Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Neon Indian - Era Extraña

It was the summer of 2009, and it had been a long one. At the time I was working the overnight at McDonalds and suffering from massive panic attacks on a regular nightly basis. The one thing that managed to keep me going was a girlfriend who lived about six-hundred miles away in New Jersey, and the days leading up to when we would see each other in August when we headed back to school. During this time the only other thing that held my sanity together besides the days counting down until I would see her again was music. As July began to come to an end one song in particular began to strike a chord with me that defined this particular summer; that song was Neon Indian’s “Deadbeat Summer” it encapsulated exactly what I was longing for and that was to make-out with my girlfriend again, get away from the sweltering heat, and enter back into the playful amusement park of college life.

While Neon Indian’s debut Psychic Chasms was upbeat and flavorful, Era Extraña comes across as dark, isolated, culminating the last breaths of summer. With Era Extraña the production values are tighter. The broader melodic sound heard on Era Extraña is highly intricate almost as if the never-ending layers of synth build up into one majestic wave only to find themselves crashing into one another creating a digital wall of sound. It’s here that you see the masterful production that defines Alan Palomo in more ways than one. This collection of songs is built upon the foundations set by 80’s synth-pop/new wave artists such as Depeche Mode and Joy Division, while at times acting as an extension of what contemporaries like Ariel Pink have done within the past decade.

What the songs on Era Extraña do is further define Alan Palomo’s songwriting abilities, the overall sense of longing and heartbreak make this an accessible album. It’s these feelings that combined with the digital effects that make it sound like an updated My Bloody Valentine’s Isn’t Anything for the 21st century. Not only within the music itself but even in Palomo’s voice you feel his hurt and his loneliness, it’s cold and isolated like being left waiting on a frozen lake. The albums opener “Heart: Attack” acts almost like a computer booting up, bringing forth the realization that a lover isn’t coming back and then shifts into the dark yet pop heavy synths on “Polish Girl” where Palomo looks back on this relationship even asking “do I still cross your mind”, which is brilliantly haunting and relatable to anyone who has experienced heartbreak. “The Blindside Kiss” mixes both electronic sounds and shoegaze elements which folds out into a powerful dance track filled with raw power to “Halogen (I could Be a Shadow)” which sounds almost exactly like M83’s beautifully enchanting “Kim and Jessie”.

Being that this is only the band’s second release it is a major improvement from the haplessly put together Psychic Chasms in terms of how each song transitioned, Era Extraña is an album that is highly appealing yet at times can be a bit heavy considering it’s subject matter.

Polar Bear Club - Clash Battle Guilt Pride

"I've gotta take my grab at something great" those words resonate loudly as vocalist Jimmy Stadt sings on "Pawner" the opening track on Polar Bear Club's third LP Clash Battle Guilt Pride. The five-piece Rochester, NY outfit seems to have finally come into own over the course of the last six years from their first release The Redder, The Better which in my opinion was a strong debut but always left a desire for wanting something more.

The first thing about this record is that each song matters, unlike 2008's
Sometimes Things Just Disappear and 2009's Chasing Hamburg I found that there is no need to skip to the next track, ad each one of these songs flows effortlessly into the next; an astonishing feat for a band considering how difficult it is to make the perfect record.

The is filled with melodic undertones along with Stat's coarse voice match up well against the rapid drum assault, creating a blend of pop-punk similar to contemporaries The Gaslight Light Anthem and Fucked Up. On "Screams In Caves" Stadt's delivery of each phrase is riveting in the way he transitions from gruff screams to calm crooning that flows with unrest and resolve while matching every riff coming from guitarists Chris Browne and Nate Morris.

"My Best Days" hones in on Stadt's vocals accompanied by minimal instrumentation, and carries on a bit of nostalgia either about the history of the band or about a past relationship that went south.
Clash Battle Guilt Pride is a versatile album that lyrically reaches out to a variety of different tastes that are relatable to a wide spectrum of listeners.

What PBC have done at this point in their career with
Clash Battle Guilt Pride, is craft an album that is organic in sound and personable yet very genuine. While not many albums contain this much energy packed into every song - it feels nice when you listen to it, it becomes one of those rare instances where it feels like each song was written specifically for you. It captures the emotions and uncertainties that face many twenty-somethings in post college life as they transition into adulthood.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Nevermind 20 Years Later

September 24th 1991. The day music changed as we know it, when the Aberdeen, Washington trio Nirvana released their critically acclaimed album Nevermind. In '91 I was two years and into Sesame Street, Batman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Terminator. While Nirvana's music had little effect on me at this age, my earliest recollection of hearing them was at the age of four on our local alternative rock station called the Nerve (This station is now long gone has since become a classic rock station). And any knowledge of the Nirvana had been from their singles "Smells Like Teen Spirit", 'Come As You Are", "Lithium", "In Bloom", "Heart-Shaped Box", "All Apologies" and "Rape Me". But what those road trips with my parents to the store, and hearing those songs played on the radio had were one that began to cultivate my knowledge of music later on in life.

While Nevermind has had more of an effect on me later in my life, for those who were in their teenage years and early twenties in September of ’91 this is an album that means a whole lot more to them. Kurt Cobain's lyrics (and smells like teen spirit in general) gave these kids and young adults a voice. It showed that generation x was a demographic that had long been overlooked and ignored by the baby boomer generation. Nevermind managed to transform punk rock into a mainstream commodity for the 90's MTV generation - and soon after bands like Bush and STP following in Nirvana's footsteps and further pushing the grunge rock sound.

But I digress to be completely honest here the first time that I actually picked up Nevermind wasn't until I was a freshmen in high school I was about fourteen or fifteen years old and felt like I didn't belong to any particular group in high school. For me Nevermind was my escape, I only had a few friends freshmen year and was really shy and awkward around girls but lets be honest who isn't at fourteen and fifteen. Nevermind showed me that it was ok to be different, in essence it's what caused me to grow my hair out during my high school years, which when there aren't a lot of guys in your high school with long hair people start seeing you as interesting.

The effects that Nevermind had on my freshmen caused me to rebel in my own way yet at the same time allow me to open up more to people. It wasn't until this past year (roughly seven years) that I would pick up Nevermind again. This time around I paid more attention to how each song was performed and who Cobain was trying to sound like. When Cobain wrote Nevermind one of the more obvious influences is the Pixies, Cobain's vocal delivery is similar to Black Francis' even the way the plays has a Pixies feel to it. Other influences that are less noticeable are Sonic Youth, R.E.M. and to some extent even Dinosaur Jr. But the effects that Nevermind has had on music, as a whole has been huge. When you look at Weezer's early records Weezer (1994) and Pinkerton (1996) you hear how great of an impact Nevermind had on Rivers Cuomo, to bands like Pavement, Cap'n Jazz even to some extent Titus Andronicus. For an album that honestly didn't have hopes of making it, it most certainly has and while Cobain's death in 94 marked the end for Nirvana, the bands legacy and the impact that Cobain has made within popular culture is one that continues to live on.

The songs on Nevermind express the feelings of young man who honestly felt as though he didn’t belong with the rest of the world, even at times predicting that the impact that this record was going to have on music as a whole. This being clearly stated in Smells like Teen Spirit “I’m worse at what I do best /and for this gift I feel blessed/our little group has always been/and always will until the end” It seems as though Cobain had a premonition of the success that would come from this album and is possibly warning their fan base of his future demise. By the time you get to ambiguous lyrics of “Something in The Way” you’re left wondering what is Cobain singing about here? Is he describing how bands sell out and become pawns to record labels that destroy artistical merit and only care about profits? Or is Cobain indicating his internal demons are preventing him from achieving the happiness he craves. These answers however will forever remain a mystery; the deep meaning behind Kurt Cobain’s lyrics will forever be left up to the interpretation of his followers. As Nevermind’s 20th Anniversary comes and goes the only thing that remains is the impact that this album had on changing music, and the effects that instant fame had on an individual who didn’t want anything to do with it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost

2011 is truly a year that won’t be forgotten in terms of music, in February Arcade Fire won a Grammy for album of the year with The Suburbs, James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem decided to call it quits and Bob Dylan celebrated his 70th birthday. This has also been a year where artists have embraced a more retro sound to their musical repertoire, San Francisco’s Girls, return with yet another solid release after their highly acclaimed debut in 2009 with Album, and last year’s follow-up EP Broken Dreams Club. While their music absconds with such ease from the past without contrition they produce a sound that welcoming and unique.

After the first listen of Father, Son, Holy Ghost the initial reaction consisted of an unearthly sense of familiarity. The songs feel as though they are part of some forgotten dream, a suppressed memory, even tracking down the exact sounds that are being referenced at times can be a bit distressing. On “Honey Bunny” Christopher Owens’ vocals follow a similar pattern to that of Bob Dylan’s “If Not For You”; “My Ma” which has a similar structure to that of The Beatles “While My Guitar Gently weeps” where “Magic” is arranged in a way that embellishes the quirky side of Elvis Costello.

While Father, Son, Holy Ghost does a faithful interpretation of the past; it’s Owens’ vocals that bring the record to life. Owens seems to have a powerful gift in that he knows the deep and powerful emotions that define us. His songwriting jumps from acoustic ballads (which personally I think are his main strength) to the more lively and upbeat Indian summer anthems. The fact that he does this with such ease makes Girls sound completely fresh and relevant even if their music sounds like a complete archive of almost fifty years of music. Vocally Owens has moved away for sounding like an Elvis Costello clone, and focuses on a warmer approach where at time he starts sounding almost like Elliott Smith.

What makes Father different from Album, is the effortless transition from song to song, telling a continuous tale of heartbreak and sexual frustration that at times cleanses the soul. The albums closing track “Jamie Marie” which acts as final act of apology for all the mistakes he’s made to a lover that has come and gone. While the album feels as though nothing has fully changed in terms of sound, one thing is certain is that it has, the way these songs are executed define Girls as a versatile band that can take something that has been done before and craft it in a way that sounds entirely new.