Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Boys And Girls In America

The Hold Steady
Boys And Girls In America
2006, Vagrant


I really had a lot reservations about reviewing this album. I listened to the album 4 times in row before writing the review. I have to say that I don't like anything else that they've made. Craig Finn's voice really is an aquired taste and at times seems to lack emotion. There is also something really fun about it at the same time and I can't quite pinpoint what it is. His lyrics are nostalgic, witty, and sometimes just downright goofy. There times when you feel like drinking on a hot summers night among friends and other times when you feel driving along America's heartland. That feeling is both in the lyrics and the music, which I must say is the albums saving grace. Boys And Girls In America sounds like the lovechild of Bachman Turner Overdrive and Bruce Springsteen. It's both poetic and senseless, meaningless and relevant.

I should point out that what initially got me interested in checking this album out was a free track that had available aptly named "Boys And Girls In America" which happens to not be on the album. It is a very good song and a definite attention grabber and it has some of Finn's best singing on it. Most of the songs relate to past times that involve partying, drinking, one night stands, and rejection. The album starts with "Stuck Between The Stations" which instrumentally is a fantastic song but Finn's voice doesn't really seem fit this song but somehow his storytelling style makes it tolerable. A lot of this album follows the same pattern but one of the things about this album is that THS always seem to throw in that one thing into each song that makes you remember it and want to listen to it again. Even the hapless ballad "First Night" which seems to have multiple meanings (which isn't always a bad things), doesn't fit Finn's voice at all, and seems to lack emotion finds a way to pull in about halfway through the song when it breaks down into this amazing orchestral bridge and goes into a rockin chorus that leads quite into the second part of the album. Every song seems to have at least a few good hooks and some stellar piano parts but they sometimes try to do too much like in "Chill Out" where the additional vocalists in the song actually make it worse. Songs where THS don't try to do to much and just rock out and sing about drinking is when they are at their best. Craig Finn definitely isn't for everyone but if you want a fun album that doesn't require too much concentration or emotion than this is it for you. The hype surrounding this album is undeserving, it's a good album but not life-changing. I must also point out that there are 2 additional tracks, "Girls Like Status" and "Arms And Hearts", which are available on iTunes which definitely worth the $1.98 to download.

Key Tracks: Party Pit, Southtown Girls, Citrus, Hot Soft Light, You Can Make Like You

Monday, November 06, 2006

eMusic Plan Changes

So, last week I was greeted with spectacular news in my yahoo inbox. Starting November 21st the eMusic rates will be changing. The catch is that the cost of the rates won't change...the amount of downloads per plan will change. The new plans are as follows...

eMusic Basic
30 downloads per month (formerly 40)
$9.99 per month

eMusic Plus
50 downloads per month (formerly 65)
$14.99 per month

eMusic Premium
75 downloads per month (formerly 90)
$19.99 per month

Its a sad day in my opinion. It just shows me that in less than a year of major popularity, eMusic seems to be caving to record labels who are probably insisting that they charge more for their downloads. I always considered eMusic to be the most amazing thing in the world, because it allows you to try out so many new indie bands at such a low cost, that buying the physical cd becomes an afterthought. Its so cheap that you dont even care that you dont actually get a physical copy of the album. I have said to many of my friends that I hate only having downloads of albums, but eMusic is just so beyond worth the cost that i just dont care anymore. Those days may soon be gone. Because if the cost of downloading an album creeps up from $3 to $5 roughly, then i think its almost becoming worth the extra $7 to have the real thing on my shelf.

The catch is that if you are an existing eMusic customer, you are able to keep your existing plan...but only if you sign up for the old rate before November 21st. I locked myself into the Annual plan again, which is $191 for the year with 90 downloads per month. Seems like a lot of money...but come on people, thats less than 6 CENTS per song! Beat that iTunes!!

So dont forget to lock yourself in to the old rates before November 21st!

Oh, and I have to say that i downloaded the album Sincerely, Black Lipstick by the band Black Lipstick today off of eMusic, and I am beyond impressed. Its a really nice listen, and having only 9 tracks makes it easy to get into. So go for it! Sometimes as i listen i am reminded of the Stones.

Sam's Town

The Killers
Sam's Town
2006, Island/Def Jam


Ah, The Killers, we were all obsessed at one point with Hot Fuss with it's uncanny catchiness. It had hip, headbobbing melodies and glamorous lyrics. It was very different from anything else we had pretty much heard in a long time and needless to say, made us very interested in what they were gonna do next. Well, here it is and damn if we're not disappointed. Sometimes instant success can hurt a band and rather going with how they feel and putting their own emotion into it they end up trying too hard.

It's not that this album sucks because it doesn't. It's undeniably catchy albeit overdone at times and it's enjoyable to listen to. The real problem with this album is that it doesn't feel like the band put their hearts into it. It feels like a lot of ego and too much testosterone was put into it. Glam-rock doesn't need ego and testosterone, it needs sex, drugs, alcohol, and past regrets. The lyrics on this album feel more like an artist attempting to sound intelligent and experienced than really just writing from the heart. It's very retrospective and these guys are still kids. They are singing about the past when they basically have no past. They should be singing about learning experiences and the future. 2 pictures in the album artwork very much show a band that's trying too hard and thinks it's bigger than what it really is: the back cover looks like a band that thinks they are U2 and then one of the pictures on the inside shows all the band members floating a few feet above the ground, which is cool if you're Pink Floyd.

Songs like "Read My Mind" and "Bones" are undeniably catchy and have fantastic melodies but have repetitive lyrics and lack substance. "Uncle Jonny" feels like a personal experience the singer never had and "Bling (Confession Of A King)" is a ridiculous enough of a song title that I practically don't want to like it even though it is one of the strongest tracks on the album. "My List" shows a band not very good at writing a slow power ballad. Another I should point out is the order of the songs on this album. "Sam's Town" is a big bold song that's probably one of the best on the album but it should be places somewhere towards the end of the albums if not at the end. The "enterlude" and "exitlude" are both unnecessary and uncreative. The placing of "enterlude" is akin to a movie with an action sequence to start the film and then the credits. This is music and that is just not needed.

Sometimes a band feels they need to make that one album that will make them legendary versus creating an overall body of work that spans an entire career. Sometime sticking to a formula is a good thing and doesn't need to be meddled with and sometimes progression is a good thing but only in small doses. Radiohead did that but was lucky enough to make a few classic albums before getting too big for themselves and going off the deep end. Here's hoping The Killers have a humbling experience and realize that being yourself is a good thing before they record a new album.

Key Tracks: This River Is Wild, When You Were Young, Bling (Confessions Of A King)

Born In The U.K.

Badly Drawn Boy
Born In The U.K.
2006, Astralwerks/EMI


I start by pointing out that my only encounter with BDB before this was a copy of Have You Fed The Fish? one of my buddies gave me and randomly seeing a really rad video on MTV2 a few years ago of BDB, whose real name is Damon Gough, carrying people piggyback around NYC. Needless to say, I can't really touch on album progression with this review because I don't have much basis for comparison. I do have to say that upon repeated listens of this album in a short timespan that I will be digging into his back catalogue.

This album not only is good musically but also has some of the better artwork I've seen on an album this year. I feel artwork is important because it enhances the overall creativity of the artist and shows that the artist cares about the overall (my apologies for the redundant use of this word) product he puts out there. The artwork on this album, much like the music, has an optimistic feel to it.

The overall theme of the album is about looking for the good in the bad and not regretting the things of the past. Granted a lot of times I can enjoy an album that is good musically and not lyrically more than I can enjoy an album that is good lyrically and not musically. Does anyone actually know even a handful of lyrics to any Led Zeppelin song? Haven't we listened to them a million times though? BDB is one of the few artists that is really able to grab me both musically and lyrically which is actually sometimes harder to get into because it requires more focus and time listening to it. On Born In The U.K. Damon Gough draws from a number of different influences and uses a spectrum of different instruments that are mostly played by him. His songs are very orchestral and balladous yet not overdone. Artists that are multi-talented have a tendency to get too big for themselves and completely overdo it (i.e. - Sufjan Stevens & Muse) but BDB has a great formula and does everything just right.

The songs themselves on this album flow together quite well. There is definitely an element of early disco and funk mixed in but it is just there to enhance the songs. Everything is built around Damon's voice, which is amazingly lush and mature sounding, and a piano. Damon is by no means a piano rocker though as the songs are much more full than you're average piano rock.

Damon begins the album which spoken word interlude that challenges the listener to dig deeper and look for the positive in life and be thankful for what you have and be happy for the life you've been given. He's very open, introspective, and personal and really lets you know where he's coming and why he feels the way he does. His metaphors aren't overly obvious but not incomprehensible. He's charming and sincere but not whiny and sappy. Every facet of this album had just the right amount of time put into, it's not lacking in anything or overdone. It feels like a soundtrack to a 70's musical but also fits quite well into the changing times of today where there is so much cynicism and pessimism. So sit back, relax, and be thankful for the good things in life like the new album by Badly Drawn Boy.

Key Tracks: Nothing's Gonna Change Your Mind, Promises, Welcome To The Overground, Walk You Home Tonight