Moroccan Role: June 2007

Moroccan Role

A Totally Kiler Music/MP3 Blog.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Site Update:: Bar Exam Looming...

Sorry for the lack of updates around here recently. I'm sitting for the Bar Exam in late July and within the past couple of weeks I've officially started to feel the time crunch. Consequently, I have not had the time to update this site. Unfortunately, this trend will undoubtedly continue throughout July. There will probably be no updates for the entirety of the month. However, once the exam is over, I will return to regular updates. Thanks for supporting Moroccan Role and I will see you all in August.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Earlimart - Mentor Tormentor

Earlimart will release their fifth LP, Mentor Tormentor, August 21st on Majordomo Records-- an imprint formed as a partnership between Earlimart and Shout! Factory. This effort will follow their 2004 release, Treble & Tremble, which was received warmly by critics and indie-pop fans alike. Mentor Tormentor is a 15-track affair written and produced by Aaron Espinoza and Ariana Murray at The Ship, the band's studio in Eagle Rock, CA. Earlimart completed this album some time back, but shopped it around and saw a few record deals fall apart prior their decision to put this album out essentially on their own. There is an impressive stylistic diversity present, from upbeat pop numbers to more ballad-orientated cuts, along with a few rockers. My initial favorites tend to be of the more poppy variety; "Nevermind the Phonecalls", "Bloody Nose", and "Nothing is True" all stood out upon a first listen. Among of the band's most defining characteristics is frontman Aaron Espinoza's breathy vocals, which often sound quite reminiscent of his late friend, Elliott Smith. "Nothing is True" is a vaguely melancholy number guised as a twee head-bobber. The song relies mostly on acoustic guitar and piano but is fleshed-out nicely by an excellent whistling bit and a brief Beatles-type found sound “dream” sequence serving as a bridge about 3/4 of the way through. If you enjoy the tunes below, you'll find plenty to like about Mentor Tormentor.

MP3: Earlimart - "Nevermind the Phonecalls" (link via Pitchfork)
MP3: Earlimart - "Think About Me" (link via Pitchfork)

Earlimart on the web.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Angels of Light - "The Man We Left Behind"

I'm not going to pretend I know much about Michael Gira's work with Swans or his Angels of Light material aside from the '05 split LP with Akron/Family. Nevertheless, I've been listening to and greatly enjoying the upcoming Angels of Light album, We Are Him, most of this evening. Akron/Family are back on board for this album and their presence is readily apparent throughout. My early favorite track is "The Man We Left Behind"-- which opens with a meditative two-minute instrumental intro featuring a low-key single-note guitar part that will sound instantly familiar to A/F fans, along with droning violin and ambiance aiding, monotone harmonic vocal "ahhs". The main body of the song initially employs only acoustic guitar, piano, and voice. From there, Akron/Family methodically add layer upon layer until finally arriving back to the instrumental section that got it all started. The tune fits my mood just about perfectly this evening and is precisely the kind of song I needed to help me unwind after a long day. Gira's voice provides much of the character here and carries with it considerable authority. At once somber and strangely/vaguely celebratory, his lower-register croon occasionally reminds me of Lou Reed a bit-- which could hardly be considered anything but a positive.

MP3: Angels of Light - "The Man We Left Behind"

We Are Him is due August 13th on Young God Records. You can listen to two other album cuts, here.

Labels: ,

Friday, June 15, 2007

Deastro - "The Shaded Forests"

A couple of days ago, I stumbled upon Deastro's unassuming MySpace page. His page has only registered 2,000 views as of this writing and this is a shame, because this act has definite potential and with a modicum of exposure he would win-over a horde of converts. Detriot native Randy Chabot handles all vocals, drums, piano, synth, guitar, and programming duties. His best song I've encountered is "The Shaded Forests"-- a tasty slice of ethereal electro pop-rock that proves Chabot has melodic chops in spades. The song succeeds largely due to the endearing combination of the lo-fi recording aesthetic and anthemic, stadium-ready choruses. Starting with a laid-back synth riff reminiscent of CYHSY's "Over and Over Again (Lost & Found)", the tune builds and blossoms into a near mini-epic. Chabot proves his songwriting instincts are keen, as this bad boy is brimming with strong hooks at every turn. The attention to detail and little things really give this one character-- see, e.g., the studdering "I t-t-t-t told ya"s during the verses and the wall of shimmering guitars before the chorus. While obviously recorded on a limited budget, the sound works quite well and the song is all the better due to this fact, as this brand of stuff could easily veer into dangerously poppy terrain with the application of excess studio sheen. However, with its bedroom recording feel and almost U2-sized ambition, "The Shaded Forests" is an undeniable winner.

MP3: Deastro - "The Shaded Forests"

*Had to make this one short and sweet as I'm off to see the National at 20th Century Theatre...Cincy folks, your asses should be there!


Thursday, June 14, 2007

New Animal Collective:: First Impressions

Earlier this week, the first three tracks from Animal Collective's forthcoming album, Strawberry Jam, made their way into the internet. I initially resisted sampling the tunes for want of my first exposure to the album being a listen in its entirety, but my curiosity eventually got the better of me. These opening three songs ("Peace Bone", "Unsolved Mysteries", and "Chores") undoubtedly provide valuable insight into the sound and feel of Strawberry Jam. As anyone familiar with the band knows, their sound is subject to significant change from album to album. Many consider Feels to be their masterpiece up to this point (I'm in this camp) and a radical stylistic departure from this album may have proven a disappointment. The sampler-heavy material the Collective have recently been playing live is from another potential album due after SJ and, consequently, only the most rabid AC fans had a concrete idea what to expect from this album. Judging from these first three tunes, Strawberry Jam does not seem too far removed from the, um, feel of Feels. These songs and Feels are sonically closer than perhaps any two Animal Collective releases have been up to this point. However, the prominent electric guitar and more traditional rock band set up employed on Feels's opening third is mostly scrapped in favor of dense electronics-aware compositions.

"Peace Bone" is probably the most accessible thing the Collective has done yet. The song features a bouncing rhythm, prominent vocal melody, and easily decipherable lyrics. Bubbling keyboard flourishes, touches of steel drums, and "Grass"-like clipped vocal screams flesh-out the tune. "Unsolved Mysteries" is the most similar to the band's previous album and methodically builds layer upon layer while intermittently featuring great vocal interplay between Panda Bear and Avey Tare. My personal favorite among the three new tunes is "Chores". The song's first half evolves and morphs continuously, but ever feels too busy or, if you'll excuse the pun, labored. But, it's on the more amorphous second half-- where the band settles into a relaxed, tribal chanting groove-- that things really get interesting. Only time will tell if the rest of Strawberry Jam lives up to the promise of these opening three tracks, but there is a distinct possibility that this will be the Collective's best album yet.

Strawberry Jam is due in September. Here's the tracklist:
01 "Peacebone" (5:13)
02 "Unsolved Mysteries" (4:25)
03 "Chores" (4:30)
04 "For Reverend Green" (6:34)
05 "Fireworks" (6:50)
06 "#1" (4:32)
07 "Winter Wonder Land" (2:44)
08 "Cuckoo Cuckoo" (5:42)
09 "Derek" (3:01)

Get new Animal Colletive MP3s: Here.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Liars - Liars Preview

Liars will release their self-titled fourth album 8/28 on Mute Records. It seems like only yesterday their fantastic third album, Drum's Not Dead, was released and subsequently ended up on nearly every blogger's the top albums of 2006 list. (#14 on mine) Well, here they come again. The forthcoming album has surfaced considerably earlier than many (including myself) had anticipated-- a full two-and-a-half months prior to its release date. In fact, Pitchfork posted an "Exclusive Premiere" limited duration stream (48 hours) of the album's opening track, "Plaster Casts of Everything", just today. So much for that type of "exclusivity". Drum's Not Dead was a demanding, yet ultimately rewarding listen that relied heavily on abstract droning and sometimes eerie dynamic tension. The majestic closing track, "The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack", provided a resolution that made making it through the often-challenging record all the more satisfying.

Liars is more initially accessible than the concept-orientated Drum's and often finds the band embracing electric guitars and more traditional instrumentation, song structures, and even pop melodies. But, this definitely not to say all traces of Drum's are gone. In fact, a few of tracks would have fit nicely on that record-- "Leather Prowler", "What Would They Know", and "Pure Unevil" in particular. Upon a cursory listen, the album seems to strike a nice balance between Drum's abstract elements and their more pop-orientated dance-punk roots. Liars is a smaller record than its immediate predecessor, both in terms of conceptual scope and simple run-time (just over 39 minutes). But, the songs appear to be a bit stronger in their own right and not as dependent on album context when compared to those on Drum's. Most instantly appealing are the chilled-out electro pop numbers "Houseclouds" and "Sailing to Byzantium". The more rocking numbers are strong, too-- especially the thrashing opener and the balls-out rocker "Cycle Time". While there's no "The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack" on the new album, the closing track "Protection" does a fine job considering the incredibly large shoes it had to fill by default. Over the next couple of months, you will surely hear a great deal about this album and I plan to give it plenty of spins.

As we are so far away from the album's release date, I'm only gonna post Pitchfork's stream of the opening track...

Stream expired :(


Monday, June 11, 2007

Portugal. The Man - Church Mouth

Portugal. the Man is an experimental rock trio from Alaska who will release their sophomore album, Church Mouth, on July 24th. Their debut album, Waiter: “You Vultures!”, was released in early 2006 and enjoyed very enthusiastic reviews in some circles, but went largely unnoticed. Regrettably, I've yet to hear the debut, but thanks to the strength of the second LP, this is likely to change rather quickly. Based on my initial listens to their upcoming album, these guys are proving to an incredibly exciting and promising young band. The first two tracks explode out of the speakers with results similar to what would happen if Mars Volta decided to cut the bullshit and just rock. These guys are a unique indie band that doesn't have any qualms embracing the heaviness of harder rock or feel the need to obscure its psychedelic-tinged pop-rock chops with unnecessary noise around the edges. The have just a touch of a proggish feel, but this can be attributed more to the impressive technical aspects of their playing and arrangements rather than any tendency to sacrifice solid songwriting in favor of unnecessarily complicated or otherwise self-serving instrumentation. For a band that sounds this instantly familiar, their sound is surprisingly difficult to accurately describe. For lack of more clever analogies, imagine if Wolfmother were more original and paid homage to late 60s/early 70s psychedelic hard rock instead of early heavy metal or if Mars Volta streamlined their songwriting and avoided their often-unfortunate habit of being purposefully abstract and willfully difficult.

The title track wastes no time introducing the album's high-wired, near frantic intensity and characteristic solid songwriting and musicianship. The song's undeniable energy carries on through the second track, "Sugar Cinnamon", which employs pounding drums and an awesome psychedelic rave-up feel. Aside from the lackluster "My Mind", the record's first half is practically flawless. Initial album standouts also include tracks three, ("Telling Tellers Tell Me"), five ("Shade"), and later album cut, "Bellies Are Full". While the album maintains a break-neck energy level nearly throughout, the songs are surprisingly well written for a band that rocks this hard. It will take a few more listens to recover from my initial excitement and approach this album critically, but that's for another day. For now, I feel compelled to gush all over this record and when you hear the tunes below, you'll understand why.

MP3: Portugal. The Man - "Church Mouth"
MP3: Portugal. The Man - "Shade"

Pre-order the album here.


Saturday, June 09, 2007

Bridging the Distance - A Portland, Oregon Covers Compilation

It's pretty obvious I've been feeling a bit nostalgic lately. To wind down this brief detour into yesteryear, I offer a couple of tunes from the April 2007-released Bridging the Distance compilation. As the title alludes to, this album is a collection of Portland-based bands covering 70s and 80s (mostly) classic rock tunes. Notable contributing bands include indie heavy weights The Decemberists and Spoon's Britt Daniel, along with numerous up-and-upcoming acts such as Viva Voce, The Joggers, and The Thermals. The complete track list can be viewed here. I'm generally uneasy when it comes to any sort of tribute or covers compilation, as they are often completely unnecessary, glorified whack off sessions. But this compilation is for a good cause (Portland homeless youth mentoring program, p:ear) and offers enough variety to keep things fairly interesting. The source material is primarily FM classic rock radio staples and a number of the usual suspects are present-- the Boss, Skynyrd (dude), Fleetwood Mac, ELO, and Yes.

It's always risky to completely deconstruct and re-envision a classic and well-loved tune, but the most successful songs here are ones that take a radically different approach from the original. The Minus 5 take Lynyrd Skynyrd's tale concerning the trappings of rock stardom, "That Smell" and render it more somber by stripping the song down to its core. Most interestingly, singer Scott McCaughey manages to hit some notes that sound remarkably Jaggeresque. (think: the verses of "Angie") And with the minimal arrangement, the song's cautionary theme resonates loud and clear. The dudes of Blizten Trapper tackle Heart's "Crazy on You" and re-imagine the Guitar Hero II highlight as a synth-pop gem that wouldn't sound out of place on an Of Montreal album. A simple vocal hesitation during the chorus gives the song a slightly different feel, and with the wall of electro beeps and buzzes, it all works surprisingly well. The compilation standout comes from Whip, a one-man project and pseudonym of Portland songwriter Jason Merritt. Merritt's haunting folk rendition of Billy Idol's "White Wedding" is so far removed in sound and spirit from Idol's 80s anthem it feels like a completely new song. Employing minimal acoustic strums, sparse banjo plucking, and despondent vocals, Idol's fist-pumping rocker is effectively remodeled into an affecting, woeful meditation. Don't be surprised to hear this one popping up on a film or television soundtrack or two in the near future. The strength of this tune and the compilation's charitable cause more than justify its reasonable $10 price tag.

MP3: Whip - "White Wedding" (Billy Idol cover)
MP3: The Minus 5 - "That Smell" (Lynyrd Skynyrd cover)

You can snag Blizten Trapper's version of "Crazy on You" over on Stereogum.

Buy the compliation here.

Labels: ,

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Moroccan Role's Top 10 Power Ballads in the World...Ever

I got the idea for this post upon encountering the June 1st, Top 5 Hair Metal Songs, entry on Ryan Adams' MySpace blog. While there's precious little to celebrate about 80s hair metal, the sheer majesty of the power ballad is undeniable. This glorious art form is often maligned due to its cheesy, out-the-top sentimentality, but every one of us has a soft spot for these tunes. The fail-safe formula for 80s hard rock success was brilliant in its simplicity: a rocking first single, followed by the requisite power ballad. There were countless bands that followed this blueprint and hordes of power ballads were released, but here we are concerned with the best of the best, the crème de la crème. As a preliminary matter, we should clearly define a true power ballad. I'm of the opinion that a power ballad is characterized by the following formula: a hard rock or metal band utilizing (a) soft/loud or clean/distorted guitar dynamics, (b) shameless sentimentality and/or unabashedly romantic lyrical themes, and, of course, (c) obligatory air guitar-worthy solos. As such, some fine tunes had to be eliminated for not quite fitting the niche. Noteworthy eliminations include: "Beth" by Kiss, "Patience" by Guns 'n Roses, and "More Than Words" by Extreme [all violative of (a)]; "Fade To Black" by Metallica, "Mama I'm Coming Home" by Ozzy, "Novemeber Rain" by GnR, and "Winds of Change" by Scorpions [violative of (b)]; and Prince's "Purple Rain" because as a non-hard rock or metal artist, he's without standing for inclusion. Without further ado, here's the list...

10. Styx - "Lady"
“Lady” is the grandfather of them all. Styx is often credited with creating the power ballad genre with "Lady" in 1973. They are arguably the cheesiest band of all time due to frontman Dennis DeYoung's tendency to craft the most un-rocking rock songs imaginable and flair for the theatrical-- see, i.e., the laughable concept album Kilroy Was Here and its subsequent tour. However, as a pioneer and one of the earliest examples of this brilliant musical style, "Lady" definitely merits a spot in the top 10.

9. Europe - "Carrie"
From the moment the incredibly schmaltzy, lite-rock keyboard enters, you know you are in for some serious, grade-A power balladry. This song illustrates the most effective use of a single, solitary word in hair metal history. The tune is almost completely uneventful and rather drab aside from the chorus, which utilizes the brilliant hook, "Care-air-air-rie, Care-air-air-rie". I'll be damned if hearing Joey Tempest longingly sing that lovely name doesn't nearly bring a tear to my eye every time...

8. Def Leppard - "Love Bites"
Straight off, singer Joe Elliot, never one for subtlety, implores whether his love interest looks in the mirror when she's doin' it. I'm not exactly sure what he's getting at there and it's still jarring every time I hear that opening line. But, it matters not. The powerful and melodic chorus is so strong it renders everything he says completely inconsequential. He could discussing the finer points of String Theory or reading from the back of a cereal box, it would still be a great tune.

7. Journey - "Faithfully"
Lately, I've had a bit of a problem with Journey. This has nothing to do with their music, it relates to the would-be ironic sheik-ness attributed to it by the undergrad (predominately frat) set. I live near the University of Cincinnati and you cannot spend a night in a college bar without hearing "Don't Stop Believing" (with 15 drunk dudes singing along, no less) at least twice. It used to be the very same way for Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline", and it took years for me to hear that song without puking in my mouth a little. Oh, about this's admittedly a bit soft for the list and "Don't Stop Believing" will probably replace it when the the above-mentioned phenomenon fades away, but Steve Perry's got a huge and versatile voice and this is arguably his best vocal performance ever.

6. Foreigner - "I Wanna Know What Love Is"
I'm pretty much a Foreigner fan. Of course, I disclose this only when appropriate, but these guys have a lot of solid tunes. I mean, "Feels Like the First Time", "Dirty White Boy", "Jukebox Hero", "Hot Blooded", "Cold as Ice"...c'mon now. Did you happen to see that episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force when the Mooninites acquire the magical Foreigner belt? That episode was awesome.

5. Whitesnake - "Here I Go Again"
This song utilizes the soft/loud dynamic better than perhaps any other power ballad on this list. When those first two power chords come in, it's nearly impossible to resist pumping your first in appreciation or jamming along on your imaginary guitar. Although all of these tunes are excellent karaoke fodder, this one works especially well in that venue. Plus, that Dave Coverdale really had some great hair-- he could give Jon Bon Jovi a run for his money.

4. Poison - "Every Rose Has Its Thorn"
"Every Rose" is the archetypal hair metal power ballad. A rocker showcasing his sensitive side while gently strumming an acoustic-- Check. A memorable melody and impossibly catchy chorus-- Check. An obligatory and air guitar-worthy solo-- Check. It's more or less a perfectly constructed pop tune and this genre classic is, by far and away, the best thing the band ever created.

3. Night Ranger - "Sister Christian"
Like a number of tunes on this list, it begins with a contemplative piano figure and slowly builds from there. This song hit #2 on US charts back in 1984, but enjoyed quite a resurgence upon being prominently featured in 97's Boogie Nights. If you've yet to see the movie or don't remember the scene, check it out. As the song is supposedly about Night Ranger drummer, Kelly Keagy's sister coming of age and "motoring" (driving around) with their friends, it has a truly unique (perhaps a bit creepy) theme for power ballad. Regardless, it still fits the within my definition under the totality of the circumstances.

2. Mötley Crüe - "Home Sweet Home"
Released in 1985, this was one of the biggest hits of the hair metal era and MTV's most requested video for four months(!) straight. "Home Sweet Home" was a rare example of the Crüe showing off their softer side, but it isn't too soft. This was always a crucial element in the artistry of crafting a power ballad, as the goal was to appeal to a wider audience without alienating your established fans. The success of this song propelled countless other bands to follow in Mötley Crüe's footsteps and craft a power ballad of their own. This was probably the single most important song in shaping the genre in the 80s.

1. Skid Row - "I Remember You"
Skid Row arrived right near the tail end of the hair metal party and had plenty of time to study the craft of writing a killer power ballad prior to releasing their debut. In many ways, this gave them and other Johnny-come-latelies an almost unfair advantage. By the late 80s, the power ballad blueprint was firmly in place. "I Remember You" is the perfect power ballad-- perfect song structure, glossy production, and Sebastian Bach sings with technical precision. It's probably too perfect, in fact. In many ways, the single is emblematic of the end of hair metal's heyday and why its demise was inevitable. By the time "I Remember You" surfaced in 1989, hair metal was extremely bloated and had become too predictable, too easily emulated, and way too homogenous.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The White Stripes - "Rag and Bone"

It's no secret that I love me some White Stripes and shower them with fanboy-type praise nearly every opportunity I get. Well, tonight there's another good reason to do just that. A special 7" vinyl of the Stripes' "Rag and Bone" came packaged with the new issue of NME Magazine, which hit newsstands today. The 7" is the first official hard copy taste of the duo's highly anticipated new album Icky Thump, due June 18th. Although already released on iTunes, the physical copy of upcoming album's first single and awesome title track will be released on Tuesday. The full album is also becoming quite leaky, but don't tell Jack White...ole boy gets rather pissed (understandably, I suppose) about these things. While a number of the initial leaks were of rather low quality, excellent quality rips have started showing up on the intertubes as of late. I've resisted the temptation to seek out the suspect quality leaks because I don't wanna spoil the experience of first hearing this album by listening to crappy quality MP3s. As of this writing, I've only heard "Icky Thump" and "Rag and Bone". But based on the quality of these tunes, "I'm finding it harder to be a gentleman [and hold back] every day". (sorry, it was way too obvious)

"Rag and Bone" creeps in with a nice little blues boogie guitar line and brief dialogue between Jack and Meg. It steadily gains steam through the verse and chorus, followed by another bit of clever dialogue concerning the duo's ever-growing urge to get their hands on goods contained in the "mansion" introduced early in the song. The best snippet comes when Jack chides his counterpart with the hilarious, "Oh Meg, don't be rude" at the 2:30 point. Just listen to it, you'll definitely agree. The Stripes are the only band in the universe that could take a song this simple and turn it into a 3 minute, 45 second slice of brilliance that completely transcends its component parts. Forgive my "uber-hyperbole", but these guys make it super hard to disguise my excitement. Speaking of which, during the course of drafting this post, I've officially decided I cannot wait any longer to hear this album in its entirety. Please forgive me, Jack.



Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Why the New Smashing Pumpkins Tribute Album Sucks...

This thing was doomed from the start. The words "MySpace" and "Smashing Pumpkins tribute" alone are a dead giveaway. The CD's only redeeming quality is that it's free with the July issue of Spin. Well, that and some of the covers are so bad they could provide a few laughs, I guess. I'm an admitted Pumpkins fanatic, but tribute albums are generally shitty. I cannot think of a single tribute album in existence that is worth the price of admission. What's worse this time out is the fact that the Pumpkins have such a unique sound-- due in no small part to Billy's signature nasally whine-- and a good portion of their material is essentially worshipped by their dedicated fanbase. Oh, and then there are the bands featured here-- a hodge-podge of the offensively bad (so tempted to name names), the utterly vanilla (ditto), and the unknown. Ben Kweller and the more tolerable of the two Blink 182 splinter groups also contribute. While it's hard to pick a favorite cover, it's even more difficult to determine who massacres their tune the worst.

Let's start with the best: Kweller's laid-back, stripped-down rendition of "Today" is about what you would expect. He's smart enough to resist any temptation to radically reconstruct or go at it recklessly and the tune is all the better for it. It's essentially harmless, but like everything else here, is completely unnecessary. The New Amsterdams' version of "33" is basically okay, but dude painfully over-emotes and takes too many liberties with the vocal melody in a few spots. However, the original is such a beautiful song that one would really have set out to destroy it to make a solo acoustic and vocal cover utterly unlistenable. +44 tackle Gish opener "I am One" and cover it nearly note-for-note, but it will never sound anything other than silly hearing Mark Hoppus singing a Pumpkins song. In fact, Hoppus somehow manages to make the song sound more like 311 than the Pumpkins.

The rest of the bunch are complete stinkers. Oh, where to begin? How 'bout with the very worst? Ironically, Young Love (whoever that is) manage to strip "1979" of every bit of its youthful spirit, turning it into a bland piano and vocal number that could serve as the background music at an Oprah's Book Club meeting. Josh Groban is pissed, dude. The Academy Is... take the epic "Mayonnaise" and render it completely flat and borderline monotonous. This track is among the top-tier anthems of the 90's and if you choose to undertake the endeavor of covering it, you need to bring a hell of a lot more than this to the table. The rest fare slightly better, but you probably won't make it through them once without skipping to the next track. Since I couldn't locate The Bravery's cover on the internet, I cannot say how that one stacks up. But, considering it's The Bravery, I wouldn't get my hopes up.

So, I get the point-- the Pumpkins have a new album coming out and they were a highly influential and well-loved band. It's an undeniably nice gesture to honor the band with something like this, but if the product is ever going to see the light of day you should take more pride in the material than what is presented here. Even with a better group of bands or better performances, it is highly doubtful the results would have been much different. The Pumpkins were completely unique and sound like no one else, even to this day. Sure, they had their influences, but they are in a elite group of bands. They are the rare example of a group that have great songs and are instantly recognizable and unmistakable despite mostly using the common instrumentation of rock music (drums, guitar, bass, and vocals). With the infinite number of bands out there and how it sometimes feels like everything has been done a thousand times before, this feat is becoming increasingly more difficult. Upon tackling the source material of a group like this, the results will inevitably be poor.


You can listen to the individual tracks by clicking on the Pumpkins' top friends on MySpace. (click at your own risk!)

As a bonus, here's a video of the reunited Pumpkins playing a new song, "Starz", live in Germany on June 2, 2007:


Monday, June 04, 2007

Map of Africa - s/t

It's this kind of stuff that makes this blog exciting to write. Map of Africa basically came out of nowhere and knocked me on my ass. Friday afternoon, my friend Christi pointed me towards a recent post on Gorilla vs. Bear that declared the band's "Bone" one of the highlights of May. GvB Chris was dead-on as usual. Shortly after snagging the tune, I had to hear the debut in its entirety. I spent nearly all weekend with this thing playing almost non-stop and the self-titled album is one of the most interesting things I've heard in awhile. This stuff lends itself incredibly well to clever descriptions such as these ones referencing "Bone": "swampy psych-rock jam...scoring a chopper scene in some ill Vietnam flick" (GvB Chris), "makes me want to drive around town in a Z28 with the windows rolled down...hang out with chicks in cut-off jean shorts and dudes wearing headbands...and give people more high-fives" (GvB commenter Jared), and "muggy summer night outside on patio with beer in hand & cig in mouth jam of '07" (Christi).

Map of Africa comes out of the gate strong with a knockout cover of the Equals’ “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys”. The tune sounds gloriously out-of-step with the current musical climate and is one of best straight-ahead rock songs I've heard all year. The opening three tunes pull off a down-n-dirty classic rock 'n roll swagger much more convincingly than any retro-revivalists out there currently. While there are obvious sonic reference points, Map of Africa do so without sounding particularly indebted to any one musical era. "Gonna Ride" employs a confident Dire Straits-type strut fleshed out with a ZZ Top guitar tone and occasional lead figures. This track formally introduces the sexed-up lyrical content and feel of the album and while the lyrics are sometimes purposefully kinda cheesy ("she was a skater dater/coordinator/four door hatch-back two days later"), they fit the tone of the music to a T. "Dirty Lovin'" is the most overtly sexual song here and also contains an obvious nod to ZZ Top.

A midsection containing more ambient material follows the killer opening trio. While the funky, low key "Freaky Ways" is a highlight and easily accessible, the title track/band namesake and the instrumentals ("Creation Myth", "Ely Cathedral", and "Western Love") mostly serve to aid in giving the album an overall arc. The track 4-8 trek initially comes across as self-indulgent, but upon a more attentive listen(s), the track sequencing starts making a whole lot more sense.

It's on "Bone" where the album's second half really starts warming up. The two proceeding tracks are fine; it's just that the strength of the first and last quarter of the album overshadows the other material a bit. You need only refer to the descriptions of "Bone" included supra for an indication of the track's awesomeness. The penultimate track "Snake Fingers" finds the band returning to the guitar-driven classic rock feel of the album's first quarter and the fine closer "Here Come the Heads" may be the best Dire Straits tune Mark Knopfler never wrote.

Map of Africa's Harvey Bassett and Thomas Bullock are more commonly known as club DJs and this suggests the duo laid out the track sequence with an overarching theme and feel in mind. Upon my first couple of listens, I thought the midsection was flabby and the more ambient material was mostly mere filler. It's tempting to write off this album as uneven due to the instantly and insanely enjoyable tunes bookending the album, but stick with it-- in short order, it begins to reveal itself as a record with considerable depth and definite grower potential.

MP3: Map of Africa - "Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys"
MP3: Map of Africa - "Bone"

Buy the LP here.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Common - "The People" & "The Game"

My knowledge of hip-hop is very limited, but I like to think I'm pretty adept at distinguishing the good stuff from the crap. I liken this ability to former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous definition of obscenity-- I know it when I see hear it. Common's 2005 album, Be, was my second favorite hip-hop album of that year, topped only by Kanye's sprawling, flawed masterpiece, Late Registration. Last year I really dug Lil' Wayne's Dedication II, Clipse's Hell Hath No Fury, T.I.'s King, and unanimous hip-hip album of the year for the indie set, Ghostface's Fishscale. Three of these albums ended up on my top 25 albums of 2006 list. Wayne is my favorite modern rapper by a long ways, though I probably only fully absorb about a handful of albums from this genre in a given year. I'm admittedly a bit of a rockist, but as an obsessive music fan, I can get into and appreciate rappers who have a little something special. I do not think this indefinable something necessarily correlates to hip-hop that is geared towards or more friendly to a white audience-- I mean, can Wayne really be considered hip-hop for white 26-year-old recent law grads? Whatever this elusive element is, Common is one of these rappers who just clicks with me.

Common's seventh album, Finding Forever, is due July 31st on Geffen. Recently, two tracks from his upcoming record were made available on iTunes. Kanye produced first single "The People" and it features r&b singer Dwele on the hooks. Kanye's production is excellent and gives this track and warm and organic feel, providing the perfect background for Common's voice. After seeing him perform at the University of Cincinnati awhile back, I was impressed by the diversity among dude's fans. The unifying theme on this track suggests that this phenomenon is far from a fluke. "The Game" strives for a bit more of a street feel and reminds me quite a bit of Be's "The Corner". While trying to sound "hard" has never been one his strengths, he doesn't veer too far into this territory here. After all, how hard can one sound whilst referencing global warming, vegetarianism, Akeelah and the Bee, and MTV's Sweet Sixteen? The song features some tasteful scratching from DJ Premier and though it lacks the lush production of "The People", it works almost as well.

Stream the tunes: