Category Archives: Album Review

Penny and Sparrow: Struggle Pretty

In January last year, I wrote a post about a band that I was completely blown away by on first listen. Penny and Sparrow is back with their second album as of Tuesday!

pennysparrowA good friend of mine introduced me to the Austin, Texas duo and on first listen, I had chill bumps. Second listen evoked tears. I knew I was hooked at that point. I’ve been listening to that album since. I follow them on Facebook and when I realized a new album was out two days ago, I bought it without a second thought. I’m just now getting  a chance to listen to it.

Serial Doubter really kicks the album off (after the intro track Jeffrey Alan) with familiar vocals deposited over increasingly dense instrumentation. The song has an easy-going tempo, but with drums that rock the hammock like a slow breeze.

Bread and Bleeding and Thunder really showcase the Mumford and Sons influence stylistically with the hyper guitars and trumpets or violins, respectively. The soothing vocals that you’re used to come in and somehow melt over the abnormally rapid instrumentation and create a totally new dynamic.

I am absolutely in love with Rattle. This was one of the first two songs the band released in the lead-up to the new album and I fell head over heels for this one. It sounds like the beautiful beginning to a thunderstorm – you know what I’m talking about, when everything gets really still and there’s just a bit of wind blowing but you know something more is on its way so you have a heavy feeling deep inside. I don’t want to rattle and I’ve got no plans to let myself be tossed away, but this muscle could never lift a thing without you anyway. This band writes such gorgeous lyrics that sometimes I’m left speechless. They’re some of the most beautiful lyrics being written in music right now.

Reeth is the song I’ve been waiting for this entire album thus far (and this is nine tracks in). This sounds like a direct upgrade of the sound from Tenboom and it’s absolutely stunning. The guitar is so delicate that it almost feels like a balancing act trying not to tip over onto the vocals. I found myself holding my breath to listen a little more intently two different times.

The album wraps up with the entirely a capella Fantine. It seems a strange choice for a last song, but the lyrics serve better with nothing to distract from their impact. They’re stark and serious and darker than I was anticipating. So before I go saying you make a bad lover, I think that I’ll let you kiss me. I can not in good conscience wear white. If I’m honest, my wedding dress needs to be black. I’ve seen too much skin in the souls that live in it, I fear I’m the bride you give back. you take and you give. You give and you take.

Penny and Sparrow are some seriously talented musicians. I have no idea why more of you aren’t listening to them. Stop everything and do it right now.

 

Key Tracks
Reeth (track 9)
Rattle (track 4)
Fantine (track 12)

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The Elephant in the Room: The Collective and The Individual

Remember a while ago when I made that post about supporting bands that you love and believe in? Tonight’s review is a direct result of that KickStarter that I supported – and proof that it counts for something!

Through a KickStarter program,cover The Elephant In The Room were successfully able to fund the manifestation of their debut album, produced by Casey Crescenzo of The Dear Hunter. The result of a lot of hard work is an eleven-track disc that will leave you reeling when when you realize this is their debut CD.

The Collective and The Individual  begins with Left In The Dark, a song that instantly reminded me of The Mars Volta. The guitar work is so on point in this song, it will blow your mind.  Besides the beginning that left me with chill bumps, there’s a great breakdown with about a minute left in the song that deserves a cheer on its own.

Monsters follows this powerful first track with plenty of steam. The rhythm of this song reminds me of early AFI mixed with with The Mars Volta and that’s a mix I’ve never considered before this song. The vocals and the guitar heavily play off each other in this jam, each growing more and more frantic with energy until the chorus hits and breaks the spell.

Ghosts stands as my favorite song on the record. The guitar work has such a bouncy feel to it until the chorus comes down and then it’s time for everyone to jam together. I’ll walk through walls and I’ll talk to you in your sleep. I’ll keep you cold when the sun’s beating on your face. I’ll make you believe when I’m a ghost. The breakdown and subsequent group sing-along near the end practically makes me giddy. This is a jam you’re not going to be able to listen to on low volume. Trust me and go ahead and turn it up before it even comes on.

What You Don’t Know Won’t Hurt You is a close second for favorite song on the album. This one stays at a faster tempo the whole way through, differing from the songs directly encasing it and keeping things interesting. The bass guitar is the real spotlight of this song, coming on strong, keeping everything glued together and allowing itself some time to shine.

The beginning fifteen seconds of Never Believe What You’re Told is some of the best musical work I’ve heard from any album this year. Don’t get me wrong – the song itself is strong, but those first fifteen seconds. Unbelievable.

I’m particularly interested in the last track on the album. We Will Meet Again closes the album out in more than one way. It begins very slow, almost muted and hushed, almost like it’s hiding behind a curtain, with a barely-there pick up. The vocals are almost chant-like in nature which is almost thrown off balance by the obvious rock music tones in the background. Almost.

Self-professed progressive rock meets enjoyable pop, The Elephant in the Room comes out strong on their debut album. When I donated to their KickStarter campaign after a chance Tweet they sent me, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was so blown away with what they were producing before, I knew they deserved a chance to show what they really are made of. I eagerly awaited the KickStarter progress reports, and a few days ago when I received the album download link, I felt like Christmas had come early. This album truly is a great one, and one I will be listening to for a while. Do yourself a favor and take a peek.

Keep up with the band as they celebrate the release of the record and see what they’ll be up to in the months to come on Facebook and Twitter. If you want to hear this record (and believe me, you do) you can stream the album here and buy the album when it’s officially released tomorrow (October 29, 2013)! and stay tuned for an interview with the band.

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State Champs: The Finer Things

I was doing some browsing on Twitter today in search of some interesting bands to catch my eye. I’ve fallen into a comfortable nest of listening to rock bands of various sub-genres over the last few weeks, so I’m in a mood for something heavier. Luckily, I stumbled upon a lot of tweets about State Champs. I had never heard of this five-piece New York pop punk band, but I’m glad there’s some Twitter buzz going about them. The Finer Things is their debut CD on Pure Noise Records out officially on Tuesday (10/8).statechamps

Elevated kicks off the album in high fashion with the perfect marinade of pop punk and punk rock; the guitars are full of energy and the drums are bouncing on a trampoline in the background. The vocals are some of the best I’ve heard in a new-to-me pop punk band in a long time. I started listening to this album out of curiosity, not really out to write a blog post, but then thirty seconds into this first jam, I realized I had stopped everything I was doing and it had every ounce of my attention. I knew at that time I had to open up a blog post and write out a reaction to this one. This may go down in history – or at least in the best-albums-of-the-year history.

I love a song that’s slow in the beginning and then punches you in the face (Chiodos are pure royalty at this). Deadly Conversation gets in a good fist to your nose before you know it. The guitar work in this jam is mesmerizing. Unless something is really great or I’m specifically listening for it, I don’t pick out certain instruments to listen to in particular (sorry, I don’t play, I’m just here to listen and write) but the guitars in this song had my specific attention more than once for their dedication to the craft.

I can tell pretty instantly that Over The Line will be one of my favorite songs on the album. This song takes pop punk and spins it like a top. There’s a certain frantic, impatient nature to this song that I’m immediately drawn to. Every single instrument is played out almost like someone has pushed the fast-forward button, but the band remains in control and turns it around in their favor and works it the entire way through.

Mind Bottled begins so perfectly, giving vocals a couple of seconds alone before adding in drums and guitars slowly in layers. This song is almost like a roller coaster – it speeds up, slows down, goes for a loop, and sometimes stops you at full halt. It’s really close to perfect. Was it all worth it? I built the highest bridge only to burn it. Was it all worth it? All you love you gave when I returned it.

Easy Enough wraps up the album on cruise control. I feel like the majority of the song was taken down a few notches except for the guitar work during the verses, lending the song a certain imbalance in places that the rest of the instruments have to work to keep things level (hint: they succeed). This is a great note to take out the album on – I would’ve felt weird about the lineup had this song been in the middle of frantic songs. They also do me a great favor and end the album on one note instead of fading out. Thanks, guys. It’s the little things.

This will go down on my favorite albums of 2013 list for sure. I almost feel empty thinking I had no idea this band existed until today. Please do yourself a favor and take a listen to this album. This is what pop punk is all about.

 

Key Tracks
Prepare to Be Noticed (track 4)
Over the Line (track 5)
Mind Bottled (track 9)

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Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience (2 of 2)

Well. Justin Timberlake, you go years and years without any new music and then you open the flood gates on me.Justin Timberlake - The 20-20 Experience 2 Of 2 Album Download

The 20/20 Experience (2 of 2) begins with the funky beats of Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want). I’m on the fence about this song already and it’s only the first listen. There’s a lot of jungle, animal, etc references and an exuberant amount of Timbaland-style beats going on. It may be too much. Or this may just be my first listen response. I can say the actual animal sounds are taking it a bit too far – I’m here to listen to JT, not monkeys and lions, I mean really.

The first song on the album I actually like is TKO, the second single to be released from this half of the 20/20 Experience. This song tones down the experimental sounds a bit (just a bit, though) and does have an interesting beat. I would still be a-okay with a few less weird sounds going on in the background. Is this Justin’s Yeezus? Could be.

Murder has a great beat that I’m really digging and a great cameo from Jay Z. And if the lyrics are about Jessica Biel, well, congratulations, honey.

Drink You Away is so far away from the level of the six songs before it that I actually checked my iTunes to make sure I was still on the right album. This song has a definite bluesy country feel…and it doesn’t fit in at all.

Amnesia is a song I can fully get on board with. Vocals and background music are strong enough in this song that neither is overpowering. The emphasis is on Justin’s voice for once on this album and that was a much needed transition. The beat on this song is to die for and I’d say this song will end up being my favorite on the record.

I almost can’t handle how much I love Not A Bad Thing. The lyrics almost made me throw up they’re so cute, but I love it a little more every second.

So. It seems like the album picked up after Murder and stayed strong all the way through the end (including the seemingly random, so far unnamed Pair-of-Wings acoustic song that’s tacked onto the end of Not A Bad Thing). Do I like it better than Part 1? No. It may grow on me, though, cause it did take me a few listens to accept Part 1. It just doesn’t seem like the cohesive unit that Part 1 manages to be. I love Justin, and I always will, I’m just side eyeing him a little bit on this half.

 

Key Tracks
Amnesia (track 9)
Not A Bad Thing (track 11)
Murder (track 6)

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The 1975: The 1975

New release day is one of my favorite days of the week.  Is it just me, or are the albums you’re excited for all released on the same day – or at least in close vicinity to one another? Then you have a cluster of albums you can’t wait for and you can’t decide which one to listen to first. That was my morning on this Tuesday. I finally decided to have a go with The 1975’s debut album first and I was certainly not disappointed with my choice!

debutI told you guys on the last post that I was absolutely obsessed with a couple of songs from these dudes. One of my best friends sent me a track a few weeks ago and they’ve been on my constant rotate since. At that time, all Spotify was offering me was one EP – which, don’t get me wrong, was fantastic, but I needed so much more. Today, the alt rock  band from Manchester finally released their debut disc – with sixteen tracks!

The first song, The 1975, is a quiet lead-in – you’re interested, engaged, you’re in there. The band pulls you in and straps you to the roof of their vehicle right off in track 2 with The City, a song that I played on repeat from the EP. This jam is the perfect way to open up this album – it leans more to the indie rock side of the band and keeps things calm in case you still needed to get a feel for what you were listening to.

I still can’t get over what a good tune Chocolate is. If you haven’t listened to this song, please drop everything right now and get on board. It won’t get out of your head, but I swear it’ll be a fun ride.

I decided today that this band sounds like lace if it were crumbled up, melted down, and transformed into a sound. Talk! is the perfect explanation of that. Sometimes there are spaces that feel so airy and peaceful, like you’re drifting along a cloud, and then sometimes the chorus kicks in for denser parts that are the real meat of the sandwich. Sometimes there’s a scratchy feeling, but the overall composition is glorious.

Settle Down is one of my favorites on the album that really shows what this band is capable of reaching. There’s a fun, funky vibe to this song that monopolizes everything else going on in your life at the moment that this song is playing. If you don’t drop everything just to listen to this song, you’re lying. The lyrics are particularly captivating in this one: You’re losing your words, we’re speaking in bodies, avoiding me and talking about you. You’re losing your turn, I guess I’ll never learn, cause I stay another hour or two.

I was completely blown away by She Way Out. The guitar on this track gave me chills throughout and everything meshes together so well. If this song isn’t part of their live show, there’s a problem somewhere.

Pressure is rocking my world. This song almost feels like you’re hearing it from behind a curtain, but it’s so perfect with everything that’s going into the song and the lyrics are just minimalistic enough to not overpower the music or vice versa.

The album wraps up with Is There Somebody Who Can Watch You, an eerily soothing song with nothing but incredible vocals and a divine backing piano. This song is haunting in the most beautiful of ways. I know it’s me that’s supposed to love you, and when I’m home, you know I got you. Is there somebody who can watch you? Is there somebody who can love?

This album is wonderful. Hands down the best album I’ve listened to in a long time. And don’t forget, this is the band’s debut full length. I can’t wrap my mind around it. There is not a single song on this album that I want to skip over. The only down side to the album? I just found out the release from Target has five bonus tracks. Looks like I’ll be buying it a second time…

 

Key Tracks
Chocolate (track 4)
Settle Down (track 9)
Is There Somebody Who Can Watch You (track 16)

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New Politics: A Bad Girl in Harlem

Beyond hearing about them because I’m seeing Fall Out Boy on Saturday, I didn’t know New Politics existed. I know. I know! I often feel so behind on the music times these days it’s ridiculous. I listen to such random things and I go off on tangents with different musical genres, I miss fantastic bands like this one. Luckily, I know this band exists and I know they’re awesome. To make matters even better, they just released a new CD – A Bad Girl In Harlem. Thanks, guys – just in time for me to see you live! Let’s have a listen.badgirlinharlem

The album starts off with Tonight You’re Perfect, a real upbeat song with some great group vocals. This song is a fast paced electrical storm, winding you up, slowing you down, and throwing you for a loop once more. Tonight you’re perfect. I wanna fall in love with the stars in your eyes.

Swiftly following that is Harlem, a song that almost feels dated until you realize you’ve been thrown into the sound equivalent of a gravity defying dance machine. I can’t stop listening. I listened to this one on repeat, and literally, you can’t not dance when you hear this song. I really hope they play this on Saturday. This song has so much energy, it almost feels like the notes are bursting at the seams, begging to twirl into the universe.

Stuck On You slows the roll down a little with some quaint piano and interesting vocals. Keeping things at a crawl, a few more instruments jump in when it’s time for the chorus. This song reminds me of early Marianas Trench, and if you don’t know, that is a band that I adore with every fiber of my being.

Give Me Hope echoes my feelings of Harlem. I feel like this is a pop punk group that grew like crystals out of the 80s. There’s something in the background that I can’t quite put my finger on that reminds me of the delicious tunes from the 80s that I can never get enough of. Just when you’re confused enough, they pull a very Beastie Boys move with some rock-n-roll-rap vibes. I like what they’re putting down with this style.

Just Like Me starts out with some rad guitar work and dives right into some post apocalyptic punk jives. This song is by far the hardest on the album. It reminds me of some garage punk – lots of screaming, thrashing guitars, delirious drums. I like a band that can switch it up and take things on a different level.

The album rounds out with Fall Into These Arms and the band takes it back down to their normal pace. The keyboards particularly jump out at me on this track – I love when rock bands utilize the keyboards – really more should try it. Keyboards add depth to the music and New Politics really know how to work on them – integrating them with the drums to amplify what’s already there or as a separate entity all together.

I had a listen to their self titled CD from 2010 when I first read that they were opening for my FOB date, but this CD blows any of my previous impressions out of the water. This CD is a definite lift to my spirits and I’m even more stoked for the show on Saturday. If you guys are reading, promise me you’ll play Harlem in Charlotte?

 

Key Tracks
Harlem (track 2)
Tonight You’re Perfect (track 1)
Just Like Me (track 9)

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Fall Out Boy: Save Rock and Roll

So many artists reemerging into the music scene lately!

Fall Out Boy holds a special place in my heart and my life. I listened to them during some interesting periods of life and no matter what you do, you can’t let go of those bands that went through so much with you. One night, I listened to FOB literally the entire night. It was the strangest experience – I kept waking up feeling like I was falling or spinning fobor just in a different world all together. The scene got weird – a lot of these tiny rock bands from meager beginnings were suddenly the super famous ones on the cover of teeny magazines. It was best that a lot of those collapsed. It was also best for Fall Out Boy to take a break, breathe, and reconsider what music meant to them. Seems like Save Rock And Roll is their answer.

The album opens with a strong song, yelling at you to put on your war paint! with the most intense of purposes. The Phoenix rocks like Fall Out Boy hasn’t done in ages. This song is the absolute best to scream at the top of your lungs. Whatever happened during the hiatus needs a big high five. This song kicks the boat and doesn’t quit.

If you haven’t heard My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em Up) yet, then stop this madness and fix it. I listened to this song on repeat for longer than I’d like to admit when it dropped. I also have to give kudos to their team behind this whole back-to-the-music-scene business. There were rumors for such a long time – it felt like it was monthly – that FOB was back together. And every single time these stirrings were so adamantly denied. Without that, the dropping of this single wouldn’t have had the impact it did. They shocked people. The ones that said “oh, I knew it” didn’t know it – everyone heard the rumors, dufus, shut up. Dropping this with no prior talk – no video (looking at you JT), no nothing – was absolutely genius. Then they went and played a show that evening. Genius, I tell you. That’s how you go about marketing, kids.

Just One Yesterday delievers one of the things I love the most about Fall Out Boy. If you’ve heard a few FOB songs, I guarantee you can recall some sleazy-yet-hilariously-catchy lyrics. Thank god this album does not let you down. Anything you say can and will be held against you, so only say my name it will be held against you. Behind the lyrics, this song is one of my favorites on the album. It keeps it upbeat and funky. I want to teach you a lesson in the worst kind of way. This song also introduces the first of many guest vocals on the album in the form of Foxes.

The guest vocals come up again in The Mighty Fall – a song that strangely sounds like it could’ve been mixed by the like of Skrillex Lite with the dropping of the bass that happens repeatedly. I can really jam to this song. I also tip my proverbial hat off to the band for having Big Sean come and drop a rap verse in this song. I love hearing genres combined like this.

My favorite song on the record, hands down, is Miss Missing You. This song has the old gleam of sweet FOB with the revamped fire under their collective asses. It makes me nostalgic and excited for their future as a band. Sometimes before it gets better the darkness gets bigger, the person that you’d take the bullet for is behind the trigger. Oh, we’re fading fast. I miss missing you now and then. Listen closely and note the relationship the guitar and drums have during this song – kind of like they’re on a see-saw. I really can’t get enough of this jam.

Two more songs with guest vocals wrap up this power-trip of an album. Courtney Love joins the band on Rat A Tat. I’ve never been a huge fan of grunge and the like. I can respect the bands for what they do – but it’s just not my thing. I like a few Hole songs and have a couple albums on my iTunes, but Courtney Love isn’t my favorite musician. She adds an interesting element to this song, I’m just not sure it’s the right fit. During her vocals, the music speeds up like you’re on a bad acid trip and then levels back out when Patrick takes over again. It’s a bit unsettling. This is probably my least favorite song on the album. Whoops.

The album wraps up in the most spectacular of ways – with pianos and mister Can You Feel The Love Tonight himself. Elton John joins the band on the closing number and title track, Save Rock and Roll. This song has the feeling of an 80’s rock anthem – where you’d see some tight animal print pants, lots of big hair, pyro, and a ton of coordinating lights flashing all around. This song rules. When Elton John hits the highest point of this song with you are what you love, not who loves you. In a world full of the word yes, I’m here to scream NO I’d dare you not to stop whatever you were doing. I can rarely resist a fist punch to the air with the “no” at the end of that phrase – but maybe those are just my over-dramatics coming out again. Who knows.

All I know is this album is fantastic. It’s been so long since a new Fall Out Boy song haunted my mind, and now these 11 songs won’t leave. And I know the band has gotten a lot of commentary from the title of the album – but really, where would you be in your life without some delusions of grandeur?

Is rock and roll in trouble? Yeah, a lot of trouble. Is Fall Out Boy going to single handedly save a genre? No, but it’s still fun to have them back. Can’t wait to see these guys live for the first time ever in June. Well done, boys.

 

Key Tracks
Miss Missing You (track 7)
Save Rock and Roll (track 11)
The Phoenix (track 1)

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