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The Role of the Music Critic (and Why We Don’t Really Matter)

March 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Tono Carbajo "No Title"I’ve been writing this music blog for nearly two years now but haven’t delved too deeply into the reason of why.  Although I don’t work for any magazine, website, or any other type of publication I feel this need to type a lot of words about music I find along the way.  I hope to address a little bit about why I do it and its true function to the world (if any is to be found).

But before I go on, let me give some props to Tono Carbajo and his untitled work with vinyl for the image.  You can see more vinyl-related art here.

To begin, I am not sure if I even like the words ‘music critic’.  I consider myself a music enthusiast who likes to write in his spare time.  I have bought hundreds of albums, gone to plenty of shows while standing or sitting, and have dabbled with the guitar in the past.  I mainly listen to a lot of rock and punk but really appreciate jazz, reggae, and soul music.  I’ve disliked a lot of modern artists but have still found some that give me plenty of enjoyment.  As a music critic/enthusiast, my writing is secondary to my deep appreciation of the composition of sounds that other people make.

The music critic is not a position of great stature.  It may sound like something enviable because everyone enjoys music and, in the age of the Ipod, likely wouldn’t mind listening to music constantly.  However, unlike the casual listener who can simply shrug and say “yeah, sounds cool” or “ehh, boring”, a music critic chooses to use complete sentences and attempt to back up their claims with evidence.  Whether anyone bothers to read all of those words is besides the point; the critic wishes to write an essay so that their creatively thinking mind is out there like a speech.

Read more…

Various Artists – Let’s Get Rid of L.A.: 15 Bands From Underneath the Ruins of Southern California

March 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Revenge Records, 2003

Ah, what the hell is with that cover?  It is uuuuugggly.  In fact, when I dug this out from my stack of stuff to review I could barely read the title on the spine it was so dark.  Black and green indeed.  But hey, check it out:  wolves.  They seem to be eating something, likely some band that had stars in their eyes and forgot that L.A. is a tough racket.  Well, given that there are fifteen bands on this compilation that I had never heard of, I figured I’d give them all a whirl for a few cents.  Who knows, maybe one of them might get a call from a dude in Massachusetts saying they’re about to make it big, Big, BIG because they are now featured on humble music blog!

As one might expect, this is one of those compilations that is all at once loud but contains its share of greatness and crumminess.  My usual ratio of tune enjoyment is something along the likes of 1: 2: 4, where ‘1’ is a great song, ‘2’ is a decent song that one can take or leave, and ‘4’ is forgettable pap.   Therefore, let’s see how “Let’s Get Rid of L.A.” fares against the usual expectations.

Since I’m a pop punk enthusiast, I really did appreciate the Orphans’ “Miss Easy Rider”, the Pinkz’s “Right or Wrong” and the Checkers’ “Is He In?”.  Quick guitar riffs, urgent vocals and a two minute track time are all that I require for a sonically good time.  It helps that the two groups have female lead vocalists, with the Checkers sounding like they have two.

One of the best tracks on the comp is the Flash Express’ “Beat That Kills” due its classic rock n roll brutality.  The pounding drums and cymbals do it for me as well as the vocalist’s fuzzy, deep voice.  No fancy vocal effects, just singing it like it is.  Then there’s the epic bridge that reminds you that not every rock song has to stick to the verse chorus verse predictability.

Amidst the punk and more punk on the album is the Alleged Gunmen’s “New Bo Diddley” which is like a blues rockin’ oasis.  Considering that the next few tracks barely take a breath, the track’s inclusion is a good varietal choice by Revenge Records.  It’s a pity the label didn’t bother with anything else like it on the rest of album.

And of course, as it usually goes with compilations, not every song is engaging.  “An Ave Maria” by the Fuse! is a loud, thrashing mess, but it at least breaks up the prevalent garage punk on the collection.  Other tracks that don’t quite work for me are “Hangar” by Squab Teen, “Clifton” by Miracle Chosuke and “T-T-T-T-Tet” by Fast Forwards, mainly due to the groups sounding like they’re making noise for noise’s sake.  Despite some of the more stumbling, incoherent tracks, the compilation is a strong package of hard rock from the west coast.

Here you go, found the Flash Express song on Youtube!

Going back to my ratios, I would say that this 15-track compilation scored a 3: 6: 6 (or 1: 2: 2) which is better than usual.  Therefore, even with just the three great tracks I’ve gotta call this a Bargain.  Even if I never spin the whole thing in complete succession again, at least I’ve got three or so new songs that I can throw in a mix somewhere.  I could also fly out to Los Angeles and start flaunting my recently acquired indie cred by name dropping some of these older underground bands.  Ahhh never mind … I imagine I’ll just get run over by rollerbladers.

Bonus Compilation Speech:  Compilations are not for everyone.  Sometimes the idea that you are forced to listen to a group of bands that you’ve never heard of is a major turn off.  On the flipside, since not every song is the listener’s preference one doesn’t have to wait long for a different song and band to come along.  And hey, why are albums by a single band so great?  What if you hate the first three songs?  Usually that means the rest of the album is deemed as crap, whereas on a compilation that just means there are ten or so more tracks to go before a final evaluation is reached.  This is why paying very little for compilations, especially rock ‘n roll ones, are just my thing.  Go find a cheap compilation somewhere and discover some obscure bands under a rock, will ya?  You’ll be surprised.

Edith Frost – Telescopic

March 18, 2011 3 comments

Drag City Records, 1998

Major score!  For less than a dollar I got a record by a respectable indie artist who happened to have autographed the album cover.  Sure, this could be equivalent to me signing one of my underwear and giving it to someone on the street.  I mean, who am I?  Who is she?  We’re just people … so an autographed record might be great if I really liked her music but it is only just an album with some writing on it if I don’t.  I had vaguely heard of Edith Frost because I liked her name and even more vaguely recall the type of music she played, so this was worth a buy to see if I had obtained something to brag about.

The music of Edith Frost really comes across as slacker pop.  It tends to sound a bit sluggish and awkward with very light drumming and guitar strums on most of the tracks.  Her voice is very light and sometimes seems to quiver, which I guess could constitute an aim for dreaminess.  The whole setup reminds me of my experience with Mazzy Star and its strong effect on invoking unconsciousness.  Nice enough, but perhaps too quiet for active listening.

“Walk on Fire” begins the album as a sort of sludgy pop song that lasts nearly five minutes.  Frost’s vocals take on a strong tone which, incidentally, is as strong as it gets for the rest of the record.  The fidgety guitar solo, featured halfway through the song, is barely heard above the rest of the band’s light tempo.  “Light” has a casual swing to it that gives it a ye olde time feel that reminds me a bit of the Squirrel Nut Zippers.  Perhaps that’s just because a violin is involved.  Frost sounds a little like early Liz Phair on “You Belong to No One”, though that is likely due to her sometimes monotone singing voice that has a few hard edges in it.  It turns out to be one of the better tracks on the album due to the music’s jovial tone.

Not all songs are blithely pretty to listen to.  On”Falling”, Frost includes an unnervingly repeated lyric of “we can go on forever”.  With Frost’s voice it actually sounds like a haunting threat that makes me check that the track time doesn’t exceed its three and a half minutes.  It turns out to be another one of those dreary tracks before Frost thankfully picks it up a bit with “Bluish Bells”.  Understand that a real rumbler from Frost is slightly speedier drums and fuzzier guitar.  It won’t start a party.  Songs like “Through the Trees” and “Are You Sure?” solidify Frost’s interest in sending the listener into dreamland with their plodding compositions.  (snore)

You can really get to know Edith Frost and her chatty personality on her website via a lot of Twitter updates.  You can also go to MySpace or Last.fm for some listening.

Ultimately this record comes across as a mix of casually interesting and dull.  Spinning it a couple of times made me appreciate the quiet tones more, but it could be easily relegated to forgotten background music.  I guess I had higher hopes for the autographed disc, but maybe it’s just not my type of music.  I nearly labeled the album a Bust but like I said, it took a few listens before I warmed up to it a bit.  I suggest anyone who likes quieter singer songwriters should give Frost a chance, but if you’re prone to liking more energizing music this may be a difficult listen.

Various Artists – Crydamoure Presents “Waves”

March 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Crydamoure Records, 2001

Featuring a picturesque cover of a location I would consider giving nearly anything to transport to right now, this compilation looked promising in a few ways.  The track list of the album made it apparent that this was going to be a dance CD of some sort.  With songs like “Intergalactik Disko”, “Boogie Shell” and … “Santa Claus”, well, it looked to be a rousing time.  There’s also a track called “T.I.T.T.S”.  If it was a song about The International Taste-testers of Taco Salads I couldn’t pass it up.  I love taco salad.

Cryadamoure are actually a duo from France who create house music to please the French masses.  Figuring that they might as well assist others who create similar music, they started the Crydamoure record label and put out this compilation of artists.  Since this is house music, many of the songs stick to one loop and repeat it with slight variations.  For many songs this style makes little impression, like on “Lovers” (sorry Raw-Man), “Intergalactik Disko”, and “Coral Twist”.  I could see these tunes being much more interesting if one was actually at a dance club and experiencing some other sensory influence (glug glug glug), but as is these aren’t anything spectacular.

“Hysteria” by Le Knight Club had some serious potential when it began with its hook, but it never brought it to the next level.  When a song gives a hint as to what is in store, one usually feels that it’s only a matter of time before more beats, drums, sound, etc get introduced to pour it on.  “Hysteria” never gets there, and the sad sound effects of artificial cheering from an audience makes it more apparent of its lack of success.

It takes nearly half of the compilation to pass on before the songs get more interesting.  Le Knight Club make up for their “Hysteria” let down by composing “Cherie D’Amoure”.  Even though it is considered a bonus track (inferior?), it is a strong tune for me due to its somber tone.  Not every dance track needs to be in your face and loud about it, which makes “Cherie D’Amoure” and its ability to quietly get the foot motivation going appealing.

It seems that once “Cherie” is finished, the compilation finally gets into gear.  “Wrath of Zeus” by the Eternals, “The Turkish Avenger” by Sedat, and even “Santa Claus” by Le Knight Club make up a couple of the dance songs that stood out to me.  Again, despite the repetitiveness the songs had a hook that could sound excellent if blasted into your ears while you’re surrounded by a swath of multi-colored lights and grinding people.  “Boogie Shell” reminds me of a traditional pulsing dance tune while the final track of “Holiday On Ice” has hints of Daft Punk in its inverted sound effects that seem to poke at the listener.

Listen to a few house tunes on the label’s MySpace page.

I was ready to write this compilation off for some of its earlier tracks, but the music that showed up in the second half convinced me that this isn’t so bad.  All songs have constant repetition, but there are certainly better tracks than others depending on how the hooks are constructed and varied over time.  Even though I don’t listen to much house music, I have to say that writing this review was easy given the motivational background music.  Picking up further house compilations, whether they are from Crydamoure or not, is likely a real gamble when it comes to discovering effectively enjoyable songs.  However, if one can find some affordable music to keep the body moving, no matter what the genre, then it is a success.

Stardeath and White Dwarfs – The Birth

March 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Warner Bros Records, 2009

I do enjoy those epic album covers.  This one’s giant face nebula could mean anything, whether it’s light pop (see: pink), electronic dance or heavy, heavy metal.  I was sort of hoping for metal because the stunning impression of the cover looks like it wants to consume you.  On the back of the album there’s even a skull, which when combined with the freakish face could have been a warning a la Indiana Jones that ye who listen to thine record shall dieth by a giant rolling rock.  I didn’t care, for I knew these guys were going to rip it and I had to hear it.

One would think that Stardeath and White Dwarfs (SWD from now on) was going to get a seriously fantastic rock record on with the opening chugging riff of “The Sea is on Fire”, but something about Dennis Coyne’s vocals gives a bit away.  It’s not harsh enough, or perhaps it is too nasally … I don’t know.  The falsetto intro to “New Heat” is quickly forgotten as the song quickly picks up with a rapid drum beat, but yet again it was apparent that SWD were leaning more towards indie pop rock than anything louder.  Oh well, there go the metal dreams.

The track that deftly balances the band’s musical interests is “The Age of the Freak”.  Coyne breathily sings throughout while the band switches between serenity and pounding rock.   It’s one of those turn it up high songs so that you can truly feel the brunt of the hard riffs.  Gotta say, it’s growing on me on each spin and it’s not even smoky in here.  However, the song that may end up being one of the better ones is “Those Who Come From the Sun Return to the Sun” due it having no vocals at all.  SWD zips through a two minute funky rock instrumental that probably would have sounded absurd if Coyne put his vocals on it.  Good choice to leave it alone.

If you want something light with touches of heaviness then surf on over to their website or listen a bit at MySpace.

Although this record technically qualifies as a Bust given that it didn’t sound as epic as its album cover, the breezy pop combined with some harder rock numbers made it a nice enough record.   I guess the lead singer is related to the Coyne in the Flaming Lips, which makes a lot of sense given some of the similarly sounding tunes on the album.  I imagine since this debut album came out in 2009 that Stardeath and White Dwarfs still have something to give us later on.  Hopefully they focus more on the heavy rock ‘n roll than the dreamier rock stuff.  I heard the Lips cornered that market already anyway.

Oranger – New Comes and Goes

March 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Eenie Meenie Records, 2005

Either there was a spectacular disaster involving a hair dryer and hair gel, or that woman stepped out of the car over an air vent installed in the street.  Let’s go with the “Something About Mary” scenario for the interest of this article.  That would’ve been a flashy enough image in of itself, but the blurry guy in the white suite and the pink wrestler mask steals a little bit of that show.  Is he her date?  Is he about to grab her and give her a suplex?  Maybe he accidentally found himself in the picture and is unrelated to this scene.  It’s a curious cover and one that doesn’t allude to too much of what Oranger may sound like, but that hasn’t stopped me before from coughing up the money.

Oranger are your quintessential indie rock band without any hint of what can make modern indie rock bands a bit tedious.  There are no violins, no strange pauses, and no desperate yearning to get to the root of your feelings (man, I hate that stuff).  Though it may sound boring on paper, having five guys lay into some well paced music with two guitars, a bass, and a set of drums can sound refreshing in this music market.

A large majority of the tracks on the album have a strong catchy element, and that is quickly evidenced with the opener of “Crooked in the Weird of the Catacombs”.  The opening bass riff from Matt Harris carries throughout most of the song and provides a consistent momentum to underlay Mike Drake’s vocals.  The title track, “Outtatoch”, “Radiowave” follow with strong pop rock hovering around three minutes each.  With Drake’s voice, “Sukiyaki” actually sounds like a Wilco rock song circa “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”.  Although “Flying Pretend” absolutely kills the momentum with its plain piano, the band ends the record quite well with a flurry of tunes that remind one of why the album sounded great in the first place.

Currently on hiatus, Oranger still has a website up for if and when they opt to get back to making albums.  It’s got music to listen to there, too.

Oranger aren’t any kind of break through band or even the best indie pop rock band out there.  However, given that some of the more prominent indie rockers try to style themselves up, promote themselves to death, or try image themselves after things they consider artistically ironic, it can be a bit overwhelming to know which band actually sounds good.  Oranger manage to dodge a lot of that fluff and are an indie rock band that people should actually give more of a listen to.  For a dollar and nearly zero hype, Oranger gets the Golden Dollar from me.