Monday, March 21, 2011

Album Review: The Strokes - Angles

When it comes to The Strokes, really one thing separates their great material from their merely good material: Melody.

You pretty much know you're going to get the same dead on the beat drumming and lyrical/riff-y bass parts. Julian's voice is always going to have pretty much the same new york/brit/euro faux soul style. There aren't going to be any harmonies. Albert Hammond Jr. is going to have some decent chordal solos and comping and Nick Valensi is going to have some pretty good leads.

All of that is here on Angles. What is very uneven is the quality of the melodies, which is why the album is pretty uneven. This is perhaps the band's best album performance wise, ever. Julian's voice is just as good, if not better than ever, and Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi have solidly progressed as guitarists. Two Kinds of Happiness and You're So Right contain, by far, the best guitar work on any Strokes songs and the guitar work is excellent throughout the entire album.

But listen to the lead single, Under Cover of Darkness, and then listen to any of the other songs on the album. The rest fall flat, because Under Cover of Darkness is the only truly great melody on the album.

What made Is This It so great wasn't particularly the sound or the image of the band, and it definitely wasn't the technical skill of the band, but that they had the melodies pouring out of them. That album isn't the best performed album you'll find, but brilliant pop rock melodies carried it.

Angles has a lot of the "well, Julian doesn't really have a good melody to sing, so he's just going to kind of randomly ramble in a slightly interesting way" that is the hallmark of The Strokes more mediocre material.

That's not to say Angles is a terrible album, or even a mediocre album, it's just good, and that's it. The musicianship holds a lot of otherwise boring songs up and keeps you listening. It's a very good "sounding" album, extremely well produced. There are some decent melodies on a few songs, like Taken For a Fool, not a great melody, but okay. Overall though, the album just doesn't captivate, it's merely pleasant and enjoyable. Which isn't so bad after all.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Album Review: The Cave Singers - No Witch

It's always a really exciting time when a band makes The Quantum Leap Forward. It seems these days few bands actually do it. The trend seems to be an amazing debut followed by a long string of the same or worse (think The Strokes). The Cave Singers seem to have just made the largest Quantum Leap Forward of any band in the last couple of years.

I won't spend a ton of time talking about The Cave Singers' past output. Suffice it to say it was generic soft folk rock that got really same-y in a hurry. It wasn't bad, per se, but it just wasn't much of anything to get excited about. They were kind of like an inferior version of early Iron and Wine mixed with Band of Horses at their most lethargic. The thing was that it seemed they had settled on their core sound. Something that a lot of bands these days seem to be in a real hurry to do. I more or less expected them to churn out the same album for the next 4 years and then dissolve into other random bands.

So No Witch came as something of a shock. I honestly can't even recall why I downloaded it in the first place. It was recommended by Amazon and I just kind of thought "oh yeah those guys, guess I'll give it a listen, I'm kinda bored with everything else that has come out this year, why not?"

Right off the bat, things sounded better than previous efforts. The first two songs, Gifts and the Raft and Swim Club, were more or less similar in nature to what they had been putting out, but better structured. Even though the first couple of songs were the same type fare, it was already obvious that they were doing their standard sound substantially better than before.

Then the third song, Black Leaf, dropped and it was obvious that this really was a different band. The driving riff behind the song is a very nasty dirty electric guitar riff that was about as far away from their previous vibe as you could find. The song reminds me a lot of a mix of Dead Confederate and the more driving moments of The Black Angels.

By this time we kind of see that the band's compositional ethos is pretty locked into place. Most every song is based around a guitar riff that's very droning and driving, and the band gradually layers more parts on top of it, keeping the riff driving the song throughout. They rarely stray from this formula, but they add enough flourishes that it works without getting boring. And this formula is versatile enough to support everything from soft acoustic folk numbers to driving rockers and everything in between.

The only major criticism of the album is that it never really, truly soars, it just smolders a lot. The band went more for atmosphere instead of having anything that's remotely single like. It's hard to criticize an artistic choice like that too much, but I do personally think the album would be a little better off with at least one big chorus.

As for other stand out tracks, Haller Lake is a fantastic song, and the album closes exceptionally strongly with the blues rocker No Prosecution If We Bail. Perhaps the best overall song (though the worst named song I can recall) is All Land Crabs and Divinity Ghosts. Haller Lake almost sounds something like if you blended up The Black Angels, Band of Horses and Bruce Springsteen's vocals and threw in a Melodica for good measure. All Land Crabs and Divinity Ghosts pretty much is the album in a nutshell. A driving rhythmic riff that slowly builds into a nice crescendo. No Prosecution If We Bail is just a stomp and holler blues rock driving classic ender. It reminds me a lot of Dead Confederate when they were in the process of transitioning from their days as a jamband named Redbelly. Which is my favorite period of Dead Confederate.

Overall, I think this may be the best album put out thus far this year. Along with Ana Calvi and British Sea Power.

Rating: 88/100