Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Album Review: Kings of Leon - Only By The Night

Kings of Leon is one of those bands where the name completely misleads the public. When I see a band called Kings of Leon, I think Fountains of Wayne -- new wave/nerd rock. This is one of the main reasons that I have successfully avoided Kings of Leon for several years.

"Sex on Fire" changed all of that.

Per usual, I like to take a listen to the Grammy winners that I haven't heard of to see if they deserved the award, because I'm a snob like that. So I listened to the song that won best rock song by group or duo, and my pre-formed assumptions were blown away. This was no nerd rock. This was something different entirely.

What exactly, even after repeated listens of the album, is harder to define.

It seems that with their latest effort, Kings of Leon have covered most of the different types of music that has been popular over the last 30 years. There are times where you can hear Snow Patrol in their slowly progressing ballads. There is a southern rock bassline in "Revelry" that brings to mind Skynyrd. And at some parts peppered throughout the album are hard rock riffs that sound like a more refined Led Zeppelin. For the most part this mix of musical styles serves well as a pacing through the album.

Then comes their dance obsession, which strikes of the Killers in its ridiculousness.

The real weakness of the entire album is rooted from this: the inability to say anything of substance. Every once in awhile Caleb Followill will hit on something deep, but for the most part it's shallow lyrics about dancing and sex. Sometimes both.

Another weakness is that the album has been stacked in the beginning/middle of the album, leaving the end of the album very thin by comparison. I am usually happy to find three songs in a row that are very good, and in this case there are four: "Sex on Fire," "Use Somebody," "Manhattan," and "Revelry." However, when these four are only four of five good songs of an album are stuck together, it means that the flow of the album will undoubtedly suffer. And that is how Only by the Night goes from "17" onward.

This more than anything is what defines the album. It becomes more of a collection of good songs surrounded by average ones, and less an album. So there's some good stuff to listen to on here by itself, but the ride as a complete CD is lacking, which could be why the CD did not win a Grammy for its complete performance, and only the performance of its single.


Replayability: (17/20)
The songs I listed are great songs, and they cover the different moods I am usually in when I want to listen to music. The rest of the album doesn't require many more listens, but I'll keep coming back to tracks 3 through 6.

Music: (17/20) With a lot of different types of songs and an eclectic style, Kings of Leon definitely delivers on all instruments, including the singers' erratic, seemingly out-of-control voice.

Lyrics: (14/20) While not completely mindless, there is something off with a rock singer always talking about his dancing and calling himself a "dancing machine." Plus the lyrics of "Sex on Fire" are downright ridiculous. Kiddie like play? Really?

Completeness: (15/20) While there is a great run of four songs in a row, the overall ending of the album really hurts this score.

Emotional Pull: (14/20) With no really powerful lyrics, there is nothing that really gets the listener pulled into the song, unless you can empathize with finding high school girls attractive like in "17."

Total Score: 77

Grade: C+

While the entire album isn't terrible, it ruins its chance at being a great album by the lethargic end. Still, Kings of Leon has at least put me on notice now: when I hear something new from them, I certainly won't run away like before.

Check, Check Plus, X
Closer √+
Crawl √
Sex on Fire √+
Use Somebody √+
Manhattan √+
Revelry √+
17 √
Notion √
I Want You X
Be Somebody √
Cold Desert √

I should be doing this more often. Music has just not been interesting to me lately. I blame Chad Kroeger.

Sit tight til the next grade,

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Album Review: The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me

While I wait for new releases to peak my interest, I will go back to the year 2006, when the New York-based Brand New released their major label debut (third album overall) entitled The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me. The reason this is an important album is that it signaled the breaking away from their old style of music and cemented them into this new captivating type of rock that has no name, but is a very powerful listening experience.

Brand New started to experiment with the style of their second CD, Deja Entendu, but the style has taken complete control of Devil and God. By using slow, haunting intros followed by heavy guitars and fast-paced, screaming vocals, Brand New has created a sound that is all its own, and a sound that begs for more listens.

The experience is introduced well in "Sowing Season," which slowly builds with depressing candor until it explodes with a powerful "Yeah" followed by a pulsing guitar riff. This pattern is followed many times during the album, but each time the explosion takes the listener by surprise, immersing them in a feeling of anxiety and rapt attention.

The effect is made even stronger by the lyrics of Jesse Lacey, which typically depict depressing scenes that are far from the immature topics of earlier CDs. With a new sound, it seems the band has developed a new mindset as well. That mindset comes with a lot of doubt, as found in the ballad "Jesus," and it also comes with a Cassandra-like despondent prophecy, evidenced in the crushing "Limousine."

The music isn't just good because of its unexpected bursts, either, as guitarist Vincent Accardi perfectly captures the moods with his unnerving yet satisfying licks. There is a certain objective that the band tries to get forth in every song, and the music goes a long way in helping them accomplish that.

Their experiment only fails in one song, and that is the instrumental "Welcome to Bangkok." Placed in the middle of the CD right between two great songs ("You Won't Know" and "Not the Sun"), the instrumental seems to aimlessly go from slow to fast without any sort of purpose. It almost seemed as if they wanted to make a song out of it but couldn't think of how to make it work, so they just stuck the music there because it sounded cool.

The end of the album isn't nearly as strong as the beginning, but the fun "The Archers Bows Have Broken" and the scary "Handcuffs" are good songs to go out on, although "Handcuffs" is the one song that has less than stunning lyrics. It is a slow fade to an otherwise stellar album, one that takes you for a ride through shrieking vocals, soft moments, and heavy-hitting percussion.


Replayability: (19/20)
This album was released two years ago, and I still listen to it very often. I have heard it more than a hundred times, and I know I will hear it another hundred before the CD breaks. There's a lot to get from this album.

Music: (17/20) It isn't as if these guys are the most talented musicians in the world, but what they do is take a song and use their music to create an ambiance that is perfect for the emotion they wish to convey. Through their tactic of going from slow to fast, they hold attention and make the most of it when they get it.

Lyrics: (18/20) From the strong emotions in "Jesus" and "Limousine" to the cold observations of "Millstone," Jesse Lacey's words capture energy and emotion in a special way and force the listener to understand his intentions.

Completeness: (17/20) Even without the momentum-halting "Welcome to Bangkok," the album sort of slips towards the end with songs that don't do much but ride the earlier momentum. However, album through track 6 would probably be one of the best EPs ever made.

Emotional Pull: (18/20) This isn't just because of the lyrics. The entire style of music gets the listener to feel the emotions, whether it be from a great line or a well-placed scream.

Total Score: 89
Grade: B+

With a rumored album coming out in 2009, it will be interesting to see if Brand New can match the high standard they have set for themselves. If they continue to master this style of music, I think there are only good things in the future for them.

Check, Check Plus, X

Sowing Season √+
Millstone √
Jesus √+
Degausser √+
Limousine √+
You Won’t Know √+
Welcome to Bangkok X
Not the Sun √+
Luca √
Untitled √
The Archers Bows Have Broken √+
Handcuffs √

Hopefully some interesting CDs come out soon. Otherwise I'll be looking around the past for some good music. Help me out if you want, send a request to and I'll give it a listen.

Sit tight til the next grade,

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Fake? Definitely. Hilarious? Yeah, Definitely Too.

U2 to produce Spidey Musical

Now, I've been taught since a little boy not to take anything read in the Sun seriously. These were the same guys who broke the "amazing" story of Eddie Murphy playing the Riddler in an as-of-yet unwritten Batman movie.

However, even if it is a complete sham, imagine Bono singing a song about MJ or The Edge ripping out the theme on guitar. Imagine how glorious this would be. Imagine still some of U2's classic music being applied to the Spiderman story. "Mysterious Ways" as Peter watches MJ through the window. "Elevation" during a web slinging scene. The options are endless.

Please, Bono, please look at this bogus article and say, "Hey, this is a great idea."

I'll be at the first showing.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Album Review: Ben Folds - Way to Normal

Musically, there are two sides to singer/songwriter Ben Folds: either you get the sincere, solemn songs that harvest strong emotions such as "Brick" or "Landed"; or you get the silly, off-kilter comedy songs that make people laugh but don't generally do much else such as "Song for the Dumped" and "Rockin' the Suburbs."

After 2004's Songs for Silverman was created using largely the former, the critical backlash caused Folds to make his newest release, September's Way to Normal, filled to the brim with the comedy that got him notice in the first place. The problem with going back to his roots in this case is that, when placed side by side with his serious songs, his comedy material just doesn't seem to hold water. By having two incredibly moving ballads on his latest release, the rest of the album tends to suffer in comparison.

The album starts off well enough: "Hiroshima" and "Dr. Yang" are silly songs that sound good and flow well, although "Dr. Yang" suffers from too much going on musically. "You Don't Know Me" is also a good song that both meanders silliness and respectability and also features Regina Spektor's wonderful vocals, and the following "Cologne" and its intro make the first half of this album incredibly strong.

However, after "Cologne," which is a beautifully painful ballad, we are treated to two songs that, after following such a strong and serious song, fall short. "Errant Dog" and "Free Coffee" just don't have the same strong music that the first few songs do, and the content is simply lacking. "Free Coffee" is not only about nothing but trivial matters, it also has an annoying effect that Folds created by putting metal on top of the piano strings and distorting the notes. The result is less than listenable.

"Kylie From Connecticut" is another song that shows where Ben Folds strength really lies and is a fantastic song to close out the album. However, with the two songs shining as highlights on the album, all of the other songs that fail to reach the same sort of stature just look that much worse next to them. It has gotten to the point where I only want to hear three or four songs on the album, and it is only the fact that these songs are so good that the album is worth listening to.


Replayability: (16/20)
As stated, this city is worth listening to for "You Don't Know Me," "Cologne," "Kylie Connecticut," and occasionally "Bitch Went Nuts," which doesn't fail to make me laugh. Otherwise, the songs just don't measure up.

Music: (16/20) Ben Folds is without doubt a wonderful piano player, and in several songs his skills are on display. However, the effects in songs like "Dr. Yang" and "Free Coffee" ruin the songs.

Lyrics: (15/20) This is a case of two Ben Folds as well: in the two serious songs his lyrics are poignant and thoughtful. However, in the other songs it seems he sort of just settles for whatever lyrics he could think of.

Completeness: (15/20) The CD flows well enough until tracks 7 and 8, where it slows down to a halt and then limps slowly to the big finale of "Kylie From Connecticut." Add in the fact that most of the songs are inherently skippable, the entire product isn't exactly complete.

Emotional Pull: (16/20) Again, what the rest of the album lacks in emotional content, "Cologne" and "Kylie" make up for in spades.

Total Scoring: 78

Grade: C+

The more I talk about the two serious songss, the more I realize that Songs for Silverman wasn't nearly as bad as the rap it received, and that maybe Folds gets attention for the wrong type of music. At the very least, if he wants to make an album that is more comedic, he'd be better off making it entirely so as not to run this risk of some songs far outshining others.

Check, Check Plus, X
Hiroshima √
Dr Yang √
The Frown Song √
You Don’t Know Me √+
Before Cologne √
Cologne √+
Errant Dog X
Free Coffee X
The Bitch Went Nuts √
Brainwascht √
Effington √
Kylie from Connecticut √+

Happy New Years, everyone! I hope 2009 is good to everyone, and I hope it continues the good luck I've had in 2008. One thing's for sure: tons of new music to look forward to. Everyone have a good one.

Sit tight til the next grade,

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Best Albums of 2008, What To Look For in 2009

It's been a busy holiday so far, so I haven't really gotten to listen to a lot of CDs that I'd like to. However, in a year as strong as this one for good music, I figure a recap of some of the year's best albums would be a good way to segue into what we're looking forward to in the first few months of 2009.

*Note: the albums recognized by me will likely be in the last half of the year seeing as I haven't reviewed any of the CDs before that point. There are plenty of good CDs out there that will not get mentioned, so apologies in advance.

Eric Hutchinson - Sounds Like This: A fresh sound that really took me by surprise. There's enough different genres on this album to appeal to everyone.

Jason Mraz - We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.: Great comeback album after the sort of weak Mr. A-Z. It shows that when Mraz wants to, he can make emotional, probing music that isn't just based around a cool rap verse.

The Killers - Day And Age: Despite not getting a lot of attention from the media at large, The Killers delivered a big follow-up to the slow-moving Sam's Town and showed that the world should take notice.

Guns N Roses - Chinese Democracy: Crazy, right? I thought this CD would be terrible after all the build up, but Axl Rose managed to put out an enjoyable album that was a tribute to their old sound mixed with a new type of music that suited them even better.

Looking Forward to the Best Albums of 2009

Bruce Springsteen - Working on a Dream: The 16th studio album from Springsteen coincides with his performance at the halftime of the Super Bowl. Hopefully the legendary songwriter can get some new fans during the performance just in time for his album release.

Chris Cornell - Scream: Early indications mark that this album is going to be more of an R & B album as opposed to Cornell's grunge roots. If nothing else, his collaboration with Timbaland is sure to be interesting.

Mos Def - The Ecstatic: With Kanye West among the rumored producers and Slick Rick and Talib among the confirmed guest stars, the rapper-turned-actor-turned-rapper-again has the potential to really take early 2009 by storm.

U2 - No Line on the Horizon: Even though the band trashed all of their songs produced by Rick Rubin, there is still a big buzz of positive energy focused on their first album since 2004.

Enough of my forward looking. Before the new year is done I should have my CD review on Ben Folds' latest done and ready, and then we can look forward to the mystery that is 2009.

Happy Holidays everyone, and hope 2009 is as good as 2008 was.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Album Review: Fall Out Boy - Folie a Deux

Fall Out Boy has always been an interesting band to me, but in an effort to prevent this review from turning into an essay I will only explain this briefly.

By having an introverted bass player who writes all of the band's sharp and poignantly lyrics and having a lead singer who, among other things, is a producer and good friends with most of the popular music industry, Fall Out Boy teeters the line between band with substance and MTV's Flavor of the Week. By mixing intelligent lyrics with a knowledge of what sort of music sells, Fall Out Boy is essentially what would happen if the smart nerd and the popular student council president ruled the school.

Through their emergence on the music scene to Folie a Deux, the Chicago-based band's fifth album, Fall Out Boy has embraced both sides to their coin quite fervently. So it isn't a surprise that the album, which is named after a medical condition for shared psychosis, is the biggest example of that bond yet.

From the opening "Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes," it is apparent that Pete Wentz's lyrics are still as confusingly in tune as ever, as he questions his place in the world of love: "I’m a loose bolt of a complete machine/What a match:
I’m half doomed and you’re semi sweet." All of the matrimonial happiness that should have lifted Wentz's spirits didn't lyrically, and the result is that Fall Out Boy's words are just as strong as ever.

Comparatively, Patrick Stump's composition of the songs shows that he is very comfortable being categorized as a pop artist. The lyrics are spliced with intermittent "woahs" and falsettos, almost to the point of annoyance. This has become the style of the band since their last album, Infinity on High: Pete loads the feelings, and Stump launches them in a style that radio listeners love.

The biggest problem with Folie a Deux in comparsion to Infinity on High, though, is that in this most recent album the mix doesn't always go well. What would normally be an instant classic in "Headfirst Slide into Cooperstown on a Bad Bet" is marred by Depeche Mode-like low notes. Similarly, "America's Suitehearts" is almost doomed from the start with the line "You could have knocked me out with a" followed by a painfully high-pitched "feeeather."

Luckily, the duo combine to make very good choruses for most of the album. What hasn't changed is that Fall Out Boy still can make consistently catchy music. What has changed is the journey to that point is not as smooth.

Besides having catchy choruses, most of the songs run together and aren't exactly highly memorable, mostly because Fall Out Boy still subscribes to the interesting method of making the song title as long as the song itself. The titles usually merit a chuckle, but an unfortunate consequence is that the song loses an identity and sometimes doesn't immediately connect with the listener.

When it comes down to it, this album was saved almost entirely by "What a Catch, Donnie," the eighth track.

While the other songs are enjoyable, it isn't until "What a Catch" that you truly see how far as a band Fall Out Boy has come. The lyrically-simple-yet-thick song is accompanied beautifully by Stump's vocal work, and the arrangement of having guest stars sing excerpts from their earlier songs is a great touch. It creates an epic feel that Fall Out Boy has never reached before.

Besides "What a Catch, Donnie," there are a few songs that are good the whole way through: "The (Shipped) Gold Standard" and "Tiffany Blews" are well-crafted pop songs that continue to impress through repeated lessons.

In the end, it isn't that any of the songs on Folie a Deux are particularly bad; it's just that none of the songs really catch a hold of the listener besides the few that were listed above. It's not the best they could do, but it certainly wasn't the worth either, and whether or not you get this CD you need to get "What a Catch, Donnie," their best song to date.


Replayability: (17/20)
Most of the songs have catchy choruses, and that's worth listening to a few times, but "What a Catch, Donnie" and "The (Shipped) Gold Standard" are the real reasons for listening to this album more than once.

Music: (15/20) This score isn't as high as it could be because, for the most part, the pop accoutrements that Stump creates does not capture the mood of Wentz's lyrics. This is the first time that their connection was off, and it made the album less enjoyable as a result.

Lyrics: (17/20) Pete Wentz's lyrics are still witty and poignant, and his mixing of simple elements in different songs actually helps make the songs better.

Completeness: (17/20) It is a solid album with no real let-downs except for the end of "20 Dollar Nose Bleed," when they do the dreaded speaking thing that has haunted the other albums. They should really not continue that trend.

Emotional Pull: (16/20) I'm not sure what it is, but the relatability of their music is much lower than usual. It may be the extra pop treatment, but something about the album makes it less powerful in that respect. The songs that received Check Pluses are the main contributing factors to this score.

Total Scoring: 82

Grade: B-

Check, Check Plus, X

Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes √+
I Don’t Care √
She’s My Winona √
America’s Suitehearts √
Headfirst Slide into Cooperstown on a Bad Bet √
The (Shipped) Gold Standard √+
(Coffee’s for Closers) √
What a Catch, Donnie √+
27 √
Tiffany Blews √
w.a.m.s. √
20 Dollar Nose Bleed √
West Coast Smoker √

Due to the holidays and all, I might not be as active as I'd like to be over the next few weeks. But if there's some music news or an album I want to review, you will be the first to know.

Sit tight til the next grade,

Friday, December 12, 2008

Music Abuse! U.S. using music to torture prisoners.

So Trent Reznor and other artists are being used to fight terrorism. At first this has sort of a comedic value, and many interesting and humorous situations come to mind:

"I'll tell you nothing."

"Oh really? Are you sure you want to face the consequences?"

"I'm strong, I can withstand any torture..."


"Mmm bob dip a dop..."


But after the chuckles pass away, some serious problems arise. First of all, shouldn't an artist be okay with this sort of thing? I mean, I know people play artist's music for all sorts of purposes they don't know about, but that's mostly for raves and things (although those are considered torture by some parties). How do you feel if you know that your song is being used in a waterboarding lab somewhere? Obviously not good if they're banding together to express their disapproval.

Secondly, they are saying in the articles that some of these guys lost their minds due to the blasting of loud music. Isn't that counterproductive? Don't you want your terrorists to be in a sane state when they give you information?

Plus that whole "torture is evil and wrong" thing. But I'm not a politician, so I won't weigh in there.

Either way, it's music abuse, and that's just not cool.