greyduck.net

Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Category: Media (page 2 of 23)

This is a container category for media reviews and related drivel.

Queen of Hearts – Cocoon

Yes, this album is over two years old. Since it’s technically the most recent release from the artist in question, I’m going to rule this one a valid choice. So there, my site my rules, neener neener et cetera.

Now. I feel the need to provide backstory on this one.

Friend Wonderduck and I trade YouTube links from time to time. (Okay, he’s much much better about it than I am.) Usually it’s to a piece of music we each think the other might find relevant to our interests. So, a while back he sent me a link to a track by The Sound of Arrows, one which is strongly reminiscent of the Pet Shop Boys. The song was okay but didn’t quite sell me on the band. Out of curiosity I clicked on some of those related links that YouTube provides. And I ended up listening to a song called “Shoot the Bullet” which The Sound of Arrows produced for an artist who goes by the name, Queen of Hearts.

That I bought her EP and then her full debut album in rapid order might tell you what you need to know about Cocoon, but it wouldn’t be playing fair to leave it at that, now would it?

Up to this point in our little weekly review project I’ve been showcasing artists with some kind of previous track record that people are likely to be familiar with. I can’t tell you “this is (or isn’t) like her last album” so if you pick up a song or the EP or this album, what are you getting yourself into? Dance music (for the most part), of the electronic variety, with a strong and clear vocal presence right up front. While a lot of electronica acts hire a woman to sing and then bury her voice under synthesizers and drum beats and effects, Queen of Hearts is the focus here. This is her show, and we’re invited.

The album opens with The Arrival EP’s closing track, “Freestyle,” and follows that up with “Neon.” It’s a strong start, and the head-bopping toe-tapping energy rolls on, song after song, through “Like a Drug” and “It Isn’t Enough.”

It isn’t until the halfway mark, 7 tracks into the 14 track run of the album, that the tempo calms down for “Surrender” and then the memorable and marvelous “Warrior.” Afterward, “Shoot the Bullet” finally shows up, a reminder of where this whole journey started (it was The Arrival‘s opening number) and still one of the high points here.

Toward the end I do find that some songs don’t quite gel for me. Honestly, I’d be amazed to find fourteen entire tracks on one album that really “wow” me, so this isn’t a serious knock against Cocoon. Besides, you have to stick around for “Overcome By the Rhythm” and the closer, “Tears in the Rain.”

Now, if you didn’t wander off when I said “dance music” and “electronica” earlier, if I’ve piqued your interest at all, then let me tell you: Go get this record. It has four songs I absolutely love, several more that I play quite frequently, and really only one track, “Suicide,” I could do without (more due to lyrical content than any problem with the song’s other attributes, and that’s mostly a quirk on my part).

Anyway. Go forth and acquire. You’ll thank me later.

Oh, and then go pick up The Arrival EP, or at least “Where Are You Now?”. Just sayin’.

Pet Shop Boys – Super

There are three bands that I consider the core of my music fandom, bands that I got into heavily during my initial teen-aged self-propelled exploration of what pop music had to offer. Genesis and Midnight Oil are no longer active, yet the Pet Shop Boys endure. In all three cases most folks only know them for songs released in the 1980s. (That would probably be “Invisible Touch,” “Beds Are Burning,” and “West End Girls” respectively.)

Recently, Pet Shop Boys released Super and right off the bat let me be clear: the title is somewhat optimistic. It might have been more accurately titled More, in keeping with many of their trademark one-word album titles fitting nicely before or after the band name, such as “Pet Shop Boys actually” or “very Pet Shop Boys.” This is… “more Pet Shop Boys.”

Now. More PSB is generally a good thing! And this album is generally good. It falls short of super(b), though. The first four tracks are bright and upbeat and clever and engaging. You’ll probably end up with “Happiness” or “The Pop Kids” in your head for a bit, or maybe “Groovy.”

After that it’s… more Pet Shop Boys. “Pazzo!” is sort of like the old “Paninaro,” “Inner Sanctum” and “Into Thin Air” are decent little pieces, and so on. The only real downer on the album is “Sad Robot World,” and I guess the title warns you right up front what you’re getting. Your mileage may vary.

I think what’s going on here is establishing a return to form for a while after a few albums of trying more down-tempo tunes and some stylistic changes with mixed results. Nothing on this record is actually bad, and I can’t say the same for previous records like Elysium and Electric.

So, can I recommend Super? If you’ve ever liked a Pet Shop Boys song (or album) and want a bunch more songs like that, then yes, go forth and pick it up. It’s not a groundbreaking record, but it performs the job of “being a new PSB album” in solid, workmanlike fashion. After a career like Tennant and Lowe have had, I’m grateful they can still pull off the trick of crafting a dozen songs as good as these.

Garbage – Strange Little Birds

In case you thought you might be in for something of an upbeat barn-burner of a record, the latest Garbage album starts with a three minute quiet gloomy piece called “Sometimes,” after which you get the big pop single, “Empty.”

Strange Little Birds is the work of a band who sound like they just want to do whatever it is they do, and they feel no particular need to cajole listeners into liking it. (Barring the required “hit single” attempt, that is.) The album’s kind of grim, and there’s almost a prog-rock quality in places. Two of my favorite songs are “Blackout,” which is six and a half minutes of the most compelling music they’ve ever made, and “So We Can Stay Alive,” another marvelous six minute piece toward the end of the record. They’re both kind of dark but in an energetic and compelling way.

Garbage, in a larger-than-normal nutshell, I suppose.

Now, you can say that I’m predisposed toward longer experimental rock pieces due to all that Genesis and Pink Floyd and such in my upbringing. And you’d be right! What I’m saying is, the band managed to tap into some of that vibe without ever sounding like anything but themselves. It’s amazing and I love it.

It’s not all glaring sunshine and thorn-guarded roses, however. “If I Lost You” is a dreary sappy weepy four minutes of exactly what you’d expect from a song titled “If I Lost You.” While “Even Though Our Love Is Doomed” is a prettily-made track, I just bounced off of it completely. It’s not for me, perhaps.

Let’s be clear: If Shirley Manson’s vocal stylings and the band’s brand of social-commentary lyrical content have put you off of Garbage in the past, nothing about Strange Little Birds is going to bring you back. Hell, this album doubles down on all of that even more than did Bleed Like Me, the last of their albums to really pull me in.

So, should you buy Strange Little Birds? If you’ve ever been a Garbage fan, absolutely do it (if you haven’t already). If you were turned off from the band years ago, I doubt anything here is going to change your mind. If somehow you’ve never heard more of their stuff other than “Push It” and “Only Happy When It Rains,” and you’re wondering if this would be a good album to start with… yeah, do it. I recommend this album.

(Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go queue up “Blackout” and “So We Can Stay Alive” again. Damn, I love those songs.)

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.

Hashtag Poke Mongo

With only a day (mostly) of Pokemon GO under my belt, I have some thoughts, presented in bullet point form… or Pokeball-point, if you prefer:

  • Boy howdy is this a Niantic game or what. This is Ingress with a thick layer of Pokemon slathered on top. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but we should be clear that Pokemon GO is more the former than the latter, at least at this point.
  • The in-camera effect is surprisingly effective! (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.) I mean, it’s far from perfect but if you’d shown me video of someone playing this game ten years ago, I’d have considered it nigh-unattainable science fiction. I won’t say it’s convincing, but it achieves the right level of immersion and that’s the key part of it, as far as the game is concerned.
  • You have to either find out online how to capture a Pokemon with your Pokeball, or get lucky and figure it out, because nothing in the terse tutorial tells you to swipe to throw the ball.
  • This is unlike a modern Pokemon game because so far as I can tell, you can’t trade and there are no battles of the type any Pokemon player has become accustomed to (hence nothing actually being “surprisingly effective”). It remains to be seen if this remains to be the case, and how much of a downside it’ll be.
  • This looks very like an iteration of Ingress, where you have to team up to take key points on the map, etc, etc. Which is… what turned me off from Ingress because there was zero incentive for solo play and a huge requirement to form some kind of mid-to-large size team of fellow players. If solo play in Pokemon GO is similarly discouraged, I’m out.
  • A “Pokestop” (low-key supply station) near my work is based on a window mural from an aquarium supply store. Too bad that store is gone, and what’s on that window now is the name of the insurance company at that location. There seems no way to report these inaccuracies, unlike in Ingress. Presumably that will be remedied at some point.
  • I was a “smurf” in Ingress, I’ll probably be on the blue team in this game as well. Convince me otherwise if you can.
Older posts Newer posts

© 2017 greyduck.net

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑