Friday, March 30, 2007

Daphne Loves Derby – Good Night, Witness Light

Band: Daphne Loves Derby
Album: Good Night, Witness Light
Release Date: March 27, 2007
Label: Outlook Music

As enjoyable as young bands are, with their whit about broken relationships, there comes a time in the life of every band, when they are expected to mature. The real challenge for Daphne Loves Derby is to not only grow and mature their sound, but they having the daunting task of escaping the umbrella of Death Cab for Cutie, to whom they are often referenced. I might be ironic if I were to say that Good Night, Witness Light, marks the beginning of a mature era for this remarkably young band, but I believe in all honesty that this is an important step forward.

The opening track “Are Two Chords Enough, Dear?” has an interesting and slightly eerie sound to it. It’s intentional pacing and progression marks the first hint of maturity to be found on the album. It builds slowly, but fades prematurely and in comes “Stranger, You and I.” “Stranger” is immediately lovable as it showcases Kenny Choi’s soft and honest voice. The airy gentle rock creates an uplifting an encouraging sound, not only for the listener but also for the album.

The CD is, unfortunately, not without its flaws. “No One is Convinced” and “Miniature Christmas Tree” are the pop-rock black sheep of the album. While they are both enjoyable, essentially pop-rock done right, they represent a genre that is fading and stale. Together, they detract from the overall intelligent sound of the album, which is an important progression for Daphne Loves Derby.

While on the subject of sore thumbs, it would be regrettable to leave out “Marching Band Intro,” which is precisely what the title suggests. The song is merely a marching band cadence, which builds towards and runs perfectly into “That’s Our Hero Shot.” This song continues the marching band sound, adding in horns that you’ve probably heard at a high school football game. Soon, however, the marching band is whisked out of the stands and they are replaced by the true soul of “Hero Shot.” This conscientious tune, like many other tracks here tackles issues of change and progression, oddly representative of the CD.

“Cue the Sun” is a slow acoustic ballad that represents the softer side of the album. It is most reminiscent of their first EP. “Love and Mercy” showcases Jason Call’s skills on the bass as it opens with a driving bass line. “Hello Color Red” is overall very peppy and sunny and thus very endearing.

Finally “How’s It Going To End?” finishes the release on virtually the same pensive and meaningful note that “Are Two Chords Enough, Dear?” began it with. Good Night, Witness Light is certainly a worthwhile listen if you’ve been a fan of Daphne Loves Derby in the past or if you’ve been in search of some heartwarming melodic rock lately. They haven’t quite yet reached their full potential, but they’ve certainly got their foot in the door and I look forward to hearing more from them as they continue to mature and refine their sound.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What to Expect this Week for 3/27 Releases

This week I plan on reviewing Daphne Loves Derby’s latest Good Night, Witness Light, which hit the shelves today. It’s been floating around the Internet for about a month now, but today is it’s official release date. As usual (well not quite as of late) you can expect the review to be posted by Friday. Also, feel free to head on over to Bêtise and check out my latest posts. Enjoy!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Antarctica Takes It! – The Penguin League

Band: Antarctica Takes It
Album: The Penguin League
Release Date: 2006
Label: None/DIY

Just reading the brief album stats (above) will give you a hint as to the nature of this release, if you can even call it that. This, however, doesn’t give the slightest hint about just how charming and invigorating the music from Antarctica Takes It! is. The album can’t be found at any retail outlets, in fact, as far as I can tell, mailing the band $6 in an envelope is the only way to get it. And it isn’t a professionally manufactured CD and case by any means; it is basically just a CD-R. The sound quality too, tells the story of a DIY band. The music is incredibly lo-fi, and the band even states on their myspace, that as they record their next CD “this time we're using a microphone.” I can’t be sure if this is an exaggeration or what, but it’s clear, though, that the production values here are not quite studio quality. I can say though, what this release lacks in audio quality, it makes up for in personality.

The CD is only ten tracks long, and clocks in at just less than 30 minutes. The longest track and perhaps one of the best is the second to last, “Antarctica,” and it is hardly more than 4 minutes. The album opens up with “I’m No Lover,” which, like the rest of the CD, is filled with lyrical gems, both clever and entertaining. The first words you’ll hear out of Dylan McKeever, the lead singer, are “I'm not a lover, I'm a fighter and I would burn your house down.” As the album progresses, there is no lack of this lyrical style, that is both humorous and meaningful.

While I don’t have a gripe with a single song on this album, I do have three favorites. The first, “Circuits” features harmonizing vocals, and interesting mix of instruments. The unique mix of chimes and harmonica create a light airy atmosphere for the song. My particular favorite, “Fog Song” has a slower, more brooding sound to it, but it is equally lovable and endearing. It has a distinctive marching pace, which is kept throughout by a combination of snare as well as piano and a variety of strings.

Finally, “Antarctica” makes it to my list of most memorable tracks. “Antarctica” is easily described as the album’s climax, while the somber “Goodbye” is more of a polite send off. “Antarctica” manages to cram into just 4:12 a variety of styles that make for a rich musical experience.

It seems as if the chief complaint about this release is the low quality of the recording. However, if you can set aside any instances of audiophilia, you will find a delightful and sincere release that is both interesting and easy to listen to. I am very excited to hear what is coming next from Antarctica Takes It!, and I hope after reading this, and hearing the album, that you are too.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Upcoming for Release Week 3/20

This week is basically slim-pickin’s for releases that I’m interested in. I saw Good Charlotte’s latest is out today, but I’m not even going to bother with that. I’ve given some thought to reviewing Person Pitch from Panda Bear, but after a first listen, I really don’t have too much to say about it. So, unless it grows on me at least to the point that I have something to say, I don’t suspect I’ll be reviewing that. Instead, I’ve been giving thought to doing my first back review. If I do, it’ll most likely be Antarctica Takes It! – The Penguin League, which I first discovered a few months ago, and have since grown to love it. So, if that’s the review I choose to do, you’ll get to hear exactly what I love about it.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Sherwood - A Different Light

Band: Sherwood
Album: A Different Light
Release Date: 3/12/07
Label: Myspace Records

Sherwood’s latest offering, A Different Light, their first on Myspace Records, is like their past efforts, catchy and fun. However, their sound has not matured, they’ve only opted for a more electronic sound, adding a keyboardist. It is nice to see, however, that they continue to put out music that is uplifting and enjoyable. Even when they lament about relationship troubles (and other typical pop-punk topics) they keep things happy and airy.

The CD starts off with “Song In My Head.” It begins slowly, but soon kicks off into an energized pop-punk ballad. This sets the stage for virtually the entire CD, only once does the pace slowdown. The next song, “The Best In Me” is electric infused power pop, chockfull of lovable hooks and rhymes. These songs, like the rest of the album, opt for extended fades and reverb. This is one of the few changes from their previous sound. In a way I might even say that Lou Giordano (the producer who has also worked with Sunny Day Real Estate) has almost over produced the album. It doesn’t stand solely on the musicianship of the band, but partially on a foundation of synthesizers.

The third track, “Middle of the Night” is a rerecord, originally found on the Summer EP, which was released digitally, at This song has remained the same, except for the addition of about 10 seconds of crowd noise-like fluff tacked on in the beginning. This lack of change, however, is not a bad thing. The song is as it should be, energetic, and is certainly single material.

As the CD continues, there isn’t much change musically, at all. Almost all of the songs rely on the driving beat of drummer Joe Greenetz. His steady pace sets the stage for almost all of the songs. Just about the only slowdown on the disc some from the sixth song, “Ally Cat,” which to me sounds a lot like “Such Great Heights,” from The Postal Service, at times. It is, however, one of the more memorable and clever songs offered here.

The CD is certainly very enjoyable, but lacks any progression or change. All of the songs seem very similar to each other, and there is hardly any development. After only the first few tracks, I found it became hard to find new ways to describe songs. There is nothing wrong, with this consistent (if not monotonous) approach to creating music, but it just seems to lose its power. Like their previous works, A Different Light seems like it is best suited for summer listening. I anticipate that I’ll be listening to this album again, perhaps on a beach trip, flying down the highway with the windows down. Its energetic, vivacious sound of this release makes it perfect for listening to during the equally pleasant summer months.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

TEN Hiatus, I’m Slacking

I’ve been putting off getting to work on reviewing “A Different Light” so far this week. I’ve listened to the album a few times already; I just don’t feel like sitting down to write out my reactions and to get it all formulated into a cohesive review. Instead, I’ve been listening a lot to The Early November. And, sadly, yesterday posted the band’s note to their fans, saying that they were going on an indefinite hiatus.

That was actually very disappointing news to me. Just recently, did an interview with the band, where they talked about all of the writing that Ace (the band’s front man and song writer) had been doing. They explained that he had enough material written for several full LP’s and of course, I was excited. But, unfortunately, now, they’re calling it quits. I have to say; I’ve been a fan for quite a while. I was really lured in by their emo sound way back on “For All of This,” and since then they’ve been maturing, and I’ve enjoyed just about everything that they’ve done. Especially, 2006’s “The Mother, The Mechanic, and The Path,” which was an epic three disc undertaking with 46 tracks. There was a ton of speculation that TEN would be spreading themselves too thin, but when I first got to listen, I couldn’t disagree more. While The Path, was a bit different, seeing as it was mostly narrated with alternating musical interludes, it was overall very enjoyable. The story that it told, directly, was also mirrored in the lyrics and musical styles of the preceding CDs, The Mother and The Mechanic.

The Mechanic, which opens the three disc set, is much more of a rock CD, as opposed to the slower more melodic style of The Mother. Both, however, showcase the musicianship of The Early November and the writing talents of Ace Enders. Both CDs, which have 11 tracks each, plus “5 Years” which was a bonus track for The Mechanic, just did not disappoint me. While I had favorites within the 23 tracks, I never find myself skipping over a single song.

So, what was supposed to just be a short entry explaining that I might be a little bit late with this weeks review, has turned into a pretty long lament about TEN. I’m hoping to get to see them on their last tour. I’d most likely try to go see them on April 12, when I’m back up at school; they’re playing at Toad’s Place in New Haven, CT. I just have to find someone else who wants to go, and who can drive. I’m also planning on seeing Circa Survive with As Tall As Lions, Envy on the Coast, and Cute Is What We Aim For, when they play in West Hartford. Also, hopefully, if I get to these shows, I’ll do a short write-up on my feelings about the show as a whole and the individual sets.

I expect that once I’m back up at school, I’ll get down to work and write the Sherwood review, and pick out what I’ll be doing for next week.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Upcoming for Release Week 3/13

This week you can expect to see a review for “A Different Light” by Sherwood, which will be hitting stores this Tuesday, March 13. The review will be up no later than Friday, but you can expect it to be posted before that. As always I hope you’ve been enjoying the write-ups I’ve been doing. Check out the past few from Relient K, Bright Eyes, and The Higher. Also, please head over to Bêtise, which should be updating on a near-daily basis.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Relient K - Five Score and Seven Years Ago

Band: Relient K
Album: Five Score and Seven Years Ago
Release Date: March 6, 2007
Label: Gotee/Capitol

“Five Score and Seven Years Ago” is a worthwhile follow up to “mmhmm.” Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much growth since the 2004 release. However, what’s been characteristic of Relient K in the past isn’t lost. As always, the lyrics are fairly clever, and tinged with some humor. Matt Thiessen has his way with words, although they’re by no means, brilliant or groundbreaking.

The CD starts out with some good old vocal percussion and harmonizing in “Plead the Fifth,” which offers up a brief foray into the assassination President Lincoln. Notice, also, the connection to Lincoln in the title of the release, only it is “Five Score,” rather than four score. My only question here is what exactly is Thiessen implying with the line, “An impersonator died?” I’d have to ask him to back off of a great president.

“Come Right Out and Say it” marks the beginning of the return to the Relient K style. It’s a power pop ballad, pleading for honesty in a relationship. “Why don't you come right out and say it? / Even if the words are probably gonna hurt.” However, songs about relationships aren’t the only aces up Relient K’s collective sleeve. “I Need You” is a slightly harder (and by harder I mean, hardly at all) song about God. This song illustrates a feeling of being cornered and seeking strength in God. “You say you've heard my prayers, you've read my words that are on the beach.”

It seems that after this song, the stage for the CD has been set. The plan is to mix generic love songs, with a few songs about God; after all, they are a Christian-rock band. The songs that follow, “The Best Thing” and “Forgiven” are just what you would expect from Relient K, the same poppy sound and sappy love lyrics and praise for the Lord.

I’m not sure if Thiessen thinks that he will escape the cliché of love songs, if he admits to doing it, but I’ll be the first to say that it’s just not working out. In “Must Have Done Something Wrong” Thiessen explains, “And I know that it’s so cliché / To tell you that everyday / Spent with you is the new best day of my life” It’s very true, it is cliché, so unless he intends to stick only to writing tired and outplayed love songs for the rest of his career, its about time to change it up a bit. Relient K lyrics, are snappy and clever, but by no means are they innovative or original. However, the band deserves some credit for this track. It’s pretty upbeat and has a sort of fun energy to it. I would not be surprised if this is the first single to come from this release.

The CD trudges on, just as the above pattern suggests. Until track eleven there’s an about even mix of love songs and songs with Christian undertones. However, the eleventh track, “Crayons Can Melt on us for all I Care,” comes totally unexpected. It’s brief and clever, and wildly humorous, at least I thought so.

“Five Score and Seven Years Ago” ends with “Deathbed” which is a monster of a storyteller, clocking in at just over 11 minutes. It tells the life story of a dying man. To it’s credit, it contains a variety of styles sewn together neatly with solid transitions. Finally, after a series of crescendos an instrumental interlude leads to the end of the song. It builds up and slowly trails off, and finally, the song culminates with vocals provided by both Jon Foreman and Thiessen. Unfortunately, Foreman’s contribution to this closing duet sounds forced and almost unnatural.

It is hard to fault Relient K for sticking to their guns and continuing with a style that they know well, but then again, it’s hard not fault them for not maturing. The chemistry is there, it is clear that they are a group of talented musicians who work well together. However, after two years, I would have hoped that their sound would have matured a bit, or at least that they said goodbye to their rigid formula of verse-chorus pop rock. If you’re looking for mmhmm part two, you’ll be satisfied with “Five Score,” however, if you’ve been hoping for Relient K’s “Deja Entendu” you won’t even find a glimmer of it here.

As a note, this CD is currently streaming, in its entirety, excluding the final song, “Deathbed,” on the band’s myspace.

Bright Eyes - Four Winds EP

Band: Bright Eyes
Album: Four Winds EP
Release Date: March 6, 2007
Label: Saddle Creek

The “Four Winds” EP is the precursor to the upcoming Cassadaga, which is set for release April 10. You can look forward to that review next month. Anyways, this six track EP has one song from the upcoming full-length and five b-sides. It is reassuring, that these five tracks that didn’t quite make the cut, are really quite enjoyable.

The first track, also the title track, “Four Winds,” provides a preview of what is to come from Cassadaga. It’s got the makings of a Conor Oberst protest song, minus any direct reference to our commander in chief. Several lines, in the song make it obvious, as Oberst calls up the three major holy books, “The Bible's blind, the Torah's deaf, the Qu'ran's mute / If you learn them all together you get close to the truth.” Along the other tracks on the EP “Four Winds” has a country twang to it, that sounds vaguely like “Santa Clause is Coming to Town” as the song begins.

The second track, and my personal favorite, “Reinvent the Wheel,” continues along the lines of a country or American sound, but is more of a showcase of Oberst’s ability to create a song with a pop sound, without alienating himself. There is certainly a case to be made that this song is an ode to Elliot Smith, who is one of Oberst’s influences. Next comes “Smoke Without Fire,” which unfortunately doesn’t have much of a compelling force at all, features brief vocals from the likes of M. Ward. It is however, characteristic of many Bright Eyes songs that have a very stripped down feeling to them.

“Stray Dog Freedom” is chockfull of coarse guitar riffs that sound plucked right from the 1970’s. This storyteller has even more of that wandering country feel to it and features Ben Kweller. “Cartoon Blues” is aptly named as the song is filled with a southern blues style. However, Oberst’s tortured voice just doesn’t fit the part. Lyrically, it lacks the fullness of “Four Winds” but provides a much more solid musical experience when compared to the vacant “Smoke Without Fire.”

The sixth and final track, “Tourist Trap,” provides a deliberate paced folk sound, but seems more like an empty shell of a song, almost unfinished. It is, however, becoming of the content of the song, this story paints a picture of an empty person who lacks vitality and can no longer feel at home.

Overall, the EP is worth your time. At first I found myself only enjoying the first two tracks, but soon I was enjoying the release as a whole. As I said before, this gets my hopes up for the up coming “Cassadaga.” If this is the collection of songs that didn’t make it, I hope that the full-length will be just bursting with favorites.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Some News

I'm not sure if you've heard or not, not that you would unless you read Hobb's blog, but Hobb will no longer be contributing here. He's got a lot on his plate as far as blogging goes, and the work that is expected of him, at several outlets, is continuously expanding. So, he won't be doing any posting around these parts. This doesn't mean, however, that you shouldn't check out what he has to say over at Taciturn Blog.

Also, this week look forward to a review of the "Four Winds EP" from Bright Eyes. I also hope you enjoyed my review of The Higher's latest, "On Fire," (check it out if you haven’t yet) as I hope you enjoy everything that you read here, and over at Bêtise. For the "Four Winds" review, I'm shooting for Friday evening, at the latest. If it doesn't get done earlier, I expect that I'll spend some of my train ride home, on Friday, working on it.

The Higher - On Fire

Band: The Higher
Album: On Fire
Release Date: March 6, 2007
Label: Epitaph

The Higher’s debut on Epitaph, “On Fire,” isn’t exactly what I would call a stellar performance. While catchy hooks abound, the sound of the album is not quite as cohesive as I would have expected. While I largely enjoyed their debut full-length, “Histrionics,” I just can’t say the same in this case.

The opening track, “Insurance” is exactly what I expected Fall Out Boy’s latest, “Infinity on High” to be. If "This Ain't A Scene, It’s an Arms Race" sounded like it might be at home among the likings of the Backstreet Boys, “Insurance” is definitely B-side material for NSYNC’s “Celebrity,” which featured one of their later hits, “Dirty Pop.”

“On Fire” partially marks a departure from the generic emo-rock of “Histrionics” to a electronic, pop-driven sound. “Guts” fits the barebones, music by numbers, style of verse-chorus-verse. “Rock My Body” is the first of three re-recorded songs from “Histrionics.” It remains virtually the same, with some introduction of dance beats. “Weapons Wired” is one of the stronger showings on this album. Again, like “Insurance” it offers up a poppy sound, but it’s done well. The song packs a little bit of a punch; with the focus more set on the guitar rather than synthesized beats. However, the new dance sound, isn’t maintained for the entirety of the release, which is one of the major disappointments.

The fifth track, “Histrionics” is the second re-record from their debut. It was by and far my favorite song from their 2005 work. It was short and catchy and has a heartfelt quality to it. Unfortunately, this re-record doesn't provide much worthwhile innovation; again it's more of an electronic remix. The song doesn't lose all of it's worth in my eyes, but it doesn't seem to have the same flow. One of it’s best aspects, for me, is the handclap, I don’t know how many times I’ll end up declaring my love for this quaint little addition, but I’m quite sure it’s one of my favorites.

“Movement” reminds me immediately of the 1999 hit “Slide” from The Goo Goo Dolls. However, once the song gets past this reminiscent introduction, it reveals that it has none of the lasting power of that hit. This track marks a point in this release, that starts to lose my interest and starts to betray the initial feeling of the album. Slowly the songs slow down and lose their dancability (I know that’s not a word, but you know what I mean by it). “On Fire” started out with a strong upbeat pop essence, but slowly this fades away and all that is left is run of the mill instrumentation and Seth Trotter’s flat vocals. “Can Anyone Really Love Young,” “Darkpop,” “DARE,” and “Our Movie Rules” all seem to fit in this category, in my eyes. “Darkpop” manages to keep up the beat a bit, but overall the song is forgettable.

Thankfully, “31 Floors” is full of repeatable and catchy hooks. I’d say its one of the last gems of the disc (maybe ‘gem’ is too much, cubic zirconium might be more fitting). Either way, it’s got a decent amount going for it, and provides some incentive to make it to the end of the CD. Finally, after “Our Movie Rules” comes the Patrick Stump remix of “Pace Yourself.” This is track closes the disc, and is the final adaptation from “Histrionics.” It is, however, slightly ironic, seeing as the main lyric says that, “you can’t write the same song over again,” even though The Higher, or perhaps the folks over at Epitaph, saw it fit to re-record three old tracks.

After just less than one minute of silence, at the end of “Pace Yourself,” comes the hidden track of the album. I think I’ve mentioned before, that I am really not much of a fan of this practice. I just don’t care that much about part of a song, that a band decided didn’t warrant it’s own track. Plus, when I’m listening to music while doing something else; it’s just annoying when there’s undue silence. Anyways, the hidden track is no more interesting than any other track on the CD and it’s absolutely drenched with obvious and partially obnoxious sexual references, not exactly a lyrical jewel.

Overall, this isn’t much of a follow up to the enjoyable “Histrionics.” As the CD began I was actually kind of excited to see where they would go with their new dance-pop sound. Unfortunately, by about halfway through the disc it became apparent that it wasn’t a full shift and they were stuck right back in the rut of their generic, almost sub-par, sound. I would say that this CD isn’t for either, fans of The [old] Higher, or for those in love with the dance sounds of bands like Head Automatica or Panic! At the Disco, it does, however, a few songs worthy of your time.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Radio Moscow and Bobby Conn

This past week there wasn’t too much that I was really interested in reviewing. So, instead I decided to give a listen to two random CDs and see what I thought of them. I chose Radio Moscow’s self-titled debut and King for a Day from Bobby Conn. Both are very different from each other, style-wise, and also different from what I generally listen to. However, I found that I enjoyed aspects of both.

Band: Radio Moscow
Album: Radio Moscow
Release Date: February 27, 2007
Label: Alive Records

Radio Moscow offers up a slew of guitar heavy rock. They carry a sound that is somewhat reminiscent of the southern blues-rock of yester-year. Some of the riffs and lead guitar definitely reminded me of sounds familiar to The Allman Brothers Band. Early on, the track “Lucky Dutch” gives a definite feeling of “Black Betty” from Ram Jam. However, their sound isn’t merely a direct adaptation of music from the rock gods of yore.

Headed by Parker Griggs, Radio Moscow showcases a fusion of sound, all their own. The group has worked to incorporate a variety of styles into their project, ranging from moaning blues slide guitar to a heavily distorted rock sound. This release, however, is not going to be the bread and butter of every music listener out there. Their style seems like they were plucked right out of the rock scene of the 60’s and 70’s, but with a grittier garage twist. The album provided me with a few interesting listens, and got me all nostalgic for the good old rock jams that seem lacking in music these days.

Band: Bobby Conn
Album: King for a Day
Release Date: February 27, 2007
Label: Thrill Jockey

King for a Day also provides a wide variety of musical styling. Bobby Conn is no stranger to the bizarre and his music proves it. It seems as though he’s been know to go a little wild, once proclaiming to be the Anti-Christ. This album, however, brings with it a wide variety of genre hopping. The first track, “Vanitas” is a perfect example. It starts with the sound of a gong and leads in with a variety of chimes and other ambient sounds. However, the song doesn’t keep at it for too long, the strings begin to pick up and the drama of keys provides a building effect. Soon comes the introduction of quiet chants, quite typical of Sufjan Stevens. However, the chants lead into a full on guitar attack that picks up the energy of the song. Soon, they fade away and an almost frantic offering of ambient noise returns.

As the rest of the CD ensues, so do a variety of song types. Lyrical contributions range from the overtly sexual to expression of the joy of life and love. The title song, “King For A Day” has a quality somewhere between a light samba and elevator music; however, it’s not boring for a second. One of the standout songs of the album, and my favorite, is “Love Let Me Down,” which provides a transition from a deliberate and brooding introduction to a chime-filled chorus.

Bobby Conn calls his music a mix of indie, experimental and showtunes. It seems like an odd combination, but I can certainly see how music from the stage has played a large part in his inspiration, and it works. For instance, the almost feverish beginning of “Anybody” reminds me a bit of the theme song to Broadway’s Rent.

At first I thought neither of these releases were much of my taste, but they’ve both grown on me a bit, because of the individuality and pure personality that is present in both. So, I’d suggest that if you like what you’ve read, that you give one a listen. In addition to that, I’d suggest giving them more than one listen, because neither are overtly catchy, but they both offer a genuinely unique experience.