Thursday, January 24, 2008

Kanye West - Graduation

Artist: Kanye Wst
Album: Graduation
Release Date: September 11, 2007
Label: Roc-A-Fella

Three Word Review: Enterprising, Synth-Heavy, Irresistible

Favorite Track: “Champion”
Why? The beat is diverse and interesting. The song is at times introspective and even funny at others. It’s got great flow and is tons of fun to listen to.

Least Favorite Track: “Drunk and Hot Girls” [Feat. Mos Def]
Why? I cannot stand this song. While I’ve listened to this album numerous times, I’ve skipped this track all but once. It certainly doesn’t help that I’m not particularly a fan of Mos Def, but that isn’t the only reason. Its boring, its repetitive, its droning, and it flat-out sucks.

My Thoughts:
Judging by the type of albums I review here, you might be able to guess that I don’t listen to rap all too often. However, “Graduation” has really drawn me in upon the suggestion of a friend. The first song I head was “Good Life” when it was featured on HBOs Entourage, and I was immediately a fan. Since the track is one albums most popular singles, that makes perfect sense, but is there more to offer here?

The answer is yes. Kanye is well known for his skills as a producer, not for his abilities as an MC and that is apparent in many cases on this album, but it doesn’t ruin the experience. The majority of the songs are infectious and interestingly produced enough so that Kanye’s lack of rhyming skills can be over looked. You’re bound to hear many of the songs from “Graduation” on the radio in the near future. Particularly, you’ll be hearing “Good Life,” the immensely popular “Stronger” (featuring Daft Punk), and my personal favorite, “Champion.” I also urge you to check out “Bittersweet Poetry” its a crossover featuring John Mayer and is a bonus track on the Japanese release. While you might not want to import the album just for that, I’m sure you’ll be able to come across it somehow.

Why You Might Not Like It:
Kanye is by no means a great rapper. His rhyming skills are more than questionable and his delivery as an MC is less than stellar. If you’re not looking for pop or commercial rap this won’t capture you. Perhaps, you’d be more at home with his 2004 release “The College Dropout.” If you’re looking for rapping about hard times, living in the projects, poppin’ caps and fucking bitches, this isn’t for you. Kanye generally give you a glimpse (at times introspective) in to the “Good Life,” get it?

Final Say:
When the album was released its only competition in the high-profile rap category was from 50 Cent, who has been waning in significance lately. I’ve only made a cursory release of 50’s latest and I prefer “Graduation” handsdown. It’s a great release and a great listen. Its got tons of energy and a bunch of songs that are sure to be crowd pleasers at your next party. Whether you opt to pickup this album or not, you won’t be able to escape several of its songs as they will be getting plenty of airtime and your friends will be loving them.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Cartel - Cartel

Band: Cartel
Album: Cartel
Release Date: August 21, 2007
Label: Epic

Three Word Review: Homogeneous, Cliché, Commercialized

Favorite Track: “Wasted” Feat. Wyclef Jean (Remix)
Why? “Wasted” by itself is pretty good song, but this crossover remix with Wyclef makes it. Some of the kick from the song suffers from the new beat, but the beat is good and the raggae-esque sound is great.

Least Favorite Track: “The Fortunate”
Why? I actually do kind of like this song, but to me at times it seems like a blatant lift of “Living on a Prayer” from Bon Jovi. It’s mainly just the intro and chorus, but come on.

My Thoughts:
First of all, if you didn’t know, this album was recorded over a period of 20 days for an MTV special “Band in a Bubble.” While it was clearly thrown together it doesn’t really have that vibe. I didn’t watch any of the coverage of this experiment, but from what I can tell it was fairly successful. “Cartel” is proof that a decent sounding album can be written fairly quickly. The only problem is that the album lacks depth and is riddled with lots of shallow and uninventive lines. I don’t listen to the radio or watch MTV much, but I would imagine the stunt provided the band with some serious publicity.

The sound doesn’t deviate much from the sound of “Chroma,” but it is a good release. However, the album is largely homogenous. The songs do differ, but largely share a similar sound, but it’s the patented Cartel sound, and I’m complaining. This time around they seem to be packing a bit more of a kick, and it’s well received. “Cartel” is a very solid sounding release although there isn’t much different from “Chroma.” If you’re a fan of theirs already this is more you’ll probably end up liking. My main problem is that it is incredibly superficial. However, if you just don’t concentrate too too hard on the lyrics you will probably enjoy this. There is plenty of energy here and it makes for a good listening experience.

Why You Might Not Like It:
While this album has lots of potential to bring new sheep into the fold (probably the 11-14 year-old girl demographic), it does nothing to win over those who have already sided against Cartel. Like I said, the sound is largely unchanged from their previous efforts. So, if you never liked them, this isn’t for you. If you’re looking for a poignant musical experience this isn’t for you either. They’re pop rock and now, largely commercialized, so if that’s not your bag, don’t bother.

Final Say:
A worthwhile listen for fans new and old. I can’t say it enough, if you liked their older stuff you’ll probably like this. However, if you’re getting tired of their sound, you might want to steer clear. The premise on which this album was created is very interesting, albeit flat-out product promotion, and I’m sure MTV will be milking the idea far into the future. So, you might also want to keep an eye out to see if your favorite band will sellout, enter the bubble, and create an album in 20 days sometime in the future. I like the idea, just not the commercialization. I’d like to see some honest bands do this, maybe on their own. It’s quite common for bands to hunker down and lock themselves in a house to record, so why not broadcast it? Maybe via the internet √† la ‘lifecasting’ style?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Retroactive Review 5: Cartel

I was a pretty big fan of “The Ransom EP” (mostly for “Luckie St.”) and somewhat of a fan of “Chroma” (mostly for “Honestly”), but it was news to me that Cartel released a new album over the summer. So, for the latest installment of my series of Retroactive Reviews you can expect the lowdown on their self-titled which was released after a 20 day promotional kick fueled by Dr. Pepper. Check back tomorrow for the review!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Mae - Singularity

Band: Mae
Album: Singularity
Release Date: August 14, 2007
Label: Capitol

Three Word Review: Guitars, Pretty, Electric

Favorite Track: “Waiting”
Why? The opening chords and synth lines are catchy and fun. As I listen the synth line routinely gives me a nostalgic feeling of a song that I think I might really like. I can’t think of what it is, but the line makes me like this song too. (I don’t know what song it is, but it might include some line like “... here... noise(s) in my ear.” Maybe? If you know what it is and feel like telling me I’d appreciate it!)

Least Favorite Track: “Crazy 8s”
Why? No particular reason really. Like most of the songs on this album, I’m largely indifferent to it. This is really a horrible reason to give if I want you to take me seriously, but I don’t like its name or the rhyme scheme of the lyrics. Unfortunately for the track, “Crazy 8s” is merely a representative figurehead for my overall ennui with this release.

My Thoughts:
This release isn’t really up my ally, although its got its good points. My main gripe is that Mae seems to be sacrificing their piano rock for synthesized rock. When I first turned on the album I briefly second guessed my mousing ability. I thought perhaps I had inadvertently started up a song by Motion City Soundtrack. They were never all about the piano, nor are they all about synth now, but it seems like they swapped the two with “Singularity.” Overall its a good album but it isn’t so much for me.

The guitars are out with a little more force this time, but there isn’t anything particularly hard on the release. “Rocket” is perhaps the hardest song, but it doesn’t exactly get your blood pumping. Basically what’s going on here is a whole lot of powerpop. Its well crafted and full of hooks, but not my taste anymore. For me, they’ve gone the way of Anberlin. I was a big fan of “Destination: Beautiful,” like I was a fan of “Blueprints for the Black Market.” My interest began waning with both “The Everglow” (although it kept my attention for a while) and “Never Take Friendship Personal.” Now, my interest has all but disappeared with the latest from both.

Why You Might Like It:
A fan of melodic rock and powerpop? This is your cup of tea! If by chance you think that anything that Mae touches turns to gold, this is also for you. Also, if you’ve got a thing for cue-ball-bald band members, Rob Sweitzer and Mae might be just what you’re looking for. I’m not sure if I make the connection with Anberlin because of the pattern alone, or also because of similarity. Nonetheless I get the feeling that if you like new music from Anberlin, you might like this as well.

Final Say:
I can’t recommend it according to my own tastes, but it is not a bad album by any means. They’ve grown as a band and made some different musical decisions and perhaps they’re ones that you’ll like. If you fall into any of the categories I mentioned you should check it out. Otherwise, I don’t think you’ll be to thrilled.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Retroactive Reviews Number 4: Mae

You can expect a new review, tomorrow, Monday, of the latest album from Mae. “Singularity” is their third full-length release, not counting their b-sides release following “Destination: Beautiful.” I was a fan of theirs years ago after first hearing “Embers and Envelopes” on the “Take Action Tour 4” sampler. So, will their latest a worthwhile release? Will it bring me back into the fold? Or will I be disappointed? Check back soon for the review!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Envy On The Coast - Lucy Gray

Band: Envy On The Coast
Album: Lucy Gray
Release Date: August 7, 2007
Label: Photo Finish Records

Three Word Review: Earnest, Fragmented, Promising

Favorite Track: “Vultures”
Why? There is a lot to like about this track. The opening bass line (which, thankfully, recurs), the varied vocal styles, duo vocals which showcase Sal’s vocals, and the song’s air of urgency. The opening track “Sugar Skulls” is up there on this list as well.

Least Favorite Track: “If God Smokes Cheap Cigars”
Why? The song just drops off. With about a minute and a half left the intensity of the song disappears. This actually mirrors the album. This track marks the beginning of the end, after this all the intensity is gone, the remaining songs are all slow and soft. There’s nothing wrong with slow, but they kill the album’s flow in its end. “Lapse” is also fairly bad, it feels incomplete and very rough near its extremely drawn-out end.

My Thoughts:
I like it, I don’t love it. I’m happy to say that I’ve seen Envy On The Coast springboard into [semi-]popularity. They first appeared on my radar when they were the opening act for an acoustic Anthony Green set at the North Star Bar in Philadelphia. They only had their Self-Titled EP then, and it was just on a CD-R, but they were good. I bought it that night, and still love it.

However, there have been some changes made along the way from now until then. “Lucy Gray” is a lot harder during the bulk of the album. It would be a misrepresentation to say that it is hard rock, but the ebb and flow of the EPs intensity is all shoved in the end of this release. However, the musicianship is here. Envy On The Coast has what it takes, and I don’t doubt for one second that they’re going to blowup sometime soon.

“Lucy Gray” is a solid album, but it doesn’t exactly bleed originality, nor does it boast many genre-defining qualities. However, it is very listen-able. Also, what it may lack in originality the band makes up in live performance. They’re full of energy and very genuine.

Why You May or May Not Like It:
One thing to make or break Envy On The Coast for many people is Ryan’s vocal style. It’s not particularly abrasive, but it can be a tipping point. Also, for fans of the EP, some of that sound is lost hear. Some of my favorites by the group are on that album. The likes of “Green Eyes Don’t Lie” and “You Won’t Hear This” are sadly lacking this time through. What is most interesting about “You Won’t Hear This” is that Sal takes over lead vocals. He’s got an excellent voice and it is mostly missing on “Lucy Gray.” I’m not sure why they made the decision to tack all the slow songs on the end of the album, but I think it was a poor choice. If you were looking for more tracks in the same vein of “Suckerpunch” this is a very strong showing in the first half.

Final Say:
As I’ve said, a very solid release. The talent is here, and so is the energy. This young band has lots of potential and it is not lost on this album. They’re touring extensively, as they have been for a while. If they play by you I suggest you make it a point to see them! They’re coming to my college in a week and I’m sure excited to see them. Definitely give this album a listen and lend them some support!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Retroactive Reviews 3: Envy On The Coast

The next review in my ongoing series of catchup reviews is “Lucy Gray” from Envy On The Coast. They’re a bit of a personal favorite of mine. I first saw them a few years back as an opening act, but since then they’ve done some growing and I’ve seen them a few more times. They had an awesome set at Bamboozle 2006, while still rather small and this summer they played at Warped Tour. The crowd was a lot larger for that set, and it’s clear to see that they’re heading up up up!

Check back soon (probably tomorrow) for the review!