“Little By Little”
Sounds Like: Pulp, Spoon
Remember “Flagpole Sitta”? Yeah, Harvey Danger is another one of those talented one-hit-wonder bands from the ‘90s. After a five-year hiatus, the band is back with their third album. “Little by Little…” is a solid record if a bit different from what Harvey Danger fans might expect.
On their new album, the band moves away from the distortion-heavy guitars of previous releases and break out the keyboard. The restraint gives them a more mature sound, but the songs are still fun. “Wine, Women, and Song” is a great introduction to Harvey Danger’s new piano-driven sound, while “Cream and Bastards Rise” would sound great on a mix for a drunken party.
Interestingly, singer Sean Nelson does a lot of half-speak, half-sing vocals, and the result is something that sometimes sounds a lot like Brit-pop band Pulp, especially on “Incommunicado” and “What You Live By.”
Harvey Danger sound most mature as a band on final tune “Diminishing Returns.” A few of the later tracks on the album have an energy that, although enthusiastic, fails to connect with the listener, but the band pulls things together for the thoughtful finale.
“Little by Little…” is free for download on the band’s official Web site. The album is also sold in stores, packaged with a 30-minute bonus disk.
Sounds like: The “White Pony” of the Warped Tour: a metal-influenced hard-rock band experimentally toning down its sound.
Since 2004, The O.C.‘s Thrice has been known for their melding of metal, pop catchiness, and intelligent brand of emotional rock. The band’s latest release, “Vheissu,” brings more of the same poignant intensity but is by far the band’s most musically ambitious album to date.
Unlike on previous records, Thrice tries some new sounds, such as electronic drumming, piano, tambourine, etc. This gives the songs a haunting and textured sound, and is especially effective in songs such as “Music Box” and “Between The End and Where We Lie.” For the most part, the songs on “Vheissu” are also toned down from the metal guitar and percussion on the band’s previous effort, “The Artist in the Ambulance.” This is not to say the band has lost its bite. It’s just traded in some of its decibel intensity to create a much more complex and diverse record.
The record isn’t as slick and streamlined as “Artist,” and it provides more musical variation on intense songs like, “The Earth Will Shake.” As in previous releases, the band’s messages are philosophical and rarely specific, alluding to universal concepts. One common theme of Vheissu is that of self-empowerment and the power of the masses. On the single “Image of the Invisible,” the band sings, “No one can stop us or slow us down/We are the named and we are known/We know that we’ll never walk alone.” Songs such as “Stand and Feel Your Worth” and “Hold Fast Hope” similarly mirror this confidence-raising mentality.
Overall, “Vheissu” is a great artistic expansion for a band that could have easily made something closer in sound to their old releases. “Vheissu” defiantly takes a chance, and it’s worth the risk to take a listen.
-JORGE DEL PINAL
“The Mouse & The Mask”
Sounds like: An Adult Swim marathon with improved punch lines and more iron masks.
It’s hard to judge any MF Doom album fairly. He has been on a hot streak since 2003, when he released two amazing concept albums under the guises of King Geedorah and Viktor Vaughn. As he audaciously claimed on last year’s highly lauded collaboration with Madlib, “Madvillainy,” he truly is someone who has “got more lyrics than the church got ‘ooooh Lords.’”
In the other corner is Danger Mouse, who has become perhaps the most well-known underground producer after last year’s creative if not overrated “The Grey Album,” his mash-up of Jay-Z’s “The Black Album” and the Beatles “White Album.” A marriage with Doom seemed to be more perfect than camels and cigarettes; he wears a mouse suit when DJing, while Doom wears an iron mask, well, basically everywhere. But this couple decided they wanted to have a m?nage ? trois, so they threw in the whole Adult Swim gang from Cartoon Network to wrest the crown of best cartoon-related album from the old records Bill Cosby made with Fat Albert and the gang. What comes through this unusual union is “The Mouse and The Mask,” which surprisingly comes close to living up to the massive hype from the underground.
The concept is sort of complex in principle, but simple in execution; Danger drops a beat, and as Doom claims, he’ll “make mince meat out of that beat, Mouse.” The album is tightly packed, moving at a pace that would leave The Flash playing catch up. It is almost like watching a Saturday morning cartoon, full of commercials supplied by Adult Swim and including the usual array of wacky guest appearances. On “The Mask,” Ghostface drops by and waxes philosophical on identity (“Good thing I took my mask off/ My face was missing for two days”) and of course cash (“My money green like my nickname was celery”). Talib Kweli drops an inspired verse, albeit about eating cereal and Scooby Doo, on the wickedly fun “Old School.”
With the exception of “Crosshairs” and “Black Debbie,” Mouse does an admirable though not overly spectacular job with the production. Luckily, Doom “brings the beef like a trucker to Fuddrucker’s,” to use his own words, with otherworldly similes and diction that would make Joyce gush. He continues to impress with some of the best wordplay ever heard, emanating from the same gruff drawl throughout, his mouth having virtually become the Old Faithful of punch lines.
One just can’t mention every Doom quotable on the album. It’s the most fun one can have in one hour this year.
“Live and Electric”
(3 CG Records)
Sounds Like: The long awaited collaboration between Peter Gabriel, Lynard Skynyrd and Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Hanson has always had this ridiculously humorless approach to their craft. It almost makes sense that their upbeat songs on “Live and Electric” sound like Fleetwood Mac b-sides, wheeling all the same personal baggage across the lyrics. We’re told of the struggles that the three brothers had in clashes with record execs and each other from whatever music trade paper has had too many slow news days. They claim they’ve grown stronger as a group, but no one talks about the music being smarter. So it’s the next best thing: Not bad.
As a live album, this is a gift for Hanson fans, and a pretty good one at that. The in-concert delivery of their Phil Collins-esque, easy-listening songwriting does belie the passivity of the words, sounding more like the execution of a southern rock band than an early ‘60s bubblegum troupe. There’s no better example of this than on the best track of the album: “In a Little While,” a song that doesn’t belong to them, but U2. Isaac, Taylor and Zachary’s vocals recognize Bono’s example and really soar with the inspiration.
While they find the same spirit in a lot of their own writing, its not enough to salvage how forgettable almost all Hanson’s slow ballads are, appealing to teenagers who require visual aid to really get immersed in the sentiment. Maybe that’s why there’s a DVD attached to this, so the Hanson faithful won’t have to stare at outdated posters in their bedrooms while imaging that “Penny and Me” is really about them. Well girls, it might be, but then again this album was meant for people like you to begin with.
- NEAL FERSKO
Sounds Like: The White Album of freak-folk
Devendra Banhart clearly had large ambitions for his fourth full-length. He seems to have culled all of the talent and energy surrounding him into one undeniable yet challenging album.
At an exhausting 22 tracks in 74 minutes, it is at times a strain to stay on board for all of Devendra’s antics. But without the meandering, much of this album’s charm would be lost. While hardly classifiable as anything but a folk album, “Cripple Crow” expands on previous recordings to create a more varied and diverse listen. It encapsulates a genre so well that it may come to be seen as the quintessential, even if not necessarily the strongest, moment of the so-called “weird America” movement (though it does not quite match up to “Rejoicing in the Hands” or Joanna Newsom’s “Milk-Eyed Mender”).
These songs/sketches reveal sides of Banhart that he could not have previously synthesized without his newfound confidence (evidently, he is aware of the hype). The first single, “I Feel Just Like a Child,” is almost overly whimsical lyrically and vocally, but its groove is unwaveringly unique and memorable. Other highlights include the cyclical opener “Now That I Know,” Devendra’s ode to his glorious hippie hair “Long-Haired Child,” and the pacifist-tinged title track. As always Banhart shines when singing in his native tongue of Spanish; consequently “Santa Maria De Feira,” “Quedateluna,” and “Luna De Margarita” are hypnotic and lovely.
Unfortunately, there are times when songs seem to sneak by without ever making an impression. Even worse, Banhart can at times grate in his silliness (“Chinese Children”). Overall, with some exceptions, “Cripple Crow” is consistently captivating and any album with such a brilliant cover is worth exploring.
- JOSH LEVITZ
Sounds like: The blueprint for copycats like the Hives, the White Stripes, the Vines, etc…
Sweaty, sleazy, stupid, booze-fueled and primal: These are the words that best describe the new album by garage-rock veterans The Fleshtones.
Built on a foundation of raging guitars, organ, punishing four-on-the-floor drumming, raspy vocals and the occasional harmonica, “Beachhead” harkens back to the days when it wasn’t cool to like this kind of stuff. The great thing about this kind of garage rock is that it is danceable.
Somehow the Fleshtones manage to do the ‘60s style garage rock thing and keep it fresh as opposed to the typical rehashing of the past that plagues many other bands. There is an element of ‘80s new wave apparent throughout the whole CD, but then again it was garage rock that influenced these new wave acts. Much of the album is reminiscent of a grittier version of the Plimsouls (known for their performance in Valley Girl), and considering that they rock, this is a good thing.
A lot of times, garage rock wears itself thin if the album is too long. The Fleshtones avoided this pitfall. Clocking in at less than a half hour, this album is a perfect dose of boneheaded rock and roll the way the world needs it today.
Sounds Like: Pop-punk lameness
In case you don’t remember, back when all of us were in junior high/high school the band Mest came out with a single that annoyed the hell out of pretty much everyone. That song, “What’s the Dilly-O,” was one of the most pathetic songs that ever made its way onto the hit charts. A few years older, bad backs and all, Mest releases their new album with hopes of reverting to that promised land.
With their newest effort, “Photographs,” Mest hoped to establish themselves as an adult, serious act. Unfortunately, they failed. While their song topics have definitely evolved from their earlier efforts, it still seems as though Mest suffers from the mere fact that they are terrible musicians and terrible lyricists. While songs about singer Tony Lavato’s near death experience, family suicides and second singer Jeremiah Ringel’s split with his longtime girlfriend would make them more mature in theory, it seems as if their lyrics have progressed from a seventh to 11th grade level. Lyrics like “I hope tonight lasts forever,” and “so slit my wrists…” carry no substance whatsoever in an album that floats from generic track to generic track.
This is not to say that the album doesn’t have its tolerable tracks. The album hits its peak with the third song and title track, which touches upon singer Lovato’s struggles with death, drugs and love. Other standout tracks include “As His Black Heart Dies” and “Dying for You.” However, they come too late to give the album any form or substance. These tracks do not carry enough weight to balance out the sheer banality of the rest of the songs. Songs like “Graveyard” and “Tonight Will Last Forever” will have the listener throbbing in pain from the fact music this bad is allowed to be sold.
While Mest’s sound has evolved from a pre-pubescent type of Goldfinger/Good Charlotte to more contemporary sounding Alkaline Trio/Simple Plan, it is still too weak to hold up against any of the heavyweights. The album isn’t a total failure, and there is no question that the band has matured. The only question is: how far have they progressed musically? The answer is not much.