Sounds like: If medieval monks had electric guitars
SECULAR WORKS: B-
When you put Extra Life’s “Secular Works” into your computer’s CD drive, iTunes names the genre as “unclassified.” The band’s style is, indeed, hard to classify. It is perhaps best described as Gregorian chant with modern lyrics layered over wailing, wavering Goth guitar and hard-driving drums. Since I can think of no other bands that could possibly earn that description, sticking with unclassified is probably best here.
Singer Charlie Looker’s monophonic vocal stylings are one of the elements that truly sets Extra Life apart. He uses his voice as an instrument; at times, listeners are reminded of jazz fusion by the onomatopoetic way Looker forms his words and the jarring syncopation of the instrumental backing.
At times, the compositions prove downright unsettling. They move unexpectedly up and down octaves between electric guitar and violin and vacillate between prog rock and plainsong.
Lyrics tackle modern life. “I Don’t Feel That Way” talks about “a spot on the human totem pole” and name-drops the girl next door and the whore with the heart of gold. “The Refrain” tackles chance and fate while the sexual themes of “Bled White” are truly poetic.
Unusual at first, “Extra Works” grows on you. It’s not an easy listen by any means; you wouldn’t switch between, say, Soulja Boy and selections from Extra Life’s first album. Many of the songs are long and can prove monotonous. If you don’t like the first three minutes of a song, fast-forwarding to the seventh minute will do you little good. But in a musical climate where bands blend together, Extra Life stands out.
“Light From Above”
Sounds like: Hanson from hell
LIGHT FROM ABOVE: C
The teen members of the Miami-based metal outfit Black Tide combine youthful energy and polished skills on their debut album, “Light From Above.”
Fifteen-year-old lead guitarist and vocalist Gabriel Garcia, who wrote or co-wrote every song on the album, adds cool menace to his Vince Neil-tinged vocals, reaching high notes while sounding hostile on verses such as those in the chorus to “Shockwave”: “I’m a shockwave and I’ll take your fuckin’ life!”
Metal-heads will be pleased with the guitar play of Garcia and guitarist Alex Nunez, 17, who duel over lightning-fast riffs, such as on the sexually charged “Let Me.” The duo also shows versatility in the acoustic opening to the battle anthem “Warriors of Time.”
Despite the band’s astonishing vocal and instrumental skills, the album begins to sound like a cliché of ‘80s metal after a while as the lyrics demonstrate inexperience in writing and a band trying too hard to live up to its predecessors in Megadeth and M?tley Crue.
Iron Maiden, for example, is emulated horribly on “Warriors of Time”: “And we will live for the battle and for the people, and they will tell all the stories about the warriors of time.”
The band clearly needs to find its voice. With the musical talent they possess, the young rockers can’t afford to be dismissed as relics of the past.
“Saturdays = Youth”
Sounds like: Glorious ambience paired with Panic! At The Disco vocals (though not always in a bad way)
When Anthony Gonzalez, the mastermind behind M83, first released “Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts” on tastemaking French label Gooom Disques back in 2003, it was hailed as an all out assault on the French indie-electronic-ambient-pop scene.
Since then, he has proved he is not a one-hit wonder. His second release, “Before The Dawn Heals Us,” which was released in 2005, was even better than his first, creating an instant fan base in the United States and solidifying his ability to make music that matters.
With “Saturdays = Youth,” Gonzalez is at it again. And though M83 seems to get better with age, it’s not quite near the caliber of their sophomore release.
Blending ‘80s synth-heavy pop sounds with electronic underpinnings and sometimes emo-esque vocals, this third album still has remarkable promise.
Admittedly, “Saturdays = Youth” is misleading. Its cover features tons of people dressed up as what can be best described as pillars of mediocrity like Panic! At The Disco. Without further investigation, the haunting sound and searing drama of vocals by unknown male and female singers would be entirely lost based solely on how stupid the cover is.
But this album is anything but stupid. It’s complex, surprising and utterly listenable. In many ways, the haunting sound and ‘80s electro-synth sound is downright addicting.
The lesson here: Don’t judge this book by its cover. “Saturdays = Youth” is a noteworthy listen.
“A Buzz, A Buzz”
Sounds like: A Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale set to music
A BUZZ, A BUZZ: A-
Quirky folk-inspired quartet Bombadil declares itself troubadours on “Smile When You Kiss,” the third track on its new album “A Buzz, A Buzz.” After just one listen, music fans will find it hard to argue otherwise.
The North Carolina-based foursome takes the troubadours’ job to heart-each song on its album tells a story. The instrumental backing of the individual tracks sets the tone for the tale, creating cohesive compositions that stand steadily on their own and further bolster each other to create a strong anthology of an album.
What unites the tracks are solid songwriting and a healthy sense of whimsy. Plinky piano and glockenspiel coupled with haunting lyrics in tracks like “Johnny” and “Rosetta Stone” is like chasing the ice cream truck down the street in the middle of summer: a bit risky, but ultimately sweet and rewarding.
The slight gamble the band members make with somewhat obtuse, narrative lyrics is what pushes them from being just another band that occasionally uses pan flute to something truly special. That said, their use of pan flute and other unusual instruments does add depth to their sound.
It’s difficult to describe the band’s repertoire as a whole, but the best word might be catchy. The songs are hook-heavy, and you’ll probably find yourself singing along with “Julian of Norwich” or the title track before they’re even over. The hooks might draw you in, but it’s the band’s innovative lyricism and complex instrumentals that will keep you listening.