Paul’s Twelve Musical Christmas Wishes

Twelve Musical Christmas Wishes

Paul's Christmas List12. I wish that someone would tell Justin Bieber that he is too young to have a “beard.”

11. I wish someone would string my guitar. (The last time I put new strings on Kurt Cobain was still alive).

10. I wish Beyonce/JLo would return my calls and have those court orders… ooops.

9. I wish Motown would rebuild the snakepit and start making relevant music again.

8. I wish Jessie J. would explain those two puppets in the intro to the “Price Tag” video.

7. I wish Pitbull and T-Pain would be my wingmen for a night.

6. I wish that every day I was shufflin’.

5. I wish Paul McCartney would get a facelift. The ex-Beatle looks like an old woman.

4. I wish Billy Corgan would get dropkicked by his fans in music and in pro wrestling.

3. I wish for two 2012 shows; Tim Minchin and The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

2. I wish to sign a songwriter’s agreement – at least get some love for my lyrics.

1. I wish Elvis was still alive and all the impersonators were dead

It’s So Dirty You’ll Need to Wash Your Hands

T-Pain
rEVOLVEr
Sony Music
revolver.t-pain.net

T-Pain rEvolvEr cover

The font choices for T-Pain’s new disc “rEVOLVEr” lead one to believe the emphasis is on the word evolve. According to Wikipedia; “Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations.”  (If Wikipedia says it then it must be true; right?)

I think it is safe to say that to evolve is to grow – to develop. Musically that can be interpreted pretty broadly. The thing is – though – Mr. Pain hasn’t evolved so much as created another collection of catchy NC-17 rated songs rife with sexual conquests and countless pop culture references.

Listening to Mr. Pain’s disc is a guilty pleasure. I can crank it up and sing along, but I don’t think I’d want anyone to see me doing that.

I am clearly not the demographic he was aiming at when he cut this disc. The references are surely of a culture younger and hipper than mine. Odd thing – his way with twisting a melody around his hyperkinetic flow makes for compelling listening/dancing.

Mr. Pain has an uncanny talent for break-neck flow with easy rhymes and solid beats. There is an air of naughty-but-nice in his swagger as he shares stories – sometimes in graphic detail – about the things his bling will bring.

This is a great party disc. If you are a wallflower the lyrics are funny and smart. How does he flow so well with his tongue so firmly tucked into his cheek?

There is nothing new about the backing tracks. They veer into karaoke-quality from time to time, but he isn’t trying to set the world on fire – he is just trying to get lit.

Lily Allen’s contribution to “5:00” reminds us that the young songstress possesses a haunting alluring quality. Her voice is distinctive and textured perfectly. Her singing compliments and complements Mr. Pain.

You might want to wash your hands (thoroughly) after listening to “rEVOLVEr.” I did – the first six times I listened. Once the pop-shock wears off, you can feel free to walk around inside the lyrical ideas and really enjoy the disc.

Stand Out Tracks
It’s Not You (It’s Me)
5:00
Show Time (Pleasure Thang!)
Rock Bottom
Best Love Song

Hot Chelle Rae’s “Whatever”

Hot Chelle Rae
Whatever
RCA Records
www.hotchellerae.com

The world needs good pop music. Pop music – by default – becomes a harbinger for the current generation and the issues that shape them. The attitude of each generation – the fashions – the trial and tribulations – are ever present in the pop music of that generation.

If you really look into it – these things rarely vary much from generation to generation. One defining component is the music. This might explain why we remember certain songs that may not be great songs – but they are linked to a special moment or event in our lives.

Hot Chelle Rae – the currently emerging pop quartet dishing on all things pop and culture have released “Whatever” which is chock full of bouncy-pouncy pop songs that are so infectious even a fussy old curmudgeon can be seen breaking a smile.

Sure the stuff sounds processed and forced – there is something really enjoyable about the surrender to what they are doing.  They have an odd fixation for – shall we say non-Caucasian-urban cultural references which are actually endearingly hilarious because they are blindingly Caucasian.

The music is seamless. The harmonies are tight. The hooks are dance-friendly. They are at the top of their game- if not the top of their genre. With luck they will grow with their audience and mature into a serious musical enterprise.

If not – we might not even hear about them in a year – but for the moment – they have their finger on the pulse of every ingredient needed to create and market a pop masterpiece.

 

Stand Out Tracks

Tonight Tonight

Why Don’t You love Me

Downtown Girl

Gorillaz Has Something for Everyone

Gorillaz
The Singles Collection 2001-2011
Virgin
gorillaz.com

The millennium needed a musical hero. The 20th century didn’t exactly end on a high-note (pun intended). The millennium surely needed someone who could break down the artifice of pop music and navigate the evolving world of hip hop. (Rock and roll was/is hemorrhaging.) Whoever was charged with this task would risk having a short shelf life. The innovators usually suffer at the hands of the imitators. Gorillaz became that band.

A decade later the “fictional” group created by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett – is set to release an anthology chronicling their storied career. “The Singles Collection 2001-2011” is proof that rolling with the times – keeping the music organic and alive is one way to stay relevant and fresh.

The fifteen songs on this disc were so timeless when they were created they remain suspended in their own universe. Strangely they bridge musical eras with subtle nods to The Kinks (The melodic themes of “Feel Good Inc.” sounds vaguely familiar.) as effortlessly as they reflect some modern computer-driven aesthetic and the balanced chaos of modern club music.

The band we know as Gorillaz – a response to the banality of the music industry at the turn of the last century – has deconstructed the pop song and broke it down to its primitive core. The duo altered our expectations of new music making it accessible to a much wider audience than most new music artists.

Laced through all of these clarion electronic beats and lush strings there is a sense of humor that transcends the hip factor making this a collection for people who love music with less boundaries. There truly is something for just about everyone here.

Stand Out Tracks
Rock the House
Feel Good Inc.
On Melancholy Hill

Re-Imagine This

Smashing Pumpkins
Siamese Dream
Gish
www.smashingpumpkins.com

Smashing Pumpkins Gish Siamese dream

Oh, you better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout – that’s Billy Corgan’s job, and if he can’t squeeze the last dollar out of your wallet with his skinny, wan hand you can bet he is going to pout; all the way to the bank.

There is nothing worse than an inflated and fading rock star repackaging his music at holiday time in an effort to guilt the fans into parting with their hard earned money. What have the “Pumpkins” done for us lately? If you ask Corgan, they have saved your youth and repackaged it with some bogus extras.

The website that hawks this warmed over tripe has a “message” from Billy that reads like a manifesto for all that is pompous and pretentious in music today. Ironically he was this pretentious 20 years ago and things haven’t changed.

To make matter more egregious there is a standard re-release and a “deluxe edition.” Do we really need a serving of cast-offs and basement demos to enrich our musical landscapes? The price for the new “deluxe edition” is double the price of the re-release.

“Gish” includes (and I quote) Original Album Remastered With Reimagined Cover Art -15 Previously Unreleased or Alternative Versions of Gish Era Songs – Previously Unreleased, Full Length DVD From The Metro 1990 – 6 Postcards Featuring Never-Before-Seen Band Photos – 24-page Booklet Featuring Complete Lyrics, Liner Notes by David Wild, and Track-by-Track Annotations by Billy Corgan.

Re-imagined Cover Art?” Now the die hard fans will be forced to buy it to complete their set. Good looking out for your peeps, Corgan.

“Gish-era” songs? Ah, the songs that weren’t good enough to actually go on “Gish.”  A Metro show that is old enough to drink and postcards?

“Siamese Dream” features basically the same things only more of them and a (slightly) more recent Metro show. Wow for only $30.00. This is my lucky day. (There is even a substantial price difference when ordering the digital download. The “deluxe edition” is $5.00 more per download.)

Call me crazy – but Corgan would do better by his fans to get off of his high horse and cut a new album. Make something relevant and fresh. Taking these songs – that sound pathetically dated anyway – and trying to prepackage them is a travesty.

This Christmas forget Corgan and his greedy ways. True Pumpkin fans already have “Gish” and “Siamese Dream.”  There will be a lot of competition for your holiday dollar. Don’t give it to a petulant sycophant unless you really want that re-imagined covert art and a new postcard collection.

Chiwawa: A Good Story with an Indifferent Sound

Chiwawa
Element
Satellite Records Canada
http://www.chiwawa.ca

Chiwawa Element CoverSometimes you just want to relax and enjoy a disc. You read a lot about the group – you get the back-story and you want to root for them. In an ideal world you put on the disc and the music is solid and you realize that the good feelings you preconceived for the band will be rewarded.

Then there are times that the music just falls flat and you feel hoodwinked. You cringe your way through the review (no one really enjoys writing a bad review – no true music lover does anyway).

Chiwawa is that rare band that doesn’t commit to either one. Their story is a beautiful, modern day Indie film that may have been written by Diablo Cody. Two impossibly beautiful people marrying for citizenship only to blossom into true love. I’d buy that for a dollar.

“Element” is their latest release and it is just another one-dimensional electro-pop collection rife with repetitious beats and forced rhymes. The troubling element is that it isn’t terrible and it isn’t great. It is just a predictable computer generated dozen cuts designed to get your rump shaking and that is about it.

Krassy Halatchev and Laurie Gordon complement each other very well. You can hear the seamless collaboration on these electronic offerings.  You just find yourself wishing the stakes were higher.

“Another Moment” is the exception.  The quixotic blend of sounds – the haunting melody – the sweetness of Gordon’s vocals show what the duo could do if they were so inclined.

They have an impressive discography and their downloads are priced to be fan friendly. They are obviously doing something that is connecting. I just can’t figure out a way to put my finger on it.

Stand Out Track
Another Moment

Robert Schwartzman’s “Double Capricorn”

Robert Schwartzman
Double Capricorn
Self-released
Robertschwartzman.com

robert Schwartzman Double Capricorn coverIt seemed – at first – that Robert Schwartzman had fallen into a deep sleep and had woken up in 1982 in a recording studio.  His quirky-alt-80s sound is endearing if not a bit kitschy. The electro-bump of “Out of My Mind” kicks off “Double Capricorn” sounding a bit like a Human League on happy pills.

“Double Capricorn” is a collection of songs in which the instruments are played (almost) entirely by Schwartzman himself. The interesting thing – he actually pulls it off. The recording is tight and the arrangements – while a bit dated – are no worse for the wear.

It would be a little more compelling in Schwartzman had backed off of the affectations and let the music find its way over to its own invention. The songs seem to be written with the tongue firmly in cheek – a left-handed-homage to music designed to make you homesick for music that you missed the first time around.

Robert Palmer, John Lennon, The Pet Shop Boys, and the Beatles are among the filters Schwartzman employs on his way to being hipper-than-thou. His take on early 80s Elton John is spot on. He created a record the 20-something hipsters can call their own while being enjoyed by the 40-somethings who actually remember this music the first time around.

There are a lot reasons to buy this disc. Not the least of these reasons is all profits from the sale of this album are being donated to the Tibetan Healing Fund. Let “Double Capricorn” heal you at the same time.

Stand Out Tracks
I Know Why
Funny Money
All My Life

The Windsor Player: The Ultimate Supergroup

The Windsor Player
Eponymous
Self-Released
www.thewindsorplayer.com

The Windsor PlayerThis is meat and potatoes. This is dependable and delicious and every bit as American as the Super Bowl. The Windsor Player – the latest alt-supergroup created by Troy Stewart – has released an eponymous disc that is bigger than all of its components yet intimate and relevant.

From the melancholy strings of “Release” which kicks off this powerful collection – to the rolling melody and seamless instrumentals and playful faux-rap of “Just a Song” there is not a weak moment on this disc.

Sadly I am not nearly hip enough to know who Stewart is except that he is the touring guitarist for Snow Patrol. The names of the players and the bands that he has assembled reads like a who’s who of bands that linger on the fringes of mainstream – just safety within the reach of the hipsters, but not the radio station program directors.

I think – in this case – my ignorance fed my bliss because I had no preconceived notion of what I was getting into. What I was – and continue to – get into is a whip smart and impeccably recoded and produced collection of songs.

It isn’t enough that Stewart – and his army of co-conspirators – have blended their own unique perspectives into each bar – each measure of music – they had the good sense to get out of the way and let the song rule the day. I promise this is a disc that will serve as background when you are working/partying. It will also work as a clinic in songwriting and arranging.

As we begin the head-long careen into the holiday shopping season, every writer is putting together their “best of list” in hopes of boosting the holiday sales and having one more shot at influencing their readers.

The Windsor Player is my favorite release of the year. End of list.

Stand Out Tracks
Release
Empty Well
Just a Song

Russian Circles on Their Own Planet

Russian Circles
Empros
Sargent House
russiancircles.tumblr.com

Russian Circles Empros

I totally get the concept of acquired tastes. When I was in high school while my friends were getting buzzed on Miller High Life and puffing on Kools I was drinking Cutty Sark and smoking Lucky Strikes. I couldn’t see what they were excited about and they thought I was on my own planet.

Russian Circles seem to be on a planet of their own making – only I felt like a visitor there – and not a very welcome one. Theirs is a planet of droning shapeless music designed – I think – to enhance a good trip – although not a road trip.

Thinking in terms familiar to the average music listener – Russian Circles can be defined as a metal-jam-goth band. They seem to be the type of group that cringes at the every notion of labels – but for our purposes the labels at least create an accessible expectation of the music.

Metal-Jam-Goth isn’t necessarily a negative term – it is just my interpretation of these long sprawling musical journeys that reflect the most common elements of Metal, Jam, and Goth music.

Many Americans don’t like Middle Eastern or Asian music because they are unaccustomed to it. It doesn’t fit well into their (dare I say?) virgin ears. The time signatures are different – the scales are different. It can be jarring to the uninitiated.

Russian Circles – while wholly American – have blended the genres to the point that they don’t settle well for me. The result veers toward melodramatic horror film soundtrack.

I am hard pressed to create a negative review because Russian Circles surely have a clear idea of what they want to do musically.  Empros is just not something I am interested in listening to on a regular basis.

They are committed to that they do and for that you might give Empros a listen. You may find their odd darkness fused with a few strands of hope is just what the doctor ordered – especially if you are planning any trips any time soon.

Stand Out Track
Schiphol (the first3:40)

Electric Touch’s “Don’t Stop”

Electric Touch
Don’t Stop
Island Records
www.electrictouch.com
Suppose millennial pop star Pink made a song so catchy and commercial a health club decided to use it as their… wait. That has happened already. Clearly the soft-pop quintet Electric Touch was paying very close attention. You might say they were heavily influenced by that driving dancer-cize-style of pop music.

“Don’t Stop” is an EP of clean and crisp pop music. Nothing challenging – nothing deep, just fun, aggressive, predictable pop that nearly blurs into one 13-minute long song.

The title track resonates with a “spin-off-the-pounds” vibe. This is the song I expect to hear ringing out in every gym/health club pushing the bar and raising the adrenaline – not challenging the mind.

Magnetic” sounds like an outtake from the aforementioned Pink. It is fun and painless – but it is likely not something that will be around a year from now. This is not to say that all music must have along shelf life – but the best music typically does. Beatles anyone?

Dominos” saves this EP from being completely bereft of substance. It is very close – but not completely.

If you are going to the gym – or power walking – or you want to feel like you are might be working out later – “Don’t Stop” (even the title suggest forward motion) is a good little quartet of pop nuggets.

If you prefer your music to be original – passionate – compelling – you might want to a pass on this one. I will say – though – the song “Don’t Stop” contains my favorite lyrical line of the year, “Life is strange, but love is stranger.”
Stand Out Track
Dominos

http://ElectricTouch.com
http://twitter.com/ElectricTouch
http://Myspace.com/ElectricTouch

No Thanks Lyonnais!

Lyonnais
Transitive Properties of Youth
Self released
www.myspace.com/teamlyonnais

LyonnaisThere is an iconic – often recited (sometimes even correctly) scene in the 1987classic “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.” Steve Martin tells John Candy, “Here’s a good idea – have a POINT. It makes it SO much more interesting for the listener!”

That is exactly what went though my mind as I listened to the blathering known as “Transitive Properties of Youth” by Lyonnais who just might be the last band in American to have a myspace page.

There is precious little on this release that doesn’t have me running for the stop button (or a knitting needle for my ears.)  It is the most inconsequential music I have ever had the misfortune of listening to. It has less musical value than a Cadbury Easter egg and about the same nutritional value.

On their myspace page they claim to be psychedelic. Even the most psychedelic band I have ever heard had a point – they had something to say – even if they were spacey and nebulous with the way they said it.

This is just droning – poorly produced tripe that I had to endure for hour after hour as I listened on a variety of days to assure myself it wasn’t my mood that was making me have such a negative reaction to the music.  Then I realized they were the reason that my mood always went sour after listening to them for more than three songs. (Thing is – you can’t really tell when one song ends and the next one begins.)

Being a music writer is usually the greatest job a guy can have. It is typically a pleasure – until you meet Lyonnais and “Transitive Properties of Youth” at which point it becomes more tedious than being an accountant.

Stand Out Tracks
Whatever the last track is be cause that means we are done listening to this.

The Way Sound Leaves a Room

Sarah Jaffe
The Way Sound Leaves a Room
Kirtland Records
sarahjaffe.com

sarah jaffee the way sound leaves a room cover Sarah Jaffe’s The Way Sound Leaves a Room features some heartfelt singing and some strong songwriting, but it just isn’t consistent enough to be a compelling choice when seeking music to work with or just chill out with. Her sense of irony seems to almost weigh down her energy and the sense of play that resulted in songs like “A Sucker for Your Marketing.”

In fairness – after the fifth or sixth listen – it did kind of grow on me. It may have been familiarity – it may have been the uniqueness of Jaffe’s voice. It may have been the slightly less than traditional arrangements (“All the Time”). The trouble with that is most people aren’t patient and want to fall in love with their music before they are distracted by the next new thing.

“Clementine” – a lovely piano ballad – is worth the time. This song will surely put Jaffe on the musical map. No longer encumbered by the necessity to buy an album – this is one download that will surely define Jaffe and help her to develop the following she deserves

While she shows some serious musical intelligence (and diversity) on this release – some different sounds and different arrangement paradigms, she rests carefully – almost gingerly – in world of country-tinged indie-folk music. Even in the most sparsely populated songs – she finds a way to fill the sound with textures and colors.

“Louder Than Ever” is the rare song that reflects itself with uncanny precision. The mood set by the instrumentation reflects the whispy vocals which support the ethereal lyrics. The song seems the perfect opportunity for Jaffe to break into the mainstream – which tends to be afraid of anything new or valuable.

If you have the time to fall in love with some sweet music – give “The Way Sound Leaves a Room” a chance. If you need instant gratification – Bruno Mars will surely have something more to your liking out any day now.

Stand Out Tracks
“Clementine”
“Louder Than Ever”
“Shut It Down”

Whales: Not a Big Deal

Whales
Whales
Self-Released
whalesmusic.bandcamp.com

I just can’t seem to figure out the talented quartet of musicians known collectively as Whales. Nor can I figure what on God’s musical landscape they are trying to do. Individually they are extremely talented – but when you put them into the studio – they seem to cancel each other out. The listener is the one that suffers here.

The music ranges from progressive darkly textured jazz to jaw-popping-yawn-inducing-navel-gazer. They claim navel gazing as a genre – I am seeing that more and more these days – but just because there is a lot of a genre does that qualify it to be good or necessary. (One genre we could do without is/was boy bands.)

Having said that – Whales and their recent eponymous release has some interesting moments – but they just aren’t strung together with any cogent line that makes me compelled to listen to the rest of the disc. (I – of course – did and I did more than once.)

It is frustrating to hear the hints of what could happen if this group was performing music that is intrinsically interesting or relevant. If they were schlock purveyors, they would be easy to write off and move on, but they clearly work diligently and have created something that is musical and interesting – just not compelling. There are too many things competing for space in my ear – so you’ve got to be compelling.

I would not recommend running out and buying this music part and parcel. Try one song at a time – if you are into navel-gazing or “noise pop.” If you like your music a little more traditional – this isn’t the disc for you.

Standout Tracks
Insomniac
Vampires

Michael Jade’s No Outlet

Michael Jade
No Outlet
www.facebook.com/michaeljadefb

Michael Jade

I can honestly say that I got a fresh breath of musical air the day that I met Michael Jade. The music – like the man – is smart and fresh and will surely earn a space in our collective music consciousness before all is said and done. He is not the next anything; He is the first Michael Jade.

Less a traditional review – this is an opportunity for a music writer to share ideas in a less conventional form. This also seems to be the way Jade is approaching his music. Rather than go the way of the CD and other predictable venues – Jade is willing to give away his music and that is a gift that everyone should share.

The bright young multi-instrumentalist has taken his music to social networking with free downloads and videos. The multiple award winning songwriter is focused on introducing himself and his perfectly crafted songs to the public – like any good crack dealer. Get ‘em hooked they’ll keep coming back for more.

“Chicago (featuring John Mayer)” is a national anthem for the 21st century Midwestern music lover. The song feels a little like a European waltz and a Chicago soul mash-up. The song comes across much like the city itself which is a mash up of European sensibilities bathed in deep, pure soul. That is Chicago – that is Jade.

Truth be told when I learned Jade plays all of his own instruments I feigned excitement and started heading toward the door. This is rarely a good thing.

Typically that is a huge red flag that informs the writer that either the music is going to be simple and just short of exiting – or that it is going to be an indulgent mess that is difficult to listen to.

Jade brings his energy and a passion to every instrument and never disappoints the listener. Whether it is a busy-bopper like “Drive Me Crazy” or a sweet serenade such as “What Was I Thinking” he knows when to put the notes into the open spaces and he knows – and this is paramount importance – he knows when to get out of the way and let the song dictate what he is playing.

I learned a lot from my time with Jade and from my continued listening to his music. I learned that passion is not dead and pop music has a new star in its constellation. I also learned to never underestimate a guy in a hoodie.

Find Michael Jade on Facebook and listen to his music. He’ll inspire and entertain you. If you aren’t careful he might even motivate you to pull your guitar our and start building calluses all over again.

 
Stand Out Tracks

Product of Pieces

Sorry

Armor

Invisible

Chicago (featuring John mayer)

Moby’s Destoyed – Now You Can Download the Cure for Insomnia

Moby
Destroyed
Little Idiot Records
Moby.com  

Moby Destroyed

Got sleep issues? Try Moby’s newest release “Destroyed” (on Little Idiot Records). If this collection of self-indulgent faux-soundtrack cuts doesn’t put you to sleep – you might need serious medical help.

This has to be the only album in existence that makes lush string arrangements sound boring and monotone. There is nothing here that I can hang my ears on. What Moby has released is him and a computer making navel-gazing music that would even annoy the most jaded navel gazer.

There are moments of sweetness, (“The Violet Bear It Away”) but they quickly erode into repetitive droning musical ideas. He – who could have really demolished preconceived notions and pioneered the genre – relies on loops and cheese-ball edits to try to elicit an emotion from the listener.

Most of what he has created here sounds like the soundtrack to a sad European movie where it is always raining and someone dies and there is a lot of slo-mo running alone through the crowded streets of the city.

The most frustrating part of listening to this disc is some of the ideas truly are beautiful. Some of the chord progressions tap into something medieval and powerful – but rather than follow the idea to a logical conclusion – he (for the most part) just loops it back around into itself.

“Stella Maris” is an exception and – actually – almost reason to buy this disc. If you can legally download this one cut – I strongly suggest it. Moby finds a way to blend ancient spirituality into the full-bodied strings and the reed-thin computer generated arrangements.

If the whole disc was as amazing – revelatory – as “Stella Maris” Moby would have a new fan. Sadly there is nothing on the disc that is even in the ballpark. Legally download this cut and leave the rest of this disc to the hardcore fans who will accept everything he records, because they are – well – hardcore fans.

Stand out Track
The Day
Stella Maris
The Violent Bear It Away

Destiny’s Child is all Grown Up

Beyonce
4
Columbia Records
www.beyonceonline.com

Beyonce has surely spent untold amounts of energy carving out a niche all her own. The obvious comparisons to Diana Ross may have been enough for some artists to hang their hat on. Beyonce – to her credit – has proven she is more musical and more inventive than Ross ever was.

Then there is the (acrimonious?) exodus from Destiny’s Child. Without disrespecting DC, Beyonce is just too much to confine into that safe pop formula. She is bringing a lot of power and a lot of energy and she is willing to take chances (on the album cuts) that most artists are simply afraid of.

She does vocal acrobatics on “1+1” that most signers would be afraid to even try. I am not saying that every risk she takes pays off. What I am saying is that she is taking risks and – with luck – other pop artists will follow that lead and bring unpredictability back to pop music.

She has not abandoned her pop roots; she is just reaching beyond them. Obviously “Run the World” is a lame pop paean to girl power complete with faux-Ebonics. That is the radio hit to get people to buy the album.

“Rather Die Young” is a sweet and soulful nugget highlighting Beyonce’s soaring vocals more than anything I have heard before. There is a retro-soul vibe supporting her voice. This is the kind of song that deserves airplay.

“The Best Thing I Never Had” contains my two favorite lyric lines of the year, “You showed your ass and I saw the real you!” and “I bet it sucks to be you right now!”  These are the harshest break-up lines ever. (Take a note Cee-Lo.)

Andre 3000 does a guest bit on “Party’ and is – without a doubt – the most inventive and irreverent bit of spoken word on a mainstream album.

There are moments of brilliance – and there are moments of curiosity. Mostly, if this is the future of pop music, I’ll sleep better at night.

Stand Out Tracks
The Best Thing I Never Had
Party
Rather Die Young

This Dog Has Teeth

Pitbull
Planet Pit
Mr. 305 Records
www.pitbullmusic.com

Pitbull (given name Armando Christian Pérez) has his pulse on the music industry and is poised to enjoy longer shelf life than most urban artists who are coming up today. One reason is his blend of bravado and humility. His musicality – tight and shiny like Shakira’a outfit on the cover of “Rabiosa” is perfectly complemented by his wide ranging (often mischievous) sense of humor.

His sexual prowess comes off as aggressive – but never misogynistic. His use of humor makes him accessible to a growing number of urban music lovers who have had enough of the macho posturing that has been so prevalent in hip hop music.

The opening track “Castle in the Sand” plays with the formula of a powerfully talented woman singer’s voice soaring over some ambient sound – relaxing – setting the mood – then he kicks down the door with his rat-a-tat flow filled with clever rhymes to stand all times. (It blows my mind. I feel so fine. Oops.)

The incongruity he introduces on this “Castle in the Sand” (He thanks his mother for “making him a man” before cutting loose with an expletive filled threat.) is just one of the threads in the tapestry that is “Planet Pit.”

“Come N Go” is a rhythmic romp about sex. There is nothing subtle in this song at all. Pitbull – like his canine namesake – sinks his teeth in and doesn’t let go – not until he can make them “Come N Go.” Some of the double entrendres and puns seem to have been penned by 14-year old boys trying to get away with mischief. The difference is – Pitbull hits it with his unique style of rolling the words out like they have a life of their own.

“Give Me Everything” is looking to be the hit – a radio friendly dance track that owes more than a little to the Black Eyed Peas. The difference is – though – he seems to imbue these cuts with so breathless energy that translates to the dance floor like I haven’t heard in a long time.

If you are looking for the perfect disc to introduce urban music into your lexicon – this could be the one. The combination of talent and skill – supported by the business savvy and the sense of humor make this a dog that won’t lay on the porch – but will rock the house.

Stand Out tracks
Castle Made of Sand
Shake Senora
Where Do We Go

Tour Dates:


View Pitbull tour dates from Eventful

Tidy Metal-lite Offering – More Slick Less Spontaneous

Adelitis Way
Home School Valedictorian
www.adelitaswaymusic.net
Virgin Records

Adelitis Way is poised to take metal-lite to a place it rarely goes; mainstream radio. Their release “Home School Valedictorian” is a tidy and slick release of eleven metal-pop songs that crackle with an incongruous mix of rock and roll rebellion and corporate satisfaction. This is a very safe release for any record company.

Adelitis Way will make Virgin’s shareholders as giddy as the teen-age girls who will surely buy the posters and wallpaper their bedrooms. They are pretty enough to have their own TV show – while being solid enough musicians to cut a record that is equal parts quality and commercial.

Rick DeJesus broods aggressively whether in front of the microphone or the camera. He delivers exactly what is expected of him. He brings powerhouse vocals which he doles out generously – but with some reservation. He knows there are more albums in store and he wants to save some pyrotechnics for later.

Trevor Stafford might the most versatile young drummer on record in a long time. His ability to direct and alter the rhythm section is one of the elements that keeps the quartet’s metal vibe front and center. Stafford knows his way around a kit and is not afraid to use every bit of hardware he has.

True to their radio-friendly-metal-lite sound, Derek Johnston’s bass playing gets no love at all. There are moments when his work comes through, but he is mostly non-existent on this disc. I don’t blame Johnston, this is the way of the walk for a lot of modern music. Bass players typically are underserved. Without them – there is precious little going on under the guitar attack of a modern rock band – but they rarely get mixed well enough to give them the respect they deserve.

Robert Zakaryan – might be the guitar player’s name on “Home School Valedictorian.” (The website says one thing- the FaceBook page says something else.) Whoever is playing the guitar is doing a fine job. There is nothing here that promises greatness – but he surely has all of the right rock and roll licks and fills and crunch. His work – like DeJesus voice – clearly defines Adelitis Way for better or for worse.

(According to their web site Adelitis Way became a quintet by adding guitarist Keith Wallen after recording the record. This review doesn’t reflect Wallen or any contribution he may have to the band down the road.)

Stand Out Tracks
Sick
Good Enough
I Wanna Be

Twin Atlantic Offers Rock and Roll American-Style

Twin Atlantic
Free
Red Bull Records
free.twinatlantic.com


Probably one of the most American sounding rock and roll albums of 2011 was written and recorded by a Glaswegian quartet who rock just as clean and hard as you please. The term American-sounding is based on the idea of putting four guys in the garage with their instruments and a case of PBR – let that germinate through the spring and see what the summer brings; powerful guitars, easy hooks, earnest vocals.

What these four young blokes do deliver is a multi-dimensional pastiche of pure sweetly realized sound hand-crafted with an eye for hard pop sensibility. There is a lot going on each song, but none of it is wasted or excessive. Everything fits – some elements more snug than others – but it is all there and it is all good.

Most of what’s going on informs of a variety of influences, but remains entirely their own. Their personality comes through on each note – their bravado that manifests itself in well-deserved confidence. The by-product of that confidence – is flawless play and bounding creativity.


Twin Atlantic creates a slick accessible rock and roll music that hooks old rockers like me with the jingly guitars – the tight harmonies, and the ironic lyrics. They also keep the youth audience front and center with their power and their drive. They swagger and sneer through “Free” which is an anthem that needs to be heard by all rockers; young and old.

Sam McTrusty (real name according to their website) possesses a voice alternates from power to passion to pushover like turning a switch.

Stand Out Tracks

Apocalyptic Renegade

Yes I’m Drunk

Free

Crash Land

 

Funeral Party Resuscitates Rock and Roll

Funeral Party
The Golden Age of Nowhere
RCA Records
www.funeralpartymusic.com

Sometimes putting to many spices into the pot can kill the chili. That is what separates chefs from cooks. The same can be said for music. Trying too much can result in falling flat on your face. Then there is Funeral Party and their debut release “The Golden Age of Nowhere” on RCA Records.

This west coast power trio redefines the genre by pouring the power out in flooding waves that sweep the listener up in a musical tsunami. They also have an uncanny knack for adding enough textures to make it interesting – but not confusing.

“The Golden Age of Nowhere” offers eleven tracks of solid music played flawlessly and with visceral passion. They display versatility throughout. Whether it is a mid-tempo nugget like “Relics to Ruins” or an up-tempo jumper like “Giant Song” they imbue every song with their unique brand of bridled energy.
One of the most refreshing elements of “The Golden Age of Nowhere” is the variety of sounds that these three talented musicians offer. Everything comes with a hard edge, but each song has its own personality. This keeps it more compelling with each listen.

Chad Elliott’s vocals are pure and honest the likes of which I haven’t heard in a while in a rock and roll band. He isn’t pretending or posing. He is just rocking his face off. James Torres has a way with the guitar that just slices through everything – but complements it rather than stealing focus.

Kimo Kauhola’s bass is thumping and driving and carrying the whole thing when allowed. If there is a weakness on this disc – it is that Kauhola gets buried from time to time. The work on “Finale” makes it clear that he has the chops

One element of success in any live art form is bringing in the audience. Funeral Party has their share of anthems with audience participation built right into them. This summer at stadiums around the world – they are likely to look out and see seas of fans pumping their fists and singing along.

On a side note – their website is equally creative. It suits them.

Standout Tracks

Postcards of Persuasion

Giant Song

Relics to Ruin

Pyro Fighter!

Pyro Fighter
Self-Titled
Self-Released
pyrofighterband.com

Dany Mellette owes much to Lady Gaga, but she missed out on the element that makes Gaga go-go. Gaga imbues her work with sense of irony that keeps it mildly interesting – mostly just really danceable.

Pyro Fighter has released an EP of Electro-Pop that came out of the chute enjoying success on such notable shows as “Jersey Shore” and MTV’S “Once Upon a Prom.” Both of these vehicles are perfect for this redundant rhythmic rehash of itself.

“Pyro Fighter” is exactly what one would expect – and this is not a bad thing – for the “Jersey Shore” crowd. These are not people who are going to win too many Mensa memberships – but they will surely look awesome shaking their groove thing at the local club. (That is surely a natural tan…)

If there is a perfect electro-pop disc – this is it. The songs vary enough to be able to differentiate one from the other.    Patrick Stockhausen and Billy Arnett have programmed tight beats and layered them with interesting crescendos and decrescendos – a staple from their obvious music training.

Therein lies the closest thing to irony on display here. If Stockhausen and Arnett are not musically – formally – trained, they are the first true naturals I have ever heard of. I am sure it was a music degree with a computer minor (or the reverse.)

From the ivory tower, my musical snobbery is gnawing at the base of my neck begging for things like guitars solos and lyrics. Problem is my feet won’t stop tapping.

Stand out Track
I am the One

 

New Band Evokes Old Band with Interesting Results

Geronimo
Fuzzy Dreams
Self-released
facebook.com/thegeronimoband

Rock and Roll mythology bears a great amount of epic sagas ranging from fishing out of hotel windows to just about everything in Keith Moon’s life. One of the more romantic stories is the American Indian vibe that surrounds Jim Morrison.

To believe the 1991 Oliver Stone biopic – there was a car accident involving some American Indians and one of their souls jumped into the body of a young Jim Morrison and that is part of what made him the American Poet and the wild and free spirit we all know and (some) love.

Geronimo – the 21st century rock and roll incarnation – seems to have been the recipient of Jim Morrison dying and his soul jumping into their collective body. The hard rocking trio creates music that seems to have picked up right where the Doors left off – minus the soaring vocals and Robby Kreiger’s guitar.

“Fill Me Up” completely – and eerily captures the surreal sweeping soundscapes of later Doors’ albums. By the time you get to “Battery Acid Mustache” you are almost convinced the band has reunited for one last session.

“Deep Warmth” ends in a musical elegy that sounds like it was pulled from out-takes of the Doors’ recording of “The End.” With each chord change and sound vibration, you will keep hearing Morrison’s melodramatic voice call for his mother.

Despite this – or because of this – “Fuzzy Dreams” (even the name rings of the famous quartet) is a solid rocking album. Maybe because it is more honest than the countless reunion acts. Maybe because they are playing with power instead of an endorsement deal. Maybe because their heart is in the right place.

Geronimo’s “Fuzzy Dreams” is a free download at thegeronimoband.bandcamp.com. Check it out.

Stand Out Tracks

Fill Me Up
Battery Acid Mustache
Judgment Day

Understated – Not Underrated – GHOSTHOUSE Grooves

GHOSTHOUSE
Fashionably Late
Self-released
www.facebook.com/GhosthouseChicago


From the city that is home to the biggest and the boldest of everything comes an understated funk duo named Ghosthouse that has the necessary chops, the warmth of delivery, and the cheesy synthesizers to invoke funk pioneers – yet there is a youthful exuberance that (usually) works for them.

Once again – though – I would have hoped their youthful vigor would have resulted in an LP.  Recording four songs for release just never feels as satisfying as getting a full length that the listeners can sit for a spell and wrap their ears around.

It is even more exasperating when the music is as tight and righteous as Chicago’s own Ghosthouse. There is nothing new here – a lot of synthesizers and affected vocals – but the combination of Jimmy Con and Chuck New and their varied musical influences combine to make some pretty interesting music – then you only get four songs.

Song titles (titles in general) are safe from the copyright laws. If I wanted to go out and cut an album and call it Let it Be. I would be able to with no problem. I would never go anywhere because radio station programmers are lazy. They see the title and they go with the version they are familiar with.

Ghosthouse has a cut called “Private Dancer” and it has nothing to do with Tina Turner or her iconic song of the same name. This disc is fairly wrapped up with the Monkee’s 1960s classic “Stepping Stone.”

And just that soon it is over. You have to hit play again – or find something with a longer playing time and a similar beat. When your music is this soulful and sweet – and you are making the kind of music you want to make – why settle for four songs?

Stand Out Tracks

“Steppin’ Stone”

 

4onthefloor Release Debut LP 4×4, Out On 4.4.2011

4onthefloor
4X4
Self released
www.4otf.com

4 on the floor 4X4

Finally – from Minnesota a quartet of young lions who have released sixteen (well one is 35 seconds long) large slabs of blues that don’t beg for attention – they command your ear and your ear is happy.

The idea that 4onthefloor is a novelty (they employ four bass drums which keep the thunder booming throughout) is immediately discarded when they break into such powerful multi-layered cuts such as “Lionhearted.” [Read more...]

Usonia Self-Titled Album OUT NOW!

Usonia
Self-Titled
Self-released
www.usoniamusic.com

Usonia

I like smart pop music. Sometimes I like lightly-textured tunes that feature a catchy melodic line that makes me bob my head while I drive – or write – or do whatever. Usonia – the trio from Minneapolis who went to Iowa to record this little disc have captured a hybrid of sonic nostalgia and tech-lite resulting in a disc that I can’t seem to stop playing.

The warmth and humor come through as clearly as their musical influences that are deeply entrenched in the Beatles and sounds of the 60s. “Good-Luck Goodbye” feels like a pop concert on the U.S.S. Enterprise. Picture Captain Kirk and Uhura doing some space-age version of the pony.

Ross Vander Werf’s vocals are allover the map. He goes from plaintive to powerful. The vocal timbre is complimented by the (sometimes) odd instrumentation. Vander Werf also plays guitars and keyboard.

Zack Carroll – guitars/accordion – is clearly one of the reasons for the textural pastiche. He adds sounds and ideas in the empty spaces filling the sound up – but not overdoing it.

George Hadfield – bass/keys – keeps a relatively low profile until “Three Hours” where he comes roaring in. His understated playing – though -is choice – not lack of ability. Listen close.

If there is a problem with this disc – is that it is only 10 songs. I would have loved a few more cuts of music this smart. Usonia has released a perfectly constructed and performed collection of music. Their next disc will not be self-released (unless that is what they choose.)

Stand Out Tracks
Trailer
Good-Luck Good-Bye
Three Hours
The History of Ghosts

Album Tracks:
Trailer
Good-Luck Good-Bye
Westdale
Three Hours
It’s Your Night
I’m Out
History of Ghosts
I Am Happy Now
Maryland
Off You Go

Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You: No Kidding!

Does it Offend You, Yeah?
Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You
The End Records
Released: 3/15/2011
www.doesitoffendyou.com


Sometimes we try to hard to be too much only to fall on our faces having accomplished nothing. Sometimes we are so caught up in our self-image that we realize we have no idea who we are.

Does it Offend You, Yeah? recently released their sophmore album, Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You, which is a collection of out-of-focus aural experiments that mostly don’t work. They bill themselves as a dance band, but I defy any human to do something that resembles dance while listening to “John Hurt” the second cut on this cacophonic collection.

The production values are non-existent throughout the album. Some of the songs have so much fuzzy static competing with out of control lazar beams sounds – you almost wonder if the band knows about musical tones and keys and time signatures.

There are sparse moments of musicality, but it seems that every time DIOYY has a musical idea, they find a way to talk themselves right out of if.  That or they beat it into the ground with such inane repetition transforming it from a likeable club mix to a futuristic supermarket muzak track.

In their defense, the band will attempt the occasional sonic variation, but again they aren’t focusing it or giving it purpose, leaving the listener scratching their dissatisfied head.

There is a song on the disc called “Wrestler,” which opens with a very angry man on a very funny (ironic) diatribe. You will expect a lot more – you will be sadly left wanting. The song just drops into tedium with the occasional f-bomb!

Listenable Tracks
Yeah
Pull Out My Insides

Tracklisting:

1. We Are The Dead
2. John Hurt
3. Pull Out My Insides
4. Yeah
5. The Monkeys Are Coming
6. Wrong Time Wrong Planet
7. Wrestler
8. Wondering
9. The Knife
10. Broken Arms

 

Pick it Up: The Drive-By Truckers’ Go-GO Boots

Drive-By Truckers
Go-Go Boots
ATO Records
www.drivebytruckers.com


Right to the point; The Drive-By Truckers’  Go-Go Boots might be the best record I have heard this year. This album is awkwardly graceful and stripped down sexy at the same time. Here you will find barebones arrangements that deliver new layers of sonic sweetness with every listen.

The southern sextet has created 14 songs (15 if you buy the vinyl) that are as smart as anything on the radio today. Then they had the sense to get out of the way and let the songs live on their own terms.

Perhaps it is the recording on analog gear – perhaps it is the soulful country attitude intrinsic to each of these players – something just illuminates these songs giving warmth and power.

I Do Believe” kicks off Go-Go Boots. This nice jangly little number features the DBT’s signature wall of sound, but here it is informed by a little 70’s pop. Onto the title track, where the wall of sound is still present, but there are textures added raising the bar and making the music a little more interesting.

Not that there is anything on this disc that isn’t interesting – and I think that is part of DBT’s brilliance. They take the dynamics of music to levels most bands don’t think of. They apply the sense of tension and release to the order of the songs on the disc. I have never experienced that development of texture while listening to an album before.

There is also the true beauty of a sextet from the south who embraces who they are without getting condescending or pandering to clichés.  They are clearly mining a different side of the southern experience. They work to be relevant – they don’t strain to be perfect.

This is easily one of my favorite discs to be released in the last couple of years. When you visit the website, you can buy it as a download – you can buy it as vinyl. Just buy it.

Stand Out Tracks

Dancin’ Ricky

Cartoon Gold

Pulaski

Americans’ White EP Makes Me Blue

The Americans
The White EP
Self-released
www.theamericansnyc.com

The AmericansYou gotta like white bread and vanilla shakes with a hint of Jeff Lynne dashed in to really get behind The Americans’ sophomore release “The White EP.”

The fact that no less than Sean Lennon is their corner – and they had the audacity to play off the iconic eponymous album often referred to as “The White Album” one would expect more humor – at least more tongues planted in cheeks.

Ironically they don’t seem like they are having any fun at all except on the opening of “Rooftop Love” where the harmonies soar and you can almost hear the smiles. The backing vocals on “Rooftop Love” sound like they were fun to record, but for the most part The Americans kind of come off as smug hipsters who are trying to appeal to as many people as possible – while falling somewhat short of appealing to anyone for more than a few bars per song.

Releasing an EP – to me – is a waste. With the ease and affordability of recording these days – releasing six or eight songs is kind of a money grab. When you throw in the ambitious range of “The White EP” a few more songs may have completed their aural picture allowing the listened a fuller understanding of their direction.

With six songs – and a lot going on (some works some does not) all the listener gets is confused and – in my case – turned off. While they are talented musicians – they need focus and direction – even if it means cutting Sean Lennon loose and figuring out who they are.

Stand Out Track
Rooftop Love

Joel “Hits” Audience With New Disc

Billy Joel
The Hits
Columbia/Legacy
www.billyjoel.com


This year marks the 40th anniversary of “Cold Spring Harbor.” Not a lot of pop/rock music lovers even know that it was that album by a very young Billy Joel that would pave the way for millions of records sold and countless sold-out shows and (more recently) hours of entertainment on TMZ.

“Cold Spring Harbor” (an incredible album by the way) was followed by “Piano Man’ and from there the doors flew up for a guy who once played on a Shangri La’s demo of “Leader of the Pack” and “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” as an unknown session guy in 1964. He was 15-years old. [Read more...]

Sullivan Loves You Back

Jazmine Sullivan
Love You Back
J Records
www.jazminesullivanmusic.com

On “Love You Back” – the latest from singer/songwriter Jazmine Sullivan – the too-young-to-feel-this-old songbird warbles a piece she co-wrote called “Famous.” A well blended orchestral pop nugget with one of the coolest guitar bits buried in the melancholy conclusion, the song fairly warns of what is to come for Philly native who stretches musical borders to their breaking point. [Read more...]

Doobie Doobie Don’t

Doobie Brothers
World Gone Crazy
HOR Records
www.doobiebros.com

Doobie Brothers

Growing up with the Doobs – there were certain promises delivered with each new release; the first was uncompromising rock and roll music laced with soulful sounds and peppered with some urban blues.

The second guarantee was there would be brushes with social statements (at least provocative thoughts)  whether that meant a gruff Michael MacDonald taking it to the streets or asking what a fool believes. The songs were powerful and clung to you like a secret you could share with anyone. [Read more...]

Sweethead Makes for Sourpuss

Sweethead
Sweethead
Strange Addiction/ The End Records
www.sweethead. net


What do you get when you combine four b-level rock musicians from four separate b-level bands? You get the laziest – most uninspired 13 songs that will drone in your ears until you disinfect them with something that resembles rock and roll.

Surely Troy Van Leeuwen (Queens of the Stone Age) is intended to be the anchor here. Instead we get disjointed – musical ideas that are half-baked and played without anything that resembles cogent thought or are enoyable music. [Read more...]

Thievery Corporation Lives Up to Their Name

Thievery Corporation
It Takes a Thief
ESL Music
www.thieverycorporation.com


There is something “emperor’s-new-clothes” about this duo and this disc. It seems like there is less going on musically, but what is going on is executed with a flourish that draws you in only to let you down.

Perhaps because it is all packaged and delivered with such obvious arrogance and pretension that listening to it was like so much smoke and mirrors. Perhaps because it is a compilation that retools older material for release that it seems dishonest. [Read more...]

Snatch This Disc Up – Now

Snatch Magnet
Screw, Nut & Bolt
Snatch Media
www.snatchmagnet.com

Snatch MagnetThey call themselves Snatch Magnet. Their logo is pink and – well – looks like a part of the anatomy that is germane to their name. They are literally begging everyone who is serious about music to ignore them. Then they release this rocking little EP that features some crazy cool music.

If there is a harder way to break a band than they are utilizing – I would like to hear it. By essentially disenfranchising half of the population, you have to really be phenomenal to get any positive attention.

Snatch Magnet – the L.A. based quintet is not phenomenal, but they are much better than you would ever expect. So much better that if they find a name that is marketable – they just might have a decent career ahead of them.

While their music has some derivative edges that make it sound like something you have already heard before, there is enough musicianship to carry the songs through.

The more I search for band names to give credit and make this piece as formal as I like to make it – the more I see these guys are just having fun and taking the name and the image and all of the oddness (and cheesy puns) and are having the time of their lives.

Maybe you should stop listening to me and start listening to them.

Stand Out Tracks
Multi-Girl
The One
Games