You can watch the artsy new video for the pretty song “Million Things” by Lucy Michelle & The Velvet Lapelles below. Also included is a free, legal Souncloud stream of their new album, Heat.
Guest Post By: Heather
The new release from The Killers, Battle Born, reflects the band’s Vegas roots with a grown up musical sound. Brandon Flowers continues to belt it out like a Broadway singer, but this time with a greater range and precision than he had on previous efforts. It sounds as though he has been taking vocal lessons from a stage performer, which only enhances the other band members’ individual qualities.
Conjuring up images of the desert and wild horses, the songs on Battle Born are forged poetically from the band’s hometown of Las Vegas. A few of the tracks begin with a twangy rockabilly strain. This blending of sounds from rock, electronic (yes, the band has picked up a synthesizer somewhere), western and show tunes makes this a difficult album to place in a specific genre.
Though I enjoy the album for its unique sound unparalleled by other popular artists, I find it difficult to distinguish one song from the next. It’s as though The Killers picked one song that was extraordinary and made it into an entire album. This serves to make Battle Born feel more like a modern opera where the music is made to blend together, but also has the potential to turn away listeners who have grown accustomed to simply downloading individual mp3s. I’m thankful to have the whole album to play from start to finish.
For anyone looking to download only one or two songs, I would suggest “Runaways” – a great narrative of troubled romance – and the lesser played but passionate song, “Flesh and Bone.”
Where did this guy come from? Other than Oklahoma, I mean. The photo on JD McPherson’s debut album, Signs & Signifiers, looks like another average singer-songwriter guy, but his music is a delicious mix of brassed up retro soul and rumbling vintage blues-rock. It’s been a very long time since I was struck by such an intense sense of awe while listening to an album.
Even more amazing than former art teacher and punk rocker McPherson’s robust voice is that he wrote almost all of these songs – most of which sound like classics by Little Richard, Jackie Wilson or The Big Bopper with a bit of Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and Sun Studios-era Elvis thrown in.
“Scratching Circles” and “Fire Bug” are the standout tracks and other highlights include “Northside Gal” (you can download the mp3 below) and “I Can’t Complain,” but there’s not a weak track to be found here. This album will definitely be on my Best of the Year list.
Seminal female rock band Heart just released their fourteenth studio album, Fanatic. The album is somewhat of a companion to their new memoir, Kicking and Dreaming. I had a mixed reaction to the recording. It’s one of those albums that’s torn between magnificence and mediocrity. Thankfully, though, its strengths are far greater than its weaknesses.
Something about the production of the opening title track seems a little off. Neither the instrumentation nor Ann’s vocals are individually bad, but they just don’t mesh as they should. Her vocal track seems to have been laid flatly on top of the arrangement rather than properly mixed with it.
“Dear Old America” is much better, though. The song is a swirling rocker written from perspective of a Marine returning home from war. Said Marine just happens to be the Wilson sisters’ father.
The tepid “Walkin’ Good” seems a wasted duet with Sarah McLachlan. Again I feel the problem lies in the production or mixing. According to the liner notes, Sarah recorded her vocal track and emailed it to be incorporated into the song. As a result, her voice is barely audible in the chorus.
The sultry “Skin and Bones” sets things right again with a bluesy rock style that fits perfectly with both Ann’s rich voice and Nancy’s searing guitar work. It’s smooth sailing after that, as the album’s second half is totally solid and praiseworthy.
The fantastic blues-rock anthem “A Million Miles” was inspired by the traditional folk song “900 Miles.”
The epic “Mashallah!” is the standout with its thunderous rock arrangement and wailing chorus, both of which remind us why Heart used to be nicknamed Little Led Zeppelin.
“59 Crunch,” which the band describes as “psycho surfer,” is another guitar-heavy rock track.
The finale “Corduroy Road” is the perfect marriage of the Heart’s usually dueling rock and acoustic sides.
As a whole, Fanatic doesn’t quite grab me as much as its predecessor, Red Velvet Car. However, the standout tracks mentioned above are among the best Heart’s ever recorded.
Muse recently released their sixth studio album, The 2nd Law, and, wow, was it ever worth the wait. I’m truly in awe that the band was even capable of successfully following 2010′s brilliant, The Resistance (one of my Top Albums of The Decade). Not only does The 2nd Law continue that grandiose marriage of arena rock and classical music, but its futuristic electronic twist allows the album to stand completely on its alone. Definitely one for the year end list.
The bombastic drama of “Supremacy” heralds the welcome return of Muse. Theatrical verses – think Les Miserables meets Phantom of the Opera – explode into a finale that sounds like Jimi Hendrix rippin’ on a James Bond theme.
The slinky, slow burning electro-rock of “Madness” then spins the album into another orbit. The song fairly vibrates with electronic beats and searing rock guitar.
“Panic Station” plays like a catchy, rocked-up, Bizarroland mashup of Willy Wonka‘s “Pure Imagniation” and Genesis’ “Land of Confusion.”
“Survival” is the album’s stunningly gorgeous and multi-faceted centerpiece, weaving thunderous rock, classical song structure and instrumentation with operatic backing vocals into a glorious, cross-genre cacophony.
The actual song “Animals” doesn’t really stand out, but I thought it clever that Muse used sound samples from a Wall Street trading floor to imitate a mob at the end.
“Explorers” is an uncharacteristically soft and subtle ballad.
“The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” is an environmentally conscious, sci-fi thriller of a song. It’s epic, it’s rough, it’s absolutely spectacular.
Overall, I don’t foresee listening to The 2nd Law quite as obsessively as I continue to do so with The Resistance. But the standout tracks are truly superb.
You can watch the videos for “Madness,” “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” and “The 2nd Law: Isolated System” below.
Amanda Palmer just released her sophomore solo album, Theatre Is Evil, with her new band, The Grand Theft Orchestra. The album explores pop, New Wave and synth rock in a way that is quite a departure from Palmer’s old punk cabaret band The Dresden Dolls, but it often has the same twisted wit, high energy and frenetic pace. The product of a successful Kickstarter campaign, the bombastic Theatre Is Evil is the best argument for fan-funded albums. It more than lives up to the excitement stirred up by the mp3s Palmer has shared over the past few months.
I heard that if you see a star at night
And the conditions are just right
And you are standing on a cliff
Then you can close your eyes
And make a wish and take a step
And change somebody’s life
Theater Is Evil begins with an unsettling blare of German blasting through a megaphone courtesy of Australian “Kamikaze Cabaret” artist, Meow Meow. The English translation is “Ladies and Gentlemen, how can I slit my wrists when I can’t stop dancing?” I could do without the grating sound of the introduction, but it does sum up the album pretty well. Palmer isn’t abandoning her Goth roots, she’s just mixing them with uptempo beats and rhythms. She herself describes the album’s style as “crancing” – simultaneously crying and dancing. Which is probably why so many songs remind me of a mix of The Cure and Depeche Mode.
“Smile (Pictures or It Didn’t Happen)” floats in on swirling, crashing waves of piano that build with Amanda’s voice into a crescendo of melodic melancholia.
The deliciously dark pop number “The Killing Type” sweetly seethes with stalkerish self-denial. It’s one of many standout tracks. Somewhere Siouxsie & The Banshees are smiling.
“Do it With a Rockstar” is a swaggering, taunting glam rock anthem, while “Melody Dean” is catchy New Wave with a spectacular, horn-burnished instrumental interlude.
The downbeat “Grown Man Cry,” in which Amanda skewers an overly needly and maudlin male friend, is a scornful albeit atmospheric answer to The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry.”
The classically arranged punk-rock instrumental “A Grand Theft Intermission” reveals why Amanda’s band is called The Grand Theft Orchestra. The song would have fit well on Muse’s The Resistance.
“Bottomfeeder” seems to be both a wry indictment of spotlight chasers and a bizarre and lovely tribute to those lurking in the shadows. Amanda abandons her signature frantic playing for a beautifully sprawling piano melody.
*mp3s hosted by & posted w/ permission of artist’s PR rep
Ann and Nancy Wilson, the sisters behind seminal rock band Heart, just released their memoir entitled Kicking and Dreaming. In it, the sisters share details of their childhood, tumultous rise to fame in the 1970s, embarrassing big-haired success in the ’80s, decline of their popularity in the ’90s, various side projects since then, upcoming album, Fanatic, and all the celebrities they’ve met along the way. In addition to traditional book formats, the memoir is also available as an enhanced ebook with exclusive video content and a new, original song.
Reading through the Wilson family’s early years wasn’t all that interesting to me, but did provide some insight into the sisters’ bond and motivations. More engaging is reading of a young Ann Wilson’s struggles with weight and external pressure to lose it – from a doctor’s crazy diet to the heart-breaking description of elephant valentines and more blatant bullying from vicious classmates.
From their first live performance driving churchgoers from their pews with covers of Elvis and The Doors to their defiant anti-disco set at a popular ’70s club, Heart’s beginnings were more punk than you’d expect.
Throughout their career, the sisters have been plagued by an outrageous amount of sexism (including from their record labels and other bands) as well as a plethora of condescending and sometimes outright insulting questions and/or labels for being “Women Who Rock.”
Also chronicled is the insane amount of judgement Ann received for her weight throughout their career, even when she was at her skinniest in the 70′s. I remember even as a kid wondering why, when she was obviously the lead singer, Ann was relegated to the background in so many of the band’s videos. It’s the same reason Amanda Palmer’s old label pressured her to reshoot her “Leeds United” video, because they said she “looked fat,” and why Adele is still criticized for weight despite her success. It’s really why modern music is in the appalling state that it’s in. The music industry prefers model thin props over actual talent.
The sisters also dish the dirt on bands they toured with back in the day and other scandalous celebrity encounters, including Lynyrd Skynyrd, Van Halen, Stevie Nicks, Queen, Sandra Bernhard, Tom Cruise, Courtney Love, The Rolling Stones, Bono and Steve Jobs.
They candidly address their struggles with drug abuse and alcoholism, Ann’s on-stage panic attacks at the height of their popularity, and Nancy’s sweet, shy (and ultimately doomed) romance with director Cameron Crowe.
Despite such difficulties, though, the Wilson sisters never seem to let external influences slow them down or weaken their love of making music.
They also share their surprising connection to the early ’90s grunge scene and association with bands like Mother Love Bone, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Nirvana and Soundgarden. Most striking (other than Ann’s unexpectedly close friendship with Jerry Cantrell) was Nancy’s comment on how Andy Wood’s death didn’t deter his crowd from drug use: “Stardom had yet to happen to the class of grunge. Nothing had been gained, so many didn’t understand what could be lost.“
And, of course, the Wilsons tell the stories behind all of their big hits – from “Magic Man” and “Barracuda” to “These Dreams” and “Alone.”
For the most part I found it an interesting and seemingly genuine read, but I do wish the timeline was more evenly distributed throughout the book. Most of the book deals with their childhood and rise to fame in the ’70s, while they cram the last three decades into the final fourth of the book. Still, it’s an intriguing read for any Heart fan. Which I’ve been for most of my life.
Big Wreck makes rock music that sounds like it came from the 1990s. If you’re as sick of whiny modern “indie-rock” and vapid, computerized pop as I am, you’ll know I mean that as a compliment. After an eleven-year haitus, the band recently released their third studio album, Albatross, on Rounder Records.
The opener “Head Together” begins with an eerie, almost chant-like hum before bursting into pure, old-fashioned rock that hints at Hagar-era Van Halen.
Songs like “A Million Days,” “Wolves” and “Do What You Will” are closer to the more atmospheric alterna-rock of Audioslave.
The bombastic, high energy track “Rest of the World” is the standout, all wailing vocals, pounding drums and grinding rock guitars.
Other tracks are a bit too MOR for my taste, but it’s worth a listen for the aforementioned songs. The album even includes the requisite “sensitive rocker” acoustic track, “Time.”
In anticipation of the September 11th release of her new album, Theater is Evil, former Dresden Dolls singer Amanda Palmer is offering a free, legal EP download. The sampler includes four songs from the new album along with three previously unreleased tracks. You can access the mp3s by entering your email address into the Noisetrade widget below…