a whole are a bit more obscure, dark and solemn than your typical ‘Ye hooks. Common goes out on a limb more on this album, with more ambitious, quick rhymes that are maybe less accessible, but more profound and interesting than usual. Common may not have found forever, but he’s definitely found a more suitable sound.

MP3: Common – “Drivin’ Me Wild (ft. Lily Allen)”


32) Ted Leo & the Pharmacists – Living with the Living [buy]
If you told me a year ago that I would not absolutely worship anything Ted Leo ever made, I would’ve laughed in your face, so consider me shocked to be putting this album at #32, and not #1. I am not at all disappointed in the album though, as I figured Mr. Leo and the gang were heading in this direction, and I cannot expect a band to constantly give me the same old sound that I’ve grown to love. This album reaches back to the punk-era sounding more like Fugazi, what with more gritty guitar riffs and drum patterns, and ultra-political and socially aware lyrics. Ted has always voiced his opinion on society, whether it be through his music or through his postings on the band’s website, but Living with the Living removes the allegories and subtle insinuations in songs like “My Vien Ilin”, opting for more overt and direct attacks on government and the administration with songs like “Bomb. Repeat. Bomb.” and “C.I.A.”. While this may not be exactly my style, Ted’s signature melodies can still be heard in songs like “Army Bound” and “A Bottle of Buckie”, keeping each and every listener satisfied.

MP3: Ted Leo & the Pharmacists – “A Bottle of Buckie”


31) Josh Ritter – The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter [buy]
Singer/songwriter Josh Ritter experiments more on this album than he did on 2006’s mostly acoustic Animal Years, giving the album a more sunny, if not carefree, vibe. Ritter still strips down to an acoustic guitar and cello on songs like “The Temptation of Adam” (my favorite on the album), demonstrating his versatile and unique voice, and immense songwriting talent. This album invokes images of artists such as Elliot Smith or Ryan Adams, and he seems to be on to something with The Historical Conquests. Highlights include “The Temptation of Adam” and “To The Dogs or Whoever”, with an country-folk electronic sound that reminds me of Eels, only better.

MP3: Josh Ritter – “To the Dogs of Whoever”

That’s it for today. Stay tuned for albums 30-21, and make sure you go pick up these 10 albums if you haven’t already. Also, if this format really truly bothers you, or you don’t really care about my opinion that much, let me know ASAP and I’ll just put together a less in-depth top 40.

The Fall of Troy – Manipulator

May 31, 2007

fall of troy pic

A couple months ago, I went to the D.C. stop for the Fall of Troy’s headlining tour at the Rock and Roll Hotel. I wasn’t sure what to expect; the internet had been abuzz with rumors that the band was going to break up, and that the guys couldn’t get along with each other. Although I’ve learned to take these rumors with a grain of salt, I couldn’t held but wonder if this supposed conflict would manifest itself in the band’s new material. Luckily, the new songs the Fall of Troy performed live went smoothly and Thomas Erak, as always, knocked me off my feet with plenty of face-melting guitar solos.

I walked out of the venue satisfied, confident that the band’s upcoming release, Manipulator, would be anything but disappointing. Having bought and listened to the entire album, I’m somewhat disappointed, but only because I held the band to such high standards. Let me begin the rest of this review by making it clear that I think Manipulator is a good album. However, there are certain things about the album that really annoyed me, so this review may sound a tad bit negative.

It’s inevitable that as a band continues to write music, there will emerge a desire to experiment and tweak their sound. Sometimes bands completely revamp their style, whereas others do it slowly in bits and pieces. The Fall of Troy followed the latter approach. Sometimes their change in sound works out for the best; songs such as “Semi-Fiction” successfully employ more melody than was used in their earlier material. However, sometimes the band dabbles in certain musical styles that come across as more awkward than pleasing. The verse in “Oh! The Casino!?” sounds like it was taken directly from an episode of Happy Days, and “Quarter Past” begins with a bluesy intro that, although it sounds good by itself, interrupts the flow of not only the individual track, but of the entire album. Although I appreciate the band’s efforts to rechart its musical boundaries, Erak and company should have taken a step back from the recording process to see if these changes contributed to the quality of the album.

Another aspect of Manipulator that bothered me was the production. The vocals and instrumentals themselves are fine. However, there are many instances throughout the album’s duration where the vocals sound very distant from the music. This problem is apparent from the beginning of the album on the track “Cut Down All the Trees and Name the Streets After Them,” throughout which the vocals sound too powerful, are packed with too much reverb, and overtake the guitarwork. Furthermore, because Erak’s vocals sound a bit diva-esque at times, it feels as if the band is purposefully trying to take away from the fantastic instrumentals.

That’s my beef with Manipulator, but despite its flaws, this album is a great example of how talented the Fall of Troy is. As long as the band continues to make brilliant experimental and aggressive music, then I will support anything they do. I hope that when they begin recording their next album, these guys will look back on Manipulator and avoid repeating the same mistakes.

MP3: The Fall of Troy – Cut Down All the Trees and Name the Streets After Them
MP3: The Fall of Troy – A Man. A Plan. A Canal. Panama.


Look Mexico – The Crucial EP

September 26, 2006

I found this little gem of a band when I heard that Lujo Records (Drugstore Cowboys, Roy) had some new signees. Florida’s Look Mexico is the closest any band has come to in recreating the sound of American Football – they pull it off phenomenally. However, I would hardly say they’re the same. Firstly, the obvious difference in the production quality of both band’s material – rather than possessing a rough, atmospheric sound, Look Mexico’s recordings are more lush and vibrant. Look Mexico also demonstrates difference from its harbinger in style – while the band at times may share the same post-emo sound of American Football’s “Honestly?”, the guitarwork also falls into a more arpeggiated landscape, sometimes resembling the intricate yet driving hooks of Minus the Bear. Comparisons aside, Look Mexico’s The Crucial EP makes me feel warm inside. It’s feel-good music that should appeal to pretty much anybody.

Look Mexico – Call Off Your Lap Dog

Look Mexico – Guys I Need a Helicopter