Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Kooks! Konk.

Terribly dazzling about the Kooks’ debut, Inside In/Inside Out, was how it deliciously reeked of high school infatuation and bore its influences proudly. And why not? The band was exceptionally young and genuinely didn’t know any better, and that's what made them such lovable characters. In their early twenties, the boys from Brighton have hit an odd slump with a sophomore record that is all too aware of the pressure that comes with being an adult songwriter. This slump, though, isn't all bad, and is more easily criticized because of the way it contrasts with the Kooks' debut, a record which was easy to latch onto by the end of first listen.

What's in this mixed bag? Konk’s title pays homage to the Ray Davies-owned studio at which it was recorded, and still the only blatant Kinks influence here is the story within “Mr. Maker,” an update on “A Well Respected Man.” The full record revolves around a love lost or long-distance – as of last year Pritchard was dating a lucky lass in New York – and the lyrics that comprise it are painfully corny (“I need your soul, cause your [sic] always soulfull [sic]”).

There's a by-the-numbers Kooks in “Always Where I Need to Be,” but there’s hardly a hint of reggae influence to show off Paul Garred’s Copeland-influenced drumming, which we saw quite a bit of on Inside In. The only exception being “Tick of Time,” where we also get to hear a lovely, timid voice that almost certainly belongs to guitarist Hugh Harris.

Konk is half-sweet, half-glossy, its finest songs those which are stripped down, like the aforementioned “Tick of Time” and hidden track “All Over Town.” Even “See the Sun,” though involving the full band, is simpler than a fair number of the pop tracks, and its chords beautifully match the tone of loneliness that its lyrics convey.

“Do You Wanna,” on the other hand, is a big cheesefest, an odd attempt at seduction by a vocalist whose voice hasn’t caught up with his real age, topping off an unexpectedly disco-style balance of the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” and Franz Ferdinand’s – yes – “Do You Want To.” And all of this nonsense is kicked off with a bar-ready, rough and twangy guitar riff by Harris, a touch that epitomizes cheese in itself but is brought by a guitarist who otherwise has a good deal of talent and adds nicely to the album's remainder.

The best part of the Kooks is the hippie-fest that is Luke Pritchard, and what makes Konk so easy to frown upon is the polish that overpowers him – the big, shiny pop songs here are bland and cliche, yet unforgettable, and Pritchard's charming, androgynous crack is nearly ruined by too strong an effort at singing with style, falsetto and heavy breaths included. But for its weaknesses – all of its weaknesses, God help them – Konk retains just enough likeability to offer hope for an eventual trek out of the sophomore slump. 2010 shall be the year of the Kooks.*

The Kooks - See the Sun
Purchase Konk

*This applies so long as intensely loyal fans of former bassist Max Rafferty don't boycott the group once it begins its first Maxless recording!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Los Angeles doesn't take kindly to strangers, apparently.

A bit of news that certainly doesn't do much to disprove the idea of Los Angeles-as-hellhole...

After performing an opening set at Silver Lake's Spaceland last week, Bryan Scary and the Shredding Tears opted to stay in Los Angeles for a bit in an effort to record new material, and wound up with a stolen van. A van stolen from Franklin Avenue, one of Hollywood's most peaceful streets? Grim. In addition to having their van and, thus, valuable equipment stolen, they're stranded in L.A.! CMJ has a more complete story here, and the band is accepting donations to make up for their loss of musical equipment, a fund to which you can contribute via their MySpace page. Why should you help? Because Bryan Scary and the Shredding Tears are GREAT, and because they're likely itching to make it back to Scaryville.


Y'all best go. To the Echo! At 1822 Sunset Blvd.

Bread, art, and Marco Mahler.

A bit of time has passed since last post; please forgive the fact and pretend that I've been busy observing Passover, as figuring out a menu of breadless items requires quite some time spent thinking and planning. Next month will bring several sets of live photos in an attempt to compensate for the lack of updates.

In the meantime, I shall point you in the direction of website Indie Rock Reviews, which has (at least) two offers worth entertaining at present.

1. A contest involving art and Tokyo Police Club. Regarding ultra-hip dance bands who've been referenced on Gilmore Girls, Tokyo Police Club are quite a blast, actually, and Indie Rock Reviews has a contest in place which requires you, faithful fan, to create an artwork of some sort that visually involves the band, so that you may earn a shot at winning "one copy of TPC's 'Elephant Shell' on vinyl, one poster, buttons and stickers," though the editor here notes that "if we find anything else lying around we will throw it in the package as well." Contest runs from now until May 21.

2. Also on this site is easy access to weekly album downloads. This week's available album: Designs in Quick Rotation, last year's excellent record by Marco Mahler. If you missed out on the record last year, have a listen now, and then make up for your shame by running off to buy a copy. Because it's wonderful.

Marco Mahler - Designs in Quick Rotation

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Constantines - Kensington Heights

When the majority of what you listen to isn't current, it's quite a thrill when not one but two of your very favorite current bands release records in a single year. Though 2008's been somewhat of a musical disappointment for me thus far, I'm proud to declare that my intense love for two bands continues with their newest, successful efforts. One of these is the Black Keys, mentioned several posts back. The other, officially one of the most reliable and consistent groups to hold a large, slimy piece of my heart, is the Constantines, whose fourth record Kensington Heights was released in Canada yesterday and will be released on the 29th in the US. When Dan Auerbach's busy with things that don't involve recording or touring (or, ahem, shaving), Bryan Webb of the Constantines is on standby, waiting to serenade me with an anthem, or several.

Musically, each Constantines record has a different mood to it – their first album was a fun, angular, Dischord-style punk album; Shine a Light was the aggressive record; Tournament of Hearts simply felt good, and three years later, Kensington Heights feels focused and serious. I listen to this record and I see a face in front of me with neither a smile nor a grimace, just perhaps a furrowed brow and lips straightened into a pure line of ambiguity.

More American in sound than any American band, and proudly blue-collar in style, this band represents what a man should be – firm and strong, tough but not intimidating, articulate but unpretentious, stoic in appearance but offering the tiniest hint of sensitivity only when it is most needed. Live, their bond is tight and impenetrable, and they form a wall of raised hands and tall bodies at stage front to maintain the appearance of solidarity and authority at once. On record, they do the same thing, never letting any member stand out more than the others, never letting any member play virtuoso or give too much, never letting anyone get lost in the noise. They are not excessive, they are timeless, and they embody masculinity in the form of a true team.

Getting back to this serious record, then, Kensington Heights is an expression of one of the things the Constantines do best, which is to give power to a ballad and to likewise ease some emotion into their hardest moments of rock, so that there is usually no clear division between hard and soft. But Kensington Heights is somewhat divided into two sections by wallowing ballad “Time Can Be Overcome,” and with the exception of listener-friendly “Brother Run Them Down” and “Credit River,” this is the point at which the album officially becomes top-heavy due to the slowed tempo of its second half – a bold and rare move for a band that usually alternates before ending on a folk ballad.

“Million Star Hotel” is blaring and bluesy, while “Trans Canada” initially takes on a slightly dated and dark tone (think “Dizzy” by the Goo Goo Dolls) until bursting into a fantastic, all-out fighting effort in its second half. “Shower of Stones,” sung by Steve Lambke, is miraculously thrilling and terrifying, its double-sided wall of guitar and continuous roll of tom drum building the musical equivalent of rocks tumbling down a cliff in sheets. And “Our Age,” my favorite here, is to Kensington Heights what “On to You” was to Shine a Light. Its chorus releases a level of passion in you that you didn't know existed, and quite inexplicably at that. And this, perhaps, is the thing the Constantines do best.

Constantines - Our Age
Purchase Kensington Heights (and complete the collection of Constantines records you should already own!)

Wombats and Cons. Feisty Wombats??

Well, it's finally going to happen. They've already toured the US twice in support of the record they released overseas last year, but the Wombats are finally coming around for that third tour to promote - yes - the US release of said album. About fucking time!

What's the kicker? It appears their (traditionally-metal-oriented) US label, Roadrunner Records, whose roster includes artists like Opeth, Slipknot, and 3 Inches of Blood, also includes Biffy Clyro, Dresden Dolls, and...Nickelback (??). The Wombats should feel right at home. Here's the proof.

May success in the US encourage re-orders of stuffed wombats and size small hot pants.

On a side note, I'd like to thank my dear friend Rocko for leading me to this bizarre collaboration:

Constantines and Feist - Islands in the Stream (Stream...ah...sans islands.)

What's it missing? A badly-needed ODB cameo.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Flat Duo Jets - Two Headed Cow OST

One of my personal musical weaknesses is for good rockabilly, a genre there's not enough of, really, limited to a cult genre as far back as I can remember (the late '80s, unfortunately), which lives through the present only in the occasional band that sprouts up here or there.

The Flat Duo Jets weren't just a rockabilly duo, but a pair more along the lines of onetime tour mates the Cramps, minus that blatant spook and raunch, a bit less gimmickry. They fit the same psychobilly camp, though, that moment of harmony where '50s rock and roll gets hit with a punk snarl.

Several years after a breakup, and the releases of solo efforts by both vocalist/guitarist Dexter Romweber and drummer Crow Smith, the Flat Duo Jets would be documented in the film Two Headed Cow, for which there is now this fine soundtrack which collects a group of Jets songs from 1986. Considering the wildness of the band's style, it's a bit interesting to note Romweber's appreciation of the purity in '50s music, like that of the Coasters and Elvis Presley, which he mentions in Two Headed Cow. In explaining himself further, it becomes clear that this purity he sought was in the form of music free of electronic influence or contrived, glossy style and production. Free of the traits that made him dislike modern music, which, in the mainstream, mostly continues to lack a raw element even today.

To hear him play as one half of the Flat Duo Jets, then, is a breath of relief, free of hypocrisy. There's a lot of fire in Romweber's guitar, a wealth of noise and distortion that's fearlessly spat out with the melody of rockabilly and the urgency of punk rock. His voice is like that of Buddy Holly's, if Holly had lived long enough to be set free from 1950s restriction and let loose a strong, hideous growl. And Smith, his drumming partner, gets so well intertwined with Romweber's guitar that you hardly notice him, yet the way he blends in allows him to drive further forward that furious guitar and place a stronger emphasis on the guitar's heaviest rhythms. Real shame that this band no longer exists, and an even bigger shame that much of the writing done on this band mentions the White Stripes, who – unlike the Flat Duo Jets – started to lose much of that fury fairly early on.

Flat Duo Jets - Hoy Hoy
Flat Duo Jets - Rock House
Purchase the Two Headed Cow soundtrack.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dearest Billy,

I adore you, really I do. You've got both a wit and a youthfulness that many musicians lack today, and I appreciate you for it. I also understand that you're a family man these days, and that you've earned your right to be more than a professional busker since recording your first album 25-ish years ago. But for fuck's sake, Billy, for someone who sympathizes so heartily with the common man, what's with the $31 ticket price to see one of your solo performances in
Los Angeles? Never mind the $38 entry fee to your upcoming Seattle concert...I know the US dollar is weak and that these tickets are a mere 15 pounds or so to you, but your worth has certainly gone up in the last two years alone! Sympathize a little more heartily, will ya?

Billy Bragg - Which Side Are You On? (1984 Peel Session)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Pitchforkmedia.com processes press releases faster than I do.

VICE is not just a bucket of neo-con irony, a guide to developing your social skills, and a fairly recent record label. No, it is also home to KING KHAN AND THE FUCKING SHRINES as of right now. The Supreme Genius of King Khan and The Shrines will be released June 17 via VICE Records, and US tour dates will follow. Don't know much about this "full tour" business, but as far as Los Angeles goes, they'll be coming to the Echo with the Jacuzzi Boys on July 10.

King Khan and the Shrines - Torture (new!!)

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Black Keys - Attack and Release

My very favorite photo of Dan Auerbach, by Anoulay Tsai, Sept. 2006.

Read any interview with Dan Auerbach, and you'll find that he's not a fan of the term “blues.” But listen to any Black Keys record, and try to note his finest recorded moments without applying that term – at his absolute best, Auerbach's usually leading a deep, bluesy ballad or filling in Pat Carney's hard, choppy beats with guitar work simultaneously raucous and fluid. All the while, he'll make you melt with a voice that's warm, rich and smooth. He's pure heaven, and he's tremendously easy to fall in love with on first listen.

As a duo, the Black Keys manage never to fully repeat themselves yet have a consistent style that works beautifully with each release – playful beats to back up streams of full, bent notes, even when covering artists like the Kinks or Junior Kimbrough, and Auerbach's familiar bark gushing all over the place. That in mind, it's somewhat of a dilemma that Attack and Release is by far the most experimental record they've got, completely burying Auerbach's voice under songs marked more deeply with the signature stamp of Danger Mouse's clean production than the Keys' uncluttered blues rock, and yet, still a relevant record that likely wouldn't work if performed by a different band. I miss Pat Carney's “medium fidelity” recordings, and I'd kill for one more long, drawn out blues number. But they've made an excellent effort at not repeating themselves, and for them, the experimentation works, even if these songs were meant for Ike Turner and not themselves.

That this is the first album not produced by the band itself is quickly apparent. There's a lot of production work on this record, Attack and Release marked by slight hip-hop-style enhancements to Carney's drumming, helping the record roll forward and fit more cleanly into the realm of indie territory than usual. Likewise, there're some ghostly choruses added beneath layers of acoustic guitar, a combination which offers an urban-bluegrass vibe in places like “Psychotic Girl,” and for the first time, a number of guest appearances, including one by 18-year old bluegrass singer Jessica Lea Mayfield. “Lies” is the best of all, though, gorgeous and much closer to the typical blues ballad that seems to pop up on each Black Keys release, highlighting Auerbach's chocolate pudding serenade.

Marry me, Dan.

Taste each of their records and then buy a copy of Attack and Release, even if it did leak to the point where every blogger on the planet has written a review and posted every track for free.

Countdown (The Big Come Up)
Hold Me in Your Arms (Thickfreakness)
Girl is on My Mind (Rubber Factory)
The Flame (Magic Potion)
My Mind is Ramblin' (Chulahoma, Junior Kimbrough cover)
Lies (Attack and Release)
Purchase Attack and Release.