Saturday, January 30, 2010

Review: Contra by Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend
XL Recordings
Release Date: January 8, 2010

I never thought I would be reviewing the Number One album in America. Typically, my music taste leans heavily toward the “indie” realm and all of its bountiful offshoots, and as a result, the album sales are never quite as numerous as the pop ubiquity of the day. Vampire Weekend are the miniscule intersection of this hypothetical Venn diagram, and have accomplished this feat without sacrificing what makes them such an interesting breath of fresh air in the musical landscape.

Vampire Weekend burst onto the indie landscape (and everyone’s hard drives) in 2008 with their near-perfect and critically-acclaimed eponymous debut. Their brilliant blend of Afro-pop, infectious pop-rock and sound songwriting (albeit with interestingly obscure references interspersed throughout) made it impossible to stop playing, earning them droves of followers eagerly anticipating what they might compose next.

Enter Contra, the ever-important sophomore effort that sees the band refine what they do so well and build upon it further, the exact kind of combination one would hope for in an ├╝ber-hyped follow-up album. Opening track and lead single “Horchata” is the perfect bridge between albums, as it melds their signature, charming chamber pop with sparkling keyboards that make for an effervescent trip. “White Sky” can be simply summed up as irresistible and playful, with Ezra Koenig’s frivolous falsetto at the forefront of the chorus.

The tried-and-true works great, but their attempt at the previously unknown is laudable, as well. Possibly a tad outdated but better late than never, Koenig purposely abuses Auto-Tune on “California English” to create a speedy, memorable little number. The horn flourishes that punctuate “Run” make the build-up well worthwhile, whereas the sun-drenched pop bliss of “Giving Up the Gun” make it one of the stronger efforts on the album.

The best part about Contra is that every song does something interesting, and as such, one’s favorite song can change at any given time. Contra is an impressive sophomore album by one of the more exciting new bands out there, and when every song is this accessible and addicting, it makes it awfully difficult not to succumb to their musical mastery.

Vampire Weekend - "Cousins"

Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, January 29, 2010

Nick's Top 10 Songs of All-Time

10. “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows” by Brand New “The Quiet Things…” sowed the seeds of my affinity for intensely emotional music, “emo” if you will. Maybe it’s the heartfelt verse, or the gang shouting in the chorus, or the intense bridge build-up that sees Lacey affirm “I lie for only you / I lie well, halleluh”, or possibly the nostalgia and adolescent angst associated with this song, but for whatever the reason “The Quiet Things…” simply appeals to me on a very emotional level. There’s no Dillinger-esque technicality, M83-like ethereal appeal, or even inventive song structure, however the implicit emotional significance of music doesn’t need to be justified through critical means.

09. “Under Pressure” by Queen & David Bowie “Under Pressure” is quite simply amazing, the fruit of two artists who were at their imaginative peaks and collaborated to pen one of the most commercially successful songs of all time. The track is synonymous with the smooth opening bass line, but the androgynous vocal performances from Freddy Mercury and David Bowie steal the show. The lyrical content of the song deals with the notion of universal love, with Bowie eventually surmising that “Love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night / And love dares you to change the way of caring about ourselves.”

08. “Frequency Ass Bandit” by Botch Botch’s “Frequency Ass Bandit”, initially titled “Frequenting Mass Transit”, was my first foray into the wonderful world of math-core; a genre rooted as much in technicality and musicianship as brutality. The first half of “Frequency Ass Bandit” is good albeit unspectacular; however the auditory beatdown really begins at the 2:30 mark when guitarist Dave Knudsen (now in Minus the Bear) busts out a torrent of creative riffs before finishing with a breakdown that would make the likes of Ivan Drago quiver in fear.

07. “Planning a Prison Break” by The Receiving End of Sirens Although they disbanded in early 2008, The Receiving End of Sirens left an indelible mark on the alternative/post-hardcore scene with their 2005 debut ‘Between The Heart and the Synapse.’ “Planning a Prison Break”, the second track on the album, clocks in at over five minutes (although the music video release is shorter) and elicits thoughts of genre giants Thursday and Brand New, but distances itself by displaying an artistic ingenuity that those bands lack. “Planning a Prison Break” exhibits no identifiable structure, instead choosing to meander between different genres and arrangements before eventually concluding with an arresting chorus of voices belting “This is the last night in my body, yeah…” on seemingly infinite loop.

06. “Ode We Will Bury Ourselves” by Moving Mountains Westchester, NY-based Moving Mountains combine elements from Brand New and Explosions in the Sky to craft “post-emo” that tugs at the heart strings.” “Ode We Will Bury Ourselves” follows this formula and unites grandiose guitars, horn parts, and Gregory Dunn’s rangy vocals to shape one of the most epic songs of all-time. Dunn’s lyrics are evocative yet mysterious, as we’re left to wonder whether he’s referring to a lost lover, God, or a deceased friend through lines like “And I am in the earth and you’re in the sky / And nothing will change what you are.” The song concludes in dramatic fashion with a harmonized a cappella rendition of the above lyrics before fading out to nothingness.

05. “43% Burnt” by The Dillinger Escape Plan “43% Burnt”, the second track from 1999’s ‘Calculating Infinity’, is the most brutal, frenetic, and dynamic song of all time. The track opens at break-neck pace, immediately introducing the listener to The Dillinger Escape Plan’s use of mind-numbingly complex time signatures and guitar arrangements. Dmitri Minakakis’ patented bark complements the haphazard instrumentation very well and pushes the brutality meter to unprecedented levels. Everything before the three minute mark of “43% Burnt” is just gravy though, since the minute-long breakdown that closes the song serves as the apex of hardcore music.

04. “Nerdy” by Poison the Well Poison the Well’s milestone 1999 release ‘Opposite of December…A Season of Separation’ all but created the post-hardcore genre with its inclusion of timeless songs that juxtapose melodic and screaming vocals with ample guitar breakdowns and double-bass rolls. Admittedly, “Slice Paper Wrists” was the song off ‘Opposite of December…’ that first drew me in, however “Nerdy” has stood the test of time. The last minute of the song is pure hardcore bliss, interspersing one of the most brutal breakdowns of all time with the romantic yearning of singer Jeffrey Moreira: “Time slows down when / you look at me / I’m infatuated with this / Infatuated with you.”

03. “The Canyon Behind Her” by dredg Anyone who has seen Salvador Dali’s famous painting “Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening” inadvertently knows the inspiration behind dredg’s 2002 land-mark album ‘El Cielo.’ The first minute of “The Canyon Behind Her” contains a sparse slide guitar amid Japanese whispers that instruct the listener to view Dali’s painting while listening to the song. From there the track utilizes a sonic wall of guitars to lay the foundation for Gavin Hayes’ incredibly emotional vocal performance. Hayes eventually croons “Though half of me gone / the lonesome part is there / I cannot find the other half” before yielding to a chorus of chants that slowly dissipate upon the song’s conclusion.

02. “Run into Flowers” by M83 “Run Into Flowers”, in contrast to songs like “43% Burnt”, garners its magnificence from subtlety and nuance rather than bombastic technicality. The third track off 2003’s ‘Dead Cities, Read Seas & Lost Ghosts’, “Run Into Flowers” is awash in multiple layers of warm synthesizers and digital strings. The track evolves seamlessly from beginning to end, managing to lull the listener into a transcendental state. A knee-buckling build-up around the two minute mark is the song’s high point as M83 brainchild Anthony Gonzalez murmurs “Give me peace and chemicals, I want to run into you” below the pulsating synthesizers and swooning electric violin.

01. “3 Libras” by A Perfect Circle Perhaps the most moving and utterly emotional song of all-time, A Perfect Circle’s “3 Libras” completely changed my perspective on music. A Perfect Circle was my “bridge band”, providing sophisticated yet accessible songs that opened the floodgates for my interest in progressive music. Off 2000’s ‘Mer De Noms’, “3 Libras” capitalizes on vocalist Maynard James Keenan’s earnest and vulnerable delivery as well as a beautiful strings section to create a truly tear-inducing experience. The last minute of the song, in which Maynard repetitiously belts “You don’t, you don’t, you don’t see me” above a swell of hazed out guitar licks and orchestral ensembles, is the most cathartic moment in the history of music.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Nick's Top 20 Albums of 2009

20. Harvard - The Inevitable and I


The most underground selection on this list, Harvard is a band based out of Charlotte, North Carolina that sports a sound eerily reminiscent to Circa Survive and Coheed and Cambria. Vocalist Jesse Clasen belts out effeminate vocals akin to Rush's Geddy Lee while guitarists Jason Shaw and Lee Herrera play atmospheric and effects laden riffs that would elicit a smile from Circa axeman Colin Frangicetto. "Deliverance" is the strongest song on the album and packs a punch while the title track "Inevitable and I" is a soft acoustic arrangement that ends the record with a mellow feeling. Harvard's debut was produced by Brian Mcternan, the man behind Circa Survive, Thrice, Senses Fail, and Cave-In, which is only appropriate considering fans of the aforementioned will surely adore Harvard.

19. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion


A bit overrated? Yeah, definitely. However, there is no denying that ‘Merriweather Pavilion’ is a truly experimental effort worthy of plenty of praise. Already their 8th LP, Animal Collective have really come into their own on ‘MPP” by creating an original selection of dream pop tracks that flow seamlessly in and out of each other. “My Girls”, the album’s most popular song, typifies what you can expect from ‘MPP’ – five minute long tracks that straddle the line between keyboard-infused pop and whacked out psychedelia. “Bluish” is the strongest song on the album and features the lyrics “I'm getting lost in your curls/I'm drawing pictures on your skin, so soft it twirls”, an apt analogy for it albums imagery-laden and dreamy instrumentation.

18. Closure in Moscow - First Temple


The Aussie quintet's debut 'First Temple' is one of the most original and interesting albums of the year due to its fusion of music that is both progressive and accessible. Best described as The Mars Volta on downers (i.e., not as retarded), Closure In Moscow have normal song structures but manage to spice things up with amazing guitar work and melodic vocal harmonies. "Sweet#hart", despite the extraneous pound sign, is the catchiest song on the album and a good starting point for most. "A Night At The Spleen" is my personal favorite and upholds The Mars Volta comparison as vocalist Christopher DeCinque attempts his best Cedric Bixler impression. On the whole if you're looking for a progressive record that is sophisticated yet accessible with a pinch of post-hardcore check out 'First Temple' and you won't be disappointed.

17. Telefon Tel Aviv - Immolate Yourself


Telefon Tel Aviv's third LP, 'Immolate Yourself', builds upon the electronic/IDM influence purported by 'Map of What Is Effortless' and 'Fahrenheit Far Enough', however the emotional, gloomy nature of their music is more apparent than ever because of the unfortunate death of band member Charles Cooper. "The Birds" opens the album and is without a doubt Telefon Tel Aviv's magnum opus, a 6:38 second affair that features hypnotic rhythms, ethereal synths, and the repeated lyrics "The birds remind me of what we made/The birds remind me of what remains." The first minute of the song also includes a mumbled whisper that can't help but inspire thoughts of Cooper and his death: "The science of your days is laid bare, boiling in the sun, for all the world to see." The rest of 'Immolate Yourself' struggles to measure up to the brilliance of "The Birds", however "M", "Mostly Transculent", and the album's title track are all solid efforts as well.

16. Russian Circles – Geneva


Russian Circles first garnered my attention in May 2008 with the post-metal sound of their sophomore release 'Station'. Their follow-up, 'Geneva', is an album that improves on its predecessor in every way and packs a notable punch. Album openers "Fathom" and "Geneva" represent two of the most brutal tracks by the band to date, while "Melee" starts off slow but eventually gives way to a crescendo of guitar and percussion by songs end. Bassist Brian Cook especially shines on the first three tracks (most notably on "Geneva") by weeving heavy, low-tuned grooves between Mike Sullivan's guitar melodies and Dave Turncrantz's drum rhythms. "Hexed All" marks the turning point of 'Geneva' as the band abandons metal for more traditional post-rock stylings. "When The Mountain Comes to Muhammad" is the star of the second half of the album and wouldn't be out of place on a Mogwai record.

15. Converge - Axe To Fall


Listening to Converge's 'Axe To Fall' is like taking a brick to the face - and man does it hurt so good. The Massachusetts-based mathcore band continues to cement themselves as the preeminent act in the genre with the 7th LP since their inception in 1990. Be warned, 'Axe To Fall' is not for the faint of heart as it pumps ferocious instrumentation, grating vocals, and morbid lyrics into a thirteen track adrenaline-fueled frenzy. The album opens up at break-neck pace, with "Dark Horse", "Reap What You Sow", "Axe To Fall", and "Effigy" each containing the technical guitar meedling, spastic time signatures, and patented Jacob Bannon bark that lend Converge their identity. Some of the most rewarding tracks on the album come in the way of "Worms Will Feed", "Cruel Bloom", and "Wretched World", longer works that ditch high-speed proficiency and Bannon's typical scream for slower, more epic build-ups and toned down vocals. 'Axe To Fall' features numerous guest appearances, including contributions from members of Genghis Tron, The Red Chord, Hatebreed, and Cave In. All told, 'Axe To Fall' is another terrific installment in Converge's catalog and a must-listen for any fan of hardcore music.

14. James Yuill - Turning Down Water For Air


London-based James Yuill began the year in obscurity but ascended to relative popularity thanks to plugs from and most recently Starbucks. His debut 'Turning Down Water For Air', released in May of this year, caught my eye thanks to its catchy, albeit sparse mix of folk rock and electronica (folktronica?). Fans of Phoenix and The Postal Service will immediately resonate with Yuill and are sure to love tracks such as "No Pins Allowed" and "This Sweet Love", two of the album's best. 'Turning Down Water For Air' emphasizes Yuill's vocals, which are subdued yet emotional. His lyrics don't try to solve world hunger but are instead poignant love ballads that any adolescent or young adult will find relatable. "No Surprises" is certainly no exception, as Yuill sings "If you want me, I will be right here/And if you love me you will notice me here." 'Turning Down Water For Air' was one of the best surprises of 2009 and an effort that most, especially fans of the hybrid indie/pop/electronic craze, will enjoy.

13. Antony and the Johnsons – The Crying Light


If there was a winner for most striking album artwork of the year, ‘The Crying Light’ and its black and white depiction of 1970s butoh dancer Kazuo Ohno would take first prize. It stands alone on its musical merits as well though. Antony and the Johnsons is comprised of singer Antony Hegarty and his backing musicians, both of whom collaborate to fashion what has been described as “baroque pop”, a vocal-intensive style of music with delicate strings and orchestral samplings in the background. And make no mistake, Hegarty is what makes ‘The Crying Light’ great. “Epilepsy is Dancing” makes full use of Hegarty’s glorious voice in its discussion of the inexplicable pain and aural wonder (if you can believe it) caused by epileptic seizures: “Cut me in quadrants/Leave me in the corner/Oh now it’s passing/Oh now I’m dancing.” Hegarty’s vocal crescendo on the album finale “Everglade” is near tear-inducing and leaves the listener with a sense of wonder and amazement about how emotional the human voice can be.

12. Thrice – Beggars


Thrice has come a long way from their 2001 debut ‘Identity Crisis.’ At the time they were a generic post-hardcore band trying to make a name for themselves, however with ‘Beggars’ Thrice, much like Brand New, has cemented themselves as one of the elite alternative bands around today. Upon listening to ‘Beggars’ it is easy to notice stylistic similarities to the ‘Earth’ and ‘Air’ sections of 2008’s ‘The Alchemy Index’, particularly on tracks such as “Circles”, “Wood & Wire”, and “Beggars” that sound like something off a Radiohead album. “All The World is Mad” and “At the Last”, while good songs, are the only remnants of circa-2003 Thrice to be found on ‘Beggars’ and serve as telling evidence of the band’s progression.

11. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest


Grizzly Bear’s ‘Veckatimest’ was one of the few albums of 2009 that deserved its critical reception and hype, promoting what I can best describe as minimalistic foggy folk rock. Tracks like “Ready, Able” and “While You Wait for the Others” put the listener into trance, tricking us into believing there’s more to it than vocal harmonies and a guitar strums. Perhaps that’s what makes Grizzly Bear so good though – they don’t overextend themselves, and instead stick to a ‘Pet Sounds’ style folk rock that is intensely satisfying. The album’s best and most accessible is probably “Two Weeks”, which opens up with a piano lick that sounds very similar to Jay-Z’s “It’s a Hard Knock Life.” ‘Veckatimest’ isn’t recommended for all audiences; however those appreciative of a little nuance and subtlety with a dash of pop will come away satisfied.

10. Passion Pit - Manners


To put it succinctly: Passion Pit’s ‘Manners’ is probably the most addicting album of the year. The Massachusetts-based electro-pop quintet managed to create an album that, unlike MGMT’s ‘Oracular Spectacular’, provides a full listening experience rather than just a couple catchy singles. There isn’t one skippable track on ‘Manners’, every one managing to meld Michael Angelakos’ unich-esque bellow betwixt catchy synth pop melodies. My personal favorite is in a perpetual state of flux; however “Sleepyhead” and “The Reeling”, the album’s first single, are a great starting point for potential listeners. I can’t honestly conceive of someone disliking ‘Manners’, so if you’re not short of hearing please check this album out.

09. Future of the Left – Travels With Myself and Another


Look up a definition of the word “badass” in the dictionary and you’ll be sure to see mention of Future of the Left, a sometimes brutal, often times catchy, yet consistently hilarious punk band from Cardiff, Wales. I’d be hard-pressed to describe what ‘Travels With Myself and Another’ actually sounds like ( has “noise rock” as the top genre recommendation) – I don’t think I’ve heard anything like it before. Instead, I’ll offer this bit of advice: turn the volume up to 11 and rock out to the gravelly vocals, heavy as fuck bass lines, and driving keyboard arrangements. “You Need Satan More Than He Needs You” has ridiculously heavy synth beats and pummels the shit out of you. “Throwing Bricks at Trains” is a bit easier on the sensibilities and is also inexplicably hilarious: “Slight/Bowl movements/Preceded/the bloodless coup/But no one/must know it/I am at fault.” Overall, if you like a band that is heavy, catchy, and doesn’t take itself too seriously, check out Future of the Left and their new record ‘Travels With Myself and Another.’

08. Paper Route - Absence


Paper Route, fresh off a world tour with Paramore, combine musical elements from Mute Math, Coldplay, and M83 to form a rare brand of ambient-electro-rock that propels their full length debut 'Absence' to #8 status in 2009. Perhaps the most impressive thing about 'Absence' is its diversity. "Last Time" sounds like a B-side off Coldplay's 'Viva La Vida...', "Carousel" channels 'Frengers'-era Mew, while "Gutter" opens with a distorted beat that could be confused for TV on the Radio's "I Was a Lover". The strongest tracks on the record include "Good Intentions", "Last Time", and the finale "Dance On Our Graves", which closes the album with an electric violin solo that is arguably the best minute of music in 2009. Any fan of the abovementioned comparisons will find something they like in ‘Absence.’

07. dredg – the Pariah, the Parrot, the Delusion


I owe my entire musical taste to dredg. They’re the band that grasped me from the throngs of generic radio rock and unveiled the beneficent world of progressive music. Needless to say, I was freaking excited for June’s release of ‘the Pariah, the Parrot, the Delusion’, and thankfully the Bay-area prog rockers didn’t disappoint. “Pariah” opens the record in epic fashion and conjures thoughts of 2002’s ‘El Cielo’, while tracks such as “Saviour”, “Information”, and “I Don’t Know” could easily pass as top forty singles. The second half of the album features a bit more experimentation, especially “Long Days and Vague Clues”, a 1:53 funhouse thrill ride complete with bombastic cellos and violins. The versatility of ‘the Pariah…’ is its strength, but also its downfall, as the album seems to lack continuity at times. dredg’s brand of progressive pop rock on ‘the Pariah…’ should sit well with fans of Circa Survive, A Perfect Circle, and U2.

06. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix


I was a little late to the Phoenix party so it’s likely that ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’, with a little more time for absorption, could have been as high as 2 or 3. “1901” and “Lisztomania” are their two big singles and serve as extremely catchy electro-pop tunes; however I would struggle to call them the album’s best since their isn’t one throw-away track on ‘Wolfgang…’. “Fences”, “Rome”, and “Lasso” are all great and stick to the formula of the two singles, however “Love Like a Sunset” stands out as the album’s best, a seven-minute instrumental epic that rises and falls like the tide. Fans of Passion Pit, MGMT, and Empire of the Sun will definitely love ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’ and should give it a listen.

05. Brand New – Daisy


Make no mistake, Brand New's 'Daisy' is a dark and uncomfortable album, one that lulls the listener into a false sense of security before delivering a jarring helping of angsty Jesse Lacey screams and distorted guitar riffs. The CD's first track, "Vices", encapsulates this notion perfectly, opening with a vocal track reminiscent of Edith Piaf before eventually segueing into a veritable torrent of dissonance. The progression to 'Daisy' further confirms the reality that 'Your Favorite Weapon' era Brand New is gone, dead in the past. They have distanced themselves from the ubiquitous emo scene and established themselves as true progressive artists, deserving a place right next to the Radiohead's of the world thanks to their originality and creativity. "You Stole", one of the best tracks on the album, confirms that Lacey is still a champion of deep and cryptic lyrics, as he yearns "So if I'm a liar and you're a thief/At least we both know where the other one sleeps/So let's end this tonight." “Noro” is one of the best album closers you’re going to find, eventually closing with the same Piaf-like intro that lead into “Vices”.

04. Every Time I Die - New Junk Aesthetic


What happens when you combine math metal, southern rock, and hardcore influences into one nice little 37-minute package? Everytime I Die's 'New Junk Aesthetic' of course, a sonic assault that bludgeons the listener with tight, heavy riffs and Keith Buckley's perfect scream and genius lyrics (which cannot be emphasized enough). Tracks like "Who Invited the Russian Solider?" and "White Smoke" precipitate a sense of alarm and urgency thanks to Buckley's wonderful delivery. "For the Record" is the album's best and features Buckley's exclamation, "Lord have mercy on my soul/I've had a good run but can't run anymore/Just put me down", amidst one of the band's most brutal breakdowns to date. "White Smoke" and "Goddamn Kids These Days" follow a similar thread while "The Marvelous Slut" is a short number that features Greg Puciato of The Dillinger Escape plan on guest vocals.

03. Portugal The. Man - The Satanic Satanist


The quarter from Wasilla, Alaska must be bionic or something. July's release of 'The Satanic Satanist' makes four LP's and one EP in a meager four years. "People Say", album opener and lead single, is an anti-war anthem that harkens images of 1960s Vietnam protests and college campus sit-ins. The song is catchy and well-written but does not over stay its welcome, a consistent theme among all eleven tracks on 'The Satanic Satanist'. "Work All Day", Guns & Dogs", and "Everyone Is Golden" are all very accessible and contribute to the Beatles-type classic rock vibe present throughout. "The Home" is my personal favorite and an ode to the soul-infused numbers on 'Censored Colors' and 'Church Mouth'. Singer John Baldwin Gourley stands out as much as ever with his effeminate and helplessly melodic croon, especially on tracks such as "The Sun". Portugal. The man does not attempt to reinvent the wheel with 'The Satanic Satanist', but instead provides extremely catchy and light-hearted pop tunes that any person would enjoy.

02. Mew - No More Stories Are Told Today I'm Sorry They Washed Away No More Stories the World Is Grey I'm Tired Let's Wash Away


An extremely long and pretentious album title is the only fault evident in Mew's 'No More Stories Are Told Today I'm Sorry They Washed Away No More Stories the World Is Grey I'm Tired Let's Wash Away.' The Danish rock trio's most recent release is a natural progression from 2006's 'And The Glass Handed Kites', combining pop and shoegaze elements to craft an album that would be equally suitable for a late-night listening session or a car ride with some friends. 'No More Stories...' remains remarkably consistent throughout and is bolstered by a whimsical, almost child-like pop/ambient sound that is extremely difficult to categorize. "Repeaterbeater", the band's most recent single and a good place to start for those unfamiliar with Mew, is a pragmatic if not depressing track about lost love that has lead vocalist Jonas Bjerre emote, "Sometimes I've got nothing to do/Nothing to signal out when I can't be with you." "Silas The Magic Car", "Hawaii", and "Sometimes Life Isn't Easy" also round out the album's best.

01. The Dangerous Summer - Reach for the Sun


The unequivocal zenith of 2009, 'Reach for the Sun' is a once in a life time record that is heartfelt, sincere, and evocative. The album's foundation is Jared Palermo's lyrical content and intensely emotional vocal delivery which resonates increasingly with each listen. The instrumentation is catchy, rife with hazy guitar licks that serve as an admirable supplement to Palermo's vocals. The band initially comes off as “pop punk”, however several songs in it becomes obvious that ‘Reach of the Sun’ is something more. "Where I Want To Be" deals with introspection and a lost lover and concludes with Palermo's realization that "I'm learning now that I was wrong in everything/And that's the reason why I think that I can grow." "The Permanent Rain" has more weighty subject matter as Palermo discusses his deceased grandmother and her effect on his music career with "You know I've lost a lot/But I won't let this die/You know I've got this friend up in the atmosphere/Another reason not to fear the sky." 'Reach for the Sun' is quite simply one of the best vocal and lyrical records of all-time. The album is very accessible and a must listen for everyone.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Some News

Hello, Friends! Here's yet another attempt to turn Cassette Musique from a barren wasteland into a functioning part of society.


Apparently, Kings of Leon want to do more than just use somebody; They're aiming to use everybody. Enter the KoL clothing collection. Wish they thought of this last month, would've made for a much better Christmas; Although I probably would have had to think long about which I wanted more, the $100 bandana or the $1200 leather jacket. Who the fuck are they kidding? Even before this desperate money-grabbing attempt, I realized my mistake in putting them on the top albums of last year. My bad, we all make mistakes. Coincidentally, Kings of Leon are such assholes that they don't even like themselves. At least they know that no one likes them. Here's to hoping that they break-up before the world has to deal with another endless streak of completely over-played singles.

Saruman - The Metal Wizard

Christopher 'Saruman' Lee: Classically trained theatre actor, award-winning film star, badass metal frontman? Yup. At the age of 87, Lee has decided to portray Charlemange the best way possible ... by telling the first Holy Roman Emperor's story with the help of Rhapsody, a symphonic metal band, backing him up. Here's a bit of an explanation by the man himself. While this is without question hilarious, Sir Lee definitely deserves some props for being this old and willing to rock out with his cock out. As a matter of fact, the Man with the Golden Gun is actually a metal veteran after having worked with Rhapsody before as well as Manowar in previous years. The album, which is entitled 'Charlemange: By the Sword and the Cross' (SOOOOOO METAL), is due out on March 15th and will feature the music of Italian composer Marco Sabiu. Experience the Epic.

M.I.A. Coming Back With Power Power

After over 2 years of anticipation and 5 months of being in the studio, M.I.A. has revealed that she is very close to finishing her follow up to 2007's Kala. Whereas Kala was definitely a hipster-dance record that focused heavily on the beats, the English artist has said that the new album will be more "honest" and less "... gimmicky or silly or hipstery" than its predecessor. M.I.A. has also promised that the yet-to-be-named LP will feature a little more singing than the last after stating how she "...just stopped singing on the last one because I put more emphasis into production, so I was more about making beats and sang less on my last album." Speaking of beats, M.I.A. has been working closely with producer Blaqstarr this time around; According to her, Blaqstarr "simply makes music that sounds good, and I needed that." The record is planned to come out sometime in the summer and will include the track 'I'm Down Like Your Internet Connection,' which will feature Filipino Verizon Workers as guest vocalist ... Obviously.

That should tide ya over for a bit, till next time.

Devin's Top Fifteen Albums of 2009

Hello everyone my name is Devin and this is my first post on Cassette Musique. I am here to make sure the scene bands and hardcore bands are well represented on Cassette Musique since many of the bloggers are largely indie fans. Also expect lots of As I Lay Dying news from me in 2010.

With that here are my favorite albums of the last year:

15. The Chariot- Wars and Rumors of Wars
The Chariot is a strange band to say the least. With their chaotic style they certainly aren't for everyone and they are an acquired taste to say the least. This album is nothing more than an improvement from their last album, it has the same chaotic nature but also some heavy breakdowns which is very lacking in their last two albums. This cd has a better quality recording than the others and a tighter sound especially since their first album was recorded completely live. This album they have tried to progress and stay true to their sound and they do a great job of that.

14. Motionless in White- When Love Met Destruction
Motionless is a new sextet trying to be unique in the seemingly over played post-hardcore and metalcore genres. Their use of the synth in their songs isn't even out of the norm any more since many other hardcore bands have added that to their regular instruments. There is something about this band that sets them apart though and it's tough to tell unless you listen to them, they have emo-like hooks and some very brutal breakdowns heavy enough for any hardcore band. They have two vocalist they split up the parts pretty well so that the clean parts are catchy and the heavy parts are brutal. They're doing their own thing and managing to be unique when most reviewers say it's impossible in the post-hardcore genre today. Fueled by their energetic live show and very real personality on stage they are quickly moving up in the ranks in the hardcore community.

13. Dethklok- Dethalbum II
Dethklok is a joke band from the show metalocalypse and in the show Dethklok is big enough to be its own economy. They may not be quite that big in real life but one thing's for sure, the writers of the show, Brendon Small and Tommy Blacha sure know how to rock. This album serves its purpose by being funny but it is also a very enjoyable metal album. The riffs are fast and heavy and the same can be said about the drums. The album, like the first, sounds a lot like a death metal album but some parts have a hint of old heavy metal in them like pantera especially in the song "The Cyborg Slayers." They also changed the vocals a little more on this album from the last. Dethalbum I was a metalocalypse album but Dethalbum II is a Dethklok album. Brendon Small and Tommy Blacha really stepped it up this time with the second installment in the Dethklok anthology.

12. Mayday Parade- Anywhere But Here
This is Mayday Parade's second full length album and first without former vocalist/ guitarist/ lyricist Jason Lancaster who is now in the band Go Radio. It is clear that the writing style changed without Lancaster's genius and is not quite up to what it used to be. With that being said, this is still a great pop punk album with plenty of catchy hooks and emotion in their songs. This is also their first major record label album as they recently signed to Atlantic Records. It is clear that this is a very well produced and mixed album, each recording is very clear and crisp. Mayday Parade may be taking a more main stream approach but they can still write songs for us to enjoy and sing along to.

11. Taking Back Sunday- New Again
Many people have not liked a TBS album since Tell all Your Friends and that's actually quite sad. Taking Back Sunday is a band that has grown and matured a lot since 2002. They aren't the same girl crazy teenagers that wrote their first album and they couldn't repeat it again if they tried. Lead singer Adam Lazzara is much older now and no longer is the whiny teenager he used to be. This album is much more solid musically and the instruments are much better. Lazzara's vocals have also gotten much better and he shows off his vocals on this album. Along with have a more mature sound TBS also hasn't lost their powerful and catchy choruses.

10. Dance Gavin Dance- Happiness
Dance Gavin Dance underwent a major change when Johnny Craig left the band and their new singer became Kurt Travis. This album completed the change from Craig to Travis and helped them find their new sound, something they were not quite able to do on their previous record. This album has a continued high level of complexity in the guitar parts makes you wanna get up and dance but also kept the post-hardcore aspect for most songs. They also lost former member Jon Mess and guitarist Will Swan took over on screams and this actually turned out to be an improvement on this album. Dance Gavin Dance has also never been one for lyrics but in this album there are a few songs like "Tree Village" where the lyrics are almost actually good.

9. Manchester Orchestra- Mean Everything to Nothing
Manchester Orchestra was a new find and a pleasant surprise in 2009 thanks to my good pal Ryan Klaeysen. Manchester Orchestra has a very well put together album in Mean Everything to Nothing, there is a good mix of slow and upbeat songs fueled by the strong and passionate vocals of Andy Hull. He actually said that he smoked a pack of cigarettes a day to give himself a raspier voice on this album. Manchester Orchestra likes to have clever lyrics which is obvious from their first album Like a Virgin Losing a Child. Altogether, led by Andy Hull, Manchester Orchestra is a very talented new band with a very good and fitting sound done perfectly on their newest album.

8. Set Your Goals- This Will Be the Death of Us
After almost exactly three years of waiting and more than a few band's worth of trouble with record labels Set Your Goals finally signed with Epitaph Records and released their second full length album This Will be the Death of Us. Set Your Goals really pushed the envelope with this album, they held nothing back. With plenty of fast paced punk drum beats and classic gang vocals they also really let their hardcore influences show much more in this album. They brought their instruments to a new level and had a small army of backing vocals for this album including big names like: Hayley Williams of Paramore, Vinnie Caruana of the Movielife and Chad Gilbert of New Found Glory. Overall, Set Your Goals used their time off and struggles over the past few years to help them write a solid album.

7. All Time Low- Nothing Personal
All Time Low's new record came along with a lot of hype especially since it had a powerhouse cast helping write and produce it including one of All Time Low's idols Mark Hoppus of Blink 182 and +44. This is easily their most well produced album and will cater to a mainstream crowd better than their previous albums. A few tracks on the album were not received well by loyal fans including "Hello Brooklyn" and "Too Much." Luckily the other songs are catchy enough and put together well enough that All Time Low is still sitting on a hit album. They have become a poster child for MTV and 2010 is supposed to be a busy year for the already rapidly growing pop punk band from Baltimore and this album did nothing but help propel them toward their goals.

6. Brand New- Daisy
I love this album. I hate this album. It's fast. It's slow. It's hard. It's soft. Brand New has come out with by far their most up and down album yet. It doesn't even start out hard and end softer it's just up and down all throughout. They have yet again avoided a label or definition being put on them, something people have had a hard time doing since 2003 and the release of Deja Entendu when they left their emo pop punk sound behind forever. Brand New clearly makes music they like and do not care about what the fans think, but likely they usually come out with awesome stuff. Luckily, this album was no exception. Some of their hardest and softest songs ever recorded by Brand New are on Daisy and they have continued to write awesome songs and surprise and amaze their fans. Daisy is said to be the last studio album by Brand New and they certainly have gone out with a bang, quite literally.

5. The Devil Wears Prada- With Roots Above and Branches Below
The Devil Wears Prada didn't change too much from their first album to their second, because i guess, why change what works? The vocals have become tighter and more controlled in this album which is good because it sounded like lead singer Mike Hranica was gonna cough up a lung every time he screamed in their previous album Plagues. Although I said they didn't change things too much it still was a new effort by TDWP, the breakdowns are new, the hooks are new and they even have one song with entirely clean vocals. TDWP used their talents well in this album and were able to mature while keeping their trademark sound and still adding new twists and spins onto their new songs. Overall, very solid, you can't say too many bad things about this one.

4. Silverstein- A Shipwreck in the Sand
Silverstein's new album is their first concept album, a story written by singer Shane Told. It starts off with a crew on a ship looking for resources in a new land but loses faith when they don't find anything and turn on each other. The story then moves to a family whose house burned down and cannot collect insurance money or move to America to start a new life. The recurring theme is of failing relationships. This album works well as a concept album but the songs stand well on their own as well. It is clear they spent lots of time on this album and Shane Told does a great job of writing each song. His vocals have come a long way over the past ten years and this album is probably his best performance yet. All the normal Silverstein elements of clean and screaming vocals are here along with other elements like spoken word and gang vocals. This album is likely their best effort yet and all around a great album and definitely Silverstein's most prized possession.

3. Thrice- Beggars
Thrice has come a long way since their post-hardcore days and have grown a lot. They aimed to make a more upbeat album with Beggars after a very slow and soft effort in The Alchemy Index. Thrice has continued to move in a more experimental album and although Dustin Kensrue does not scream like the previous albums he has lots of strength and power in his voice throughout the album especially in tracks like "The Weight" "At the Last" and "Talking Through Glass." They have progressed in their sound even from Vheissu and it shows in this album as some of the instrumentation is something they could never have done years ago. Thrice is a band of four extremely talented musicians and anything they come out with has been done well and Beggars is no exception to that rule.

2. A Day to Remember- Homesick
Almost the entire year I tried to deny it but Homesick was my second favorite album of the year. It was my most played album of the year and there really is not a weak track on the album. ADTR mixed it up a little with more clean vocals on this record than their previous one For Those Who Have Heart. This left the album less formulaic and assessable to many people which has helped sky-rocket them to become more popular than even most pop-punk bands and one of the hottest bands in the scene as they have been selling out stage after stage. I was fortunate enough to start listening to ADTR since their first album And Their Name Was Treason which is when I fell in love with them and this album only helped that love grow. The album is well produced and they did a great job of writing the songs especially since they did a lot of it on the road. ADTR will always have a spot close to my heart.

1. The Dangerous Summer- Reach for the Sun
2009 was a good year for music but also a frustrating one since just about every album on my top 15 needed a few listens before I started to like them, some I even disliked on the first listen. The Dangerous Summer, however, I fell in love with the first time through and that love only grew from there. Lead singer and bassist A.J. Perdomo has a unique but yet familiar voice that has a slight rasp to it and is very powerful and appealing. Their instrumentation and maturity is astounding for a new band and they have shown they have much more talent than most of the bands they have toured with. There is not a bad track on this album and it is put together extremely well especially for their first studio album. This album just captivates you and keeps you listening. They are already musical giants when compared to the other bands around them right now in the scene. They are still fairly unknown but most people who hear them fall in love with them and A.J.'s attractive voice. They also put on a great live show and are certainly a band to watch in 2010.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Ryan's Top 15 Records of 2009

Just when you thought it was safe to leave '09 behind, prepare for another obligatory "Best of" list! So, after yet another long hiatus, I return to give you my TOP 15 OF 2009!

But First, here's a couple albums that were close to making the list:
- Dark was the Night Compilation
Rain Machine - Rain Machine
Simian Mobile Disco - Temporary Pleasure

15. Set Your Goals - This Will Be the Death of Us
After finally managing to reach a buy-out agreement with Eulogy records and settling with Epitaph, Set Your Goals finally brought fans their sophomore effort in the form of This Will Be the Death of Us. Clocking in at about 40 minutes, this 12 track long record gives you exactly what you would expect and want from SYG - fast-paced melodic hardcore that starts the second you press the play button. The one thing that sets Set Your Goals apart from most other bands in the genre is still apparent in This Will Be the Death of Us, their ability to maintain focus and drive throughout. Granted the whole Hayley Williams freak-out thing during the middle of ‘The Few That Remain’ is a bit retarded but, overall, SYG takes what made Mutiny great and builds on it in their second offering.

14. Mt. St. Helen's Vietnam Band - Mt. St. Helen's Vietnam Band
The debut album from this Seattle quintet has proven to be one of the better indie releases of the year. After establishing a humble fan base by putting out a couple joke PSA videos, Mt. St. Helen’s Vietnam Band has definitely delivered on the promise that their self-titled would give listeners, “ … smooth sounds of indie-prog-math-pop-rock.” Yeah, it did.

13. MF Doom -
Born Like This
I'm far from knowledgeable when it comes to hip hop. Honestly, I really don't listen to too much unless I hear about some ridiculously amazing stand-out in the genre. This year, that stand-out for me was MF Doom's Born Like This. Under the pseudonym of 'Doom,' he has released a record filled with grim, fierce rhymes with topics ranging from a plot to take down the entire legal system to his apparent personal fear of fading out of the music scene. Plus Raekwon and Ghostface tear shit up at points in the album, so that's pretty baller. For a taste of the album, check out the tracks 'Absolutely' and 'Cellz.'

12. Converge -
Axe to Fall
Converge again proves why they are considered pioneers of metal and hardcore as they provide their fans with another album which can be perfectly described as a shit-kicker. Every song is insanely intense as the bands tears through each track with furious, heavy rhythm and blistering guitar work. Obviously, this can be seen immediately in the form of Axe to Fall's first three offerings let alone the entire album. Axe to Fall also has a bit of a 'softer' side too though with tracks like 'Worms Will Feed,' 'Cruel Bloom,' and 'Wretched World' which evens the record out a bit.

11. Them Crooked Vultures -
Them Crooked Vultures
Not much about Them Crooked Vultures can be said that you wouldn't expect from a supergroup that consists of 3 (needless to say) extremely talented individuals who, if they have not already obtained it, approach the status of rock legend. Together, Homme, Grohl, and Jones have released a modern rock album which completely and totally captures the essence of the genre. Think of TCV as the modern day, balls-to-the-wall version of ZZ Top with obvious measures of Led Zeppelin and Queens of the Stone Age. If you need a single example of the epic quality of this album, look no further than the 7 minute behemoth that is 'Elephants.' This track alone proves that not every supergroup ends up like Audioslave.

10. Brand New -
Brand New is able to create an amazingly dense feeling of loneliness and anger with Lacey's use of imagery throughout his lyrics as well as the bands heavy, calculated movements withing each track on the album. With each offering, Brand New grows in maturity musically and lyrically as they take their sound on Daisy to areas out of the ordinary playbook with songs like 'Be Gone' and 'Vices', which is an unusually harder song for the group. Also, at certain points of the album, it's evident that they are continuing to advance further and further toward elements of post-rock that are akin to Mogwai.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!
When the Yeah Yeah Yeahs released their well-received EP Is Is in 2007, most fans believed that the same, familiar YYY sound could be anticipated for the upcoming full-length. This assumption was a little off when guitarist Nick Zinner showed up to the recording studio with a carload of old synthesizers. When I first heard this news, my faith in It's Blitz! is, without question, one of the catchiest albums of '09. Once again, Karen O proves her worth as one of rocks leading ladies as she switches between the sexy and playful wailing of dance tracks like 'Zero' to the more intimate, emotional cuts like 'Soft Shock' and 'Runaway.'

8. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Pretty obvious pick considering that Phoenix has always been awesome and Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix has only helped them become a household name.

7. Arctic Monkeys - Humbug
Throughout Humbug, Turner shows just how much his songwriting continually matures with each album. This is especially seen in the best track on the album, 'Cornerstone,' in which Alex uncharacteristically obsesses over a lost love. As is usually the case with the Arctic Monkeys, the rhythm section is brilliant and once again makes you wish that you were at least half as talented. The smooth bass and pounding, steady drum which are showcased in 'Crying Lightening' are without a doubt some of the best work the band has ever had to offer.

6. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
When I saw Dirty Projector's live near the beginning of the year opening for Tv on the Radio, it was undeniable that they were a fucking amazing band. The only problem was when I trying to describe their style to people and having to resort to pinning them solely as 'indie.' This doesn't do any justice in describing the multi-layered arrangements and intricate guitar work which could be found in each song they turn out. Also, it's impossible to discount frontman Dave Longstreth's out-of-the-ordinary vocals which are greatly enhanced by the amazing harmonies between Amber Koffman, Angel Deradoorian, and Hayley Dekle.

5. Major Lazer - Guns Don't Kill People ... Lazers Do
After looking at their combined resume, it's not really a stretch to see why DJs Diplo and Switch have created one of the best albums of the year. After working with artists like M.I.A., Santogold, and Basement Jaxx, the two have combined forced to create an eccentric and catchy as balls record under the guise of Major Lazer, a Jamaican commando who lost his arms in the secret Zombie War of 1984 ... apparently. This infectious blend of reggae and electronica kicks off with the rumbling, western-like bass line of 'Hold the Line' and doesn't let up until all 13 of the flawless produced tracks are said and done. While it is one of the best tracks on the album, the only bad thing about the record is the vomit-enducing music video for 'Pod De Floor,' which easily wins the award for the most disgusting people to clothes-fuck in a music video for '09.

4. The Flaming Lips - Embryonic
The Flaming Lips continue to be one of this generations most original, psychedelic, and interesting bands with their 12th studio album, Embryonic. Throughout the entirety of the album, it's pretty clear right off the bat that the group's first double album is filled with consistently funky bass and drum combinations as well as extremely dramatic crescendos which results in what Coyne has referred to as the band's ability to remain in, ' ... a sort of perpetual panic." Compared to their previous releases, this is definitely the case for Embryonic, as it has a massive freak-out vibe that might make you feel like someone slipped you a couple tabs of acid.

3. Thrice - Beggars
It goes without saying that, with each album, Thrice has been moving forward with their sound. Shifting from their post-hardcore beginnings, the band now finds themselves in a far more alternative territory; Even more so than The Alchemy Index Vol. I - IV. The major difference between Alchemy and Beggars is that the latter has far less of a dreamy tone and, instead, is far more up-tempo and energetic. This is especially evident with tracks like 'The Weight,' 'At the Last,' and 'The Great Exchange.'

2. The Antlers - Hospice
By far, Hospice is the most emotionally charged album this year and probably that I've heard in a very long time, if not ever. The extremely human lyrics make you feel completely invested in every word that Silberman mournfully whimpers into your headphones as he explicitly recounts his story of a loved one's inevitable death due to cancer. The sound Silberman and company capture is a low-key, somber atmosphere which is extremely effective in adding to the emotionality of the album.

1. Manchester Orchestra - Mean Everything to Nothing
Since mid-April, Manchester Orchestra's Mean Everything to Nothinghas become an undeniable musical juggernaut which has totally conquered my Ipod. For several months, it reduced me to one of those annoying dudes who constantly and shamelessly trys to plug an album to anyone and everyone that will listen to him. Mean Everything to Nothing is, simply put, the most exciting and layered collection that 2009 has had to offer. The fact that this is only the band's second album is mind blowing and will leave you wondering what Manchester Orchestra is capable of in the future. I could mindlessly rant about how perfect this album is, but I will instead give to you a few amazing studio versions of a couple of the best tracks. (The River, I've Got Friends, Everything to Nothing)

BUT THAT'S NOT ALL! Real quick like, here are a couple records that were released in 2009 that I found to be either: 1) Disappointing, or 2) Complete Shit

-The Dead Weather - Horehound
Was completely stoked for this album; How could a band featuring Jack White and Alison Mosshart be anything but amazing? Apparently, pretty easily considering the record starts to lose steam fast after the first 5 tracks. Weak sauce.

-The Mars Volta - Octahedron
Never make another acoustic album. Fucking horrible.

-Muse - The Resistance
Only decent tracks were 'Exogenesis: Symphony Parts 1-3.' 'Undisclosed Desires' is the worst Muse song they've ever made, easily; Just a completely boring single with no substance.

Well there ya have it, go forth and check this shit out. Look forward to maybe some more articles this year?