Thursday, October 11, 2007

MySpace Music Discovery: Standfast

Visit Standfast on MySpace Here

There is something very welcoming and familiar about Standfast's music. Just a few seconds after discovering their MySpace Page, my ears easily drank in the new but familiar sound of their featured tunes. How do I describe this experience? It felt like I'd actually stumbled upon a page presenting an artist with years of experience behind them; musicians that might've toured with bands like the Mama's and the Papas. They definitely make the kind of music that could've filled the psychedelic airwaves about 20 or so years before my time.

Standfast is a band that gives an obvious nod to many groups of the past. But, of course, their music is crisp and far from cloudy or stale; they're not just recreating someone else's work. Standfast makes sure to add the more "modern" beats in all the right places so that they work well with the accompanying vintage rhythms. This is how they've put their own signature on this somewhat mellow but modernized happy hippie music. And, last but not least, I can't forget to mention lead singer Suzanne's voice, which is like the perfect pair of shoes that make any outfit worthwhile-the outfit being the music. It fits the band's image just right, and it makes their music what it is.

As for brief bio info, Standfast started making music a few years ago in the place they call home, Stockholm, Sweden. With one album already behind them, they recently released their second one here in the US entitled, Beneath and Beyond; I believe it was this past August. There are more details on their MySpace site, which I highly recommend you check out. Standfast has created the kind of music that reviewers will often fail at fully capturing in words, but that's a good thing in this case.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

CD Review: The Cake Sale

Here are a few songs from The Cake Sale:
Last Leaf and
Some Surprise


When you think of a dessert, what comes to mind? Something to satisfy a craving; something that leaves you wanting more of it, even if you’ve already had “enough”; something that tastes best handmade--when it’s been put together with the kind of ingredients that complement each other perfectly. The Cake Sale offers all these attributes in a record. It’s sweetened with just the right amount of emotion, and you better believe it took a lot to make it that way.

You try getting a bunch of Ireland’s notable musicians together so that you can cram all their talent into a little 9 track record without leaving gaps or making a mess. It’s a tough job, and it was successfully accomplished by many, including a few musicians we recognize here in the United States. Take the familiar voice we heard in a few early Damien Rice tracks, Lisa Hannigan… Let’s not forget to mention Gary Lightbody, Snow Patrol’s leading man, along with the well-known voice of a gal we recognize from the Cardigans, Nina Persson. Yep, these artists and a few others are on here, and they’re sounding better than ever.

The Cake Sale’s cover looks delicious, so you’d expect the music on the CD to sound just as tasty. It does. I’d say some of the best tracks on there are “Black Winged Bird,” “Some Surprise,” and “Last Leaf”. All these songs are smooth, sounding natural and earthy—far from heavy, in both the emotional and musical sense. This release can easily be classified as mellow folk, with a few hints of rock thrown in for spice.

As far as the story behind The Cake Sale goes, it’s actually a “charity” album, created with the intention of raising money for a Make Trade Fair Campaign headed by Oxfam Records—The Cake Sale’s record label. Just because the money this CD brings in is going to support a worthy cause, it doesn’t mean the artists are skimping on the music quality they’re offering supporters. In this case, both parties benefit. The Cake Sale will not be a disappointing buy; it has already gone double platinum in Ireland!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Band Review: Rilo Kiley Album Wars!

Wanna hear a few of my favorite Rilo Kiley songs? They're each taken from the albums I mention in this entry:

More Adventurous
and
Under the Blacklight

Ok...so I have to admit, I was actually introduced to this Rilo Kiley band a few years back. A friend of mine was/is a big fan and it seems I didn't appreciate the group's music much until now. Back then, the few clips I did hear consisted of Jenny Lewis talk-singing in a one-notch-above-whiny voice that didn't appeal to me, but since then, I discovered she also sings! I'm glad I didn't give up on the band altogether. If we, as individuals, change with time, then why wouldn't a group's overall sound also change? There are some bands that I just can't stand, mostly the ones with incoherent, insincere lyrics and beats, but Rilo Kiley wasn't and isn't one of them. I admit, they do have a special place on my playlist now.

So what's this about Rilo Kiley Album wars? You might ask. Well, being that I am an Amazon.comer (I use it to check out the ratings of books/music I want to purchase) I couldn't help but come across Rilo Kiley's latest work, Under the Blacklight. By the time I actually read the reviews, I already had the album--thanks to MySpace (I decided that if I liked the few songs they showcased on their page, it was worth my time to listen to the rest of 'em).

Well, they didn't get the 5 stars, not even 4, sadly. The couple of other albums they released beforehand seemed to make the cut with the amazon.comers, but this one didn't. Some of the reviewers mentioned that this album was to popified, for lack of a better term; it simply was a perfect example of how a good indie band goes bad by selling-out to a more familiar but boring sound. They miss the old Jenny, this one was too modern for them; I have to admit, Under the Black Light's lyrics aren't as fabulous, as some mentioned. I'd even say that at times, they're just a little too lustfully raw in a sort of unclassy, distasteful way.

But, another confession, I love the first couple of tunes. Not-so-great lyrics aside, the first few songs on the album make me wanna do a combination of a skip and a dance; their happy sound is contagious and catchy. But it seems Rilo Kiley ran out of ideas toward the end, where they tried to give a brief nod to the 60s, or maybe 1970s...one of those eras. It's also evident that their general instrumentation and song arrangement styles are a little less country and a tad more rock and roll--another change that might've disturbed some of the long-time fans.

And the conclusion? New-comers to Rilo Kiley might just find their latest music fun, while long-time fans will find it flawed. I'm somewhere in the middle. I appreciate Under the Blacklight, because I can see how Rilo Kiley was trying to go somewhere new with it. Even though they might've gotten a little lost along the way, it's obvious they're still a worthwhile band. More Adventurous, their previous release, does a fine job of capturing the band's song-writing ability and uncanny "skills".

All in all, I think Under the Blacklight deserved 4 stars instead of 3.5. Like I said, those couple of songs were pretty darn mood-boosting, so they should get the spotlight, it's just too bad the other colorless songs seemed to hover under a blacklight.

Friday, September 14, 2007

CD Review: Shivaree


Tainted Love: Mating Calls and Fight Songs

Ambrosia Parsley, lead singer of Shivaree, still has her peppy but mysterious voice that makes me think of a more refined Betty Boop, but this recent release is a little different from the rest of the band's albums--maybe a bit more elegant while still being comfortable and sincere. Of course, I think Ambrosia's voice is wonderful, and that cartoon reference wasn't an insult at all, it's part of the reason why I find Shivaree's music so appealing. How would I describe their sound? Like a fresh salad served on fine china next to the rotting head of cabbage resting on a paper plate (the cabbage being the not-so-tasty music of so many other girl-led bands).

Shivaree has the ability to take rock, dress it up with just enough fun so that it's not boring, and soften its rough edges so that what results extends beyond any limited musical genre. Tainted Love is easy to listen to, without being easy-listening; it offers the edginess of Shivaree's more alternative side, along with polished, jazzy, and modern rhythms. This combination makes for a perfectly eclectic album that won't have you wanting to skip from one song to another. For instance, "Cold Blooded" is soaked in the happy roughness of a hyped up electric guitar and it's featured right before "Looks That Kill," a mellow but classy tune that brings a 60s mystery movie theme song to mind. I can't forget to mention "Shame On You," which stands out as a fun surprise because of its country-western feel that doesn't conjure up images of a scruffy John Wayne riding on a horse. Shivaree even ventures into the world of R&B, giving a much needed and successful make-over to R. Kelly's original, "Half on a Baby".

I have yet to find a song on this release that disappoints me. Yes, Tainted Love: Mating Calls and Fight Songs gets a star and happy face in my book, which is much better than an A+; it's definitely an album worth checking out and purchasing legally!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

MySpace Music Discoveries: Annie Stela

Annie Stela: She may be young, but she definitely has the pipes and lyrical know-how it takes to create a song that's less refined than a ballad, but definitely more elegant than a top-40 tune.

Annie Stela's first fans were probably college students, since her musical career began right about the time when she started college over by the Great Lakes. As her MySpace page explains, she kept it simple. Stela began touring with just her piano, but her voice really is an instrument on its own.

It can be said that Stela's music tends to resemble a meaningful homemade card over a store-bought Hallmark. Sincerity overrides the cheesiness factor, even in the love song that I referred to earlier, the one I just can't seem to get enough of, "It's You." There is also something about the piano, and even though its sound brings to mind Fiona Apple, it has a different ring to it. The chords are a bit softer along the edges, maybe more romantic. The singer behind the music is also worth mentioning. While still keeping its overall femininity, Stela's voice is deep but not dark and brooding. It steers clear of angst, but doesn't come anywhere close to detestably peppy.

One of the other songs on her page, "Breathe Through," is a bit more complicated than "It's You." The first line already invites the listener into someone else's world. Stela draws up images and awakens feelings with words that animate a story. Its somewhat sorrowful message is accurately captured in the actual piano-playing and fluctuating high and low notes bearing the vulnerable lyrics. "Fool" reveals Stela's ability to incorporate other instruments appropriately. It keeps a faster pace than "Breathe Through" but it still shares its personal tone, as the lyrics confess regret. The climax of the song would have to be the piano solo toward the end, where Stela's talent is allowed to shine without blinding.

Annie Stela will soon be releasing her first album, but from what I've heard on her MySpace page, she definitely doesn't sound like a newbie. The years of practice behind the piano have definitely paid off, and I'm sure in a few months they literally will. I'm looking forward to hearing what else she has to offer.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Band Review: Iron and Wine

Sub Pop has kept me satisfied as the record label for many of my favorite independent artists and groups, including Iron and Wine. Sam Beam is the man behind it all. Soulful and simple, with vocals that are often sung barely above a whisper, he can create music that resembles a simple lullabye that's been dressed up with delicate notes and smooth lyrics. Iron and Wine's songs unfold like stories, each one has its own individual theme while still maintaining the folky essence that gives Beam's music its character.

"Waiting for a Superman" does a good job of highlighting Beam's ability to create uncomplicated beauty without needing anything more than his soft spoken voice and a lightly played guitar. "Such Great Heights," featured on the Garden State Soundtrack, does the same as The Postal Service's well-known and primarily electronic jam is taken down a couple of notches so that it sounds more like a timeless piece from the past rather than a new track.

Iron and Wine's songs have a personal quality about them without being too emotionally heavy. Listeners will be drawn-in and maybe even taken-back to another time while a banjo and acoustic guitar each play their part in conjuring up a sense of nostalgia within them. Even though they only have a few albums under their belt, it's apparent that Sam Beam's Iron and Wine value quality over quantity, as each song reflects a good investment of time and talent.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

MySpace Music Discovery: Feist

This summer, I happened to stumble upon Feist's MySpace page and was delighted with the discovery. She's been around for a little while, and she's also a former member of Broken Social Scene. I don't keep up with them, so I guess that's why I didn't hear the news about her decision to start anew as a solo musician.

When it comes to Feist's voice, Doris Day comes to mind, but there's definitely more vibrato in there, and even a bit more scratchy sultriness. Still, she has that classic voice that makes her sound older than she really is. But don't let the description of Feist's voice being that of someone more mature turn you off, because she takes a youthful approach in creating music that's paradoxically vintage while also being refreshingly new. At unexpected but appropriate times, Feist creatively incorporates the intricately manipulated sounds of various instruments and musical devices. The music they create complements her voice as it adds character to the often lightly poetic and usually amusing lyrics.

Sometimes sounding like stories, and other times resembling songs that could be featured on a fairytale, Feist's tunes give a nod to the past while definitely including the originality and newness that combine to give good music its trademark description.

Monday, April 9, 2007

CD Review: Goldfrapp

A mix of electronic fun and girlie grooves, Goldfrapp, the group, have all the elements to ward off monotonous sounds of boredom with their latest release, Supernature. I'm only sad that they haven't made it off the TV commercials and onto the radio, at least here in the US.

I'm glad my ears have had the chance to get acquainted with Goldfrapp's abstract but still fluid flows. Alison Goldfrapp's voice illuminates sound waves as she throws in a couple of lyrical twists and turns without leaving listeners dizzy and lost. I'd even go so far as to say that she's quite the performer. Goldfrapp's vidoes sometimes make the songs even better; the crazed costumes and appropriately outlandish computer graphics definitely add to their sparkle and glimmer.

Still, their songs wear more than the usual amusing and catchy labels. Goldfrapp can also do mellow, as "Time Out From the World" would imply, but it's songs like "Lovely 2 C U" that'll give listeners a real adrenaline rush. Somewhere between a party soundtrack that offers innovative background music and a complex industrial rock album that might keep dancers searching for new moves, Goldfrapp's latest release is one that can easily be appreciated by many.

Goldfrapp offer ear candy without leaving the rest of the senses jealous; going into the Goldfrapp world is quite the experience for any fan, and I'm definitely one of them.
Click here to watch her interview

Saturday, April 7, 2007

CD Review: Until June


Straight out of Southern Cali, Until June aren't literally waiting until June to release their first self-titled release. It'll hit the shelves on April 17th. Also, thanks to MySpace, I just discovered that they've made the new tunes available on virb.com, but just for a short time! So, to all you fans who can't wait until the 17th, check it out; it's free and the sound quality is pretty crisp. If you don't know what Until June are all about, and you want a written description before you let your ears take the plunge into their pop-rock infested world of pianos and sincere lyrics, well, you've come to the right place.

I'm tuning-in to their new album right now, and I'm content with what I'm hearing. Covering the emotional highs and lows, without getting overly-sentimental or stereotypically sappy, Until June steer clear of tumbling down the bubblegum-pop road. How do they do it? Well, for starters, every song exposes something honest about them; it's almost as if they've composed a musical diary that's been purposely kept unlocked. They're spiritual guys, but their songs don't overtly reveal their beliefs. It is thrown in there a few times, though, especially in songs like What I've Done, where the lyrics go something like I'm alone/and I'm ashamed/hold me in your arms/now I'm sorry for what I've done. Even for those who consider themselves strictly secular music listeners, they're presenting an issue any human being can relate to: Forgiveness.

Until June aren't limited, they can keep it simple and true in regards to the lyrics; there are also those other less thought-provoking but still ear-satisfying songs, like Sleepless, one of my personal favorites. It's upbeat and fun without being covered in sugar; oddly enough, the lyrics actually express a story of lost love served with a side of regret, but there's no indigestion afterward! Until June are pretty full of surprises in how they choose to combine lyrics and tunes to create their staple sound, a mixture of soft piano key strikes accompanied by lead singer Josh Ballard's distinctive California beach boy voice. These two elements combine well enough to create a tasty musical cocktail that serves to set them apart from the world's flavorless music makers.

 

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