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The Heliocentrics: From The Deep

I picked up this album because the damn cover looked so cool. That seems to be the way I’ve been choosing new music, and for the most part, it has been working out nicely. 

I mean, look at this cover. How could I resist? It reminds me of Star Wars, and that was good enough for me to snatch it up. 

Anyhow, The Heliocentrics‘ latest album, From the Deep, is a confusing listen at first. There are 19 tracks in all, and most of them only last a couple of minutes at best. I sat on my couch wondering what the hell I was listening to. Jazzy, funky, bee-boppy… it sounded like a collection of ready-to-be-sampled excerpts for beatmakers.

It then hit me that I was listening for a song, rather than for an album. I guess once I made that mind shift, the record made more sense. 

As a whole, the album works in that it constantly changes and creates a new mood with each piece. Since the tracks are so short (save a few), I never got bored. The rhythms and beats are super cool to hear. I found myself thinking how cool it would be to sample some parts for songs. 

Check out “The Five Thing” 

Super. Cool. 

I can’t say this album is for everyone. Those of you wanting to hear vocals, or melodies, or anything remotely pop will most likely get bored of this record quickly. Those of you that enjoy experimentation in the genres mentioned above may embrace the performances on From the Deep. Just be prepared to say, “What? The song is over already?” to the majority of the tracks. 

I can’t say that this record will be in my regular rotation, but for now it’s a fun listen and a great inspiration for stretching myself creatively. From the Deep reminds me of the fun of full albums. Sometimes it takes a complete listen to get the message. That’s pretty cool on my book. 

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Izzy Bizu: A Moment of Madness

When I was a kid, my mom would drop me off at  Rhino Records as she went shopping. I’d have about $20 to spend as I like. Being a kid, my music knowledge was quite limited. All I knew was what my oldest brother played on his stereo. 

So I’d be there, staring at the endless shelves of records with nothing to buy. This made me quickly develop a sure-fire method of finding new music to hear: by judging a book by its cover. Yes, I’d buy the record with the coolest cover or name. 

This method led to the discovery of The Cure (Head On The Door), New Order (Brotherhood), among others. I still use this method today. 

So I picked up this featured album simply because I totally dig the artist’s name. “Izzy Bizu” just rolls off my tongue and sounds super cool.  Try it. 

I tell you- judging a book by its cover works. I’m still digging A Moment of Madness and I think I’ve played it 4 times through today. Izzy has a voice that reminds me of a cross between Amy Winehouse and Adele… the music could suit either of those singers as well. If you’re a fan of Winehouse or Adele, or if you like the soul/R&B/funk/jazz/pop, I’d highly recommend you take a listen to this record. 

To put it simply, A Moment of Madness has some good songs, some really good songs. For me, the standout track is “Mad Behavior.” It has an odd-time-gospelly-epicness that I can’t help but play again and again. Bizu cowrote every song on the record, and this song showcases the depth in her style. 

Izzy Bizu. Say it 10 times in a row. It’s fun. 

Then go buy this record. It’s awesome. 

Izzy Bizu links: [Official Site]

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Bruce Springsteen Nebraska Remastered Vinyl

I just picked up the newly remastered vinyl for Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen.

The only thing I have to compare this vinyl to is the original CD release of the album (which I felt sounded pretty darn good). I must say, this remastered vinyl is phenomenal. Much clearer, fuller, and wider in the stereo spectrum. Whether that’s what you like or not, I don’t know, but for me… I just sat back and said, “Wow.”

This remaster is a part of a box set that was released in 2014 titled Bruce Springsteen: The Album Collection Vol. 1 1973-1984. It includes his first seven albums:

Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. (1973)
The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973)
Born to Run (1975)
Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978)
The River (1980)
Nebraska (1982)
Born in the U.S.A. (1984)

These records are considered to be the most important of his vast catalog, I guess… I would have included Tunnel of Love because it was the first time he wrote about love relationships that weren’t clouded by the trials of earning a living, working for the man, etc.

I have yet to hear the rest of the remastered albums, but if they hit me like Nebraska did, I have an exciting time ahead to look forward to.

So if you’re a Springsteen fan, go pick up these releases. I’m glad I got this album on vinyl, as it’s always been something I’ve wanted. The whole vinyl experience enhances the listening experience, but that’s a different conversation for another time.

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Sally Jaye: Too Many Heartaches, Pt.1

We’ve been blessed with rain here in Southern California. Much. Needed. Rain. These rainy days keep me in bed and thanking the computer gods that laptops were created. I’m enjoying the crisp, clean air as I type this… spinning the latest Sally Jaye record, Too Many Heartaches pt.1.

“Waaaaaitaminute, there… Sally Jaye? That name sounds familiar!”

Yup. You should know that name because we wrote about Sally back in 2008 when I came across her album, Amarillo, one of my favorite albums of that year. I still listen to it every now and then, especially the title track… one of my favorite songs of the century so far.

0003685250_10Too Many Heartaches, pt.1 definitely continues my goobing-out over her music. I’ve been listening to it for a few weeks now (it was released earlier this month), and just like Amarillo, I just know that I’m going to continue listening to this record for a long time to come. The reason why it’s just “part 1” is because the sessions were actually split into two parts: one before she was pregnant, and one after she discovered she was with her first child. Jaye states in her bio, “I was beyond thrilled that I was going to be a mom, but I also knew that meant I needed to get some more songs recorded from this chapter of my life before I moved on to a whole new one.” She went back into the studio and recorded what became part 2 (to be released early 2015). “When I came back to record Pt. 2, I felt like yelling them out a little more versus the softer approach I was feeling in the first sessions,” Sally explains.

I was so excited when I got an email from Sally, telling me about the coming of this record. Ignoring all of the liner notes, I went straight to the music and lost myself for about 30 minutes. Opening with “Maggie the Superstar,” Jaye sets up an album that is acoustic and rich with color with traditional country flavors. The record captures Jaye in a storytelling mood, with characters that we all have lurking somewhere deep inside of us. There’s regret, there’s longing, there’s misunderstanding, there’s envy… perhaps things we don’t usually want to face or admit, but it’s there. It took me multiple listens to each song to find out what her message is to me, and you’ll probably experience the same thing. The interesting thing is, though, that I think each person will find their own meanings, as the lyrics paint such a broad yet vivid picture.

One thing I have always loved about Sally’s voice is that it doesn’t get in the way of the story. Dynamic in delivery, her vocal highlights the lyric, propels the song forward, and lets the listener sink right into the mindset of the protagonist.

She has such a pure voice.

My favorite track off Too Many Heartaches, pt.1 has to be “All I Ask For.” Poignant and sad, the song discusses a family’s tragedy and how they not only deal with it themselves, but also how they must still face the knowing public each and every day. Jaye writes, “I just want my messed up boy to be all right / That’s all I ask for.” I got sucked into the story immediately and played the track a few times in a row even before moving on…

Take a listen to “All I Ask For.”

The record closes with her interpretation of Townes Van Zandt’s “At My Window.” Jaye’s performance is subdued to almost a whisper. You won’t want to miss this performance.

I could write a 2,000 word essay on why I dig this record… and another 2,000 on why you should pick it up… but I’m not going to do that because all the words in the world do not compare to listening for yourself. Lucky for you, Sally Jaye is giving the album away for free.

“FOR FREE?” you say. Yes, for free. That’s all Sally wants for Christmas (via her Facebook page)… “Dear Santa – All I want for Christmas is a ton of people to download this record (it’s free). Oh and I’d also like a new pocket knife, some warm shoes (that aren’t Uggs, because I just have to take a bunch of crap from my husband when I wear those), and a really high quality large skillet. Thank you. – sj”

I’m guessing that most of you want to make Sally happy, so do the easiest thing on the list: download the record.

“Where do I download it???” you may be asking.

Click on the image and WHAMMO! You will be instantly transported to how you will spend the next 30 minutes of your life.

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Sally Jaye on: [Official] [Facebook] [Twitter]

Kings of Leon Come Around Sundown

[Review] Kings of Leon – Come Around Sundown


I once saw an interview with Daryl Hall and John Oates about how their careers exploded in the 80’s. They explained that in order to achieve the massive success they did, their music had to take the pop route. The two said this without any apologies or regrets, and I had the feeling that they were proud of it… which they should be… six #1 hits is nothing to scoff at.

Now, I’m not saying that every band needs to do what Hall & Oates did, but it’s something to think about.

It can be argued that Kings of Leon took that pop route with their previous album, Only By the Night. That record catapulted them into the stratosphere, selling over 6 million copies worldwide. The oddest thing about the record came from its reviews. Some thought it was excellent, while some thought it was not even worth the materials it was printed on. The split was so evident that, for me, it was hard to justify the Grammy award it was nominated for. Personally, I thought Only By the Night was a breath of fresh air for the band, and had no problem with the direction they went in. It was just a matter of time before a band like that could release an album like that.

They got the push they needed to achieve their goals, and who could argue with that?

So now we come to KoL’s latest record, Come Around Sundown. It’s natural to have high expectations for it, just as it’s natural to see which direction they follow… will they continue down the path of Only By the Night or not?

The interesting thing is that I can’t tell.

No matter how you look at it, KoL has evolved through the years. They’re bound to pick up new ways to write and new ways to hear music, but how far do you go before forgetting who you were? This record shows definite signs of change from their “old” sound to one that they’ve touched on in Only By the Night.

I’m not sure if they were trying to find a balance between the two, but Come Around Sundown leans more towards the “atmospheric” than anything else. The raw, “garage rock” quality is all but gone, and I can actually understand what Caleb Followill is singing.

But is this what the band is all about? Maybe not, but it’s what they’re about now.

I’ll say this up front: I did enjoy Come Around Sundown. I do think it’s a solid rock album with some good songs thrown in… there are ones that rise above the rest, and those are the ones that primarily carry the weight… but that could be said about any other record.

And maybe that’s the problem I’m having with it. I’ve been sitting here for the past few days, wondering what it is about the record that sets it apart from “any other record,” and as of this writing, I’m stumped.

After spinning the record for the past week, it occurred to me that while there are no spectacular songs on, Come Around Sundown, there are no awful ones that make me immediately reach for the fast forward button. I can’t tell if this is because I like the sound of the band on this record, or if the songs are keeping me around.

I can say this much… if I were to approach this record from a more stingy angle, I would only purchase “The End,” “Radioactive,” “The Face,” “Back Down South,” and “Pickup Truck.” In my opinion, these songs make the best of the direction KoL is headed down: “The End” is as huge as the title is final, “Radioactive” takes from what they were and puts it into the context of what they are now, “The Face” shows the delicate power they possess, “Back Down South” is just about the catchiest number on the record, and “Pickup Truck” sums it all up with one of the best melodies I’ve heard from KoL.

All these songs are drenched in reverb/echo, effects, and a grandeur that wasn’t as apparent before.

An honorable mention goes to “Mary” for trying to be different.

What seems to be missing from Come Around Sundown is the swagger from their previous records. LIke I said before, it’s fine to change the band’s sound, but to lose one of their most inviting qualities is a shame.

It could be that KoL was unknowingly trying to please everyone with this record… and if that were the case, they probably didn’t please anyone. I have a feeling Come Around Sundown won’t be as heralded as any of their other albums. I hate to say this, but the record makes me wonder if there’s an identity crisis going on within the band. How can they NOT want to included aspects of Only By the Night, the album that launched them into the global limelight? But on the other hand, how can they NOT want to remain true to their grassroots fan base, the ones that allowed them to keep working in order TO make an album like Only By the Night?

High expectations… it’s a tough thing to face and something that cannot be avoided.

Would I recommend Come Around Sundown? I would say that if you are a longtime Kings of Leon fan, you already know the answer to that question. If you don’t own a single KoL album in your collection, I would say that this is a good place to start, but not a GREAT place to start.

Should you like what you hear on Come Around Sundown and want to delve deeper into their catalog, you just might be disappointed, for it could give you misconceptions of who the band is.

Daryl Hall and John Oates had a great point about what needs to happen for a band to hit it HUGE… and Kings of Leon are a good example of that point in action. The question now is where to go from here? Where is that balance between the old and the new?

Once KoL figures that out, they’ll truly rule as far as their music can reach.

★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

Kings of Leon on: [Amazon] [iTunes]

Silje Nes Opticks

[Review] Silje Nes – Opticks


Music is one of the most abstract and intangible forms of art ever created by man. You can hear it, but you can’t see it, you can’t touch it, you can’t taste it, you can’t smell it… and despite losing four of the five senses, you can feel it deeper in your soul than you could ever imagine. It’s this quality that keeps us coming back for more, I think… it’s this quality that keeps us searching for that “perfect song” that defines our existence. I’ve been fortunate enough to hear a lot of music in my life… some good, some not so good… some weird, some not so weird… they’ve all affected me in some way, good or bad, they’ve all affected me in some way.

Silje Nes - OpticksSilje Nes‘s latest release, Opticks, challenged me in a way that I had not expected it to. I picked up Opticks based off the strength of the track, The Grass Harp,” and found myself transported into another sonic world that I hadn’t heard since my days at the UCSD music program.

One of the first thoughts in my head while spinning Opticks was that it was like trying to grab a fistful of water… it’s impossible to do unless you change the way you think about the water. Change the way you attack the problem and you will most likely find the solution.

Perhaps “attack” isn’t the best word choice to use when it comes to Opticks because it comes at you so subliminally that even if you wanted to attack it, you’d be punching air.

Opticks (referencing Isaac Newton’s 1704 book about the science of optics and the refraction of light) is an album that, in my humble opinion, must be heard with headphones on so that the listener can drift off into whatever state their mind takes them to. For me, it started off as a difficult listen because I was desperate to grasp on to anything that resembled the standard song structure I’m so familiar with (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus), but in the end I had to learn how to let go of all my preconceptions of how music should be and just realize that music should just BE.

Silje NesAnd that, my friends, is how I would approach this record. Should you decide to pick it up (Opticks is not for everyone, and I’m not sure it was meant to be for everyone), keep in mind those concepts… grabbing water… punching air… letting go… trusting that you’ll find solid ground when there’s none to be seen for miles… and knowing that the greatest thing about music is it’s ability to coax emotions out of you that you didn’t know you possessed.

Should you pick it up, give it time to sink into your head. I wouldn’t expect to fall in love with it on the first listen, but I think you’ll find it unique enough to want another spin. Opticks probably wouldn’t be my first choice… the thing about Opticks is that it makes you realize that music will and always be what YOU make of it. I believe everyone needs an album like Opticks in their collection because when it is heard, the listener will discover new ways to approach music that they perhaps did not think of before.

It would be a step into a larger world… and you’ll figure out how to successfully punch air.

★★★★★★½☆☆☆

Silje Nes on: [MySpace] [FatCat Records] [Amazon] [iTunes]

Tired Pony The Place We Ran From

[Review] Tired Pony: The Place We Ran From


There was a time when I did not understand the label of “supergroup.” These groups were those that included members from other, already successful bands… which is a big deal, I guess. But to me, a “supergroup” is just like any other, made up of people who love music and want to play music. Everybody has an itch to scratch, and everybody finds a connection with a number of people, not just one… so “supergroups” always made sense to me.

The problem with the label is that it immediately set the bar higher for these bands. It was as if a “supergroup” should automatically have super music… I’ve never found this fair because these groups created a different dynamic, which would thus result in different music. They’re making music THEY like because they have nothing left to prove, and that’s what matters.

Tired Pony is one of those supergroups. Made up of Gary Lightbody (singer, Snow Patrol), Richard Colburn (drummer, Belle and Sebastian), Iain Archer (songwriter, Snow Patrol), Jacknife Lee (producer for many artists), Peter Buck (guitarist, REM), Scott McCaughey (The Minus 5) and Troy Stewart, the band congregated together in Portland, Oregon in January 2010 to record their debut album, The Place We Ran From, in a one-week session.

The result is a record that found a way to soothe the savage beast.

Lightbody had originally set out to satisfy his desire to make a country record, but The Place We Ran From doesn’t exactly fall into that category. It could be considered more Americana than anything because of the rootsy feel filled with some fiddle, mandolin, slide guitar, accordion, and atmospheric effects… the sound is altogether peaceful, beautiful, and as comfortable as taking in a fire-red sunset on a porch swing.

A “twisted love letter to the States” is what Lightbody calls the album, and that’s pretty much the feeling you get as you listen through the 10 tracks. Imagine starting off on the northwestern coast, and taking off with no particular place to go except the opposite coast.

The album is almost cinematic in it’s presentation, which I think is exemplified in the very first track, appropriately titled, “Northwestern Skies.” The song crescendos and catches the trip already in motion… the camera swoops down from above, capturing your vehicle on an open two-lane road… the air is fresh and cool, with a brewing storm in the distance… you can see the lightening flashing off but you drive on… as the shot closes up on the back of the car, it moves to focus on you… your sunglasses on, your hair in the wind, and a smile on your face. There isn’t another car on the road for miles as you cruise into the storm with the line, “Girl you were beautiful before / But in the cyclone I love you more,” driving your purpose.

The song ends just as you dive into the storm, as if the only way you can make sense of it all is to throw yourself into the chaos.

“Get On the Road,” seems to pick up right where “Northwestern Skies” left off, effectively completing the opening one-two punch without a hitch. With lines like, “Your perfect chaos is perfect fit,” and “My route has scarred the country through,” propelling you forward, Lightbody and company appear to urge you on in this “love letter to the States.” I’m absolutely enthralled by these two songs. Their melodic repetition helps build the intensity and ultimately propels your determination.

It’s this visual sound that draws me into the record, and it’s the songwriting that keeps me there.

There are really only two uptempo moments and both happen in the album’s first half. “Point Me to the Islands” and “Dead American Writers” show that Tired Pony has that dimension within their songwriting, but I found the slower pieces far more compelling as they brought out the soul and source of the music. The hypnotic six-minute “Held in the Arms of Your Words” concludes the first half as Lightbody ties it all together by singing, “This is life, this is all I want from life / It’s the fervour and the tenderness combined.”

I will leave the second half of the cross-country trip up for you to discover. The majesty and romance of the road is still apparent… and should you take on the journey, I think you’ll be pleased with what you find.

The whole album seems to hinge on the delicate balance between the need to drive a point home without being too demanding. There’s a definite songwriting style going on… the repetition within the melodic lines comes dangerously close to muddying up the motion of the music… but that method makes each change within the song all the more welcome, so take that with a grain of salt.

The Place We Ran From is a solid listen, through and through. The music doesn’t take any risks in terms of deviating from the vision set forth in the opening tracks, and perhaps that’s a good thing because the record doesn’t call for that. It would be easy for me to say that The Place We Ran From is what Snow Patrol would sound like if the members played these particular instruments, but if you’re not familiar with Snow Patrol, then what does it matter? And besides, a good song is a good song, regardless of what artist plays it.

I would highly recommend The Place We Ran From if you want a record that can be played at any point of the day, be it as background music or not. It wouldn’t get in the way of anything that goes on, and in many ways it can enhance the moment in it’s relaxing sound. Sonically it’s gorgeous, so I do hope that you’d find the time to pop on headphones for the album’s duration.

Supergroups do have a disadvantage right from the get-go because of the expectations placed on them, but Tired Pony succeeds in sticking to a formula and by simply writing good songs. There are no flashy moments and nobody takes center stage. They’re here for the music, and that’s the reason these bands come together in the first place… that’s the reason why ANY band comes together. Supergroups are people, too.

Pick up this record and get on the road.

★★★★★★★☆☆☆

[Amazon] [iTunes]

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[Review] Sleigh Bells: Treats


I’m trying to write this review in the middle of a crowded room… kids are running everywhere, parents are trying to control them, there’s pandemonium in every corner of the room… my head is jam packed with attempts to focus… it’s crazy, it’s nonsensical, it’s pure pandemonium… and it’s the perfect setting.

You’re probably wondering where the heck I am. I’m right here, smack dab in the middle of this incredible sound that Sleigh Bells have created.

Made up of Derek E. Miller (songwriter, guitarist, producer) and Alexis Krauss (vocals), Sleigh Bells was formed in 2008 after Miller waited on Krauss and her mother at a Brazilian restaurant. After Miller mentioned that he was looking for a female vocalist to work with, Krauss’ mother volunteered her and the rest is a done deal.

Their sound has been described as “noise pop,” that blends punk’s attitude and feel with a pop sensibility. It’s quite an experience and has been one of the more distinctive sounds for me in 2010. After hearing their debut album, Treats, I think I could do the Pepsi Challenge and pick out their music from a bunch of others from the same genre. It’s THAT distinguishable.

If I could describe their music in a physical sense, it would be a repeated punch in the gut with a sledgehammer.

If I could describe their music in a visual sense, it would be Paul Bunyan using a jackhammer on the surface of that killer asteroid in the film, Armageddon.

If I could describe their music in a modern dance sense, it would be MC Hammer doing the River Dance on a field of land mines.

Notice that the running theme is some sort of hammer.

Treats comes at you with no hesitations, no reservations, and no excuses. It’s loud, and when I say “loud,” what I should say that it’s f***in’ LOUD. That’s really the only way to listen to this record. There is no “I need some background music, I think I’ll pop in Treats.”

There is listen or there is no listen.

What you’ll hear is massively distorted guitars, drums, and vocals. EVERYTHING sounds distorted, and EVERYTHING seems to push the limits of compression… and the thing is that it works SO well that it sounds as natural as a breath. The beats are extremely danceable, the riffs are heavy, and the vocals all have their own rhythm that either counters the drums or helps propel them forward. It’s such a unique sound right now that, if I wanted to find something like it, I wouldn’t even know where to look.

The songs are really quite minimalistic, relying on Krauss to carry the majority of the weight. Don’t get me wrong… Miller’s guitar lays the groundwork for the tracks, but it’s really Krauss that gives it personality and structure. She runs the table with dynamics, from being soft and sweet at the start of “Run the Heart,” to down right in your face in “Infinity Guitars.” I love that she’s not always on “11,” as it sets a nice contrast to the music at times. I think without her dynamic control, the album would have been TOO much to take.

And that’s the beauty within Treats. The music never seems to get out of hand… it stays within the now and seems to celebrate that. Taking a listen to “Riot Rhythm” makes me want to plunge myself into the craze and get blissfully lost. As each song passes, the feeling of, “Awww… play it again!” hits and what should take 32 minutes to get through takes well over an hour because of the constant repeating of songs.

Just about the only negative thing I can say about Treats is that after a while, all the songs start sounding the same… this is mainly because every song has just about the same tempo. I’d like to see them vary it up a bit with their next record. I think that’d give their music a wider range of emotion and direction.

For now, though, Treats is more than sufficient. It’s a revelation that makes me realize that louder just very well BE better. I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m highly recommending Treats. If you think you know loud, you have NO idea.

Once you hear it, your perception of extreme will never be the same again.

But don’t let that deter you. Don’t be shy… embrace it and it’ll do you wonders. Let Sleigh Bells give you a taste of what it sounds like to live like there’s no tomorrow.

It’s pure pandemonium, and it’s the most beautiful sound there is.

★★★★★★★★☆☆

Sleigh Bells on: [Amazon] [iTunes]

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[Review] Neil Young: Le Noise


One movie that has affected me more than I’d like to admit is 8mm. This movie made my skin crawl… it made me paranoid, made me sick, made me angry… it made me see the world in a different way for a short while… I remember forcing myself to calm down after viewing it… it had THAT big of an impact.

Even more of an impact that epic films like, Saving Private Ryan or Titanic.

The reason why I bring up 8mm is because even though it wasn’t an “epic” movie, it packed more of a punch than nearly anything I’ve seen since. I still remember that feeling, and to this day it send chills down my spine.

When I really think about it, the thing about that film that gets to me is that it makes me feel things about myself that I don’t want to admit. Somehow, director Joel Schumacher reached down into the depths of my soul where I keep all my closeted demons, unlocked the door, and unleashed them into my very being. It forced me to face things about myself… disturbing as it was, I had no choice but to stare them down.

Neil Young‘s latest offering, Le Noise has done the same thing to me.

In the 38 minutes it takes to get to the end, I felt like I was in a vacuum, spinning around with all these pieces of those demons flying about me… some stuck, some didn’t… it raged me like a bullet and I did nothing to stop it from happening… felt like if those pieces completely engulfed me, I’d be someone I’ve always wanted to be. It’s an incredibly fascinating sensation. I hope you’re not thinking, “Man, he’s gone off the deep end.”

Le Noise is a solo record that possesses one of the most harrowing guitar sounds ever committed to tape. There are no drums, no bass, nothing except Young and his guitar… but that sound… there are no words except to say that it’s to guitars as Johnny Cash‘s voice is to vocals.

The odd thing is, the most compelling moment for me is found on the delicate acoustic track, “Love and War,” as Young delivers one of his most revealing performances. The song appears to be another one about the perils of war, but it’s so much more than that. I took the lyric as Young’s reflection on his long legacy of lyrical topics, and about how determined he is to get his message across… you can hear the uneasy confidence of his voice throughout the song as he contemplates:

Said a lot of things that I can’t take back, and I don’t even know if I want to
In songs about love, I sang songs about war since the backstreets of Toronto
I sang for justice and I hit a bad chord, but I still try to sing about love and war

It’s this self-realization that reminds me of 8mm. It’s hard to admit your faults, your deepest secrets and regrets… even to yourself it’s hard… but in the end, you try to push past it all and keep on doing what you’ve always done. If we do give into our demons, then what else is there to live for?

What all this amounts to is a record that can be seemingly digested in one sitting, but then after you’re done, you realize that you didn’t quite taste it all. Sure, you got the basic ideas – Young takes on subject matters like self reflection, global politics, love, and the degradation of the human spirit – but there’s far more going on than meets the eye (ear).

I get the feeling that after 33 solo studio albums, Young is ready to do it all again… but this time, he really means it, if that makes any sense.

Would I recommend Le Noise? Let me put it this way… I think it’ll end up somewhere on my “best of 2010” list. For those of you already familiar with Young and have been following him up to this point, the record will give you a jolt, that’s for sure. It’s unlike anything I’ve heard from him in the past decade, and could very well be a rebirth of sorts. Producer Daniel Lanois has found a way to match the music with Young’s intentions, and the results are truly something to marvel at.

Just like 8mm, Le Noise is not pretty. There’s no glossiness to it… at times it’s darn right difficult to hear. It’s probably not an album that you’d ever sing to, that you’d ever relax to, it’s not even one that you would play for anybody else but yourself… but it’s a powerful record that, should you spend time with it, will be that sign on the door that says, “Enter If You Dare.”

Whether to proceed is entirely up to you. It is my hope that you do and don’t look back.

★★★★★★★★½☆

Neil Young on: [Amazon] [iTunes]

History of Modern

[Review] OMD: History of Modern


“There’s a big difference between playing the fans’ favorite live and daring to stick your neck out to make a new album,” says Andy McCluskey, one founding member of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. The other half, Paul Humphreys, follows up in agreement, “we toured for a few years and we thought that we just can’t keep on playing live trading on our former glories and we kind of got bored not having anything new to play, really” (Spinner.com, Sept. 2010).

When I think of OMD and how vital they were to the growth and evolution of electronic music, I wonder what was more difficult for them: to make that first record or their latest, History of Modern? After a 24-year wait to make a new record with the original line-up of Paul Humphreys, Andy McCluskey, Martin Cooper and Malcolm Holmes, would they still play as important a role in music as they once did?

So much has changed since this OMD line-up made any waves with their 1986 record, The Pacific Age. What OMD once experimented on has become the norm. What set them apart from the pack is now the pack. How does one innovate what they innovated?

But on the other hand, what does it matter?

When it comes down to it, it’s the song that matters, and in my opinion, that was always OMD‘s strongest attribute… the experimentation was great, but none of that would have made a difference if they didn’t put together the songs around it… and OMD wrote some great ones.

I was debating whether to write this with fresh ears or if I should relate it to OMD‘s catalog, and I decided that it would be more productive to come at it with their past in mind. This original line-up has been gone for 24 years, which is a whole person past the legal drinking age, but that doesn’t necessarily change who they are or how they write… it’s been my experience that a songwriter rarely changes their writing approach because that process is as much a part of them as walking.

I’ve always considered OMD as the well-adjusted sibling of Depeche Mode. While Depeche Mode is dark and depressing, OMD is much lighter, more innocent, and a hell of a lot happier. Keeping this in mind, History of Modern is a step in the same direction but with a few caution signs thrown in along the way.

It’s hard not to listen to History of Modern without thinking of this quote from McCluskey, “The early records were our best records and once we started to worry about selling enough records to pay the mortgage then the albums, quite frankly, weren’t all that” (Spinner.com, Sept. 2010), and that idea carries through in the opening track, “New Babies, New Toys.” I think this song not only speaks volumes of where OMD is now creatively, but it also sets up the album well in terms of what you’ll hear.

These choice lyrics make me wonder if “New Babies, New Toys” is all about OMD‘s record label dealings:

“They don’t want you, they don’t need you, they just use you, they just bleed you”
“There’s no heaven, there’s no hell / Cream will float but shit will sell”

This is definitely an OMD with more attitude. Perhaps that innocence is lost, which makes them that much more interesting to me.

Building off this sense of doing what they want to do, the album plays as though they were trying to capture each phase of their long career:

There’s the nod to the pop: “If You Want It,” “History of Modern (Part 1)”
The nod to the earlier, more “exploratory” days: “Sister Marie Says,” (written back in 1981) “Bondage of Fate,” “New Holy Ground”
A nod to what they’ve missed: “The Future the Past and Forever After”
And a nod to where they see themselves going: “Pulse”

This list obviously doesn’t cover all the songs, but that’s part of the fun with the record: trying to figure out where each song fits. Because of this, the track listing is bit disjointed with the anchor being a consistent sound that is undeniably OMD… the mix of the organic with lush synth, the sound effects, the Casio-type of tippy-tap drums, and the often cryptic lyrics that make you wonder if you could figure out what they’re talking about, would you finally know what Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark means?

OMD split personalityIt is also because of this disjointedness that makes each song a necessary part of History of Modern. If there were a “greatest hits” package of new songs that nobody has ever heard of before, this album would be it.

I can’t say that every track is killer, as I’m sure there will be ones that are frequently skipped. What I can say, though, is that History of Modern is definitely a record that isn’t a quick listen.

Would I recommend History of Modern? I’d say yes if you’re already a fan of the group. If you’re completely unfamiliar with OMD, then what I would do is start with Architecture and Morality, Dazzle Ships, or The Pacific Age… if those albums are to your liking, then History of Modern will undoubtedly satisfy you.

Personally, I’m thrilled to see OMD back at it again. They helped synthesizers, samplers, and sound effects find their respective places in music, and they wrote some classic songs. McCluskey explained, “ultimately, we had to make a record that would be worth listening to. Let’s face it — there are a lot of bands from our era that did the stupid thing and made a new record and they didn’t have anything to say” (Spinner.com, Sept. 2010).

I, for one, am glad that OMD still has something to say. It would be great if a new legion of ears gets turned on to their music… hopefully History of Modern helps everyone (re)discover their history of past.

Ok, that last bit didn’t quite work, but you know what I mean.

★★★★★★★☆☆☆

OMD on: [Amazon] [iTunes]