Category Archives: Review

Review: Gorillaz “Plastic Beach”

Devotees to SiA will note that I am a huge Damon Albarn fan. I inch closer and closer to getting that Blur tattoo I’ve long debated. That said, I always take his more popular side-project, Gorillaz, somewhat lightly. Gorillaz is clearly his more electronic side, which I’ve always felt was not his strongest suit. However, every Goriallz LP always manage to leave me with a few songs that consistently come up in rotation. After the 2005 release of Demon Days, rumor had it that Gorillaz was only going to exist one more time, in a film no less. But here I am, holding another full-blown Gorillaz LP in 2010. While it may not be Albarn’s/Gorillaz’ most musical cohesive album to date, it certainly is the most adventurous and intricate since Blur’s 13 back in 1999.

To say that Plastic Beach may shock you at first is a serious understatement. The first time I put the album on, I sat on my floor, stunned for the first 15 minutes. A: I forgot Snoop Dogg was on the opening track B: It is so very different from previous Gorillaz efforts C: I was drinking my iced coffee too fast and may have suffered brain freeze. But really, Albarn really threw the world a curve with this album. From the opening funkadelic cut (“Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach”) to the oriental-stringed hip-hop (“White Flag”) and all the way in to the electronic-only groove that is “Glitter Freeze.” It took me a good 4 listens to really let these numbers sink in, because the shift can be a little hard to follow at first. Plastic Beach also marks the first Gorillaz album where previous Albarn projects start to combine. The previously mentioned “White Flag” clearly came after the Chinese opera he wrote the music for last year, and I mistook “On Melancholy Hill” for a Good, The Bad and The Queen b-side.

While I do applaud Gorillaz for not stepping back into the same sound that the previous albums carried, the variety carried on the 57 minutes of Plastic Beach is pretty much the weak link of the album. The complete tonal and instrumental shift that takes place song after song can make it a little difficult to sit through. By the time you reach the “meh” song that is “Sweepstakes,” Plastic Beach may have started to wash away from you. My first few listens, the final 20ish minutes were all a blur (no pun intended), as my brain started to simply tune it out. It took me several listens to really focus on the end of the record, even though I love “Plastic Beach” (feat. Clash-ites Paul Simonon and Mick Jones!!!). But the album does carry some great tunes with it: “Rhinestone Eyes,” “Empire Ants,” and “Broken” are insanely good.

To put it plainly, Plastic Beach is a bold Gorillaz album that has a jarring opening, a great middle and a distant close. And unlike previous efforts, there’s really no big singles, other than “Stylo,” to be found. And the only thing binding the album together is it’s very apparent environmental stand point. But I wouldn’t say the album is a failure, I quite enjoy/respect Plastic Beach more than any other Gorillaz release. It just took a lot of dedication and close listens to really sink in. Plus, it’s nice to hear Lou Reed’s voice again.

-Chase

Reviews: Hot Chip, Massive Attack and Charlotte Gainsbourg

This might be the point where I could point out that it’s been almost a month since I wrote an article on here. I thought about coming up with some excuse about my future move out of L.A, but in reality I’m just lazy. In real reality, I’ve been playing too much video games.

ANYWAY, I’m here now. February was a pretty good month for music. Actually 2010 has gotten off to a really strong start. If we keep up this pace, it’ll be as memorable a music year as 2007 (Radiohead, Panda Bear, LCD Soundsystem, Burial, etc). In an attempt to atone for my absence, here’s some blurbs about the note-worthy releases in the past month. (Videos below)

HOT CHIP “ONE LIFE STAND”
Hot Chip is one of those bands that has yet to make a bad album. One Life Stand is no exception, well…minus the album cover. The record stands out as one of they’re brightest yet. From the bro-mance anthem of “Brothers” to the infectious “We Have Love,” the album just manages to keep you on your toes. The album’s closer, “Take It In,” is quite possibly the best track they’ve ever cut.
MASSIVE ATTACK “HELIGOLAND”
Seven freaking years. That’s how long I’ve waited for a follow-up to the underwhelming 100th Window. Heligoland is actually a decent return too. It may not be as strong as fellow trip-hoppers Portishead’s comeback 2 years ago, but the album is pretty trim. It’s closer to 1994’s Protection in it’s larger focus on instrumentation and subtle songwriting. But it’s a hearty welcome back with tracks like “Paradise Circus” and “Saturday Come Slow.”

CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG “IRM”

Charlotte’s first LP, 5:55, has simply sat on my shelf since the week it came out. Good news! IRM will not suffer the same fate. This time around she enlisted Beck to help her write the music. And the product is the best Charlotte Gainsbourg yet, and the best Beck album since Sea Change.

As previously mentioned, I am moving to Seattle in the next month, so the site may once again suffer. I’ll try my best to keep on top of things, but I like to disappoint. Until then: I’m working on the Joanna Newsom review (3 discs is a lot to take in), I’m taking in the new Gorillaz album right now, and James Mercer/Danger Mouse’s Broken Bells LP comes out next week. I’ll try to get reviews up for each within the next 2 weeks.

-Chase


Review: Vampire Weekend “Contra”

I think reviewing music has made me pessimistic over the past few years. I find that even my favorite band’s next album is bound to disappoint. Take 2009 for example. I was thinking the Flaming Lips’ Embryonic was going to let me down, as their previous LP, but it rocked and completely restored my faith in them. But on the other hand, my suspicions were confirmed when Peal Jam’s Backspacer sounded like an Eddie Vedder summer mix….which was not a good thing. Now, Vampire Weekend’s sophomore record, Contra, looms before me. To be honest, I was a little less pessimistic about this record than my previous examples. It took me a while to warm up to VW’s self-titled debut, but now a few choice cuts stand out on my summer playlists.

The first thing that is fairly obvious about Contra is that it tries hard to stand apart from the light afro-beat infused sound of it’s predecessor. I mean REALLY hard. It seems like the best way to accomplish this was to bring in the synths. Most of Contra is bubbling with hard synthesized beats and riffs, which is what is going to polarize it’s audience. On one side, you have those who appreciate this new direction. The songs are more beat heavy, but they still manage to capture that brisk, light sound you look for in Vampire Weekend. Ezra Koenig’s voice still bounces up and down the scale triumphantly. And his lyrics are still filled with the double speak and clever comparisons he offered up last time. Songs like “White Sky” and “Horchata” will brighten your day.

But then there is the other side……and it happens to be the side I drifted towards. This is the side that can find the synth to be too much. Maybe it’s the production’s fault, but the beats are too loud. So the clever afro-beat instrumentation I warmed up to the first time gets drowned out. Songs like “Giving Up The Gun” and the Auto-Tuned “California English” just grate against my ears, causing me to turn the volume. Occasionally, the instruments win out (“Taxi Cab,” and the good “Diplomat’s Son”),and the album shines for me. But those moments are few and far between.

I’m not going to dissuade anyone from listening to Contra. It’s simply not a bad album. But, for me anyway, it is also not a great one. After their debut, I was hoping VW’s follow up would sound something like a Fela Kuti demo, sprinkled with a dash of Pavement. But, that’s not what the band seemed to be on board with. Instead, they’ve set out to sail on their own boat, doing a decent job of separating themselves from the rest of the fleet. I’m just not sure I want to keep my boarding pass anymore.

-Chase

Favorite Albums of 2009 (Chase)

Right now, I feel like a lazy bastard. 2009 is passing by, and the most remarkable event of the year for me was seeing Billy Ray Cyrus in a Starbucks. However, all my inaction allowed for me to soak up all the music and beer that arose this year.

It’s hard for me to imagine a busier year in music. With a slew of long awaited follow-ups (Flaming Lips, Eminem, Sonic Youth), new side projects (Bad Lieutenant, Beak, Them Crooked Vultures) and music news in general ( Blur reuniting!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, Oasis split, Michael Jackson’s death), 2009 really out did itself.

I’ve put my picks of the year, in no particular order, below.

BEST ALBUMS OF 2009

Dan Deacon “Bromst”

Coming strong of the ridiculous, and often too much to handle Spiderman of the Rings, Dan Deacon set off to blow minds. Well, that what Bromst did for me anyway. A musical venture to Toon Land that never seems to run out of energy.

Flaming Lips “Embryonic”

I don’t know about you, but I prefer my Flaming Lips to heavily doped out. For the past two records, it seemed the Lips had decided to leave the psycho-tropics out of the recording studio. We here at SiA are pleased to annouce that with Embryonic, drug-induced music made a come back, and the Lips revitalized themselves. Hurrah!

DOOM “Born Like This”

Since 2005, the Supervillain himself, MF DOOM, seemed to fall off the face of the earth. Earlier this year, he dropped the “MF” from his name and unleashed his best solo outing to date upon the world. Featuring some excellent J Dilla production and unprecedented DOOM flow, it was a most welcome return.

Animal Collective “Merriweather Post Pavilion”
Album after album, Animal Collective manage to hone their experimental music in to a finer degree. MWPP is an instant classic. It’s one of those career defining albums that will be a benchmark for the band’s potential. After this can only be mind shattering greatness, or disappointment.

Grizzly Bear “Veckatimest”

Before Veckatimest, Grizzly Bear proved that they were a great atmospheric band. But previous albums failed to make it past a 3 month rotation. This one, however, is different. GB forged together a great pop record, while maintaining that atmosphere the indie crowd tends to admire.

Raekwon “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. 2
Good hip-hop is hard to come by these days. I’ve had Ghostface Killah carrying the torch for the past few years, but his recent stumbles had me worried. Have no fear, Raekwon is here! The long awaited follow-up exceeds all expectations, and is one the best hip-hop records in the past 3 years.

Tom Waits “Glitter and Doom Live”
The Gravely One rarely tours, and his sold-out tour across America last year was not to be missed. Sadly, I did. Thankfully, snippets from the tour have been pieced together on this most excellent of live albums. His voice harsh as ever, his stage banter still supreme, and alternate versions of recent songs and classics make Glitter and Doom Live essential to fans of……well, music.
Dirty Projectors “Bitte Orca”
To say that the Dirty Projectors’ music is eccentric, is a bit of an understatement. Starts, stops, blips, beeps, and occasionally incomprehensible lyrics can scare some people off. Bitte Orca saw the group tighten things up a bit, and put out a stellar record worth hundreds of revisits. No wonder why David Byrne loves them so.

ARTIST OF THE YEAR

Animal Collective

No one really grabbed 2009 by the nuggets quite like Animal Collective did. They started off by releasing some of the best music of the year/their career in January with Merriweather Post Pavilion. Next, they supported that album with a great tour across the nation, with several major festival stops. They compiled an excellent box set of their work. And they finish the year strong with the 30+ minute Fall Be Kind EP, which shows that MWPP wasn’t their creative peak!

DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR

Eminem’s Return To Music
I can admit, I’m not that big of an Eminem fan. His first few albums were juvenile, fun, somewhat creative and always interesting. His issues with self-image and drug abuse led him to rehab and a few years out of the limelight. 2009 was supposed to be his big comeback, but all we got was Relapse. A record with half-assed writing, mediocre beats and an Em seems to have lost all relevance to the music world. Sure it sold well, but ultimately the record was a creative failure. Maybe if I were 14 again I would have crowned him king, instead I’m just sharpening the guillotine.

-Chase

New Releases: Raekwon, Yo La Tengo, and Jay-Z

Dear Wizard Readers, we’re going to start a new format this week.

Well, we’re going to try it out for a while, and if you guys like it, we’ll keep it. But if I start getting flaming bags of dog poo or naked pictures of Ron Paul in my inbox….I’m shuttin’ it down, real quick!

Anyway, so instead of the standard reviews, we’re going to post the note-worthy releases for the week, and open it all for discussion. And if you guys want us to expand a blurb into a review, I’d be happy to oblige.

So, chime in and let us know! (Links included)

September 8, 2009

RAEKWON: ONLY BUILT FOR CUBAN LINX 2
Finally, it’s here! This is long awaited follow-up to Rae’s superb 1995 cut. Drug-dealing, ripping off dealers, scratchin’ and survivin’, and a heart-felt tribute to ODB makes this a hip-hop record worth talking about. Everyone is on their game on the mic (Rae, Method Man, Ghostface Killah) and on the boards (RZA, J Dilla). Feel like hip-hop has been in the gutter for the past few years? Well, grab your gat and your stash (vicariously of course) and let Raekwon restore your faith.

YO LA TENGO- POPULAR SONGS
The indie paragons return with their latest LP. “Popular Songs” flexes the bands creative muscles, following up their excellent 2006 release, “I’m Not Afraid Of You, And I Will Beat Your Ass.” The trio keep things fresh for the albums 12 tracks, that closes with on epic note. Though at 15 minutes, you may not listen to it all that often. It’s an album that’s a perfect to ring in the fall.

JAY-Z: THE BLUEPRINT 3
The international rap mogul continues his un-retirement with another strong cut. The HOVA spends most of this record rapping about current music trends, haters, money, and…well, whatever the fuck he wants. Kanye runs the boards for most of the record, so his synth-heavy beats sets the tone for the album. “The Blueprint 3” features some really strong cuts, but it may leave fans hoping for a true “The Blueprint” old-school hip-hop grind passing on most of it. (It drops on the 9th now, in order to combat an internet leak)

Well, that wraps up a busy week and ends the August music drought (save the excellent electo-R&B debut album by UK’s The XX)

Please contribute below and let us know what you think!

-Chase

Review: Wilco “Wilco (The Album)”

It’s become painfully clear to me what this year’s music trend is.

Last year was marred by the over-use of Auto-Tune, which was somehow popular despite the fact that Eurotrance/dance music has been using it for years now. This year, numerous bands seem to be recreating music they made last decade. First there was Depeche Mode, next was Sonic Youth, and now you can add Wilco to the list.

Appearing on the scene in the mid-nineties with strong jam albums like Being There and A.M., Wilco set a bar for themselves and just continued to raise it. And since the release of their fourth (and greatest) studio album in 2002 Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco have been the forerunners for experimental/folk/Americana music. Hell, they’re probably the only band that fits such a concise genre. The following two albums have been radically different in sound making it impossible to pin down where a Wilco album will take you next. Well, that’s not the case here.

Wilco (The Album), ultimately finds Jeff Tweedy and Co. rewinding their song-writing skills back to before 2000. The record starts off on a decent note with “Wilco The Song” and “One Wing” bringing in that comfortable Wilco sound. The fourth track, “Bull Black Nova,” comes on like a shot in the arm (hardy har!). It’s an excellent song that showcases the experimental side that Wilco has had on display this decade. It’s also the one of two tracks where uber-guitarist Nels Cline is even audible on the record. However, the sweet instantly turns to sour with the forgettable single, “You And I.” And from here on, it seems that Jeff Tweedy’s mind just simply fell asleep.

Honestly, the entire second half of the album sounds like retooled tracks from Being There. Tracks 6-10 had me thinking I had slipped into a Timequake. Not to say that these are bad songs. “You Never Know” and “Solitaire” are exceptional songs, just not the kind of Wilco songs I want to hear in 2009. It just makes me think that Jeff Tweedy’s tank has run dry for the time being. It’s too early to say whether or not Wilco have already passed their prime, but I can’t help but heed the warning signs.

Wilco (The Album) is by no means a bad record. It’s just not the record Wilco needed to make.

-Chase

Review: Moby “Wait For Me”

Moby definitely falls into the category of “love ’em or hate ’em.” It’s been this way since the release of the transcendent Play in 1999. Critics were either enthralled with his ability to form genre-busting electronic music, or angered at….well, maybe the same thing. Either way, ever since then, his music has been under tight scrutiny. He seemed to lose a lot of people with the sometimes pretty and other times flat release of Hotel, and his strictly dance album Last Night was largely ignored, despite being an overall strong cut.

Wait For Me finds Moby, alone his bedroom, stripped bare. Under the influence of David Lynch, Moby decided to create the album alone, at home, and pour all of himself into it.

What comes of it?

Wait For Me ends up as probably the most intriguing and important album Moby has put out this millennia. The music is largely ambient and highly personal. It would appear that Moby is in dire need of a hug. Tracks like “Shot In The Back Of The Head” and “Walk With Me” allow the listener to peer into Moby’s soul, which is a sad, but beautiful place to be. Actually, I can’t really limit that statement to those few tracks, the whole album feels like that. It’s not until the fifth track, the Wolf Parade-esque “Mistake” (which is also the first track he sings on) that the mood lifts a little bit….but only a little.

Wait For Me might also try your patience a little bit. The album never really swells up like Play did, minus the beautiful title track “Wait For Me” near the album’s close. The ambient tracks all flow together nicely, but never really change pace. To stress the feel of the album, it’s kind of a downer. Deep within the album, you come across the beautiful “A Seated Night.” However, you’ve heard it before…..earlier in the album. So, it may suffer from some musical anonymity, but it creates the consistent mood that holds Wait For Me together. So, it doesn’t have those musical peaks Moby is known for, but it doesn’t need them. Otherwise, the album just might be downright schizophrenic.

It’s a strong album, that is for certain. However, it might not be for everyone. It’s a emotional cocktail of the string instrumentation found on Hotel, the aural mood and sampled song/dialogue that lifted Play, topped off with a splash of Aphex Twin. But it’s not a cocktail that you have to drink alone to find out, Moby is always there with you. And he makes for some interesting company

-Chase