Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Category: Music (page 2 of 8)

Kongos – Egomaniac

The guys with the breakout hit a couple years back, the ones with the heavy drums and frequent accordion, have returned with a second album release. How does Egomaniac stand up to what Kongos have done before?

Well, the lead single, “Take It From Me,” isn’t as deeply catchy as “Come With Me Now.” That’s not to say it’s bad. I enjoy the heck out of it! I’m just not compelled to listen to it on repeat like I was with their first big single. Maybe I’m growing up, finally?

Nah. That can’t be it.

This is a band that sounds, to my ears lacking in ability to deeply parse lyrical content, like a group of brainy hippies with stupendous rhythm and a lot of ideas. It’s hard for me to tell how much is serious and how much tongue-in-cheek. Take “Autocorrect,” found partway into the album. (By the way, do not listen to that song at work. Lotsa cussin’, folks.) The general idea is that of living a kind of Matrix-like existence, downloading entertainment right into your skull, with the bonus ability to Ctrl-Z your mistakes. It’s a weird concept and a modern anthem and quite a toe-tapper and unconcerned with offending delicate sensibilities. Kongos, ladies and gentlemen, summed up in one tune.

Or how about “Birds Do It,” a very weird take on a pick-up line. It features one of the strongest accordion solos heard in a modern rock song, and that’s not the weirdest thing about the track, at least if you try to pay attention to the lyrical thread.

So on the one hand, Kongos have a sound and a style which if you heard “Come With Me Now” on the radio a few dozen times you’re plenty familiar with. On the other hand, on Egomaniac it sounds like the band is trying to figure out what that sound really means and where they’re going to go with it. Is it a “sophomore slump” record? I don’t find as many of the individual tracks quite as strong as I did on Lunatic, but this album is a bit more varied. The first album was mostly an exercise in establishing the band’s style and really getting it out there in front of people, and a side-effect of that is that many of its songs are quite similar. Great, but similar. This time it feels like they’re looking to work out the kinks as well as test their versatility without getting completely off course.

As a second outing, I recommend Egomaniac. There are some truly standout songs, such as “The World Would Run Better” and “I Don’t Mind,” plus the aforementioned “Autocorrect” and “Take It From Me.” No track clocks past the four minute mark so no single idea runs the risk of wearing out its welcome. Give it a spin, see what you think.

(NOTE: Later in the day, I discovered that Egomaniac is actually Kongos’ third album. I’m not alone in having made this mistake, but it bears correcting nonetheless.)

Caravan Palace – <|°_°|> (aka Robot)

To enjoy Caravan Palace, you need first be able to enjoy a genre called “electroswing,” which is basically old-timey swing-era jazz songs smushed together with electronic sounds & modern production values. It’s not my tip-top favorite sound, but sometimes it suits my mood for a while.

To enjoy Caravan Palace’s third album, the one with the unfortunate name, you not only need to enjoy electroswing but also enjoy hip-hop stylings, because that’s what gets thrown into the mix for nearly all of the tracks on the record. I give the band credit: Trying to make another album just like either of the last two would’ve been a mistake, so points to them for striding confidently in a new direction.

The results are… hit-or-miss. I’m not big on hip-hop so it turns out I’m not a good judge of what you should like on the record. I just know that past the first track, “Lone Digger,” I found the rest of the album’s pieces landing somewhere between “decent background music” and “no, no, next track right now please.” If hip-hop production values aren’t your thing either, I’d say you should buy the lead track on its own and skip the rest of the album. Save a few dollars.

Besides the B-Sides

Sitting here at work, my random playlist is churning out favorite after favorite to keep my musically steady through the day, and I found myself realizing that my favorite songs from each of the last two Phil-Collins-fronted Genesis albums are not, in fact, on those albums.

Let me explain. No, there is too much; let me sum up.

The Invisible Touch album is a fun piece of work, with some of my all-time favorite songs, let’s be fair. Heck, it was the start of my Genesis fandom. And yet, the song I love most is “Feeding The Fire,” which was a B-side on the “Land of Confusion” single.

Note that by the time the next Collins-led album arrived, vinyl singles had mostly gone the way of the Dodo(/Lurker).

While I’m at it, I think “Do The Neurotic” is a better instrumental than “The Brazilian,” though it’s a close thing and I’m happy listening to either one.

Many years later, the We Can’t Dance album arrived. When the single for “I Can’t Dance” hit the stores (oh, how some Genesis fans hate that song) it came with a wonderful gem of a companion track: “On The Shoreline.” I’m certain that I’ve listened to that one track more than any song on the actual album, probably more than all of them combined.

Is it the allure of the bonus hidden special gem? The curiosity over what didn’t make the cut? Who knows? It probably doesn’t matter. I know what I like.

(“And I like what I know…”)

One Night In Portland

I’m going on record (ha ha) with an unpopular musical opinion, and I don’t really care who knows it.

Back in early 1985 two singers released their own versions of the same song. I was thirteen years old at the time, right in the target demographic for Top-40 “Z” stations like Z-100 here in Portland. One of their gimmicks involved voting for the better of two songs via a phone-in tally. Since this one song’s two renditions came out within weeks of one another it probably seemed a brilliant idea to put them up against one another.

It’s possible that I still have my cassette tape recording of the event kicking around here somewhere but I wouldn’t put money on that bet.

Everyone who lived through the ’80s is familiar with and may even like the version that went on to become a one-hit wonder. Me? I still prefer this one, and I always will. So be it.

(For the love of your sanity, don’t seek out the actual promotional videos for either rendition. They’re very, very… ’80s. Hooboy.)

Filter – The Sun Comes Out Tonight

I decided not to write anything about the new Daft Punk record here because, wow, who didn’t have something to say about it? (Mostly unmitigated, unabashed praise… and I’m afraid I couldn’t have done that, as I found the album kind of dull in several ways. But we’re not here to talk about that…) However, I noted at the store recently that Filter have a new record out, The Sun Comes Out Tonight.

I’m probably not the most representative Filter fan. Title Of Record is one of my favorite albums ever. There simply are no bad songs on it, and it’s one of the few albums not made by Genesis or Midnight Oil that I’ll listen to all the way through and not want to press the “skip” button. Conversely, I find most of the next album, The Amalgamut, to be some combination of annoying, offensive, and trite. (I’ve joked that the sole purpose of The Amalgamut is to give us the song “The Only Way (Is The Wrong Way)” which is an absolute gem.)

The few reviews I could find for the new album indicated a return to early form, and I’m okay with that. Do what you wanna, as I’ve said about artists time and again. So I spent some of my precious monthly eMusic dollars and downloaded the new work.

The Sun Comes Out Tonight leads off strong with two barn-burners (the excellently NSFW “We Hate It When You Get What You Want” and the snarkily-anthemic “What Do You Say”) and a solid ballad (“Surprise”) and if you’ve heard Filter on the radio you know what to expect. From there on it settles into a middle stretch of thoroughly passable loud-and-angry fare, then finishes with the romantic ballad “It’s Just You.” It’s the standard pop-record layout: Front-load the really good stuff and hope people stick around for the rest. Nothing here is going to revolutionize music. On the other hand, if you like the Filter songs you’ve heard on the radio before, then this is exactly the kind of thing you’ll like and I can recommend the purchase without reservation.

Just… don’t play that first song while at the office. Trust me on this.

ABC – Beauty Stab

I don’t share musical sensibilities with very many people. It’s not that I’m a hipster with ridiculously obscure tastes, mind you. My library contains mostly recognizable names, though sometimes it’s a case of “a leading artist in their narrow niche.” Taken as a whole, however, you’re unlikely to find any single person who would agree about much more than half of my four-or-five-star selections.

With that said, over the last couple of years Wonderduck and I have found considerable congruity in what kind of music makes us sit up and take notice. I sent him a USB-stick sampler as a Yule present a few months ago, and he occasionally links me something via email that he thinks I might get a kick out of. It’s not always spot-on, but I trust his tastes enough that I’m always willing to at least give it a listen.

A while ago he commented on a Quacked Panes comic about artists who went in a different direction from their norm and how that tends to earn the ire of their fanbase. His example was ABC’s second album, “Beauty Stab.”

ABC made their mark with the kind of early-80s synthpop that I grew up on, so I was already somewhat familiar with the band. What I’d not been aware of was that for their sophomore record they chose to go in a more rock-n-roll, guitar-and-bass direction. They were, of course, both pilloried and ignored for this choice. From then on they went back to making electronic pop music like everyone wanted them to.

And with that one might be tempted to pass up “Beauty Stab” because, hey, it’s clear that this wasn’t what they were good at, so why bother? This is a temptation one should resist. Turns out, ABC actually did a good job posing as a straight-up rock band.

Okay, so it’s not like they made a Black Sabbath record all of a sudden. It’s still pop-rock, there are still synths, and it’s all very bright and upbeat with a couple of notable exceptions. As a style experiment, however, it really does work. Standout tracks include the lead-off “That Was Then But This Is Now,” “The Power of Persuasion,” “King Money” and the groovy, naughty “Unzip.” I love how “That Was Then…” leads off with gentle synths as if you were about to get an electronica record, then the guitar and drums kick in. Gotcha!

Never mind that this is another lead-off track with a certain amount of “meta” built in. “I guess you’ve changed / you’ve changed but how.” It reminds me a bit of the new Soundgarden album’s lead track which basically says, “Yes, we’re back, whatever, deal with it.”

One big surprise for me on this record is a very quiet track that I just can’t get enough of, “By Default By Design.” It’s absolutely gorgeous and almost justifies the album price all by itself. Your mileage may vary, but alongside four four-star tracks this one’s the five-star selection for me.

Those are just the standouts to me; there’s not a bad track on the album, just songs that don’t grab me quite as much as the others. By all means, if you have a few dollars to throw at your preferred music vendor, you could do worse that to pick up this little gem from the early 1980s, a bygone time that shaped so much about who I am and what I like. I wonder what I would’ve thought of this album had anyone played it for me back then…

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